A strong strain in all of this will be looking at comparative criminal markets/networks: what else is going on in these areas, how are those networks related or different, how are the perceived, how are they regulated (or not regulated) mostly just to see if anything is there. Sure, yes, in this part of the globe the obvious criminal network is cocaine. I see this as an interesting possibility as in Bolivia, coca production and consumption is tied up in deep cultural memories and very modern displays of political/social/cultural identity. But beyond this, my mind comes back to sorts of, how should I say it, institutionally/professionally sanctioned illicit markets and networks. Biological samples from living Amazonian groups? Medical/botanical Indigenous knowledge that wiggles its way into proprietary western pharmaceuticals? I have a lot of ideas. I’m still working them out.
Fieldwork is going to happen and it will be in Bolivia first. I am currently looking for some sort of NGO to be my host institution without much luck, mostly because I need to move away from being associated with just archaeology and archaeologists. I don’t think the host institution needs to do much to “host” me: I come with my own money and a book grant for the institution through the Fulbright, but sorting it out is new to me. Although I am open to suggestions, I think if I have to do initial fieldwork quite soon (sorting out the timeline), Copacabana might be the right place. A largely Indigenous community that manages major tourist archaeological sites but also might have thoughts on trans-lake movement of illicit/illegal goods (aha, you say, alternative criminal networks!). Also I have been to Copacabana. It seems doable. Email me with ideas folks!
More broadly, the project will have a website quite soon and you will be able to find out more there. Until then I am very eager to get in touch with people who have ideas and opinions about all this. I know that there will, no doubt, be backlash from certain sectors but I sincerely hope that the various interest groups can come together on this one. I’m really interested in hearing from dealers and collectors, even if my work probably won’t come very close to you all very often. As valid stakeholders in all this, your ideas and opinions matter. I suppose what I am saying is that I am not in this to pick fights, rather I am here to learn.
Hopefully this will be exciting and great. The people I am working with are truly amazing (and quite a lot of fun) and I can’t imagine where I would rather be.