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Field Museum of Natural History

R. Elliott Oakley

My work focuses on how indigenous ideas about land, community, and sociality shape engagements with the state, environmental NGOs, and other outsiders. I am particularly interest in the opportunities and challenges of environmental conservation partnerships in southern Guyana based on my fieldwork with Waiwai people. I am an Environmental Social Scientist at the Field Museum of Natural History, where I work on environmental conservation and well-being in the Keller Science Action Center.

My PhD dissertation presents an indigenous analysis of social and spatial relations in southern Guyana through the histories, perspectives and practices of people in Masakenyarï, considered by its approximately 250 residents to be a Waiwai village. The chapters examine the multiple ways in which people in Masakenyarï understand and act within broader political and economic processes, which are analytically framed through Waiwai ideas about the desired and potentially dangerous relation between exteriority and interiority. Themes such as leadership, gender, development, exchange, and identity are explored to elaborate interiority and exteriority as dynamic spatial but also conceptual relations. Taken together, the chapters demonstrate the persisting importance of the exterior – which includes state, NGO and other itinerant actors – as a source of value for Waiwai people for the village-based livelihoods that they desire. Rooted in the anthropology of Latin America and indigenous Amazonia, the dissertation speaks to broader questions about indigenous ideas of living well, both in relation to village sociality and contemporary indigenous livelihoods amidst large-scale political and economic transformation.

Featured Publications

2020. “Demarcated pens, dependent pets: Conservation livelihoods in an indigenous Amazonian protected area.’ Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology.

2020. “Conserving and Extracting Nature: Environmental politics and livelihoods in the new
‘middle grounds’ of Amazonia.’ Journal of Latin America and Caribbean Anthropology. (Co-authored with Casey High)

2019. “‘Opening Up’ the Village: Canoes, Conservation and Contending with Transformation in
Amazonia.” Etnofoor 31 (2): 33–50.

2018. ‘Adventure tourists: when you visit remote tribes, learn the art of sharing.’ The Guardian, May 21, Global Development section. development/2018/may/21/adventure-tourists-remote-tribes-art-of-sharing-elliott-oakley

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