State sovereignty seems so passé. Prominent political theorists have reiterated time and again the need to move beyond the nation-state: Arjun Appadurai (1993) asked us to “think ourselves beyond the nation”; Partha Chatterjee (1993) told us to look within it; and Dipesh Chakrabarty (2000) provincialized Europe, with its nation-state system, as an inadequate guide to political possibilities. Scholars have tackled the ethics of post-sovereignty (Shapiro 1994) and are now looking for new ways to think about the state (Migdal 2009). Slowly but surely, attempts to break away from the historical straightjacket of the nation-state as the expected form of political organization are seeping into International Relations (IR), a discipline that has canonized Westphalian sovereignty as a collective fait accompli. Opening up our imaginaries to non-dominant patterns of knowledge production forces us to ask what a world politics emancipated from the state actually looks like. If we are to quiet the obsession IR has with state sovereignty, we must complement conceptualizations with praxis. In addition to post-national grammars, we need to identify concrete possibilities of what beyond-and within-the state can be. Indigeneity is perhaps as “beyond” the state as it goes. Escaping statist con-
ceptions of boundaries, rooted in non-Western ways of worlding and entailing a political legitimacy that precedes the state, indigeneity is a strategic site from which to rethink sovereignty. Indigenous politics oﬀer radically diﬀerent insights into the international because they engage forms of governance constituted outside, and to a large extent before, the modern state. And since there is no way to divorce theory from a standpoint in time and space (Cox 1986), indigeneity constitutes a unique positionality to contest hegemonic histories, with political cosmologies that denaturalize the state as the sole locus of the political
(Beier 2005). More speciﬁcally, indigenous practices of authority-plural, shared and unbounded from states-exemplify how to “dispense” with conventional sovereignty, echoing eﬀorts to emancipate world politics from the shackles of Eurocentric political practices (Shilliam 2010). Dominant understandings of stateness are increasingly under attack. Dis-
ciplinary boundaries are contested by voices on the periphery (Tickner and Blaney 2012), on methodological grounds (Jackson 2011) and by engaging storytelling as a form of knowledge production (Inayatullah 2011). The feminist critique contesting IR epistemologies (Tickner 1997) has been complemented with postcolonial perspectives seeking to unfurl silenced histories, while postracist political projects have intensiﬁed contestation of the ﬁeld’s Eurocentrism (Hobson 2007; Vitalis 2010). Critics depict the international as more heterogeneous than conventional wisdom acknowledges, yet few seem to engage indigenous perspectives to stir political creativity. Perceived as a local particularism disconnected from the international, or too
vernacular to be deemed worthy of universal categorizations, indigeneity remains largely overlooked by scholars of IR. Indigenous peoples seem to be “relics,” more relevant to anthropologists than scholars of global politics. After being written out of history by selective processes of memory-making (O’Brien 2010), indigenous peoples are silenced in political modernity (Beier 2009). Lingering imaginaries of this sort are at odds with the sophistication of indigenous political praxis, indicating the dose of colonialism still embedded in the discipline (Shaw 2008). While they harvest millennia-old grains and speak pre-Columbian languages, indigenous peoples of the Americas have long articulated their interests in international realms. Indigenous struggles are fundamentally global, even if they are treated as irremediably apolitical and implicitly located at the borders of political rationality. This chapter argues that indigeneity is a valuable site for critical theory. The
political experience of indigenous peoples, and especially indigenous women, is key to rethinking the world of politics. It seeks to make visible the international dynamism of indigenous politics and emphasizes its eﬀorts to counter statecentrism. Following Chatterjee’s (1993) suggestion to look within the nation, I combine ethnographic approaches with a feminist standpoint to show how indigenous women shape the international. I support my argument with a casestudy analysis of indigenous women’s struggles in Ecuador. Locating their politics at the intersection of collective, indigenous rights and international women’s rights, Kichwa women articulate indigenous politics, the nation-state and international norms in ways that dislodge conventional forms of legal authority. Their pursuit of justice is deeply entangled in global politics and results in multilayered and overlapping practices of sovereignty. Overall, the analysis posits indigeneity as a signiﬁcant, yet mostly overlooked, category of analysis to thinking IR diﬀerently. In what follows, I ﬁrst propose indigeneity as a strategic way of seeing that
moves the international beyond state-centrism. I then look at indigenous
women’s use of global politics in Ecuador, debunking accepted understandings of what constitutes the international, where it is located and who its legitimate actors are. Although perceived as peripheral-even external-to IR, indigenous women are relocating legal sovereignty beyond the nation-state. Finally, I analyze the signiﬁcance of indigenous forms of sovereignty for identifying alternative roadmaps in world politics. The triangulation of judicial authority between indigenous, domestic, and international law dislocates legal sovereignty not from above, as in the European Union (EU), but from alternative geographies within the state.