Accepted paper:

From Exoticisation to Self-exoticisation: indigeneity, stereotyping and agency in Emberá cultural representation


Dimitrios Theodossopoulos (University of Kent)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores dilemmas of structure and agency in two interrelated processes: the exoticisation of the Emberá by Others and their self-exoticisation in the context of indigenous tourism and their attempts to attract international support.

Paper long abstract:

The Emberá, an indigenous Amerindian group, have been stereotyped by Others as representing the quintessential 'native'. Exoticisation by Western admirers, takes the form of idealisation, romantic-isation and imperialist nostalgia. In the discourse of non-indigenous neighbours in Panama, the exoticisation of the Emberá often takes the form of negative stereotyping and patronising commentary. In this respect, the discourses of more powerful outsiders have framed Emberá narratives of identity and have inspired a desire for modernisation. In the last decade, however, the development of indigenous tourism has promoted the visibility of the Emberá culture in exotic terms, and has provided the Emberá with an impetus to revitalize previously declining indigenous practices. As the Emberá become aware of the political and economic support of international audiences that see indigeneity favourably, they consciously attempt to rearticulate their identity and history in terms that resonate with or selectively depart from previous received types of exoticisation. The result of the tension between exoticisation (imposed by Others in a top-down manner) and self-exoticisation (represented by local practices and projected from the bottom up) leads to fascinating transformations in the Emberá cultural representation that can help us appreciate the discriminatory, but also culture-generating capacity of exoticisation as a process.

panel G22
Exoticisation, self-exoticisation: agency, identity and transformation