Andean peoples do not think of themselves as culturally equivalent. Nevertheless, the task of defining ‘the Andean’ set by local intellectuals involved in the politics of modernization, and underwritten by the majority of those working in the region, led to a proliferation of descriptive ethnography on local belief and practice. In the 1950s and 1960s these village studies were concerned to guide planned social change but by the 1970s Andean ethnology was involved in a wide variety of fields, which can be roughly subdivided into four major areas. First, the anthropological concern with the relationship between *community and economy has generated studies in kinship and productive activity (Bolton & Meyer 1977; Larson & Harris 1995). Relations of reciprocity between bilaterally reckoned kin groups, across ecological zones, between †moieties, among consanguineal, affinal and spiritual kin, and between the human and spirit worlds, are all key features of Andean productive practice.
Central to these debates are the varying concepts of community operating in Andean social life, communities that came into existence during the colonial period and whose fiscal status and relationship to the land have varied enormously over time and space. The Andean †ayllu is a genealogical and political unit of social action which can be grounded in kinship, territory, and/or labour organization, and operates at the level of the state, the ethnic group, the †kindred, or through relationships of *compadrazgo. As a principle of differentiation the ayllu is relational and operationalized contextually. The ideological force of the concept relates back to the Inka system in which the ayllu, as a genealogical unit, was a *descent group centred on the sibling pair and generative of two lineages through principles of †parallel descent, while the ayllu as political unit implied hierarchical subordination and was conceptualized in such a way that the more inclusive group was conceptualized as male.
Secondly, studies of Andean religiosity have discussed the voracious and unpredictable nature of the spirits that animate the local landscape and the centrality of *sacrifice for the regeneration of fertility. The human and the spirit world are frequently found to exist in a relationship of mutual consumption. In return for rain, humans offer their vital substance to the spirits. Scholars of Andean *Christianity have theorized the relationship between *great and little traditions, particularly in relation to *pilgrimage, and described the beliefs and practices of Catholics inextricably involved with the capricious and dangerous authocthonous spirits of the *landscape (Sallnow 1987). Thirdly, the study of the Quechua and Aymara languages was developed in relation to various national policies for the integration of indigenous communities, educational reforms and the spread of *literacy.
Considerable attention has been paid to the history of standardization and codification and to contemporary sociolinguistics, particularly the study of bilingualism. Finally there is the topic of *ethnicity and *identity which embraces all the above concerns. There has been a continuing fascination with the categorization of the Andean population and constant attempts to define the cultural content of the racial categories of the colonial period. These categories, which both differentiated racial types and homogenized the cultural diversity of Andean peoples, have been sustained in those Andeanist writings which continue to evoke and distinguish Indians from other racial groups (particularly †mestizos, Whites, and Blacks). The tendency has been particularly strong in the †acculturation literature which presupposes the gradual elimination of local difference by global concerns.