Political Economy, Neoliberalism, and the Prehistoric Economies of Latin America: Volume 32


Table of contents

(18 chapters)
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List of Contributors

Pages vii-viii
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Four years ago I co-edited a book with Geert De Neve and two of his colleagues at the University of Sussex – Jeff Pratt and Peter Luetchford. The chapters had originally been presented at the Hidden Hands in the Market workshop held at Sussex in April of 2007 and organized by Geert, Jeff, and Peter. After hearing about the workshop I wrote to Geert, hoping to scoop up a few bits of gold for REA, but as it turned out I had struck the mother lode. Our co-edited book was Volume 28 of REAHidden Hands in the Market: Ethnographies of Fair Trade, Ethical Consumption, and Corporate Social Responsibility (2008) – one of the installments that I remain proudest of, and the first REA volume under Emerald with which I was directly involved. The volume explores the relationship between producers and consumers, focusing on its moral and political content, in a very broad sense.

This thirty-second volume in the REA series represents a joint effort between two former students of Norbert Dannhaeuser, who edited REA together with his colleague Cynthia Werner from 2001 to 2005, and who served as the chair of both Donald's and Ty's M.A. thesis committees at Texas A&M University. Norbert also was chair of Ty's Ph.D. committee. Donald was just settling on Japan as his geographic focus in anthropology around 1993, and although this was not Norbert's specialty he was very familiar with the canon of postwar Japanese village studies. Introducing Donald to this body of work had a tremendous influence on his academic development and his future path. Prior to this more intensive and focused guidance, however, it was taking Norbert's core Anthropological Theory (ANTH 410) course at Texas A&M in the autumn term of 1992 – exactly 20 years ago – that convinced Donald to commit himself to a career in anthropology in the first place. Similarly, Ty's career development as an anthropologist owes a considerable debt to Norbert. The knowledge acquired from him both in the field (the Philippines) and classroom (Texas A&M University) has proven indispensable in influencing Ty's geographical and topical focus. Both of us would like to take this opportunity to thank Norbert for all of his guidance and encouragement. We humbly dedicate this volume of REA to him in honor of all of his contributions to the field of anthropology, and also out of gratitude for his support when we were just starting out.

Purpose – This chapter asks what we should make of the gift exchanges that take place between workers and their managers on the floor of a massive offshore manufacturing unit in South India. Such exchanges appear anomalous in the ethnography of global manufacturing yet here they underpinned the organisation of hyper-intensive production processes.

Findings – Following diverse acts of giving, this chapter shows how these transactions constituted the performative and relational grounds on which workers came to know themselves and sought to shape the world around them. In doing so it extends the anthropology of work and labour by showing that acts of giving are integral to global commodity production.

Purpose – This paper utilizes the perspective of abundance, rather than scarcity, to understand economies of cities. It also proposes that the earliest urban centers were attractive places of settlement because they represented a greater variety of jobs and objects compared to the rural countryside.

Design/methodology/approach – The evolutionary trajectory of our species indicates that humans sought out abundance in their natural environments as early as a million years ago. People also deliberately replicated conditions of abundance through the manufacture and discard of large quantities of repetitive objects, and through the “waste” of usable goods. The development of urban centers 6,000 years ago provided new opportunities for both production and consumption and an abundance of diverse goods and services. These processes are analogous to contemporary economists’ views of abundance as a desirable principle and Chris Anderson's view of the Long Tail as the explanatory mechanism for the production and consumption of goods when greater distribution becomes possible.

Social implications – Today, cities are growing very rapidly despite objectively deleterious conditions such as crowding, pollution, competition, and disease transmission. By recognizing the “pull” factors of consumption and opportunity, researchers can expend their energies to mitigate the negative effects of cities’ inevitable growth.

Originality/value – Prior archaeological and contemporary analyses of cities have focused on the role of the upper echelons of the political and economic hierarchy; in contrast, this “bottom-up” approach addresses the attractions of cities from the perspective of ordinary inhabitants.

Purpose – Inspired by “old” institutional arguments, this chapter presents the ideas of both the “old” and “new” institutional perspective as their arguments appear in the economic anthropology literature following the substantivist–formalist debate of the 1960s.

Design/methodology/approach – During the 1960s the substantivist–formalist debate, otherwise known as the “Great Debate,” thrust institutional thought to the forefront of economic anthropology. By the close of the 1960s, the substantivist–formalist debate passed unresolved. Institutional economic anthropology reached a crossroad – it could continue the legacy of the substantivism as represented by “old” institutionalism or follow the path of “new” institutional economics. Against the long shadow of the “Great Debate,” this chapter identifies key epistemological ideas that are present within the recent history of the institutional economic anthropology literature.

Findings – On the basis of epistemological arguments, the chapter suggests that if the substantivist–formalist debate, often times referred to as the “Great Debate,” is ever to achieve closure, then practitioners of institutional economic anthropology would benefit by moving beyond “new” institutional thought.

Originality/value – This chapter provides a unique evaluation of the institutional perspective within the history of economic anthropology. Residing within this history are clear and poignant distinctions between the “old” and “new” institutional perspectives. As a result, this chapter seeks to bring to social scientists interested in institutional economists, important insights from economic anthropology that may have otherwise gone unnoticed.

Purpose – Generally speaking this chapter examines if Max Weber's theory of the protestant ethic helps explain socioeconomic progress currently seen in some communities in Latin America where Protestantism has advanced rapidly.

Methodology/approach – This chapter is a case study. It reviews the literature on San Pedro de Almolonga, a small indigenous town in western Guatemala, and presents the results of our ethnographic fieldwork in the town and its surroundings during January 2011.

Findings – Almolonga has become a very prosperous town through the production and commercialization of vegetables. Prosperity has emerged due to the high fertility of the soil, the entrepreneurial skills of its inhabitants, and the high market demand for vegetables. Protestantism has been an almost perfect complement that has made possible the maximization of Almolonga's economic potential.

Purpose – This chapter examines the risk of a hostile incursion as perceived by Fremont farmers living in the Range Creek area of Utah, 700–1700 years ago.

Methodology/approach – We build two simple financial portfolio models where agents (Fremont farmers) choose optimal locations to store grain based on a trade-off between ease of access during normal times and difficulty of confiscation during a hostile incursion. We calibrate our model using the observed distances and difficulty of access to granaries measured in caloric costs.

Findings – We find that even low or moderate probabilities of an incursion rationalize the use of cliff granaries. Risk on the order of a 5–25% chance per year makes building, maintaining, and transporting grain to a cliff granary worthwhile.

Social implications – Our research does not rule out other motives for granary construction. However, it does show that a small threat of hostilities can explain the observed location of granaries in Range Creek and other areas of Fremont habitation.

Originality/value of chapter – This research is unique in its application of standard financial portfolio theory (normally dealing with optimal holdings of risky financial assets) to the problem of deducing perceived risk. To our knowledge, this is the first use of these rational financial models in the context of a human population that has left no explicit economic evidence such as prices or transaction records.

Purpose – Examined here are some of the tenets of social capital in the context of the migrants’ crossing the U.S.–Mexico border without official authorization. Using this context helps identify how social capital development is weakened by the structural and gendered dimensions of migration, contributing to the rise in undocumented border crosser deaths since 1993.

Approach – A selection of published works provide an overview of social capital, and in particular, how the framework has been used to further our understanding of the process of migration and immigrant settlement in new destinations. The principles of social capital are then examined in light of women's border crossing experiences and used to argue that migrants from emerging migrant-sending states in southern and central Mexico have had less time to accumulate resource-enhancing migration-related social capital. The narratives of repatriated women collected during research on the border in 2006–2007 are used to illustrate how controlling environments undermine the acquisition of social capital at a critical time.

Findings – The selection of narratives of women who were repatriated after attempting to cross into the United States without authorization illustrate the perilous interplay of hardening border enforcement and multiplying illicit border smuggling organizations. The outcome is the downward leveling of social capital on the border that potentially poses greater life-threatening risks for migrants.

Originality/value – This study provides a theoretical understanding that can be used to explain rising levels of violence along the U.S.–Mexico border that increasingly engulf migrants fleeing poverty in Mexico.

Purpose – This chapter asks whether the current economic crisis, precipitated by defaults in subprime mortgages, could have been postponed or perhaps even avoided?

Design/methodology/approach – I begin by exploring an aspect of American culture that I call the moral philosophy of “just deserts.” The term “just deserts” is derived from the title of Alperovitz and Daly's (2008) book, Unjust Deserts: How the Rich Are Taking Our Common Inheritance and Why We Should Take It Back. To argue for greater equity in the distribution of wealth, the authors return to the 17th century writings of John Locke who helped establish the rules of property ownership that determine who is entitled to get what in the way of material goods. Locke's writings, infused with Protestant theology, became the basis of Western law and morality. Economic theory, on which the policies that led up to the latest crash and the responses to it, draws heavily on Locke's ideas.

Findings – Holders of subprime mortgages who have lost their homes, according to this thinking that has become intrinsic to our culture, did not deserve to be given mortgages or to obtain homes. Paying these mortgages for them might have postponed or even prevented the crash and the collapse of the financial system. Rational as this seems, it was not even proposed, because it would have given people something they had not earned and hence were not believed to deserve.

Research limitations/implications – The chapter is based on cultural and historical analysis. It cannot be tested empirically since this would require policy makers to change the assumptions on which its economic programs rest.

Practical implications – The practical implications of the chapter are to stimulate examination and discussion of the cultural value of just deserts and the assumptions on which it is based.

Originality/value – The reintroduction of culture and its assumptions into debates over public policy will improve understanding and enable us to avoid repeating social practices that have had negative effects.

Purpose – To provide a general theory for how the ancient Mesoamerican economy functioned.

Design/methods/approach – First the chapter describes formally the sectors or operations of the economy: production, consumption, labor, specialization, exchange and prices, savings and investment, credit, quasi-money, markets, and dynamics. Then it relates this economy to its Mesoamerican cultural context.

Findings – Much but not all of this economy, with its great volume of transactions, worked according to market principles, without coinage or state-fiat money yet not barter. The theory has testable implications. Periods of growth and decline in preindustrial urban societies could have been due to economic forces.

Research limitations/implications – The presentation is verbal, not mathematical. Precolumbian economic documents hardly exist; advances in this line of research will have to come from archaeology (in part informed by earliest contact-era history).

Social implications – Extending theories of money and markets to include preindustrial urban societies should deepen and enrich economic thinking generally.

Originality/value of chapter – The first nonsubstantivist model of the Mesoamerican economy; insights on specialization and competition when firms are households; how high volumes of exchange work with commodity monies.

Purpose – A reevaluation of the theoretical underpinnings that have been used to interpret the prehispanic highland Mesoamerican economy, with a primary focus on the Classic and Postclassic periods in the Valley of Oaxaca.

Approach – Models of prehispanic Mesoamerican economies have long been derived from theoretical constructs broadly associated with Marx's Asiatic mode of production, specifically the writings of Wittfogel and Polanyi, which emphasized centralized control of irrigation and managed systems of production and distribution. Yet, for the Valley of Oaxaca, ethnographic data point to smaller-scale, more flexible systems of production, the importance of market exchange, and mechanisms for domestic cooperation. Drawing on residential excavation data from three Classic-period sites, systematic regional surveys, and other sources, the authors find that the data from the prehispanic era conform much more closely to the ethnographic findings than the long-standing theoretical constructs. New directions for modeling the prehispanic highland Mesoamerican economy are outlined.

Findings – The chapter's empirical focus is on the Classic-period domestic economy in the Valley of Oaxaca, where many households engaged in multicrafting and produced nonsubsistence goods for exchange. The archaeological data do not support the long-held view that most domestic units were self-sufficient.

Originality/value – The chapter draws on and synthesizes the theoretical implications from decades of field research by the authors. The findings provide a basis to question traditional perspectives on prehispanic Mesoamerican economies that have guided research for decades but no longer are supported by empirical findings.

Purpose – A study of the origins of socioeconomic complexity at the agropastoral site of Jachakala in the eastern altiplano of Oruro, Bolivia with pre-Tiwanaku and Tiwanaku-contemporary components (ca. AD 150–1100). It uses faunal remains to explore differential access to subsistence resources.

Methodology/approach – Synchronic and diachronic analyses of camelid faunal remains from the multicomponent highland Bolivian site of Jachakala are used to explore access to cuts of meat of variable meat utility value among three areas of the village community. The merits of interzonal analyses, rather than inter-household comparisons, are argued as well.

Findings – Differential access to cuts of camelid meat among residents of Jachakala indicate early and sustained wealth differences beyond those typical of a subsistence-oriented economy. This is significant in part because of the clear absence of political elites at the site who might have controlled or directed resource distributions.

Research limitations/implications – This study suggests the origins of socioeconomic complexity can be divorced from the development of a political elite, providing a comparative case study for archaeologists interested in similar issues elsewhere.

Originality/value – This approach to the origins of complexity focuses not on agricultural resources or control over the production or distribution of craft or exotic trade goods, but rather on animal remains. Using faunal remains as a proxy for wealth, not just protein or pastoralism, this case study contributes to discussions about incipient complexity.

Purpose – This chapter examines the expectation that because the developmental trajectories of cultural frontiers are often seen as being tied to that of their more complexly developed neighbors, increases in interregional interaction provide frontier communities with previously unavailable political-economic opportunities that promote social change.

Design/methodology/approach – This expectation is examined using data from archaeological excavations at the site of El Dornajo in southwestern Ecuador. Models based on external conditions like interregional interaction are considered alongside those based on internal conditions like environmental perturbations.

Findings – The results suggest that increased interregional interaction promoted the emergence of a regional prestige economy that symbolically legitimated (and perhaps made possible) the co-option of traditional risk buffering strategies during a time when the availability of subsistence resources had changed due to local conditions.

Practical implications – This chapter supports the notion that the emergence of institutionalized inequality requires control over both internal and external relationships. Furthermore, it suggests that examining models based on both internal and external conditions of change may help to explain the timing and pace of that change.

Originality/value – Much of the archaeological literature is dichotomized between models based on internal conditions and those based on external conditions. Few archaeologists would take exception to the notion that both conditions matter, but equally few archaeologists are looking at both kinds of conditions in the same case study.

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Research in Economic Anthropology
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Emerald Publishing Limited
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