Jean E. Jackson, Colombia, Indigenous peoples, gender, Tukanoan.


This essay celebrates the work of Jean E. Jackson, a pioneering female ethnographer who devoted most of her fifty-year career to the Indigenous peoples of Colombia. Her research, represented in an extensive set of publications from the early 1970s to the present, engages with themes of identity, stigma, and social inequality, manifested across a range of contexts. Jackson’s ethnographic contributions include her ground-breaking early work on Indigenous Tukanoan society in the Colombian Vaupés, focusing on the practice of linguistic exogamy (obligatory marriage across language groups) among the Bará people. Later, she expanded her focus to address Indigenous experiences in the context of rapid cultural change in Colombia, relating to evolving conceptions of indigeneity and its relationship to the national society, and how these transitions bear on processes and practices associated with identity, multiculturalism, and neoliberalism. A further thread of Jackson’s research, based in the United States, dealt with anthropological perspectives on chronic pain. In this essay, we focus primarily on her pioneering work with Colombian Indigenous peoples, while also considering how this work connects to her other lines of research, and how her explorations of these themes shaped her significant contributions to ethnographic methodology. We also emphasize the relevance of gender as a consistent thread throughout Jackson’s research trajectory—both as a topic of attention in her research and as a pivot point in her own approach as a female ethnographer.