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Juan Pablo Sarmiento Barletti

Lecturer in Anthropology, Durham University

I am a Peruvian British-trained anthropologist, having read for an MA (2006), MRes (2007) and PhD (2011) at the University of St Andrews, where I taught for three years before coming to Durham. I have been working since 2007 with Ashaninka people in Peruvian Amazonia, and have spent a total of 34 months living in their villages. My research led me to work closely with Ashaninka political federations, which allowed me to understand the practical importance of scholarly research for their struggle for justice and peace.

Throughout my eight years of ethnographic research in the Amazon, I have approached Ashaninka lives from two perspectives. In my forthcoming book, The Pursuit of Wellbeing in an Amazonian Village (Berghahn), I engaged with their experience of violence and displacement during Peru’s civil war (1980-2000), and of reconstruction in its wake. I argued for the incorporation of “other” forms of knowledge into the analysis of post-war processes to effectively address the needs of survivor populations. I have also addressed their reconstruction process as an everyday political project upholding egalitarian relations in opposition to the relationship of control that the state seeks with its citizens. Yet, even if this project is central to identity politics, it remains un-recognised in Peru, as with indigenous worldviews in many other multicultural states, as it refuses to conform to official well-being discourses. This contrasts with its strategic recognition and implementation as buen vivir (‘good life’) to endorse neoliberal development policies in Bolivia and Ecuador. Both states may have legally recognised nature’s rights, but still follow extractive development agendas.

I am a Fellow of the Wolfson Research Institute for Health and Wellbeing at Durham University, and I am also affiliated to the Centre for Amerindian, Latin American and Caribbean Studies at the University of St Andrews and to the Instituto de Estudios Peruanos in Lima, Peru.

I have recently returned from a two month stay in Peruvian Amazonia (funded by the Carnegie Trust and the Bourse Legs Lelong-CNRS) which served as a preliminary visit in preparation for a research grant proposal.The proposed project, 'Indigenous Well-being: Knowledge and Practice Among Ashaninka People', interrogates mainstream scholarly and policy approaches to well-being, emphasising the examination of alternative approaches to critically enhance its utility in policy and practice. This is specially important due to well-being’s prominence in the UN post-2015 Development Agenda. However, despite this interest, the concept remains largely ill-defined and vague in its applicability.

Responding to the threat to indigenous people’s wellbeing represented by the unprecedented global expansion of extractive projects, my work explores ethnographically the link between well-being models and societies’ understandings of humanity and nature, assessing their connection to ideas of development, progress, and sustainability.


  • 2014–present
    Lecturer in the Anthropology of Development, Durham University
  • 2011–2014
    Lecturer in Social Anthropology, University of St Andrews


  • 2011 
    University of St Andrews, PhD in Social Anthropology and Amerindian Studies