Overheating seminar with Ulrika Persson-Fischier: Indigeneity as a moral model in anthropology? Three cases of ethnic classification and anthropological knowledge production

Ulrika Persson-Fischier

Doctoral student at Department of Cultural Anthropology and Ethnology, Cultural Anthropology and lecturer at Department of Engineering Sciences, Industrial Engineering & Management at Uppsala University, Sweden.

Ulrika Persson-Fischier (Photo: private)

One of the enduring themes of anthropology is indigeneity. This presentation discusses how we can understand the ways anthropology approaches this issue. In 2003 Adam Kuper published The Return of the Native, which provoked a heated debate, as Kuper claimed that indigeneity “may have dangerous political consequences” (2003: 395). One of Kuper´s critics was Alan Barnard who claimed “we do know an ´indigenous people´ when we see one” (2006: 9). This presentation investigates three ethnographic cases in relation to these two claims.

The first case is the Republic of Altai in Siberia and the question of who is indigenous, in relation the so called "census war" in the Russian census taking. The second is about “the north”, and who is recognized as the “northern” indigenous, in relation to the village of Lovozero in the Murmansk region. The third is about repatriation of human remains at Swedish institutions, in relation to the remains that were collected by the Vega expedition during its voyage to the North-East passage in 1878.

In these cases, anthropology seems to reproduce indigeneity as part of a National Order of Things (Malkki 1995). One way of understanding this is through indigeneity as an “untouchable” (Fassin 2011) and as “moral model” (D´Andrade 1995). May this be understood as an example of ´cultural overheating´ within anthropology?



Barnard, Alan, 2006a, Kalahari revisionism, Vienna and the ´indigenous peoples´ debate. In Social Anthropology, (2006), Vol. 14, no. 1, pp. 1-16.
D´Andrade, Roy, 1995, Moral Models in Anthropology. In Current Anthropology, 06/1995, vol. 36, nr 3, pp: 399-408.
Fassin, Didier, 2011, Noli Me Tangere: The moral untouchability of humanitarianism. In Bornstein, Erica and Redfield, Peter, 2011, Forces of compassion: Humanitarianism between ethics and politics. School for advanced research advanced seminar series. SAR Press: Santa Fe.
Kuper, Adam, 2003, The Return of the Native. In Current Anthropology, Vol. 44, No. 3, June 2003, pp. 389-402.
Malkki, Liisa, 1995, Purity and Exile: Violence, Memory and National Cosmology among Hutu Refugees in Tanzania. The University of Chicago Press: Chicago and London.

Published Mar. 8, 2016 5:48 PM - Last modified Mar. 9, 2016 9:29 AM