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Does Multiculturalism Menace? Governance, Cultural Rights and the Politics of Identity in Guatemala

  • CHARLES R. HALE (a1)


This article challenges the assumption that the underlying principles of state-endorsed ‘multiculturalism’ stand in tension with neoliberal political-economic policies. Based on ethnographic research in Guatemala, it is argued that neoliberalism's cultural project entails pro-active recognition of a minimal package of cultural rights, and an equally vigorous rejection of the rest. The result is a dichotomy between recognised and recalcitrant indigenous subjects, which confronts the indigenous rights movement as a ‘menace’ even greater than the assimilationist policies of the previous era. It is suggested that the most effective response to this menace is probably not to engage in frontal opposition to neoliberal regimes, but rather to refuse the dichotomy altogether.



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This article has gone through many permutations, and has benefited greatly from critical comments and suggestions along the way. It was first conceived for a conference in Cochabamba and La Paz, Bolivia, where I received helpful criticism from José Gordillo, María Lagos, Pamela Calla and Ricardo Calla. A later, very different, version was presented at the conference ‘Agency in the Americas’ organised by Doris Sommer. In these and other settings, those who provided helpful comments on subsequent drafts and presentations include: Fernando Coronil, Bret Gustafson, Charles A. Hale, Diane Nelson, Doris Sommer, Rosamel Millamán, Orin Starn and Edmund T. Gordon. I am also grateful for the insightful comments of two anonymous reviewers for the Journal of Latin American Studies.



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