Date of Graduation

Fall 12-14-2012

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in International Studies


International Studies

First Advisor

Cecilia M. Santos


This qualitative study examines contemporary Kichwa indigenous identity formation in the Alto Napo region of Ecuador through Bourdieu’s concept of symbolic capital. Following an extended-case method, I analyze the articulation of indigenousness (as an idealized expression of tradition) vis-à-vis the power relationships of the actors involved in such process. A combination between participant observation, daily field notes and twelve tape-recorded interviews during a two-month research allowed me to deconstruct essentialist portrayals and stereotypes of Kichwa indigenous peoples in Alto Napo, and confirm that their identity is hybrid, multiple and shifting. A comparative analysis between urban and rural social dynamics in the region further showed that the indigenous construction of the identity is influenced by power dynamics of recognition. Within Kichwa communities, the need to represent imagined traditional indigenous symbols does not surface on a daily basis in order to gain recognition; instead, other types of cultural capital are used to bind its members. These symbols, however, become dominant in contexts where the presence of nonindigenous peoples or State authorities marks the symbolic power they possess. The mechanisms and symbols used to construct the Kichwa identity thus shift according to the diverse power relationships that exist at the time of the representation. In order to gain value as an indigenous ethnicity and to show a symbolic reluctance to acculturation, the representation of an idealized traditional indigeneity becomes a strategy to authenticate their political, economic and cultural demands, which are identity based. This case study helps illustrate the connection between power structures, rights and identity through the analysis of indigenous symbolic capital in an Ecuadorian Amazon region.