The National Museum of Ethnology (Minpaku) is a research center for ethnology and cultural anthropology.

State, Community and Identity in the Modern Hispanic World: A Study of Resettlement Policy in Spanish America

Research period: April 2011-March 2014 / Core project: Anthropological Studies of Inclusion and Autonomy Coordinator SAITO Akira

Reserch Theme List

Research Objectives

From the sixteenth century on, Spain adopted a forced resettlement policy in its American territories, requiring formerly scattered small settlements to consolidate into larger, planned towns. Its goals were to promote conversion of the natives to Christianity and to make it easier to exact taxes and corvée labor from them. The assumptions behind the policy included the idea that only in an urban environment can humanity be fully realized and therefore the "barbarians" who live outside of it are subhuman. During the three centuries in which this policy was in force, millions of individuals were forced to move into thousands of towns. This process not only solidified the foundation for Spanish control of its colonies in the Americas. It also radically transformed residential patterns, social organization, power relations, and identity among those to whom the policy was applied.

This project has two interrelated objectives.

(1) To clarify the impact of the resettlement policy on indigenous societies
The resettlement policy was the imposition upon the peoples of the Americas of a model of what contemporary Spaniards thought to be the most suitable way of life for human beings. It was implemented uniformly, without regard to local circumstances and, therefore, disturbed the workings of indigenous societies. The imposition of a nucleated settlement pattern hindered the exploitation of scattered natural resources. The new affiliation with territorial-based communities demanded the restructuring of kinship-based social organizations. The Christian liturgy, staged in the church on the plaza in every town, made it difficult to practice traditional religion which was inseparable from the natural environment. Predictably, the resettlement policy evoked strong resistance from indigenous peoples, while at the same time, triggering a variety of transformations. A consensus on the historical significance of this policy has not been achieved among scholars. Based on the fact that a large number of local people resisted permanent settlement in towns and left them for cities, mines, or plantations, some scholars conclude that the resettlement policy ended in failure. Others argue, however, that the policy succeeded in homogenizing indigenous societies that had varied considerably by region and laid the foundation for today's community structure. The problem is that earlier research focused, for the most part, on particular places or peoples. There has not yet been an attempt to compare multiple examples and synthesize the results. This project will compare cases from all of the major regions of Spanish South America, including the Pacific Coast, the Andes, the Amazon basin, La Plata and Chile, to assess the overall impact of resettlement on indigenous societies.
(2) To clarify the relation between state and community in the Hispanic world
Spain's overseas empire-building coincided with the construction of the modern state in the Iberian Peninsula. A monarchy equipped with powerful military forces, great financial abilities, and sophisticated bureaucracies grew to exercise an effective control over their domains. Previous research has affirmed that the growth of royal authority weakened self-governing cities and towns. Recent research has suggested, however, that the Spanish monarchy actively promoted local self-government, strengthening royal authority through decentralization instead of centralization, implementing policies that seem, at first glance, paradoxical. The resettlement policy in the Americas has often been discussed as part of an attempt to gain control over its colonial subjects by the Spanish monarchy. But the other side of this process, the introduction of self-government to the local people, has often been neglected. Town councils called cabildo were established and administrative authority was delegated to them. At their establishment, these councils were placed under control of the hereditary lords. In the late colonial period, however, town councils became increasingly autonomous and may, we believe, have become the nucleus of a newly formed collective consciousness. This project considers the resettlement policy as a manifestation of the conflicting, yet complementary relation between state and community in the Hispanic world, and attempts to grasp its significance, taking into account cases not only from South America but from Spain and other American colonies.

This project is envisioned as belonging to the core research project area entitled “Anthropological Studies of Inclusion and Autonomy in the Human World. ” The study of resettlement policy is thus a first step in investigating the relation between inclusion into the modern state and autonomy of local communities. In early modern Spain, the idea of community as a spontaneous product of human nature, together with the scholastic vision of human beings as social animals, was widespread. Community affiliation was thought to be based on the natural love for one's patria, and community self-government, on natural liberty. Both were deemed to be beyond the reach of the positive law instituted by the monarch. The resettlement policy was clearly a form of control exercised over the indigenous peoples by the colonial state. That said, it also guaranteed those people concentrated in the new towns a degree of political independence and fostered a sense of local identity. The relation between inclusion and autonomy in the Hispanic world was tense but complementary. By elucidating the reality of this relationship, we aim to shed new light from a fresh angle on similar issues confronting our society today.

This project is closely related to the following project, and the activities of the two projects will, in some cases, be combined, to maximize the efficient use of research funds.

Grants-in-Aid for Scientific Research “KAKENHI”, Scientific Research (B): “Resettlement Policy and Its Effects on Native Society in Spanish South America: A Comparative Study”
Principal Investigator: Akira Saito
Period: April, 2010 - March, 2013

For details of the “KAKENHI” project, please see the following Spanish website: