Fighting With Wine: Ruin, Resistance and Renewal in a Qom Community of Northern Argentina

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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
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Gran Chaco
indigenous studies
Indigenous Studies
Latin American Languages and Societies
Latin American Studies
Social and Cultural Anthropology
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This study examines public binge drinking among the Qom (Toba) ex-foragers of Formosa, northern Argentina. Based upon 15 months of ethnographic fieldwork in a peri-urban Qom barrio (Lot 84), this analysis relates binge drinking to Qom ethnohistory, community life, and interactions with the Argentine state. The public, performative nature of Qom binge drinking is explored; intoxication is shown to convey in sometimes violent public spectacle the pathos of their socioeconomic marginality, reinforce non-indigenous Argentines’ entrenched perceptions of violent “Indians”, and paradoxically provide the Qom with vehicle for continued colonial resistance. Many Qom view drinking problems as rooted in Lot 84’s close proximity to the city (Formosa) relative to more rural Qom villages. Thus they reference a continuum of health that runs from urban, non-indigenous spaces to the rural bush country where foods—including home-brewed alcohol—are healthful rather than harmful. In kind, the violence and perceived chaos associated with public binge drinking has led to the development of programs intended to stem alcohol use in the community. Locally, counseling efforts are woven in the missions of evangelical churches and the Catholic chapel, while top-down efforts focus upon state-run psychoanalysis. Psychoanalysis is explored as a paternalistic form of governmental domination and attempted assimilation. Rather than relying upon state-run methods for personal and communal re-integration, many Qom centrally position a period of alcohol use within their personal development narratives, during which alcohol allowed them to find personal responsibility or an improved relationship with God. On a communal level, fighting against public alcohol use among youth has led to increased community solidarity and capacity building through sport, education and indigenous-led program creation. In summary, public binge drinking is manifest in the Qom community not through acculturation or personal pathology, but rather as a multi-valent, ritualesque performance that levies resistance against prevailing social conditions and, despite the profound tax of violence, occasions personal and communal transformation.

Philippe Bourgois
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