Date of Award

Spring 8-28-2019

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

First Advisor

Joe H. Bryan

Second Advisor

Emily T. Yeh

Third Advisor

Tim Oakes

Fourth Advisor

Kregg Hetherington

Fifth Advisor

Mario Blaser


This dissertation investigates indigenous land struggles and the politics of implementing Inter-American Court of Human Rights judgments in Paraguay. The Court found the Paraguayan state guilty of numerous human rights violations against the Yakye Axa, Sawhoyamaxa, and Xákmok Kásek communities because of persistent inconsistencies in the state’s governance of indigenous affairs. The Paraguayan state’s systematic denial of land rights, legal protections, and due process in each of the three cases created and maintained the extreme social, economic, political and cultural marginalization of these communities. Each community faces a condition I call “the gap.” The gap is rooted in problems created between de jure and de facto rights. It is the paradox of having rights and recognition while simultaneously living in conditions where those rights are not realized. But the gap is also a spatial and temporal condition that creates liminal legal spaces and situations. I center on what produced the gap, what maintains it, and how people navigate life in the gap. My analysis shows that political rights and legal struggles come with no guarantees and that former sites of dispossession are now engendering new political possibilities for Enxet and Sanapana indigenous peoples. I draw from sixteen months of ethnographic field research I conducted in Paraguay between 2013 and 2016 to argue that laws designed to ensure rights often create spaces and situations that negate rights, producing contradictory outcomes manifest as dispossession and political possibility. I advance the notion of liminal legal geographies to investigate the problems and possibilities created by the gap. The dissertation draws from critical social theory to bridge approaches in political ecology with legal geography to advance debates about indigeneity, dispossession, and land rights. I untangle histories of colonial and capitalist enterprises in the bajo Chaco of Paraguay to understand indigenous subject formation vis-à-vis a host of sovereign actors: Anglican missionaries, cattle ranchers, Paraguayan state, and the Court. The dissertation is the first critical ethnography of indigenous efforts to use the Inter-American System as a tool to regain land rights in Paraguay, making timely and significant contributions to indigenous studies, political ecology, and legal geography.

Available for download on Sunday, December 05, 2021