Indigenous Ecologies of Knowledges | Princeton Welcomes Global Scholar Carlos Fausto, Anthropologist and Filmmaker Working on the Brazilian Amazon

Feb. 2, 2021

Carlos Fausto giving a talk at the Brazil LAB.

PIIRS’s Brazil LAB is delighted to welcome to Princeton the leading Brazilian anthropologist Carlos Fausto, who has been appointed a Princeton Global Scholar (2020-2024). A world-renowned scholar of indigenous Amazonia and an award-winning documentary filmmaker, Fausto is a Professor in the Department of Social Anthropology of Rio de Janeiro’s Museu Nacional (Brazil’s oldest scientific institution). 

Through the Global Scholars Program, the University recruits stellar interdisciplinary scholars from around the world to participate in research and teaching initiatives across campus. Fausto has previously held visiting professorships at the University of Chicago, Stanford University, Collège de France, École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, and Cambridge University. His Global Scholar appointment has been enthusiastically supported by the Department of Anthropology, the High Meadows Environmental Institute, the Program in Latin American Studies, and the Department of Spanish and Portuguese.

Working at the interfaces between anthropology, indigenous and ecological studies, and the arts, Fausto has published widely in and out of academia. He is the author of the classics Os Índios antes do Brasil [Indigenous Peoples before Brazil] and Inimigos Fiéis [Faithful Enemies] (in Portuguese). He also published two trailblazing books in English: Warfare and Shamanism in Amazonia and Art Effects: Image, Agency and Ritual in Amazonia. 

A notable public intellectual, Fausto is the co-founder of the flagship anthropological journal Mana and has been the editor of the science outreach magazine Ciência Hoje [Science Today]. As a creative photographer and filmmaker, Fausto has collaborated with various Kuikuro indigenous collectives in the production of multiple audiovisual projects, most notably the acclaimed documentary film The Hyperwomen. Fausto’s photographs have been exhibited at the Maison Européenne de la Photographie in Paris and at the Affirmation Arts Building in New York.

Anthropology graduate student Lucas Prates has recently interviewed Professor Carlos Fausto, who will participate in activities online this semester, including the Brazil LAB sponsored course Amazonia, the Last Frontier. In his remarks, Fausto elaborated on the significance of his Global Scholar appointment and on the many challenges and opportunities the social sciences face in today’s world on edge.


Lucas Prates: Our community is extremely happy that you are bringing your incredible experience and scholarship to Princeton. Could you share with us some of the ideas and projects you would like to work on in the next few years with colleagues and students at Princeton? 

Carlos Fausto: I am delighted to have this incredible opportunity and look forward to expanding on Princeton’s already flourishing programs on Brazil and all things Amazonia and on the timely focus on indigenous studies. I have been carrying out ethnographic fieldwork in the Alto Xingu with the Kuikuro people for over two decades (three decades in the Amazon) and occupy a kind of bridging position in Amazonian studies. This is due to my varied engagement with ethnography and the arts and sciences, tempered with a good dose of activism and the participation in indigenous peoples’ own projects. In Princeton, I want to build upon this experience and help to generate synergies necessary as we face pressing theoretical and practical challenges. Current policies (or their absence) are accelerating the Amazonian tipping point, offering us a gloomy view of the future of the tropical forests and the survival of indigenous peoples. This scenario, unfolding before our eyes, forces us to think differently. We need to build new ecologies of knowledge based on the cross fertilization between different fields, epistemologies and ontologies. This will require a particular openness to the rich and creative human-nature interactions that Amazonian indigenous peoples have lived by and that has to become part of our efforts to redirect our environmental predicament. This is a great challenge, but an unavoidable one. 

As a specialist in Amazonia and deeply committed to the rights of indigenous peoples, I am concerned with how to truly engage their sophisticated environmental knowledges and practices, in critical thought and conservation policy. What I would really like to do in Princeton is to experiment on this dialogue between Amazonian indigenous peoples, artists, environmental scientists, anthropologists and other scholars. The Brazil LAB is already incubating a project on Indigenous Ecologies of Knowledge and I look forward to help it gain form and, in the process, keep learning from and collaborating with colleagues and students in Anthropology, Environmental Studies, Spanish and Portuguese, Latin American Studies, and Art & Archaeology.

A traditional dance performed by the indigenous Kuikuro people in the Brazilian Amazon. Photo by Carlos Fausto.

LP: Talking about challenges, we may say that your two ‘homes’ have been under attack: Amazonia, where you have been conducting fieldwork, has seen record numbers of deforestation; similarly, academic institutions in Brazil have been dismantled by the federal government in recent years, with Museu Nacional, your home institution, tragically destroyed by a fire in 2018. What can the social sciences offer and do in the face of so much senseless violence and uncertainty?

CF: On September 2018, I watched paralyzed on TV the flames consuming Museu Nacional. It was as bad as you can imagine. Two months later, I watched again on TV the election of a president with no commitment to science, human rights and the environment. Since then, we have seen our worst nightmares become true. As you said, I feel like my ‘homes’ have been under attack, but they continue to exist in myriad forms. One has to resist. It makes little sense to stay put, for the apocalypse to come. And, in our case, resisting means to produce even better science and more mobilizing arts. As teachers, we have to impart to our students the significance and social meaningfulness of what we do for a living: multi-modal research and publicization of critical knowledge, especially in these times when truth and ethics are under such brutal attack. In the case of Amazonia, we need more studies on the interconnectedness of indigenous and non-indigenous forms of knowledge and alternative, decolonial and imaginative story-telling. 

We must experiment and be ready to learn from our failures and keep moving on. Princeton’s emphasis on interdisciplinarity and internationalization give me hope that we can move forward toward new forms of producing knowledge. I am particularly committed to help carving out a space for Amazonian research here, blending ethnographic, ecological, archaeological studies, and artistic expression. This cannot be done without the active participation of indigenous peoples, and together we have to find ways to connect Amazonian ecologies of knowledges with new ways of mapping, visualizing and narrating a possible future for the forest’s manifold forms of life.

Kanari Kuikuro showing Carlos Fausto a pot full of winged leafcutter ants he has just collected. Photo by Carlos Fausto.