Mayan People Within and Beyond Boundaries: Social Categories and Lived Identity in Yucatan.

Author:Brulotte, Ronda L.
Position:Book review

Mayan People Within and Beyond Boundaries: Social Categories and Lived Identity in Yucatan. By Peter Hervik. New York: Routledge, 2003. Pp. xxxi + 214, figures, maps, illustrations, tables, bibliography, index.

In Mayan People Within and Beyond Boundaries anthropologist Peter Hervik presents a challenge to both popular and academic understandings of Yucatec Mayan identity, which he claims have been largely constructed externally to the communities in question. He bases his book on fieldwork begun in 1989 in the town of Oxkutzcab in southern Yucatan. Hervik's primary argument is that the social categories used by outsiders (academics, the popular media, and the tourism industry) to represent Mayan peoples are predicated on flawed assumptions about cultural continuity with the pre-Hispanic past. All-encompassing categories such as "the Maya" do not reflect the historically complex and internally differentiated subjectivities that today comprise ethnic communities in Yucatan. The author maintains that residents of Oxkutzcab and other southern Yucatec communities, in fact, are more likely to self-identify as mestizo than Maya.

Hervik takes a deconstructionist approach to ethnic categorization firmly grounded in postmodern critiques of cultural representation. At the same time, he is clearly apprehensive about the literary turn in anthropology, which he believes has permitted discourse analysis to become the sole "object and means of post-modern ethno-graphy" (163). He is particularly critical of works that privilege the self-reflexivity of the author over the lived experiences of informants. As a corrective, he offers an analysis of Yucatec social categories based on what he terms "shared social experience" (xxvii). This approach, according to Hervik, considers the social positions and relationships of all the individual actors in the field: informants, the ethnographer, as well as other researchers. A holistic understanding of the fieldwork encounter ideally leads to an analysis that considers the dialectic nature of ethnic identity formation; this includes lived social experiences that lie beyond the confines of language.

Hervik begins his work with a description of the Maya themselves. In Chapter One he introduces the reader to Oxkutzcab and the surrounding region by way of historical overview. He quickly moves through the pre-Hispanic, colonial, post-independence, and post-revolutionary eras, finally reaching the late 1980s and early 1990s...

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