Reconceptualizing “Indigeneity”


The popular images tend to depict indigenous people as having lived a “simple”, “locally locked” in the remote forest, “isolated” from the the light of “civilization” and unspoiled lifestyle before they became threatened by the “evils” of modernity and (neo)colonial exploitation. This makes it even more astonishing that the notion of indigeneity has become a universalist concept that has gained global recognition for representing exactly this: a population that is economically “backward,” due to a lack of modern technology, and politically “independent,” due to the freedom from external forces and global capitalism, and therefore in need of protection. Given the fact, Uddin with his two colleagues– Eva Gerharz and Pradeep Chakkarath– has brought in a powerful argument to refute the orthodox understanding of indigenous people by offering a redefinition and reconceptualization of the entire of idea of indigeneity in 21st Century in their widely-cited article “Exploring Indigeneity” published as a thematic introductory chapter of the book Indigeneity on the Move: Varying Manifestation of a Contested Concept (2017). According to their claim, “such images tend to ignore the fact that it was colonialism itself that produced the well-known image of the noble or dangerous savage: simple, innocent, even childish, yet untamed and therefore threatening people, who lived in harmony with nature. But while colonial and postcolonial imaginations rested upon the idea that human progress is inevitably connected with a clearly defined path towards modernization, today’s discourse on indigeneity considers the indigenous “way of life” as being endangered by the latter, and therefore as requiring protection. Both approaches disregard the fact that their universalist claims do not necessarily match the self-images of the populations usually labeled “indigenous,” They also tend to ignore that, like other people all over the world, these populations are extensively connected to, and deeply influenced by, transformative global socioeconomic and political rhetoric and realities. Mobility is a feature of the modern world as people, goods, and ideas move rapidly from one place to another. This fosters the emergence of new visions and aspirations for development that are embedded in the dynamics of local and global statecraft . While one should refrain from constructing indigenous people as clearly demarcated “groups” who exist “out there,” and even when one accepts that in general the world’s population struggles with the impact of neoliberal notions of economic formation and governmentality, it is also important to recognize that the label “indigenous” has recently become a powerful category that continues to inspire identity politics, emancipatory projects, and protectionist measures worldwide.

Uddin, Gerharz and Chakkarath explained that, “the concept of “indigeneity” and the various understandings of its meaning have had an impact not only on how social scientists think about the interconnections of identity, space, language, history, and culture, but also on how they describe the increasingly complex interplay of diverse players and agents within dynamic global socioeconomic, and political realities, and the rhetoric that accompanies it. Indigeneity has become a resource in identity politics, a matt er of “deep belonging,” desired more than discouraged, and proclaimed more than hidden as one’s att achment to a particular place, culture, and nation. It is woven together in an intricate web of concepts such as ethnicity, identity, hybridity, authenticity, autochthony, diaspora, nation, and homeland, and the ways in which these ideas are formed, developed, and “owned.” In so far as territoriality and ancestral rights over land are inscribed into the notion of indigeneity, the imagination of place, space, and time are central analytical dimensions that are highly relevant, particularly with regard to questions concerning the redistributive power of states and political (e.g., democratic) processes. Although indigeneity is primarily expressed as an attachment to land, locale, and nation, the relationship between indigeneity and belonging is reworked and modified in translocal and transnational communicative and interactive processes. Consequently, these concepts intersect with local, national, and global sociopolitical debates and are confronted with the challenges posed to indigenous aspirations by the neoliberal agenda of nation-states and their concerns with sovereignty. Indigeneity, thus, should be understood not in fixity, but on mobility with its dialectic interaction through continuous dialogue with the state.

Theoretical Contributions

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