Get this from a library! La cuestión étnica: algunos problemas teórico- metodológicos. [Rodolfo Stavenhagen]. La Cuestión Étnica. Derechos humanos de los pueblos indígenas. Conflictos étnicos y estado nacional. Entre la ley y la costumbre: el derecho. Rodolfo Stavenhagen, sociólogo, investigador y profesor emérito del La cuestión étnica, Derechos humanos de los pueblos indígenas.

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The boundary that separates the indigenous and non-indigenous population is known to be extremely fluid as it is based on characteristics that can easily change within a generation such as language use, cultural practices and a subjective sense of belonging.

Using data from the Mexican census I examine the ethnic classification of children of indigenous parents. I find that movement across the ethnic boundary depends on which of the two criteria currently recognized by the Mexican census is used.

Muere Rodolfo Stavenhagen, sociólogo mexicano defensor de los derechos indígenas

Children of indigenous parents are much less likely to be classified as indigenous according to stavenhsgen proficiency, especially when their parents stafenhagen higher levels of education. By contrast, when proxy self-identification is used as a criterion, children of indigenous parents are more likely to be classified as indigenous, and greater parental education actually results in higher odds that children will be classified as indigenous.

Research on racial and ethnic stratification often involves the comparison of socioeconomic outcomes across two or more demographic groups. Statistical models are frequently used, for example, to examine the differences in educational attainment, occupational status and income between individuals in different racial and ethnic categories, stavenhgen to apportion the differences into various explanatory factors e.

In such studies the racial and ethnic categories into which individuals are classified are assumed to be relatively well-defined and stable over time.

Yet researchers have shown that the social boundaries that define many racial and ethnic categories can change, and that individuals often engage in purposeful behavior to move between categories Alba and Nee ; Alba ; Loveman and Muniz ; Wimmer ab ; Montgomery Such movement complicates the analysis of social disparities, particularly if the odds of crossing the racial and ethnic boundaries are systematically related to the outcomes being measured.

For example, if individuals who attain higher levels of education are thereby more likely to be classified in the least disadvantaged racial or ethnic category, then our estimates of racial and ethnic disparities in education will be misleading.

This study examines ethnic boundary crossing and its impact on estimates of educational disparities in the specific context of Mexico, a country with the largest indigenous population in the Western hemisphere Layton and Patrinos Because of the ambiguity in racial and ethnic classification in Latin America, the region provides an important setting in which to study social boundaries.

However, sociological research on boundary crossing has focused mostly on Afro-Latin American countries such as Brazil. A similar pattern is found across generations: Brazilian children of higher socioeconomic status parents are significantly more likely to be classified in whiter categories Schwartzman ; Francis and Tannuri-Pianto This systematic whitening of higher status individuals presents a serious problem for the study of racial stratification.

In contrast to Afro-Latin American countries such as Brazil, in Indo-Latin American countries, which include not only Mexico but most countries in Central America and the Andean region, the primary socially-recognized ethnic distinction between the indigenous and non-indigenous population is not based on phenotypical differences. Such criteria are used to distinguish what are often referred to as ethnic groups rather than racial categories, although some scholars prefer not to separate these two concepts e.

However, just as with skin color classification in Afro-Latin American countries, movement across the social boundary separating indigenous and non-indigenous peoples is quite common, and may in turn affect our estimates of social disparities. Yet we do not know the extent to which such movement is affected by socioeconomic status.

Whether individuals are more or less likely to shift their ethnic identification than their racial identification with increasing socioeconomic status is difficult to predict. On the one hand, we might expect ethnic boundaries to be even more fluid and amenable to change with upward social mobility insofar as they are less influenced by phenotypical differences. As some researchers have noted, there are limits to the racial whitening process based on physical appearance in countries like Brazil Wade ; Telles On the other hand, individuals may be less likely to shed their identification with a close-knit ethnic group with which they share a strong sense of belonging, the same language and customs even when they have attained a higher socioeconomic status.

Following critics who charged that language proficiency was an overly restrictive and externally-imposed criterion for indigenous identification e. This method of ethnic classification based on proxy self-identification is consistent with current practices by the U. Yet we do not know how the use of this new criterion affects the rate at which children will retain the indigenous classification of their parents, or estimates of the disadvantage faced by indigenous peoples.


In the analysis below I use data from the Mexican census to examine the ethnic classification of children of indigenous parents.

Algunas reflexiones sobre ‘lo Tepehua’ como dilema cultural

I specifically compare how parental education affects how children are identified under the two systems of classification—language proficiency and proxy self-identification. Finally, I assess the impact that the shift in indigenous identification with greater parental education has on estimates of the educational disadvantage of indigenous children according to both classification systems.

A social boundary may be broadly defined as any categorical distinction recognized by members of a society that affect their attitudes and behavior towards others Alba and Nee Social boundaries are not fixed over time. Numerous studies have shown how racial and ethnic boundaries emerge, and are defended or transformed by social actors Horowitz ; Tilly ; Zolberg and Etnicca ; Brubaker ; Wimmer a.

Ethnic and racial boundaries also vary greatly in the extent to which they clearly demarcate categories of individuals. Some boundaries are unambiguous, such that everyone knows on which side of the boundary they are located. Racial categories in Latin America are defined by extremely blurred social boundaries. In Afro-Latin American countries such as Brazil, for example, individuals are classified into multiple categories along a white to black continuum based largely on perceptions of skin color Nobles ; Telles ; Daniel ; Bailey Due to cyestion subjective nature of judgments about physical appearance, these racial categories are characterized by a high degree of ambiguity.

The same individual may be considered as black in one context and brown moreno in another. The same holds true across generations: However, movement across racial boundaries based on staevnhagen color is not completely random, but instead shows some systematic tendencies. In particular, a higher socioeconomic status leads to a shift towards whiter categories. Using data from national household surveys, for example, Schwartzman demonstrates that Brazilian children of parents with higher levels of education tend to be classified in whiter categories.

Similarly, Francis and Tannuri-Pianto find that higher family socioeconomic status is associated with lighter racial self-classification among Brazilian college students. Ethnic categorization in Indo-Latin American countries such as Mexico has been less studied using survey data.

However, evidence from ethnographic studies suggests that cuestiob boundary between the two principal socially-recognized ethnic categories—indigenous and non-indigenous—is also extremely blurred.

As mentioned earlier, the indigenous population is not distinguished based on phenotypical characteristics but rather on language use, cultural practices and a subjective sense stavenbagen belonging. In their classic study of ethnic relations in Southeastern Mexico, Colby and van den Berghe During his own lifetime his origins may be remembered and he may still be called rodolo Indian, but he will be treated as a ladino for most everyday purposes.

His children will definitely be considered to be ladinos. The crossing of the ethnic boundary may therefore involve little else than learning the language and customs of the larger ladino sometimes referred to as mestizo population. Being considered indigenous has historically been stigmatizing, leading many to consciously distance themselves from the indigenous category if at all possible Pitt-Rivers ; Friedlander ; Bonfil Batalla [] ; Nutini Moreover, because an indigenous identity creates an impediment to entry into the middle and upper classes Colby and van den Berghe ; Pitt-Rivers ; Nutiniupwardly mobile individuals may have a particular desire for themselves and their children to be considered as non-indigenous, which would lead to a systematic shift away from the indigenous category with greater parental socioeconomic status.

In the analysis below I will test this stigmatization hypothesis against competing explanations.

Critics of government-sponsored education programs and other economic assistance programs geared towards indigenous groups, charged that they were motivated by a homogenizing agenda that suppressed alternative dtavenhagen identities Warman et al.

Further amendments and new laws followed, including the General Law of Linguistic Rights in Critics charge that the multicultural agenda enacted by governments throughout Latin America including Mexico only includes the protection of a limited set of cultural rights, and leaves existing power relations and socioeconomic disparities unchanged Hale ; Speed Because individuals with higher levels of education will generally be more exposed to the multicultural message and also be more receptive to it, we may expect a greater retention of the indigenous identity among those that are more educated.

Pride in their indigenous heritage ztavenhagen not the only possible reason why parents might seek to identify their children as indigenous. Parents could potentially choose to identify their children as indigenous for instrumental reasons. Research in other national contexts such as Brazil suggests that affirmative action policies recently implemented by the state create an incentive for individuals to identify as members of disadvantaged racial groups.

Francis and Tannuri-Pianto find evidence of a shift in the racial identification of students applying to a major Brazilian university following the implementation of a quota system whereby 20 percent of admission slots were reserved for applicants who self-identify as black negro.


In contrast to Brazil, the Mexican government has not implemented affirmative action policies that might encourage individuals of higher socioeconomic status to identify themselves and their children as indigenous.

Indigenous students are not generally given preferential treatment in university admissions. Government assistance programs are also largely need-based, rather than targeted at specific ethnic groups. In particular, the conditional cash transfer program known as Oportunidadesby far the largest assistance program in Mexico, does not specifically use indigenous identification as a criterion for qualification SEDESOL n. There are some limited contexts in which claiming an indigenous stavenhgaen may serve to advance a professional career.

However, this finding does not appear to extend to the private sector, where an indigenous identity does not generally serve as a resource for career advancement. Employment in government agencies of this sort is too small to have a large scale effect on indigenous identification. Some boundaries will be more difficult to cross because they entail characteristics that typically do not change within a generation.

Alba argues that crossing brighter boundaries in particular may be more difficult and costly psychologically because it entails a sharper break with the past. The same holds true across generations. The ability and willingness of parents to classify their children in a different category as themselves will depend on the exact criteria for stavenhagn classification. Two different criteria are currently used by the Mexican census to identify the indigenous population.

Language proficiency may be thought to provide a bright boundary between ethnic categories insofar as an individual who does not speak an indigenous language simply cannot be considered indigenous. However, as Alba Another problem with using language proficiency is that it forces individuals to dichotomize what is essentially a continuous variable.

Where the respondent chooses to stavenbagen the line for him or herself as well as for any children for whom he or she is answering the questionnaire, is extremely staevnhagen and amenable to purposeful interpretation.

A more substantive concern is whether language proficiency actually corresponds to the way that indigenous ethnicity is defined in everyday life. Considerable anthropological research suggests that using language proficiency as a criterion for ethnic classification is at best an oversimplification of the way that group membership is defined among the different indigenous peoples in Mexico e.

There are undoubtedly many cases of rodlofo who have lost the ability to speak a particular language but who etnuca consider themselves, and are considered by others, as members of an indigenous group. It is much less common, however, for an individual to speak an indigenous language and yet not be considered a member of any indigenous group.

Language proficiency is therefore an overly restrictive criterion for indigenous identification. A substantial body of research in the sociology of language has examined the factors associated with minority language loss across generations. Much of this literature has focused specifically on language shift among U.

Nevertheless, findings from this literature may help us formulate specific hypotheses about the intergenerational loss of indigenous language proficiency, and hence indigenous identification according to the language criterion used by the Mexican census. Most importantly for our purposes, research on language retention among second generation immigrants in the U.

For example, Alba et al. Similarly, Lutz finds greater family income to be associated with lower odds that Rodolof youth will speak Spanish. As Lutz notes, these findings are consistent with an assimilationist perspective according to which parents of higher socioeconomic status are more integrated into the dominant culture and are therefore less likely to transmit their language of origin to their children. Drawing on this assimilationist perspective we may similarly hypothesize that indigenous parents of higher socioeconomic status in Mexico will be less likely to transmit their proficiency in an indigenous language to their children.

These children will consequently not be classified as indigenous according to the language criterion used by the Mexican census. The assimilationist perspective therefore leads to the same expectation of a loss of indigenous classification with greater parental socioeconomic status as the stigmatization hypothesis when language proficiency is used as a criterion. Stigmatization may also play a direct role in language loss.

In his classic work on the sociology of language, Fishman He suggests that rural stavehhagen are less likely to shift to the dominant language than urban dwellers because they are more isolated. A larger concentration of speakers of the same minority language promotes the retention of the language for similar reasons.

The importance of the concentration of minority language speakers for the preservation of language across generations has been corroborated by numerous studies of immigrant language retention in the U.

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