Confusion, conformity, and contradiction : the Salvadoran state's reluctant engagements with indigenous recognition



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This thesis explores the recent shift in one aspect of Salvadoran state discourses about the content of the Salvadoran "nation": that dealing with the existence and status of indigenous people. Having recently shown signs that it may abandon its longstanding position that El Salvador is a homogeneously mestizo country, the state’s tentative steps towards official recognition of an indigenous population are shown to lack clarity of both substance and purpose. The representations of and knowledge about Salvadoran Indians that are today being deployed by state actors are sporadic and promote incoherent visions of what "being indigenous" means (and can mean) in contemporary El Salvador. Two related claims about the nature of Salvadoran state recognition of indigeneity follow from this realization. First, "the state" should not be seen as a unitary actor with one set of consistent interests in the kind of indigenous subject it will authorize and the national image it will foment. Second, the representations of indigeneity that constitute semiofficial acts of recognition are the direct result of international influence directed at agencies of the Salvadoran state. Specific state actors are modeling the way they make Indians visible in conformity with ascendant norms of multicultural recognition that become operant in subtly, yet meaningfully, different ways. Both of these claims point to a "state" whose control over knowledge production and subject formation is limited, a fact that I end by suggesting that indigenous activists should take into account and, indeed, exploit in their struggle for greater political agency as indigenous people.