From Maya Hackers and the Cyberspatialized Nation-State: Modernity, Ethnostalgia, and a Lizard Queen in Guatemala by Diane Nelson. Cultural Anthropology, Volume 11, Number 3, 1996, American Anthropological Association.


[This article is not directly about "cyberculture," but about indigenous Maya in Guatemala. Nelson was called "Queen of the Lizards" by children there because of her name; "Diana" was the name of the queen of alien lizards who attempted to infiltrate the human race in a science fiction TV show called V, which the children had been watching.]

I will argue that as Maya hackers, [Mayan activists] are decoding and reprogramming such familiar binary oppositions as those between past and future, between being rooted in geography and being mobile, between being traditional and being moern, between manual labor and white-collar technology / information manipulation, between mountain shrines and mini malls, and between unpaved roads and the information superhighway.... My designation as lizard queen, like the term Maya hacker, is meant to suggest an incongruous juxtaposition of science fiction and anthropology. (289)

The term hacker originated at MIT, the primordial soup of computing, as a term of respect and acknowledgment for extraordinary competence in the manipulation of hard- and software.... Hacking is about the understanding and control of information technologies and, most importantly, the ability to form networks for communication and information sharing. (291)

The ALMG [Guatemalan Mayan Language Academy] is an umbrella organization for Mayan groups.... Member organizations work in research, documentation, and education. They sponsor conferences and seminars and publish economically and intellectually accessible materials -- what I would call "shareware." (294)

Rather than the state being a "thing" to be smashed, the Maya seem to see the post-1985 Guatemalan government as a site for their work.... I am saying not that the nation-state is exactly like cyberspace, of course, but that both are communities formed through shared information [or "consensual hallucination," as William Gibson calls it]. (295, 296)

A member of the government's human rights office remarked: "indigenous communities are horizontally organized. The Civil Patrol is vertical and destructive to traditional community life. In the communities, people are respected for contributing to the community, for their skills and their knowledge." [Interesting to note that communities of physical space are sometimes called "vertical communities," in which we build by piling materials on top of one another, while electronic communities are called "horizontal communities," in which we build by making interlinear connections along a plane.] Another government development official said: "Indigenous social structure is very complete and democratic and functional. It is better than the national structure. Their system is very rich, but they are very jealous of it. They will not let us enter. Their elders and leaders are very powerful and there is a deep mysticism they will not share with us." Such forms of ethnostalgia and fascination are important for the high tech imagination of cyberspace, from the tribal subcultures and totem identifications of hackers to total immersion games, like Dungeons and Dragons. (299)

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