Starting from Quirpini: The Travels and Places of a Bolivian People, by Stuart Alexander Rockefeller, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2010. 306 pp. $24.95 (paper). ISBN: 978-0-253-22210-7.
Article first published online: 3 MAR 2014
Copyright © 2014, by the Rural Sociological Society
Volume 79, Issue 1, pages 140–142, March 2014
How to Cite
Christ, S. R. (2014), Starting from Quirpini: The Travels and Places of a Bolivian People, by Stuart Alexander Rockefeller, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2010. 306 pp. $24.95 (paper). ISBN: 978-0-253-22210-7. Rural Sociology, 79: 140–142. doi: 10.1111/ruso.12038
- Issue published online: 3 MAR 2014
- Article first published online: 3 MAR 2014
The vital role of human social actors in the construction of space and place becomes the central focus of Stuart Alexander Rockefeller's Starting from Quirpini. In this groundbreaking book, the products of the travels and actions of the indigenous members, the Quirpini, of a small mountain village in the Bolivian Andes are the essential basis of Rockefeller's contention that the construction of place and space is an entirely fluid and unbounded social process. That is to say that in the process of making space and place, the power to construct reality is divided among many competing variables. To illustrate this significant theoretical advancement, Rockefeller focuses on the movements and politics of the Quirpini, who provide an unexpected example of the relationships among place, power, and movement.
Rockefeller's in-depth descriptions and theoretically savvy analysis guide the reader through the process by which space and place is constituted. The author analyzes places often taken for granted, such as schools, churches, farmlands, and even homesteads, through an anthropological lens. Rockefeller suggests that seemingly local spatial territories are indeed products of much larger transnational processes resulting from the exchange of social, political, and economic resources. Even a place such as the seemingly isolated community of Quirpini is connected to distant and much larger places, spaces, and communities in Bolivia, along the border with Argentina, as well as the major world city of Buenos Aires.
According to Rockefeller, the continuous movement of peoples, in this case the Quirpini, engaging in local, national, and international trade and politics plays a crucial role in the transference of goods and ideas. Central to Rockefeller's thesis on the dialectic relationships in regard to power are the local intersections of race, ethnicity, religion, and the economy. As a result of this multivariate construction of space and place, Rockefeller is able to demonstrate how, and perhaps most importantly why, as goods, peoples, and information are exchanged, so too are cultures and identities. Throughout the book, Rockefeller challenges traditional anthropological views of space and place and advocates an appreciation of the complex and fluid nature of social life and politics.
Rockefeller argues that many anthropologists err in their interpretation of space and place as static constructions that structure a community. Instead, he suggests that to properly study and interpret the social realities of community life, a researcher must “scale up” and acknowledge the many fluid social categories that contribute to the structuring of spatial territories and the communities that occupy them. Social actors rely heavily on the ordinary particularities of life to connect with other members of society by establishing common experiences, shared public sentiments, and a terrain on which to understand the totality of concepts such as community, culture, and power.
In order to present the case of the Quirpini, Rockefeller utilizes a bevy of data sources. Perhaps most useful to the presentation and analysis contained in the book is the thick description of social actors, their shared spaces, and their lived experiences as a mobile population. Indeed, years of intimate proximity with members of this mobile population yield a beautifully detailed depiction of a people and a context so easily overlooked as insignificant. The inclusion of a large selection of photographs, maps, and illustrations produces a sense of deep connection to the places and peoples one reads about and observes. In addition to the rich ethnographic data throughout the book, a clear and elaborated discussion of the history of the Quirpini, their relationship to other communities, and the politics on which their movements and actions are based provides the reader with a comprehensive understanding of the many transformations occurring in Bolivia on a macropolitical level, as well as a microsocial level. Although the book was published in 2010, data for it were collected in the mid-1990s. While this does little to weaken the arguments made within the text, the main thesis that spaces and places evolve over time as a result of the constant exchange of people, goods, and information leads the reader to question the current spatial territory occupied by the Quirpini and surrounding communities. As most are aware, the social and economic climate in South America has long been one of rapid and significant change.
Regardless of the current state of affairs among the Quirpini, Stuart Alexander Rockefeller succeeds in providing a well-informed and in-depth ethnographic account of the role of human action and mobile populations in the constant production and reproduction of places, spaces, communities, and systems of power. This book is a highly significant contribution to the anthropological study of culture, politics, and the ever-increasing power of transnational entities. Implementing a multidisciplinary approach to the study of the Quirpini, this book is a must read for scholars and graduate students from many disciplines including anthropology, sociology, political science, geography, and rural sociology.