Producing leaders: An ethnography of an indigenous organisation in the Peruvian Amazon

  • Chantelle Murtagh

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis is based on fieldwork undertaken in a multi-ethnic indigenous organisation, the Native Federation of Madre de Dios and tributaries (FENAMAD), in the Amazonian region of Madre de Dios in Peru. I explore the question "what is a good leader?" and offer a contribution to the literature on indigenous movements by focusing on the significant role that indigenous communities play in the development of leaders. Alterity is at the heart of the Federation as the leaders, who are elected to represent the communities, have to deal with various "others" on a daily basis, both indigenous and non-indigenous. The main focus is on how alterity is managed and made productive by the leaders. By analysing the instrumental use of the term hermano (brother) in indigenous politics I try to understand the way in which the "outside" is constantly defined and redefined in an attempt to produce a stable "inside" space in which indigenous politics can take place. I look at how the native communities affiliated to the organisation actively work towards establishing leaders who fulfil certain roles and expectations, which may at times be different to those promoted by the state. My ethnography shows that communities expect good leaders to be consecuente (consistent, trustworthy). I look at the process of "becoming a leader" and how the experience of these new leaders is understood as both performative and authentic, as an expression and outward display of their values and identity. By problematising authenticity, I explore how leaders not only tap into indigenous discourses, as performance of an identity for Western audiences, but use strategic markers (such as indigenous dress) and discourse to establish themselves as legitimate representatives in their own communities, as the base from which they draw power. Llegando bien a la comunidad (doing right by your community) is seen to be a motivating factor in a leader's actions and choices, and this highlights the importance given by leaders to being seen in a good light by their home communities. In analysing the importance of presencia en las comunidades (presence in the communities), I show how this helps to embed leaders in community life, both during their time as leaders and afterwards. I also relate the leadership role to its function in "producing people", as empowered and able to act. The role of the Federation in the production of knowledge is explored to uncover the links between power and knowledge, whereby knowledge becomes significant for constituting power in leaders and communities. An analysis of the language used during important events such as the triannual congress offers insight into how both leaders and communities are producing each other. It is through language that leaders work to produce a trustworthy, reliable social body, necessary for the continuance of the Federation and for furthering its aims of indigenous autonomy and self-determination.
Date of Award31 Dec 2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorPeter Wade (Supervisor) & Cecilia Mccallum (Supervisor)


  • indigenous leadership, Amazon, alterity, interethnic relations, knowledge, power, discourse

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