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American Ethnologist

The crucible of citizenship: ID-paper fetishism in the Argentinean Chaco

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Abstract

In this article, I examine how indigenous people of the Argentinean Chaco have internalized their past alienation from citizenship rights through the fetishization of those objects long denied to them: identity (ID) papers. In the early 20th century, shortly after the Argentinean state's military conquest of the region, government agents excluded these groups from hegemonic notions of nationality and citizenship because of their alleged savagery but simultaneously expected them to show written proofs of their reliability. In the following decades, this contradictory experience made many indigenous people view ID documents and other written records as objects with a force of their own, with the capacity to deflect state violence and shape major aspects of a group's collective history. Drawing on the concept of “state fetishism,” I analyze the peculiarities of ID-paper fetishism in the Chaco by focusing on the historical and current experiences of the western Toba and the Wichí. In particular, I explore how Toba and Wichí views of ID papers include ideological forms of reification of social practice but also critical interpretations that capture the power dynamics involved in state documentation.

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