Political Economy, Neoliberalism, and the Prehistoric Economies of Latin America 1781900582, 9781781900581

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RESEARCH IN ECONOMIC ANTHROPOLOGY Series Editor: Donald C. Wood Recent Volumes: Volume 20:

Research in Economic Anthropology – Edited by B. L. Isaac

Volume 21:

Social Dimensions in the Economic Process – Edited by N. Dannhaeuser and C. Werner

Volume 22:

Anthropological Perspectives on Economic Development and Integration – Edited by N. Dannhaeuser and C. Werner

Volume 23:

Socioeconomic Aspects of Human Behavioral Ecology – Edited by M. Alvard

Volume 24:

Markets and Market Liberalization: Ethnographic Reflections – Edited by N. Dannhaeuser and C. Werner

Volume 25:

Choice in Economic Contexts: Ethnographic and Theoretical Enquiries – Edited by D. Wood

Volume 26:

The Economics of Health and Wellness: Anthropological Perspectives – Edited by D. Wood

Volume 27:

Dimension of Ritual Economy – Edited by P. McAnany and E. C. Wells

Volume 28:

Hidden Hands in the Market: Ethnographies of Fair Trade, Ethical Consumption and Corporate Social Responsibility – Edited by Donald Wood, Jeffrey Pratt, Peter Luetchford, and Geert De Neve

Volume 29:

Economic Development, Integration, and Morality in Asia and the Americas – Edited by Donald C. Wood

Volume 30:

Economic Action in Theory and Practice: Anthropological Investigations – Edited by Donald C. Wood

Volume 31:

The Economics of Religion: Anthropological Approaches – Edited by Lionel Obadia & Donald C. Wood



TY MATEJOWSKY Department of Anthropology, University of Central Florida, Orlando, FL, USA

DONALD C. WOOD Department of Medical Information Science, Akita University Graduate School of Medicine, Akita, Japan

United Kingdom – North America – Japan India – Malaysia – China

Emerald Group Publishing Limited Howard House, Wagon Lane, Bingley BD16 1WA, UK First edition 2012 Copyright r 2012 Emerald Group Publishing Limited Reprints and permission service Contact: [email protected] No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, transmitted in any form or by any means electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise without either the prior written permission of the publisher or a licence permitting restricted copying issued in the UK by The Copyright Licensing Agency and in the USA by The Copyright Clearance Center. Any opinions expressed in the chapters are those of the authors. Whilst Emerald makes every effort to ensure the quality and accuracy of its content, Emerald makes no representation implied or otherwise, as to the chapters’ suitability and application and disclaims any warranties, express or implied, to their use. British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library ISBN: 978-1-78190-058-1 ISSN: 0190-1281 (Series)

































INCAE Business School, Managua, Nicaragua

Renee Barlow

College of Eastern Utah Prehistoric Museum, Utah State University, Price, UT, USA

Christine Beaule

Department of Languages and Literatures of Europe and the Americas, University of Hawai’i at Manoa, Honolulu, HI, USA

Jamie Cross

Department of Social Anthropology, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, Scotland

Justin A. Elardo

Social Sciences Department, Portland Community College, Portland, OR, USA

Gary M. Feinman

Department of Anthropology, The Field Museum, Chicago, IL, USA

Andre´s Marroquı´n Gramajo

Department of Economics, Francisco Marroquı´ n University, Guatemala City, Guatemala

Sidney M. Greenfield

Department of Anthropology, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Milwaukee, WI, USA

Stephen A. Kowalewski

Department of Anthropology, University of Georgia, Athens, GA, USA

Ty Matejowsky

Department of Anthropology, University of Central Florida, Orlando, FL, USA

Linda M. Nicholas

Department of Anthropology, The Field Museum, Chicago, IL, USA vii



Anna Ochoa O’Leary

Mexican American Studies Department, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, USA

Kerk L. Phillips

Department of Economics, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT, USA

Monica L. Smith

Department of Anthropology, University of California at Los Angeles, CA, USA

Sarah R. Taylor

Department of Social Sciences, Flagler College, St. Augustine, FL, USA

Donald C. Wood

Department of Medical Information Science, Akita University Graduate School of Medicine, Akita, Japan

PREFACE 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 REA – Hidden 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. Now I am pleased to introduce a new book that continues REA 28’s legacy – Ethical Consumption: Social Value and Economic Practice (Berghahn Books, 2012, 238pp.), edited by James Carrier and Peter Luetchford, both of whom were involved with REA 28. As the editors of Ethical Consumption explain in their joint preface, the volume’s origins lie in the same 2007 workshop at Sussex that gave birth to REA 28. Their project, however, took a different form due to the influence of their continued exploration of the topic of ethical consumption at the 2008 meeting of the European Association of Social Anthropologists, which resulted in the participation of numerous researchers who had not contributed to REA 28. Carrier and Luetchford’s new volume shares many of REA 28’s concerns, bringing the theme of ethical consumption to the forefront (hence, the title) with its strong focus on the Fairtrade movement. In this way it differs slightly from the REA volume, which was somewhat broader in scope. However, it very well compliments its predecessor by expertly exploring the ways in which alternative marketing systems and business models that aspire to higher standards of morality often wind up being consumed by their more powerful mainstream counterparts (to which they were originally opposed), and then used to boost the credibility of those systems and models, and even to strengthen them. Examples include corporate social responsibility (CSR) and fair trade movements themselves. In addition, like ix



REA 28, the volume well illustrates the complexity of fair trade (and Fairtrade), including the fact that the relationship between Southern producers and Northern consumers is always mediated by someone else, which relates to the perpetual mismatch between ethical image and ethical practice (see especially chapters by Luetchford and Vramo). Carrier lays out the purpose of the book in his well-crafted and timely introduction, designed not to scrutinize ethical consumption as a unique phenomenon but as one among many related social processes, movements, and belief systems. Carrier sets up the problem by establishing a dichotomy between two realms of life – economy and society – which merge in the shopping experience and therefore give rise to a variety of moral questions that lead to ethical consumption, defined as ‘‘a collective commentary on the relationship between economy and society’’ (p. 12), or more concretely as a movement that ‘‘seeks to replace the impersonal calculation and task orientation that is part of the economy with personality’’ (p. 31). In other words, ethical consumption can be seen as a situation in which values of the social realm are collectively applied to an activity of the economic realm. According to Carrier this raises three questions: (1) What kind of relationship between these two realms would be better? (2) How should this goal be met? (3) Who can help attain this goal and what kind of relationship should they have with the realm in question and with one another? Most of the chapters in REA 28 addressed these questions in one way or another, and the chapters in Ethical Consumption address them as well. The volume is divided into two sections. Section I explores the relationship between producers and consumers, its four chapters illustrating in different ways the fact that this relationship often exists primarily in the imagination of the purchaser. For example, Amanda Berlan (a contributor to REA 28) explores the complexities of the ethical consumption of chocolate and Cadbury’s relationship to producers in Ghana as it mediates between them and buyers elsewhere (see also Berlan’s and Dinah Rajak’s chapters in REA 28). Peter Luetchford takes a critical view of Fairtrade and its shortcomings as a coffee marketing system that succeeds at selling attractive images to purchasers while failing to equalize power relationships or significantly boost the financial standing of producers in Costa Rica (see also Luetchford’s contribution to REA 28 and Julia Smith’s chapter in REA 29). Lill Vramo concentrates on the consumption/giving end of trade (meant to be supportive of women in Bangladesh) in Norway, which takes place in accordance within a ‘‘trade, not aid’’ paradigm – a reaction, in part, to a period of perceived overly-generous spending on foreign aid. The case



explored by Vramo points to a discrepancy in consumption-side values and production-side effects (see also Geert De Neve’s and Catherine Dolan’s chapters in REA 28 on production-side issues). Finally, this section closes with Audrey Vankeerberghen’s analysis of organic farming in Belgium. Venkeerberghen’s chapter illustrates the ways in which organic farming in many different parts of the world has been tamed by regulation and transformed through its market successes into somewhat of a parallel, almost complimentary, system – despite the fact that it originally arose as a critique of conventional agriculture. In this way, organic farming resembles Fairtrade itself (see also Carrier’s chapter in REA 28). Section II of the volume focuses on ethical consumption as a practical activity shaped by the contexts in which it is carried out, seeking to discover the processes through which ethical consumption spreads and takes root, why this happens, and what arises from it. First, Tamas Dombos (also a contributor to REA 28) presents case studies from Hungary to show that individual reasons to engage in ethical consumption are highly varied and do not necessarily mesh with larger and higher goals of ethical consumption espoused by the Association of Conscious Consumers and others. Next, Giovanni Orlando investigates ethical consumption as practiced in Palermo, Italy, where it is known as ‘‘critical consumption.’’ Orlando’s is a case in which residents who feel powerless to change a system they perceive as corrupt attempt to do so in at least small ways through the practice of consumption. The final three chapters of this section focus on social motivations to consume ethically and some results of doing so (or not doing so). Cindy Isenhour looks at consumers in Sweden who choose to consume less but aim for higher quality and how this relates to their social networks, which often change because they have elected to go against the grain; Peter Collins investigates religion as a factor in consumption activity among Quakers in Britain, for whom proscriptions and conformity are strong motivational factors (recalling the focus of REA 31); and Cristina Grasseni concentrates on cheese production and marketing in northern Italy, showing that cultivating direct relationships between producers and consumers can become quite complicated when issues of food authenticity are involved and contested (see also Jeffrey Pratt’s and Jennifer Esperanza’s chapters in REA 28). The Preface to Ethical Consumption declares that the book represents a collaborate effort more so than do most edited volumes, and indeed its chapters are expertly linked not only by the way they are handled in the introduction and in the introductory material to each section of the volume, but also by the authors themselves, and – additionally – by the very fitting



conclusion to the book, written by James Carrier and Richard Wilk. As editor of the Research in Economic Anthropology series, I am elated to see that participants in the 2007 Hidden Hands workshop that gave birth to REA 28 have continued their explorations of the moral aspects of production and consumption, and I am thrilled by the appearance of a volume of this magnitude to complement REA 28, expand on its achievements, and carry the messages of the entire project to new audiences. Ethical Consumption and REA 28 are must-reads for anyone interested in the intricacies of moral production and consumption, and who wants to deepen their understanding of both the demand-side and the supply-side of Fairtrade and other related movements. I expect that many more exciting publications will appear in the future from the continued research and collaboration of the contributors to REA 28 and Ethical Consumption and their respective organizers. Donald C. Wood Editor

Volume 28 of REA is scheduled to be released in paperback in August of 2012.

UNDERSTANDING INTERSECTIONS OF DEVELOPMENT, NEOLIBERALISM, AND PREHISTORIC ECONOMIES: AN OVERVIEW OF REA VOLUME 32 Donald C. Wood and Ty Matejowsky 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 xiii



anthropology, and also out of gratitude for his support when we were just starting out. This volume is divided into three parts, which are reflected in its title, and which in turn reflect the themes explored in the chapters that comprise them. Part I is the least homogeneous of the three sections, and it consists of five investigations of economic thought and practice in a variety of situations. First, Jamie Cross investigates the delicate intersections of giving and working on a diamond-cutting shop floor in India. The chapter shows how acts of giving help to define and maintain relationships inside the company, to boost the prestige of givers, and also at times to smooth the giver’s upward movement. The case presented by Cross recalls discussions of the ‘‘embeddedness’’ of the economy in social relations. (See also G. De Neve’s chapter in REA 28 on a factory situation in India and R. Prentice’s chapter in the same volume on resistance to authority on a factory floor. In addition, see C. Danby’s critical take on the gift/exchange dichotomy in REA 21.) In the next chapter of Part I of the present volume, Monica L. Smith draws on a broad spectrum of studies to argue for a greater influence of individual abundance-seeking activities in the historical formation of large population centers and complex societies than has heretofore been granted in investigations of the phenomenon. In her ambitious enterprise, Smith builds her argument on a foundation of research on the importance of surplus production in economic, social, and political development, where property is created through labor, and where increasingly complex production in centers where labor and materials are plentiful encourages the extension of political power, which also supports the creation of more complex items. Importantly, the focus here is on the abundance-seeking and abundance-creating activities of non-elites, and not so much as responses to orders from above but rather as part of the perpetual human quest for a better life and increased survival (see also A. Martı´ n’s chapter in REA 30, and see P. McAnany’s chapter in REA 27 on Maya elites). This is surely not the last time we will hear of the argument put forward here by Smith. In the third chapter, Justin A. Elardo revisits the (in)famous substantivist – formalist debate in economic anthropology that had already largely faded away by the time REA first appeared in 1978. But he does this not to rehash old arguments for the benefit of readers unfamiliar with the so-called Great Debate, but rather to investigate the evolution of the substantivist and formalist positions vis-a`-vis their relations to institutional economic anthropology since that debate. Elardo does this as a means of reaching four different ends: to illuminate the persistence of the debate’s theoretical disagreements among institutional economic anthropologists (both ‘‘new’’

An Overview of REA Volume 32


and ‘‘old’’), to outline recent critiques of the ‘‘new’’ institutional approach in economic anthropology, to attempt to explain the origin of the debate and its perpetuation by institutional economic anthropologists, and to seek a way for institutional economic anthropology to move beyond the debate. In its concern with the work of Karl Polanyi and the Great Debate, Elardo’s chapter digs into the question of the power of scarcity in determining human economic thought, behavior, and organization, and the usefulness of scarcity as an analytical construct. In this way, Elardo’s chapter resonates off the chapter by Monica L. Smith that precedes it. It also continues REA’s long-standing interest in the substantivist – formalist debate and its various implications (see especially Part IV and the introduction to REA 25, B. Isaac’s and R. Halperin’s chapters in REA 14, Halperin’s chapter in REA 7, and also REA 4). The fourth chapter of this part of the volume investigates religion (Protestantism, precisely) as a factor in vegetable production in a small community in Guatemala. As one might surmise from the title of the chapter, authors Andre´s Marroquı´ n Gramajo and Luis Noel Alfaro are treading ground prepared for them by Max Weber in his famous essay on the topic. Indeed, the authors support Weber’s thesis with data from a small indigenous highland community, where Protestantism appears to have been a strong driving force in local farming success and prosperity (see chapters in REA 31). Just as the previous chapter by Elardo had a conceptual link with the one before it by Smith, Marroquı´ n Gramajo and Noel Alfaro’s chapter has a methodological connection to Elardo’s in the general institutional economics approach to the problem it tackles. Finally, Part I of this volume concludes with an analysis of maize storage choices among Fremont Indians, who dwelled in the modern-day state of Utah and several other western states up until about seven centuries ago. The authors, Kerk L. Phillips and Renee Barlow, seek to prove that financial theory can help to comprehend perceived threats of maize raids, which would relate to Fremont people’s choosing to use cliff granaries – difficult to both build and fill, but better for security. To achieve their goal, the authors utilize two mathematical models that take into account factors such as the caloric content of maize and the caloric expenditure necessary to transport it to granaries located at high elevations. They find that relatively low threat levels could have been enough to prompt the use of such storage facilities (and also their initial construction). Phillips and Barlow’s chapter illustrates one possible way in which large gaps in archaeological evidence might be filled with methods borrowed from other disciplines.



The two chapters that comprise Part II of this volume offer differing but nevertheless critical assessments of neoliberalism’s inequitable impact on everyday lives in today’s global political economy. With a long-standing concern for the local and an abiding interest in how macro-level processes are eventually articulated among diverse populations, it is really not all that surprising that anthropologists, especially economic anthropologists, would gravitate toward topics involving intersections of this increasingly dominant market ideology and the lived experiences of ordinary and often marginalized groups. For well over 30 years, the political and socioeconomic landscapes of many countries has been drastically reshaped through policies favoring, among other things, the privatization of state assets, market deregulation, and enhanced private sector participation in public life. This ongoing transformation has clearly benefitted some and marginalized many – so much so, in fact, that the significant inequalities perpetuated by neoliberalism’s hegemonic tendencies have effectively emerged as major points of contention for contemporary social movements including 2011’s Occupy Wall Street. Although Part II represents the shortest of volume 32’s three sections, it nevertheless addresses timely issues that will have real resonance for readers; particularly those who have lived through and were adversely affected by the global recession of late-2000s. In the section’s first chapter, Anna Ochoa O’Leary examines properties of social capital vis-a`-vis the experiences of migrant women who have crossed the border into the United States from Mexico without official authorization. This work is grounded in a solid narrative base and calls into question the efficacy of social capital as a means for solving real world problems. The tensions between alreadyvulnerable female migrants and the human smuggling rings or coyotes are laid bare amid the increased border enforcement and anti-immigrant sentiment that pervades much of the recent political discourse in North America and elsewhere. By focusing on the gendered dimensions of this type of immigration, O’Leary offers new insights into the pros and cons of enhanced border security and how social capital can sometimes have very problematic outcomes. (See Tamar Diana Wilson’s chapter in REA 29, and also see the introduction and W. Tseng’s and Marroquı´ n Gramajo’s contributions to REA 25 in regards to social capital.) Part II’s second chapter is by Sidney M. Greenfield and it considers the ramifications and contradictions of the recent global economic crisis from a substantive economic anthropological perspective. Greenfield explores notions of responsibility and rationality within the framework of a moral philosophy that he terms ‘‘just deserts.’’ That is, those who have more are

An Overview of REA Volume 32


viewed as arguably more deserving. Challenging accepted beliefs at the core of modern economic thought, Greenfield envisions a more thoughtful and in some ways humane way to mediate economic anomalies such as the recent collapse of the U.S. housing market. In this way the work of economic anthropologists can add clarity and depth to the defining political and economic debates of our time (also see Greenfield’s chapter in REA 30). Readers will notice a decided shift in historical and geographical focus as they encounter the chapters collected in volume 32’s third and final section. As indicated in its title, Part III considers the prehistoric economies of Latin America primarily from an archaeological perspective. Such analysis compliments work presented in previous REA editions and reflects the series’ inclusive approach to the work of economic anthropologists who study past societies. Over subsequent chapters, analysis that is both theoretical and data-driven teases out the profound and subtle patterns that characterize ancient economic practices from this part of the world. In a very real sense, these chapters serve as an indicator of the dynamic work currently being done by archaeologists in various countries of Central and South America. In the first of these chapters, Stephen A. Kowalewski takes something of a macro-level approach by addressing questions of how the ancient Mesoamerican economy arguably worked. Relying on previous historical and archaeological studies, he develops an ideal-type of societal model to theorize about the role of market-based principals in shaping the region’s economy. In essence, his argument is predicated on notions that ‘‘the Mesoamerican economy, at least in Classic and Postclassic times, operated far more as a market economy than one structured by tribute.’’ This premise does not, however, discount the role of non-market forces as Kowalewski goes on to note in the latter sections of his article. Among other concepts explored in his chapter are notions that households operate as firms, ritual obligations effectively stimulate economic activities, and consumption and exchange serve as the primary agents of specialization. Perhaps more than anything, Kowalewski offers a viable model that other Mesoamerican archaeologists can explore in future research endeavors. Next, in relation to Monica L. Smith’s chapter in Part I of this volume, Gary M. Feinman and Linda M. Nicholas narrow focus to examine the late prehispanic economy of Mexico’s Valley of Oaxaca. Building upon and diverging from long-standing explanations for the region’s development that are primarily based on Marx’s Asiatic mode of production, Feinman and Nicholas highlight the dynamic role played by households and market exchange in this process as opposed to the top-down control and



management of irrigation and administered systems of production and distribution. Utilizing residential exaction findings from three different Classic-period sites as well as ethnographic data from other sources, Feinman and Nicholas provide alternative explanations for understanding the economic character of this part of prehispanic Mesoamerica. Significantly, the flexibility and/or variability in domestic productive practices, residential mobility, inter-household interdependence, and market reliance that they emphasize suggest a type of local agency that is largely absent from earlier held paradigms. Part III’s third chapter centers on Christine Beaule’s analysis of the camelid faunal remains and subsistence practices of a highland Bolivian village. The processing of herd animals that have served as a primary dietary staple for centuries in the Andes provides significant insights into emerging patterns of local status and wealth. The author is able to reconstruct disparities in accessibility to faunal packets or cuts of meat at the site of Jachakala in Oruro, Bolivia (ca. AD 150–1100). These differences, she argues, provide strong evidence for those interested in answering questions about how wealth differences first develop within the context of a subsistence oriented community. Complimenting Beaule’s Andean focus is Part III’s final chapter, by Sarah R. Taylor. In this work she considers the developmental trajectory of frontier communities based on their interactions with neighboring populations. Data collected from the archaeological site of El Dornajo in southwestern Ecuador offers various insights into how interregional exchanges can foster heretofore unavailable opportunities for political-economic development for moderately complex frontier communities. She argues that an emerging regional prestige economy developed in El Dornajo even amid periods of fluctuating subsistence resources, due to interactions with more complex neighboring groups. Interested readers might benefit from considering Taylor’s argument in light of Monica L. Smith’s contribution to Part I of this volume. In sum, Volume 32 of REA represents continuity and coalescence – continuity of research themes and coalescence of approaches. The series’ long-standing tradition of supporting archaeological research on human economic thought and behavior (established by past editor Barry Isaac) and its strong historical interest in the legacy of Karl Polanyi, established by its first editor, George Dalton (and continued by Isaac), are evident. In fact, it is usually not easy to obtain as many archaeological papers for consideration as were obtained for this volume. Hopefully this will not always be the case. In addition, this volume represents continuity and coalescence in that the academic paths of two students of Norbert Dannhaeuser (also a

An Overview of REA Volume 32


past editor of REA) have crossed in it with the collaboration of its two editors. Neither of us would be doing what we are doing now if it had not been for Norbert’s instruction, encouragement, and general influence during our respective times at Texas A&M University and later, which is why we have decided to dedicate this volume to him, as explained at the start of this introduction. Herzlichen Dank Herr Professor Dannhaeuser! Ohne Sie, ohne Ihre tiefen Kenntnisse und Ihre Weisheit, haetten wir es kaum geschafft.


SWEATSHOP EXCHANGES: GIFTS AND GIVING IN THE GLOBAL FACTORY Jamie Cross ABSTRACT 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. Keywords: India; labour; production; exchange; the gift; Graeber

Political Economy, Neoliberalism, and the Prehistoric Economies of Latin America Research in Economic Anthropology, Volume 32, 3–26 Copyright r 2012 by Emerald Group Publishing Limited All rights of reproduction in any form reserved ISSN: 0190-1281/doi:10.1108/S0190-1281(2012)0000032005




THE HIDDEN ABODES OF GLOBAL MANUFACTURING At the end of 2004 I was granted open ethnographic access to a large subcontracting unit for the global diamond industry in Andhra Pradesh, South India. The factory in question, Worldwide Diamonds, occupied several thousand square feet inside the state’s first free trade zone. The zone itself was spread across 350 acres of flat scrubland and was surrounded by an eight-foot high perimeter wall topped with broken glass. Since the 1970s zones like this one have played a crucial role in the globalisation of production, creating capitalist enclaves across South and South East Asia that are free from state regulation. These have became vital spaces for the diffusion of just-in-time inventory systems, total-quality control mechanisms and hyper-efficient models of workspace organisation, which David Harvey identified as the cornerstones of flexibility in largescale capitalist production processes (Harvey, 1990, 2005) and have made informality and precariousness an integral part of many global commodity chains (Burawoy, 1985; Cross, 2010; Ross, 2009; Tsing, 2009). There are currently over 400 planned and operational zones across India and the diamond industry has become a prominent investor. Between 2002 and 2007 gemstone and jewellery production in India’s new offshore economy grew faster than textiles, garments and micro-electronic manufacturing. When it opened for business in 1997, Worldwide Diamonds was the first wholly European owned and operated diamond factory in India. Attracted by a bouquet of tax exceptions offered to foreign investors, its owners set out to establish a world-class factory that would offer on demand diamond cutting and polishing services at very low cost to their European and North American clients. Over the following ten years the company’s managers successfully took modern assembly line technologies and applied them to the diamond industry, undercutting all their major competitors to emerge as one of the world’s cheapest, high volume, producers of small-sized, mediumquality diamonds. What was considered the art and craft of diamond cutting and polishing in Antwerp’s early 20th century workshops was here divided into a series of specific specialised tasks, that were easier to learn and more amenable to control. At its peak in 2008, before the global financial crisis and a crash in world markets for consumer diamonds, Worldwide Diamonds processed 1,400 carats of low-grade rough diamond, with an export value of approximately four million dollars, every month. The zone in which Worldwide Diamonds operates is located midway between Andhra Pradesh’s industrial port of Vizag (Visakhapatnam), a

Sweatshop Exchanges: Gifts and Giving in the Global Factory


heavily polluted and densely populated city of over 1.5 million people, and the rural sugar trading town of Annakapalle. In 2005 Worldwide Diamond’s company employed a Telugu-speaking workforce of approximately 1,200 people. Most of these workers were aged between 18 and 24, roughly seventy per cent of them were men, and all were native to this region of coastal Andhra Pradesh. The zone offered no accommodation and factory workers lived with their families in caste-segregated villages across a semirural, peri-urban, hinterland or in housing colonies along the busy highway that cuts through the region. On the factory floor day-to-day operations were managed by a group of young Indians, recent graduates with degrees in engineering, business or human resources. They were overseen by a small number of European expatriates, English, Belgian and Israeli men, who had been posted here to oversee production processes to train workers in specialised diamond cutting and polishing techniques. Some of these men had worked in the diamond industry since they were young apprentices and had witnessed the industry’s transformation as production shifted from European workshops to sites of low cost sub-contracted manufacturing in South and South East Asia. Work in Worldwide Diamonds was poorly paid and chronically insecure. For their first year, a new recruit was expected to work for a stipend of 1,200 rupees ($US15) per month, after which they entered a piece rate wage regime that might earn them up to $40 per month, equivalent to the rates of daylabour in the local construction industry. The formal employment contracts that workers’ signed with the company were rendered essentially meaningless by the company’s hire and fire policy. Workers who were deemed unproductive could be summarily expelled from the workplace and those who attempted to organise colleagues in protest at working conditions with the support of a local communist trade union were either blacklisted or sacked. In 2002 the intimidation of union organisers here had made the factory a cause celebre for Indian unionists and, in a test case, saw it investigated by the UN’s International Labour Organisation. As I saw it, a factory like Worldwide Diamonds offered a unique window onto the emergent politics of life and work at new sites of industrialisation in India and I approached the company’s management with a research proposal. I explained my interests to them in cautious terms as a study of ‘workplace culture’ and explained a methodological interest in becoming an unpaid participant in the factory’s work processes. In a tradition of industrial ethnography (Burawoy, 1982; Cross, 2011a, 2011b; Prentice, 2008; Yelvington, 1995) I hoped to become a participant in rather than just an observer of labour processes and work unpaid on the factory floor. To



my considerable surprise they agreed, with the factory’s general manager imagining, like the early pioneers of industrial ethnography (Wright, 2006) that having a social scientist around would have a positive effect on the factory’s dynamics. ‘It’ll be like having a shrink on site,’ he told me. In January 2005 I joined 120 other people on the 6 am–2 pm ‘A Shift’ in the Preparation Department, where rough diamonds began their transformation into polished gemstones. What began as a provisional arrangement for three months was gradually extended to twelve and, over the course of the following year, I gradually rotated between the Preparation Department’s three work sections, corning, bruiting and blocking. In each I was trained to become a competent and productive machine operator, learning to handle single spindle machines, semi-automatic bruiting machines, rotating scaifes and handheld tangs, and eventually able to cut and polish rough diamonds into a basic round shape, give them eight basic facets, a smooth, flat table and their sharp pointed culet. At first the factory had conformed to my expectations of the global sweatshop as a space marked primarily by the commodification of labour. As I was taught to corner, bruit and block rough diamonds, however, I came to understand that a complex economy of non-monetary and non-monetised transactions was flourishing on the shop floor. As became clear, everyday working life in the Preparation Department involved a whole host of transactions that were neither encompassed by what we might call the wagelabour economy nor by what anthropologists understand as commodity exchange. Workers gave away items of homemade food, brand name sweets and chocolates, handcrafted art-pieces, blessed temple food and decorative or ornamental consumer goods to other workers and to their monitors, supervisors and managers, and they spoke of giving their labour to the company. These acts of giving crisscrossed the factory floor, with different aims and effects. Some transactions took place without any immediate expectation of a return or any explicit agreement about one, in ways that created, transformed, cultivated and nourished relationships of friendship and care, solidarity and mutual aid. Other transactions were more transparently interested or instrumental attempts to gain favour or foster relations of patronage, clientage and service. Some took place between people who identified themselves as members of the same caste community, while others took place between members of caste communities that have, historically, maintained prohibitions on exchange. Some took place between co-workers, people who occupied positions of equality in the factory hierarchy, while other exchanges took place between workers and their managers, people who occupied differential positions of power, control and authority. Such

Sweatshop Exchanges: Gifts and Giving in the Global Factory


transactions offer a vivid illustration that what anthropologists call ‘the gift’ is never a unitary category and that gifts can be animated by what David Graeber (2011) calls different moral or transactional logics, significantly ‘co-operation’, ‘reciprocal exchange’ and ‘hierarchy’. What, though, should make of such transactions on the floor of a global sweatshop? The ‘hidden abode of production’ into which Karl Marx (1990) descended to examine exchanges between the owners of capital and the bearers of labour power still lies beneath the surface of anthropological theorising about gift exchange. Marcel Mauss’s (Mauss, 1966) essay on the gift was written partially in response to Marxist political economy, the anthropologist deploying ethnological material in a tone that was nostalgic and utopian to describe societies in which the market was not the main medium of human relations and in which the objects of exchange did not inevitably become alienable, quantifiable commodities (Coleman, 2004; Graeber, 2001). Chris Gregory’s (Gregory, 1982; Gregory, 1997) influential post-Maussian approach distilled the essence of gift and commodity exchange into separate, analytically distinct and seemingly incompatible regimes of value (Caliskan & Callon, 2009) and many anthropologies and geographies of labour in the global factory have perpetuated this sharp distinction between spheres of commodity and gift exchange. The kinds of transactions that I encountered on the floor of Worldwide Diamonds, however, appear anomalous in ethnographic accounts of industrial work at similar sites of global manufacturing in China, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Mexico and Sri-Lanka (Hewamanne, 2003; Lynch, 1999; Mills, 1999; Ong, 1987; Salzinger, 2003; Wolf, 1992; Wright, 2006). In this literature the precarious labour contracts between workers and supply chain capitalists in the world’s economic zones epitomise the short-term transactional orders that Gregory described as belonging to the sphere of commodity exchange (Gregory, 1982, 1997). Indeed most discussions of exchange in export manufacturing zones are primarily concerned with the commodification of labour, which is often understood to reach some kind of contemporary apotheosis in these spaces. In China’s economic zones, for example, Pun Ngai (2005, p. 163) has written how rural labour migrants or dagonmei transform their bodies into objects for consumption and are forced to confront themselves as something hostile and alien. Aihwa Ong’s (2006) writings present a similarly dystopian portrait, showing offshore zones in China as caceral work camps in which men and women are valued for their labour alone and are condemned in perpetuity to live the bare life of a commodity. Yet many different ‘economic and moral possibilities’ exist on the floor of the global factory (Graeber, 2010, pp. 1–2) and the diversity of economic



transactions that take place here are not limited to commodity exchange or to the terms of the labour–capital relation. In other discussions and bodies of literature anthropologists have consistently pointed to the blurring and overlapping of exchange categories in the modern industrial workplace (Parry, Mollona, & De Neve, 2009; Prentice, 2008). As Mayfair Yang has shown, for example, the organisation of labour in contemporary China’s manufacturing and service sectors depends on guanxi – social ties, networks or connectedness – and mechanisms for producing relatedness through gift giving (Yang, 1989, 1994, 2002, 2009). Meanwhile, Mao Mollona’s (2009) ethnography of labour in contemporary Sheffield’s small machine workshops reminds us how opaque the theoretical distinctions between gift and commodity economies, alienated and non-alienated labour actually are for the subjective, experiential and symbolic ways that manual workers conceive of and shape their relationships of production (Mollona, 2009). The ethnography of work at an outpost of large-scale export-manufacturing in contemporary India that I present here makes a contribution to these debates by exploring how different acts of giving on the global shop floor shape the labour process in different ways. Examining the transactions that took place on the floor of Worldwide Diamonds, I explore how they were premised on different transactional logics, underpinned by principals of co-operation, exchange and hierarchy, in ways that performed different kinds of social action. As I show acts of giving constituted the performative and relational grounds on which people came to know themselves and sought to shape the world around them. If these transactions fit into the analytical distinction that Michael Burawoy (1982, pp. 15–16) made between ‘relations in production’ (relationships that workers and mangers enter into with each other on the shop floor) and ‘relations of production’ (the relationship between capital and labour under which surplus can be appropriated from producers), they do so by suggesting that it is through ‘the gifts that they give’ as much as the ‘games that they play’ that workers manufacture their own consent. At the same time, these gifts remind us that workplace relationships are animated by transactional logics other than that of commodity exchange.

‘EVERYBODY GIVES’ (CO-OPERATION AND CAPITAL’S FREE GIFT) Sitting on the floor of his rented two-roomed house one Sunday afternoon in November 2009 thirty-two-year-old Prakash, Worldwide Diamonds’

Sweatshop Exchanges: Gifts and Giving in the Global Factory


oldest employee, played with his six-month-old daughter and reflected on thirteen years of factory labour. Prakash had joined the company in its first batch of 75 new recruits in September 1997. I had known him since my first day on the A Shift, when I had been told to sit alongside him and learn how to hold, touch and look at a rough diamond. During that time he had never been slow to criticise the company, to lambast its wage regimes, its systems of control or the intensity with which it required people to work. But when I now asked why he had never left the factory, he put the factory’s shop floor gift economy squarely at the heart of his explanation. Prakash: Worldwide Diamonds’ workers are really good: everybody gives! People will always bring you little things at work and if there is some event, no matter if is something small or something big, if somebody gets married or somebody has died, everybody will give something. Whether it is one hundred rupees or thirty rupees, they will give whatever they can, but everybody will give something. You can’t find those kinds of relationships everywhere. I’ve been thinking of leaving that factory for so long, so why am I still there? My relations keep me there, that’s why.

‘Everybody gives!’ It was an exacting phrase and the conclusion Prakash drew from it, ‘my relations keep me there’ suggested that he understood these exchanges to have powerful social effects and that these effects bound him to the workplace. As Prakash recognised, gift giving did not just reveal ties and relationships on the factory floor but constituted the very mechanism through which these relationships were created. In many respects during my original fieldwork the Preparation Department had conformed to my expectations of a global sweatshop. The dusty, poorly ventilated open plan space was divided into work sections by hardboard dividers. Rows of workers wore identical blue uniforms and stood or sat to operate machines beneath fluorescent strip lights. In each section, workers were directly overseen by section monitors who wore a maroon coloured uniform. Off the factory floor a department supervisor and a department manager oversaw the quality and rate of production. Wages here were paid at a piece rate, which was subject to constant adjustment as the company’s management sought to extract ever greater value from their labour. Work on the shift was hyper-intensive, and each work section was required to meet daily, weekly and monthly production targets. Eight-hour shifts frequently become twelve and six day weeks sometimes became seven as the factory struggled to meet client orders on time. Each work section was monitored by a closed circuit television camera that relayed real-time images of the factory to banks of screens in a central control room. Here the factory employed a surveillance manager to keep watch for slowdowns in productivity, for attempted thefts and for any sign



of political action. Any sluggishness or sleepiness that was caught on camera prompted a telephone call to the shop floor. Alarms rang if a diamond got lost, and several hours of video would be reviewed to check anybody could have palmed or secreted the missing stone. The movements of people who had been singled out as ‘trouble makers’ were closely tracked, and their gatherings or conversations raised immediate concern about some imminent labour action, a downing of tools or an organised ‘go-slow’. Beneath this complex surveillance apparatus, however, existed a complex economy of gifts and gift transactions. The earliest transactions that a new trainee here became a party to involved the transmission of skilled knowledge; as a learned technical competency with machines, tools and raw materials was passed down to them from more experienced co-workers (Cross, 2011a, 2011b). Piece rate work in a factory like this one depended upon a whole host of similar micro-interactions with other people; from those who give the novice hints and tips, offering guidance, support and initiation onto the shift to those interactions with co-workers upon whom each individual is dependent if they are to maintain minimum rates of productivity and to guarantee their wage. In the cornering, hand blocking and bruiting sections where I learned to cut and polish rough diamonds in 2005, acts of giving between co-workers frequently proceeded according to what David Graeber has called a principal of ‘from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs’; these were transactions in which individuals recognised each other’s mutual interdependence and in which the taking of accounts would have been considered inappropriate, offensive or bizarre (Graeber, 2011, pp. 94–99). Cornering workers, for example, shared the hammers that they used to adjust their spindle machines and small pieces of fabric to mop up machine oil. Meanwhile in the blocking section, where rudimentary hand tools were used to push rough diamonds backwards and forwards on a rotating scaife, workers shared pieces of torn cloth to prevent blistering. Across the department people shared black marker pens, variously used to mark the surface of rough diamonds, to sketch cutting edges and angles on the white table surfaces, and to record production tallies on scraps of paper. Cooperation, Marx wrote in the first volume of Capital (1990), is the ‘necessary concomitant of all production on a large scale’ and a ‘free gift offered up to the capitalist’. Marx saw cooperation as a natural, integral part of any economic system, a social phenomenon that takes place spontaneously and naturally with the simultaneous employment of large numbers of people in one place, along with a concentrated mass of machines and tools for production. In his example, a dozen masons passing stones from the bottom to the top of a ladder might each be said to perform the same movements and actions but

Sweatshop Exchanges: Gifts and Giving in the Global Factory


taken together these separate actions from connected parts of one single operation. This kind of cooperation takes a distinct form, Marx argued, when people are brought together by capital for the purposes of waged labour. In the capitalist factory cooperation served both to increase the productive power of the individual and also to create a kind of collective power that capitalists sought to harness, manage and control for the purposes of profitable exploitation and expansion (Marx, 1990, p. 453). For Marx, this cooperation is usually hidden from view or invisible because it appears to us as the social effect of having brought people together in one place and puts them to work. For Graeber this principal of cooperation, mutual aid and solidarity exists in many different kinds of social contexts, not just work groups, and it is one of the ironies of contemporary capitalism that the internal organisation of some of today’s largest corporations comes to hinge upon it (Graeber, 2011, p. 100). A global subcontracting company like Worldwide Diamonds could not function without the raft of transactions that took place as people involved in the common project of production collaborated by establishing certain things that could be shared or made freely available to others. As workers passed tools or materials between each other on the factory floor, and shared knowledge and skills, they established their mutuality and interdependence, offering us a reminder of how central mutual aid, assistance and cooperation are to global commodity production. One phenomena in particular, the redistribution of blessed or sacred food or prasadam on the factory floor offered a particular insight into the principal of cooperation. As Arjun Appadurai (1981) has written, food in South India can be used to signal, indicate and construct social relations characterised by equality, intimacy or solidarity, as much as rank or difference (p. 507); and the ‘gastro-politics’ of holy food as it was redistributed by factory workers returning from a pilgrimage might be said to hinge on the principal of ‘from each according to their ability, to each according to their need.’ In coastal Andhra Pradesh a pilgrimage to the state’s most holy site, the temple to Lord Venkateshwara (Vishnu) at Tirupati, is considered by Hindus of all castes and ages a necessary trip. People make the pilgrimage at times of wealth as well as ill health. For some a pilgrimage to Tirupati is considered one of the only opportunities to travel outside the district and pilgrims invariably bring home with them large quantities of sanctified food or prasadam [Hindi. prasada] to distribute. When one of Worldwide Diamond’s Hindu factory workers returned from a pilgrimage to Andhra’s most important holy site they invariably brought with them a large quantity of prasadam to distribute amongst their work colleagues.



Prasadam is a collective noun for substances – often items of food but also water, flowers, ash and powder – that have been offered to a deity during worship and which are subsequently distributed to priests, devotees, relatives and friends. When these substances are offered to and symbolically consumed by a deity (in its image form) they undergo a transmutation, becoming prasada, potent substances that are imbued with a divine power and grace and which can be absorbed into the human body (Fuller, 2004, pp. 74–75). In the ritual symbolism of everyday Hinduism, the adornment of the body with prasada substances like ash or flowers or the swallowing of prasada food marks the absorption of divine grace and power into the body, effecting a merger between deity and worshipper. But, like all Hindu rituals and substances, the distribution of prasadam is about relationships between people as much as between the worshiper and a deity. As Appadurai wrote (1981), ‘the consumption of divine leftovers’ is the central sacramental feature of divine worship in South Indian temples’ (p. 505). Over the course of a year I watched several of the Preparation Department’s workers make the pilgrimage to Tirupati. When they returned to work they brought with them carrier bags full of prasadam, usually a mixture of puffed rice, groundnuts, gram and jaggery. On their first day back at work they asked permission to walk around the department from section to section, enabling their colleagues and work mates to share the blessed food. These acts of giving took place in public and en-mass, with the donor making a point to offer food to every one of the Department’s 150 strong workforce, including cleaners and security guards as well as co-workers, monitors, supervisors and department managers, irrespective of caste or religion. This distribution and consumption of prasadam, the highest form of leftovers, on the floor of Worldwide Diamonds gave real, material form to the workforce as a collective body or organic entity. It was a process of co-substantiation through which, as Marx put, people as co-operators’ become members of a ‘total productive organism’. As I will show, however, the shop floor relationships between workers involved other kinds of transactions, premised not upon principals of mutuality, but upon principals of reciprocity and hierarchy.

RECIPROCITY AND RECOGNITION Every day people arrived at the entrance to the Preparation Department carrying small items of food that by the end of the day they would have given to somebody else. These things were carried past the security guards

Sweatshop Exchanges: Gifts and Giving in the Global Factory


posted at the doors to the department under people’s regulation blue uniforms, wedged into their trouser pockets, tied into the corner of their saris, or tucked inside their churidars (tightly fitting trouser pants). An incredible range of foodstuffs were smuggled onto the factory floor in this way to be passed from hand-to-hand, underneath a table surface or in a subtle brush of fingers, that sought not to draw attention from managers. The things circulating in the cornering, blocking and bruiting sections included the ubiquitous one-rupee boiled sweets, lozenges, e´clairs and toffees, that are found in the smallest of street side trade stores across India, as well as brand name chocolates, like five-rupee bars of Cadbury Five Star or ten-rupee bars of Dairy Milk. They also included seasonal fruits and nuts, lemons and gooseberries, handfuls of aniseed, sultanas, cashews, fried potato chips, Bombay mix and popcorn, even entire corns of maize. Alongside foodstuffs were other kinds of things. Some of the most popular non-food gift items were images, playing cards or stickers with colour pictures of deities and saints or matinee film star heroes and heroines. Alongside these were handmade things. All manner of origami paper objects circulated around the Preparation Department, including boxes, animals, and flowers, tiny pieces of folded artistry that were made at home, or during lunch breaks from scraps of paper, including the computerised diamond labels or production charts, that had been picked up or lifted off the factory floor. At first these exchanges seemed so petty that I overlooked them as insignificant or insubstantial. They took place with such frequency as to be part of the factory’s social fabric – as normal as conversation. Yet during the months I spent on the factory floor it become apparent that what appeared to be mundane or spontaneous gifts between workers could be mapped onto more complex shop floor relationships between people with different levels of experience or different workloads, and between people whose tasks tied them into workplace relationships with each other. While the intimate knowledge of machines and materials that passed between workers appeared to be transacted according to a principal of solidarity and mutual aid, these acts of giving appeared more clearly animated by a reciprocal logic of gift exchange and equivalence. Gift objects – things and foodstuffs were exchanged for favours, preferential treatment and even labour from co-workers – as people struggled to meet their daily production targets and complete their own work tasks. These gifts were passed backwards and forwards in such a way that each gift appeared to cancel the other out, and in such a way that each party appeared to be keeping account, motivated by the ways that the exchange reflected upon and



rearranged their relationship. As Graeber puts it (2011, p. 103) the principal of equivalence between the objects of exchange also implies an equivalence or parity between the parties to an exchange, and these transactions marked the floor of the factory out as a particular kind of social space, one that differed in important ways from the caste landscape beyond its walls. Cornering section workers collected stones from the fixers, who cemented each and every rough diamond onto a cylindrical rod that could be inserted into a spindle machine. As they ground the angular corners away, rough stones invariably broke off their holdings, sometimes flicking onto the floor or falling onto the work surface. Cornering workers were allowed to walk these diamonds over to the fixing table themselves and if they wanted to get back to work and finish the stone they needed a fixer who would give them priority, dipping the stone in concrete over a heater while they waited. On the A shift cornering section workers like Appala Raju and Condom Rao went out of their way to build good relationships with the three women fixers by giving them small gifts of chocolate, handed over in the mornings to coincide with the small stainless steel beaker of milk tea that the company granted each worker. These exchanges continued off the factory floor during the half hour lunch break when more substantial foodstuffs, rice and curries, were shared between co-workers out in the open, beneath a line of palm trees or beneath a corrugated shelter. Every day people came to the factory carrying portions of home-cooked food – prepared by themselves, or by sisters or mothers – which they shared with colleagues. Many of these exchanges of boiled rice and curries took place against the grain of local caste hierarchies, with the parents and extended families of many factory workers still recognising symbolic and social restrictions on inter-caste contact. Exchanges that took place between people from farming or landowning castes and Dalit communities, then, marked the factory as a space of transgression from widely accepted and observed social prohibitions on inter-caste exchange and commensality. Like all of the factory’s units, the Preparation Department was broadly representative of coastal Andhra Pradesh’s caste demographics. Recruited into the factory as entry-level workers and thrown together on the shift were the higher ranking Velamas, Gavaras and Kapus, who are the district’s major landowners, as well as a cross-section of occupation castes, Mallas, Palles and Vadabalijas. In north coastal Andhra inter-caste relationships between these communities has been tightly regulated, marked by endogamy and restrictions on contact. Yet references to each other’s caste was studiously erased from everyday interactions between workers. Thrown together on the

Sweatshop Exchanges: Gifts and Giving in the Global Factory


A Shift, the young men and women here chose to represent the factory as a caste-less place that marked a distinctive break from the adult social worlds they inhabited in rural villages and peri-urban neighbourhoods. Here, as in the small power plant in nearby Southern Orissa where Christian Strumpell (2008) conducted fieldwork, young workers recognised the industrial workplace as a uniquely commensurable space, a space of inter-caste contact and inter-commensurability, that marked a distinct break with those spaces places where they had been born and brought up. In many sections, people who had worked closely alongside each other for several years claimed disinterest in the caste identities of their co-workers. And, over several years the factory had given rise to numerous inter-caste relationships between workers, several of which had ended in elopement and marriage. Many of the transactions that took place between workers on the factory floor fitted into this broader pattern, violating and erasing historical restrictions on inter-caste contact. Some of these exchanges were quietly libidinal. For many workers the factory was experienced as a space of comparative freedom from adult social mores and the relatively strict prohibitions on sexual contact that are imposed by families in provincial Andhra Pradesh. On Worldwide Diamonds’ mixed-sex A shift, petty gift exchanges could be flirtatious and suggestive. Young adolescent men could frequently be found giving small gifts to the unmarried girls and young mothers whom they worked alongside. For their part, many young women appeared to see these as strategic exchanges that enabled them to cope with the intensity of the factory’s production regime. Many married women on the A shift exchanged a little extra home-cooked food, spiced with some lascivious talk and sexual innuendo, for a little help with production from their unmarried male co-workers. And some unmarried young men, wracked with sexual desire, found themselves cutting and polishing a few extra stones to help them reach production targets or took responsibility for cutting problem ‘stones’ those with minor flaws, gluts and fractures that were easier to break or overcut. In the Preparation Department’s table section, for example, I spent eight weeks working alongside Rama Laxshmi, a married woman with two children who had worked here for several years, and Durga Rao a lanky young trainee with a wispy beard and a gangly gait. As the older, married woman Rama Laxshmi enjoyed a position of sexual authority over Durga Rao and as the two of them pushed rough stones backwards and forwards across a rotating scaife, blocking facets into hard or delicate diamonds, they played footsie under the table or sang romantic songs to each other over the



machine noise. During lunch-breaks the two of them sat together in the shade under a palm tree in the factory car park. Rama Laxshmi brought Durga homemade curries with egg or chicken or portions of curd. During the shift these exchanges were also translated into the labour process, as Laxshmi asked Durga to help her meet production targets. She passed the biggest or most difficult stones onto him, and after he had finished them they were passed back and counted under her own name. When her young suitor began to lobby for a transfer to a different work section where he would be paid per stone, Laxshmi tried to persuade him to stay. These everyday, inter-personal exchanges on the factory floor were accompanied by ostentatious and very public acts of giving, as individual workers pooled money together in order to buy gifts for each other. Workers were regularly asked to make contributions to a pool or pot of money that could be used to purchase a gift for colleagues on important occasions, including birthdays, marriages, births and the occasion of a new child’s annaprasana, celebrated when they first consume solid food. On these occasions someone on the shift would take responsibility for collecting contributions and a cohort of people would be deputised to buy an ornamental object from one of the many gift shops or ‘fancy shops’ that flourish in the towns of Anakappalle, or around the highway’s junctions. These gifts might cost anywhere between 100 and 500 rupees and were selected specifically for their utility as an object of household display; the options invariably included vases of plastic flowers coated in bright paints and sparkling glitter, imitation wooden clocks, glitzy lampstands, fake silver picture frames and photo albums. These collective acts of giving were accompanied by expectations of reciprocity and they were accompanied by a subtle taking of account as people noted who gave what, to whom and on what occasion. Givers expected that their gifts would be met with a counter gift at the appropriate moment, whilst recipients were concerned to give back. This taking of account was most apparent when new trainees appeared on the factory floor. Oblivious to the significance of this gift economy for the social life of the shop floor these newcomers were frequently criticised for failing to participate in these gift exchanges. ‘Newcomers don’t know how to give,’ and ‘newcomers don’t give money for weddings,’ were common complaints among the Preparation Department’s more established workers. This gift economy, based on reciprocal exchange and mutual recognition, was an integral part of the factory’s social life. These transactions proved essential as workers struggled to meet their work targets and vital for maintaining social ties across the factory floor. As I will show, however,

Sweatshop Exchanges: Gifts and Giving in the Global Factory


these acts of giving between workers differed in important ways from those that took place between workers and their managers, that is between people who occupied positions of differential status, power and authority in social and workplace hierarchies.

‘SOAP’ AND THE ‘GIFT OF LABOUR’ Workers like Prakash, who I quoted earlier in this essay, did not have a phrase for the acts of giving that I have just described but they took place between people who occupied broadly equivalent positions of status and power in the factory’s formal hierarchy, and were distinguished by the ambiguity of their intentions. These exchanges, however, were clearly differentiated from other kinds of gifts that took place between people in unequal positions of power and authority. The exchanges that took place between workers and their shop floor monitors, managers and supervisors were distinguished from those that took place between workers by the intentionality of the giver and the meanings attached to the gift. These exchanges were premised on an explicit difference in the social position of giver and recipient, and while they invoked the language of reciprocity they hinged primarily on what Graeber calls a ‘logic of precedent’, or a ‘web of habit and custom’ (2011, p. 109). Gifts to managers both recognised and appealed to the recipient as a person of higher social rank and status. They were gifts that were intended to broker a pathway to patronage, protection and security and to make a recipient feel disposed to respond or act in this way (see also, Graeber, 2001, p. 225). In north coastal Andhra the English word gift serves as a basic translation for over thirty different Telugu words, each referring to a different exchange category, denoting different contexts of exchange, different degrees of instrumentality on the part of the giver, different relationships to a recipient, and different kinds of gift. Some of the most important vernacular categories for practicing Hindus describe gifts to priests and to deities that are part of everyday temple rituals. These include kanuka, offerings of food objects and cash that are said to be made with homage, courtesy or reverence; and mokku, a collective noun for offerings which are said to have been given to God with a more explicit or directed purpose and intent, as in when people pray for divine intervention to bring about a change in fortune or health, to bring wisdom in decision making, or to bring about a particularly desirable course of events, for example in matters of the heart.



In the Worldwide Diamonds factory young Telugu workers described gifts that are given in order to have specific effects as soap. This is a deliberate and witty vernacular play on the English word, to soap someone is to try to smooth or lubricate your relationship in the pursuit of specific ends. But underlying the joke was a distinction between acts of giving that served to maintain social relations and acts of giving that served a more narrowly defined instrumental purpose. Jonathan Parry (2000) observed a similar distinction between the etiquette and practice associated with ‘gifts’, ‘commissions’ and ‘bribes’ among people seeking access to public sector employment in the central Indian steel town of Bhilai. In popular discourse, ‘gifts’ were given to maintain social relations rather than for any specific favours; ‘commissions’ were given in ‘gratitude’ for servicing contracts, while ‘bribes’ were given for a narrowly defined instrumental purpose. In Worldwide Diamonds ‘there was considerable ambiguity and ambivalence around what constituted ‘soap’. Debates about real or imagined exchanges lay at the heart of many of the intrigues and squabbles that animated daily life on the factory floor. In every section of the Preparation Department machine workers presented their monitors with small gifts that were explicitly intended to win their favourable treatment on the factory floor. Gifts that soaped might range from the ubiquitous items of homecooked food, to cinema tickets for the latest Telugu films, to invitations to family homes for Sunday dinners. In the cornering section, for example, senior blue uniformed machine workers regularly brought extra portions of food which they pushed onto the plate of Laxman, their section monitor, during the lunch break. Laxman was the only labour migrant in the work section. He rented a small room in a highway township with a group of other workers from the northern coastal district of Srikakulum and, consequently, was the only male worker in the section who did not live in a domestic environment attended by mothers, daughters or sisters in law. The cheap rice that Laxman prepared each night over his gas stove was supplemented during the factory lunch break with homemade delicacies, curries with chicken, fish, brinjal and okra, prepared by the wives, mothers and sisters of some of his male colleagues. In turn, Laxman ensured that these workers enjoyed a favourable supply of stock on the factory floor, giving them preferential access to rough stones when the stock was low and ensuring that they had access to the larger stones with a higher piece rate when stock was full. Every one of the factory’s departments was overseen by managers who were responsible for its organisation and productivity, control and discipline. While the caste background of blue-collar workers was studiously

Sweatshop Exchanges: Gifts and Giving in the Global Factory


erased from everyday conversation or talk on the factory floor, the highcaste backgrounds of these managers elicited malicious anti-Brahminical comments and critique. But as individual workers struggled to secure personal advantage or promotion in the workplace, their ability to ‘soap’ these managers was pivotal. Over the year I spent in the Preparation Department, I watched several monitors present small gift items and objects up the factory hierarchy to their high-caste managers. The most striking of these were the handmade pieces of diamond-related art. Laxman once spent several weeks developing a portfolio of pencil sketches, showing diamonds in their various stages of production, which he eventually presented to one of the factory managers. Patnaik, the blocking section monitor, went a step further. Patnaik had a hobby of making scale models from discarded pieces of polystyrene, and the fruits of his creative labour included cars, planes, spacecraft, and a Japanese bullet train. In mid-2005 Patnaik brought his latest piece, an intricate diamond cut from a single lump of polystyrene and engraved with detailed facets, into the factory and formerly presented it to the department manager who had it installed it on her desk in a glass box as a ‘learning tool’. Such objects were unique gifts. By materialising the skill and technical prowess of their creators they spoke of an individual’s craft pride. And, as visible demonstrations of an individual’s practical competencies and capabilities, they made a public expression of desire for mobility in the factory’s internal labour market. Those workers who secured promotions to monitor or supervisor were regularly fingered by shop floor gossip for having ‘soaped’ or ‘polished’ their way up the ladder with gifts. What such commentaries obliquely acknowledged was that ‘soaping’ required skill and etiquette; not just material things but also demonstrations of deference and subservience. ‘Some people will get opportunities and promotions here,’ people like Appala Raju complained to me. ‘Not everyone – only some people. Those kind of people who go to their department manager or their head monitor and ask about everything and say, ‘‘Yes, Sir!’’ or ‘‘What about this, Sir?’’ or ‘‘What about that?’’ they are the people who polish, you know. Polish. Soap. There are many people who know how to do that around here.’ In conversations in their homes outside the factory, people nourished private bitterness against co-workers who they felt had outdone them for a promotion, by lathering up and soaping a superior. Hari, the Preparation Department’s senior monitor, who had worked his way up from an entrylevel position on the factory floor put it bluntly. ‘If one person gets something, someone else will look at them and shout Soap! or Polish! And if it goes the other way around, the other person will say the same thing.



Everyone talks about soap around here. They don’t think, ‘If I work harder, if I work very hard, then I might get something too’. No. Instead that person says, ‘Oh! Look! That person is soaping or polishing to get something. But things don’t work like that. Well y maybe they work like that in ten percent or fifteen percent of cases but not every time.’ Many of Worldwide Diamonds’ white collar Brahmin managers sought to explicitly position themselves outside of this exchange economy. Worldwide Diamonds’ management trainees were aged between twenty-two and twentysix years and had graduate master’s degrees in engineering or management from provincial English medium colleges in South India. As they saw it the biggest everyday challenge of modern factory management was to avoid becoming embroiled in a web of close, binding, personal relationships with the people they were employed to manage and control. They clamoured away from relationships with the factory’s workforce, and often struggled to avoid or refuse these kind of gifts, afraid that any intimation of closeness, friendship or intimacy with individuals might offer them some kind of leverage in requests for a promotion, a wage increase, extra leave, extra overtime or a reduction in workload. The art pieces described above, for example, were never accepted on a personal basis. Instead managers accepted them ‘on behalf of the department’ and left them on public view inside the factory. Vikram described the dilemma as he reflected on his experiences on the shop floor. ‘People would invite us to their home. They’ll say, ‘‘come, bring your wife, bring your children, you can eat with us, there is a very nice temple close by’’. Or they will say, ‘‘come to my village for the festival’’. And a few days later they’ll say, ‘‘sir, please pass these stones’’, or they’ll ask me about a promotion, or they’ll try to get me to ask someone higher to push their salary.’ In response many young managers chose to cultivate an ethic of detachment, carefully managing and limiting their exchanges with workers (Cross, 2011a, 2011b). Detachment was seen as a precondition for the rational, market-oriented calculations and impartial decisions required of a modern professional, essential for achieving control and productivity. Achieving detachment meant purging oneself of sentiment, foreclosing any affective ties of obligation or reciprocity. Managers like Vikram put these problems succinctly during interviews with me on and off the factory floor. ‘You can’t try to build good relations with workers here. You’ll never be successful like that. If you want them to meet targets and to keep the quality up then you have to be strict, you have to be disciplined. You can’t go with your sentiments. You can’t get production with sentiments.’ Such managerial anxieties stand testament to the constant work or effort involved in successfully achieving a degree of ‘distance’ from workers.

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The hierarchical exchanges taking place on the floor of Worldwide Diamonds exhibited considerable continuity with those documented by anthropologists in South India’s agricultural economy. Here, as Filippo and Caroline Osella (1996) have written, agricultural labourers can be found constantly manoeuvring to bring reciprocity into the sphere of nonreciprocity while landowners and employers constantly struggle to deny them, or to set the terms of the exchange. The same struggles took place over the idea of labour itself. In their struggle to build relationships with their employers, Telugu workers sought to establish an idea of their labour as a gift that was being given between related individuals, whether friends or kin. The Telugu men and women employed in the Preparation Department appeared deeply committed to the idea that their labour was being ‘given’ to their company (personified in the figure of the CEO, the general manager or their department managers) rather than sold. No-one spoke of their work in the same terms used locally to describe daily waged labour (koolipani) contract work in local public sector industries (udyogamu) or employment (gujurani). Of course, factory work was to toil or to exert oneself in a task (kastapadu), and Worldwide Diamonds’ workers invariably referred to themselves collectively as those who push themselves (kastapadivallu). But the terms with which people described this transaction constantly played down or denied the commercial or commodity aspect of their relationship to the company. Instead, they emphasised the idea that their physical and mental exertions was being given rather than sold, and they invoked the personal, intimate and familial aspects of this exchange (see also, Mollona, 2005). The stock expression in the Preparation Department when workers described their relationship to the company explicitly used the Telugu verb, to give. As in, ‘we’re giving our hard work and they are giving money’ (manam kastapadu instunavu vallu dubulu instunadu). Workers spoke variously of ‘giving production’, giving their life (jivitamistunannu) and, once or twice, giving their blood (raktamistunannu) to the company. Some spoke of work as a constant stream or continuous flow, dharamu, a word that also connotes acts of giving in everyday Hindu ritual practice, such as when a ceremonial gift is preceded by the pouring of water into the hand of a recipient. Some spoke of their attachment or devotion (asangam) to the company. Workers frequently invoked the idiom of kinship to describe their relationship, and sometimes appealed to their managers in these terms. In June 2005 I discovered that some workers had been writing letters or notes directly to the company’s managing director, a Belgian man named Lucas who sometimes made visits to the shop floor. These letters were being



passed on to monitors or expatriate managers, in the hope that they would eventually reach Lucas. A young woman called Rama once showed me her letter and described what she had written. Rama: In the letter I wrote: Dear Lucas, how are you, when are you coming here, why have you not come here for a long time, when you come to the factory you must come to the preparation department, from Rama. That’s all y . See, in the factory we are like a family. I mean, it is not that managers are coming to our homes but I mean we are just here together in the company. So Lucas is like family to me y . In a family there is a mother and a father, no? So if this company is a family, then the managing director is like a mother and a father, and each department is like a son or a daughter. Rough polish, sawing, preparation, these are all like sons, no. Family is for life – it’s not a game.

What emerged here is an idea of labour as an expression of commitment to a relationship. Or, as David Graeber (2001, p. 41) has written, a medium of practical or creative action through which relationships can be made. Labour was not a gift object but was an activity through which workers could constitute a sphere of exchange; a sphere in which long-term reciprocal ties, moral and social bonds could become important or significant relations, and within which people could expect to be reciprocated over time with forms of protection, security and patronage (Graeber, 2001; Munn, 1977). This conceptualisation is rooted in the particularities of place and the idioms, language and moral economy of rural South India. Despite a history of political radicalisation by Maoists and Marxists, labour relationships in this northeast corner of coastal Andhra Pradesh have remained rooted in a moral economy of patronage and clientage. This is an economy in which allegiance and obedience bring rewards, in which deference reaps favour, and in which service garners protection. On the floor of the Preparation Department, however, workers’ also recognised the failure of this exchange relationship and that attempts to elicit the company’s patronage through hard work were met with a refusal to reciprocate appropriately. The problem, as workers often said, was simple: ‘we are giving production but we’re not getting anything back’.

SWEATSHOP EXCHANGES: CONCLUDING COMMENTS If anthropologists have rarely explored the diversity of economic transactions that take place in the global factory it is because, in a critical or Marxist tradition, we have been primed to see these institutions primarily as arenas of commodity exchange, spaces in which labour is alienated from the

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body of the worker and commodified. For many anthropologists the world’s economic zones and offshore factories are socially and politically important because they are spaces in which the commodification and alienation of labour reaches some kind of contemporary apotheosis. Yet such a position can blind us to other kinds of economic transactions that might take place on these factory floors, to the ways in which ‘the gift’ may manifest itself in global production networks, or the ways that relationships of co-operation, exchange and hierarchy between a global labour force and their employers are constituted through acts of giving. As I have shown the gift is integral to the operation of a low cost global subcontracting unit like Worldwide Diamonds and, on the shop floor, acts of giving constantly shift between different kinds of transactional logic. Workers in the global factory, like people anywhere, as Graeber would argue (2011, p. 114), are constantly shifting between ‘modalities’ of giving, moving backwards and forwards between different kinds of moral accounting. Just as acts of giving could express and underpin relations of cooperation and equality between workers so to they could express and underpin relations of inequality and hierarchy between workers and their managers. On the factory floor, like any other social context, these principals often became entangled, leaving it difficult for the observer to understand, as Graeber puts it, ‘which predominates’ (ibid., p. 115). As Marx wrote, the fusing together of many forces into a single collective force in the modern factory could give rise to co-operation but it could also begat a fierce rivalry between individuals, a ‘stimulation of the animal spirits’, which factory owners could carefully manage in ways their heightened their efficiency (ibid., p. 443). In the wake of Foucauldian social theory (Miller & Rose, 1995; Rose, 1989) anthropologists of work, labour and industry in the global economy have frequently chosen to focus their analytical attention on the latter, revealing the individuating technologies of the self that have emerged out of Taylorist management practices and market oriented calculations. Yet this neoliberal problematic overlooks how gifts and acts of giving perform relatedness and relational social action in ways that are pivotal to the organisation of labour and capital in the global economy. As I have shown here, on the floor of a global sweatshop like Worldwide Diamonds the moral logics of cooperation, reciprocity and hierarchy that underpinned transactions between workers and their managers were vital to its success as a hyper-efficient, low cost, and competitive subcontractor. They serve as a reminder that gifts and gift giving are both something more than just ‘relationships in production’ and yet constitute the very fabric of commodity production; the personalised, localised and



contextual economic relations they articulate are key to the organisation of contemporary capitalism.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS The research on which this paper is based was funded by the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council. An earlier version of this essay was presented in Canberra at the Australian National University’s South Asian Seminar Series. Thanks to Assa Doran, Sanjay Srivastava, Philip Taylor, Alice Street and two anonymous reviewers for Research in Economic Anthropology for discussions, questions and comments.

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Yang, M. M. (1994). Gifts, favors, and banquets: The art of social relationships in China. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. Yang, M. M. (2002). The resilience of guanxi and its new deployments: A critique of some new guanxi scholarship. The China Quarterly, 170, 459–476. Yang, M. M. (2009). Putting global capitalism in its place: Economic hybridity, bataille, and ritual expenditure. Current Anthropology, 41(4), 477–495. Yelvington, K. A. (1995). Producing power: Ethnicity, gender, and class in a Caribbean workplace. Philadelphia, PA: Philadelphia University Press.

SEEKING ABUNDANCE: CONSUMPTION AS A MOTIVATING FACTOR IN CITIES PAST AND PRESENT Monica L. Smith ABSTRACT 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

Political Economy, Neoliberalism, and the Prehistoric Economies of Latin America Research in Economic Anthropology, Volume 32, 27–51 Copyright r 2012 by Emerald Group Publishing Limited All rights of reproduction in any form reserved ISSN: 0190-1281/doi:10.1108/S0190-1281(2012)0000032006




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. Keywords: Urbanism; archaeology; abundance; material culture

INTRODUCTION About 6,000 years ago in different regions of the world, people first came together in configurations that are recognized as ‘‘complex societies’’: states, cities, and empires. Archaeologists often focus on ancient political leaders to explain and analyze the economic impact of this development. The role of elites as the sponsors and beneficiaries of material culture change is particularly investigated for those technologies that utilize scarce materials (gold, silver, obsidian), require specialized processes (iron, high-temperature ceramics), or that have labor-intensive production requirements (weaving). Previous scholarly treatments have tended to focus on material objects as evidence for social divisions, the control of production, and the restriction of access that makes objects an effective form of political display and a demonstration of hierarchy and exclusivity (e.g., Arnold, 1996; DeMarrais, Castillo, & Earle, 1996; Hunt, 1997; Lesure, 1999). Although the impact of elites on the production and consumption of some goods is well-demonstrated by the elaborate tombs, palaces, and temples associated with political authority, the archaeological record also illustrates that the economic activities of the broader populace is the result of repeated, often large-scale production and consumption events. A wide range of objects did not have elite intervention, such as the daily goods, ornaments, textiles, and domestic and agricultural implements selected and utilized by

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ordinary people. Each individual and household in the past used a variety of goods, and archaeologists increasingly are investigating evidence for specialized production, distribution, and consumption processes that were not linked to elite dictates (e.g., Abbott, 2010; Hirth, 2009; Lepofsky & Kahn, 2011; Sheets, 2000; Smith, 2010). The participatory framework of engagement with abundant material goods proposed here takes as its starting point the economic concept of abundance in which there are many types of plentiful material objects.

ABUNDANCE AS AN ECONOMIC PRINCIPLE Economists have increasingly turned to abundance as a subject to be problematized in the human approach to the natural world and to the use of material goods. This perspective is in contrast to traditional economic theory, which ‘‘places scarcity in a pivotal position in most of its theorizing’’ (Zinam, 1982, p. 61). In recent volumes, Dugger and Peach (2009) and Hoeschele (2010) have argued for an economics of abundance noting that for two reasons, assumptions of scarcity are untenable as a foundation for all economic explanations. The first reason is that some resources, such as information and knowledge, are boundless: ‘‘If I learn something, you can learn it too, unless I keep you from doing so’’ (Dugger & Peach, 2009, p. ix). The second reason is that resources are situationally and temporally variable: ‘‘what is and is not a resource changes over time with changes in technology, institutions, wants, and even prices’’ (Dugger & Peach, 2009, p. 61; see also Zinam, 1982, p. 71). Abundance can therefore be viewed as a foundational category of materiality, from which both scarcity and surplus emanate (Fig. 1). The concept of abundance as a fundamental underlying principle of cognitive capacity related to the physical world has the potential to greatly expand our understanding of human–material dynamics over the long term. To date, anthropologists have focused on the polarities of scarcity and surplus to identify motivations and constraints of ancient consumption behavior. In an influential paper on the notion of property in prehistory, Timothy Earle describes a necessarily adversarial component in which property is a ‘‘behavioral mechanism to limit and direct the use of things’’ (2000, p. 39). While he views property as ‘‘integral to all concepts of social institutions – how people are related to resources and to each other’’ (p. 40), the assignment of rights is often ‘‘contested and ambiguous’’ (p. 41). Competition is predicated on the notion of scarcity in which goods, raw materials, and labor are limited and the demand is greater than the supply. Examples of created



Fig. 1. The Human Cognitive Ability to Recognize and Act upon Abundance Provides the Basis for Both Politically Motivated and Individually Initiated Activities.

scarcity include sumptuary laws, control over production locations, and control over natural resource locales. Anthropologists’ interpretation of the utility of scarce objects for political display has a further theoretical foundation in John Locke’s observation that labor is what turns natural resources into property (1980 [1690], p. 28). Objects made of rare materials (whether because of distance or because of natural scarcity) indicate the control of others’ labor in the procurement and transport of those materials. An elaborately crafted object implies the existence of a skill set and time investment that is complex enough that the craftsmaker would not have been able to simultaneously grow food, hence requiring the intervention of an elite individual to support the craftsmaker. Indications of elites’ control over craft production further comes in the evidence for manufacturers who are physically close to rulers’ homes as ‘‘attached’’ specialists (Costin, 1991, p. 11), whose presence is documented in the recovery of unusual raw materials, areas of controlled production in and around elite residences, and elaborate goods found associated with large, distinctive, and therefore ‘‘wealthy’’ tombs. Anthropologists also have taken a special interest in the role of surplus as a basis for the accumulation and consolidation of political power, particularly after the development of agriculture made it possible to control the production of large amounts of food above and beyond the needs of the cultivating population. In an important early review article, Harris (1959) examined the role that the concept of ‘‘surplus’’ played in the analysis of the development of social complexity. Because the presence of superfluous food sources can be ethnographically identified in the absence of chiefdoms and states, Harris notes that the key question is not whether surplus can be

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generated, but the conditions under which ‘‘food-producers surrender a portion of their necessary food supply in order to support a class of nonfood-producers’’ (1959, p. 198). Researchers are still very much focused on elite-controlled ‘‘surplus’’ as a foundational component of the development of social complexity (e.g., Barrier, 2011, Henrich & Boyd, 2008). However, like scarcity, surplus constitutes availability relative to perception and expectations (Dalton, 1960, p. 483, 489) and can be placed into a broader perspective of that which is abundant. The long history of human–material interactions provides the opportunity to evaluate the human propensity to seek abundance in both natural and human-made objects long before the socially created constraints of scarcity and surplus were articulated by political authorities. Starting 2.5 million years ago, our human ancestors used natural resources for subsistence and created multiple styles and forms in manufactured objects. The results of these activities are manifested in the archaeological record of an increasing quantity and diversity of goods over time.

ABUNDANCE AND DECISION-MAKING Anthropologists are inclined to view today’s rapid production, consumption, and replacement of material goods as an outcome of the Industrial Revolution, with the perception that ‘‘replacement rates are apt to be low in pre- and non-industrial societies’’ (Schiffer, 1987, p. 39). With replacement rates low and with population growth limited, the corresponding assumption is that ancient life not only was nasty, brutish, and short but that it also was low in material possessions. However, the archaeological record provides evidence of the deliberate selection for abundance as part of the long evolutionary trajectory of human–material interactions. Of course, humans were not unique among species in their ability to recognize and relocate to areas of abundant resources as a component of landscape selection that would lead to increased biological viability and reproductive fitness. But humans had many more types of abundance to calculate than other species: not only food resources and mating opportunities, but also sources of raw material for tools. For mobile human populations, abundance was a signal of suitability for taking up residence in a new locale (see Kelly & Todd, 1988, p. 235; see also Rockman, 2003 on the concept of ‘‘landscape learning’’). People did not merely seek to locate and thereafter passively absorb conditions of abundance; they also took steps to replicate and create abundance as part of



the modification of their surroundings. Archaeological evidence indicates that abundance was a purposeful condition of object manufacture, judging from the usable objects that were left behind by migrants moving from camp site to camp site. It could be argued that some of the accumulation of objects at sites is the unintended result of reoccupation; even so, the decision to relocate at a favorable spot might have been signaled by the discards left behind by prior inhabitants. At Paleolithic sites including Olorgesailie in Kenya and Kalambo Falls in Zimbabwe, there are deposits of hundreds of handaxes that appear to have no obvious signs of use and which have been interpreted as social displays (Klein, 2009, p. 95; Mithen, 2003, p. 270). Similar conditions are noted at the 500,000 year old site of Boxgrove in England, where hundreds of stone handaxes have been recovered, many of them in unused condition (Langbroek, 2011, pp. 6–7); large quantities of handaxes also are reported from the MK 12 site in Mali (cited in Holl, 1989, p. 319). Even in the pre-Homo sapiens period, therefore, we see the purposeful creation of abundance through labor investment in the manufacture, transport, and accumulation of repetitive quantities of objects. Stone tools were durable items compared to quickly dispersed carcasses and other food waste, and those tools (along with items made of organic materials not otherwise preserved in the archaeological record) would have remained visible even when not being used. The likelihood that individuals could continue to identify their own handiwork among a pile of discarded tools (cf. Longacre, 1991, pp. 102–103) also provides support for the idea of possession that outlasted the original craftsmaker and for which notions of disposition and, possibly, inheritance were actively cognized. The ability to recognize and take advantage of abundance in raw materials also was integrated into the development of social skills such as the demonstration of virtuosity in manufacture (e.g., Mithen, 2003) and apprenticeship in toolmaking with its attendant social bonds between skilled elders and younger learners (Milne, 2005; Tomasello, 1999). Abundant sources of raw materials enabled individuals to engage in repeated manufacturing and skill-building to create objects that were more elaborate than strictly required for practical use, whether in the form of bilaterally symmetrical handaxes or, much later, in the form of fluted points in which the act of fluting caused a high rate of failure (Kelly & Todd, 1988, p. 235). The recognition of abundance and the deliberate manufacture of ‘‘superfluous’’ material culture are suggested by the oldest archaeological remains, but the engagement with and creation of abundance increased significantly over time. One way in which this can be documented is in foodways. Ancient

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peoples targeted an increasing large range of food choices as part of the ‘‘broad spectrum revolution’’ of increased diet diversity in the Upper Paleolithic starting as early as 45,000 years ago (Flannery, 1969; Stiner, 2001; Stutz, Munro, & Bar-Oz, 2009). Although scholars initially suggested that humans adopted the broad spectrum revolution as a response to scarcity, more recent research has taken as its perspective the view that the diversification of resources included decisions about relative labor investment and time/energy calculations (Stiner, 2001; Zeder 2012). Human accommodation of diversity and abundance also appears to have characterized the subsequent phase of the earliest sedentary societies that were expanding their culinary repertoire. At the 21,000-year-old site of Ohalo II in Israel, the well-preserved corpus of remains includes considerable quantities of small grass seeds compared to the smaller proportion of large cereal grains such as barley and emmer (Weiss, Wetterstrom, Nadel, & Bar-Yosef, 2004). Because small seeds would have been particularly difficult to process, one might make the argument that the attraction of grass seeds for Ohalo II occupants might have included the novelty of accumulating masses of very small items as part of the phenomenology of abundance. In addition to responding to and making use of abundance in nature, individuals’ engagement with material goods in this period continued to include the acquisition, use, and discard of large amounts of objects. Even in small band-level societies, accumulation could take place on a significant scale, as seen from burials with large quantities of goods (such as the double burial with 10,000 ivory beads at the Upper Paleolithic site of Sunghir [Formicola, 2007], and the prehistoric interment of a single male with 30,000 shell beads in California [reported in Gamble 2011]). Examples of accumulations in living contexts include the 15,000–20,000 year old lithic site of Kutikina in Tasmania, where the excavation of an area measuring less than one cubic meter in volume produced 75,000 stone flakes and tools (Kiernan, Jones, & Ranson, 1983, p. 30). The recovery of staggeringly large numbers of repetitive materials at Kutikina fulfills Parry and Kelly’s (1987, p. 300) observation that in sedentary societies, tools (including simple flakes that can be used to cut or scrape a variety of substances) ‘‘merely have to fulfill a specific short-term task.’’ Once discarded, objects still serve a social purpose as evidence of individual activity and household viability (cf. Smith, 2011) and an economic purpose as potential future source material in times of need (Ingold, 1987, p. 201). Habitation contexts such as Kutikina also illustrate that people in settlements have a larger number of objects per capita as the result of increased object production and consumption.



The capacity to recognize abundance and to increase the amount of material goods may have been a factor in subsequent sedentism and the turn to food production starting 10–12,000 years ago in different parts of the world. Brian Hayden (1990, p. 33–34) specifically credits the abundance, rather than scarcity, of r-selected (high reproduction rate) plant and animal species as the key circumstance and motivator for the development of both domestication and social complexity. In his view, early sedentary peoples did not adopt agriculture because of population pressures, environmental constraints, or other circumscriptions on their food resources; instead, the domestication of plants and animals provided an even greater abundance of food resources that could be used by emerging elites to cultivate political loyalty through the provision of feasts. Hayden’s formulation enables us to distinguish between the concept of abundance (the recognition and/or creation of a large quantity of items) and the category of a ‘‘surplus’’ that is the result of a political manipulation of a particular resource. Sedentism made it possible for humans to fulfill their desire for abundance through mechanisms such as storage and the accumulation of goods in a variety of conditions of use and discard. Increasing complexity in human economic and social repertoires after the development of agriculture was accompanied by an increased repertoire of material goods. People in agricultural villages used objects at a high rate of turnover, signaling their participation in the social realm through both active consumption and discard. Exceedingly high rates of production and consumption of durable objects is seen in excavations of the Khartoum Neolithic, for example, where an excavation of 140 square meters of one site yielded 30,000 fragments of grinding stone (Haaland, 2007, p. 172). The recovery of large numbers of duplicative goods indicates that abundance was probably the default expectation for many categories of items, and that humans sought to duplicate natural conditions of abundance whenever possible. The accumulation of manufactured objects was complemented by a continued monitoring of abundance in the natural environment. Transactions, whether in artifacts or raw materials, were also used to encode social cues and knowledge: ‘‘All interactions imply information flow, so that continuous spatial distributions of any class of artifact imply repeated interaction and effective information flow’’ (Renfrew, 1975, p. 53). People can acquire information and knowledge about goods for ‘‘free’’ even without actually acquiring the goods, a process encoded in even the smallest-scale transactions. The economic impact of repeated, small-scale consumption has been the focus of economic treatments that highlight the purchasing power and social capacity of the ‘‘bottom of the pyramid’’


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(Prahalad, 2005; see also Cross & Street, 2009; Martinez & Carbonell, 2007). The utility of this perspective, which focuses on the capacity for consumption even by below-poverty level individuals, has yet to be fully examined by archaeologists. But as argued in the recent edited volume on markets by Christopher P. Garraty and Barbara L. Stark (2010), the sheer volume of distribution of ordinary goods in the landscape, such as pottery and lithics, argues for the presence of market systems in prehistory and for the existence of a wide variety of transaction mechanisms in the past that did not rely solely on leaders for their existence. The diversity and abundance of any material category would also have encompassed the necessity of making choices among available objects, so that information gathered in the course of transactions was activated in their subsequent use. Because people can only utilize or even hold a limited number of objects simultaneously, individuals would have had to continually evaluate the utility of selected material goods. With a growing number of items in the economic repertoire, the logistical constraint for use may well have been factors of time rather than income (cf. Taylor, 1992, p. 139). In his book Consumption Takes Time, Ian Steedman (2001) has elegantly argued that consumption is a process that has underappreciated temporal consequences, because each activity involving material goods takes up an amount of time, which results in less availability of time for other activities. Time-based management of resources required human cognitive capacities for selection and adjudication among available resources, resulting in a constant need for decision-making among alternatives. The management of both natural abundance and created artifacts was governed by three long-term cognitive trajectories related to material objects: possession and use, inheritance as a mechanism of disposing of goods in a socially meaningful way, and value as a component of the fluid and dynamic assessments undertaken by individuals as part of daily economic life.

Possession At its most basic, possession is a physical act that begins with proximity and the autonomous body: Are you holding the object or not? Are you standing in that place or not? The here-and-now is clearly implicated in the individual’s placement in space and physical proximity to objects. But possession also is conditioned by larger frameworks of time and space, in that there are more objects and more aspects of the landscape to which an individual can have a claim other than what is ‘‘used’’ at any given moment.



As a result, possession has a social component in which an individual’s intent regarding particular objects and spaces is created relative to the recognition – and sometimes renegotiation – of those claims. Possession can be activated through direct acquisition by individuals as well as through social mechanisms such as exchange, which constitutes the transfer of objects, resource-rights, and other intangibles. Inheritance Possession is about living people and synchronous time. What happens to the objects and architectural spaces associated with people when they are no longer there? The material goods of the deceased may be burned, buried, broken, or discarded; alternatively, they can be curated as untouched heirlooms or kept in use as working implements. But in any case something must be done with them, as their original possessor is no longer present to interact with them. The process of inheritance is one in which possessions are devolved to another person; this process also can include intangibles, such as the inheritance of clients, patrons, debts, titles, and social relationships. Inheritance often is associated with the disposition of possessions after death, but a living person also can transfer possessions in perpetuity if they are no longer perceived as useful to the original owner. Value Value is situational, conditional, and subject to frequent changes because it draws on the individual ability to dynamically interact with both natural and cultural surroundings (Appadurai, 1986). Value is applied to all objects, both those that physically exist and those that can be imagined; value also encompasses actions calculated to compress long-time scales into single transactions such as a one-time brideprice, dowry, and death or injury compensation (wergild) representing the calculated future worth of an individual’s energy and reproductive potential. Whether for tangible objects or intangible representations, structures of value are the result of an individual–collective dialectic. Archaeologist V. Gordon Childe (1951, p. 169) discussed the concept of ‘‘socially-approved need’’ as a collective expression of value, a concept that is echoed in Schiffer’s (2005) analysis of invention as a series of incremental steps, each of which has an internal logic that resonates with current social conditions. However, the actualization of value is done on an individual basis. Throughout the daily, annual, and life

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cycle, people assess the social or physical utility of objects; these idiosyncratic aspects include the individual’s autonomous body with its own trajectory of age, injury, illness, and accumulation of skill. Social inputs thus are the result of individual actions codified into norms, in a process very similar to the manner in which language consists of individually generated utterances within a shared rubric of grammar (for language, see Ahearn, 2001). Our species’ surfeit of possessions probably can be traced to our earliest tool-making ancestors, who had to evaluate which items to take with them on migratory rounds and which objects could be left behind. Hence, the three realms of possession, inheritance, and value are not a simple evolutionary sequence, although the capacity for very complex value systems probably only was actualized starting 40–45,000 years ago in the Upper Paleolithic period when there was a dramatic increase in the types of objects made and utilized, such as ornaments, multicomponent tools, and clothing, as well as an increase in the ways that artifacts were disposed (including through caching, storage, and burial with the deceased). Individual cognitive capacities expressed through material culture acquisition, use, and discard subsequently were exercised in population centers of increasing size, in which people utilized ‘‘multitasking’’ strategies of managing goods and information as they engaged with increasingly dense social and political networks (Burgess, Veitch, de Lacy Costello, & Shallice, 2000; Salvucci & Taatgen, 2008; Smith, 2010).

CITIES AS THE LOCUS OF ACCELERATED PATTERNS OF POSSESSION, INHERITANCE, AND VALUE The propensity to seek abundance, beyond serving as a descriptive correlate to migration and settlement by our earliest human ancestors, also has explanatory power for significant questions related to population settlement dynamics in their most complex manifestation: why do cities form, and what is the incentive for thousands of ordinary people to relocate to densely occupied population centers? City dwellers faced a number of challenges that would appear to have made urban residence counterintuitive: crowding and its attendant risks of waterborne and airborne disease transmission; the psychological adjustment to non-kin social networks; and the replacement of direct control over food sources with attenuated networks of provisioning. Conditioned to seeking abundance as a long-standing evolutionary



cognitive adaptation, however, individuals and households saw cities as attractive places of settlement because they could obtain a greater quantity and variety of goods and information. Cities were established starting around 6,000 years ago, with the first urban agglomerations appearing in the Near East. Subsequent developments of urbanism are seen in Egypt, the Indian subcontinent, Africa, China, and Europe as well as in Mesoamerica and the Andes, often without any contacts between regions. These independent origins of urbanism lay in local conditions of population growth and environmental opportunity that often were coincident with the growth of political systems such as the state (e.g., Feinman & Marcus, 1998; Marcus & Sabloff, 2008; Smith, 2003). Although some coercive urban relocations can be found in the historical literature (see Joffe, 1998), the development and population of cities appears to be an overwhelmingly voluntary phenomenon in the past as it is in the present. Cognitive capacities for social interaction were expressed through a built environment, created by elites and nonelites alike, which included a variety of different types of spaces and access routes. Wherever and whenever they are found, cities tend to be remarkably similar in their layouts and features, with public and private venues, economic activity zones, and organizations of space that reflect the materialization of dense social networks. Cities alter economic interactions in a number of ways that affect the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services. Urban spaces per capita tend to be small, so that village-level strategies of storing food in close proximity to residences is replaced by systems of provisioning such as markets, itinerant vendors, and personal supply networks linked to rural providers. Durable goods also increase: there are more people, and therefore more goods, but there are also more goods per person. Contemporary observations indicate the process by which the increasing density of social networks in urban areas becomes manifested in a greater number of material objects as migrants engage in patterns of behavior that expand and modify the habits that they have retained from their original rural settings (e.g., Abu-Lughod, 1969). Urban environments’ potential for many expressions of socially useful ‘‘weak ties’’ (Granovetter, 1973) further accelerates the process of consumption as individuals signal their participation in multiple social groups through ornaments, attire, and accoutrements utilized to develop, confirm, and display both private identity and public roles (D. Miller, 1985; Schiffer & Miller, 1999; Smith, 2007). As cities were central places for both objects and information (Renfrew, 1975, p. 12), the accelerated economy of consumption also included a corresponding increase in information about goods, their uses, and their possessors.


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We can further distinguish the ways in which consumption in urban centers became specialized not only because of the increased potential diversity of goods, but because of the increased diversity of consumers and the increased connectivity among individuals and households that resulted in a more complex structure of consumption practices. Some of the ways in which consumption becomes more complex in urban environments are discussed below: concentrated loci of consumption, accelerated innovation in production and consumption, ‘‘trading up’’ within categories of consumer goods, gendered consumption, and youth consumption. In addition, cities sponsor diversified patterns of person-to-person transfer and provide a market for stylistic adoptions that affect rural production and consumption patterns. Concentrated Loci of Consumption In both ancient and modern urban settings, a common form of distribution is the bazaar in which there are duplicative vendors, often side by side. This form of distribution, display, and acquisition is distinct from the mechanisms of rural consumption, which may be limited to a single in-place vendor or itinerant merchant. In those single-supplier contexts, consumers have access to a reduced selection of items, along with limited information about the quality, provenance, and price of goods. By contrast, urban bazaar economies enable potential consumers to efficiently assess the range of available goods along with their technological qualities, styles, and prices. Producers and distributors alter their strategies of distribution in the bazaar economy by engaging in higher volume and lower margins; for producers and distributors, the bazaar is a convenient locus for sales, while for consumers the bazaar provides competitive prices and a greater selection. The phenomenon of the bazaar can be compared to its modern equivalent: ‘‘big-box’’ retailers whose compressed costs and reduced margins result in lower basic costs of living for consumers, who thereby have the potential for increased discretionary spending (Silverstein & Fiske, 2005, p. 21). Accelerated Innovation in Production and Consumption Researchers examining early urbanism have long recognized the value to producers of having a ready market for infrequently produced and infrequently acquired goods. V. Gordon Childe noted that the producers of specialized products risked social alienation by having to wander from place to place filling orders; for them, ‘‘one result of the Urban Revolution



will be to rescue such specialists from nomadism and to guarantee them security in a new social organization’’ (Childe, 1950, p. 8; see also Carneiro, 1970, p. 736). Providers of new technologies and novel goods also find enough buyers to make even experimental production worthwhile. The process is analogous to what Anderson describes as the ‘‘long tail’’ of distribution as the cumulative effect of efficiently marketing items even when there is low demand for any particular object (2004). In the modern context, the delivery mechanism that connects dispersed buyers with uneven demand is the internet, which enables people to find ‘‘obscure products you can’t get anywhere but online’’ (p. 172). Ancient urban centers provided a physical analog to the ‘‘long tail’’ phenomenon, providing advantages to both consumers and producers through the efficiency of delivery, the speed of communication, and the feedback cycle of demand for innovation in the types and styles of manufactured goods. Individual autonomy continued to be expressed (as it always had been) through the possession, inheritance, and valuation of objects and space, although the manifestation of that autonomy was accelerated both in frequency and intensity in the urban context. Cities were places of diversity and risk-taking in both production and consumption, in which dense networks of people provided the mechanism for the actualization of the ‘‘long tail.’’

‘‘Trading Up’’ Within Categories of Consumer Goods Silverstein and Fiske (2005) have noted that as the variety of products increases within categories (such as food, clothing, and consumer durables), consumers expend more for value-added goods within some of those categories. Examining consumption as a deliberate strategy of decisionmaking among similar goods of different value within categories, Silverstein and Fiske note two aspects that affect consumers at all levels. First, the process of ‘‘trading up’’ to a more-expensive item within a category usually is accompanied by ‘‘trading down’’ in other categories of goods, such that consumers selectively allocate expenditures among categories, and not merely among different representatives of a single category. Secondly, the phenomenon of ‘‘trading up’’ is not limited to consumers with substantial means; as they observe, ‘‘Consumers, especially those at the lower end of the income spectrum, often spend a disproportionate amount of their income in one or two categories of great meaning’’ (Silverstein & Fiske, 2005, p. 6). Urban centers, with their greater variety of goods and greater number of categories of goods, provide the opportunity for trading up by all levels of the


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economic hierarchy as a further acceleration of the production, distribution, and consumption processes in urban environments. As Henrich and Boyd (2008, p. 721) note, ‘‘larger, denser social groups should be able to maintain greater levels of technological complexity, knowledge, and skill,’’ a factor of information that also contributes to the decision-making process of acquisition and trading up.

Gendered Consumption We know from textual sources that some types of work in ancient cities were performed primarily or exclusively by women. Women wove textiles and milled grain in Mesopotamia (Englund, 1991; McCorriston, 1997), wove textiles in Mesoamerica (Brumfiel, 1991), and wove textiles and brewed maize beer in the Andes (Costin, 1998; Hastorf & Johannessen, 1993). In some premodern cases, we also know that the pay scales for women were different than for men, which would have resulted in differential ability to consume goods; at the same time, however, within groups of working women there would have been the potential for hierarchies among females in which some women probably enjoyed high status and controlled the work of others (as suggested by McCorriston, 1997, for Mesopotamia). Ethnographic studies illustrate differential ratios of female/male migration to cities related to work opportunities (e.g., Abu-Lughod, 1969; Penvenne, 1997), which serve as a model for differential female/male migration in ancient cities as well. The resultant gendered patterns of labor and compensation would have provided the opportunity for gendered patterns of consumption, for which there are ethnographic and ethnohistoric analogs (e.g., Frink, 2009; Scheld, 2007; Webber et al., 2010). The presence of a substantial number of working women in ancient cities would have affected the types of consumer goods offered, their distribution, and their prices.

Youth Consumption A high degree of mobility into urban environments may have meant a differential potential for youth to engage in consumption activities of a greater variety than that available in the rural countryside. Here again, ethnographic and ethnohistoric evidence indicates that youths laboring in the city engage in differential patterns of consumption that produce a distinct ‘‘youth cosmopolitanism’’ expressed through activities such as the



acquisition of inexpensive material culture, pooling resources to purchase clothing and other display items to be shared among a group of youth, and even petty theft (Scheld, 2007).

Diversified Patterns of Person-to-Person Transfer In rural areas characterized by kin-based economic interactions, the primary means by which possessions change hands is through inheritance and gifting. In urban areas, however, the greater number of people and greater number of groups to which individuals belong mean that interactions include relationships with kin, fictive kin, neighbors, familiars, and outright strangers. This increased variety of relationships provides numerous additional opportunities for the dissociation of possession; in the modern world, mechanisms include swap meets, yard sales, secondhand stores, antique shops, and other venues through which ‘‘formal mechanisms supplement but do not supplant face-to-face social interaction in the transfer of used items’’ (Schiffer, 1987, p. 38). Discard also can be achieved through donations to unknown recipients through the collective mechanism of charity organizations. These mechanisms provide the necessary outlet for an increased urban acceleration of stylistic innovation and discard. The opportunity to acquire items (sometimes unused or lightly worn) also contributes to potential migrants’ perception of urban centers as attractive zones of abundance.

Stylistic Adoptions that Affect Rural Production and Consumption Patterns Urban patterns of production and consumption affect rural economies in a variety of ways, drawing raw materials and labor into the city and providing goods and styles that are available for potential adoption in the surrounding countryside. An example is provided by the ancient urban center of Tiwanaku in Bolivia, where researchers have noted that in the pre-Tiwanaku period, rural pottery styles were diverse and that stylistic borrowing was often incorporated with local innovations. Once the urban site of Tiwanaku was established, however, Tiwanaku pottery styles became widespread and there were no further developments of regionally distinctive styles (Stanish, 2002, p. 189). In other cities and hinterlands as well, residents would have been able to create social capital through the knowledge of consumption practices of new styles that were available first (and sometimes, only) to


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urban dwellers. Even individuals of very restricted means could still partake in the acquisition of information about which goods were useful and up-todate in style, enabling all to participate in the urban economy of abundance. A further evaluation of urban style enables us to examine another important outcome of urban production and consumption patterns: the development of cognitively necessary restraints on abundance. The diversity of goods, distribution venues, and consumers in urban economies result in an increasingly large quantity of items; however, the repertoire of goods cannot be infinitely expanded by either producers or consumers. Some constraints on variety would have been imposed by logistical considerations, such as producers’ physical limitations of space for raw materials, equipment (such as molds and specialized production tools), and finished inventory. Distributors likewise would have faced shortages of space for the storage of large quantities of diverse goods, while consumers would have faced limited quantities of living and storage space in the more constrained living quarters of the city. Physical limits were not the only means by which variety was suppressed. As Taylor (1992, p. 139) notes with relation to consumption and the human cognitive apparatus, ‘‘too much novelty leads to confusion and immobility because one does not know what to expect.’’ The resulting phenomenon of choice-making has been extensively examined by S. S. Iyengar and colleagues (e.g., Iyengar, 2010; Iyengar & Lepper, 2000; Leotti, Iyengar, & Ochsner, 2010). They emphasize that humans (along with other animals) prefer to choose but that this cognitive preference also results in ‘‘choice overload’’ (Iyengar & Lepper, 2000, p. 1004) when the set of alternatives becomes too large. In the modern realm, producers have responded to choice overload by decreasing the variety offered within categories of objects. In premodern times, the development of style would have been a means of providing guidance to consumers about the social validity of innovations. Changes in urban styles resulted in parameters of both production and consumption, with a rapid turnover of styles providing consumers both with new information to consume as well as restricting the stock produced, distributed, and stored by vendors.

DISCUSSION The recognition of abundance as a component of the human–material dynamic has profound implications for understanding long-term trajectories of human behavior related to material culture. Humans’ propensity to



recognize and seek abundance explains the presence of objects at sites of all sizes – discounting formation processes – as a purposeful accumulation of materials, and not merely the residual effect of production or the unintentional result of sequential occupations. Conditioned to abundance, humans would have taken their cues of potentially suitable locales not only through the perception of natural conditions (such as lush vegetation and presence of desired prey) but through the material signatures of prior abundance (including discards and artifact accumulations) that could be ‘‘read’’ as markers of environmental quality and satisfaction. The human management of abundance also helps to explain the prevalence of storage in human societies. Storage may be a mechanism that is not only the result of the essential logistical solution to utilizing seasonally harvested food products, but also fulfills a human drive for accumulation and abundance. The concept may even be stretched to explain some aspects of plant domestication. Grains, which are a somewhat counterintuitive choice for domestication due to small seed size and difficulties of harvesting prior to the development of a tough rachis that held the seeds tightly to the stalk, may have been attractive because of the perception of abundance that emanates from the flow of grain into jars, storage bins, and other receptacles. Aesthetic and practical factors of overflowing containers and granaries, and the piled-up abundance of grains in both ordinary food preparation events and feasts, may have enhanced the perception that grain was an appropriate food for ordinary people, rulers, and deities alike. A propensity to view abundance as socially meaningful may also explain the function of trash as an advertisement of prosperity and environmental viability, as even people of relatively modest means can demonstrate social viability through the cumulative display of past consumption. The most complex form of consumer behavior is found in urban centers, where the variety and quantity of goods and information constitute the material manifestation of increasingly complex social networks. The use of an economies-of-abundance framework for assessing whether urban centers attracted early settlers because of a desirable diversity of consumer goods also contains testable archaeological propositions:  Do urban consumers engage in a higher rate of consumption and discard compared to rural dwellers? This would entail examining the per-capita/ per-period trash contents of contemporaneous urban and rural settlements in a region. A high rate of consumption need not result in a high rate of discard; greater amounts of accumulation of durable goods per capita (or per cubic meter of living space) might mark urban residences,

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and could be calculated in the ratio of built storage area to living area in urban compared to rural households.  Do urban areas have a greater array of styles compared to rural areas? This would entail examining the per-capita range of styles for urban and rural areas of the same ancient culture and whether more styles are found in urban areas compared to rural ones, corrected for population size. Styles can be measured not only through the form and decoration of durable consumer goods such as pottery, ornaments, and implements, but also through the examination of foodways as indicated in faunal remains (diversity and variety of meat cuts and species), botanical remains (including flavor enhancers such as spices, herbs, and wild plants), preparation tools (grinding implements, cooking facilities, and utensils), and the presence of venues for the consumption of cooked foods (such as marketplaces and street stalls).  Are cycles of style change accelerated in urban environments compared to rural environments? For daily-use goods such as pottery, ornaments, tools, and furniture, how many ‘‘styles’’ are there in urban centers compared to rural areas? How many new ‘‘waves’’ of style are never picked up by rural consumers (one can see a series of analogies in 20th century fashion widely adopted in urban spheres that did not become part of the rural sartorial scene, such as zoot suits and punk wear, in addition to music and argot perceived as ‘‘urban’’). Another test implication for the rapidity of consumption and discard in urban environments is the extent to which tools and other utilitarian objects are discarded in pristine or lightly worn condition in urban middens compared with the use-wear of rural counterparts. Finally, the use of an abundance perspective also can be applied to structures of power that developed in tandem with sedentism and social complexity. The emergence of elite hierarchies of provisioning and control, in many cases coincident with urbanism, did make use of the concept of scarcity (in the allocation of administrative positions or tokens of privilege). However, elites also engaged with the provision of abundance, particularly in the matter of food. As Hasia Diner (2001) has observed, abundance in foodstuffs does not bring contempt or complacence; on the contrary, the more of a preferred food is supplied, the more it is esteemed. In some cases, elites provided an abundance of preferred foods during feasts; in other cases, a combination of top-down and bottom-up strategies of agricultural investment were coordinated under shared understandings of what was ‘‘good to eat’’ (e.g., Hayden, 1990; Lepofsky & Kahn, 2011; Smith, 2005).



CONCLUSIONS Economists’ recommendations to consider abundance as an economic principle dovetails with anthropologists’ exhortations to expand our theoretical repertoire beyond the narrowly derived economic principles of the modern world. As Stuart Plattner (1989, pp. 10–11) noted a number of years ago, ‘‘the basic terms of economics are defined abstractly (and) they fit best the capitalist, industrialized economy in which they were developed.’’ Notions of scarcity and surplus, derived as the result of observations of the Industrial Revolution and its aftermath, do not apply universally to all material objects. In the premodern age, the cognitive ability to recognize abundance in the natural environment long predated the development of political agents who had the power to define scarcity and elicit surplus. Even under conditions of political restriction, however, many categories of dailyuse goods remained abundantly available. An increased quantity and variety of goods is documented in the archaeological record of social complexity, particularly after the beginning of the Upper Paleolithic period. This observation has both descriptive and explanatory potential, enabling researchers to understand the development and occupation of increasingly large population centers. In particular, the objectively deleterious conditions of cities in both the past and the present must be counterbalanced by some explanation of why people move into them. Ethnographic accounts suggest that people articulate their desire to migrate to urban centers through phrases of the intangible such as ‘‘bright lights, big city’’ or ‘‘buscar la vida’’ (cf. Wilson, 1992). Those desires and expectations are manifested in material goods and information, of which there is much greater quantity in urban areas than in any other kind of population center. The rapid development of style that accompanied the increased production and distribution of goods provided both a solution to ‘‘choice overload’’ and a source of information about appropriate material culture that could be participated in by all urban dwellers, regardless of how impoverished they might be. More than a simple correlation of urban residence, the ability to acquire more goods and more information about goods serves as a compelling explanation for urban migration and residence.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS Portions of this article were presented at the Economic Science Institute at Chapman University in October of 2009. I would like to thank


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Bart J. Wilson for the kind invitation and the members of the ESI for their comments in that forum. I would like to extend my appreciation to Charles Stanish, Donald Wood, and Ty Matejowsky for discussions that have served to sharpen the argument. I also would like to thank Michael Brian Schiffer and two anonymous reviewers for their many thoughtful suggestions and comments on an earlier written version.

REFERENCES Abbott, D. R. (2010). The rise and demise of marketplace exchange among the prehistoric Hohokam of Arizona. In C. P. Garraty & B. L. Stark (Eds.), Archaeological approaches to market exchange in ancient societies (pp. 61–83). Boulder, CO: University Press of Colorado. Abu-Lughod, J. (1969). Migrant adjustment to city life: The Egyptian case. In G. Breese (Ed.), The city in newly developing countries (pp. 376–388). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall. Ahearn, L. M. (2001). Language and agency. Annual Review of Anthropology, 30, 109–137. Anderson, C. (2004). The long tail. Wired, 12, 170–177. Appadurai, A. (1986). Introduction: Commodities and the politics of value. In A. Appudurai (Ed.), The social life of things (pp. 3–63). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Arnold, J. E. (1996). Organizational transformations: Power and labor among complex huntergatherers and other intermediate societies. In J. E. Arnold (Ed.), Emergent complexity: The evolution of intermediate societies (pp. 59–73). Ann Arbor, MI: International Monographs in Prehistory (Archaeological Series 9). Barrier, C. R. (2011). Storage and relative surplus at the Mississippian site of Moundville. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, 30, 206–219. Brumfiel, E. M. (1991). Weaving and cooking: Women’s production in Aztec Mexico. In J. M. Gero & M. W. Conkey (Eds.), Engendering archaeology: Women and prehistory (pp. 224–251). Oxford: Blackwell. Burgess, P. W., Veitch, E., de Lacy Costello, A., & Shallice, T. (2000). The cognitive and neuroanatomical correlates of multitasking. Neuropsychologia, 38, 848–863. Carneiro, R. L. (1970). A theory of the origin of the state. Science, 169, 733–738. Childe, V. G. (1950). The urban revolution. The Town Planning Review, 21, 3–17. Childe, V. G. (1951). Social evolution (Rev. ed.). London: C.A. Watts. Costin, C. L. (1991). Craft specialization: Issues in defining, documenting, and explaining the organization of production. In M. B. Schiffer (Ed.), Archaeological method and theory (pp. 1–56). Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press. Costin, C. L. (1998). Housewives, chosen women, skilled men: Cloth production and social identity in the late prehispanic Andes. Archeological Papers of the American Anthropological Association, 8, 123–141. Cross, J., & Street, A. (2009). Anthropology at the bottom of the pyramid. Anthropology Today, 25, 4–9. Dalton, G. (1960). A note of clarification on economic surplus. American Anthropologist, 62, 483–490. DeMarrais, E., Castillo, L. J., & Earle, T. (1996). Ideology, materialization, and power strategies. Current Anthropology, 37, 15–31.



Diner, H. R. (2001). Hungering for America: Italian, Irish and Jewish foodways in the age of migration. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Dugger, W. M., & Peach, J. T. (2009). Economic abundance: An introduction. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe. Earle, T. (2000). Archaeology, property, and prehistory. Annual Review of Anthropology, 29, 39–60. Englund, R. K. (1991). Hard work – where will it get you? Labor management in Ur III Mesopotamia. Journal of Near Eastern Studies, 50, 255–280. Feinman, G. M., & Marcus, J. (1998). Archaic states. Santa Fe, NM: School of American Research Press. Flannery, K. V. (1969). Origins and ecological effects of early domesticates in Iran and the Near East. In P. J. Ucko & G. W. Dimbleby (Eds.), The domestication and exploitation of plants and animals (pp. 73–100). London: Duckworth. Formicola, V. (2007). From the Sunghir children to the Romito dwarf: Aspects of the Upper Paleolithic funerary landscape. Current Anthropology, 48, 446–453. Frink, L. M. (2009). The social role of technology in coastal Alaska. International Journal of Historical Archaeology, 13, 282–302. Gamble, L. H. (2011). Structural transformation and innovation in emergent political economies of southern California. In K. D. Sassaman & D. H. Holly (Eds.), Huntergatherer archaeology as historical process (pp. 227–247). Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press. Garraty, C. P., & Stark, B. L. (2010). Detecting marketplace exchange in archaeology: A methodological review. In C. P. Garraty & B. L. Stark (Eds.), Archaeological approaches to market exchange in ancient societies (pp. 33–58). Boulder, CO: University Press of Colorado. Granovetter, M. S. (1973). The strength of weak ties. American Journal of Sociology, 78, 1360–1380. Haaland, R. (2007). Porridge and pot, bread and oven: Food ways and symbolism in Africa and the Near East from the Neolithic to the present. Cambridge Archaeological Journal, 17, 165–182. Harris, M. (1959). The economy has no surplus? American Anthropologist, 61(2), 185–199. Hastorf, C. A., & Johannessen, S. (1993). Pre-Hispanic political change and the role of maize in the central Andes of Peru. American Anthropologist, 95, 115–138. Hayden, B. (1990). Nimrods, piscators, pluckers, and planters: The emergence of food production. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, 9, 31–69. Henrich, J., & Boyd, R. (2008). Division of labor, economic specialization, and the evolution of social stratification. Current Anthropology, 49, 715–724. Hirth, K. G. (Ed.). (2009). Housework: Craft production and domestic economy in ancient Mesoamerica. Washington, DC: Archeological Papers of the American Anthropological Association (No. 19). Hoeschele, W. (2010). The economics of abundance: A political economy of freedom, equity, and sustainability. Farnham, UK: Gower. Holl, A. (1989). Social issues in Saharan prehistory. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, 8, 313–354. Hunt, R. C. (1997). Property. In T. Barfield (Ed.), The dictionary of anthropology (pp. 378–379). Oxford: Blackwell. Ingold, T. (1987). The appropriation of nature: Essays on human ecology and social relations. Iowa City, IA: University of Iowa Press.

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Renfrew, C. (1975). Trade as action at a distance: Questions of Integration and communication. In J. Sabloff & C. C. Lamberg-Karlovsky (Eds.), Ancient civilization and trade (pp. 3–59). Santa Fe, NM: School of American Research Press. Rockman, M. (2003). Knowledge and learning in the archaeology of colonization. In M. Rockman & J. Steele (Eds.), Colonization of unfamiliar landscapes: The archaeology of adaptation (pp. 3–24). London: Routledge. Salvucci, D. D., & Taatgen, N. A. (2008). Threaded cognition: An integrated theory of concurrent multitasking. Psychological Review, 115, 101–130. Scheld, S. (2007). Youth cosmopolitanism: Clothing, the city and globalization in Dakar, Senegal. City and Society, 19, 232–253. Schiffer, M. B. (1987). Formation processes of the archaeological record. Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press. Schiffer, M. B. (2005). The devil is in the details: The cascade model of invention processes. American Antiquity, 70, 485–502. Schiffer, M. B. with Miller, A. R. (1999). The material life of human beings: Artifacts, behavior, and communication. London: Routledge. Sheets, P. (2000). Provisioning the Ceren household: The vertical economy, village economy, and household economy in the southeastern Maya periphery. Ancient Mesoamerica, 11, 217–230. Silverstein, M. J., & Fiske, N., with Butman, J. (2005). Trading up: Why consumers want new luxury goods – and how companies create them (Rev. ed.). New York, NY: Portfolio. Smith, M. L. (Ed.). (2003). The social construction of ancient cities. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution. Smith, M. L. (2005). The archaeology of food preference. American Anthropologist, 108, 480–493. Smith, M. L. (2007). Inconspicuous consumption: Non-display goods and identity formation. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory, 14, 412–438. Smith, M. L. (2010). A prehistory of ordinary people. Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press. Smith, M. L. (2011). ‘‘I discard, therefore I am’’: Identity and leave-taking of possessions. In L. Amundsen-Pickering, N. Engel, & S. Pickering (Eds.), Identity crisis: Archaeological perspectives on social identity [Proceedings of the 42nd (2010) Annual Chacmool Archaeology Conference] (pp. 132–142). Calgary: Chacmool Archaeological Association, University of Calgary. Stanish, C. (2002). Tiwanaku political economy. In W. H. Isbell & H. Silverman (Eds.), Andean archaeology I: Variations in sociopolitical organization (pp. 169–198). New York, NY: Kluwer. Steedman, I. (2001). Consumption takes time. London: Routledge. Stiner, M. C. (2001). Thirty years on the ‘‘broad spectrum revolution’’ and Paleolithic demography. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 98, 6993–6996. Stutz, A. J., Munro, N. D., & Bar-Oz, G. (2009). Increasing the resolution of the broad spectrum revolution in the southern Levantine Epipaleolithic (19–12 ka). Journal of Human Evolution, 56, 294–306. Taylor, L. D. (1992). Brain structure and consumption dynamics. In L. Philips & L. D. Taylor (Eds.), Aggregation, consumption and trade (pp. 137–155). Dordrecht: Kluwer. Tomasello, M. (1999). The human adaptation for culture. Annual Review of Anthropology, 28, 509–529.

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Webber, G., Edwards, N., Graham, I. D., Amaratunga, C., Keane, V., & Socheat, R. (2010). Life in the big city: The multiple vulnerabilities of migrant Cambodian garment factory workers to HIV. Women’s Studies International Forum, 33, 159–169. Weiss, E., Wetterstrom, W., Nadel, D., & Bar-Yosef, O. (2004). The broad spectrum revisited: Evidence from plant remains. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 101, 9551–9555. Wilson, T. D. (1992). Vamos para buscar la vida: A comparison of patterns of outmigration from a rancho in Jalisco and internal migration into a Mexicali squatter settlement (Ph.D. dissertation). University of California, Los Angeles, CA. Zeder, M. A. (2012). The Broad Spectrum Revolution at 40: Resource diversity, intensification, and an alternative to optimal foraging explanations. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, 31, 241–264. Zinam, O. (1982). The myth of absolute abundance: Economic development as a shift in relative scarcities. American Journal of Economics and Sociology, 41, 61–76.

ECONOMIC ANTHROPOLOGY AFTER THE GREAT DEBATE: THE ROLE AND EVOLUTION OF INSTITUTIONALIST THOUGHT Justin A. Elardo ABSTRACT 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.

Political Economy, Neoliberalism, and the Prehistoric Economies of Latin America Research in Economic Anthropology, Volume 32, 53–83 Copyright r 2012 by Emerald Group Publishing Limited All rights of reproduction in any form reserved ISSN: 0190-1281/doi:10.1108/S0190-1281(2012)0000032007




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. Keywords: Substantivist–formalist debate; economic anthropology; institutional economics; economic methodology The past is not dead. In fact, it’s not even past. — William Faulkner

INTRODUCTION Economic anthropology and institutionalist economics share a common epistemological heritage.1 Institutionalist economists study the evolution of political and social institutions, as well as cultural norms, in order to better understand economic phenomena. Economic anthropologists reverse this line of reasoning. The potency of this epistemological connection highlights the ability of institutionalist economists and economic anthropologists to enrich each others’ respective fields. Given this association, the recent history of the relationship between economic anthropology and institutional economics requires closer inspection. For economic anthropology, the existence of a body of scientific discourse reflects directly on the substantivist–formalist debate of the 1960s. The formalists embraced the neoclassical rational choice model. The substantivists extolled the virtues of ‘‘old’’ institutional economics arguing that the neoclassical model is specific and only useful in analyzing human behavior in a market economy.2 As is typical of a heated controversy, the debate triggered a large influx of contributions into a field that previously languished in anonymity. Despite this energy, the substantivist–formalist

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debate became the equivalent of a shooting star. For roughly a decade, the debate produced a stream of dialogue among its participants. Then, in the 1970s, it would quickly fade without resolution. While the Great Debate appeared to end without resolution, contemporary contributors to the field of economic anthropology have not neglected the importance of the debate. On more than one occasion, the literature references the ‘‘Great Debate’’ (see Wilk, 1996). References aside, the postdebate literature also seems to indicate that the main arguments of the substantivist–formalist debate may not have ceased, but instead are echoed in the contemporary arguments between the ‘‘old’’ and ‘‘new’’ institutionalists. This chapter seeks to explore the evolution of the substantivist and formalist ideas as they relate to institutional economic anthropology since the Great Debate. This chapter has four objectives. First, this chapter exposes the fact that while the Great Debate formally ended in the early 1970s, the theoretical disagreements embedded in the debate continue to persist among ‘‘old’’ and ‘‘new’’ institutional economic anthropologists. Second, this chapter outlines three recent and additional critiques of the ‘‘new’’ institutional approach as they appear in the economic anthropology literature. Third, this chapter offers a hypothesis as to why the Great Debate originated and why it continues to persist among institutional economic anthropologists. Fourth, this chapter suggests a way in which institutional economic anthropology may be able to finally move beyond the Great Debate. In order to fulfill the four objectives, this chapter maintains a strict adherence to epistemological arguments. The chapter proceeds as follows. The next section begins with a brief survey of the substantivist–formalist debate. Following the overview of the Great Debate, the next two sections outline and examine the postdebate institutional economic anthropology literature from the 1970s through the present. In these two sections, the literature examined is narrowly and explicitly devoted to the epistemological evolution of the ‘‘old’’ and the ‘‘new’’ institutional economic anthropology. The ideas presented have all been carefully chosen to emphasize theoretical, as opposed to applied and/or empirical, ideas as they operate within contemporary institutional economic anthropology. Employing the contemporary arguments, the second to last section of the chapter lays out a critical evaluation of the ‘‘new’’ institutional approach. The chapter comes to a close with the notion that the ideas of the Great Debate are similar to a genetic marker. While the central themes of the original debate have taken new forms, they continue to be present among the ideas expressed by the debate’s offspring. As a result, if the terms of the Great Debate are to ever reach a



conclusion, then descendants of the debate must transcend the institutionalism of either the ‘‘old’’ or the ‘‘new.’’ Given the arguments raised within this chapter, it is the contention of this author that institutional economic anthropology would benefit by moving beyond the ‘‘new’’ institutional approach.

OVERVIEW OF THE ‘‘GREAT DEBATE’’3 Before any examination of recent institutionalist developments in economic anthropology can be developed, it is useful to revisit the origins of the relationship between institutional thought and economic anthropology. The most widely accepted origin of economic anthropology is Bronislaw Malinowski’s Argonauts of the Western Pacific (Malinowski, 1922, p. 51). Malinowski’s ethnographic research drew the interest of Karl Polanyi and ultimately set the stage for the substantivist–formalist debate of the 1960s (see LeClair & Schneider, 1968). For many, Karl Polanyi’s (1968) ‘‘The Economy as an Instituted Process’’ triggered the debate by outlining the central positions of the substantivist school.4 The substantive argument proposed by Polanyi, and accepted by George Dalton, Paul Bohannon, and Marshall Sahlins, states that it is not a reasonable practice to apply the same techniques used in the study of capitalist economies to the study of noncapitalist economies. Polanyi’s methodology, inspired from the German Historical School, envisioned each economy as having unique characteristics that require tools specifically tailored for their study (Dale, 2010). Therefore, the tools of formal (neoclassical) economics, as commonly applied in analyzing market economies, are not useful in analyzing nonmarket economies. The substantivists’ goal was to develop a method of analysis that would be universally applicable, an assertion Polanyi stipulates in no uncertain terms. Consider the following two passages. It is our proposition that only the substantive meaning of ‘economic’ is capable of yielding the concepts that are required by the social sciences for an investigation of all empirical economies of the past and present. (Polanyi, 1968, p. 123) The three institutions of trade, money and market will provide a test case. They have previously been defined in formal terms only; thus any other marketing approach was barred. Their treatment in substantive terms should then bring us nearer to the desired universal frame of reference. (Polanyi, 1968, p. 124)

On the basis of the desirability of a universal model, and in order to develop a universally applicable approach, the substantivists argued that it is necessary to

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y perceive the economy as a set of rules of social organization (analogous to polity and political rules), so that each of us is born into a ‘‘system’’ whose rules we learn. It is from observing the activities and transactions of participants that we derive these systematic rules. (Dalton, 1969, p. 66)

The substantivists believe that the ‘‘rules of social organization’’ are determined by the institutions evident in a given society. As a result, the substantive argument is built on the premise that the study of any and all economies ‘‘past and present’’ requires an understanding of the nature of the ‘‘economic’’ and ‘‘noneconomic’’ institutions that exist in a given social setting (Polanyi, 1968). As proposed by the substantivists, the necessity of studying ‘‘noneconomic’’ institutions represented a fundamental difference between substantive analysis and formal analysis. The substantivists were critical of the formalist approach. Polanyi explicitly states that the substantive approach is derived from fact, while the formal model is derived from logic (ibid.). The logic of the formal model is tightly intertwined with the principle of all human beings acting ‘‘as scarcity constrained rationally self interested maximizing agents’’: a concept that the substantivists found incredibly restrictive because it unnecessarily assumes ubiquitous scarcity while excluding analysis of noneconomic social institutions. As a result, the formal model has limited applicability to human interaction in capitalist economies. This point prompted the substantivists to argue that the ‘‘laws’’ of the formal model are of the ‘‘mind,’’ while the substantive model follows the laws of ‘‘nature’’ (ibid.). The laws of ‘‘nature,’’ as described by the substantivists, pertains to ‘‘man’s dependence for his living on nature and his fellows’’ (Polanyi, 1968, p. 122). People must interact with their natural and social environments in order to obtain ‘‘material want satisfaction’’ (Polanyi, 1968, p. 122). This interaction throughout history has had a tendency to produce three methods that societies use to embed the economy within a societal arrangement. These three methods include reciprocity, redistribution, and exchange. For the substantivists who were striking at the core of the formalist argument, the formal model would only be useful in explaining an exchange dominant system. The formalists5 disagreed. For many in the formalist camp, the substantive argument was simply a continuation of the twentieth century’s dominant theme of anthropology where culture explains everything. Dismayed, the formalist approach attempted to create a place for the individual in anthropological analysis (Mayhew, 1980). Founded on the principles of the ‘‘Austrian School of marginalist economics,’’ the formalists, continuing



an anthropological tradition openly introduced by Herskovitz (1952), married deductive reasoning with ‘‘the other hallmark of neoclassical theory,’’ methodological individualism (Dale, 2010, p. 98). For the formalists, the neoclassical rational choice model is an ideal tool from which the role of the individual can be emphasized. Compare the following quotations. The first presents the neoclassical depiction of choice and the second the formalists’. Why is it called ‘‘Utility maximizing’’? Is there something called ‘‘utility’’ – something like weight, height, wealth, or happiness – that people are really trying to maximize? No y It is now simply an indicator for comparing options and showing preferences among them. (Alchian & Allen, 1967, p. 18) it is well to point out that the theory of maximization, which is at the heart of neoclassical economic theory, says nothing about what is maximized y. An individual maximizes something, or different things at different times – presumably those things which he values. General maximization theory could be applied in any case. (LeClair & Schneider, 1968, p. 8)

In developing their argument, the formalists rightly identified a premise commonly proposed by neoclassical economists – if all actions can be reduced to an individual maximizing ‘‘something,’’ then, regardless of differences in ‘‘social organization,’’ the formal model is applicable. The formalist premise that ‘‘general maximization theory could be applied in any case,’’ (LeClair & Schneider, 1968, p. 8) addresses the substantivist contention that the formal model does not adequately account for the role of social institutions in influencing ‘‘economic’’ behavior. Consequently, while Cancian (1968, p. 32) notes that the formalists generally tended to argue that the formal model is ‘‘subinstitutional,’’ the formalists acknowledge the neoclassical approach while also anticipating the ‘‘new’’ institutional claims regarding the flexibility of the formal model to include ‘‘noneconomic’’ institutions.6 As the debate unfolded, both sides staked their claim to a universal model and neither side was willing to compromise. The fundamental theoretical propositions of both sides became polarized. In the end, it was as if the parties were talking past each other.

THE POSTDEBATE EVOLUTION OF THE ‘‘OLD’’ INSTITUTIONALIST POSITION Initially and logically, the chronology of institutional theory in economic anthropology indicates a legacy that followed the path of ‘‘old’’ institutional

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economics as proponents of the substantivist position. Several threads of ‘‘old’’ institutionalist and substantivist thought are documented below.7

The Polanyi Group8 Beginning in the mid-1960s and continuing through the 1970s a third theoretical path, in the Marxist tradition, ‘‘triangulates’’ itself against the substantivist and the formalists (Dale, 2010, p. 127). The substantive response appears in the 1970s with the arrival of the Polanyi group. The Polanyi group, representing Karl Polanyi’s intellectual progeny, set out to distinguish the substantivists from both the formalists and the then dominant position of Marxist economic anthropologists.9 The group states that the ‘‘formalists and the Marxists on the one hand, and the Polanyi group on the other, hold totally different positions’’ (Dalton & Kocke, 1983, p. 24). Approximately a decade after the conclusion of the Great Debate, a member of the Polanyi group, Anne Mayhew (1980), revisited the debate by labeling the debate as the product of seemingly innocent confusion. From Mayhew’s substantivist perspective, the formalists had mistakenly viewed the efforts of the substantivists as one that ignored the role of the individual in theory. The substantivists had responded by accusing the formalists of an incorrect use of formal economic theory. Mayhew attempts to provide closure by drawing out the substantivists’ role of the individual. Certainly in the work of Veblen and Ayres the tinkering individual is important y . If Anthropologists had been aware of the long methodological struggle in economics between its standard and institutional branches, they might have understood that skepticism about the usefulness of conventional economic theory does not entail a view of man as a cultural puppet (Mayhew, 1980, p. 79).

In order to resolve the debate, the formalists only needed to better understand the substantive position. As part of the Polanyi group, Dalton and Kocke (1983) attempted to distinguish themselves from Marxian anthropology, while simultaneously endorsing the substantivist approach. They argue that Polanyi’s work was a ‘‘beginning, not a finished theoretical system,’’ (ibid., p. 23) and clearly distinct from Marxian anthropology. The Marxists of the era, although often critical of the substantivist position, typically recognized the substantivists as intellectual kin. Yet, Dalton and Kocke believed the idea that ‘‘several Marxists claimed the work of the Polanyi group as a part of their own paradigm’’. This is a ‘‘claim which we think to be utter nonsense’’



(ibid., p. 37). For Dalton and Kocke, Polanyi’s work emphasizes the differences, rather than the similarities, between economies, placing Polanyi in opposition to views promoted by the formalists and Marxists. From the perspective of Dalton and Kocke, Polanyi’s resultant methodology provides unique insights, revealed through analyses of specifics that exceed the capabilities of either the formal or Marxian approaches, which are grounded in abstraction and generalization.

The French Africanist Rural Economists (FAREs) Despite the vigor that the Polanyi group devoted to the promotion of the substantive position, ‘‘Karl Polanyi’s name and work nearly dropped out of anthropology during the 1980s’’ (Isaac, 1993, p. 229). However, ‘‘from the beginning of 1970s to the beginning of the 1990s,’’ the substantivist position found a new residence among the French Africanist rural economists (FAREs) (Colin & Crawford, 2000, p. 201). Colin and Losch (1994) and Colin and Crawford (2000) describe the FAREs as ‘‘a product of colonial history’’ (Colin & Losch, 1994, p. 332), whereby ‘‘the French intellectual tradition’’ achieves ‘‘fertilization’’ via exposure to ‘‘the African field of study’’ (ibid., pp. 332–333). Although a ‘‘neo-Marxist stream had some influence through close contact with the French school of economic anthropology’’ (Colin & Crawford, 2000, p. 203), the ‘‘dominant trend’’ among the FAREs has been ‘‘a rejection of both neoclassical and Marxist paradigms’’ (Colin & Losch, 1994, p. 341). The absence of either a neoclassical or Marxist approach generated an epistemological void. The FAREs developed their own brand of institutionalism in which they implicitly agree with the criticisms that the ‘‘old’’ institutionalists address to the dominant paradigm when they call into question its formalism, its non-historical approach, its indifference toward social structures and the dynamics of human interrelations, its conception of a balanced world of harmonious complimentary interests joined together in a neutral market, and its omission of power relationships. (ibid., p. 341)

In practice, the FAREs ‘‘focus on the effects of institutions on production’’ (ibid., p. 332) as well as ‘‘the social relationships formed around the production and consumption processes’’ (Colin & Crawford, 2000, p. 203). As a research strategy, the FAREs have developed an approach devoted to situational analysis. Topics of inquiry include: ‘‘the analysis of land tenure systems, social relations of production, intra-family relations of production y and more generally, peasant strategies and practices seen in light of the

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relations of production and distribution’’ (ibid., p. 203). By methodological necessity then, the FAREs have essentially ignored the formalist approach, although the FAREs stated ‘‘rejection’’ of the Marxist paradigm, remains less clear. Perhaps this lack of clarity necessitated the development of the ideas that appear in the proceeding subsection.

The Marriage of Polanyi and Marx: Halperin and Stanfield Other intellectual inheritors of the substantive position have not sought to isolate substantive ideas from Marxian inquiries. Rhoda Halperin (1988, 1994), Ron Stanfield (1980), and Stanfield, Carroll, and Wrenn (2006) attempt to ‘‘reach out and embrace intellectual traditions that are compatible with mainstream institutionalism’’ that includes ‘‘Marx and Polanyi in the compatibility category’’ (Stanfield, 1980, p. 594). Merging Polanyi’s ideas to Marx’s ideas in order to ‘‘direct the field toward cross-cultural, comparative analysis’’ (Halperin, 1988, p. 25), both desire to generate a better understanding of ‘‘why economies in different societies take particular forms, maintain their basic structures, or change into forms qualitatively different from previously existing ones’’ (ibid., p. 25). Beginning with Halperin and proceeding through Stanfield’s argument, this subsection explores the compromise relationship that has developed between some institutionalists and Marxian theory. As early as 1975, Halperin engaged in an ambitious effort to extend Polanyi’s theoretical outline (see Isaac, 2005). Halperin argues that Polanyi’s analysis is the result of two sources, ‘‘Marx and anthropology’’ (Halperin, 1994, p. 46). Halperin clearly distinguishes between the ‘‘Polanyi group’’ (the substantivists) and her own approach, which ‘‘follows in the historical and institutional traditions of Marx and Polanyi’’ (ibid., p. 1). For Halperin, the formal model’s weakness is not the attempt to formalize the study of economic anthropology but the choice of techniques that the formal model uses to develop a ‘‘universal (i.e. cross-cultural) science of the economy’’ (Halperin, 1988, p. 66). The formalists, by assuming ‘‘scarcity, maximization, and the primacy of individual choices taken in one’s self interest y have assumed the universality of the institutional context of nineteenth century, and in some cases eighteenth century, market capitalism’’ (ibid., p. 11). By virtue of their assumptions, the formalists mistakenly accept the ‘‘applicability’’ of an ‘‘ideal’’ rather than truly universal model (ibid., p. 72). The result is a model that makes the institutionally diverse ‘‘homogeneous;’’



‘‘non-capitalist institutional arrangements’’ capitalist; and the dynamic ‘‘static’’ (ibid., p. 11). As Halperin critically asserts, ‘‘ideals are not meant to exist in the real world; they are the products of the human mind and culture’’ (ibid., p. 72). For the formalists ‘‘to assume one set of institutional arrangements for all times and places is simply to discount history’’ (ibid., p. 11). Further, because ‘‘most economies y are not pristine or isolated, but rather, are the product of changing historical processes,’’ (ibid., p. 11) the acceptance of institutional homogeneity is an act of overt ‘‘ethnocentrism’’ (ibid., p. 70). In order to escape the ethnocentric boundaries, historical generalities, and institutional restrictions of the formalist model, Halperin seeks refuge in Polanyi and Marx. Understanding the similarities in the theories of ‘The Two Karls’ permits a cross-cultural science of the economy to begin to be elaborated and applied to historical and ethnographic data. Both Marx and Polanyi worked within an evolutionary framework; they both placed transformations in economic processes at the centre of their analyses; and they both emphasized that these transformations involved changes in the institutional arrangements organizing economic processes. (ibid., p. 5)

Halperin views the merger of Marx and Polanyi as a methodological beginning (ibid., p. 15) that provides the basis for what Halperin describes as the ‘‘Institutional Paradigm’’ (ibid., p. 5). Methodologically, the Institutional Paradigm ‘‘is the product of a synthesis of Marxian concepts of the economy and the data of economic history and cultural anthropology’’ and Polanyi’s work (ibid., p. 27). For Halperin, both Polanyi and Marx have institutions at the center of their methods, and it is institutional analysis that brings unity to the two paradigms. Methodologically, Marx emphasized the need to understand economic history and cultural anthropology such that ‘‘society’’ and the ‘‘social contexts’’ of ‘‘economic activity’’ could be appropriately comprehended (ibid., p. 31). If, for Marx and Polanyi, ‘‘a person performing the same task in two different social contexts,’’ or institutional settings, is ‘‘doing two qualitatively different things’’ (ibid., p. 31), then the differences between the two social contexts must be absolutely clear in order for the qualitative differences to be identified. The result is that Polanyi and Marx, ‘‘both define the economy operationally in material terms and then deal with the relationships between the formation of general concepts and the analysis of particular economies’’(ibid., p. 56). In Halperin’s analysis, both thinkers applied a methodology that required history be understood with specificity. However, Marx did not have at his

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disposal an ethnographic record as comprehensive as the record available to Polanyi. Therefore, Polanyi had the ability to extend Marx’s approach and effectively move ‘‘beyond Marx’’ (ibid., p. 56). For Halperin, ‘‘the questions Marx and Polanyi asked about the economy and the methods they proposed for studying it’’ (ibid., p. 57) open the door to the further development of a formal model of greater substance than the model accepted by the formalists. Consistent with Halperin’s argument, Stanfield also notes that foundationally Polanyi’s method ‘‘in many ways returned to the problematic of Marx’’ (Stanfield et al., 2006, p. 242). For Stanfield, the ability to advance economic anthropology and comparative economics is contingent on accepting the relationship between Marx and Polanyi and subsequently continuing the development of Polanyi’s substantive approach. As advocates of a materialist conception of economic relations, Marx and Polanyi begin their analyses from the same perspective, seeing the ‘‘economic as material’’ (Stanfield, 1980, p. 597). Materialism recognizes that ‘‘all human material production involves the same elements of human beings actively applying tools to transform natural objects into forms more appropriate to human use’’ (Stanfield et al., 2006, p. 243). For Stanfield, Polanyi and Marx were correct for having adopted a materialist method. The acceptance of a materialist method is crucial to advancing understanding in both economic anthropology and comparative economic systems. This allows the theorist to transcend ‘‘the ‘economistic fallacy’ of identifying the anthropologically generic term, economic system, with the features that characterize its market form’’ (Stanfield, 1980, p. 597).

THE ROLE OF ‘‘NEW’’ INSTITUTIONAL ECONOMIC ANTHROPOLOGY IN THE WAKE OF THE ‘‘GREAT DEBATE’’ Given the historical chronology, Halperin and Stanfield’s efforts seem to have been a response to a trend in economic anthropology. The Marxian anthropologists of the 1970s and the 1980s developed a powerful set of theoretical ideas. Conceivably, a substantive/Marxian hybrid model could sustain and bring legitimacy to Polanyi and substantivism. Nonetheless, while Halperin and Stanfield directed substantivism down one path, another line of reasoning was beginning to garner further attention. ‘‘New’’ institutional economic anthropology has been a popular trend of the last thirty years. Two books in particular, Anthropology and Institutional Economics (Acheson, 1994b) and Theory in Economic Anthropology



(Ensminger, 2002b), express this trend. Each book is a collection of applied and theoretical articles expressing the ‘‘new’’ institutional argument from an anthropological perspective. Before continuing the reader should note the relevance of ‘‘new’’ institutional economics within the broader spectrum of economic theory. As will be demonstrated in the following subsections, the ‘‘new’’ institutional model’s ability to seemingly capture social, cultural, and institutionally driven phenomena within the context of a formal utility function is attractive to theorists thoroughly steeped in exploring the social outcomes of individual behavior. The remainder of this section is devoted to discussing several of the methodological issues and ideas depicted by purveyors of ‘‘new’’ institutional economic anthropology. The New Institutional Paradigm Acheson (1994a) highlights the key assumptions of ‘‘new’’ institutional economics.10 Like mainstream economists in the neo-classical tradition, the ‘‘new’’ institutional economists see economizing as central to economic activity. However, the ‘new’ institutional economics is based on some different assumptions y they assume a situation of bounded rationality y see the coordination of economic activity as involving more than transactions in markets in which price alone is the sole consideration y that institutions have a strong influence on the operation of the economic system. (ibid., pp. 7–8)

From Acheson’s perspective, the ‘‘new’’ institutional approach takes the best of the neoclassical model, ‘‘economizing as central to economic activity,’’ and enhances that model by utilizing ‘‘some different assumptions’’ (ibid., p. 7). By incorporating institutions into the rational choice model, the ‘‘new’’ institutionalist model has the ability to analyze issues typically excluded from the neoclassical model. Public goods, transaction costs, uncertainty, and imperfect competition, not analyzed in the pure neoclassical model are common to the ‘‘new’’ institutional discourse (ibid., p. 8). The resulting form is a superior rational choice model to that of the neoclassical approach.11 In addition to stipulating the general principles of ‘‘new’’ institutional thought, Acheson also recognizes the differences that exist within the ‘‘new’’ institutional paradigm. For example, Acheson claims to co-opt the approach of Ronald Coase (1960) and Oliver Williamson (1985), by promoting the ‘‘new’’ institutional use of ‘‘transaction cost economics,’’ and distinguishing this approach to that of Douglass North (1990, 2005). While

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North attempts to understand the formation of institutions, Coase and Williamsons’ approach assumes the existence of institutions and attempts to explain how people use the institutions as a route to creating organizations. By noting that North’s approach has been applied in economic anthropology, Acheson argues that the transaction cost approach ‘‘deserve far more attention from anthropologists (Acheson, 1994c, p. 50).’’ Acheson does not, however, suggest that ‘‘new’’ institutionalism is without its limitations. The ‘‘new’’ institutional model still struggles in explaining the formation of ‘‘public goods’’ of all types (Acheson, 1994a, p. 25). In particular, the ‘‘new’’ institutionalist model does not effectively explain why individuals would choose to ‘‘allocate y resources toward group functions and the development of public goods’’ if individuals are already predisposed to choosing to ‘‘allocate time and resources toward their own selfish ends’’ (ibid., p. 25). It is, however, within the power of the ‘‘new’’ institutionalist model to address this public good induced limitation. For Acheson, ‘‘a new ‘utility function’’’ is needed which recognizes ‘‘that people’s goals can vary considerably from culture to culture and within the same culture’’ (ibid., p. 26). If a new ‘‘utility function’’ is too difficult, then the ‘‘new’’ institutionalists should do as North proposes and accept that behavior promoting the ‘‘common good’’ is likely a byproduct of ‘‘ideology’’ (ibid., p. 26). Both approaches represent obvious efforts to account socially conditioned behaviors that extend beyond traditional neoclassical utility functions. For Acheson, either case indicates that the ‘‘new’’ institutionalist approach is in its infancy and has virtually limitless malleability.

Methodological Insecurity As ‘‘new’’ institutionalist ideas gained popularity within the social sciences, economic anthropologists sought to incorporate the ‘‘new’’ institutional methodology into their own theoretical models. Among economic anthropological contributors to the ‘‘new’’ institutional approach there is not an absolute consensus over the efficacy of the model as it is stipulated by Acheson. The following theorists, Bates (1994), Michie (1994), Ensminger (2002a), and Henrich (2002),12 while generally amenable to the ‘‘new’’ institutional paradigm, offer alternative proposals as to the possible direction of the ‘‘new’’ institutionalist approach in economic anthropology. The remainder of this section depicts the alternative arguments. Bates (1994) asserts that the ‘‘new’’ institutional approach fails to accomplish its goal of completing ‘‘the neo-classical program by ‘reducing’ social



organization to the choices of rational individuals’’ (ibid., p. 53). In an apparent rearguard action, Bates critiques the basic foundation of the ‘‘new’’ institutionalist model. Bates argues that because ‘‘radical individualism constitutes a defining premise for the field’’ (ibid., p. 43), the ‘‘new’’ institutional argument of nonmarket institutions being formed by individuals in order to achieve greater social well being contradicts the neoclassical approach. Elaborating, Bates argues that because the neoclassical concept of market equilibrium, and by continuation Pareto optimality, is derived from the behavior of individual maximizers, a problem permeates the ‘‘new’’ institutionalist explanation for the origin of institutional solutions for externalities and other such market failures. By arguing that nonmarket institutions arise to rectify market failures, the ‘‘new’’ institutionalists ‘‘locate the causes of nonmarket forms of organization in their consequences’’ (ibid., p. 53). However, suggesting that nonmarket institutions develop as a response to social costs hints that the necessary inertia for response is initiated at the ‘‘social rather than individual level’’ (ibid., p. 53) thereby violating ‘‘the axioms of neoclassicism’’ that are at the foundation of the model (ibid., p. 54). Bates proposes a solution. Bates suggests that theorists shift toward a more pure neoclassical rational choice approach. As opposed to focusing on ‘‘hard’’ concepts, such as social institutions, a better approach would be to emphasize ‘‘soft’’ facets of individual behavior, ‘‘social reputations and cultural symbols’’ (ibid., p. 54). For Bates the benefit of this approach becomes clear when studied within the context of the prisoners’ dilemma game theoretic scenario. As constructed, the prisoners’ dilemma represents a classic counterexample to the efficacy of the neoclassical choice framework. This situation exists because within the model, ‘‘individuals, choosing rationally, secure outcomes that no one prefers’’ (ibid., p. 56). For ‘‘new’’ institutionalists, the prisoners’ dilemma outcome represents a ‘‘collective dilemma’’ that necessitates a collective solution. Bates disputes this interpretation. In the event of ‘‘repeated face-to-face interactions,’’ ‘‘the use of history,’’ observation of ‘‘behavior,’’ and ‘‘the ability to experiment with people,’’ will garner the necessary information that is needed to alleviate the imperfect information quandary that plagues the prisoners’ dilemma model (ibid., p. 56). Since people ‘‘do not live as isolated individuals,’’ (ibid., p. 56) they will naturally develop the skills to appropriately optimize. Rather than a ‘‘new’’ institutionalism, a ‘‘new anthropology’’ (ibid., p. 54) is needed to study the evolution of human optimizing behavior. Opposite Bates, another critic, Michie (1994), argues that the ‘‘new’’ institutional model is built on ‘‘many of the same assumptions of neoclassical

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economics in general and positive economics in particular’’ (ibid., p. 403). As such, it places too much emphasis on the role of the individual in shaping institutions. As ‘‘social’’ and ‘‘cultural’’ beings, humans are influenced by social institutions. Therefore, Michie suggests that the ‘‘new’’ institutional model could learn from Commons because Commons’ identified ‘‘individual motivations’’ as being infinitely variable and institutions as ‘‘arising from an evolutionary rationalizing process that justifies the ‘‘customs’’ of currently dominant groups in society (ibid., p. 404). Additional examples of skepticism are presented by Ensminger (2002b) and Henrich (2002). Henrich argues that economic anthropologists must move beyond ‘‘cost–benefit decision models’’ (Henrich, 2002, p. 252). Cost– benefit models are built on the premise that people have goals and use a cost–benefit evaluation process to achieve those goals. Arguing that human behavior over time is shaped by the cultural patterns processed and passed on by other individuals, Henrich deems the cost–benefit approach as an ineffective means from which to understand the origins of goals. While people may use cost–benefit analysis in striving to accomplish goals, cost– benefit analysis gives little insight into long-term human behavioral trends. If applied to ‘‘new’’ institutional economics, cost–benefit analysis yields a rational choice model that evaluates a very narrow portion of human behavior. In order to develop a deeper understanding of human behavior, it is important to begin identifying the causes of ‘‘cultural transmission.’’ Henrich argues that human beings do not necessarily have the ‘‘cognitive’’ ability to produce institutional adaptation. Therefore, the source of institutional change is not the optimizing individual but the subconscious fulfillment of cultural patterns. Influenced by Henrich, Ensminger argues that experimental economics opens the door to empirically studying human behavior in an effort to measure the usefulness of the human behavioral assumptions central to the rational choice model. Early findings already suggest that there appears to be more fair-minded or altruistic behavior in developed societies than in less – developed small – scale societies y . We also note, however, that ‘pure self-interest’ is a relatively uncommon norm in small – scale societies (Ensminger, 2002a, p. 75).

While Ensminger views experimental evidence as not providing definitive results, the evidence does not support the universal notion of individuals as rational optimizers. Outside of Acheson, each of the ‘‘new’’ institutionalists described above has doubts about the effectiveness and applicability of ‘‘new’’ institutional



methodology. Still, each of the theorists also accepts many of the premises behind the ‘‘new’’ institutional model. On the one hand, each of the theorists appears concerned with how larger social phenomena may impact the decision-making process of individuals. On the other hand, the basic maximization principle central to neoclassical theory is not questioned. Therefore, although cognizant of limitations, the ‘‘new’’ institutionalists essentially grope around the fringes of a model of constrained optimization.

Methodological Evolution Remaining grounded in a model of constrained optimization, the last decade has witnessed an evolution in the epistemological scope of the ‘‘new’’ institutional approach. While the adaptations have been mostly concentrated within the discipline of economics, given the scope of institutional economics – ‘‘new’’ or ‘‘old’’ – there is abundant potential for interdisciplinary crossover. One such example appears in the Handbook of New Institutional Economics (2005). Avner Greif in his paper ‘‘Commitment, Coercion, and Markets: The Nature and Dynamic of Institutions Supporting Exchange,’’ looks to better understand why the historic appearance of successful market economies in places such as the Islamic World or Imperial China did not trigger an economic development process equivalent to western Europe’s dynamic, impersonal, market driven economy (Greif, 2005, p. 727). Greif suggests that the answer to the different trajectories of market driven economic development lay in the different internal institutional structures present across societies. More specifically, Greif is interested in the evolution of those institutional arrangements that support market transactions. Contract-enforcement institutions typically provide a traditional ‘‘new’’ institutional example. Greif’s argument is not, however, a narrow discussion of the role and importance of contract-enforcement institutions. Although Greif recognizes and acknowledges the influence of Douglass North, noting that ‘‘new’’ institutional thought has paid significant attention to economic development and the importance of the rules and institutions that oversee contractenforcement. Greif also views the study of contract-enforcement institutions as incomplete. From Greif’s perspective there is an equally valuable institutional arrangement that complements contract-enforcement institutions. The complementary institutions Greif examines are referred to as coercionconstraining institutions. As Greif explains, any contract-enforcement process will require that any wealth creating, property holder, must reveal

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their wealth to the contract-enforcement institution (ibid., pp. 728–729). If the contract-enforcement institution is coercive, then there is a risk that the newly revealed wealth will be confiscated (ibid., pp. 728–729). Therefore, as Greif argues, in order to structurally develop and grow, such that dynamic economic activity complements impersonal exchange transactions, markets require the right combination of both contract-enforcement institutions and coercion-constraining institutions (ibid., p. 729). In order to better understand what constitutes the right combination of contract-enforcement institutions and coercion-constraining institutions, Greif examines historic evidence of the cross cultural, social, and political development of market systems in Imperial China and Europe. Greif envisions that his approach ‘‘builds on and integrates elements of Old and New Institutionalism’’ (ibid., p. 729). Methodologically, Greif is searching to merge the ‘‘new’’ institutional study of the ‘‘micro-foundation of contract enforcement’’ with the ‘‘old’’ institutional focus on the ‘‘inter-relationships between organic (spontaneous) and designed (pragmatic) institutions’’13 (ibid., p. 729). On its appearance, Greif’s methodology seems to provide for the possibility of reconciliation between ‘‘old’’ and ‘‘new’’ institutionalism. In terms of economic anthropology, the echoes of Polanyi resonate with Greif’s merger of history in specificity with elements of ethnography. Still, Greif’s findings reveal biases prone to practitioners of ‘‘new’’ institutional thought. For example, although it is clear that Greif’s intention is to generate an economic development strategy, the only pathway to development that Greif promotes is based predominantly upon employing a market economy. Greif clearly stipulates that continued research is needed to resolve the ‘‘challenge of promoting welfare-enhancing market extension’’ (ibid., p. 778). Based on his methodological choice, Greif’s predisposition toward market economies is curious. After all, Greif is acutely aware that institutional evolution that accommodated western European capitalism originated from ‘‘initial, organic, contract-enforcement institutions and coercionconstraining institutions,’’ therefore he does not assume a once size fits all strategy for economic development (ibid., p. 776). In fact, Greif acknowledges that different institutional structures tend to emerge in the early stages of market formation as a result of ‘‘different economic conditions and social and cultural factors’’ (ibid., p. 776). If ‘‘different cultural and social factors’’ are relevant to Greif’s methodology, implying that uniqueness and specificity matters, then it should also be feasible for economic development to occur with varying degrees of market presence (ibid., p. 778). Instead,



Greif either knowingly or unknowingly maintains an acceptance of market economies as universally good. It is by virtue of Greif’s acceptance and promotion of the merits of market economies that another bias is revealed. Although Greif does not overtly stipulate that he has adopted the ‘‘new’’ institutional assumption of human behavior being universally driven by the desire to individually maximize, it is clear that individual maximization is present. For example, Greif’s definition of ‘‘organic institutions’’ as the ‘‘unintended and unforeseeable results of the pursuit of individual interest, originates from the Austrian economist Karl Menger (ibid., p. 731). Applying Menger’s definition, Greif argues that, absent the proper complementary organic institutions, ‘‘each individual’’ may not find it ‘‘optimal to utilize’’ market institutions (ibid., p. 776). According to Greif, if during the initial stages of market development ‘‘a society is more ‘communalist,’’’ such as the case with ‘‘tribal’’ kinship based societies, the greater will be the tendency of the society to ‘‘segregate’’ their economic activities from others (ibid., p. 762). The resulting outcome is that ‘‘communalist’’ societies are less open to impersonal market based exchange relationships with those outside of the group. Subsequently, societies whose ‘‘organic’’ institutions are more ‘‘individualist’’ are more willing to adopt markets (ibid., 762). In sum, Greif, on the basis of the individual maximization criterion, embraces market driven economic development as ideal. Further, Greif argues that the success of western European capitalism is a byproduct of ‘‘individualist’’ oriented ‘‘organic institutions,’’ while the failure of some societies to develop economically is due to their ‘‘organic institutions’’ being ‘‘communalist.’’ Clearly Greif has developed an institutional methodology that is nuanced and flexible. However, Greif’s application of his method also remains firmly entrenched within the ‘‘new’’ institutional ontology of individual maximization.

The Relationship Between Formalism and ‘‘New’’ Institutionalism In many respects, the epistemological premises presented by the ‘‘new’’ institutionalists are neither new nor unique to economic anthropology. In fact, the relationship between formalism and ‘‘new’’ institutionalism is so comparable that eminent economic anthropologists Hann and Hart (2011, p. 97) plainly assert that, ‘‘Formalism lived on principally as New Institutional Economics (NIE).’’ Upon closer investigation, the basis for Hann and Harts’ (2011) claim is fairly obvious.

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Consider the following passage as it provides an outline of the ‘‘new’’ institutional approach. The strongest formalist proposition was that the economic rationality of the maximizing individual was to be found in all societies, in all kinds of behavior. The strongest substantivist position was that the economy is a type of human activity, embedded in different social institutions in different kinds of societies. If we look at these premises carefully, we see that they are not mutually exclusive. (Wilk, 1996, p. 11)

If ‘‘economic rationality’’ is ‘‘found in all societies’’ and ‘‘embedded in different social institutions,’’ then both concepts can be placed under one umbrella as is the case in ‘‘new’’ institutionalism. The merger, however, of the maximizing individual and diverse societal and cultural settings, was definitely not ignored during the substantivist – formalist debate. Recall, the formalists generally promoted the idea that the formal approach was universal because it adhered to maximization principles. Some formalists also considered institutional circumstances. LeClair and Cancian alike emphasized the importance of recognizing other ‘‘variables.’’ The economic system and its processes are not an autonomous isolate y . The structure of the system, the characteristic forms of its components, and the specific nature of the associated processes will be determined or influenced by a host of environmental, cultural, and social variables. (LeClair, 1968, p. 202)

In this case the ‘‘cultural’’ and ‘‘social variables’’ can be understood to be institutional concerns and to seek to account for these variables represents an effort at ‘‘operationalizing subinstitutional theoretical propositions’’ (Cancian, 1968, p. 232). As a result, there is no contradiction between: ‘‘Economics is the study of economizing. Economizing is the allocation of scarce resources among alternative ends (LeClair, 1968, p. 197),’’ and ‘‘The economy, then, is an instituted process (Polanyi, 1957b, p. 248).’’ (Cancian, 1968, p. 232) By virtue of examination, it becomes evident that Cancian and LeClairs’ formalism anticipates the development of the ‘‘new’’ institutional approach in economic anthropology.

A CRITICAL EVALUATION OF ‘‘NEW’’ INSTITUTIONALISM FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF ECONOMIC ANTHROPOLOGY Although the battle lines are not drawn as explicitly as they were during 1960s, many of the conditions of the formalist–substantivist debate continue



to persist in economic anthropology. As stipulated above, the ‘‘new’’ institutionalist approach has much in common with the formalists, while Halperin, Stanfield, and the FAREs continue to wave the banner of Polanyi’s substantive tradition. The names and rhetoric may have changed but the central issue regarding the interpretation of the nature and the role of the individual in the social sciences, appears to be alive and well. Therefore, it is a contention of this chapter that any suggestion of the demise of the formalist – subtantivist debate represents an exaggeration. Relying on the premise that the debate is ongoing raises an important question. How do the two primary institutionalist positions fare when compared to one another? Given the ideas that have been presented above, this chapter claims that ‘‘new’’ institutionalism, while a clever extension of the formalist model, falls prey to the same valid critiques originally leveled by the substantivists. In an effort to lend credence to this claim, the remainder of this section is devoted to presenting an overview of certain recent criticisms of the ‘‘new’’ institutional approach as they have appeared in the economic anthropology literature. Three separate critiques are put forward. The first two critiques are distinct from other existing criticisms of the ‘‘new’’ institutional model. The critiques are directed toward the technical difficulties associated with inserting institutional considerations into a model anchored to methodological individualism (see Elardo & Campbell, 2006).14 The third criticism is ontological and illustrates a significant and generalized interdisciplinary weakness of ‘‘new’’ institutionalism. Importantly, although the first two critiques fundamentally illustrate a concept that is new to the institutionalist literature, all of the critiques are related to the larger body of critical argumentation proposed by ‘‘old’’ institutionalists. For example, there exists a clear lineage between the first two critiques in this section, and the arguments put forth by ‘‘old institutionalist economists regarding the epistemological challenges associated with the application of methodological individualism (see Dugger, 1990; Hodgson, 1988, 1989; Rutherford, 1994, 1989).15 The first two critiques in this section expand on the traditional ‘‘old’’ institutional criticisms by providing an inside-out dissection of individual optimizing principles embedded within the ‘‘new’’ institutional model. As will be demonstrated below, the ‘‘new’’ institutional model cannot, due to its mathematical and technical structure, be extended to account for the ‘‘old’’ institutionalist criticisms. In addition, the third critique implicitly references the significance of a holistic approach in the social sciences. Deriving insights from Dugger (1990) and Stanfield (1999)16 regarding the shape of the debate between the ‘‘old’’ and ‘‘new’’

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institutionalists in the economics literature, the third critique seeks to exemplify the need for greater interdisciplinary – cross fertilization – dialogue between economics and economic anthropology. Lastly, and significantly, although the critiques presented here have an important theoretical family history, they are also uniquely tailored to the issues of ‘‘new’’ institutionalism as they have arisen in the economic anthropology literature rather than the institutionalist economics literature.

The Problem of Noncooperative Cooperation One thing that is clear from examining the theoretical framework of ‘‘new’’ institutionalist thought as it appears in economic anthropology is that there seems to be no definitive theoretical unanimity. As a result, there are several potential targets of criticism as opposed to one clearly defined adversary. For the purposes of the first critique, Bates (1994) has been chosen as the unsuspecting foil. Whenever it is suggested that a market failure could be rectified by a form of collective action, such as government intervention, neoclassical economists often counter by invoking the law of unintended consequences. In an ironic twist, in his efforts to re-cast the ‘‘new’’ institutionalist model in the mold of the neoclassical choice theoretic framework, Bates (1994) rather unwittingly unleashes a cavalcade of new problems for ‘‘new’’ institutionalism. Recall, Bates expressed concern that the ‘‘new’’ institutionalist effort to include institutions, socially derived constructs, would undermine the very foundation of a neoclassical rational choice model built upon methodological individualism. In terms of logical reasoning, Bates is technically correct. After all, in a model predicated on social optimality being derived from the summation of individual optimality, how could it be logically consistent for socially, rather than individually, derived institutions to correct for socially sub-optimal results? Clearly Bates has isolated an important issue and provided a powerful indictment. That said, Bates does not merely criticize, he also suggests a solution to the problem. His solution is that economic anthropology should return to a strict neoclassical rational choice model. Evaluated from a substantive standpoint, however, Bates’ solution exposes two new problems. Consider the solution Bates suggests by revisiting the analysis that originally initiated the ‘‘new’’ institutionalist model, the prisoner’s dilemma framework. Bates proposed that ‘‘people do not live as isolated individuals’’ (ibid., p. 56) and can learn the behavioral patterns of others, by employing a



‘‘theory of non-cooperative behavior’’. From this form of social interaction, it is feasible to discern socially optimal results from individual maximization predicated on tacit communication. There are two substantivist influenced critiques of Bates’ solution. The first critique pertains to Bate’s application of noncooperative game theory. To argue that noncooperative game theory can be extended to include ‘‘social reputations and cultural symbols’’ (ibid., p. 54) is to ‘‘specifically forbid the more extensive communication and coordination that occur between people in non-market economic decision-making situations’’ (Elardo & Campbell, 2006, p. 278). Consider Polanyi’s discussion of reciprocal exchange relations. The Bergdama returning from his hunting excursion, the woman coming back from her search for roots, fruit, or leaves are expected to offer the greater part of their spoil for the benefit of the community. In practice, this means that the produce of their activity is shared with persons who happen to be living with them. Up to this point the idea of reciprocity prevails; today’s giving will be recompensed by tomorrow’s taking. (Polanyi, 1957, p. 51)

Clearly, reciprocal relations engender a significant amount of interpersonal communication, coordination and cooperation. Therefore, when Bates suggests that anthropology could lend insights into a noncooperative prisoners’ situation, he is ignoring an important anthropological insight: people who are not isolated from one another will choose to engage in some form of overt communication and cooperation. Polanyi and the substantivists clearly understood this concept. They, like most institutional economists interested in actual human social relations as opposed to an idealized model of human behavior, recognized that the strength of employing anthropological inquiries rests on the fact that studying nonmarket decision making, such as reciprocal social relations, typically requires considerable sensitivity with regard to human social norms. Unconstrained Optimization and the Scarcity of Scarcity The second critique of Bates’ solution exposes an issue as endemic to the ‘‘new’’ institutionalist approach as it is to anyone applying a model of constrained optimization to explain motives other than maximizing economic motives. The formalists and the ‘‘new’’ institutionalists take for granted the notion of constrained maximizing behavior.17 The major flaw with this type of reasoning concerns the issue of choice under scarcity. ‘‘In the neoclassical model,’’ and by extension the ‘‘new’’ institutionalist approach, ‘‘the word

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constrained is used to indicate the formal constraint that reflects scarcity, and based on that scarcity establishes a tradeoff of what one can buy before any purchase is made’’ (Elardo & Campbell, 2006, p. 275). Conceptually, scarcity is a synonym of constraint. Therefore, any maximizing model based on scarcity is a model of constrained optimization, a fact the ‘‘new’’ institutionalists do not ignore. The dilemma that arises for this type of ‘‘new’’ institutionalist analysis pertains to instances in which choices are not restricted by scarcity. Choice may be induced by a preference for right against wrong (moral choice) or, at a crossroads, where two or more paths happen to lead to our destination, possessing identical advantages and disadvantages (operationally induced choice). (Polanyi, 1968, p. 125)

Theoretically, ‘‘social reputations and cultural symbols’’ (Bates, 1994, p. 54), variables representative of ‘‘moral choice,’’ could be inserted into a utility function. However, to do so would mean ‘‘introducing a variable that does not enter into the budget constraint’’ (Elardo & Campbell, 2006, p. 277), because variables whose utility maximizing characteristics are based on a ‘‘moral choice’’ are not necessarily scarce goods. If a choice situation arises in which the scarcity requirement is not met, such as in the case of a ‘‘moral choice,’’ then a model of constrained maximizing cannot be extended to account for this type optimization. A moral choice situation that may include economic choices conditioned by cultural norms is unconstrained, and lies outside the realm of the constrained maximization rational choice model.

The Methodological Consequences of the ‘‘Economistic Fallacy’’ Perhaps even more significant than the methodological challenges associated with the axiomatic universality of scarcity are the ontological implications. Unlimited wants implies an omnipresent tendency for the human condition to be indelibly linked to the act of seeking personal gain thus elevating ‘‘to universal status the specific historical character of a given time and place’’ (Stanfield et al., 2006, p. 251). The reason that the substantive method oriented its thinking toward the ‘‘material means’’ of life was due to the substantivists belief that ‘‘economic theory must include noncalculative motivations’’ (ibid., pp. 250–251). A materialist approach could accommodate both calculative and noncalculative decision making, whereas the economizing argument imposes an idealized version of human interaction.



Given the materialism of the substantivist position, ‘‘the pernicious legacy of economistic thinking’’ (Stanfield et al., 2006, p. 252) can be identified. If ‘‘modern economists,’’ both neoclassical and ‘‘new’’ institutionalist, embed ‘‘the cultural traits of market capitalism into their analysis as universal human nature’’ (ibid., p. 246), and human social relations are actually derived through a process of socialization, then modern economic thinking cannot possibly describe with any accuracy either economic history or cross cultural human economic activity. The results are a model that is divorced from real causal factors central to human social interaction and, thus, has limited validity as a social theory. For economic anthropology then, ‘‘the new institutional economic anthropology represents a continuation of the economistic fallacy by other means’’ (Dale, 2010, p. 135).

BRINGING CLOSURE TO THE DEBATE? Moving Beyond ‘‘New’’ Institutionalism Given the seriousness of the flaws presented above, it is only logical that institutional economic anthropology should move beyond ‘‘new’’ institutionalism. As evidenced by the apparent continuation of the Great Debate over the past forty years, the idea of moving beyond ‘‘new’’ institutionalism is easier said than done. Clearly the ideas embodied within the ‘‘new’’ institutional approach are both persistent and persuasive. The question that remains is, why? Perhaps the history of ideas within economic anthropology can once again provide some clues as to the persistence and perceived viability of the ‘‘new’’ institutional method. Certainly one could argue that the economic imperialism hypothesis, as documented in other fields, may explain the continued viability of ‘‘new’’ institutionalism within economic anthropology.18 This is particularly tempting given the neoclassical nature of the rationality and economizing principles adopted by the formalists. However, the economic imperialism hypothesis likely understates the symbiotic nature between disciplines of economics and anthropology as they converge within economic anthropology. As outlined in this chapter, interdisciplinary crossover appeared on two fronts. First, formally trained economists generally did not turn to anthropology as an object of economic imperialism. Rather, institutional economists lead by Polanyi, unhappy with the neoclassical restrictions on the subjects of inquiry and methodology dominating economics, turned to anthropology in the hopes of discovering improved answers to questions

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primarily social in context. Furthermore, the anthropologists drawn to neoclassical economics seem to have engaged it in an effort to expand their methodological toolbox. Of course, since the neoclassical choice theoretic model gained a foothold in economic anthropology it has been difficult to dislodge. This is due to its apparent universality and malleability.19 Given the relatively narrow chasm that divides the approach of neoclassical economics from the ‘‘new’’ institutional approach, it stands to reason that the ideas of the formalists could easily evolve into a ‘‘new’’ institutional argument. After all, one of the central criticisms that the substantivists directed toward the formalists pertained to the formalists’ apparent lack of sensitivity regarding those unique nonmarket social relations and institutional conditions that may exist in different social circumstances. Toward the end of the debate, Leclair and Cancian hint that this lack of sensitivity could be overcome by adapting individual maximizing functions to account for the constraints posed by these apparent nonmarket factors and social institutions. The result is a model of individualized – constraint driven – optimization that, by virtue of its recognition of the possible effects of social relations and institutions, creates the false impression of being a social theory. This result underpins an explanation for the persistence and attractiveness of the ‘‘new’’ institutional theory, at least as it pertains to economic anthropology.20 Given this hypothesis, moving beyond ‘‘new’’ institutionalism presents an interesting challenge. Continued critique of the source of ‘‘new’’ institutionalism’s apparent malleability – the seemingly infinitely adaptable maximizing function – is both essential and incomplete. Also, while certainly a significant critique, it is not enough to note that ‘‘new’’ institutionalism’s dependence upon methodological individualism places undue emphasis on the individual over other societal factors.21 As this chapter has postulated, and then demonstrated, moving beyond ‘‘new’’ institutionalism requires that the critique of ‘‘new’’ institutionalism must be pushed further. For example, presented above, this chapter demonstrated that the actual formal mechanism of a model of constrained optimization is not capable of simply inserting social relations and institutional constraints into an individual maximizing function. For economic anthropology, a field in which the individual cannot be isolated from social and cultural factors, the more formal critique of ‘‘new’’ instutionalism also represents a particularly epistemologically damning indictment of the ‘‘new’’ institutional approach. It is also the case that by expanding the critique into a more formal direction the true lack of malleability and universality evident in the ‘‘new’’ institutional model is exposed.



CONCLUDING REMARKS Hodgson (1989) claims that ‘‘new’’ institutionalism arose in the field of economics in the 1970s. If correct, then Hodgson’s claim also suggests that the Great Debate may have anticipated the central ideas, as well as critiques, of ‘‘new’’ institutionalism. As this chapter has demonstrated there appear to be, housed within the contemporary – epistemologically focused – institutionalist literature in economic anthropology, three additional and contemporary critiques of ‘‘new’’ institutional ideas that have analytical and interdisciplinary value while simultaneously challenging the efficacy of ‘‘new’’ institutional economic anthropology.

NOTES 1. Mayhew (1989) relates the origins of ‘‘new’’ and ‘‘old’’ institutionalism to developments in other social sciences, including anthropology. 2. Mayhew (1980) notes the similarity between the substantivists and ‘‘old’’ or ‘‘original’’ institutional (OIE) economists. Mayhew asserts that Veblen, Ayres, and Polanyi, now considered ‘‘old’’ institutionalist economist, had consistently used anthropology in their work. Throughout this chapter, the terms substantivist and ‘‘old’’ institutionalist are used interchangeably. 3. Many sources have summarized the debate. As a result, this overview of the debate is not intended to address all of the issues, but rather provide a broad outline. For a more extensive summary, see Wilk (1996), Elardo (2003), Dale (2010), and Hann and Hart (2011). 4. Wilk (1996) referencing H.T. Van Der Pas’s bibliography of economic anthropology notes that from 1940 to 1950 there were an average of four articles or books published a year, from 1951 to 1956 the average was 10 a year. In 1957, however, the number of publications increased to 27. The reason for the increase stems from the publication of Trade and Market in the Early Empires (Polanyi, Arensberg, & Pearson, 1957) Polanyi’s work in Trade and Market in the Early Empires is noted as being a central stimulus for the debate. Following Polanyi’s 1957 publication, from 1958 to 1971, the average number of publications per year was 20 – 8 with the number of publications exceeding 40 per year in 3 of those years and 50 – 5 during the peak year of 1964. 5. The five primary formalists were Edward LeClair Jr. (1968), LeClair and Schneider (1968), Scott Cook (1968), Robbins Burling (1968), and Frank Cancian (1968). 6. The premise of the infinitely flexible model can also be found in advanced graduate level microeconomics textbooks such as Varian (1992) and Mas-Colell, Whinston, and Green (1995). 7. With respect to the evolution of ‘‘old’’ institutionalist ideas as they appear in economic anthropology, the choice of sources that appear in this section share the strongest common heritage with the ‘‘old’’ institutionalist/substantivist position

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stipulated during the Great Debate. Still, while this section seeks to be comprehensive, there may exist other, more subtle, arguments that have been overlooked by this author. 8. The name ‘‘The Polanyi Group’’ can be found throughout the economic anthropology literature. See Dalton and Kocke (1983), Halperin (1988), and Isaac (2005). 9. Following the Great Debate, Marxists, particularly the French Marxist School, came to dominate the field resulting in many substantivists and formalists gravitating toward Marxian thought (see Isaac, 1993, p. 229). 10. Acheson’s summary mirrors the presentation of the ‘‘new’’ institutional axioms commonly found in the economics literature (see Furubotn & Richter, 2008). 11. Again Acheson’s claims align closely with the economics literature (see Furubotn & Richter, 2008; Langlois, 1989). 12. This section seeks to be as comprehensive as possible with respect to the contemporary appearance of ‘‘new’’ institutional ideas within economic anthropology. However, given the popularity of ‘‘new’’ institutionalist thought, some ideas and authors may have been omitted. 13. It is noteworthy that Greif identifies Menger as representative of ‘‘old’’ institutionalism. Menger, as noted within the body of this chapter, is a founding thinker of the Austrian economic perspective. If indeed Greif is seeking to merge the ‘‘old’’ institutionalism, as defined by Menger, with the ‘‘new’’ institutionalism of North, then he is also implicitly accepting the methodological individualism of the Austrian approach. 14. If there is one definite constant in the larger schema of ‘‘new’’ institutional writing, it is application of methodological individualism. For example among ‘‘new’’ institutional theorists such as North (1990), Langlois (1989) and Furubotn and Richter (2008) methodological individualism represents a central principle of ‘‘new’’ institutional thought. North makes this point clear by openly asserting the need to build ‘‘a theory of institutions on the foundation of individual choice’’ (North, 1990, p. 5) while Furobotn and Richter, in stipulating eleven fundamental principles of ‘‘new’’ institutional thought, go so far as to isolate methodological individualism as the first, and presumably, most fundamental (Furubotn & Richter, 2008, pp. 3–11). Less explicit but undeniable present Williamson (1985, p. 47) emphasizes the individual as having a propensity for ‘‘self interest seeking with guile.’’ 15. In response to, among others, ‘‘old’’ institutional challenges, the rhetoric and structure of the ‘‘new’’ institutional approach has evolved such that what had been clear divisions between the ‘‘new’’ and the ‘‘old’’ has become less concrete (Dequech, 2002). One point of contention that has not changed, however, is the issue of the implications associated with methodological individualism. 16. Less directly, this section has also been influenced by the work of Mayhew (1980). 17. Even those sympathetic to the ‘‘new’’ institutional approach such as Langlois (1989, pp. 293–294) recognize the potential limitations associated with the ‘‘compositional principle and the assumption of maximization.’’ The critique presented in this section provides one such formal example of the possible limitations.



18. The ‘‘new’’ institutional approach to the study of economic anthropology certainly appears to be organized in much the same way as the economic theory that has found its way into other disciplines such as political science and law and economics, see Coase (1960) and Friedman (2000) as well as Buchanan and Tullock (1962). 19. In this respect, the perceived universality and malleability of the formal choice theoretic model may be interpreted as a form of economic imperialism in that the model appears to provide a rigor and empiricism that the participants in a more qualitative field such as anthropology may construe as significant. 20. In fact, it can be argued that this issue of malleability is also central to the persistence of ‘‘new’’ institutionalism in economics. Consider, even those sympathetic to the ‘‘old’’ institutional argument have left the door open to ‘‘new’’ institutionalism on the basis of its potential malleability. As Hodgson (1989) notes, the measure of sound economics is the combination of individual malleability as well as a willingness to consider nonfixed human behavior as a ‘‘legitimate matter for economic enquiry’’ (1989, p. 251). Clearly ‘‘new’’ institutionalism fulfills this criterion of legitimacy. 21. Which is both central to the foundation of the critiques presented by Dugger (1990), Hodgson (1988, 1989), and Rutherford (1989, 1994) as well as the fundamental shortcomings of those critiques.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS The author would like to express his thanks and gratitude to Donald Wood for his willingness to consider the ideas presented in this chapter. Thanks are also owed to Al Campbell as well as Anne Mayhew for their comments and feedback regarding an early iteration of this chapter. Finally, the author is deeply indebted to Barry Isaac for his generous time and thoughtful comments regarding the contents and organization of this chapter.

REFERENCES Acheson, J. (1994a). Welcome to nobel country: A review of institutional economics. In J. Acheson (Ed.), Anthropology and institutional economics (pp. 3–42). Lanham, MD: University Press of America. Acheson, J. (Ed.). (1994b). Anthropology and institutional economics. Lanham, MD: University Press of America. Acheson, J. (1994c). Transaction costs economics: Accomplishments, problems, and possibilities. In J. Ensminger (Ed.), Theory in economic anthropology (pp. 27–58). Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira. Alchian, A. A., & Allen, W. R. (1967). University economics. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Company, Inc.

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Bates, R. (1994). Social dilemmas and rational individuals: An essay on the new institutionalism. In J. Acheson (Ed.), Anthropology and institutional economics (pp. 43–66). Lanham, MD: University Press of America, Inc. Buchanan, J. M., & Tullock, G. (1962). The calculus of consent, logical foundations of constitutional democracy. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press. Burling, R. (1968). Maximization theories and the study of economic anthropology. In E. E. LeClair, Jr. & H. K. Schneider (Eds.), Economic anthropology: Readings in theory and analysis (pp. 168–187). New York, NY: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc. Reprinted from American Anthropologist, 64 (1962), 802–821. Cancian, F. (1968). Maximization as a norm, strategy, and theory: A comment on programmatic statements in economic anthropology. In E. E. LeClair, Jr. & H. K. Schneider (Eds.), Economic anthropology: Readings in theory and analysis (pp. 228–333). New York, NY: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc. Reprinted from American Anthropologist, 68 (1966), 465–470. Coase, R. (1960). The problem of social cost. Journal of Law and Economics, 3, 1–44. Colin, J. P., & Crawford, E. W. (2000). Economic perspectives in agricultural systems analysis. Review of Agricultural Economics, 22(1), 192–216. Colin, J. P., & Losch, B. (1994). But where on earth has Mamadou hidden his production function? French Africanist rural economics and institutionalism. In J. Acheson (Ed.), Anthropology and institutional economics (pp. 331–364). Lanham, MD: University Press of America, Inc. Cook, S. (1968). The obsolete ‘anti-market’ mentality: A critique of the substantive approach to economic anthropology. In E. E. LeClair, Jr. & H. K. Schneider (Eds.), Economic anthropology: Readings in theory and analysis (pp. 208–228). New York, NY: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc. Reprinted from American Anthropologist, 68 (1966), 323–345. Dale, G. (2010). Karl Polanyi. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press. Dalton, G. (1969). Theoretical issues in economic anthropology. Current Anthropology, 10(1), 63–102. Dalton, G., & Kocke, J. (1983). The work of the Polanyi group: Past, present, and future. In S. Ortiz (Ed.), Economic anthropology: Topics and theories (pp. 21–50). London: University Press of America. Dequech, D. (2002). The demarcation between the ‘‘Old’’ and The ‘‘New’’ institutional economics: Recent complications. Journal of Economic Issues, 36(2), 565–572. Dugger, W. (1990). The new institutionalism: New but not institutionalist. Journal of Economic Issues, 24(2), 423–431. Elardo, J. (2003). Reformulating the debate between the substantivists and formalists in economic anthropology: Is the neoclassical model suitable for describing conditions in nonmarket economies? Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation, Department of Economics, University of Utah, USA. Elardo, J. A., & Campbell, A. (2006). Choice and the substantivist/formalist debate: A formal presentation of three substantivist criticisms. In D. Wood (Ed.), Choice in economic contexts: Ethnographic and theoretical enquiries (pp. 267–284). Amsterdam, the Netherlands: Elsevier. Ensminger, J. (2002a). Experimental economics: A powerful new method for theory testing in anthropology. In J. Ensminger (Ed.), Theory in economic anthropology (pp. 59–78). Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira.



Ensminger, J. (Ed.). (2002b). Theory in economic anthropology. Walnut Creek, CA: Altamira Press. Friedman, D. (2000). Law’s order: What economics has to do with law and why it matters. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Furubotn, E. G., & Richter, R. (2008). Institutions & economic theory: The contribution of new institutional economics. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press. Greif, A. (2005). Commitment, coercion, and markets: The nature and dynamics of institutions supporting exchange. In C. Menard & M. M. Shirley (Eds.), Handbook of new institutional economics (pp. 727–786). AA Dordrecht, the Netherlands: Springer. Halperin, R. (1988). Economies across cultures: Towards a comparative science of the economy. London: Macmillan Press. Halperin, R. (1994). Cultural economies: Past and present. Austin: University of Texas Press. Hann, C., & Hart, K. (2011). Economic anthropology: History, ethnography, critique. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press. Henrich, J. (2002). Decision making, cultural transmission, and adaptation in economic anthropology. In J. Ensminger (Ed.), Theory in economic anthropology (pp. 251–295). Walnut Creek, CA: Altamira Press. Herskovitz, M. J. (1952). Economic anthropology: The economic life of primitive peoples. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. Hodgson, G. (1988). Economics and institutions: A manifesto for a modern institutional economics. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press. Hodgson, G. (1989). Institutional economic theory: The old versus the new. Review of Political Economy, 1(3), 249–269. Isaac, B. (1993). Retrospective on the formalist-substantivist debate. In B. L. Isaac (Ed.), Research in economic anthropology (pp. 213–234). Greenwich, CT: JAI Press Inc. Isaac, B. (2005). Karl Polanyi. In J. G. Carrier (Ed.), A handbook of economic anthropology (pp. 14–25). Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar. Langlois, R. N. (1989). What was wrong with the old institutional economics (and what is still wrong with the new)? Review of Political Economy, 1(3), 270–298. Leclair, E. E., Jr. (1968). Economic theory and economic anthropology. In E. E. LeClair, Jr. & H. K. Schneider (Eds.), Economic anthropology: Readings in theory and analysis (pp. 187–207). New York, NY: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc. Reprinted from American Anthropologist, 64 (1962), 1179–1203. LeClair, E. E., Jr., & Schneider, H. K. (1968). Introduction: The development of economic anthropology. In E. E. LeClair, Jr. & H. K. Schneider (Eds.), Economic anthropology: Readings in theory and analysis (pp. 1–13). New York, NY: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc. Malinowski, B. (1922). Argonauts of the Western Pacific: An account of native enterprise and adventure in the archipelagoes of Melanesian New Guinea. New York, NY: E.P. Dutton & Co. Mas-Colell, A., Whinston, M. D., & Green, J. (1995). Microeconomic theory. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, Inc. Mayhew, A. (1980). Atomistic and cultural analyses in economic anthropology: An old argument repeated. In J. Adams (Ed.), Institutional economics: Essays in honor of Allan G. Gruchy (pp. 319–418). Hingham, MA: Martinus Nijhoff Publishing, Kluwer Boston Inc. Mayhew, A. (1989). Contrasting origins of the two institutionalisms: The social science context. Review of Political Economy, 1(3), 319–333.

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Michie, B. H. (1994). Reevaluating economic rationality: Individuals, information and institutions. In J. Acheson (Ed.), Anthropology and institutional economics (pp. 391–418). Lanham, MD: University Press of America, Inc. North, D. (1990). Institutions, institutional change and economic performance. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press. North, D. C. (2005). Understanding the process of economic change. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Polanyi, K. (1957). The great transformation. Boston, MA: Beacon Press. Polanyi, K. (1968). The economy as an instituted process. In E. E. LeClair, Jr. & H. K. Schneider (Eds.), Economic anthropology: Readings in theory and analysis (pp. 122–143). New York, NY: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc. Reprinted from The Free Press, (1958), 243–270. Polanyi, K., Arensberg, C. M., & Pearson, H. W. (Eds.). (1957). Trade and markets in the early empires: Economies in history and in theory. Glencoe, IL: Free Press. Rutherford, M. (1989). What is wrong with the new institutional economics (and what is still wrong with the old)? Review of Political Economy, 1(3), 299–318. Rutherford, M. (1994). Institutions in economics: The old and new institutionalism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Stanfield, J. R. (1980). The institutional economics of Karl Polanyi. Journal of Economic Issues, XIV(3), 593–614. Stanfield, J. R. (1999). The scope, method, and significance of original institutional economics. Journal of Economic Issues, 33(2), 230–255. Stanfield, J. R., Carroll, C. C., & Wrenn, M. V. (2006). Karl Polanyi on the limitations of formalism in economics. In D. Wood (Ed.), Choice in economic contexts: Ethnographic and theoretical enquiries (pp. 241–266). Amsterdam, the Netherlands: Elsevier. Varian, H. (1992). Microeconomic analysis. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Co. Wilk, R. R. (1996). Economies & cultures: Foundations of economic anthropology. Boulder, CO: Westview Press. Williamson, O. E. (1985). The economic institutions of capitalism: Firms, markets, relational contracting. New York, NY: The Free Press.

PROTESTANT ETHIC AND PROSPERITY: VEGETABLE PRODUCTION IN ALMOLONGA, GUATEMALA Andre´s Marroquı´ n Gramajo and Luis Noel Alfaro ABSTRACT 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

Political Economy, Neoliberalism, and the Prehistoric Economies of Latin America Research in Economic Anthropology, Volume 32, 85–107 Copyright r 2012 by Emerald Group Publishing Limited All rights of reproduction in any form reserved ISSN: 0190-1281/doi:10.1108/S0190-1281(2012)0000032008




has been an almost perfect complement that has made possible the maximization of Almolonga’s economic potential. Keywords: Protestantism; Max Weber; Almolonga; economic development

Hacen falta las dos cosas, si uno so´lo ora no funciona, tampoco funciona el fertilizante sin oracio´n. – a woman vegetable farmer from Almolonga La pra´ctica y la ideologı´ a no pudieron actuar independiente una de la otra, y, probablemente, Almolonga se hizo a sı´ mismo en el proceso de creerse a sı´ mismo. (Goldı´ n, 1989)

This chapter argues that Weber’s theory of the protestant ethic helps explain socioeconomic progress currently seen in some communities in Latin America where Protestantism has advanced rapidly.1 Although individuals in these communities possess valuable economic resources and have high entrepreneurial character, Protestantism has provided an institutional framework that has helped capitalize on their resources and skills. This is explained in the context of the community of San Pedro de Almolonga of the Guatemala highlands.2 Almolonga is a prosperous community due to its fertile soil (a function of geography), the entrepreneurial skills of its inhabitants, and the high market demand for vegetables. But institutions linked to religious adherences help direct talent and innovation toward productive entrepreneurship. Resources are used close to their fullest capacity to generate wealth and material wellbeing. This chapter reviews the literature on Almolonga and presents the results of our ethnographic fieldwork in the town and its surroundings during January 2011.3

PROTESTANTISM IN THE ‘‘LAND OF ETERNAL SPRING’’ – GUATEMALA Protestantism in Guatemala (1998) by the historian Virginia Garrard-Burnett is one of the most authoritative accounts of the reasons why Guatemalans have converted into Protestantism. This conversion represents arguably the most fundamental cultural change in the country during its recent history.4

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Garrard-Burnett claims that people have converted because their need and desire to build a community: y the fortunes of Protestantism in Guatemala are inextricably tied to issues of community. For missionaries and converts alike, conversion has always meant a break with the past and the repudiation of the ties of kinship, custom, and belief that originally formed the parameters of their worlds y . [T]he converter wins admittance to a new community of believers that is almost entirely self-contained, with its own custom, ritual, language, and even a new set of kin, the hermanos (brothers). I suspect that this new type of identity held little appeal as long as what we rather imprecisely call the ‘‘traditional community’’ reminded more or less intact. But when the center began to give, through the erosive process of ‘‘development,’’ migration, and war, many beliefs, practices and institutions that shaped identity gave way with it. It is, at least in part, the attempt to recreate some sense of order, identity, and belonging that has caused so many to turn to Protestantism in recent years’’ (p. xiii).5

Although she does not disregard issues of belief and faith in conversion (xiv), she claims: [E]vangelicals can transcend social dislocation by establishing new forms of community that offer identity and relief, even though this new community may be (and often is) detrimental to the cohesion of other social units, such as the extended family, the town, or even, arguably, the state’’ (p. xiv).

And, The uncertainty of the mid-1980s, it seems produced a fertile environment for Protestantism – with its emphasis on eternal truths and verities – to flourish among the poor, whether they resided in the damaged communities of the countryside or the miserable barracas (slums) of the city (p. 164).

In a review of Protestantism in Guatemala, McCreery (2000, p. 589) argues: There are three standard explanations for the recent rise of Protestant Christianity in Guatemala. One argues that victims of the 1976 earthquake joined the new churches for access to relief assistance that the government and the Roman Catholic Church could or would not provide. Others claim that the conversions were an attempt to declare neutrality in the fighting between the guerrillas and the armed forces during the 1980s. And anthropologists have shown that the evangelicals’ stress on temperance is attractive to the economically ambitious and entrepreneurial among the indigenous population who wish to opt out of expensive, alcohol-sodden community rituals. No doubt each of these interpretations has some truth to it, but they all miss the point that for many religion genuinely is about belief and faith.

At the town level, however, it has been claimed that the conversion owes more to economic reasons. For example, Sheldon Annis (1987, p. 85) argues: By all accounts, it is ‘‘cheaper’’ to be a Protestant than a Catholic. San Antonio Protestants do not hesitate in explaining the practical advantages of a religion that venerates a god who is inexpensive to serve. Expanding upon this theme, missionaries



Fig. 1. Every Thursday a Long Caravan of Pickups from Almolonga Delivers Vegetables to the Nearby Town of Zunil. A similar Scene Can be Seen in Quetzaltenango, the CENMA (the Wholesale Distribution Center in Guatemala City), and Other Markets in the Country. have unabashedly promoted the material benefit of surrender to Christ. This is so much the case that the accusation ‘‘He just did it for the money’’ is frequently leveled by both Protestants and Catholics at converts of dubious spiritual sincerity.6

And also, Although Catholic farmers in San Antonio work on the average more land, Protestants exceed Catholics in ‘‘virtually every measure of agricultural productivity y . Protestants y are more likely to plant high-yielding commodities rather than corn y . Protestants also farm more intensively’’ (p. 312).7

The case of Almolonga described here does not necessarily address the question of why there is conversion into Protestantism in the town. Rather, we want to determine if one can consider the town relatively prosperous and if that is the case, how that prosperity is linked to Protestantism.

THE CASE OF ALMOLONGA Almolonga is mostly indigenous. The majority of inhabitants produce vegetables for the national and international markets. It is one of the most

Protestant Ethic and Prosperity


prosperous towns in Guatemala, where resource endowment has translated itself into improved development (such as education, trends toward gender equality, and sanitation). Although quantitative evidence is limited, several researchers and commentators have reported on the prosperity of the town (Arbona, 1998; Falkowski, 2000; Goldı´ n, 1989, 1996; Goldı´ n & Metz, 1991; Gutie´rrez, 2007; Sandoval, 2009). Some Almolonguen˜os even call themselves ‘‘the Jews of Western Guatemala’’ (Goldı´ n, 1989): For a country in which 85 percent of all citizens-and an even higher proportion of rural Indians-live below the government-designated poverty level, Almolongen˜os are relatively prosperous. Residents of neighboring municipalities regard them as hardworking people who are economically better off. The considerable amount of time and effort devoted to the production of vegetables is rarely missed by anybody who passes through the narrow valley during any day of the week. Although mechanization is absent, production has more in common with an agribusiness than with traditional Central American forms of agricultural production. Almolonguen˜os dominate every aspect of the market, including trade, transport, and commercial buyers: ‘‘Almolonguen˜os have successfully maintained and even expanded their markets. In fact, the highest-quality produce still goes to the more distant locations, for farmers make more money selling far afield than in nearby Quetzaltenango.’’ (Arbona, 1998, pp. 50–51) (see Fig. 1)

Almolonga is a municipality of the department of Quetzaltenango, resting at 2,250 m above sea level. It is located in a valley in western Guatemala (see Fig. 2). The name is of na´huatl origin that means ‘‘a place where water rises.’’ Around 96 percent of the inhabitants speaks k’iche’ (Gutie´rrez, 2007). The municipality occupies approximately 20 km2. Mountains and volcanoes surround the town (Santa Marı´ a and Cerro Quemado-Burnt Hill). The volcanic soil and numerous water springs feed the ground, making the Almolonga valley one of the most productive spots in Central America. Almolongen˜os produced and traded vegetables throughout the colonial years (Goldı´ n & Metz, 1991). Exports to international markets started between 1930 and 1945 (Falkowski, 2000).8 There is no memory of communal property in Almolonga, at least since the early 1800s (Goldı´ n, 1989). Private ownership of land prevails. Agricultural production represents around 70 percent of the economy (Gutie´rrez, 2007). Commerce, the second largest sector, moves around the production of vegetables. These are currently exported to the Central American region (especially to El Salvador) and Mexico.9 Vegetable production has been estimated at approximately US$ 19 million a year (ibid.). The peak production period coincides with the rainy season, from March to October. The town also produces high quality flowers.



Fig. 2. The Entrance to Almolonga from the City of Quetzaltenango. The Photo Was Taken at a Point About Ten Minutes by Car from Downtown Quetzaltenango.

Almolonga has translated its rich agricultural potential into higher productivity and income. Even in the late 1980s, Almolonguen˜os were considered to be quite progressive and better off than other people in the region (Goldı´ n & Metz, 1991). However, vegetable production has not benefited all the inhabitants equally. Either because of economies of scale or different initial conditions, some households have been able to take greater advantage than others of the fertile soil in Almolonga.10 Goldı´ n (2009) offers what is probably the most comprehensive analysis of the changes Almolonga has gone through. She argues that ideology that favors individualism and markets is replacing traditional views of society. Goldı´ n finds that prosperity in the town is linked to occupational differences: traders are more prosperous than agriculturalists. The shift toward Protestantism is a consequence of the ideological transformation and occupational variations: [I]ncreased trading and export of vegetables is not only raising the economic status of some Almolongen˜os but also is moving them toward Evangelicalism and religious ideology that is more compatible with the new lifestyle (p. 115).

Our view, as explained below, is not necessary incompatible with Goldı´ n’s main argument.

Protestant Ethic and Prosperity


There is surely an agreement on the relative prosperity of Almolonga. There are internal dynamics that one can see in the town, such as ideological, occupational, and religious transformations. These are certainly necessary conditions for explaining current prosperity, but they are not sufficient, especially if one wants to explain Almolonga versus other towns. Almolonga is the outcome of the amalgamation of several elements, from the ideological to the ecological. Our purpose is to advance the literature on Almolonga highlighting some of those elements.

What Explains the Prosperity in Almolonga? Almolonga has prospered due to its fertile soil, the entrepreneurial skills of its inhabitants, and the high market demand for vegetables. Nature and Geographic Location The highly fertile soil, the numerous water springs, and the favorable weather are the main natural resources in the valley. Almolonga’s soil is naturally enriched by minerals, most of them of volcanic origin that favor the growing of fruits and vegetables. As Falkowski (2000, p. 30) explains, ‘‘[T]ransportation corridors, volcanic activity, soils, climate, and water availability appeared to excel the most significant influence upon the unique special cropping patterns found in this region.’’ Indeed, Almolonga is located by the main road to the Guatemalan coast that continues to El Salvador; in the opposite direction the road leads to Quetzaltenango, the economic hub of the western region of the country. The same road goes on to Mexico. This favorable geographic location has been beneficial for the transportation of products to the coast, central parts of Guatemala, and nearby countries. Water springs are also very common in town; in some cases they release hot steam used for thermal baths. The hot steam is also a sign of the geological linkages between the soil and volcanic activity in the region. Additionally, the mountains that surround the valley protect crops from frost.11 Almolonga also enjoys favorable weather year-round. Several rivers surround the valley and the Chinima´ flows through the town. There is a regular rainy season and although tropical storms have affected Almolonga in recent years, producers generally recover quickly. Based on his fieldwork research, Falkowski concludes: ‘‘The influence of water supply upon cultivation strategies was determined to be the most significant factor influencing agricultural practices of the basins of Almolonga and Zunil’’



(p. 40).12 Irrigation technology based on three different methods (splash, sprinkler, and flood) has been effective during the dry seasons (p. 45) (also see Falkowski for a detailed and comprehensive description of irrigation systems in the valley).13 Irrigation technology complements the perennial water supply provided by rivers in the valley. Falkowski also presents a statistical analysis to demonstrate that the parcels of land located closer to the perennial water sources are mainly used for the production of vegetables, but that areas farther away from these sources, and in the hills, for example, are used for milpa. He shows that water accessibility determines the agricultural structure and argues that economic shifts (probably market demand) explain the advancement of vegetable plantation over milpa (p. 58). The parcels closer to the perennial water can produce carrots that are almost two to three times the size of carrots produced in other parts of Guatemala.14 The high productivity of land is reflected in the relatively high prices. As Arbona (1998, p. 50) claimed: Land is expensive: Just 0.108 acre of the best fertile soils costs up to US$ 10,000. Although the currency has fluctuated, this sum represents more than a threefold increase in just four years, from 1992 to 1996. Land is expensive because it is both fertile and scarce and because, with intensive labor, up to four crops a year can be grown on it.

Entrepreneurship Entrepreneurship is the second necessary condition for Almolonga’s prosperity. Entrepreneurs develop a deep passion for their businesses. They improve their own living conditions and generally they foster social change in their environment. Entrepreneurs are usually innovative; they take risks, work hard, and rebel against the status quo. For Almolonguen˜os, more than a communal resource, land is a ‘‘matter of business’’ (Goldı´ n, 1989). Almolonguen˜os see themselves as hard working people, the same perception about them is also held in Quetzaltenango and in nearby towns. Entrepreneurial activities thrived in Almolonga even before the conversion to Protestantism (Gutie´rrez, 2007), but the conversion could have occurred to avoid the obligations of the Cofradı´ a – the Catholic fiesta system (Annis, 1987; Goldı´ n & Metz, 1991). The last municipal census reports that 65 percent of the population owns a business (Sandoval, 2009). One could argue that even without the blessings of nature most of the people of Almolonga would be prosperous. Several Almolonguen˜os are already producing vegetables outside the valley in land located by different rivers in Quetzaltenango, and also in other departments

Protestant Ethic and Prosperity


like San Marcos and Totonicapa´n, sometimes more than 50 km away (Goldı´ n, 2009, also reports this). Some entrepreneurs in town not only distribute vegetables to the local and international markets but also are the main importers of other varieties (see Fig. 3). For example, a large distribution company is the main importer of Hass avocado into the country. It brings it from Michoaca´n in Mexico to Almolonga and distributes it from there to other markets in Guatemala. They use the Almolonga market as an economic hub. The company has offices, run by personnel from Almolonga, in Mexico and El Salvador. Another member of the same family imports sweaters from Ecuador. The fact that the community has shifted substantially to vegetable production is in itself a considerable change in the economic worldview of the town. As Annis (1987) argues, producing maize (milpa) and producing vegetables have totally different, and very important, implications for the way societies in Guatemala conceive the economic system. In a review of Annis’ God and Production in a Guatemalan town, Clawson (1989), argues: Maize production is not simply a collection of farming strategies y . [Annis argues] but also a mental expression of social circumstances. Although numerous studies by Guatemalan and foreign development agencies have found that corn farming in the central highlands is far less lucrative than vegetable production, the milpa persists,

Fig. 3.

A Common Sight: A Pickup Truck Loaded with Products in the Central Plaza.



according to Annis, because it provides unrivaled security. The first is assuring physical survival – of staving off hunger and starvation. The second is social acceptance (p. 310).

And, The milpa is very efficient at absorbing inputs, such as surplus labor, that have social but no convertible monetary value. These inputs are held to modify but little the commercial output of the milpa because the maize, for the most part, is either consumed by the family or traded within the village. To Annis this means that because no one can become wealthy by farming milpa, the milpa is antithetical to entrepreneurship. Furthermore, because the Indian farmer cannot realistically convert wealth into power in the Ladino-controlled outside world, he rationalizes the material riches as evil. The accumulation of wealth is rejected in favor of reinvestment in the civil-religious cargo system (known in Spanish as cofradı´a), a kind of social currency negotiable only at the village level. This is ‘‘milpa logic.’’ If the farmer, for whatever reasons, were to break with tradition by attempting to accumulate wealth, he would, in effect, have to renounce his cultural Indianness, which evolved as rationalization of economic and social subjugation. That Indianess is synonymous with folk Catholicism. Annis concludes, then, that Protestantism appeals most in highland Guatemala to those found at the extremities of the traditional milpa society; the poor ‘‘dispossessed peasant’’ who must seek alternative livelihoods in order to merely survive and wealthy ‘‘petty capitalists’’ whose power and influence are dependent upon their continued participation in the non-Indian, Ladino culture (p. 310).

If Annis is right, the peasants who produce milpa for the sake of economic stability and social acceptance are trapped in a vicious circle of low income. The vegetable producers in Almolonga seem to have escaped such a trap. Market Demand Growth and development depend largely on the generation of income, and income itself depends largely on supplying a valuable product to the market. To be successful in the market place, it is important to be innovative and to act strategically to face competition. Reliance on one’s effort and hard work is key. Since the 19th century Almolonguen˜os have shown capacity to respond to market demands (as in the case of the production and commercialization of Cochinilla)15 (Goldı´ n, 1989, 2009). The town offers relatively cheaper vegetables. Almolonga has a comparative advantage in vegetable production, which has been fortified during several decades. History matters for the development of Almolonga. To be competitive in the international market, it is necessary to offer competitive prices and relatively better quality products. Almolonga does it. But this is the result of a prolonged learning curve. They have discovered what works and what does not, the community has indeed learned by doing. A community can have the natural capacity to produce a valuable commodity, it can have as well the institutions to sustain market transactions, peaceful negotiations, and conflict solving; but if individuals in the

Protestant Ethic and Prosperity


community do not realize early on the economic potential of its resources, they cannot develop a learning curve to capitalize on market opportunities. Creativity, vision, and innovation have been essential historical elements to explain the effective development of vegetable production in the town. Innovation is also witnessed in the development and adoption of irrigation techniques that have grown to facilitate year-round cultivation (Falkowski, 2000, p. 62).16

Institutions in Almolonga The system of property rights in Almolonga seems to work quite efficiently. Armed conflicts over arable land are exceedingly rare. Expropriation has apparently not occurred. In essence, there is virtually no evidence of conflict in the town. Even though there has been some conflict between people from Almolonga and Zunil, relations remain nonviolent, and peaceful negotiations are the norm. The negotiating skills of the Almolonguen˜os are key here. Almolonga is very safe. In 2002 the homicide rate in the municipality was 1.69 (people per 100,000 inhabitants), which was substantially lower than the national average of 37.1, and also lower than the average for the department of Quetzaltenango (7.3). If one ranks all the 331 municipalities of Guatemala using 2002 data from lowest to highest homicide rate, Almologa comes in at number 21. The National Police reported zero homicides in Almolonga for 2010, while 180 homicides were reported for the Quetzaltenango department for that year. The owner of a pharmacy indicated that he only remembers one lynching in the town in the 18 years he has lived in Almolonga. Almolonga is indeed one of the most peaceful municipalities in, sadly, dangerous Guatemala.17 Why in Almolonga, an almost perfect textbook example of nonexistence of conflict over resources, does conflict for land (for example) remain so limited? An Almolonguen˜o lawyer emphasizes the importance of the Mayan justice system (la justicia maya). He claims that conflict for land is very rare, and when it happens (such as intra-family conflict), people physically fight, they release their frustrations, and this method works efficiently calming things down. The economy of Almolonga is still concentrated in agricultural production and an external shock in vegetable prices can harm the town. Diversification of the economy is still low. During our interviews with intermediaries, members of the cooperative, and producers, they expressed their concern for the need of organic production. They claimed that other



vegetable producing regions in Guatemala are taking advantage of this market, such as the community of Patzitzia in Chimaltenango, around 60 km from the capital. The concentration of the Almolonga economy on vegetable production, given the possibility of international shocks and competition from other regions, is indeed a sign of vulnerability, but the real effects remain to be seen. Protestant Ethic and Economic Prosperity The link between faith and prosperity has been highlighted in the historical research on Guatemala, for example, Garrard-Burnett (p. 164) argues that prosperity is seen as ‘‘an entitlement of the faithful’’; money and good health come from God.18 According to Garrard-Burnett neo-Pentecostal churches have offered the means and the rational for upper social-mobility (p. 165). She argues that churches have offered a message that is similar to the ‘‘Gospel of Wealth’’ message that became popular in the United States in the late 1880s. When one looks at the literature that analyses the link between the Protestant Ethic and prosperity in Guatemala (the analysis that examines if Weber theories apply to the Guatemalan case), one finds that scientists acknowledge that there is a link, but they are reluctant to conclude that that is the whole story (Annis, 1987, is an exception). It seems that at the town, community, or village level, as we will see below, Protestantism offers an institutional arrangement, which, if complemented with economic potential, is likely to generate economic prosperity. But there is no evidence that this holds at the national level.19 The Almolonga case shows the importance of institutional development and rapid market penetration in a context of high demand for vegetables. The combination of these elements has created intense competition among landowners and vegetable producers. In fact, it has been reported that even in the late 1980s individuals worked very hard – from four or five in the morning to six or seven at night (Goldı´ n, 1989). Today, some producers use torches to work in the fields at three in the morning. Individuality Rules The inhabitants of Almolonga rely on individual effort to achieve their goals (Goldı´ n & Metz, 1991, p. 334). Even though there are around 2,500


Protestant Ethic and Prosperity

household heads in the town, fewer than one hundred belong to the sole cooperative association. Corruption, rent-seeking, and conflict remain in check due to the institutional arrangements of the town. The institutions linked to religious adherence help explain the diligence and dedicated work of Almolonguen˜os as well as their orientation toward highly productive entrepreneurship.

Institutions The local institutions (formal and informal) are intrinsically related to a religious worldview. The values that Protestantism brought to Almolonga are those needed to be successful in the competitive agricultural market. It has been reported that religious conversion in the town is a sort of public statement of commitment with a larger set of moral standards (Ibid., p. 330). The transcendental worldview of the current Protestant discourse responds almost perfectly to the demands of the market. It is even possible that the Protestant discourse is adapting itself to the transformations toward free markets and individualism. If one takes the amount of people who converted to Protestantism as a measure of its advancement, the evidence is clear. In the 1960s only 13 percent of the population was Protestant.20 Goldı´ n (1989) suggests that in 1989 (almost 32 years later), 20 percent of the population of the municipio was evangelical. A study published in 1991 (two years after the previous study) found that 48 percent of the population was Protestant (Goldı´ n & Metz, 1991, p. 327). It is argued that more than 90 percent of the population is active-participant Protestant (Sandoval, 2009). Some also argue that this figure actually lies above 50 percent (Goren, 2002). There are 37 evangelical temples in town (see Fig. 4). Some of them deliver their services through radio, and some even have Internet radios (Sandoval, 2009). Some evangelical ministers have several (sometimes even hundreds of) videos in YouTube, they have Facebook pages, and TV stations.21 High soil potential, entrepreneurial skills, and religious values explain the growing income in Almolonga. Religious values promote hard work, high self-esteem, creation and multiplication of wealth, savings, investing, and living a frugal life; in short, a Protestant Ethic close to Weber’s. As Sherman states, ‘‘Although religious affiliation is not a significant variable in economic development, religious worldview certainly is.’’ Goldı´ n (1989) indicates that the introduction of Evangelism seems to be the result of capital accumulation, or perhaps there is causality in both



Fig. 4. The Iglesia Evange´lica El Calvario Is One of the Largest Churches in Town. It is Located In Front of the Town Hall (Notice the Numerous Pickups on the Streets).

directions – Evangelism and capital accumulation mutually affecting each other. It is not surprising that Weber’s Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism resonates loudly whenever the case of Almolonga is discussed (yet it has also been argued that prosperity started in the town even before Protestantism – see Gutie´rrez, 2007). In a review of Amy Sherman’s The Soul of Development: Biblical Christianity and Economic Transformation in Guatemala, Goren (2002, p. 163) argues: The conclusions are clear and straightforward: ‘‘joining an Evangelical church leads first to behavior modifications, and then, for true converts who adopt a biblical worldview, to attitudinal transformation as well. The adoption of a morally rigorous Protestant ethic (by both Evangelicals and some orthodox Catholics) frees believers from alcohol addiction and encourages careful, disciplined investments in family well-being, [y]. The reformed lifestyle common among Evangelicals usually brings modest, not dramatic, socio-economic improvement.’’22

Catholicism has lost ground because of structural reasons and pragmatic motives. Structurally, the Catholic Church has not provided the high level of dynamism and engagement that most of the population demand. The Protestant structure is based on biblical cells, relatively easy ordination of pastors who do not have to keep celibacy, and, probably more important,

Protestant Ethic and Prosperity


on a flexible interpretation of the bible. Also, pastors usually speak the local indigenous language and share the same cultural references, which seems to help them better translate the teachings of the Bible to their congregations (Goldı´ n & Metz, 1991, p. 331). In Guatemala there are around 28,000 evangelical pastors, but only 590 Catholic priests (Sandoval, March 2009). The dynamism of this structure has been more accessible and probably more satisfying to the soul for many Guatemalans. The pragmatic reasons consist mainly on the advantages that come with social and peer pressure. One cannot drink a drop of alcohol, cannot dance salsa, merengue, or any rhythm of the world (del mundo). Members of protestant churches, of course leaders included, make sure that each of them complies with the norms (although there are always exceptions). Privileges in the church are assigned according to proper behavior, and even improper behavior is denounced and transgressors are ashamed in public. Even Catholics or nonpractitioners criticize and denounce when a protestant violates church norms. In economic terms, it seems that it is socially more expensive to violate rules in the Protestant church then it is in the Catholic Church. It is in this context that one can understand the linkages between Protestantism, vegetable production, and economic prosperity in Almolonga. Of course, institutions linked to Protestantism have been a necessary but not a sufficient condition for the generation of prosperity. Protestantism is also prevalent in many other rural and urban communities in Guatemala, but most of them have not reached Almolonga’s growth. In Almonoga, Protestants exhibit higher levels of economic attainment than Catholics, on average (Goldı´ n, 1996). Protestants are generally wellviewed by Catholics (Goldı´ n & Metz, 1991). It is widely claimed that Protestantism has contributed to the drastic reduction in alcohol consumption, to the formation of social networks and social capital, and to the reduction in the transaction costs of solving conflicts and doing business. Sandoval (2009) includes comments by producers in this regard. A producer said. ‘‘If [he] is a brother I know he is not going to let me down.’’

Theology of Prosperity ‘‘The theology of prosperity’’ is a common phrase used to describe the causal effect of religion over affluent economic conditions in Almolonga. Individuals in the town claim that they have looked for God first, and material prosperity has followed.



The minister of one of the largest churches in town claims that Almolonga went through a massive transformation based on biblical principles. He indicated that each individual member of his church has gone to a similar transformation. He refers to:  Romans 12:2 as the base for non conformation, transformation, and renovation;  Genesis 12:2 as the base for God’s promise of blessings and magnification of the name of the individual who follows him;  Psalms 23 (‘‘[The Lord] makes me lie down in green pastures [y]’’)23 as the base for the fulfillment of material and spiritual needs;  Deuteronomy 28 as the base for God’s promise of prosperity: obeying God brings exaltation over all nations; blessings over one’s city and fields; blessings over the fruit of the womb, the agricultural fields, cattle, and livestock. It also brings blessings over one’s basket, craft, and barns. Abundance of goods is promised to those who obeyed. ‘‘One will lend to others but will never borrow from others.’’ ‘‘Jehovah will make one the head and not the tail.’’ Several Almolonguen˜os have these maxims as the core of their worldview. A young lawyer claimed that he wanted to direct at least three law firms, and a leading commercial intermediary wants to promote organic products for export to the European and US markets. Both explicitly indicated that they want to be ‘‘the head and not the tail.’’ Even religious and spiritual activities are intimately related to new entrepreneurial ventures. After a career as successful intermediary, the minister quoted above founded his church. This was 30 years ago. Today it counts approximately 3,000 members, and has branches in El Salvador, Mexico, and even in the USA (Alabama, Queens, New York, and Pomona, California). He set the covertura (initial mandate or blessing). The church in El Salvador started with four members, and now has over 400. Close family relatives from Almolonga (his brother, for instance) manage some of these churches. The minister drives a new Mitsubishi Nativa for church activities and his personal vehicle is a new BMW. He participates constantly in crusades in El Salvador, Costa Rica, and Panama. In 2010 he was invited to visit the USA twice. He sees these activities and material accomplishments as the manifestation of God’s promise. Social and economic institutions linked to religious practices have helped individuals to direct their entrepreneurial skills to productive activities (Baumol, 1990). The practice of Protestantism helps individuals focus on work; the largest vegetable producers work more than twelve hours a day during the harvest season. Some sermons at Evangelical churches are almost

Protestant Ethic and Prosperity


like crash courses on entrepreneurship. The pastor talks not only about the teachings of Christ, love, or faith in God, but also about how to create a startup, how to get funding, and how to invest the returns. Goldı´ n and Metz (1991, p. 331) comment: The minister, besides religion, he gives you advice on how to improve your socioeconomic situation. Such as: ‘‘avoid fiestas, dress better, invest money, buy a car, enjoy development y’’ Because it would be useless to obtain money if one will continue living like before, you have to get a modern lifestyle.

Our own fieldwork and interviews in the town confirms this. When asked about the role of religion in his life, a distributor of vegetables claimed that Evangelism defines him as ‘‘a person of success’’ – he was born to be ‘‘the head, not the tail.’’ He feels blessed and complies ‘‘as an [Evangelical] Christian’’ (como Cristiano) by doing his part: paying taxes and generating employment. He said that being a Christian makes him stay focused on his work and his family, on doing what is right: ‘‘Voy a donde tengo que ir. Hago lo que tengo que hacer’’ (I go where I am supposed to go. I do what I am supposed to do).

FINAL REMARKS Several churches in Guatemala use the Almolonga case as an example of what God does for a community that obeys His Word. The social bonds already established among members of Evangelical churches are so strong that there is a high cost of conversion to a new, incoming, religion. Some might argue that it is not about costs but rather about faith. The effects of religion, hard work, and the use of technology over socioeconomic progress are tightly conjoined and they are hard to separate (as it is hard to determine the separated effect of soil fertility, entrepreneurship, and institutions). For example, referring to the combination of praying and the use of insecticides a woman farmer claims: ‘‘Hacen falta las dos cosas, si uno so´lo ora no funciona, tampoco funciona el fertilizante sin oracio´n’’ [‘‘The two things are necessary, if one only prays it does not work, but the fertilizer alone without praying does not work either’’] (Sandoval, 2009). Do Guatemalans need to adopt a Protestant worldview to prosper? Certainly they do not. There are plenty of cases of Catholics (individuals and communities) who have prospered economically. Watanabe (1992) emphasizes this idea. It is also truth that one can convert into Protestantism



for reasons that are not economically motivated, as Garrard-Burnett indicates (1998) – and she does not even cover the whole ground. Guatemalans are very heterogeneous and have very different backgrounds. Even among indigenous people there are clear differences in the history, motivations, and attitude toward life and work. There is a portion of Guatemala, however, with a history of marginalization, poverty, and lack of opportunities. Actually, a large number of Guatemalans have grown up in broken homes, witnessing domestic violence, alcoholism, etc. For them Protestantism is probably (and has been) the most accessible way to find support and hope.24 Amolonga faces some challenges. For instance, the economy does not show high diversification. Besides, during the 1990s few Almolonguen˜os migrated to Los Angeles, where a sizable community has developed (Arbona, 1998, p. 50). Immigrants usually send money back home but leave behind emotional vacuums within their families. Land remains concentrated among few proprietors, which is a historical situation (Goldı´ n, 1989). Nevertheless, vegetable production as a whole has benefited the majority, directly or indirectly. In Almolonga there are indications of improvements in human development that go beyond monetary income, for example: Of the 2,261 housing units in the municipio, 87.7 percent have latrines with drainage for the disposal of excreta; the other 12.3 percent do not have any specific means for disposing of human waste. This is an improvement over the situation a decade ago, when only 33.85 percent of the households had latrines (Gonzalez, 1996, cited in Arbona, 1998, p. 52).

However, in Almolonga there seems to be a trade-off between material well-being and human development, and the health costs of using pesticides. Further research is necessary to assess the costs and benefits. From an economic development perspective, one recommendation is that Almolonguen˜os (and consumers in general) should be provided with the necessary information to put their choices in perspective when it comes to pesticides use and consumption of vegetables. Churches in Almolonga are contributing to a broader definition of socioeconomic development, such as gender equality. A pastor said that he is trying to reduce the historical marginalization of women in the town, he claims that during services and in social activities he promotes women inclusion. When we asked the biblical bases for such actions, he referred to Ephesians 5: ‘‘In the same way, husbands must love their wives as they love their own bodies. A man who loves his wife loves himself.’’


Protestant Ethic and Prosperity

Finally, it has been argued in the political science literature that the coincidence of economic interest between the political sector and the economic sector promotes prosperity. In the case of the Southern-African country of Botswana, for example, historically, politicians have also been entrepreneurs within a major industry in the country (cattle) (Marroquı´ n & Poteete, 2005). The same situation is observed in Almolonga. Politicians and members of the municipal junta are also vegetable producers or commercial intermediaries. This coincidence of interests might explain why municipal fees (tasas) to producers and distributors remain reasonably low. A pickup truck loaded with vegetables that enters the market place has to pay approximately 65 cents of a dollar. This hypothesis of coincidence of interests between the municipal authorities and vegetable producers, however, requires further research.

NOTES 1. Basten and Betz (2011) analyze how Protestantism affects politics and the economy; they also present a good review of the literature from the economics point of view. Peter Berger, an American sociologist, has found that Weber’s theories have a certain plausibility in Latin America, as reported in The Economist (October 29, 2011). 2. Protestantism and Evangelism are used as synonyms in the paper to refer to the faiths and practices of Protestant Churches rather than those of the Catholic Church. 3. From the point of view of economic theory, the case of Almolonga could also be analyzed in the context of the theory of clubs (Buchanan, 1965, is the seminal contribution). See Sandler and Tschirhart (1997) for a review of the literature. Berman (2000) presents an application of the theory of clubs in the context of UltraOrthodox Judaism. 4. McCreery (2000) argues: ‘‘Whereas in 1940, less than one percent of Guatemalans were Protestant, and of these most belonged to a few mainstream denominations, by the early 1990s as much as a third of the population claimed to be Protestant converts, and they belonged to some 10,000 mostly evangelical and increasingly Pentecostal churches’’ (p. 589). Garrard-Burnett (1998) also describes the increase in converts to Protestantism. 5. Garrard-Burnett argues that marginalized individuals, or people who used to suffer certain conditions, like alcoholism, for example, were the initial converters. As they reformed and became respectable, they ‘‘began to assume some responsibility in the churches, thus transforming them gradually from patriarchal foreign bodies into more autochthonous entities. As it happened, this critical period coincided with dramatic changes in the nation’s politics and society’’. For a comprehensive history of Protestantism in Guatemala, see Garrard-Burnett (1998). 6. Clawson (1989) argues that Annis does not support his claim. Belonging to a Protestant Church implies important costs, such as giving 10 of income as diesmo.



Economically speaking, Clawson thinks, the cheapest of all would be not to have a religion at all (p. 311). Clawson argues that perhaps the most universal reason for conversion has to do with doctrinal dissatisfaction and the alleged lack of authority in the former church (p. 311). In the context of the Santa Catarina Palopo´ town, Little (2004) reports comments of inhabitants of the town who claim that the cofradı´a system started decreasing during the period of heavy violence in the 1980s, which coincided with the incoming of Protestantism into town. 7. Fischer, based on research in the Kaqchikel town of Tecpan, argues that even though religious diversity has increased ‘‘ethnicity (Indian or ladino), not religion, is the most salient category of identity and plays the more prominent role in shaping individual agency y’’ (1999, p. 479, 2001). Watanabe (1992) is also an important source of information on the evolution of religion and traditional believes in Guatemala in the context of Santiago Chimaltenango, Huehuetenango. According to the author, at the time of his fieldwork, Evangelism had not dominated Catholicism in the town in terms of converters and practices. Furthermore, Watanabe argues that the practices and believes of evangelicals and orthodox Catholics coincided. 8. Arbona (1998) presents a comprehensive history of vegetable production in Almolonga (including a discussion on the origin of seeds, see also Falkowski (2000) and Goldı´ n (1989). 9. Carrots, radishes, onions, cabbages, beetroots, celeries, and others are produced in the town. 10. Hamilton and Fischer have described the positive impact that nontraditional agriculture has had on indigenous producers in the Guatemalan highlands, with focus on the Chimaltenango region (2005). Benson and Fischer (2007, p. 811) also talked about the improving in economic conditions as a result of the introduction of nontraditional crops. 11. The valley also benefits from the moisture by raising air currents, which are due to the sun light reflection of the reddish-gray rock of the volcanic field (Falkowski, 2000, p. 30). 12. Zunil is a nearby town where vegetables are also cultivated but at a lower scale than they are in Almolonga. 13. Between 1977 and 1989 as many as 250 small-scale gravity-fed irrigation projects were installed with the support of USAID (Falkowski, 2000, p. 43). 14. The use of pesticides is frequent and intense. A study published in the Geographical Review claimed: ‘‘Sadly, agricultural production in Almolonga relies on excessive pesticide applications that are detrimental to overall health’’ (Arbona, 1998). Even in the early 1990s studies reported the frequent use of pesticides at much higher doses than recommended by makers (Arbona, 1998, p. 54; Goldı´ n, 1989). Because of this vegetables from Almolonga have been banned by the United States (ibid., p. 55). This is considered as the leading cause of deaths among adults and children in Almolonga (p. 58). Arbona reported that cancer incidence in Almolonga is much higher than the average in the department of Quetzaltenango (p. 59). 15. Cochinilla is an insect that during colonial times was intensely used to produce a purple dye. 16. Falkowski (2000) reports the innovative character of people from Almolonga, especially regarding the development and adoption of irrigation techniques.

Protestant Ethic and Prosperity


17. Source: Policı´ a Nacional Civil. Data on homicides in Guatemala can be found at http://carlosantoniomendoza.blogspot.com/ 18. The difference between Pentecostalism and neo-Pentecostalism is not clear. The most outstanding difference seems to be that neo-Pentecostals, sometimes also called Charismatics, seek a religious experience that emphasizes instantaneous healing (taken from Dictionary.com). Another important difference, in the context of Guatemala is that the middle and upper income classes have mainly adopted neo-Pentecostalism (Garrard-Burnett, p. 165). 19. Smith (1989) has said this before. 20. Author’s calculation based on Goldı´ n and Metz (1991). 21. See for example messages from the minister of the Bethania Church (http:// www.youtube.com/watch?v¼0Pti4aAqBak), and his Facebook page (http://es-la.fbjs. facebook.com/pages/Pastor-Jose-Silverio-Sanchez/144442845585029?v¼info). 22. Loucky (1979) describes the case of San Pablo La Laguna town and compares it with San Juan La Laguna, both located by Atitlan Lake in the Guatemalan highlands. San Pablo specialized in rope production, while Sanjuaneros worked on agriculture. The differences in production, according with Loucky, had to do with historical and ecological reasons. He claims that people of San Pablo were more industrious and hard working. They have managed to curtail a certain element of fatalistic in their worldview. According to Loucky, the higher conversion to Protestantism in San Pablo helps explain these differences. 23. The Holy Bible, New International Version. Zendervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan: 2005. 24. In this regard, Garrard-Burnett manifests: ‘‘The characteristics associated with right living in the modern health-and-wealth churches – punctuality, thrift, efficiency, a concern with law and order – were never a art of the traditional Guatemalan ethos, and are in many ways contrary to the traditional worldview of the national elite. It is perhaps for this very reason that members of the middle and upper classes began to look at the health-and-wealth churches for fresh formulas for personal, social, and spiritual advancement. If Protestant churches in rural areas help render the outside world comprehensible to indigenous members and provide a locus of identity and belonging, neo-Pentecostal churches function in a similar way for the wealthy urban dwellers. On the one hand, they insulate members from the violence and social decay that surround them; on the other, health-andwealth theology offers a moral justification for members who seek personal aggrandizement instead of social reform. Neo-Pentecostal churches offer a spiritual rationale for the gaping social inequalities of Guatemala and bring order to what is otherwise a capricious world. Where the fatalism and paternalism of old time Catholicism once quitted these jarring dissonances, so now, for some, does this variety of Protestantism’’ (166). [Italics added].

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS We thank the support of the people of Almolonga. Research assistance by Dunia Consuegra is highly appreciated. We also thank Rigoberto Queme´



Chay and Roberto Gutie´rrez for their valuable insights. We appreciate the comments from the participants at the ‘‘Free-Lunch Seminar’’ where this chapter was presented at Francisco Marroquin University in Guatemala in November 2011.

REFERENCES Annis, S. (1987). God and production in a Guatemalan town. Austin: University of Texas Press. Arbona, S. (1998). Commercial agriculture and agrochemicals in Almolonga, Guatemala. The Geographical Review, 88(1), 47–63. Basten, C., & Betz, F. (2011). Marx vs. Weber: Does religion affect politics and the economy?’’ European Central Bank. Working Paper Series. Retrieved from http://www.ecb.int/pub/ pdf/scpwps/ecbwp1393.pdf. Accessed on November 1, 2011. Baumol, W. (1990). Entrepreneurship: Productive, unproductive, and destructive. The Journal of Political Economy, 98(5 Part 1), 893–921. Retrieved from http://faculty.washington. edu/latsch/SISAF444_Baumol_Entrepreneurship.pdf. Accessed on January 1, 2011. Benson, P., & Fischer, E. (2007). Broccoli and desire. Antipode, 39, 800–820. Berman, E. (2000). A sect, subsidy and sacrifice: An economist’s view of ultra-orthodox Jews. Quarterly Journal of Economics, 115(3), 905–953. Retrieved http://www.nber.org/papers/ w6715.pdf. October 30, 2011. Buchanan, J. (1965). An economic theory of clubs. Economica, 32(125), 1–14. New Series. Clawson, D. (1989). Review, God and production in a Guatemalan town by Sheldon Annis. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 79(2), 309–312. Falkowski, J. A. (2000). Water supply and crop selection: A study of Almolonga and Zunil, Guatemala. Unpublished Master’s thesis, San Jose State University. Retrieved http:// sjsu-dspace.calstate.edu/xmlui/bitstream/handle/10211/8812/1399835.PDF?sequence¼1. Accessed on January 30, 2010. Fischer, E. (1999). Cultural logic and Maya identity: Rethinking constructivism and essentialism. Current Anthropology, 40(4), 473–500. Fischer, E. (2001). Cultural logics & global economies: Maya identity in thought and practice. Austin: University of Texas Press. Garrard-Burnett, V. (1998). Protestantism in Guatemala: Living in the New Jerusalem. Austin: University of Texas Press. Goldı´ n, L. (1989). Comercializacio´n y Cambio en San Pedro Almolonga, Guatemala Occidental. Mayab, 5, 45–49. Goldı´ n, L. (1996). Models of economic differentiation and culture change. Journal of Quantitative Anthropology, 6, 49–74. Goldı´ n, L. (2009). Global Maya: Work and ideology in rural Guatemala. Tucson, Arizona: University of Arizona Press. Goldı´ n, L., & Metz, B. (1991). Education an expression of cultural change: Invisible converts to Protestantism among highland Guatemala Mayas. Ethnology, 30(4), 325–338. Goren, H. (2002). Review, Biblical Christianity and economic transformation in Guatemala by Amy Sherman. Journal of Latin American Studies, 34(February), 202–203. Gutie´rrez, R. (2007, July 14). Sobre el ‘‘extraordinario’’ desarrollo de Almolonga.’’ El Perio´dico. Retrieved from http://www.elperiodico.com.gt/es/20070614/opinion/40643/. Accessed on January 1, 2011.

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Hamilton, S., & Fischer, E. F. (2005). Maya farmers and export agriculture in highland Guatemala: Implications for development and labor relations. Latin American Perspectives, 32(5), 33–58. Little, W. (2004). Mayas in the marketplace: Tourism, globalization, and cultural identity. Austin: University of Texas Press. Loucky, J. (1979). Production and the patterning of social relations and values in two Guatemalan villages. American Ethnologist, 6, 702–722. Marroquı´ n, A., & Poteete, A. (2005). Successful management of diamond revenues in Botswana: Institutions, State development, or political coalitions. Presented at the American Political Science Association Annual Meeting, Washington, D. C. Mercatus Center Working Paper No. 60. McCreery, D. (2000). Review, Protestantism in Guatemala: Living in the New Jerusalem by Virginia Garrard-Burnett. The American Historical Review, 105(2), 589–590. Sandler, T., & Tschirhart, J. (1997). Club theory: Thirty years later. Public Choice, 93(3), 335–355. Retrieved from Accessed on October 10, 2010. Sandoval, M. (2009, March 1). El sagrado encanto de las zanahorias gigantes. El Perio´dico. Retrieved from http://www.elperiodico.com.gt/es/20090301/domingo/92862/. Accessed on January 1, 2011. Smith, C. (1989). Review, God and production in a Guatemala town by Sheldon Annis. Man, New Series, 24(2), 351–352. Published by: Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland. The Economist. (2011, October 29). Holly relevance: Faith can influence behavior but not always directly. Retrieved from http://www.economist.com/node/21534762. Accessed on November 01, 2011. Watanabe, J. (1992). Maya saints & souls in a changing world. Austin: University of Texas Press.

SIMPLE FINANCIAL ECONOMIC MODELS OF PREHISTORIC FREMONT MAIZE STORAGE AND AN ASSESSMENT OF EXTERNAL THREAT Kerk L. Phillips and Renee Barlow ABSTRACT 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

Political Economy, Neoliberalism, and the Prehistoric Economies of Latin America Research in Economic Anthropology, Volume 32, 109–129 Copyright r 2012 by Emerald Group Publishing Limited All rights of reproduction in any form reserved ISSN: 0190-1281/doi:10.1108/S0190-1281(2012)0000032009




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. Keywords: Financial models; risk; portfolio theory; anthropology; archaeology; maize, grain storage, Fremont

INTRODUCTION The Fremont people were a Native American cultural group that lived in what are now the states of Utah, Nevada, and Colorado. Fremont cultivated maize throughout this region, shifting at various times and places between part-time horticulture and full-time farming, from roughly ad 300 to 1300.1 This chapter focuses on the Fremont people that lived in Range Creek 700 to 1700 years ago. Range Creek is a remote canyon area in Eastern Utah’s Book Cliffs. The area gained a great deal of attention in the late 1990s when much of privately owned ranch land there was sold to the State of Utah. Surveys discovered a wealth of pristine archeological sites in the canyon. To the south of the Fremont, the Anasazi left behind numerous well-preserved pueblos and cliff houses. The Fremont left few such obvious dwellings. Fremont granaries, however, are relatively common and can be found throughout the area. Range Creek contains numerous Fremont granaries and consequently offers a unique opportunity for their study (Fig. 1). Range Creek granaries are often found at higher elevations above the valley floor where the maize was grown. They can be difficult to investigate and frequently require rappelling and rock climbing skills to access.2 An obvious question is why the Fremont felt compelled to store food in such inconvenient places. There are several possible answers (Fig. 2).

Simple Financial Economic Models of Prehistoric Fremont Maize Storage

Fig. 1.


Typical Range Creek Granary.

First, it may be that cliffs simply offer better protection from pests such as insects or rodents than subsurface cists in rock shelters or storage pits in houses. Successful storage of maize requires that there be little loss to such pests. This, in turn, requires making the granary virtually airtight. A cliff face offers at least two impenetrable stone barriers in the floor and back wall. Where cracks or fissures compromise the bedrock barrier, these are filled with mud, sometimes still impressed with 1000-year-old fingerprints in the Range Creek granaries. Building a granary on the valley floor requires extra effort to make sure the floor and all walls are secure against pests. If granaries were placed on cliff ledges mainly to protect their contents from small pests, or to save time and labor builders should have always chosen the lowest available cliff. However, often they built granaries in locations that were multiple cliff bands above the maize fields and canyon floor, and which required climbing through or around up to seven separate sets of cliffs, with talus slopes between, to get up to the granaries. Second, it may be that the visibility of cliff granaries makes internal monitoring easier. This would facilitate monitoring of family and community resources if people within the family, community, or band were ‘‘stealing’’ from communal food stores by making the actions of the wouldbe freeloaders visible to all. A third possibility is that there may have been some external threat of theft or robbery. This could have been from local bands or families of



Fig. 2.

Map of the Range Creek Area.

Fremont farmers and horticulturists living in Range Creek and the vicinity of Desolation Canyon, or perhaps Fremont farmers from neighboring areas such as the Uinta/Vernal region. Possibly even people from neighboring cultures, such as Puebloan farmers or Great Basin foragers. However, this scenario is very unlikely given travel distances to Range Creek of hundreds of kilometers through rather extreme desert terrain, past other, more accessible Fremont farming communities. Storing maize high on the canyon walls makes it more difficult to steal, particularly in a quick

Simple Financial Economic Models of Prehistoric Fremont Maize Storage


raid, when the owners of the grain may be vulnerable only for a short period of time. This chapter deals only with the third possibility, though the model presented could be modified to incorporate the other two incentives. If external threat was the main cause, how serious must the threat have been in order to justify the effort of building granaries in such locations and transporting maize to them? Given the lack of written histories, it is impossible to know directly how serious this threat was. However, by examining the caloric costs of investment in granaries, we can infer this probability from their behavior. Fremont farmers faced an interesting allocation decision. They could either store maize3 near their dwellings where the cost of transporting it was negligible, but the loss during a raid would be substantial. Or they could store it in hard-to-access granaries high above the valley floor where the transport costs were high, but the loss during a raid would be much smaller. In fact, the decision would be even more complex than this, since there are a variety of places to build granaries offering various trade-offs between transport cost and loss during a raid. This chapter posits that financial theory can help identify the perceived threat of a raid. Financial theory deals with the behavior of investors who need to allocate a sum of money, rather than maize. They must choose between a variety of investment assets, rather than granary locations. Some of these assets have high returns, but are risky (like storing maize on the valley floor). Others have lower returns, but are less risky (like storing maize in granaries). Our approach here is similar in spirit to the work of McCloskey and Nash (1984) and Nielsen (1997) in that we are using general principles of economics in conjunction with data on grain storage to derive inferences about otherwise unobservable variables. In the case of McCloskey and Nash, the variable of interest is the interest rate in early modern England. Nielsen is interested in the effect of British government policy on grain prices in the late sixteenth century. In our case, the variable of interest is a perceived threat probability among Fremont Indians. Unlike McCloskey & Nash and Nielsen, we use a theoretic model and assumptions about fundamental parameters to back out threat probabilities. We do not do any econometric estimation. We note that agricultural economists have good theoretical models for the optimal storage of grains in modern market economies.4 However, they are not well suited for the questions we address. In this chapter, we rely on observations of granaries in one small portion of the Fremont cultural area, an area in eastern Utah known as Range Creek. Range Creek offers a unique sampling of Fremont archeological sites



that have lain largely undisturbed since being abandoned by the Fremont in the thirteenth century. We construct a measure of caloric cost of transporting maize to and from a typical granary. Using data from modern studies of farmers in developing countries, we can obtain estimates of the degree of risk aversion the Fremont would likely have had. With these data, we can recover the perceived probability, or expectation of a raid by people from outside the community. For a typical granary in Range Creek, this probability lies somewhere between 5% and 20% per year. The rest of the chapter proceeds as follows. The second section presents a standard portfolio model from the finance literature and adapts it to the circumstances of Fremont farmers storing grain. We show that optimal storage location(s) depend critically on how safety and transportation costs interact as granaries are built at higher and higher locations. The third section presents a special case of the model where only two storage locations exist: the valley floor and the ‘‘typical’’ granary. This model allows us to easily solve for the threat probability. The fourth section considers the costs and benefits of constructing the granary in the first place. We find slightly higher probabilities here, but they are not radically larger than the ones in the third section. The fifth section concludes the chapter.

A SIMPLE ONE-PERIOD FINANCIAL MODEL We assume that utility is derived from consumption of calories. We abstract from quality and varieties of food for simplicity, though these aspects of utility could be incorporated without altering our fundamental results. We adopt the commonly used mean-variance form of expected utility, originally developed by Markowitz5 and others in the 50s and 60s. In our model, expected utility is a positive function of the expected log of consumption of calories, and a negative function of the variance in the log of consumption of calories (indicating aversion to risk). g (1) EfUg ¼ Efln Cg  Vfln Cg 2 Consumption of calories occurs (again, for the sake of simplicity) at the end of the winter after all storage results are known. Calories come from foraging, F, and from storage of a stock of maize, M, from the fall harvest. There are many discrete storage options, indexed by i, and the portion of M stored in location i is denoted, wi. The net returns on storage will be negative due to spoilage and animal damage, but also due to theft by other humans. Net loss of maize as a percent of the maize stored at a particular location is

Simple Financial Economic Models of Prehistoric Fremont Maize Storage


denoted ri, and is a random variable. This loss includes spoilage and animal damage as well as the nonrandom caloric cost of transporting the maize from the field to the storage location and from the storage location to the consumer’s dwelling. In addition, it includes the opportunity cost of the time spent transporting, which could be used for foraging or other valuable activities. We denote this portion of the loss as si. Loss due to theft varies with the storage location, is a specific nonrandom value, denoted di, when it occurs. However, this loss only occurs if there is an incursion by outsiders that will occur with probability p. Consumption at the end of the winter is thus given by X X C ¼F þM wi ð1 þ ri Þ; 0  wi  1; wi ¼ 1 (2) i


The random return on storage at location i is given by ( with probability 1  p si ri ¼ si  d i with probability p


We define fF/M as the ratio of foraging calories to the caloric content of the harvest, and treat this as exogenous for simplicity. We note that an incursion by outsiders is likely to decrease the amount of food foraged since the members of the community will likely spend time and effort trying to expel them. sf is the value of f in the absence of an incursion and is assumed to be a random variable. We denote the loss of foraging calories due to an incursion as df. Hence f is given by ( sf with probability 1  p f ¼ (4) sf  d f with probability p The various storage options are sorted by difficulty of access from the valley floor, with higher values for i being more costly in terms of transport, but also being safer from theft should an incursion occur. i will be correlated with elevation above the valley floor, but other factors such as the roughness of the terrain and the unique topology of the exact site6 will also contribute to large values of i. si is the net storage cost for site i inclusive of transportation and because of this its mean (mi) is assumed to be strictly increasing in i. di is the loss in the event of an incursion for site i and is assumed to be strictly decreasing in i. Storage losses are location specific and are random variables. They are independent of the probability of an incursion (p):si  rvðmi ; s2i Þ. Foraging



income is also a random variable independent of p. Eqs. (3) and (4) and the assumptions on the distributions of the si’s and f give the following means, variances, and covariances for i 2 f1; 2; . . . ; I; f g Efri g ¼ mi  pd i Vfri g ¼



d 2i pð1




Cfri ; rj g ¼ sij þ d i d j pð1  pÞ


Taking the natural logarithm of (2) gives: X ln C ¼ ln M þ f þ w i ri



Taking expected values and variances of Eq. (6) and substituting various versions of Eq. (5) yields: Efln Cg ¼ ln M þ mf  pd f 


wi ðmi þ pd i Þ



Vfln Cg ¼


wi ½sif þ d i d f pð1  pÞ þ




wi wj ½sij þ d i d j pð1  pÞ (8)


Substituting Eqs. (7) and (8) into Eq. (1) gives expected utility as a function of the means, variances, and covariances of the returns of the various storage locations and the mean, variance, and covariances of foraging income. It also depends on the probability of an incursion. ( X g X EfUg ¼ ln M þ mf  pd f  wi ðmi þ pd i Þ  wi ½sif þ d i d f pð1  pÞ 2 i i ) XX þ wi wj ½sij þ d i d j pð1  pÞ ð9Þ i


The economic problem facing the storer/consumer is to maximize Eq. (9) by appropriate choice of the amounts stored in each location (the wi’s) subject to the following constraints: 0  wi 8i X i

wi  1

(10) (11)

Simple Financial Economic Models of Prehistoric Fremont Maize Storage


The typical first-order condition for this maximization problem (with respect to storage site n) is @L ¼  ðmn þ pd n Þ  g½sfn þ d f d n pð1  pÞ @wn X wi ½sin þ d i d n pð1  pÞ  l þ ln ¼ 0 g



Imagine a perfectly safe location. Call this location s. This would be one with all the s’s and ds equal to zero. Eq. (12) would reduce to ms ¼ l  ls and as long as this location had some storage we would have ls ¼ 0. Hence the value of l is the negative of the net cost of storage in a completely riskless environment, l ¼ ms . Now let us compare two locations, m and n with nWm. lm ¼ ðmm þ pd m Þ þ g½sfm þ d f d m pð1  pÞ þ g


wi ½sim þ d i d m pð1  pÞ  l


(13) ln ¼ ðmn þ pd n Þ þ g½sfn þ d f d n pð1  pÞ þ g


wi ½sin þ d i d n pð1  pÞ  l


(14) We are interested in what conditions must exit so that ln 40, that is, so that the nonzero constraint at n is binding. Let us assume that lm ¼ 0, so that some maize is stored at location m. Subtracting Eqs. (13) from (14) gives: ln ¼ ½mn  mm þ pðd n  d m Þ þ g½sfn  sfm þ d f ðd n  d m Þpð1  pÞ X wi ½sin  sim þ d i ðd n  d m Þpð1  pÞ þg i

Regrouping terms: " ln ¼ ðmn  mm Þ þ ðd n  d m Þp 1 þ gð1  pÞ d f þ " þ gpð1  pÞ sfn  sfm þ

X i

# wi ðsin  sim Þ

X i

!# wi d i



We make the following definitions: X  p½1 þ gð1  pÞðd f þ


w d Þ and i i i X w ðs  sim Þ Y  gpð1  pÞ½sfn  sfm þ i i in We also define Df ij as the difference operator for a function f evaluated at locations i and j, that is, fifj. We get: ln ¼ Dmnm þ Dd nm X þ Y Since the only difference between the average losses at the two locations is the transport cost, we can rewrite this as (15)

ln ¼ Dtnm þ Dd nm X þ Y

Suppose nWm. Since the transport cost is rising in i, Dtnm 40. Similarly, we have Dd nm o0. The location of any other optimal storage locations depends on the 2nd differences of the transport and incursion loss functions. Fig. 3 illustrates a general case. Because of the relative shapes of the t and d functions, two storage locations are used: m and p. n is not used. Without further assumptions about the relative shapes of t(i) and d(i), we cannot make any more general statements. If the t(i) and d(i) functions are linear, then li will be a linear function of i. There are three possible cases in this situation. (1) li is rising in i, in which i

i m

Fig. 3.



Illustration of Lagrange Multipliers for Various Locations.

Simple Financial Economic Models of Prehistoric Fremont Maize Storage


case all storage will be at the lowest indexed location (the valley floor). (2) li is falling in i, in which case all storage will be at the highest indexed location. (3) li is constant at zero, in which case all storage locations will be used.

A SPECIAL CASE As a special case consider what would happen if there were only two locations. 1 is the valley floor with m1 ¼ s and d 1 ¼ d40 and 2 is the cliffs with m2 ¼ s þ t and d 2 ¼ 0. Further assume that d f ¼ 0. These assumptions reduce Eq. (13) to t  pd ¼ gðw2 dÞpð1  pÞd


We can solve for p in the cases where w2 ¼ 0 and w2 ¼ 1 to get limits on p. However, in order to do this we need to know the values of g; t and d. g is the coefficient of risk aversion. We calibrate this based on studies of other societies at roughly similar levels of development.7 Values between 1.0 and 5.0 are common in this literature. We try 2.0 as a ballpark estimate. d is the proportion of maize stored on the valley floor lost if an incursion occurs. We set this to 50% and view the probabilities of an incursion we back out accordingly. t is the cost of transporting maize to location n, along with any spoilage costs. This cost is expressed as a proportion of the maize transported. We normalize units using 1 bushel of maize, which is approximately the volume of a typical burden basket used by Native American women to haul plant foods and loads of materials.8 The use of these baskets by the Range Creek Fremont is certain, as large fragments from a Fremont burden basket were recovered from a cache under a ledge near several granaries in the lower canyon.9 There is an extensive literature on caloric costs beginning with Phillips (1954) and Abrams (1989). More recent work related to longer distance transport cost in the U.S. Southwest and Mesoamerica include Drennan (1984) and Malville (2001). Simms (1987) presents detailed values for caloric costs of various activities in which the Range Creek inhabitants likely engaged. We use these numbers extensively in our analysis. Barlow (2002) notes that the caloric content of a bushel is 25.2 kg/bu  3550 kcal/kg ¼ 89460 kcal/bu. The caloric cost of transporting 1 bushel will depend on the weight of the individual and the maize as well as the distance and elevation gain. A reasonable range for adult weights of Fremont individuals is 100–160 lbs. Studies of calories expended for individuals weighing 130 (the average of our range) for various exercises give: 150/hour



for light housecleaning, 650/hour for rock climbing and 475 kcal per hour for rappelling.10 A good ballpark figure for the additional caloric cost of moving a basket of maize to a granary would be 600 kcal per hour going uphill loaded with maize11 and 300 kcal per hour going downhill with an empty basket.12 Assuming half an hour to ascend to the granary and 15 minutes to descend the total caloric expenditure would be 375 kcal beyond that expended in normal activity. We use this as the cost to move the maize up to the granary. The cost to move it back down is calculated as half an hour at 500 kcal per hour13 (climbing up with an empty basket) and 15 minutes at 400 kcal per hour14 (climbing back down with a full basket), for a total excess caloric expenditure of 350 kcal. In addition, time spend moving maize is time not available for foraging or other activities. The 1.5 hours required per load (up and down) implies a excess caloric cost of 5000 kcal given the next best use of time is foraging for seasonally available indigenous foods. Plant foods such as Indian rice-grass, Great Basin wildrye, pine nuts or cattail roots yield 300 to 6000 Kcal per hour. Hunting for gophers or cottontail rabbits yields 9000 to 11,000 kcal per hour. We know that these were economic activities that Fremont Indians in Range Creek pursued, as we have clear archaeological evidence. Several liters of seeds of Indian rice-grass and Great Basin wildrye were actually found winnowed and parched in one Range Creek granary, radiocarbon dated to 1000 years ago.15 We use a rough midrange value of 3000 kcal per hour for the opportunity cost and conduct sensitivity analysis using values of 1500 kcal and 6000 kcal in our tables. For our baseline case, the total caloric cost of 5000 kcal implies a cost per calorie stored of 5.6%. Hence, we set g ¼ 2:0, d ¼ :5, t ¼ :056 and solve Eq. (16) for p. If maize is stored both on the valley floor and in granaries on the cliffs, the value of p must lie somewhere between 5.0% and 8.3%. The decision on where to store can be summarized as:  For po5:0%, store only on the valley floor.  For 5:0%opo8:3%, store both on the valley floor and in granaries on the cliffs.  For 8:3%op, store only in granaries on the cliffs. These numbers depend crucially on the values of g, d and t chosen. Table 1 shows the results of sensitivity analysis. The rows correspond to four different values of g: .5, 1.0, 2.0 and 5.0. The first column is our baseline where d ¼ .5 and t ¼ 1.5 hours. The second column assumes a higher transport cost of t ¼ 3.0. The third column assumes a higher incursion loss of 95%. The 4th column assumes both a higher transport cost and a higher


Simple Financial Economic Models of Prehistoric Fremont Maize Storage

Sensitivity Analysis for Implied Threat Probabilities from a One-Period Model.

Table 1.


Higher Transport Cost

Higher Incursion Loss


Lower Foraging Yield

Higher Foraging Yield

Transport hours Incursion loss Foraging yield



















Implied threat Upper Lower g ¼ 0.5 Lower g¼1 Lower g¼2 Lower g¼5

probabilities 8.3% 17.1% 6.3% 13.1%

1.9% 0.8%

4.0% 1.6%

4.5% 3.4%

16.2% 12.4%



















Foraging yields are in kcal/hour.

incursion loss. We also check for sensitivity to the opportunity cost of time by using a foraging return of 1500 kcal per hour in column 5 and 6000 kcal per hour in the final column.

Sensitivity Analysis for Implied Threat Probabilities from a One-Period Model The probabilities associated with at least some storage in granaries range from a low of 0.3% (with a high incursion loss, a low transport cost, and high risk aversion) to a high of 13.3% (with a low incursion cost, high transport cost, and low risk aversion). The probabilities associated with exclusive storage in granaries range from 1.9% to 17.3% for the same cases as above, though risk aversion does not have any effect on these values. With the possible exception of the case of high transport costs and low incursion losses, and the case of high foraging yields, the implied probabilities of external threat seem quite low. This indicates that even



quite small levels of threat would make it worthwhile to store maize in granaries on the cliff walls.

A MULTIPERIOD MODEL OF GRANARY CONSTRUCTION Our analysis this far has abstracted from the cost of constructing granaries. This analysis would be correct if the granaries already existed. However, costs would be higher if it were necessary to construct the granary as well as transport maize to it. The cost of constructing a granary, like that of transporting maize, consists of two types of costs: the direct additional caloric cost of moving the materials to the granary site and the opportunity cost of the time spent building the granary. In the case of the granary, however, these costs are fixed costs. The construction costs are fixed regardless of the amount of grain actually stored, though clearly larger granaries would be both more expensive to construct and would hold more maize. The cost of maintaining a granary, mainly yearly repairs, would depend on how frequently it was used, but would still be independent of the amount of maize stored in any given year. Let the caloric cost of transporting the raw materials to the granary site plus the opportunity cost of time spent building the granary be G. Similarly, let the transport cost of materials and the opportunity cost of time spent for repair each year be H. Finally, let the useful lifetime of the granary be denoted T. The most common granaries in Range Creek are groups of cylindrical or D-shaped, top-loading granaries built into cliffs. These are usually found in groups of two to five with accretional construction incorporating the adjacent walls of earlier granary chambers, rather than all granaries being built at the same time.16 Construction materials that must be hauled up the cliff to build them, per typical granary chamber, include 8 to 15 courses of large, unshaped sandstone slabs, one to three basketloads of wet adobe or mud to act as mortar for the slabs to seal the circular shaped sandstone granary lid, and four to eight structural timbers approximately 1.6 to 1.8 m long by 4 to 8 cm in diameter. As an initial parameterization we assume this cost is 1750 kcal. That is, the caloric cost of preparing and transporting the materials is the same as the cost of transporting five burden baskets of maize to the site.17 The opportunity cost of building the granary is assumed to be 3000 kcal per hour as before. We assume as an initial guess that constructing a granary

Simple Financial Economic Models of Prehistoric Fremont Maize Storage


took two people two 12-hour days of work.18 This gives 48 hours of effort at 3000 kcal for a total opportunity cost of 144,000. The total construction cost is thus, G ¼ 145,750. Maintenance costs would have been a fraction of this figure, probably requiring only a few hours each year. We assume 4 hours or one-twelfth cost for H ¼ 12,146. Construction and maintenance costs will vary with the size of the granary. We have assumed a capacity of 20 bushels (a typical value for Range Creek) when choosing our numbers above. We denote the caloric storage capacity of the granary as Q. In order for construction of a granary to make economic sense the discounted expected benefit over the life of the granary must exceed the sum of the construction cost plus the discounted expected maintenance and transportation costs. Keeping the assumption of only two locations from the third section, denote the cost and benefit of building a granary as K and B, respectively. ( ) T X i1 K ¼GþE b ðH þ QVðiÞtÞ ( B¼E

i¼1 T X



) pðiÞdQVðiÞ


Here b is the subjective rate of time preference, V(i) is the percent of granary capacity used in period i, and p(i) is the probability of an incursion in period i. Our risk-averse farmers lose s  pd  ðg=2Þ½s21 þ pð1  pÞd 2  in utility for every unit of maize transferred from the valley floor. They gain s  t  pd  ðg=2Þs22 in utility for every unit transferred to the new granary. Since s21 ¼ s22 ¼ 0, they have the following additional utility if the granary is built: D¼

T X i¼1

n o g bi1 QVðiÞ pðiÞd  t þ pðiÞ½1  pðiÞd 2  G þ H 2


If we assume the incursion probability is constant over time, that the granary is filled to capacity every year, and that the effective life of the granary (with proper maintenance) is infinite,19 then Eq. (17) becomes: D¼

Q½pd  t þ ðg=2Þpð1  pÞd 2  GþH 1b


2 3000

8.1% 10.0% 15.9% 17.8% 16.7% 16.7% 24.8% 24.8%

7.1% 8.8% 14.0% 15.8% 14.7% 14.7% 22.0% 22.0%

5.7% 7.0% 11.3% 12.7% 11.8% 11.8% 17.8% 17.8%

3.5% 7.3%

T ¼ infinity T¼1

T ¼ infinity T¼1

T ¼ infinity T¼1

T ¼ infinity T¼1

2 3000

Foraging yields are in kcal/hour.

4.3% 7.0% 7.8% 7.3% 11.0% 11.0%

2 3000

50% 3.0

2 3000

50% 3.0

50% 1.5


50% 1.5




Higher Transport Cost

0.3% 0.5%

0.5% 1.1%

0.9% 1.8%

1.2% 2.6%

2 3000

95% 1.5


0.3% 0.5%

0.7% 1.1%

1.1% 1.8%

1.5% 2.6%

2 3000

95% 1.5


Higher Incursion Loss

1.9% 3.7%


3.0% 6.0%


2.3% 3.7%

3.7% 6.0%

4.6% 7.5%

5.3% 8.6%

2 1500

g¼1 3.8% 7.5%

0.7 50% 1.5

g ¼ 0.5 4.3% 8.6%

2 1500

50% 1.5


Lower Foraging Yield

7.0% 15.2%

11.4% 24.7%

14.1% 30.3%

16.0% 33.7%

2 6000

50% 1.5


4 3000

50% 1.5


4 3000

50% 1.5


Higher Construction Cost

1 3000

50% 1.5


1 3000

50% 1.5


Lower Construction Cost

8.8% 3.9% 5.6% 15.2% 11.8% 11.8%

14.2% 6.3% 9.1% 24.7% 19.1% 19.1%

3.3% 5.2%

5.3% 8.4%

3.7% 5.2%

6.0% 8.4%

17.6% 7.9% 11.3% 6.7% 7.5% 30.3% 23.6% 23.6% 10.4% 10.4%

19.9% 9.0% 12.8% 7.6% 8.6% 33.7% 26.5% 26.5% 11.9% 11.9%

2 6000

50% 1.5


Higher Foraging Yield

Sensitivity Analysis for Implied Threat Probabilities from a MultiPeriod Model.

Discount factor Incursion loss Transport hours Days Foraging


Table 2.

Simple Financial Economic Models of Prehistoric Fremont Maize Storage


We need to find the value of p that makes D greater than zero. That is, find the threat probability for which it makes sense to build and maintain a granary. This is found by solving the following quadratic equation. h g i h i g  Qd 2 p2 þ Qd þ Qd 2 p  ½ðH  GÞð1  bÞ  Qt40 (19) 2 2 At the other extreme, if the planned life of the granary is only one year, then Eq. (17) becomes: n o g D ¼ Q pd  t þ pð1  pÞd 2  G þ H (20) 2 And the critical values of p are found by solving Eq. (21). h g i h i g  Qd 2 p2 þ Qd þ Qd 2 p  ½H  G  Qt40 2 2


The solutions to Eqs. (19) and (21) are given in Table 2 for a variety of parameter values. As before, we consider values of g equal to .5, 1.0, 2.0 and 5.0. We also consider values of b equal to .9 and .7. The first two columns correspond to our baseline case discussed above. The second pair of columns corresponds to a higher transport cost. The third pair corresponds to the case of greater loss should an incursion occur. The fourth and fifth pairs correspond to low and high foraging yields, respectively. The sixth set of columns assumes a construction cost twice as high as the baseline, and the final pair of columns assumes this cost is half the baseline. Sensitivity Analysis for Implied Threat Probabilities from a MultiPeriod Model As before, the perceived threat levels are all fairly low. For the high incursion loss case, the probabilities need only be 3% or less in order to make building a granary worthwhile. Even the most pessimistic cases, where risk aversion is low and (1) the cost of construction is high, (2) the transport cost is high, or (3) the opportunity costs of foraging are high, have perceived threats of only one in three or four.

CONCLUSION This chapter has used a simple one-period financial model and a simple multiperiod economic production model to assess the probability of external



raids on the stored maize of Fremont Indian farmers living in eastern Utah between AD 300 and 1300. We have roughly calibrated the model based on observed granaries in Range Creek, but similar granaries are found throughout the Fremont culture region, and some of the areas to the south occupied by farmers in the Pueblo region. We find fairly low levels of threat can rationalize the building of granaries high on the side of canyons. In the case of existing granaries a threat in the range of 2% to 10% could have been enough to make transporting maize from the valley floor to higher elevations worth the cost. If the granaries did not exist and needed to be constructed first, we find threats in the range of 5% to 20% could have been sufficient. Our model is appropriate if the only advantage of a granary is reducing losses due to external theft or robbery. However, the model could easily be modified to include two other explanations: construction/storage advantages of cliff granaries and the need to control maize distribution within the farming group. A construction or storage advantage on cliff granaries due to pestimpenetrable walls, for example, would only lower the threat necessary for higher elevation granary storage to make economic sense. It is possible that if this advantage were large enough, maize would have been stored here even if the external threat were zero. Unfortunately, we have little in the way of data to indicate how large this construction/storage advantage might actually have been, making it impossible to incorporate these numbers into our calculations. Our model could be easily modified to include internal as well as external threats. If the main objective of granaries was to deter filching of maize by members of the community or family that stored the maize, we could still model the losses as we have in this chapter. The challenge would be to quantify the losses to the decision maker(s). If grain was taken by members of the farming group it need not have been the same as the complete loss when grain was stolen by outsiders. What does seem likely for the Range Creek Fremont is that storage of maize in cliff granaries made sense economically, even at low levels of expected confrontation or raids from people outside the small farming communities or families that stored the maize. The cliff granaries aided in the defense of the maize from theft by ‘‘outsiders,’’ perhaps from Fremont foragers and horticulturists living in mobile, roving bands in nearby Desolation Canyon or the Tavaputs Plateau, perhaps from other, less successful Fremont farmers who lived in nearby communities, or, though

Simple Financial Economic Models of Prehistoric Fremont Maize Storage


less likely, perhaps even contemporary people from the Great Basin or nearby Puebloan cultures.

NOTES 1. See Barlow (2006). 2. See Barlow, Towner, and Salzer (2008) and Barlow (2010). 3. We refer to the storage of maize throughout the chapter because virtually every granary in Range Creek shows evidence of storing maize. However, we note also that there is direct evidence that other naturally occurring grass seeds from plants such as wild Indian rice-grass and Great Basin wildrye were also stored in some granaries. The type of food and its method of production (i.e., farming or foraging) are irrelevant to our analysis that concentrates solely on storage. 4. See, for example Monterosso et al. (1985) and Benirschka and Binkley (1995). 5. See Markowitz (1952a, 1952b, 1959). 6. Many granaries are accessible today only with the use of technical climbing gear. 7. See, for example, Binswanger (1980) and Moscardi and de Janvry (1977). Values for g appear to be only mildly responsive to increases in levels of GDP per capita and the values we use are reasonable for modern developed economies and less developed economies. Based on this observed robustness, we believe they would apply to the Fremont as well. 8. Barlow, Henriksen, and Metcalfe (1993). 9. Barlow, Towner, and Salzer (2008). 10. http://www.nutristrategy.com/activitylist4.htm 11. 650 kcal/hour from rock climbing effort, plus an additional 100 kcal/hour from the extra weight of the maize, less 150 kcal/hour that would have been expended in some alternative activity. 12. 450 kcal/hour from walking downhill, less 150 kcal/hour. 13. 100 kcal/hour less than going uphill with a full load. 14. 100 kcal/hour more than going downhill with an empty basket. 15. See Simms (1987) and Barlow (2006) for details. Figures there are reported as postencounter caloric net gains, and do not include search costs. Postencounter gains are very high for large mammals such as deer and bighorn sheep. We can be close to certain these were hunted from depictions of such hunts in local rock art of Fremont origin. In addition, archaeologists have recovered 1200 to 1000-year-old bones of bighorn sheep, cottontail, and jackrabbits from Fremont pithouse villages, as well as bones of elk and mountain lion. The time spent finding such prey was much higher than that spent finding other forms of food. We have chosen caloric gains for foods that would have required relatively little search time. We compute our model with higher and lower values of foraging yields as well and report these results in Table 1. 16. Barlow et al. (2008) 17. We are assuming roughly two loads of clay carried from the valley floor and two loads of stone carried from closer locations, but weighing more, plus the equivalent of one load of maize for transport of wood of various types.



18. We are implicitly assuming that the caloric expenditure for building a granary is the same as that spent foraging and hunting yielding the net opportunity cost above. We include sensitivity checks on this value in Table 2. 19. Given these granaries are still standing today, this assumption is not as unreasonable as it may first seem.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS Comments from many readers are greatly appreciated, including Joel Janetski, David Yoder, Steven Simms, an anonymous referee, and the participants at the 2010 Workshop of the Quantitative Society for Pensions and Saving at Utah State University.

REFERENCES Abrams, P. A. (1989). Life history and the relationship between food availability and foraging effort. Ecology, 72, 1242–1252. Barlow, K. R. (2002). Predicting maize agriculture among the Fremont: An economic comparison of farming and foraging in the American Southwest. American Antiquity, 67, 65–88. Barlow, K. R. (2006). A formal model for predicting agriculture among the Fremont. In D. J. Kennett & B. Winterhalder (Eds.), Foraging theory and the transition to agriculture. Berkeley: University of California Press. Barlow, K. R. (2010). Farming and foraging in Range Creek: Shifting strategies of maize cultivation, residential mobility and remote storage in cliff granaries among the Fremont of the Northern Colorado Plateau. Mimeo. Barlow, K. R., Henriksen, P. R., & Metcalfe, D. (1993). Estimating load size in the Great Basin: Data from conical burden baskets. Utah Archaeology, 6, 27–37. Barlow, K. R., Towner, R. H., & Salzer, M. W. (2008). The Fremont granaries of Range Creek: Defensive maize storage on the Northern Colorado Plateau. Mimeo. Benirschka, M., & Binkley, J. K. (1995). Optimal storage and marketing over space and time. American Journal of Agricultural Economics, 77, 512–524. Binswanger, H. P. (1980). Attitudes toward risk: Experimental measurement in rural India. American Journal of Agricultural Economics, 62, 395–407. Drennan, R. D. (1984). Long-distance transport costs in pre-Hispanic Mesoamerica. American Anthropologist, 86, 105–112. Malville, N. J. (2001). Long-distance transport of bulk goods in the pre-Hispanic American Southwest. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, 20, 230–243. Markowitz, H. M. (1952a). Portfolio selection. Journal of Finance, 7, 77–91. Markowitz, H. M. (1952b). The utility of wealth. Journal of Political Economy, 60, 151–158. Markowitz, H. M. (1959). Portfolio selection: Efficient diversification of investments. New York, NY: Wiley. McCloskey, D. N., & Nash, J. (1984). Corn at interest: The extent and cost of grain storage in medieval England. American Economic Review, 74, 174–187.

Simple Financial Economic Models of Prehistoric Fremont Maize Storage


Monterosso, C. D. B., et al. (1985). Grain storage in developing areas: Location and size of facilities. American Journal of Agricultural Economics, 67, 101–111. Moscardi, E., & de Janvry, A. (1977). Attitudes toward risk among peasants: An econometric approach. American Journal of Agricultural Economics, 59, 710–716. Nielsen, R. (1997). Storage and English government intervention in early modern grain markets. The Journal of Economic History, 57, 1–33. Phillips, P. G. (1954). The metabolic cost of common West African agricultural activities. Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, 57, 12–20. Simms, S. R. (1987). Behavioral ecology and hunter-gatherer foraging. Oxford: BAR International Series 381.


OF COYOTES, CROSSINGS, AND COOPERATION: SOCIAL CAPITAL AND WOMEN’S MIGRATION AT THE MARGINS OF THE STATE Anna Ochoa O’Leary ABSTRACT 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 migrationrelated social capital. The narratives of repatriated women collected

Political Economy, Neoliberalism, and the Prehistoric Economies of Latin America Research in Economic Anthropology, Volume 32, 133–160 Copyright r 2012 by Emerald Group Publishing Limited All rights of reproduction in any form reserved ISSN: 0190-1281/doi:10.1108/S0190-1281(2012)0000032010




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. Keywords: Social capital; migration; smuggling; border enforcement; violence

INTRODUCTION In this chapter I examine some of the properties of social capital through the particular conditions faced by migrant women as they cross into the United States from Mexico without official authorization. Fundamental in this exercise is an understanding of the tenets of social capital and to examine them in this specific context. Unlike the analysis of the process of immigrant settlement in destination communities where the positive workings of social capital have been highly venerated, social capital’s utility for accessing critical resources needed for border crossing has been less explored. A rare exception comes by way of data collected by the Mexican Migration Project in the mid-1990s (Singer & Massey, 1998). Since then border enforcement has intensified and the percentage of women migrating has increased. Both of these developments increasingly challenge the muchcelebrated problem-solving power of social capital. After a brief review of how social capital frameworks have been applied to the study of immigration and migration, I proceed to summaries of the political and historical bases for the research, and then the research itself. Subsequently, I consider issues raised by social capital theorists as they apply to the migration of women, and in particular, to their bordercrossing experiences. The narratives of repatriated women on the border in

Of Coyotes, Crossings, and Cooperation


2006–2007, are used to discuss social capital when it matters most: in the context of a high-stakes crossing into the United States without documentation. Using this context to push the limits of analysis, so to speak, I explore some of the main ideas outlined by several theorists of social capital. Specifically, I ground my arguments in the structural dimensions of migration that has great bearing on our understanding of how, as a ‘‘resource for action,’’ social capital is not equally available to all (Coleman, 1988, p. S95; Foley & Edwards, 1997); and, how with greater migration of women (Donato, 1994; already-vulnerable female migrant populations are disproportionately impacted, putting them at greater risk than men of harm, violence, and death. In this way, I follow Silvey and Elmhirst (2003, p. 876) who argue that Questions about gender have the potential to transform conceptual tools, because gender norms are not only part of the context of social capital formation, but they are also a key part of that which structures the meanings of social capital for particular groups and individuals.

Secondly, I consider the impact that increased border enforcement has had on the transformation of social relationships from those premised on cooperation and reciprocity, to those premised on impersonal economic exchange. Undocumented migration has for many years been a divisive political issue in the United States but mounting political clamor has led to the development of the Southwest Border Strategy1 in 1993. This resulted in tighter control of well-established urban crossing areas by U.S. border enforcement agencies and subsequent redirection of migrant traffic toward the remote Sonora desert areas of Arizona (Cornelius, 2001; Eschbach, Hagan, Rodriguez, Herna´ndez-Leo´n, & Bailey, 1999; Nevins, 2007). However, until the work by Singer and Massey (1998), little empirical data existed about how migrants still make their way across well-guarded international borders despite the heavy-handed efforts to deter them. With the escalation of border enforcement (especially since 9/11), I consider how increased border enforcement policies contribute to the transformation of the socioeconomic environment resulting in an increased reliance on the service of smugglers to cross into the United States without authorization. I rely on Coleman’s (1988) discussion of open and closed social structures and their implication for accessing resources that are vital for migrants who come from outside the border region. Depicted in Fig. 1, closed social structures (b) enable members (A–C) – bound by their personal relationships (represented by the line that connect each upper case letter) – to exert pressure upon others to conform to norms. In societies where collective responsibility is the norm, the rights of individuals to demand


Fig. 1.


Open (a) and Closed (b) Societies. Source: Coleman, (1988, p. S106).

redress for offenses is respected. However, when societies are allowed to exert too much control over its members, the development of external relationships may be discouraged, and lower levels of social capital develop (Gramajo, 2007). On the border, closed social structures work in this way to benefit clandestine activities and the organization of smuggling rings. Conceptually, mafia provides a useful parallel to illustrate how closed social structures enhance the control needed to successfully operate illicit border smuggling organizations. Excessive control prevents social capital from developing (Gramajo, 2007). On the border, such closed structures disadvantage migrants who come from great distances as outsiders. In Fig. 1, outsider individuals (D and E), have fewer personal relationships, as shown by the lines between these and other individuals in the grouping. In this way, they are less able to exert pressure on those who they are increasingly reliant for services (e.g., for crossing the border). This process is consistent with a negative leveling of social capital (Coleman, 1993; Gramajo, 2007; Portes, 1998; Portes & Landolt, 1996; Silvey & Elmhirst, 2003). Ultimately, the acclaimed benefits of social capital may keep some segments of society from developing the extra-familial networks needed for human capital development. In this way, an examination of both, the potential good as well as the downside of social capital, expands our understanding of borders in ways that might advance reasoned problem-solving directions. A social capital framework allows us to fathom how great economic disparities are meliorated through transnational linkages. Cyclical migration patterns fueled by labor shortages in core capitalist nations and the underdevelopment of peripheral nations have been reshaped by border security systems that increasingly control the flow of goods, services, raw materials, commerce, and consumption (Tseng, 2007). The growing reliance

Of Coyotes, Crossings, and Cooperation


on human smuggling and its rising cost are the result of this growing enforcement trend. Former commissioner of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), Doris Meissner, predicted that ‘‘[t]he trend will worsen because countries are becoming more enforcement-minded y[as] people who are trying to move will increasingly turn to the professionals who have made the illegal movement of people a thriving business’’ (Foreign Policy, 2002, p. 28): Thus, more integrative analyses – those that ‘‘address the underlying inequities and unmet needs that force people to take such desperate steps’’ (ibid.), remains unincorporated into solutions. As I argue below, growing economic imbalances – between the United States and Mexico, coupled with the intensification of border policing, has subverted the value of human life,2 and long-established cross-border cooperation between nations,3 municipalities,4 institutions,5 commercial interests,6 and border populations in general7 that might provide a more integrated approach to border issues. In this regard, my data offer evidence of the process by which social relationships are replaced by ‘‘professional’’ economic relationships for the purpose of crossing (people and contraband) in an endless game (Donato, Wagner, & Patterson, 2008) – a process that has become more costly and less vested in social relationships. I argue that those charged with smuggling, increasingly motivated by economic incentives, are stripped of reasons to identify with those migrating who increasingly tend to come from economically disadvantaged origins. Once detached from this social reality, coyotes8 – human smugglers – are increasingly influenced and controlled by the lucrative smuggling economy, and succumb to the trend of objectifying migrants that paves the way for their abuse. Smugglers’ allegiance to rings, in essence, works to devalue the commitment to human relations. Resource-poor migrants cannot compete with these attitudes that are antithetical to social capital formation. Thus, with their proximity to the border where heavy-handed enforcement measures are in place, the services of coyotes become increasingly important. Consequently, social capital is undermined resulting in its downward leveling. This trend works to foment social disconnections that ultimately imperil lives (Fig. 2).

SOCIAL CAPITAL According to many scholars, the concept of social capital has suffered from its ambiguity and many interpretations (Foley & Edwards, 1997; Portes, 1998). However, most agree that at the core of the concept is the idea that,



Access +


Distance from the border (sending communities)

Distance from the border (destination communities)

Fig. 2. Schematic Depiction of ‘‘Access’’ and the ‘‘Leveling’’ of Social Capital on the Border, Relative to Nonborder Contexts.

much like economic capital, its value is in some way associated with enhancing or enabling human action and productivity. Considered from a sociological viewpoint, social capital resides within human relationships and is thus defined by the social channels that enable actions through trust, cooperation, and mutual obligation, which benefit individuals or groups. In less advantaged communities that suffer from economic problems and/or the lack of social service infrastructure, the potential gains from cooperative behavior are compelling (Molinas, 1998). Indeed, social capital is regarded as essential in less developed communities who often lack access to the same resources of their more-developed, urban counterparts (Vermaak, 2009). As such, less advantaged communities may rely more heavily on social capital to compensate for lack of infrastructure or job stability. In such conditions, survival is rooted in a strong sense of trust among the society’s members (Gramajo, 2007), including that which is manifested symbolically through gift giving, and other expressions of compassion without apparent expectation of economic reward (Bourdieu, 1986). Social conventions of this nature might appear as wasteful or inefficient in economic terms, but for those societies that observe them, productive and economic development has better chances of flourishing (Vermaak, 2009). However, while exalting social capital’s positive properties and potential for achieving greater productivity and social harmony, it is also important

Of Coyotes, Crossings, and Cooperation


to understand its potential for producing harm (Coleman, 1988, p. S98). Thus, to better understand the concept of social capital, some of its properties and its uses need to be examined within specific contexts as it may not function for all people in the same way.9 Unsurprisingly, over the years, it has been applied to many fields and situations, making almost any type of review of the literature a daunting task. However, a synopsis of how the concept has been applied to migration helps illustrate some of its attributes so that these can be re-examined in the context of border crossing.

Social Capital and Immigration Studies of immigrant communities have advanced our understanding of social capital by way of analyzing how social relations aid newcomers in overcoming obstacles once they arrive in destination communities. Thus, this body of research has been critical to mainstreaming an appreciation of the value of social capital in terms of its beneficial outcomes and its connection to the norms that express and manifest cooperative attitudes and behaviors that new immigrants rely upon for survival. Studies routinely point out that social networks grow out family financial needs (Tseng, 2007) and the search jobs (Rees, 2007). For example, Garcia (2005) finds that various social networks work simultaneously to provide new immigrants with crucial information about available jobs and other daily needs such as food, transportation, and housing. Moreover, once networks are established, they tend to become stronger and sustained over time (Rees, 2007). This assessment flows from Coleman’s (1988) explanation of how social capital is generated by networks of relationships. In this way, the positive side of social capital as theorized by Coleman (p. 101) is fully appreciated by its beneficial attributes. Because of the potential of networks to transform social connections into increasingly tangible resources, newcomers may openly acknowledge their desires to belong to the donor group (Garcia, 2005). Coleman’s outline of the process is made clear: Social capital is purposeful and rational, enabling individuals in their acquisition of human capital (skills, experience), which in turn, enables the acquisition of material capital (property, tools, wealth),10 as Table 1 illustrates. The foregoing model holds in studies by Singer and Massey (1998), and Massey, Durand, and Riosmena (2006) where migrants are shown to follow its path to resources with repeat migration. In other words, migrationspecific social capital leads to the accumulation of useful knowledge and skills (migration-specific human capital) that makes subsequent crossings



Table 1. Types of Resources Ranging from Less to More Tangible Forms. Less Tangible Social capital Norms premised on cooperation, social cohesion, and orientations that serve the collective good.

More Tangible Human capital Skills, experience, information

Capital Property, tools, financial wealth

Source: Coleman (1988).

more efficient, less risky, and more productive. In this way, social capital has facilitated the transnational movement of labor (Tseng, 2007). Once in their destination communities, migrants are likely to acquire jobs, through which they acquire material assets that may allow them to acquire even more human capital and so on. In sum, the presence of a critical mass of tangible resources within the network will enable and accelerate the economic advancement and well-being of those who are less advantaged. In a concluding footnote to this section, it is important to point out that due to growing anti-immigrant fervor in migrant destinations—usually in more developed countries such as the United States (Rees, 2007; see also Tseng, 2007), migrants are increasingly encountering more difficult social conditions. Greater hostilities and discriminatory policies have increasingly weakened immigrants’ labor rights, social welfare support (O’Leary & Sanchez, 2011; Rees, 2007; Tseng, 2007), community support (Tseng, 2007), impeded their attainment of high-quality human capital and material resources (Fernandez-Kelly, 1998, p. 88), and increased their dependency, isolation, and segregation (Rees, 2007).

THE ‘‘DOWNSIDE’’ OF SOCIAL CAPITAL As previously noted, the acclaimed benefits of social capital have been viewed with critical circumspection by social theorists such as Coleman (1988, 1993), Portes (1998); and Portes and Landolt (1996). Depending on its context, social capital may also contribute to negative outcomes. These outcomes may be defined by the differential access to resources that undermines the agency of already-disadvantaged segments of society, and increase their dependency (see, e.g., Gonza´lez, 2009). Outcomes determined by ‘‘open’’ or ‘‘closed’’ social structures – while positive in some contexts – can also be harmful at times. In this regard, an examination

Of Coyotes, Crossings, and Cooperation


of ‘‘negative’’ social capital (Gramajo, 2007, p. 218) is no less powerful as an analytical tool and may illuminate the path toward reasoned problemsolving approaches (Vermaak, 2009). Differential Access and Emergent Dependency Portes’s (1998) and Portes and Landolt’s (1996) critical view of social capital begins with the premise that in much the same way that other forms of capital are differently available, social capital, too, is not equally available to all. It follows then that in the context of migration, social capital depends in part on geography and the socio-economic origin of migrants. For migrants from traditional sending states of west and central Mexico (Guanajuato, Zacatecas, Jalisco, and Michoaca´n) with migration patterns established since the 1950s, access to migration-related social capital has not only positively predicted movement from rural Mexican communities to the United States, but also the accumulation of social capital (Fussell, 2004). The accumulation of social capital over time in both sending and destination sites is an important positive outcome (Massey et al., 2006; Herna´ndez Vega, 2006). It has facilitated both legal and undocumented immigration, transnational business enterprises (Fussell, 2004, Gramajo, 2007), remittances (Herna´ndez Vega, 2006), and transnational political and civic organization (Cano & De´lano, 2007; Goldring, 2002; Herna´ndez Vega, 2006; Montero-Sieburth, 2007; Zabı´ n & Escala, 2002). In contrast, for migrants coming from the more recent sending states since the 1990s (those from the south and central parts of Mexico when neoliberal policies disrupted economies where subsistence-based agriculture dominated),11 social capital accumulation that over time reduces costs and risks has been undermined (Gramajo, 2007). Migrants from nontraditional states are thus more likely to migrate as ‘‘undocumented,’’ possess lower levels of human capital (Fussell, 2004), are less able to afford the costs associated with migration, are more likely to migrate less frequently, and are more likely to be novices (Massey et al., 2006). These mitigating factors undermine the accumulation of social capital and put migrants at greater risk when crossing the border. Singer and Massey (1998, pp. 565–566) describe this best when they write: y [F]or first-time migrants, the border looms a threatening, dangerous, and hostile place. The histories, letters, testimonials, and paintings are replete with tales of suffering and victimization experienced while crossing the border: migrants get lost in the desert and nearly die of thirst; they almost drown while swimming the Rio Grande; they are robbed, beaten, or raped by criminals; they are hit by cars on highways; they are extorted



by Mexican police; they are defrauded by unscrupulous border smugglers; they are forced to crawl, run, or jump through hazardous terrain; they are mistreated by Border Patrol agents or beat up by vigilantes; they are arrested, jailed, and summarily deported.

The role of social capital, embodied by networks of support, is key for tapping into the knowledge held by social relations who help by providing information – and the basis for action (Coleman, 1988, p. 104). However, where networks are thin, dependency on human smugglers and the information they can provide becomes more prevalent. The critical need to forge alliances and dependencies with strangers is further compounded by the proportionately greater needs of those who are the most economically disadvantaged – for food, lodging, and information (O’Leary, 2009c). Needed information may prove to be costly, resulting in debt to those who provide information. Family members assume this debt, paid over the months and years after the successful crossing. Greater dependency on human smugglers also stems from that fact that for resource-poor migrants, legal entry into the United States is nearly impossible. Typically, they are unable to provide authorities with proof of economic stability (e.g., paycheck stubs to prove employment status, copies of utility bills) and material wealth (e.g., tax statements for proof of property ownership and bank accounts) that are required for a work visa.12 Although eventual remittances might contribute to a measure of economic stability in sending communities, in general, and when contrasted to those from urban and semi-urban areas, migrants from rural, agricultural-based economies in Mexico are less able to invest in their communities of origin (Basok, 2000), which would help facilitate an accumulation of social and human capital that would reduce dependency.

SOCIAL CAPITAL AND WOMEN’S MIGRATION Gendered analyses of social capital are less researched. Similar to Garcia (2005), Wilson (2009) examines how attitudes that reflect a value on cooperation and obligation result in behaviors and actions that institutionalize social networks that aid women in the process of migration and settlement. These social networks may extend over distance, across international borders and over prolonged periods of time. In Wilson’s analysis, social networks are seen as enabling women’s agency – allowing them to migrate, settle, and engage in productive activities through kin-mediated networks of support. It is through these networks that we come to understand the ways that social relations give shape to a gendered capacity to turn

Of Coyotes, Crossings, and Cooperation


social capital into other forms of capital, such as the accumulation of property in unregulated colonias – irregular residential settlements, usually lacking adequate essential infrastructure (Wilson, 2009). However, Granberry and Marcelli (2007) find that for women, accessing extra-familial networks is potentially reduced. Their quantitative analysis of Mexican immigrants in Los Angeles County suggests that men accumulate more social capital than women because they have additional opportunities to develop relationships outside the family and neighborhood. Moreover, because women’s networks are more likely to be kin-mediated, they may accumulate less social capital (Granberry & Marcelli, 2007). This is also an example of how closed social structures might differentially limit human and social capital development for some segments of a society (see also Gramajo, 2007). These conclusions are consistent with the findings of Hellermann (2006) and Silvey and Elmhirst (2003). In the context of migrant women from Eastern Europe in Portugal, Hellermann (2006) argues that through kin-mediated social capital and social networking women become more enmeshed in broader mechanisms of social control. Silvey and Elmhirst (2003) assert that as long as networks are seen as resources, gendered patterns of discrimination will insure that women will continue to remain excluded from accessing the more powerful forms of resources readily available to men. In Indonesia, for example, women’s continued embeddedness in their rural family networks often means that families and husbands can exert social pressure on wives and daughters. By imposing more gender-specific burdens, heightening parental control, and reinforcing gender-specific tensions around sexual morality, women’s mobility and self-promoting behaviors are constrained, resulting in their exclusion from resources. In this way, the ‘‘good’’ properties of social capital that emphasize responsibility, obligation, and social cohesion, may be ‘‘bad’’ for women by worsening inequalities that disadvantage them more (ibid.), resulting in potentially oppressive ‘‘downside’’ or a ‘‘downward leveling’’ effect of social capital (Portes, 1998).

Women Migrants and High Stakes Border Crossing Issues of differentiated access and deepening dependency assume new importance with the increased participation of women in the global labor market and are best examined in the context of neoliberal restructuring that has fueled the feminization of poverty, and the feminization of migration (Marchand & Runyan, 2000; Monteverde Garcı´ a, 2004). To be sure, with the implementation of harsher border security measures since 1993, women



are also confronting the trends that make migration increasingly hazardous and even deadly (Cornelius, 2001, 2005; Hagan & Phillips, 2008; Hinkes, 2008; Meneses, 2003; Nevins, 2007; Goldsmith, McCormick, Martinez, & Duarte, 2006). Related to the surge in mobility and subsequent risk, are the increases in the cost of migrating safely (O’Leary, 2009c), and as I argue here, the marked importance of social capital for meliorating the hardships that result from high stakes border crossing. For women, the adverse consequences of hardened border enforcement have been documented in a wide variety of ways. Based on human remains recovered in the desert dating from 1991, a study by Goldsmith and colleagues (Goldsmith, et al., 2006) shows that when controlling for age (up to 18 years of age), women were 2.67 times more likely to die of exposure than all other causes of death when compared to men. Subsequent research suggests an explanation of this finding: Perceived as liabilities, women assume the greater risk of abandonment in the desert by their guides, which dramatically increases the probability of death (O’Leary, 2008, 2009a). Other dangers inherent in the migration process were brought to the public’s attention in March of 2007 with an outbreak of armed violence in Arizona, allegedly between rival bands of human smugglers. Five undocumented immigrants were killed in these incidents, two of who were women (Quinn & McCombs, 2007). Since 1993 there have also been several high-profile cases of sexual assault of migrant women by border patrol agents. (Cieslak, 2000; Falcon, 2001; Ruiz Marrujo, 2009; Steller, 2001; Urquijo-Ruiz, 2004).These highly publicized cases have been instrumental in raising concerns about the violence and other physical risks migrant women face (see, e.g., the volume by Staudt, Payan, & Kruszewski, 2009). In the spring of 2006, the present study began to systematically document migrant women’s border crossing experiences. Interviews with migrant women provided greater understanding of their encounters with U.S. immigration enforcement agents as well as the broader economic and social environments in which migration takes place. The narratives of migrant women can be used to explore the manifestations of social capital and how enforcement policies contribute to its ‘‘downward leveling’’ that increases human suffering and violence on the border.

The Research The research upon which this article is based was conducted in 2006–2007 at a migrant shelter, Albergue San Juan Bosco, in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico,


Of Coyotes, Crossings, and Cooperation [1] Chiapas, Guerrero, Oaxaca


1.55% 3.10%

[2] Campeche, Hidalgo, Puebla, San Luis Potosí, Tabasco, Veracruz



[3] Durango, Michoacán, Guanajuato, Tlaxcala, Zacatecas



[4] Colima, México, Nayarit, Morelos, Querétaro, Quintana Roo, Yucatán, Sinaloa [5] B. Californa, B. California Sur, Sonora, Tamaulipas, Chihuahua


[6] Aguascalientes, Jalisco, Nuevo León, Coahuila [7] Distrito Federal (DF) 36.43%

Central America


Fig. 3. Distribution of Sample (N ¼ 129) of Interviewees by State of Origin by Development Ranking, from Low (Disadvantaged) to High (Advantaged).

where I interviewed 129 women who had been repatriated by the U.S. Border Patrol. The interviews focused on their border crossing experiences. Like so many other migrant shelters that have sprouted up along the U.S.– Mexico border, Albergue San Juan Bosco is dedicated to the temporary relief of repatriated migrants who upon their release from the custody of U.S. immigration enforcement authorities find themselves without a support system in the area. Amidst growing instability and vulnerability, such shelters provides an important refuge for migrants in transit. An analysis of Mexican primary sending states in terms of the number of emigrants shows that most migrants come from Mexico’s central and southern states with relatively low levels of development based on indicators of ‘‘well being,’’ such as average education level, household infrastructure, and access to health services (INEGI, 2010). Consistent with idea that migration is largely driven by poverty, an overwhelming majority of the sample of women interviewed in my study also came from some of Mexico’s most ‘‘disadvantaged’’ states: 35.7% came from Chiapas, Guerrero, Oaxaca,



ranked as the most disadvantaged according to INEGI (2010), and 37.2% came from Campeche, Hidalgo, Puebla, San Luis Potosı´ , Tabasco, Veracruz (ranked as the second most disadvantaged), for a cumulative percentage total of 72.9 for these two state groupings alone. The resultant distribution of women interviewed by Mexican sending state is presented in Fig. 3. The state of flux in which migrants find themselves is momentarily relieved by the shelter which was inherently challenging for conducting the research. Guests at the shelter typically stay only one to two nights before they either attempt to re-enter the United States or return to their communities of origin. This prevented the establishment of long-term relationships with any interviewee or opportunities for follow up questions. However, conceptualizing the field site as a moment in time also follows Hannerz’ (1998) suggestion for organizing transnational research, where migrants are viewed as somewhere in between two points of reference, rather than at the start or end of their migration journey. It is through this temporary suspension of movement that I now examine the parameters of social capital as one where the processes by which shared norms that promote cooperation are tested. It is here, outside the reaches of normative mechanisms for creating trust and social order that the means of sanctioning harmful behavior is challenged. Such sanctions might prevent a coyote from abandoning his group to a potentially catastrophic fate: hypothermia, hyperthermia, dehydration, or injury. Without a doubt, with the escalation of border militarization, border crossing becomes an increasingly isolated endeavor, where as outsiders, migrants are powerless to claim access to reserves of social capital that might mean the difference between life and death.

STRETCHING THE LIMITS OF SOCIAL CAPITAL For migrant women, reaching the border exacerbates a state dependency that began with incurring debt to finance the cost of migration. The downside of social capital is thus apparent with emerging debt (social and economic debt) and the level of dependency it institutionalizes for migrants and their families. For many, undertaking the journey north to the U.S.–Mexico border began with securing a high-interest loan. In many cases, this involved families putting up their meager properties as collateral. One repatriated migrant woman interviewed at the shelter, Agustina, was determined not to return due to this debt. She had borrowed $1,500.00 pesos (a little less than $150.00 dollars) against her parents’ land so she planned to stay in Nogales, Sonora, long enough to send money home to pay the lender. Then she would

Of Coyotes, Crossings, and Cooperation


work to pay for her return. She explained that rich lenders have them sign a legal document that is used to take their land away if the terms of the agreement are unfulfilled. In this way, migrants are highly motivated to cross the border at all cost, make multiple attempts if necessary, find work, and pay off the loan. Relying almost exclusively on their coyotes for crossing the border, some accounts suggest migrants are often delivered to bands of ‘‘bajadores’’ (bandits) who take advantage of the isolatedness of the migration route to rob them. The name, ‘‘bajadores’’ comes from ‘‘bajar,’’ the Spanish verb meaning ‘‘to pull down,’’ and refers to the tactic of forcing victims to pull down their pants at knifepoint or gunpoint – a strategy used to keep them prostrate while they are bodily searched for valuables. Like smuggling rings, the bands of assailants operate as closed social structures: benefiting from secrecy needed to carry out a calculated orchestration of robberies. As outsiders, migrants have no way to exert any kind of pressure – economic or moral – that might deliver them from harm. At the same time, they are dependent on these bands for their passage. A migrant woman interviewee, Dolores, recalled that their coyote explained to her group that it was preferable to allow the bajadores to rob them rather than to try to avoid them: submission to the band would save the group valuable time and almost certain punishment (beatings by the bajadores) if they were discovered eluding them. It essentially made more sense to pay the informal toll to the bandits to allow them to continue on their way. This extortion adds to the cost of migrating. Migrating alone is too dangerous, and this places migrants at the mercy of their coyotes and other of actors who see them only as way to earn a living. One migrant woman noted: ‘‘!Asi nos ven,y con un peso en la frente!’’ [This is how they see us,y with a peso on our forehead!]. In this way women become enmeshed in mechanisms of social control evolving from broader relations of power between the United States and Mexico. For example, in recent years Arizona initiated investigative campaigns to choke off human smuggling operations that bring into the state an estimated $1.7 billion a year (Holstege, 2008). Some of these clandestine operations merge legitimate businesses with illicit human smuggling activities13 and to become one of the fastest growing informal economies on the border. This development has succeeded in fusing migrant mobility with inter-gang rivalries resulting in violent competition over turf, influence, smuggling routes, operatives, armaments, and above all, a share of the high profits. The Mexican government is often blamed for the border’s volatility and for its failure to provide opportunities for ordinary Mexicans to earn living



wages in their communities, resulting in greater reliance on informal economies for survival (Erfani, 2009). One report found migrants increasingly relying on human smugglers to cross into Arizona: 18% had hired a human smuggler in 2000, compared to 55% in 2005 (ibid., p. 78). This development challenges the model put forward by Singer and Massey (1998, p. 574) who did not predict the effect of increased border enforcement and neoliberal trade on sources of migrant social and human capital: In general, we expect people progressively to substitute migration-specific human capital for the use of paid guides. As experience grows and the number of trips rises, the odds of crossing with a guide (either relative/friend or coyote) should diminish, and as these indicators of migration-specific capital increase.

Consequently, the transformation of the nature of social relationships on the border has become hypermotivated by economic incentives (Portes, 1998, p. 15). With a smuggler’s shift in loyalties from the social to the closed smuggling ring for accessing resources – knowledge, skills, networks, clients – his performance is not unlike that of other corporate actors who are driven by the need to control and manage supply chains and remain ‘‘closed’’ to outsiders. In this way, as Vermaak succinctly states (2009, p. 404), certain ‘‘instruments of force can destroy a society’s social capital while building up its own.’’ I further contend that on the border, excess claims on resources by desperate migrants increasingly push the parameters of social capital to the limit. As instruments of force, illicit smuggling and extortion activities are on the verge of destroying society’s capacity to rebuild trust, and invigorate social capital.

CASE STUDIES IN SOCIAL CAPITAL AND WOMEN’S MIGRATION ON THE BORDER Case Study 1: Where Networks of Support Grow Thin Migrant women’s narratives can be used to illustrate the absence of behaviors consistent with social capital. For this first illustration, I turn to the case of Rosalva (age 18),14 who was from the farming village, Bajos de Coyula, in the municipio of Hautulco, Oaxaca. She had arrived with a cousin, who was one year younger, and two others, both men who were not relatives but friends of the family. Her cousin had been further detained by officials when they discovered that she was a minor. Policies dictated separate procedures for processing minors unaccompanied by a legal

Of Coyotes, Crossings, and Cooperation


guardian. The immigration officials on the Mexican side of the border did not allow Rosalva to see or talk to her cousin. Of the two others who accompanied Rosalva on her trip north, one was present at the shelter, but the other one – an older man and friend of the family – was being held by U.S. authorities for prosecution for a previous offense. The group of about 27 in which Rosalva and her cousin were part of had been apprehended by the Border Patrol after walking a whole night in the desert north of El Sa´sabe, Arizona. They had been resting for about 20 minutes before they heard incoming helicopters. Rosalva’s cousin had fallen asleep but Rosalva kept watch, fearing that the group might move on without them – illustrating here an absence of trust even though she was accompanied by two male friends of the family. She clearly sensed her outsider status. In response, Rosalva assumed the protective role, allowing her younger cousin to sleep while she kept watch. At the sound of the helicopters, they ran and hid in the bushes. They hoped to remain undetected, but had no such luck. Elsewhere I have argued that women and children are differentially treated based on their perceived liability for the coyote (O’Leary, 2009c). One migrant woman recounted how her coyote was reluctant to guide her and her child through the desert because slower-moving children slow down the entire group. Without social capital, women have less agency, and this explains Rosalva’s lack of trust and fear of being left behind with her cousin. The fear is not unfounded. Since the late 1990s, an unprecedented number of human remains (presumably of migrants) have been discovered in the desert along this stretch of the U.S.–Mexico border (Goldsmith et al., 2006), and those identified as female are nearly three times more than those identified as male. However, in terms of the differential treatment of women with children by their guides, it is also only fair to point out that there is little systematic research on this topic, and that there is also evidence to suggest that the cold and calculating commodification of migrants by coyotes is not always so, nor has it always been so. Garcia Castro’s research (Garcia Castro, 2007) shows that trusting social relationships can exist between migrants and coyotes that they know, ‘‘coyotes comunitarios’’ (coyotes from the community). Based on the coyotes’ relationship with clients (family members, former clients, friends or relatives of former clients), coyotes comunitarios may offer discounted rates and in this way they help reduce the cost of migration. Furthermore, for coyotes comunitarios, the crossing process is more than an economic contract but one forged from a social obligation to help and to remain in good standing with members of one’s social network (see also O’Leary, 2009b). In other words, the social structure



was not entirely closed and the process operated along the principles that define social capital. As Singer and Massey have shown (1998, p. 566), a reliance on the human capital of family and friends assure lower costs of the coyote’s services, provides guarantees for services rendered, and teaches novices how to behave if and when they are apprehended and what to expect upon arrest. In this way, familial smuggling networks help assure safety amidst the ‘‘many dangers of border crossing’’ (cf Ve´lez-Iba´n˜ez & Sampaio, 2002, p. 32). In this way, human smuggling may conform to pressures to maintain cooperative, personal relationships that are mutually beneficial. Spener’s (1999, p. 23) interview with ‘‘El Carpintero’’ a coyote on the Texas border illustrates this point: y he [El Carpintero] sometimes lowered the price for friends and friends-of-friends. As his reputation as a competent and ‘‘honest’’ coyote spread, strangers also came to him and he eventually developed a Mexico City clientele in addition to his Monterrey circle.

When asked where she was going or what job awaited her, Rosalva said that she did not know where she was going. This was an atypical answer and gave me reason to suspect that she might not trust me with this information. By this time, I knew that migrants may be suspicious of sharing information about the location of family members who might be extorted by unscrupulous individuals. This speaks to the insecurity that permeates the entire environment. She was only 18, alone, feeling insecure, and reluctant to share information with a stranger, especially about her plans, her ultimate destination, and about relying on family members in the United States. She shared with me that she wanted to know something of the world outside of her community: vine a conocer’’ (I came to see.). Although plausible, it was uncommon – most women assume the risks of crossing in search of a better life for their families. When I asked her if she would try to cross again she said that she did not know, that this decision depended on finding out if her younger cousin would be sent back to Oaxaca. It was expected that Mexico’s Sistema Nacional para el Desarrollo Integral de la Familia (DIF)15 would make contact with its counterpart agency in Oaxaca, then make arrangements for the transfer of her cousin to the authorities there. This would leave Rosalva with a decision to either continue with her plans to cross into the United States or return home. She suspected that her mother might insist that she return. She made it clear that the friend who was there at the shelter with her was under no obligation to either take her back or to take her with him if he should decide to make another try – another sign that social capital was absent. I had hoped that she would be there when

Of Coyotes, Crossings, and Cooperation


I returned the next evening, but like so many other cases, knowing the final outcome would once again elude me. Case Study 2: Reconstructing Social Capital ‘‘On the Fly’’ Not all cases demonstrate the helplessness that appeared to be Rosalva’s. In an environment saturated by distrust and insecurity, a response may be to reconstruct social capital ‘‘on the fly’’; that is, through the process of migration itself, one which may result in harm reduction. Twenty-four year old Gabriela left the state of Mexico (Estado de Mexico) in hopes of finding a better economic opportunity in the United States. At the bus station before boarding the bus that would take her north, she stopped for a blessing from an elder shaman woman. Others also boarded. At first strangers, through the course of the trip north, they became friends. Perhaps with apprehension growing as they approached the border, Gabriela and her companions resolved to make the crossing together and support each other no matter what happened. It is important to note that Gabriela’s story about the migrating group’s outspoken commitment to each other is extraordinary. Gabriela explained that there were a total of 18 people traveling together as they commenced their walk through the desert. One group of ten walked ahead, and the rest, those she considered her friends, walked behind the lead group. She felt lucky in that they encouraged and supported each other as they grew weary. She described to me how by the third day of walking, that they had developed into true friends: It was fortunate that my group was very good, everyone became fast friends. At once, one would be pulling me, then another would push me from behind y . There were eight of us, six men and two women y . On the third day we became friends y we proved it to each other. We made a pact that we would support each other, and we honored it.

Gabriela mentioned that the group was already in United States territory when they had to stop because the border patrol was performing a search using dogs. She says it was already night time so they laid low that night to avoid detection. For this reason, a day of travel had been ‘‘lost.’’ After they stopped, she, like the other woman, became exhausted because the ‘‘terreno’’ (terrain) was difficult to tread. The last day was the most difficult, but this was when she came to realize she truly had friends. The other woman, Sara, reassured her that they would not leave her behind. Gabriela explained: There came a moment in which I felt desperation because I saw our group lag further and further behind. We were at that moment inside the United States, and we had but to



go a bit further so that the migra16 would not toss us out. The migra passed by every five minutes and I thought, ‘‘No, in reality I am putting at risk the lives of the 18 others,’’ and I did not think that was right.

Because she could not walk any faster her group of eight was falling behind. So she decided to tell them that she could not go on, and that it was not fair to them that they should be held back on her account. She sat down on a rock and told them, ‘‘Chicos, ya no pudeo y’’ [I cannot go on.] Esta´n a un paso y Sı´ganle!)’’ [You are nearly there y keep going!] She felt that they had made it this far and she would not risk the chance of the group not reaching their destination because she was no longer able to continue. However, her friends refused to leave her saying ‘‘Si te quedas tu, nos quedamos todos. (If you say, we all stay!)’’ She sensed a mixture of both courage, and sadness. (‘‘sentı´ tanto valentı´a como tristesa’’). After they talked about it for a while, the group asked her to try again: ‘‘he´chale ganas ya estamos cerca’’ [Try harder!y we are so close!], but she could not walk anymore. She told them she just could not do it, and she told them that she would just walk down so the Border Patrol (migra) could see her and they would find her. Again, she expressed her mixed feelings: ‘‘Me dio ma´s sentimiento y pero tambie´n me dio ma´s fuerza.’’ [I was very touched, but also I felt strengthened.] Sara was the youngest and the strongest of the group: ‘‘Ella estaba extremadamente fuerte, no se de do´nde saco fuerza’’. [She was extremely strong, I don’t know from where she mustered strength.] The young girl told all the men to go. She told them that she was more familiar with the area and with a forceful voice she told the men to move on and that she would stay with Gabriela until the migra came. Realizing their determination, the men had no choice but to let them go. In part due to the support given to her by her young friend, Sara, Gabriela had been able to return to the safety of the shelter. Returning to Coleman’s model of closed and open social structures, Gabriella’s case illustrates how a previously open social structure, embodied by a group of strangers who first come together in a bus journey to the north, congeal into a group united by trust and a mutual sense of duty and obligation to each other. This strategy countered the potential for harm that comes when a group of strangers, because they are unorganized and unconnected, are fully dependent upon the more organized smuggling rings.

CONCLUSION Increased dependency of migrants on clandestine human smuggling is due in large part to increased border enforcement measures that have been

Of Coyotes, Crossings, and Cooperation


implemented since the 1993. Increasingly impoverished, migrant women are forced to rely on the services of human smugglers to cross into the United States without authorization. As outsiders and as women, they are particularly vulnerable to exclusion especially where gendered norms discourage self-promoting behaviors for women, and when the operation of clandestine activities depends on closed social structures to maintain control. Moreover, as outsiders, women are increasingly vulnerable to less-charitable treatment by those whose income depends on fast-paced crossing over difficult terrain and most often in the dark of night to avoid detection by authorities. The magnitude of this exposure to risk is comprehensible only by considering the exponential rise in the number of migrant apprehensions and migrant deaths due to exposure in this part of the region since the late 1990s. According to the Department of Homeland Security,17 in the Tucson Border Patrol sector alone, where this research was conducted, there were 439,090 apprehensions in 2005. That year, this sector led all other sectors when all field offices were considered. Arizona has also had the most voluntary departures, an administrative procedure in which migrants who are arrested are simply ‘‘removed’’ from the United States. The figures include repeat migrant crossings and repeat apprehensions. It has been estimated that nearly one-third of migrants reentered the United States without authorization after being removed (Marizco, 2005). The high recidivism attests to the economic imperatives that outweigh both the risk of crossing and the risk of serving longer prison terms if re-apprehended. Research of repatriated migrant women’s border crossing experiences conducted on the border in 2006–2007, offered me the opportunity to examine the intersection of contradictory processes: transnational movement and border enforcement. The research also offers an opportunity to examine the limits of social capital in a context where norms that promote trust and cooperation are destabilized by overriding illicit economies. It is here, on the border, where the reaches of normative mechanisms for the establishment of trust and social sanction wane and the potential fatal consequences of abandonment are attributed to the much maligned coyote (O’Leary, 2008, 2009a). Without a doubt, with the escalation of border securitization and militarization, border crossing becomes an increasingly isolated endeavor where excess claims on resources by desperate migrants increasingly stretch the limits of social capital, and reveal its dark side. A schematic portrayal of the leveling of social capital for migrants on the border is depicted in Fig. 2. Moving from the left to right, access to social capital in sending communities is illustrated as diminishing with proximity to the border. We know that family-based and migration-related social capital exists in sending communities as this has been extensively documented



by scholars such as Massey et al. (2006) and Fussell (2004). Although the accumulation of social capital may be lower in rural communities, social capital is nonetheless known to operate (Gonza´lez, 2009; Gramajo, 2007; Vermaak, 2009). This is consistent with norms of cooperative behavior that enhance the survival of underdeveloped rural communities in general (Vermaak, 2009). So in spite of geographic and demographic differences between traditional and new sending states in Mexico, social capital processes exist and work similarly. Differential outcomes become apparent over time, with notably more accumulation occurring in traditional Mexican sending states (Herna´ndez Vega, 2006; Massey et al., 2006). This accumulation is in part facilitated by the social capital generated in destination communities – an accumulation that has yet to materialize for the states of central and southern Mexico with shorter histories as migrant-sending states (ibid., p.118). Thus, continuing to move to the right in Fig. 2, in destination communities, immigration studies show that social capital continues to thrive, aiding newcomers in their settlement, networking, job-seeking, and other adaptive processes. Moreover, the development of social capital in destination communities, noted by the flourishing of strong social networks, well-developed community associations, and a high degree of civic engagement, improves the chance of social capital accumulation and human capital development in sending communities (Cano & De´lano, 2007; Goldring, 2002; Herna´ndez Vega, 2006; Montero-Sieburth, 2007; Zabı´ n & Escala, 2002). The U-shape in the diagram depicts the relationship between social capital and the border. The base of the U depicts the drop in the level of trust and cooperation, and therefore, lower social capital. This is explained in part by the presence of migrants from impoverished nontraditional sending states, who as outsiders, may have had less time or less opportunity to access social capital. With profits fueled by demands for specialized knowledge needed to circumnavigate intensified border securitization, and consequently more smuggling, a faster pace, and more secrecy, crossing is made more costly, which put migrants – especially those most recently made destitute by neoliberal policies – at a disproportionate disadvantage. Moreover, when providers of valuable knowledge (coyotes) are easily co-opted by economic incentives, in part again because their own economic opportunities have languished or eliminated, they are less incentivized to replicate norms of trust and cooperation with impoverished outsiders with whom they have little connection or loyalty (perhaps perceived as time wasted). With this, a dramatic downward leveling of social capital occurs.

Of Coyotes, Crossings, and Cooperation


NOTES 1. This strategy involved the intensification of border closures known as Operation Hold the Line (1993), Operation Gatekeeper (1994), Operation Safeguard (1995). 2. Readers are encouraged to consult the New York Times online interactive website, ‘‘Mexico under siege: The Drug War at our Doorstep’’ (http://projects. latimes.com/mexico-drug-war/#/its-a-war) to examine current statistics showing the dramatic rise of drug-related violent deaths since 2007 with the initiation of a binational militarized approach to drug trafficking and the disproportionate number of drug-related deaths that have accumulated in the U.S.–Mexico border region. In addition, already mentioned is the dramatic rise in migrant deaths documented by the United States Government Accountability Office (August 2006) (see http:// www.gao.gov/new.items/d06770.pdf). 3. Before a joint session of U.S. Congress made tense by partisan controversy on May 20, 2010, Mexican President Felipe Calderon pointed out that drug enforcement policies have been made less effective by a flood of smuggled assault weapons into Mexico, in part because U.S. ban on assault weapon sales to civilians expired in 2004, which Calderon said coincided with the beginning of a rise in violence in Mexico. 4. Sister cities Nogales, Arizona, and Nogales, Sonora that depend on the tourism industry have experienced a dramatic drop in trade since the escalation of drug-related violence. See, for example, ‘‘Drug ‘War Zone’ Rattles U.S.–Mexico Border’’ (http://abcnews.go.com/Nightline/International/story?id¼1477964), which reports that Nuevo Laredo, across the border from Laredo, Texas, has experienced as much as an 80% drop in tourism, citing the growing power and economic means of drug cartels to corrupt officials with ‘‘offers that they dare not refuse.’’ 5. In May of 2010, reacting to Arizona Governor signing Senate Bill 1070 into law, commonly known as the ‘‘No Papers’’ law because it authorizes law enforcement officials to request proof of those ‘‘reasonably’’ suspected to be in the country unlawfully, two Mexican universities (Universidad Auto´noma de Me´xico and the Universidad Auto´noma de San Luis Potosi) halted their student exchange program with the University of Arizona. For the same reason, the annual meeting of the Border Health Commission scheduled to take place in Arizona was cancelled. 6. A 2006 study by the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) and The California Department of Transportation entitled ‘‘Economic Impacts of Wait Times at the San Diego-Baja California Border,’’ clearly shows that delays at the border, due to increased surveillance activities on both sides, have significant negative economic impacts for both the regional and the national economies (http:// www.sandag.org/uploads/publicationid/publicationid_1205_5394.pdf). 7. An unprecedented number of U.S. State Department travel advisories have been issued since the escalation of drug trafficking related violence including states along the Texas border (in 2007), and more recently (in 2009), along the Arizona border with Mexico. 8. A discussion with almost any border denizen will refer to the traits shared by human smugglers and their namesake. Like the four-footed desert creature, human smugglers disappear into the environment – usually when migrants are apprehended.



9. The literature on social capital is vast, so it is not the objective in this article to review this history or developments. For a useful overview, readers are encouraged to consult Portes (1998). 10. Missing from this theoretical rendering is ‘‘cultural capital,’’ a concept developed by Bourdieu (1986) that emphasizes how with the ultimate access to economic resources and wealth, individual increase their affiliation with institutions and influential individuals that confer other valued credentials such as social status, prestige, and societal respect and privilege. 11. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is largely blamed for the economic destabilization experienced in Mexican subsistence economies. The agreement was adopted by the governments of the United States, Canada, and Mexico in 1994. While in theory the idea of free trade is a good one, in practice only corporations have been freed of restrictions to engage in economic trade. For those who have been displaced and in search for work in larger urban centers, rising costs of living and depressed wages have only pushed them northward and to the United States where wages are higher (Basok, 2000; Crummett, 2001; Labrecque, 1998; Manning & Butera, 2000; Rees, 2007). 12. For women, such requirements are particularly problematic as receipts need to be in their name, and more often than not, important records are in the name of male heads of households. 13. See Robins (2007) for more on this. 14. This account is taken from research field notes taken on 4/5/2007. To protect the identity of respondents, their names have been changed. 15. Translated from the Spanish, this is Mexico’s National System for Integral Family Development, a public health and social service institution that works toward family well-being. 16. This is a colloquial name for the U.S. Border Patrol. 17. Department of Homeland Security Yearbook of Immigration Statistics: 2005, Data on Enforcement Actions Table 36 (http://www.dhs.gov/ximgtn/statistics/).

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CULTURE TRUMPS REASON: HOW WALL STREET MANIPULATED THE AMERICAN DREAM TO ENRICH ITSELF AND WHY THE VICTIMS OF THE SCAM WERE PUT OUT ON THE STREET WHILE THE PERPETRATORS WERE RESCUED BY THE GOVERNMENT$ Sidney M. Greenfield ABSTRACT Purpose – This chapter asks whether the current economic crisis, precipitated by defaults in subprime mortgages, could have been postponed or perhaps even avoided?


A revised and expanded version of chapter presented at the Columbia University Seminar on Content and Methods in the Social Sciences, November 10, 2010.

Political Economy, Neoliberalism, and the Prehistoric Economies of Latin America Research in Economic Anthropology, Volume 32, 161–183 Copyright r 2012 by Emerald Group Publishing Limited All rights of reproduction in any form reserved ISSN: 0190-1281/doi:10.1108/S0190-1281(2012)0000032011




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. Keywords: Just Deserts; substantive economic; subprime mortgages; The Great Recession; John Locke We find ourselves stultified by the legacy of a market-economy which bequeathed us oversimplified views of the function and role of the economic system in society. (Polanyi, 1947, p. 1) One of the major problems in economics y is to establish an empirical discipline that connects our theories and models to the actual world we live in. (Syll, 2010)


Culture Trumps Reason

The substantive meaning of economic derives from man’s dependence for his living upon nature and his fellowsy . It can be y defined as an instituted process of interaction between man and his environment which results in a continuous supply of want satisfying material means. (Polanyi, Arensberg, & Pearson, 1957, pp. 243, 248)

INTRODUCTION In an article in the New York Times, Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman (2010) wrote: As I look at what passes for responsible economic policy these days, there’s an analogy that keeps passing through my mind. I know it’s over the top, but here it is anyway: the policy elite – central bankers, finance ministers, politicians who pose as defenders of fiscal virtue – are acting like the priests of some ancient cult, demanding that we engage in human sacrifices to appease the anger of invisible gods.

This is an essay about economics and economic policy written by a substantive economic anthropologist. Specifically, it is concerned with the culturally accepted standards employed in contemporary society to judge the merit of those who receive (or are left without) what is produced and distributed. These popularly held unstated values are implicit in the assumptions of economics and moreover are used in the formulation of public policies. When these principles are made explicit, they expose a surprising inverse relationship between need and how much an individual is able to acquire. The more someone obtains, as we shall see, the more he or she is believed to deserve. Conversely, the less one is able to acquire, and consequently has, the less he or she is considered to deserve. I call these standards the moral philosophy of ‘‘just deserts.’’ The empirical case in which these moral values are examined is the economic crisis that began in 2008 and the recession, with all the devastating consequences, that followed thereafter. I suggest that the fallout might have been lessened, if not avoided altogether, but for the cultural values of ‘‘just deserts’’ imbedded in the economic thinking that informs our public policies.1 The implicitly held, but rarely discussed, beliefs as to who justly deserves how much of what is produced in our contemporary Western capitalist society is shown to have its roots in the 17th century writings of John Locke (2003). Locke’s thinking stated that those members of society who were neither successful entrepreneurs nor the employee of their companies – both categorized as forms of work – did not deserve a share of what society produced. I contend that the defaults by subprime mortgage holders, and



especially those unable to find new jobs after losing a previously held one, is another instance of a larger problem. Left without a share of societal wealth, people worldwide, being driven from their traditional ways of providing for their material needs, are now excluded from the globalized capitalist market economy and its means of distributing its wealth. They, too, are deemed undeserving. This system of property ownership and wealth distribution was incorporated in the thinking of other Enlightenment writers and classical Euro-American economists and intellectuals. Colonialism, modernization, and market-oriented globalization have carried these ideas around the earth, and they have been incorporated into the legal systems and economic programs of nations worldwide.

THE GREAT RECESSION The most recent economic collapse was the result of the invidious and destructive convergence of two previously separate markets: the first in home mortgages and the second in financial investments, with the second resting on the back of the first. Home mortgages were purchased from banks and other lenders by Wall Street firms that packaged and divided them into different categories – based on the ability of borrowers to repay (see Foster & Magdoff, 2009, p. 94). They then were sold as investments. Those loans least likely to be repaid yielded the highest interest, but also carried the greatest risk. The less risky paid lower yields. The lenders profited from the sale of the mortgages, which they then were able to take off their books, thus enabling them to make additional loans. The members of the Wall Street firms earned sizeable commissions on the sale of the investments while their companies, many of which went public, profited from the volume of sales and the subsequent increases in the value of their stock. Future earnings potential put pressure on the lending companies to constantly sell more mortgages that could be sliced, diced, and packaged into additional investment instruments. The demise of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s signaled the victory of capitalism over socialist communism and left the United States as the only remaining economic and military superpower. The adoption of ‘‘free trade’’ and other neoliberal economic policies, bolstered by the development of sophisticated computing technology that made possible the movement of information and capital across the globe almost instantaneously, opened the door to new forms of entrepreneurial acumen. Mathematicians and physicists, seeking alternative ways to apply their skills as the result

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of the decline in the space program, developed computer models that removed investment banking from the realities of the real world in which it operated. The economies of China, India, Brazil, and other emerging nations began to expand. Their increasing wealth, added to the large amounts of Middle Eastern petrodollars from soaring oil prices, accumulated holdings of insurance companies, pension funds, and other sources of investment capital constituted a large and tempting source of potential earnings. Wall Street2 seized the opportunity to offer a variety of new and unprecedented investment instruments designed, in principle, to provide a combination of high yields and safety. Many of these tools were based on repackaged home mortgage loans. The trick for the inventors of the instruments was to establish a fine line between a constant supply of additional products that would earn them a continuous flow of fees while maximizing the earnings of their clients without them or the clients being exposed to excessive risk. Wall Street, meanwhile, was helping to facilitate the dismantling of the American substantive economy by assisting manufacturing and other companies to relocate to low wage areas in the Global South, taking jobs and earning power with them. The casino-like gambling in the new products, based in large part on home mortgages, devised by the financial markets, separated itself from the productive economy and replaced it as the primary motor of growth and profitability in the American economy. This reorganization of the economy coincided with a push by the federal government to increase home ownership that, to a degree greater than ever before, came to be viewed as the essence of the American dream. The construction industry responded and a housing boom, rooted in the belief that more people would be buying their expanding inventory, followed. Meanwhile, as large sectors of American industry moved to parts of the world were companies reduced their costs by taking advantage of lower priced labor, the wages of American workers, many of whom were forced from factories into other occupations, or out of the labor force completely, remained flat or actually declined. According to the Economic Policy Institute, for example, the richest 10 percent of Americans received all of the average economic growth in the years 2000 to 2007 (Herbert, 2011). To increase home ownership under these circumstances, and with it the commissions and profits for the mortgage providers and the Wall Street firms, the lenders lessened the requirements for obtaining loans. Aggressive lenders added a growing risk to the system by selling subprime mortgages to buyers that they often knew had questionable ability to repay them.3 Wall Street reacted to the implicit danger by creating credit default swaps that



offered opportunities for investors to wager for or against subprime borrowers going into default. Two-thirds of all the profits made during the expansion preceding the crash were amassed from these financial transactions. Claiming to offer protection from risk, insurance companies devised novel instruments to secure the mountains of repackaged debt being accumulated by almost everyone participating in the boom. Their own computer models led the insurance firms to believe that the probability of their ever having to pay off these ‘‘bets’’ was nil. They never held in reserve the funds that would enable them to make good on these obligations, nor were they required to do so by government regulatory bodies. When it became clear that this system from which mortgage lenders, Wall Street, and investors had profited so handsomely for so long had little more substance than a house of cards, the financial system imploded. The first bubble to burst was in the housing market. Unable to make their payments when they spiked, many subprime mortgage holders defaulted. As of March 2009 half of all the housing foreclosures were the result of nonpayment on subprime and other nonprime loans (Geanakopolos & Koniak, 2009). This led to the claims on the investments for which the subprime mortgages served as collateral. The packaged securities the financial industry had created that financed the great expansion, to use the imagery popularized by the media, became ‘‘toxic.’’ More than $5 trillion in mortgage securities had been issued between 2005 and 2007 alone (see Morgenson, 2011b). ‘‘Lenders wrote off as uncollectible $11.1 billion in home equity loans and 19.9 billion in home equity lines of credit in 2009 y’’ (Streitfield, 2010). As the value of the assets used as collateral for the investments and lending declined, Wall Street firms and their investors turned to the insurance companies that had guaranteed their risk-taking. Without the means to pay, the insurers defaulted and the financial house of cards built on borrowing that used mortgages, on private homes as collateral for sophisticated investment instruments, collapsed. Eleven trillion dollars, or 18 percent of the wealth of Americans, disappeared in 2008 (Bajaj, 2009). Home equity, the biggest single source of wealth for many declined ‘‘almost 50% from its peak in 2006, according to Federal Reserve 35 statistics.’’ U.S. stocks ‘‘are still 37 down 25% from their peak in 2007, their 75% gain in the past 19 months notwithstanding’’ (Sloan, Newmyer, & Burke, 2010, p. 102). Some 14.7 million homes continue to be worth less than the value of the mortgages held on them (New York Times, 2011). Mutual funds, pension funds, and 401 ks, heavily invested in the markets, lost considerable value reducing what could be distributed to retirees and those planning retirement. More significantly,

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businesses, large and small, in the United States and other places to where the globalized system extended that had borrowed money to expand production in anticipation of ever-growing sales, or to gamble in the ‘‘can’t lose’’ financial markets, found that their loans were called. Companies filed for bankruptcy or cut production and laid-off workers. Upwards of six and one half million jobs have disappeared in the United States alone thus far. As of March 2009, more than 13 million Americans were unemployed according to the official count and hidden unemployment – those who have given up looking or hold only temporary or part time jobs – raised the jobless count to 28 million with nine seekers for every available position. Nearly one in five Americans between the ages of 16 and 24 were unemployed as of July 2010. And these discouraging numbers have not improved, nor are they expected to in the next several years. The full impact of the loss of asset value, of jobs and the decline in earnings on the lives of so many Americans, and working people throughout the world, will not be known for some time. And since, in their haste to make a profit, both major banks and the many fly-by-night companies to enter the field, often failed to prepare adequate documentation, we are now facing further complications because uncertainty exists as to who actually is the legal owner of many foreclosed homes. Could all this have been avoided, or, if one accepts the argument that it was inevitable (see Minsky, 19864 and Baran & Sweezy, 1966), been postponed into the long-term future if the regulatory system had not been eroded to the point of being ineffectual and the regulators performed with due diligence? Ironically, in 2007 some of the big Wall Street firms, fearing the inevitable, proposed to buy up some of the mortgages that were collateral for investments they had sold and forgive some of them. This ‘‘would not only save homeowners, but save Wall Street billions of dollars in potential losses’’ (McLean & Nocera, 2010, p. 289). First those attempting it hesitated in part because they were worried about antitrust concerns and feared the suspicion it would raise among the regulators. They then abandoned the idea when a number of big investors who had bet that the mortgage payments would not be made became furious because they ‘‘didn’t want anyone helping out homeowners at the expense of their profits,’’ contending that the proposal was tantamount to market manipulation – ‘‘(t)he plan to prevent foreclosures [therefore] went nowhere’’ (ibid., p. 290). What if, however, the federal government at the time had stepped in and guaranteed, or, if necessary, made payment of those mortgages that seemed most likely to default? After all, such guarantees already had been given the investment community through the government-sponsored enterprises



(GSEs) such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.5 The funds, if guarantees were insufficient, might have been taken from current tax revenues or borrowed. The amount necessary would have been but a tiny fraction of what later was used in the bailouts. Congress, after the crash, did pass legislation (The Troubled Asset Relief Program or TARP), signed by the president, that instructed the Treasury to purchase up to $700 billion of these mortgages. In spite of this provision being essential to obtaining the votes to pass the legislation, according to Neil J. Barofsky, the special inspector general for the program, it was not implemented. The banks were not required to make modifications in mortgages to assist borrowers in financial trouble (see Barofsky, 2011). As Morgenson (2011c) writes, ‘‘Throughout the foreclosure crisis, Washington has done little to help people hang on to their homes. All those programs that were supposed to help y have mostly failed.’’ On the contrary, after the crash, the Treasury used the TARP funds to bail out the banks and rescue the firms of the players whose risk-taking enriched them so greatly while putting the economy and the society in danger. As of the time of this writing, no one has been punished legally for what was done that caused the implosion of the banking and investment systems.6 The reason, according to William K. Black, a former fraud investigator in the savings-and-loan crisis, ‘‘was that the F.B.I. got virtually no assistance from the regulators, the banking regulators and then thrift regulators’’ (Morgenson, 2011a). Those who had profited so handsomely from their questionable behaviors were permitted to retain all that they had gained. The government, after taking control of, and putting up billions of taxpayer dollars to save them and the system they had created, almost immediately returned those same companies to their owners so that today those who were the cause of the crisis have been given the opportunity and means to do it again.7 As a further reward, the taxes those whose behavior had precipitated the collapse would have to pay on their questionably obtained gains were reduced considerably with the continuation of what are known as the ‘‘Bush tax cuts.’’ Meanwhile, tens of millions of workers – not just in the United States but wherever the global economy extended – lost their jobs and with them their sources of livelihood. At the lower end of the earnings ladder, individuals who had accepted subprime mortgages lost their homes, 6 million through 2010, a figure projected to increase.8 These people no longer possessed the possibility of obtaining a mortgage or other loans should they be able to obtain a source of income in the future. More devastating, many were turned out on the streets to join the ranks of the homeless. Why had the government behaved so differently to those who had created and

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profited from the scheme that brought such great harm to so many and those who were its victims? Why was the possibility of guaranteeing or making the mortgage payments for those mostly well-intended borrowers who were financially ruined not even raised, even when it meant that the entire economy could disintegrate? In a recent op-ed column in the New York Times, David Kapell (2011) came close to the answer when he wrote: ‘‘Any effort to help homeowners by forgiving some of their loans is said to create a moral hazard, rendering it politically toxic.’’ What he meant by a ‘‘moral hazard’’ is that they – those who accepted subprime mortgages and were unable to make their payments – do not deserve to have houses in the first place.9 The Tea Party was born, it must be remembered, ‘‘when, a month after Obama’s inauguration, its founding father, CNBC’s Rick Santelli, directed his rant at the ordinary American ‘losers’ defaulting on their mortgages y’’ (Rich, 2010). The social climate was changing. Santelli’s case, that it would be unjust and morally wrong to have others pay the mortgages of ‘‘deadbeats’’ so they could stay in a home they had not earned and therefore did not deserve, was based on what I have referred to as the cultural value of just (and unjust) deserts.10

JUST AND UNJUST DESERTS Unjust Deserts is the title of a book by Alperovitz and Daly (2008) in which the authors reintroduce the idea of fairness into the debate over income distribution. Their argument is that many of the people who reaped great personal benefits during the economic expansion did not necessarily deserve them. The authors contend that the achievements of these individuals were based primarily on accumulated knowledge collectively inherited from the contributions of previous generations. They contend that such knowledge should be treated as part of the national patrimony for which the government, as steward for society, should be recognized as ‘‘owner.’’ Furthermore, the government should receive a sizeable share of all the earnings accruing from the application of the knowledge and use it for the collective well-being. When most of the gains go to those who have taken from what is owned collectively, and not to society as a whole, we have an example of them receiving what Alperovitz and Daly’ call ‘‘unjust deserts.’’ As morally compelling as this claim might be to those who see society as an interdependent collectivity, the argument that a sizeable portion of the income of the top earners should be shared and used for the benefit of the general population, has become a minority position no longer supported by



the preponderance of Americans and their elected representatives. Ownership and control over the fruits of individual achievement instead has become the basis for the policies that are encoded in our laws. So how then does Alperovitz and Daly’s discussion aid us to understand why seemingly rational people, concerned almost exclusively with their own material best interests, and living under a system that enabled so many of them to do so well economically, let the system collapse rather than supporting policies that would guarantee, or, if necessary, earmark a small portion of their tax dollars to make payments on behalf of those in default on their mortgages? Simply stated, Americans, up and down the social order, did not believe that the holders of subprime mortgages deserved to have homes in the first place.11

THE HAVES AND HAVE MORES The justification for this reasoning is based primarily on the writings of John Locke (1632–1704), the 17th century English rhetorician, philosopher and social activist. In Chapter V of the second of his Two Treatises of Government, Locke begins with the premise that God has given man all things and ‘‘commanded him to subdue the earth, i.e. improve it for the benefit of life’’ (Locke, 2003, p. 113). Furthermore: God, who hath given the world to men in common, hath also given them reason to make use of it to the best advantage of life and convenience. The earth, and all that is therein, is given to men for the support and comfort of their being. And though all the fruits it naturally produces, y , belong to mankind in common, y; and nobody has originally a private domain y. there must of necessity be a means to appropriate them some wayy . (p. 111)

The way people appropriate to themselves as private property what God has given to them in common, according to Locke, is through labor. As Alperovitz and Daly (2008, p. 99) emphasize, ‘‘an individual had a right to own or benefit from the products of his labor y.’’ ‘‘y for it is labour,’’ writes Locke (2003, p. 117), ‘‘y that put the difference of value on every thing; y . As much land as a man tills, plants, improves, cultivates, and can use the product of, so much is his property’’ (p. 113). But if a person takes more than he can use, he has no right to the excess since it will spoil and be of no use to him or anyone. This changes in Locke’s (p. 115) version of the universal evolutionary worldview that characterized most Enlightenment

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thinkers with the introduction of money and markets. ‘‘y [T]he invention of money, and the tacit agreement of men to put value on it, introduced (by consent) large possessions, and the right to them; y’’ (ibid.). So it is not labor alone that justifies the ownership of land. Locke further included that it also required a written title and a market in which the property could be exchanged for money; and that the input of the labor increases its market value. That is, Locke assumed the existence of a market in which land and the other fruits taken by labor from nature could be bought and sold. The excess taken by an individual would not go to waste since it could be sold and used by others. Surplus production and the land on which it is raised thus could justifiably be removed from the common and made into private property. Locke makes a further assumption that extends what may be taken from the common and made private property. He writes: ‘‘y the grass my horse has bit; the turfs my servant has cut; and the ore I have digged in any place, where I have a right to them in common with others; become my property, y . The labor that was mine, removing them out of that common state they were in, hath fixed my property in them’’ (p. 112). The implication of this is huge. What a person’s property, his horse in this case, takes from the common also becomes his owner’s private property. A horse is a form of capital. The work it and other forms of capital do – and capital includes animals, machines, patents and money – and what they produce, according to this logic, becomes the private property of their owner. The grass, ore, oil, etc. created by God for the use of all that is taken from nature by the labor of a horse, or other form of capital, along with the part of nature from which it is taken, according to this logic, is removed from the common and made the private property of the owner of the capital performing the activity. Moreover, if the grass a servant cuts belongs to the master, so do all of the other fruits of the servant’s labor. When servants become workers operating capital equipment in the employ of others, the results of their work no longer are theirs, but belong to – become the property of – their employer who owns all that is taken or produced by his machines and workers. Although Locke’s reasoning was couched in universalistic (and evolutionary) terms, he intended his arguments to be a contribution to the debates of his time over the legitimacy of two contemporary movements: 1) enclosing common lands in England; and 2) taking over the territories of the native peoples in the American colonies. The enclosure movement in England, which began as early as the 13th century, reached its peak by the late 15th and 16th centuries. By Locke’s time most of the peasant village common



land and their resources had been taken away and turned into private properties. English agriculture and social life previously ‘‘had been organized around villages, most of which contained large common fields with strips of land on which villagers could sow and reap. While each villager had his own strip, decisions about when to plant, when to harvest, and when to glean were made collectively’’ (Appleby, 2010, p. 80). There has been extensive debate in the literature over the course of several centuries as to the benefits and disadvantages of the enclosures in England. Those supporting the position that they were positive, according to Peters (1998, p. 355), have used the sole criteria of the ‘‘improvement in ‘productivity and efficiency’ of land use.’’ Appleby, for example, in spite of the fact that systematic data for agricultural output were not kept in England until after 1860, offers guesstimates based on fragments of information to indicate that crop yields increased following the enclosures by showing that fewer people were needed to feed the population than had been the case previously. This so-called ‘‘triumphal’’ interpretation (see Peters, 1998) is to indicate that the enclosures created a more efficient means of food production. Appleby does not tell us however how the increase in productive efficiency was distributed. She concludes only that the enclosure movement ‘‘brought in its train greater disparity between the poor and the prosperous’’ (Appleby, 2010, p. 81). Appleby offers arguments by two ministers writing in the 1650s summarizing the debate over whether the poor would be better cared for under the new or the old system. By then it already was too late for a moral debate; many of the former farmers driven off the land were congregating on the roads and in the towns. Unable to pay for the increased amount of food (only available for cash in the market), and since they had no source of money, the now impoverished faced a permanent fate not unlike what their ancestors confronted during periods of crop failure. Polanyi (1957, p. 35), in words that sound as if they could be written about our own day, summarizes the enclosures as a revolution of the rich against the poor. ‘‘The lords and nobles were upsetting the social ordery . They were literally robbing the poor of their share in the common, tearing down the houses which, by the hitherto unbreakable force of custom, the poor had long regarded as theirs and their heirs’. The fabric of society was being disrupted; desolate villages and the ruins of human dwellings testified to the fierceness with which the revolution raged, endangering the defenses of the country, wasting its towns, decimating its population, y harassing its people and turning them from decent husbandmen into a mob of beggars

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and thieves. Though this happened only in patches, the black spots threatened to melt into uniform catastrophe.’’ The increase in productive efficiency and the added (monetary) wealth went almost exclusively to those who had organized the undertaking. The entrepreneurs, who by adding the labor of animals, machines and servants to their own, took value from the common and sold it in the emerging markets making both the land and what it yielded their private property.12 Locke’s formalization of the justification for the enclosures contributed to what became English law. As a result, the food produced by labor for consumption (subsistence production) belonged to the worker while the land remained as part of the common. But the labor of workers hired and the capital that went into turning the very same land into pasture for sheep whose wool earned income, for example, made the land and the wool the private property of those who organized the undertaking. The native peoples in the colonies could still take as their own what they consumed. But the land itself, even when cultivated, since they had no pricemaking markets in which to sell excesses, remained in Locke’s reasoning, part of the common. When Europeans brought animals, machines and servants and ‘‘employed’’ natives (or slaves) to produce commercially valuable commodities in the colonies, things changed. They now, justly, deserved ownership of the tobacco and sugar, along with the land on which it was grown. It was no longer was part of the common available to all, but their own private property. To be fair, Locke assumed that there was sufficient wilderness in the colonies to continue to provide for the subsistence of the indigenous peoples. But as more and more was removed from the common over the years and made private property by entrepreneurial Europeans, the natives were displaced, moved to reservations or, as had been their 17th century English predecessors, forced out onto the roads and into the towns. If they could obtain employment at all while being ‘‘assimilated’’ into the EuroAmerican system, it would be as low-wage manual laborers in mines, on farms, on the docks, in construction or later in industrial manufacturing. In Locke’s view of the world, the entrepreneur, a person who by means of his efforts combines the work of capital and labor to add market value to an aspect of nature, is the driving force. For the risks taken in this endeavor he deservedly receives ownership of what he and his capital and employees add in market value to an aspect of nature plus the part of nature from which it is taken. The enterprises that developed from these entrepreneurial undertakings usually were organized bureaucratically. Managers were hired to administer the orchestration of machinery and other capital equipment,



resources (taken from nature) and workers in the productive process. Later these enterprises, especially in the United States, took corporate form. The profits earned from what they extracted from the common and transformed into private property, what in Locke’s own words God had created for the benefit of all, now went exclusively to the owners of the enterprises. The workers they employed received only what they were paid as wages, the value of which was independent of and separate from the profits of the enterprise to which their labor contributed. The great increase in the volume of goods and what was earned from them that followed when new forms of energy were harnessed and added to the productive process – the industrial revolution – now was available exclusively to those engaged in entrepreneurship, or those who were owners of the companies they helped create, and the workers they hired. Money now was available, through the market, to the organizers and owners of the many enterprises established to provide products and services for both the companies producing goods and their employees. Arguments have raged over the last several centuries of Western history as to who is to get how much of what is produced and sold. The entrepreneurs, owners of the companies they created and their managers are on one side of this debate and their workers on the other. Left out of these discussions were those forced out onto the roads and into the towns where they were now destitute because the common that, since time immemorial, had provided their sustenance, had been taken from them and made into private property. I find little that can be considered ‘‘just’’ in these arrangements. Yet these beliefs that inform how what is produced in capitalist market economies are distributed, provided the basic premises for what developed, in the hands of Locke’s Enlightenment successors, into moral philosophy. Adam Smith and his contemporaries adopted these understandings and incorporated them into classical liberal economics. Neo-liberal economists, such as Hayek and Friedman, in a more extreme elaboration of this view of the world further conflated it with the concept of freedom. For Milton Friedman (2002, p. 26ff), freedom meant the opportunity to set up enterprises, to produce, buy and sell commodities in the market and to profit from them. ‘‘It is necessary,’’ writes Hayek (2007, p. 84), ‘‘y that anybody should be free to produce, sell and buy anything that may be produced at all.’’ Turning to labor, he adds, ‘‘it is essential that the entry into different trades [jobs] should be open to all on equal term y’’ In other words, freedom, for workers, is being able to seek jobs and, if they choose and conditions permit, to leave one employer for another.

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Jeffery Sachs (2005, p. 12), the award winning economist and architect of the UN Millennium Development Project, writes of the freedom young women from rural Bangladesh have to leave their homes and families and move to Dhaka to take jobs in the sweatshops of the emerging garment industry. Though they may work long hours, have poor working conditions that may be detrimental to their health and safety, lack labor rights, earn meager wages, and often are subjected to harassment, in Sachs’ view, for these young women the ‘‘factories offer y opportunities for personal freedom.’’ Moreover, he interprets this metaphorically as the first rung on a (universal and evolutionary) ladder of rising skills of the development process. ‘‘Virtually every poor country,’’ he tells us, ‘‘that has developed successfully has gone through these first stages of industrialization’’ (ibid.). Taken for granted is that the entrepreneur who owns the factory is entitled to all its earnings, less the costs of production. Included in these costs are the minimum amounts of wages that make possible the opportunities for the ‘‘personal’’ freedom of the workers.

THE LEFT WITHOUT AND UNDESERVING But what about the large numbers worldwide presently being forced to leave the places, and abandon the practices, that traditionally provided their sustenance in the wake of the unrestrained expansion of the modern neoliberal world-market system?13 The conviction, shared by most economists who advise governments, NGOs and international agencies such as The World Bank, The International Monetary Fund and The United Nations, is that these people will find jobs as their national economies grow. This belief is based almost exclusively on the experience of Great Britain and the United States in the 19th and 20th centuries projected in an evolutionary framework. At the beginning of the Industrial Revolution workers were needed in the proliferating centers of manufacturing. The industrializing towns to which displaced villagers flocked grew to the tens and hundreds of thousands. Today, many more people are being driven into the globalized world market economy. The urban places in which they are settling now number in the millions and tens of millions. In the not too distant future it is estimated that half the people on the planet will be living in cities. Due to labor saving technologies, proportionately fewer workers are required by industries at present to produce ever-greater amounts of goods and services. In addition, innovations in communications and transportation have made it possible for vast amounts of items to be



manufactured in densely populated parts of the world and then shipped elsewhere for consumption. The entire process requires fewer workers than it took to make and ship far smaller amounts of commodities in the past. Capital is replacing labor as the numbers of those in need of employment worldwide continues to grow. One consequence is the so-called ‘‘race to the bottom’’ in which wages in the advanced economies are being driven down as workers in Europe and North America are forced to compete for salaries with those in China, India, Southeast Asia and elsewhere. So, as European and North American workers see their jobs outsourced and their earnings diminish, there still are not enough opportunities for the growing numbers worldwide that are in need of a source of cash earnings. Some of those moving into the market economy have found jobs and some even have created new enterprises that employ their fellows. Millions more however, continue to be unemployed or must take jobs at wage levels that do not enable them to sustain themselves, let alone dependents. Economists and policy makers contend that technological innovations will lead to additional industries that will provide employment for those seeking jobs. While there have been significant technological breakthroughs in recent years, especially in computing, communications and pharmaceuticals, the overall number of jobs they have led to has been disappointing in comparison with the numbers needed. Moreover, some innovations, such as those in communications have contributed to the moving of once high paying positions in the West to low wage areas in the Global South. Jobs have not been created in industries worldwide on a scale comparable to what happened in the historical examples used in making projections. Assuming that some member of each domestic group will find a job, the masses descending on the cities, entering the global economy and jobless are lumped, for the purpose of analysis and policy making, with the unemployed (and under-employed) and all are treated as ‘‘poor.’’ Studies of poverty however examine data that measures the earnings currently received by the households of a nation or a selected subgroup. This makes it possible to compare and contrast household units – and by implication the people that compose them – in terms of the differing amounts of money they have at their disposal. This data highlights disparities in earnings, from which can be deduced differential access to the consumer goods and services available to each domestic group in a subset. Neither the studies nor the policies based on them address the plight of those unable to find employment over a protracted period. One argument on the extreme right – being made by candidates running for the office of President of the United States in 2011 (and 2012) – is that

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only the very lazy are unable to find work.14 Some, for a variety of hypothesized reasons, are alleged to choose to remain unemployed. Others are said to become part of what is called the ‘‘informal economy,’’ a term that refers to the jobless who sustain themselves by doing everything and anything to obtain money. They may resell small amounts of packaged items, vend cooked foods on the street corner, sift and peddle trash from garbage dumps, or even pursue illegal endeavors.15 To appreciate the plight of those left outside the world economy and its market system I suggest, calls for ways of thinking other than what has been provided by economists, intellectuals or present day leaders. There have been, and are large numbers of people worldwide who remain outside the relatively recent Western market dynamic and its system of distributing material goods to job holders. They too are ‘‘homeless’’, destitute and without ways to obtain income, they too are ‘‘homeless,’’ destitute and without ways to obtain income. When this sizeable and growing segment of humanity is judged in terms of the moral philosophy of just deserts, the world is faced with a frightening irony. Without a source of earnings, this mob of decent folk transformed, in Polanyi’s words, into ‘‘beggars and thieves,’’ has no way of obtaining the money needed to purchase the minimum of goods and services required for their survival. And since they have neither employment nor earnings, they may be judged to deserve nothing at all. The moral philosophy of just deserts makes it possible for the rest of us not to be concerned with them or their plight. They frequently are dismissed as ‘‘deadbeats’’ or ‘‘losers.’’ The conviction implicit in modern culture and the understandings that dominate mainstream economics that informs public policy, with their universal, developmental and evolutionary vision is that they should find work. Moreover, it is the job seeker’s responsibility to acquire the skills required by firms as a precondition for employing them; or that society as a whole, at public expense, (if not their own), should provide the training. It is further presumed that the companies have, and will continue to have need for all these potential workers. It follows as cultural ‘‘truth’’ that those outside the system, who do not have jobs, and for whom there may be none, are ‘‘undeserving.’’ Unfortunately, there no longer are colonies, as there were in Locke’s time, to which this unneeded or unwanted segment of humanity can be shipped. Locke sided with the Protestants during the ‘‘Glorious Revolution’’ and their restoration enabled him to return from exile. Not surprisingly he incorporated in his writings the moral standards and premises about ‘‘human nature’’ made by the reformist. God, in his stern, post Reformation visage, permeates the pages of Locke’s writings and provides the justification



for many of the positions he takes. The English social activist accepted the individualistic focus of the religious reformers that contrasted sharply with the collectivist orientation of the Roman Catholic Church from which the Protestants had separated. More importantly, Locke adopted their revised view of the (moral) role of work. In Protestant thinking work was related to salvation. Locke used the concept in two specific ways: (1) as the justification for the entrepreneur to rightly receive all of what his efforts would yield and (2) to motivate workers to give their labor to an employer for a wage determined primarily by the latter. Just deserts can be seen as the secularized of this Protestant moral view of the place of work in human life. Later Enlightenment thinkers, and eventually all who accepted its principles, adopted Locke’s view of property, its ownership, and the role of labor in relationship to it that were a syncretism of the material (as conceptualized by economists) and the religious (viewed in terms of Protestantism). Political power, wrote Locke (2003, p. 101), was ‘‘to be a right of making laws with penalties of death, and y all less penalties, for the regulating and preserving of property, and of employing the force of the community, in the execution of such laws, y; and all this only for the public good.’’ Adam Smith and his followers on the right, and Karl Marx and thinkers on the left, accepted the belief that ones labor provided the moral reason for owning property. It was work that justified access to wealth and earnings. Moreover, it was the prerequisite to entry into the market. This integrated set of premises has become the cornerstone of economic thinking, policy making and public debate. Once it was adopted in English law, Locke’s standards became the moral and legal basis of colonial life in the United States. This package of beliefs was imposed wherever British and later American culture came to dominate. In the name of economic development these practices were transmitted in the decades following World War II, to become part of the social and legal fabric of most of the former colonies that were emerging as new, independent nations. When the Marshall Plan usurped its original purpose to rebuild the economies of a Europe devastated by war, the International Monetary Fund revised its mission to undertake advising and financing – through the World Bank – developing the economies of what then were called ‘‘third world nations.’’ These countries included those of Latin America that, although politically independent, had remained marginal or peripheral to and dependent on the nations of North America and Europe plus others that had emerged from decolonization. The notable exceptions were the states aligned with the Soviet Union. Under the guidance of economists, who dominated these global institutions, the governments of


Culture Trumps Reason

nations worldwide adopted the vision of progressive evolutionary transformation that is implicit in the concept of development. The new states embraced the belief that under the guidance of the IMF and the World Bank they would become developed and as prosperous as The United States. Implicit in this was the view of the world in which acquiring property and distributing accumulated wealth through capital and labor, in the way Locke and his economist followers envision it was incorporated and institutionalized. This included the moral philosophy of just deserts. Today, most of the world lives by rules, derived in good part, from Locke’s writings. However, there is little ‘‘common’’ left from which the displaced and unemployed can apply their labor in order to obtain, what even Locke believed God had provided for the sustenance of all. As a result, the destitute have no claim, either legal or moral, to the goods and services necessary for their survival. This complex of beliefs, and the institutions built on them, has become basic to our culture and values. It follows that when subprime mortgage holders stopped making payments on their loans, Americans reflexively concluded that these homebuyers did not deserve to have the residences they occupied. Since so many of them had failed as entrepreneurs, did not have jobs and had not earned the money to pay for domiciles, they therefore, did not deserve to own houses. Making, or even guaranteeing their mortgage payments, even if it would have prevented the economy from crashing and the recession that followed, as rational as such a proposal would have been, was not even to be raised. In brief, culture had trumped reason.

CONCLUSION The moral philosophy of just deserts is at the core of modern capitalism, if not modernity itself. It rationalizes the ethical and legal justification for some people, still primarily Europeans and North Americans, to appropriate lands and resources that previously had sustained so much of humanity on the grounds that their activities, combined with those of their capital and labor, are adding commercial market value to production. Their workers receive only the wages they are able to negotiate – individually or collectively – with an employer. An ever-growing portion of humanity has been forced off the lands and from the forests that previously had provided for their sustenance. I have used an anomaly in the housing market that led to a major economic crash to turn our attention to these people. They are not employed and, according to Locke, economic theory and the cultural



value of just deserts, have no claim to houses or any other goods or services produced and available (through markets) in the society in which they live. They may be given them as charity, through government programs or private agencies, but, as there is ample evidence to indicate, charity always can be taken away at the discretion of the donor. There has been a continuous and ever-growing segment of humanity who no longer has a just claim to the resources of what had once been the common property of all. From England prior to the modern era when the enclosures forced so many onto the roads, to the tens and hundreds of millions flocking to the cities of Latin America, Asia and Africa, or to North America and Europe for similar reasons, these migrants must find wage work in order to survive even when there may be no jobs, or the jobs available do not pay a living wage. Like their English predecessors, these ‘‘undeserving’’ seem to be neither needed nor wanted. The worldwide jobless recovery, furthermore, is adding educated people from modern societies to the ranks of the dispossessed. And to make matters worse, the major companies that now produce most of what is consumed, having replaced so much of their labor needs with technology, are able to make ever-greater profits with fewer rather than more workers. As I wrote this essay I found myself unable to get Paul Krugman’s analogy out of my mind. I realized that it is not over the top. The policy elite (on all sides) are acting like the priests, not of ‘‘some ancient cult, demanding that we engage in human sacrifices to appease the anger of invisible gods,’’ but rather as priests of a modern day cult exacting great sacrifice from millions to appease a God who, without being acknowledged, is the driving force behind what purports to be a secular philosophy. If the philosophy of just deserts and the morally driven, evolutionary view of the world on which it rests were rejected and economics was to be seen in substantive terms as the aspect of culture concerned with satisfying human needs and wants, as Polanyi and his colleagues (1957) taught, perhaps we might begin to envision alternative ways the great wealth we are able to produce can be distributed thereby avoiding the devastation for so many brought about by our present system.

NOTES 1. While I acknowledge at the outset that there has been an extensive critique of the capitalist system that serves as my case example, including predictions of its most recent implosion, I have chosen not to use this literature in building my case. I do so

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in part because I do not wish to be bound by its variant of the developmental, evolutionary worldview shared with conventional economics. I also choose not to include it because, while it is quite abundant and vocal, it has had little of any influence on the economic policies whose consequences I am examining. 2. Wall Street is commonly used to refer to the matrix of investment banking firms located in Lower Manhattan with affiliates in Greenwich, Chicago, London, Geneva, the Canary Islands, Hong Kong, and Shanghai. 3. Whistleblower Michael Winston, in court proceedings, told a story of his time at the Countrywide Financial Corporation when he asked the owner of a car parked next to him in the company parking lot what his vanity license plates that read ‘‘Fund’Em’’ meant. ‘‘The man replied that the term described the company’s growth strategy for 2006 – to fund all loansy . ‘What if the person has no job?’ Mr. Winston said. The answer: ‘Fund’em. What if the person has no assets? Again: ‘Fund’em’’ (Morgenson, 2011b). 4. ‘‘Capitalism is a flawed system in that, if its development is not constrained, it will lead to periodic deep depressions and the perpetuation of poverty’’ (quoted in Foster & Magdoff, 2009, p. 17). 5. In 2007 and 2008, as the Bush administration became aware of the growing danger, The Federal Reserve distributed billions of dollars, not to assist mortgage holders who might default, but to protect the lenders (American and foreign) and those who purchased their investment instruments (see Morgenson, 2011d). 6. For the single exception see Nocera (2011). 7. Ironically, by 2012 Ahmed (2012) reports renewed interest among investors in mortgage-backed securities. 8. ‘‘[R]ather than rushing to fix it,’’ as Crane (2011) reports in February of this year, ‘‘the government has blown two deadlines for proposals.’’ 9. In an editorial in The New York Times (2011) criticizing Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s stand on foreclosures we find the statement: ‘‘yany owners who lose their homes are getting what they deservey’’ It follows the candidate’s remark ‘‘that the cure for foreclosures is for the government to get out of the way and let the process run its course.’’ 10. In a study of ‘‘The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism,’’ Skocpol and her colleagues add that their opposition to government spending was concentrated on resentment of federal government ‘‘handouts.’’ Tea Party activists, they wrote, ‘‘define themselves as workers, in opposition to categories of nonworkers they perceive as undeserving of government assistance’’ (quoted in Edsall, 2011). 11. ‘‘A person does not strictly deserve what she or he does not create: any wealth and income a person may have that is not the result of those distinctive contributions is ‘unearned income’ and, morally speaking, undeserved’’ (Alperovitz & Daly, 2008, p. 153, italics in orig.). 12. Sometimes the animal power and labor that added the monetary value that justified ownership under the system Locke championed was used to tear down village properties and make pastures for wool-producing sheep. 13. Reasons, besides the expansion of the global economy, that are driving people from their traditional homelands include events such as local wars, changes in climatic conditions, and famine.



14. This argument is consistent with Locke’s thinking of the philosophy of just deserts. 15. And in one of the more creative directions, some of those unemployed, reconceptualized as small-scale entrepreneurs, if given access to microfinancing, are believed to be able to establish small firms that will employ others like themselves.

REFERENCES Ahmed, A. (2012). Bonds backed by mortgages regain allure. The New York Times, February 19. Alperovitz, G., & Daly, L. (2008). Unjust deserts: How the rich are taking our common inheritance and why we should take it back. New York, NY: The New Press. Appleby, J. (2010). The relentless revolution: A history of capitalism. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company. Bajaj, V. (2009). Household wealth falls by trillions. The New York Times, March 13. Baran, P. A., & Sweezy, P. M. (1966). Monopoly capital: An essay on the American economic and social order. New York, NY: The Monthly Review Press. Barofsky, N. J. (2011). Where the bailout went wrong. The New York Times, March 30. Crane, A. T. (2011). Five prized myths about mortgages. The New York Times, February 7. Edsall, T. B. (2011) The politics of austerity. The New York Times, November 6. Foster, J. B., & Magdoff, F. (2009). The great financial crisis: Causes and consequences. New York, NY: Monthly Review Press. Friedman, M. (2002). Capitalism and freedom. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. Geanakopolos, J. D., & Koniak, S. P. (2009). Matters of principal. The New York Times, March 5. Hayek, F. A. (2007). The road to serfdom. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. Herbert, B. (2011). Losing our way. The New York Times, March 26. Kapell, D. E. (2011). From struggling owner to stable renter. The New York Times, January 20. Krugman, P. (2010). Appeasing the bond gods. The New York Times, August 20. Locke, J. (2003). Two treatises of government. In I. Shapiro (Ed.), Two treatises of government and a letter concerning toleration (pp. 3–209). New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. McLean, B., & Nocera, J. (2010). All the devils are here: The hidden history of the financial crisis. New York, NY: Portfolio/Penguin. Minsky, H. P. (1986). Stabilizing and unstable economy. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. Morgenson, G. (2011a). Waiting 7 years for 2 answers. The New York Times, February 27. Morgenson, G. (2011b). How a whistleblower conquered countrywide. The New York Times, February 20. Morgenson, G. (2011c). Foreclosure relief? Don’t hold your breath. The New York Times, December 25. Morgenson, G. (2011d). The bank Run we knew so little about. The New York Times, April 3. Nocera, J. (2011). In prison for taking a liar loan. The New York Times, March 26. Peters, P. E. (1998). The erosion of commons and the emergence of property: Problems for social analysis. In R. C. Hunt & A. Gilman (Eds.), Property in economic context (pp. 351–378). Lanham, MD: University Press of America. Polanyi, K. (1947). Our obsolete market mentality: Civilization must find a new thought pattern. Commentary (3). Reprinted, Bobbs-Merrill Reprint Series in the Social Sciences # 224.

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Polanyi, K. (1957 [1944]). The great transformation: The political and economic origins of our time. Boston: Beacon Press. Polanyi, K., Arensberg, C. M., & Pearson, H. W. (1957). Trade and markets in the early empires: Economies in history and theory. Glencoe, IL: The Free Press. Rich, F. (2010). The rage won’t end on election day. The New York Times, October 17. Sachs, J. D. (2005). The end of poverty: Economic possibilities for our time. New York, NY: Penguin Press. Sloan, A., Newmyer, T., & Burke, D. (2010). Why Washington isn’t telling us about the economy. Fortune, November 1, pp. 100–108. Streitfield, D. (2010). Taking on a second mortgage to pay the foreclosure lawyer. The New York Times, November 11. Syll, L. P. (2010). What is (wrong with) economic theory? Real-World Economics Review, 54. The New York Times. (2011). Mr. Romney on foreclosures (editorial). The New York Times, March 26.


A THEORY OF THE ANCIENT MESOAMERICAN ECONOMY Stephen A. Kowalewski ABSTRACT 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, quasimoney, 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).

Political Economy, Neoliberalism, and the Prehistoric Economies of Latin America Research in Economic Anthropology, Volume 32, 187–224 Copyright r 2012 by Emerald Group Publishing Limited All rights of reproduction in any form reserved ISSN: 0190-1281/doi:10.1108/S0190-1281(2012)0000032012




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. Keywords: Ancient economy; Mesoamerica; money; market integration; craft specialization; transaction costs Much has been written about the Mesoamerican economy in regard to what to call it or what type it was, and about some of the institutions such as the famous Aztec pochteca (the long-distance merchants) and the Aztec tribute system. Archaeologists, myself included, have spent a lot of time documenting the obvious, that there were marketplaces and specialized production in Mesoamerica. But little has been written about how the economy worked. What could people do and what were the constraints, what motivated production, exchange, and consumption? Mesoamericanists do not talk in terms of an economic theory, which would be a way of understanding how people got the things they wanted, how producers and consumers interacted, and how the whole aggregate behaved over time. By economy I mean the flow of how people provide themselves with the things they want, the institutions that channel the flow from production to exchange to consumption (or vice versa); and thus how resources are allocated. We do not have an archaeologically testable model of the economy that would help us predict or retrodict patterns, causes, and consequences. This chapter is an attempt to create a general theory of the economy. The theory will have the form of an ideal type, that is, a model based on what is generally agreed on from historical and archaeological studies, and where that is insufficient, what is reasonably logical or plausible. Economies are embedded in societies; economics is a social science. Yet it makes sense to describe the logic of the economy itself, just as one can describe the logic of a kinship system. Once the logic is understood on its own terms, then one can profitably readdress the economy’s relations with the wider social context. That is the strategy of this chapter—to propose how the ancient Mesoamerican economic system worked and then from that vantage point to reconsider economic institutions as they were embedded in society.

A Theory of the Ancient Mesoamerican Economy


MESOAMERICA: THE CONTEXT Mesoamerica was a large-scale, urbanized, multilingual, and multiethnic civilization that had considerable diversity yet had many shared cultural institutions. Mesoamerica began to take shape before 1500 BC, but the time span of concern here is the full-fledged urban period, ad 200 or a little earlier, to ad 1520. The familiar Aztec and Maya were part of this civilization along with scores of groups that spoke other languages. Mesoamerica extended over almost 2000 km and covered an area about the size of contemporary France and Germany combined. It had a population in the multiple tens of millions. Population densities were comparable to other preindustrial civilizations such as the Roman Empire or India. It was urbanized, having many cities with 20,000 to 100,000 or more inhabitants. This was a socially stratified society with classes of nobility, commoners, and a small middle group of merchants and luxury craftsmen. There were differences in wealth, and wealth differentiation did not follow class lines strictly. Mesoamerica did not have a large portion of its population living in slavery or abject poverty. Mesoamerica was never unified in a single empire like China. Politically it was divided into numerous small states or kingdoms, each potentially independent but often part of larger, more temporary alliances or conquest empires. Exchange depended on institutions that transcended the small kingdoms. Most of the important technologies had been invented early in Preclassic times. A few, such as high-temperature ovens, developed later in the urban period. But on the whole, the introduction of new technologies was not a driving force (the deployment or intensification of existing technologies could be another matter). Economic assets were held by households, local communities (barrios), and the state. Land was not commoditized; it was embedded in social relations of the community or the nobility. Industries were agriculture, textiles, construction, mining, and the fabrication of common and luxury craft goods. There was division of labor and specialization in all sectors including agriculture. Mesoamerica did not have the type of money that was used by contemporary Eurasian civilization – there was no coinage, no object made by the state exclusively and used as a general medium of exchange. States were financed by tribute in labor and in kind, and by other taxes. However, most production and exchange took place outside the tribute system and tribute demands in most times and places were relatively light in relation to per capita production. Mesoamerica had systems of rural and urban marketplaces. The density of marketplaces – the number of



marketplaces on the landscape and the number per capita – was as great as in early modern China and greater than in sixteenth-eighteenth-century Western Europe. Households produced for and consumed from the marketplace, but as described below their degree of market participation varied. This brief summary is only intended as a description of the scale of Mesoamerican society. There are much more detailed studies for Western Mexico (Williams, 2004), Postclassic Mesoamerica (Smith & Berdan, 2003), the Aztec Empire (Berdan et al., 1996), and the Maya (McAnany, 2010). On the density of marketplaces see Blanton (1985), Smith (2002) documents cycles of integration and disintegration and Fargher (2009) describes regional economic specializations. Feinman and Garraty (2010) and Garraty and Stark (2010) review progress on the archaeological study of markets and marketing. I do not cover the same ground as these recent empirical studies; instead, I take what they have done as given and explore the question that has not received as much attention, namely a theory for how the economy operated. Here then is the problem: Mesoamerica was an urban civilization of tens of millions of people; it was a nonindustrial economy, yet with considerable specialization in all sectors, with daily dependence on exchange, and with many of the characteristics of marketplace exchange. What motivated the specialized production? How did exchange work without money? To use the term barter would conjure up a wrong image of occasional, primitive, and informal haggling, which is quite impossible, given the large populations and urbanization described above. How were other functions of money, such as savings or investment, accomplished? How was the economy regulated, or to the extent that it was controlled or regulated, was it by administrative or by hidden-hand processes? Was this a dynamic or a standstill, unchanging economy?

METHOD In this chapter I try to answer, in more or less the following order: How does such an economy work? How can it work without coinage? How dynamic is this system? Once understood on its own terms, what is this economy’s relation to other social institutions? I do not attempt to recite all the archaeological and historical evidence that bears on the Mesoamerican economy. Some parts of the economy are well known from archaeological and historical studies, including details of

A Theory of the Ancient Mesoamerican Economy


Aztec tribute and markets. Evidence about other aspects of the economy can be frustratingly slim or absent – pre-Columbian account books, letters, diaries, or other records dealing with ordinary economic matters are exceedingly rare. The Maya area in the Classic period has a large body of texts, but these deal (almost) entirely with the heroic deeds and glorious ancestry of royalty, as if the ordinary economy were beneath them. Yet I think the Maya area, in both Classic and Postclassic times, was as commercialized and market-driven as the rest of Mesoamerica, probably more so in the Late Classic period given its large population and high rates of consumption and production. Because Mesoamerica was a single civilization (with its regional variants), it makes sense to consider its economy as a whole, from the Rı´ o Lerma in the north to the Rı´ o Motagua in the southeast, just as one would consider a Mediterranean world from the Tagus to the Tigris. Keeping the geographical and temporal scope broad helps prevent one region or one period of time that might have somewhat better data from dominating or distorting the whole. Rather than trying to wring something further from ethnohistory and archaeology, this chapter pursues another approach, which is to propose how the economy functioned. In the beginning, I take this as a mostly economic question of how people obtained the goods they wanted. I propose a model for how that worked. This is a theory based on the Mesoamerican context. It fits the known facts, but since much is not known about the economy, by necessity describing how things worked must to go beyond archaeology and history into the realm of what was reasonably likely, given what economists, historians, and anthropologists think they know about economies generally. The theory has the status of an ideal type, which should be useful for providing new questions and insights, generating testable propositions, and comparing with other ancient and not-so-ancient economies. One could expend considerable space citing and situating what follows in the history of economic scholarship, but here I am interested in whether this is a good dog and not so much its pedigree. It should be understood that the words used in this description are theoretical concepts, not native terms. To highlight that this is abstraction instead of history, I use the present tense. Markets are institutions of exchange in which transactions take place among people independent of their other social positions, and in which prices respond to supply and demand. A society with a market economy is one in which a great deal of production is for the market, much exchange of products takes place in the market, and much consumption is from the



market. No single institution controls the economy and tribute relations do not structure the economy. Because people rely on the market for basic needs, the market to an extent structures social relations. The premise is that the Mesoamerican economy, at least in Classic and Postclassic times, operated far more as a market economy than one structured by tribute. I first develop how this market part of the economy worked. But since no society ever has a purely market economy, there is real interest in how nonmarket forces interact with the market features of the economy, and that is the subject of the latter sections of this chapter.

THEORY The plan is first to describe basic economic functions – production, consumption, labor, and exchange. In Mesoamerica the heart of the economy is goods exchange, which is mostly a market activity. I describe quasi-money as a special kind of goods exchange. Underlying these discussions are credit, savings, and investment, which are essential to such dynamics. Once these basic components are defined I bring them into a discussion of market behavior. These more inclusive relations reveal an inherent dynamic in the Mesoamerican economy, a movement in the field between the two opposite poles of commitment to the market versus withdrawal from the market. Once this largely economic theory is presented, I reconnect the economy to other aspects of Mesoamerican culture.

Production and Consumption A good is a thing for which there is demand; it has value. Services can be goods, too. Most production of goods is carried out in domestic rather than workshop settings. Labor is family labor; additional hands are obtained through labor exchange or payments in goods or labor. Some state or noble projects (e.g., large dams) require large work gangs but these are not as common or as important in structuring the economy as the household (or slightly larger) enterprise. For example, most irrigation endeavors are small scale. This small scale of work is efficient for tasks requiring careful attention, independent action, and self-interest. Production is organized as a domestic activity. Many households make things that other households do not make, that is, they are specialist producers. Households specializing in making something often do multiple

A Theory of the Ancient Mesoamerican Economy


crafts. This suggests that the occupational category is not specific, but general (not potter, but maker of things, or maker of fine things). Households can produce multiple kinds of goods depending on market conditions, scheduling, skills, materials, and family or other labor. Sometimes there are clusters of neighboring households practicing the same crafts, but large enterprises organized on a supra-household basis are very rare. Agricultural and extractive specializations work the same way – they are household enterprises. Noble estates have access to landless laborers and tribute labor, yet they too are run as palace households and households writ large, with overseers. Their means of labor control is the serf-like condition of landless laborers. The noble estate, and perhaps the cacao orchard estate, merit scrutiny for their role in the economy, but here I assume that most production is in the hands of domestic units. The household is the firm. Its size, specialization, vis-a`-vis others, degree of internal differentiation (e.g., by gender), and rate of reproduction are all strongly influenced by the degree of market participation. As a consequence of growth and intensified consumption, market exchange tends to increase the rate of new household formation, often by lowering the age of marriage. At the same time, market exchange results in a greater range of household sizes that one sees in a more canonically ordered society, as competition among the ‘‘firms’’ in the three-ring arena of production, exchange, and consumption creates niches, opportunities, accumulations, and exploitations not possible in a culturally normative world. In Mesoamerica, it is almost impossible to separate production and consumption from goods exchange, which is largely market oriented. Through exchange people obtain goods that, in theory, they are often capable of making themselves. This is the rub. Production is not simply for basic survival or subsistence but so that people can obtain other things. Exchange with specialization allows for production of more goods and a greater variety of goods. This is so for several reasons. Individual households do not have the time to make all the goods they could conceivably want; there may be scheduling difficulties. Specialization permits the development of technical skills and practices that foster greater productivity. Thus, comparative advantage and economies of scale (albeit small scale, these are small units of production) enter as factors promoting specialization. If production were redundant, that is, all produced the same goods, then there would be little movement, but once actors wish to exchange, then they should make different, nonredundant products for which there could be demand, and this too fosters specialization. The self-sufficient, subsistence-farming household is a myth that does not apply



to Mesoamerica. Mesoamerica was highly urbanized and had much higher population densities than the mythical world of the autonomous little house on the prairie. Not all specialization occurs in the market context. Specialists may be attached to noble houses or they may work at consigned tasks. But most specialization in Mesoamerica is driven by market exchange. Specialization is not an evolutionary stage or a mark of progress. It is a strategic option that actors employ when the costs of exchange are sufficiently low. This process – low transaction costs push exchange, which in turn encourages specialization – occurs at all scales: the region, city, the locality, and the household. What about full-time versus part-time specialization? It might be said that part-timers do not indicate a real commitment to a complex division of labor, whereas full-timers must rely totally on exchange instead of autosufficiency. Although there is some merit to this observation, it does not go far enough to cover all the implications of specialized goods production. It seems to miss the essence of goods exchange by assuming that most production is of undifferentiated, redundant goods that neither need to be exchanged nor, like grains in a peasant economy, somehow coerced from undifferentiated peasant producers. The full-time versus part-time distinction is not as significant as the broader relation between production and exchange. If two sisters get together in the evening to do each other’s hair, this is not what we mean by specialization, nor is it a market transaction. But suppose they begin to cut the hair of friends and neighbors, receiving something in return. Perhaps this is still not a market transaction. But when they begin asking a calculated amount of that something in return, and when their clientele can calculate whether that cost is worth it in regard to something else, such as the service offered by another haircutter, then the exchange starts to resemble a market transaction. When the haircutters have distinctive skills and efficiencies that arise from repetition and the response to increasing demand, they are acting as specialists. What matters is not whether the haircutters ply their craft part-time or full-time, but whether others forsake their own sharp knives in favor of someone else’s, that the price for the service is related to the demand, and that the haircutter and the customer can evaluate the value-for-goods equation. It does not matter much whether the haircutter grows maize when she is not cutting heads. She may be buying and selling potions and song part of the time too. As a specialist she is providing a service that others do not perform, and here she is doing it in market conditions. Thus, the economy could be full of

A Theory of the Ancient Mesoamerican Economy


specialists and most workers could be specialists, whether they worked at one craft every day for eight hours or whether they each had several distinctive goods that they made for exchange. Aside from the theoretical point that full-time versus part-time is not the important distinction to make, there is a practical consideration. Archaeologically, it is quite difficult to demonstrate whether a specialty is full-time or part-time. Archaeologists have had success measuring volumes and rates of output, scale, standardization, skill, and the location of the work, but full- versus part-time is often just a guess. It is a mistake to see production as divided simply between crafts (common and luxury) and subsistence farming (corn, beans, and squash). Instead, within the agricultural sector (including food, fiber, fuels, wood, medicines, dyestuffs, and other materials), there are many opportunities for specialization, differentiation of product, and division of labor. Those who devote their economic energies to staple grain production are also specialists; they too have narrowed their efforts from everything that they could potentially grow, to a smaller range of goods, and their output gains in efficiency and quality. But to say that staple grain producers are subsistence farmers or that they are the basic domestic economy would be to confuse a historically derived, specialized trait with a supposed basic or original condition. In the Mesoamerican diet, more so than in the Old World, most protein and carbohydrates comes from plant sources and meat is supplementary. This means that people need access to a wide variety of plant foods. Mesoamerican agriculture is not single-crop dominated. Maize, thought of as the basic grain, is itself genetically quite variable. Mesoamericans create highly differentiated strains adapted to different moisture, soil, and growing season conditions. This offers all sorts of different properties on the consumption side, in terms of differences in storability, texture, flavor, cooking properties, etc. Amaranth, xerophytic plants, chilies, tomatoes, beans, and squashes are other major crop groups that are grown in volume and are also quite differentiated along the chain from production to consumption. Modern economists usually consider industry to be the engine of the economy because it is dynamic and features increasing returns to scale; agriculture is often depicted as static and having diminishing returns. Mesoamerica is not an industrial economy. But one should not downplay the potentials in agriculture for increasing returns to investment and for the variety, specialization, and differentiation of products that contribute to economic expansion. The making of differentiated agricultural goods



involves specialization, labor efficiencies, technical knowledge, and value not found in economies dominated by monoculture. Again, one should not take the derived condition for the original. Producers are capable of generating surpluses in all sectors. In addition to agriculture and extraction (mining, salt, etc.), textiles and building materials are especially significant. Textiles are made of locally available fibers such as agave, which can be fine or coarse, and cotton, grown much more successfully in the lowlands but exported to the highlands. Textiles absorb labor, they can be almost infinitely differentiated, they can store value, and they convey messages of style. Dyes such as cochineal require specialized skills and long hours of labor. The production of materials used in buildings, primarily houses because there are so many of these, and also public buildings because they can be large and fancy, is an important economic activity. Construction often requires skills, time, and materials that are not universally available. Lime plaster and stucco, wood, stone, and in many cases adobes and even site preparation are subject to economies of scale in the sense that labor is more productive when organized at a greaterthan-household scale. Markets encourage product differentiation and product recognition. Buyers can assure themselves of consistent product quality by purchasing from reliable sellers or by purchasing products that are somehow marked or identified (by maker, place, or style, for example). Consumption is attuned to product attributes, including seasonal availability, differentiation, taste, recognition, style, and fashion. This applies to textiles, houses, tools, and food. Cuisines like Mesoamerica’s require market systems and specialized growers, traders, purveyors, and cooks. Not all goods used in common households are vital necessities – many goods are things of fashion, desire, or comfort. Consumption and production can expand and contract – they are not simply a function of population size. As will be developed below, consumption rates are higher with economic growth and market integration than in times of stagnation and market disintegration. Before committing to making things for the market, producers have to consider their costs against returns, including risks and uncertainties. Their costs include labor and other factors of production, transport and transaction costs, and opportunity costs. The potential benefits of marketing goods consist of the returns to the exchange itself plus what one might gain in information. Producers can refrain from marketing their goods if costs outweigh returns. For example, a farming household could try for self-sufficiency. But producers are lured into the market, instead of being self-sufficient, by high prices. Production of many goods requires

A Theory of the Ancient Mesoamerican Economy


materials available only through the market. Producers are also consumers and they are attracted into the market by the availability and variety of consumer goods. Consumers are brought to the market because of time and scheduling needs, desire for ritual goods, and if they are marketdependent city dwellers, by necessity. Consumers hold back from the market if prices are too high or because of high transport or transaction costs. Is there a profit motive in Mesoamerica? One might ask this in a specific sense – what is the actor thinking when he or she does something? In that specific sense I have no answer, it is something I cannot know because I know neither the cultural categories and linguistic terms in which thoughts are expressed nor can I possibly know the subtle ways in which at any moment an actor combines and deploys these ideas. The theory I am developing does not depend on assumptions about specific conceptual motives. It likewise does not depend on a population of actors having some proportion of aggrandizers, cooperators, or cheaters – it is not that kind of theory. From the evidence one has to say that whatever one might call the motives, people do produce a lot, exchange a lot, and consume a lot. If pressed I would say that the reason people produce and exchange is in the broad sense, to consume. As reasoning and knowledgeable actors, they adjust their production and exchange strategies in order to meet their goals for acquiring and using goods and services. Profits or losses on exchanges accrue, and actors can amass their gains in order to save, invest, or spend on their objectives.

Labor If in the monetary economy money is the center of all, in Mesoamerica labor is the investment, the hope for the future, and what you want to control and not lose. Labor is not as mobile as in the industrialized economy but neither is it fixed in place like bedrock. Labor moves for local opportunity, by migration between communities, by rural-to-urban migration, and by the founding or abandonment of towns. Landless laborers move between noble estates and in and out of local communities where they may reacquire or lose usufruct rights to land. Land is not easily bought and sold under ordinary circumstances. Rights to land are fluid, they can be negotiated but are generally not commoditized, and access is through community institutions or through nobles. On the larger scale, if land is scarce, labor will move away; if land is plentiful, labor will move to it. Land sometimes



absorbs more labor and sometimes it casts off labor. Migration to new lands can be carried out by households, communities, ad hoc popular organization, or lords and kings. Apart from family labor, there are three kinds of labor exchange – tributary, reciprocal, and market. Not all work is bound by customary reciprocal exchange, or forced as tribute, as there is often leakage in the direction of the market. A person will not enter into labor exchange unless coerced or unless there is some advantage to him. A person does not sell his labor for money, but can give it or lend it or exchange it for other goods. This means a laborer is a lender, letting out his time, and expecting returns in subsistence, plus a little more, for he expects that the value of his labor will be returned at an appropriate time in the future. Often the appropriate time in the future is his choice, which helps make the exchange advantageous. Labor is more available for use, or lending-out, when the worker has confidence that he will be repaid. A labor-borrower has a future obligation to repay when the lender specifies. Some labor is given freely or forced, in which case the receiver is not obligated to repay full value but the laborer does expect to receive some benefit. Thus, in the nonmonetary economy, lenders extend labor as well as goods to borrowers, who repay the principle of the debt in kind, plus a little more. Labor is a slow credit. Laborers build up credit that they anticipate will be redeemed in the future. In a growing economy, demands increase, labor costs go up, and the laborer reaps greater advantages. In a contracting economy, labor costs fall and the labor-lender will be reluctant to enter into labor exchange if he has little confidence that he will be repaid. The remunerations due to laborers are sticky; they are fixed by tradition, they may increase in times of higher demand, but in times of economic slowdown they do not fall as fast as the prices of other goods.

Exchange and Prices What favors market exchange and market principles instead of other forms of exchange is the sheer volume of transactions. Cities have tens of thousands of inhabitants or more; urbanized regional systems have a hundred thousand or more; and Mesoamerica as a whole has a population in the low tens of millions. Population densities are as high or higher than other places in which markets are the main means of economic exchange. Mesoamericans are no different in this respect than other societies with comparable or lower population densities – they use market exchange.

A Theory of the Ancient Mesoamerican Economy


Mesoamerica has nonmonetary goods exchange, which is best understood as operating by market principles, but in the absence of money as I define it (in the section on quasi-money, below). Goods are exchanged for other goods and each good has a going rate relative to others. It may be that Good A can never be exchanged for Good Z, but there are other equivalencies or relations that ultimately connect A to Z. In nonmonetary goods exchange, over the long run prices are determined by the supply and demand of each good relative to others. Whether there is a ‘‘natural’’ or ‘‘ought to be’’ price for Good A in relation to Good B is subject to theoretical debate and is not considered here. Let us assume that all goods have values in relation to all others, that the relation is not totally fixed, and that it fluctuates with supply and demand. Values are conventional; they are socially defined. How is value transmitted across space and time? Value is transmitted across space as goods themselves, as labor (people moving), or as information, as in promises to pay. There is an international social understanding of what is valuable that is shared among the speakers of Mesoamerica’s many different languages. These conventions have deep historical roots going back into the second millennium BC or earlier. Although value is in this sense conventional or arbitrary, it may be assumed that prices are momentary measures of exchange value. What is being purchased can be measured against the standard of value of another commodity, for example, a day’s labor. Yet labor is only one component of price and so labor is only a rough measure. Or a good for sale might be measured against another good, say cacao or maize, and again this will be a rough measure, the day’s price, because the supply and demand for maize and cacao also fluctuate. It is useful to think of ranking goods along axes of scarcity and demand. Some goods are immediately consumed but others are goods to make other goods and their value is not recouped until some time in the future. Liquidity or convertibility, labor investment, utility, and transport cost further specify how goods may be valued for one purpose or another. Market participants know the current values of Goods A, B,yF relative to each other, so that n units of A ¼ n units of B, n units of C, etc. These are prices, and they can move on a daily basis. Some prices may be set by decree or custom, but none are fixed forever. In any given transaction a new price may be found, because of greater or lesser supply and greater or lesser demand. Since the prices of all goods are ultimately related to one another, price changes between two goods will affect prices of other goods. The time factor – long run, short run, lags, and stickiness – makes the coordination



of relative prices rather uncertain and it leaves considerable room for maneuver. Suppose a year of poor harvest. The price of maize, measured in other goods, rises. The response is greater production of the other goods. If the original equivalent of ten units of maize was one loaf of salt, with a maize scarcity its price rises to two loaves of salt. Producers will make more salt, until the market saturates. The market will seek substitutes for maize and maize farmers will plan for a larger harvest the next year. If the prices of maize and salt are to some degree set by custom or fiat, the response of the producers of other goods will be weaker, but in general there will be a reconciliation to supply and demand. Price changes of a secular character, beyond daily fluctuations, can have substantial effects. An arbitrary rise in the price of cloth means more demand for other goods such as maize, salt, cacao, or labor. If consumers are to buy the same amount of cloth, they will have to produce more other goods; but if consumers buy less cloth the cloth producers will have to lower their price or produce less. Generally, increasing prices stimulate increased production and consumption. Falling prices discourage market participation by producers. This is a nonmonetary economy, as I define nonmonetary here, but it is not static or uncomplicated. After all, prices of goods fluctuate relative to each other and there are a lot of goods, which means a lot of prices to keep track of. The state can set prices for its own tactical desires as economic actor or in response to pressures from below. Although prices of goods are adjusted relative to each other, not all goods are equal. Some have prices that are stickier than others. Labor prices are embedded in custom. Yet in the long run customary or set prices are influenced by economic supply and demand. Many goods have some of the functions of money: in addition to use values, they have exchange value, serve as measures of value and media of exchange, and store value over time and space. Instead of a single currency, there are multiple currencies, each having values relative to each other. As with other goods, changes in the demand and supply of one have effects on the value of the others. Really valuable things do not circulate in the market – there is no market for them. They may be bestowed, displayed, or hoarded, but they are not exchanged anonymously. If one thinks of goods arranged along an axis of value, then bad goods will drive out good goods, meaning that good goods will not circulate. Good goods have their place outside the market, where – during some times – they can do more good. The more the market works,

A Theory of the Ancient Mesoamerican Economy


the higher along the axis of value do we find the goods that circulate and conversely, the less the market works, more goods of somewhat lesser value are hoarded, held back, or reserved for other kinds of social exchange (Europe has archaeological hoards, Mesoamerica mostly does not). The same applies to labor – bad labor is more easily exchangeable but good labor tends to be kept. When the market is working well, more labor is available for exchange.

Savings and Investment Mesoamerica does not have warehouses or other special space for storage. It does not have communal or temple storage facilities. Instead, just as the unit of production (the firm) is the household, the locus for storing goods for future exchange is the same firm, the household. The cycle from production to consumption is quick. Royal palaces are much larger houses and they can keep a larger range of goods, including weapons, and more items of ceremony and rank. But by and large in this economy people do not save goods – goods are exchanged, not kept or banked. The big exception is textiles, which can be stored and can hold their value. Saving or banking labor is possible, it may be underutilized or in a sense saved up for future use, but it has its storage costs and in this economy labor exchange is encouraged, providing the return is satisfactory. Savings can be consumed. For savings to hold their value or appreciate, savings have to be invested, that is, exchanged. Savings are not in the form of money; they are labor, land, and goods. All these things can be saved, but they are not as liquid as money. They can take time to convert to other things and they are not always exchangeable for any good whatever. An economic actor can build up savings in debts owed to him, in labor, in land, and perhaps in some goods. These things can be exchanged for other things in anticipation of advantage at the moment or in the future. Redeeming savings depends on the expectation that their values will be retained, that is, it depends on confidence in a future condition. Saving has moments, one being exchange, the other being hoarding. The latter has a deleterious effect on the market. In nonmonetary goods exchange, if I have a stock of a valuable good I should exchange it at its highest price, when it is scarcest, therefore I may hold it until I think it is at its highest price. But everyone else having Good A may do the same and the good will not circulate. In this event I may move to hold another good, hoping for more movement or hoping to be able to use these goods in



nonmarket ways. Suppose the same thing happens, everyone holds instead of plays. This universal saving drives the system toward household selfsufficiency. One might assume that as these saved goods become scarce in the market, their price will rise – but not if they are beyond price. Prices are related to the volume and velocity of goods exchange. If goods are being saved instead of placed into circulation, then prices will deflate. With low prices producers have no incentive, and although they may produce in anticipation of a future rise in price, they will not sell with the current low prices. Something is keeping producers from exchanging their hoards. The goods are too valuable to exchange. In the above scenario, hoarding in anticipation of a good’s future scarcity can lead to hoarding other goods. However, saving has its other moment, which is investment. For example, even as Goods A and B are held instead of exchanged, if a producer can make a Good C for which there is a demand and not much supply (it is not yet hoarded) that producer can exchange it for some other good or goods, either to be consumed, saved, or exchanged again. This would be an incentive to make differentiated products (specialization) and an incentive to exchange. From the point of view of the buyer of Good C, buying C is an opportunity to dump savings and acquire another good not yet in hand, for consumption, savings, or exchange. This is one path toward converting savings into things in circulation. Similarly the institution of exchanging one’s labor to extract a promise of equivalent labor in the future discourages idle savings, or hoarding. Households amass savings in labor, land, tools, skills, houses, goods, etc., in order to produce other goods; in other words these are the capital goods of the economy. Household savings are short-term capital, gathered from existing household stocks and from exchange, to be applied to new projects. Savings are invested in anticipation that the returns will be greater than if the goods are consumed, hoarded, or kept while their value declines. Labor (a major capital good in this sense), land, tools, skills, houses, and other goods are only capital goods; they have other values too, but actors do not ignore their potential values as means for increasing income. Exchange moves household savings toward investment. This investment-building exchange depends on credit.

Credit In Mesoamerican market exchange, it is most unlikely that every transaction requires goods handed over on the spot. The volume of exchange and

A Theory of the Ancient Mesoamerican Economy


number of transactions are simply too great. Exchange is facilitated by lowering such transaction costs. Credit is one mechanism for avoiding inefficient good-for-good trading. High volumes of exchange imply ways of keeping track of amounts owed, as well. Many purchases involve a promise to pay later. Various kinds of credit, debt, and interest are possible in the nonmonetary economy. If a buyer buys a good on credit with a promise to repay the value of the good, that is, a loan. If the buyer must repay more than the original value of the good, that is a form of interest. If one or the other party can specify when payment is to be made, that is an advantage. But if the seller-on-credit must come after the buyer to collect, that is his disadvantage. Repayments deferred beyond that time are unpaid debts. Credit sales in a marketplace context could require that buyer and seller know one another; for transactions in which the seller does not know or does not have confidence in the buyer, other mechanisms are possible, such as pawning. All of these transactions, whether the parties know one another or not, require some accounting. In Mesoamerica, long-distance merchants operate on credit in the form of large stocks of goods used as investments in trading ventures. Those who lend their labor in reciprocal exchange operate in a similar way to sellers of common goods. Both extend credit in anticipation of future advantages and by their actions they quicken the pace of exchange and the general reliance on exchange. Lenders assume a risk that they will not be repaid and they take this into account in their calculations. Borrowers who do not repay risk social sanctions. The cost of credit is in part subject to supply and demand, but it is also influenced by confidence and convention. Credit speeds transactions, adds to their volume, and raises prices. It raises prices in the goods-exchange economy because it stimulates demand and consumption. In a money economy, moneys and various kinds of specialized credit add liquidity and velocity not seen in the Mesoamerican economy. In Mesoamerica, debt, credit, and accumulation operate more slowly, but when we keep in mind the high volume of transactions, such processes can work forcefully.

Quasi-Money In this system of exchange, of all the goods in circulation, some function as media of exchange, or money of account, or standards of value more than others. Some of these goods are very scarce (quills filled with gold dust) and circulate only in rarified networks; some are just scarce in some places but



fairly abundant in others (salt, cacao). Other goods used as money are crafted using considerable labor and expertise (woven cotton mantas, thin copper axes). These are known from the Aztec world and I assume that other goods also function as quasi-money in Mesoamerican history. Other forms of textiles, measures of grains or liquids, shell, or semiprecious stones are possibilities. A day’s labor may also be an important standard unit of value and exchange (labor is most often thought of as reciprocal or tribute but it is also a currency of credit and debt). Raw chunks or standard-weight bars of precious metal are not known as money in Mesoamerica. The goods used as quasi-money are generally anonymous. They are not signed, stamped, or dated. One could not identify by inspection the person who made them nor the institution that issued them (although certain textiles might be identified by regional style). One could judge the quality of a cacao bean, a woven cloth, or a loaf of salt, yet common goods money or quasi-money objects do not have a known history or background, in contrast to highly crafted prestige or sumptuary items such as the emperor’s cloak or a Maya polychrome funerary pot. These highly crafted items do have a history, they are meant to be presented, and are not media of exchange. In short, some goods function as standards of value, media of exchange, and ways of accounting, yet these are not coinage, not fiat money, not state monopolies, and they do have use value. It is likely that multiple goods are quasi-money at any given place and time, to provide means of exchange for smaller and larger, more frequent and less frequent transactions, or for specific types of transactions (denominations, so to speak). Commodity money is a generally known term, but I have a slight preference for quasi-money here to avoid commodity’s modern connotations of bulk and quantity. The Mesoamerican commodity money as a solution to high-volume trade merits more attention in general explanations of the evolution of money, states, and markets. Quasi-money is not bullion, fiat money, or coinage because in the first instance it has some intrinsic usevalue and in the second instance it lacks the exclusivity of state-minted money – mantas, cacao, and salt are widely produced, as are other potential quasi-money goods. Additionally, in Mesoamerica there are many small states, all with adjacent neighbors, so no state can impose a fiat money, and economic exchange regularly crosses porous state borders. Some of the quasi-moneys may suggest efforts to standardize exchange beyond the local and regional, to the interregional scale. Although at some times and places kings claim gold sources and demand gold from the producers as tribute, local and regional transactions use more

A Theory of the Ancient Mesoamerican Economy


common, higher-volume quasi-moneys whose values reflect local and regional prices. An interesting implication is that higher-order goods used as money will tend to be withdrawn from circulation to be hoarded or used in nonmarket exchange contexts, while common goods circulate more freely and are subject to market principles. When a common good becomes a quasi-money, this tends to increase its production and exchange, which as a consequence increases circulation and raises nominal prices. As above, one could save quasi-money in anticipation of a rise in its price, but a risk of doing so is that its value would fall. A falling price of quasi-money is caused by its producers making and putting more of it into circulation or by a glut of the goods for which the quasi-money is exchanged. If quasi-money savings increase (are hoarded), the lesser goods circulate in their place, but there is the risk that the price of these goods may fall (as in the above argument, where lack of circulation deflates prices generally). The falling price of the nonquasi-money goods deflates the value of the quasi-money and quasi-money holders risk losses. Hoarding quasi-money has exactly the same effect as hoarding other goods – it jeopardizes savings if its exchange value falls. There is nothing particularly simple or primitive about having a quasimoney economy. From the macroeconomic perspective, a quasi-money can behave like token money in that its value is linked to its quantity and to the volume of transactions, but there is also the complicating factor that it is not just a token – it has use value. Having multiple quasi-moneys is clearly even more complicated than having only one. In contrast, it is token money or coinage that is the simplification. But in spite of its potential conveniences, coinage simplifies to the advantage of the state. Bullion or coinage are external goods easily monopolized by states, whereas quasi-moneys are commodities more generally available, goods in which more people have a stake, goods that are more difficult for states to monopolize because they have multiple sources and producers and because their production is embedded in social groups and communities within society. Who says that something shall be a quasi-money? We do not know. It may arise from below, as a social fact of custom; it may result from commercial interests; it may be mandated by kings; and in Mesoamerican history all of these may play a role. There is no reason to assume that the state has much to do with the origins and use of quasi-money in common goods, which quite easily may come from the necessities of trade in which the state has little interest. Market transactions (those in marketplaces and those outside of the marketplace that take place under market principles) work by ‘‘cash’’ or credit, that is, the exchange is complete with the good



and the quasi-money changing hands on the spot, or if by credit, with the balance reckoned in quasi-money as a unit of account and settled at a later time. An evolutionary consequence of having multiple quasi-moneys instead of state coinage is that Mesoamerica does not have such a tight preciousmetal/staple-grain nexus as in many parts of the Old World. In Europe and Asia, the state monopolizes precious metals and controls their circulation as raw chunks, standard bullion, or coins; the price of wheat is pegged to silver; the state demands taxes in silver equivalency; and the farmer tends to become a single-commodity wheat producer. In Mesoamerica, most tribute collected by states is in the form of goods and labor, not bullion or coin. Quasi-money in rare goods such as gold tends not to circulate and is diverted into items of high craft, display, and prestation. Nonfiat-money exchange with common goods quasi-money is an old, socially embedded institution in Mesoamerica. Common goods quasi-money such as cloth has economic benefit for more people, because it encourages production and exchange outside the tribute system. Quasi-money in common goods is local market-friendly because it tends to bolster local and regional prices, participants tend to have more complete information, it has relatively stable or customary exchange values that are harder to manipulate, and numerous producers benefit by believing they can make money. Mesoamerican household consumption displays a range from wealthy to common, but that range is more egalitarian, less stratified than in many other societies. It is reasonable to propose that this relative equality is related to the use of quasi-moneys rather than state money. From the popular point of view, there are grounds for resisting rare quasi-moneys. Declaring a rare good a quasi-money or proscribing the general use of a good (sumptuary laws) advantages the king but not the market generally. That Mesoamerica does not have coinage or money is not necessarily an evolutionary lacking, but instead a reflection of the strength of communities and markets relative to the circumscribed power of the state, a relation that is of course variable and dynamic.

Markets and Market Integration Markets are efficient means of bringing buyers and sellers together so that supplies of goods are matched with demands. A feature of markets that makes them efficient compared with other forms of exchange is that when there are many potential buyers and sellers, markets have lower transaction

A Theory of the Ancient Mesoamerican Economy


costs. Markets are supposed to be efficient in allocating resources. The matching of supplies and demands results in prices that if not completely stable are reasonably predictable. The system relies on participants’ confidence and expectations of predictable conditions. Prices are sometimes set by the state or by custom but over time prices move in response to supply and demand. Marketplaces – the physical scene for the coming together of buyers and sellers – are common in Mesoamerica. These markets deal in a wide range of goods, including the products of labor, tools, materials, seed, and services. I assume that day laborers can be hired. These are product and service markets. Marketplaces are sometimes located adjacent to government buildings or temples, and at times they are located away from such places. They may be situated in town centers or at the edges of towns, at the borders of political territories, or along interregional trade routes. The volume of transactions and the number of different goods available through market exchange vary by place in the market system – urban versus rural and core versus periphery. Markets rotate on known schedules, sometimes, for example, on a five-day cycle. Urban markets meet more often. It should be assumed that sellers are found at other places of convenience around or away from market plazas, and that there are also ambulant vendors and buyers. Wholesalers and retailers who travel long distances from market to market are common in recent peasant market systems, but their importance in ancient Mesoamerica is somewhat more limited because of the transport costs. Nevertheless, in many situations ancient Mesoamerican household producers find it convenient to sell not directly to consumers but to specialized market sellers. Mesoamerican long-distance traders also articulated with the market system. Marketplaces, together with the buying and selling that inevitably occur in physical settings outside the formal market plaza, operate under the economic principles of supply and demand, although with the tolerance, blessing, or regulation of states. The great bulk of economic exchange takes place in these circumstances; so most exchange of goods and services operates under market principles. When I use the term market integration, I mean the overlapping of markets for different goods, the joining of two or more spatially separate market systems into one, or the geographical spread of a common market system. (Another meaning of the term economic integration refers to the degree to which market principles spread to other spheres of material life, beyond marketplace exchange, for example, into the exchange of prestige goods, land, or labor. For now I do not treat integration in that sense, but



below I take up how these other spheres can move in and out of the gravitational field of market relations.) Market integration in the geographic sense spreads the risk of shortages outward and to a greater mass of participants, which allows for further specialization while buffering against local or temporary production failures. A consequence of market integration is common prices, which in turn means that competing producers operate under similar constraints. Two hurdles for market integration are transaction and transportation costs. Integration is aided if people from another place can move with their goods freely and securely across political lines and exchange on the same terms as the locals. As markets become larger, there are more wholesalers or middlemen. Quasi-moneys lower both transaction and transport costs. In Mesoamerica transportation is generally on foot, but there are ways to lower these costs: canoes in the lowlands, coasts, and lakes; road and path maintenance; organizing caravans; and specialized carriers. In Mesoamerica, interregional market integration entails the widespread reliance on strategic or world-system goods. These are goods whose production and exchange transcend the local, cross regional lines, and help shape the mode of production and exchange. Mesoamerica has a number of strategic goods, including cacao, obsidian, cloth, salt, semiprecious stones, marine shell, some kinds of well-made pottery, and copper. Their production requires technological skills, tools, and other materials. The volumes of production are impressive, and that they moved in quantity between regions implies institutions not described in detail in ethnohistorical sources. Many but not all of these goods are found in every household in regions far from their sources. As transport and transaction costs are lowered between geographic regions, goods exchange increases within and between the regions. So does specialization. Specialization increases market integration and market dependency. A characteristic pattern of geographical specialization emerges. This pattern, awkwardly termed zonification, consists of specialized producers (households) of different goods, for example, intensive maize farmers, cultivators of xerophytic plants, and charcoal, lime, and wood producers, spatially segregated in distinct zones or clusters, with their products going into the common trading system. Zonification entails comparative advantage and potential differences in labor productivity. When transactions costs fall, zonification increases, but the converse also occurs: if transaction costs rise too much, because of insecurity, tariffs, etc., the volume of exchange falls, specialization is put at risk, and market systems fragment geographically.

A Theory of the Ancient Mesoamerican Economy


Large-scale zonification in specialized production as well as the making, exchanging, and consuming of world-system goods depend on functioning market exchange and the increasing integration of local and regional market systems. Conversely, the decline of markets adversely affects the interregional distribution of goods. This simple conclusion has major consequences discussed in the following section.

Dynamics The Mesoamerican economy is dynamic. It is not static sameness. Below I take up noneconomic factors that cause it to change in one direction or another; these factors are at times very powerful. Here I discuss how economic processes, operating by themselves in the absence of other causes (which they never do in the real world), are sufficient to bring about the most drastic developments. One can imagine the aggregate of production, or exchange, or consumption for regions or for Mesoamerica as a whole (especially for those times when the economy approached being effectively integrated across much or all of Mesoamerica), and that the aggregate could be described by certain measures. ‘‘Imagine,’’ of course, because there are no such statistics, per se. Yet economies have such characteristics as total output, value of goods and services produced in a year, outstanding credit, savings rate, value of labor relative to other goods, quantities of quasi-moneys, or total volume or value of exchange. Some of these measures might even be approachable archaeologically, through proxies for household production and consumption, the intensity and differentiation of production, and relative volumes of trade (over periods much longer than a year). In this section and following sections, I derive some predictions about how these aggregate measures should behave. Some economic movements, such as accumulation of aggregate wealth or debt, are slow compared to monetized economies that have specialized financial instruments. Nevertheless other movements are rapid, especially the movement of information, news, rumor, ebullience, fear, and panic. Another factor contributing to the velocity and force of economic processes is the high volume of daily transactions. There are two poles between which the economy moves. Neither pole is a stable equilibrium. Whether the movement between the two ends is cyclical or has a regular rhythm is to me still uncertain. One pole is market participation, market efficiency, and market integration. As the economy trends toward this pole producers make more



goods for the market, households consume more and they depend more and more on the market, aggregate debt increases, there is more competition between producers, yet the overall trend is toward increasing prices because of pressure from demand. That is, prices increase relative to the value of other goods, and in turn the prices of these other good increase. For example, increasing demand for salt raises its price and in turn raises the price of labor for salt workers. Producers expand their output by selling at a greater geographical distance or by encouraging more consumption close to home. The geographical range of goods is wide and consumption rates are relatively high. This is the growth phase of the economy in which absolute and per capita consumption increases, households form at a faster rate, age at marriage (a prime fertility regulator) declines, and population increases. The pole of full market participation is not a stable equilibrium point for at least three reasons: resource limits to growth, declining marginal productivity of labor in cores areas, and oversupply of key goods. Lenders find themselves holding debts that are devalued or uncollectible, and although such debt may not have the immediate consequences that it does in monetary economies, it can have significant reverberations because of the ways the problem might be handled politically and because lenders will be less inclined to extend credit in the future. These factors combine to bring down prices and reverse the trend toward market participation and integration. The opposite pole is withdrawal from the market, attempted selfsufficiency, and market disintegration. Producers find prices too low to warrant production for the market. Goods and labor are saved instead of being put out for exchange. The value of labor falls. The number of different goods available through market exchange declines. There is less exchange, and as the volume of trade decreases so does it efficiency, a further discouragement to trade. Consumption rates fall and goods do not travel very far. Widespread market integration and market dependence are based on high prices and confidence. Falling confidence or falling prices will keep producers at home. Prices can fall because of overproduction and oversupply. Overextensions in terms of inventory oversupply are possible in food, construction material, and textiles. For example, when laborintensive agriculture pays off in large harvests, there are both large numbers of consumers and declining price. Producers continue to deploy large workforces because of customary contracts. Producers plant more to make up for the low prices. The price of labor eventually falls with the price of maize. These declines ripple into falling prices for other goods – deflation.

A Theory of the Ancient Mesoamerican Economy


Other goods now have lower prices because to some extent they are set by custom to the maize or labor price. Also, because of the falling price of labor, the prices of other goods decline as laborers have less purchasing power (and some have moved away). In peripheral areas and neighboring core regions, where in good times producers participate in the market because prices are high relative to transport costs, now the opposite is true and the market loses these participants as producers and consumers. Corearea producers now have smaller markets. Loss of supplies from peripheral and neighboring regions reduces the variety of goods in the core. Surpluses that had been used as investments (exchanged) are now saved or hoarded. Regional market systems disintegrate by successive loss of connection with neighboring regions, peripheries, and then hinterlands, by the same process of falling prices leading to nonparticipation by producers. Where zonification has created intense local and regional specializations, households as producers and consumers are especially vulnerable. All these downward trends can be – are likely to be – widespread geographically; they can drastically reshape regional population, settlement pattern, and urbanization; and they create climates of uncertainty in which political reaction is likely. When market integration fails, interregional connections are broken, some regions may collapse, and other regions may form under new urban organization (as in the Terminal Preclassic and Epiclassic). These new central-place systems tend to consist of a set of smallish cities or towns or a single primate urban center. On the upswing of the cycle, these newly constituted, rather closed regions, may enjoy a burst of relative prosperity. High rates of consumption and internal growth can be created by influx and concentration of labor, intensification, and local specialization. These regions may collapse in turn or they may become part of more open, macroregional systems with interregional market integration once again. Disintegrating markets do not encourage the making of quality goods. In fact, shoddy goods can be an indicator of peripheral place in a market system or of markets that are failing or inefficient, but shoddy goods may also be the bottom-end of retail in urban markets. High-quality products are more frequent in efficient markets that have wide geographical integration. For instance, consider pottery. High-quality, specialist-produced polychromes and other fine serving wares should be common (not confined to prestations) and widely spread geographically during periods of market integration; conversely, cheap serving wares should dominate in periods of poor market integration and the range of these goods should be more restricted.



In the Mesoamerican economy, one is not as concerned about money as one is about the value and well-being of labor – labor and land are the key goods that are saved or invested; they are the hope for or the fear of the future. When the economy tends toward the pole of market failure and market disintegration, this is the moment that jeopardizes stable relationships of land and labor, it is a time when these may collapse and reorganize. Economic failure can thus threaten established political institutions of class, landholding, and territory. The pole of auto-sufficiency is not a stable equilibrium because households and local communities do not have sufficient labor, time, skills, and materials to make all they want. In theory, households could produce a limited range of food for themselves, and try to market the rest in good years. But the Mesoamerican diet requires access to a broader array of foods, and households need other goods that are difficult to procure and make. Self-sufficiency also has real problems of risk, which with the market can be mitigated through exchange. What about hedging against risk through limited self-sufficiency combined with reciprocal nonmarket exchange? One problem with this strategy is that local communities small enough to manage internal reciprocal exchange are not large enough to have all the resources consumers will demand. As geographically specific places, local communities are also inappropriate units to head off risks like drought or crop pests that will affect all. The combination of attempted self-sufficiency plus local community exchange is a more realistic strategy than household self-sufficiency alone, but only in the short run, as market forces internal and external will tend to cross the boundaries of closed-exchange communities. Coming out of the down cycle, several factors work to move the economy toward the growth pole. There may be surplus labor, production costs are relatively low, there is latent consumer demand, and land that had been abandoned may now be available. The economic ingredients of favorable prices, readily available factors of production, and pent-up demand still require social stirring to get things going, for there is much to ‘‘lowering transaction costs’’ that is not purely economic, and ‘‘confidence’’ is a social fact. The Mesoamerican economy has a dynamic. It moves between more and lesser market dependence, or in more abstract terms, between open, network economic strategies and closed, corporate strategies. There are periods of high consumption rates and strong demographic growth, and periods of little growth, weak markets, and anemic prices. Convergent forces internal to the economy are sufficiently powerful to propel the system toward the one

A Theory of the Ancient Mesoamerican Economy


pole or the other. The dynamic of the economy is a powerful force that by itself would be capable of causing widespread and profound change in demography and political institutions. But the real world is not a separate world. The economy is embedded in other social institutions. The causes of great social change rarely are attributable to a single factor.

RECONNECTING ECONOMY TO SOCIETY The economy is affected by many external factors, and in turn the economy helped shape many other aspects of culture, but here I draw attention to a few connections that seem particularly salient in Mesoamerica.

Urbanization Mesoamerica has high population densities and a high proportion of its population residing in cities, comparable or greater than that of other preindustrial civilizations. Regional urban central place systems are variable in form. At different times and places, there are documented examples resembling k ¼ 3, k ¼ 4, and k ¼ 7 ‘‘marketing’’ and ‘‘administrative’’ regional urban systems from classical central-place theory; and city-size distributions can be convex, log-normal, and primate in rank-size distribution. By the Classic period in Mesoamerica, urbanism is inextricably bound up with the market system. Urban centers spur market system development; market development is essential for the city and for its urbanized settlement system, including both rural and urban areas. Market development and population growth are closely interrelated. Mesoamerican cities serve various functions. They are civic-ceremonial centers and capitals of states, but their primary economic function is commercial (as opposed to industrial). They serve as commercial centers for their regions and some are nodes in long-distance exchange. If there were a typical form of the Mesoamerican city it would be the agrarian urban center, which serves as the hub for a regional market system, the main articulator for interregional trade and diplomacy, and the ultimate authority for dispute resolution. This is the place where the widest range of goods and the highest-order goods are most available. Cities attract migrants for work in commerce, intensive agriculture, public works, and state activities. Cities have high demands for new housing and public building, as well as for the tasks of commerce, the state, and the urban household, so they attract labor.



Cities here are centers of high consumption. Lest this sound unrealistically harmonious, cities are also the focal points of political contention, faction, strife, and war. After all, in Mesoamerica the way to symbolize the end of a regime is to destroy by fire the political monuments (temples) of a state’s capital city. Urbanized regional systems undergo a geographically spreading specialization and market-dependence (zonification). Generally, intensive agriculture is emphasized near cities, other goods are produced in outlying parts of the hinterland or in peripheries, and luxury crafting takes place in and near urban areas. But there are exceptions and other arrangements are known. Cities imply movement, movement in their founding and growth, movement in the daily flow of people and goods, movement during the times when their position and functions change and movement as they are eclipsed and dwindle. Since the city is the central node in a regional system, these movements structure life well beyond the physical bounds of the city itself. The demographic size of these urban systems is in the tens or hundreds of thousands of people. No Mesoamerican king ever has the bureaucracy or the power to direct and control the daily or long-term volume of movement in the urban process – we must assume that the aggregate is the result of the numerous and diverse small movements of multiple actors.

Obligatory Expenditures Obligatory expenditures, such as tribute payments, contributions to fiestas, and required gifts, have important functions in the economy. Obligatory expenditures deplete savings, increase circulation, increase prices, increase consumption, and are incentives for new production. They pry open the family vault. Taxation in the form of tribute labor goes toward community infrastructure and noble consumption, exchange, or savings; from the payer’s point of view it decreases household savings. Ceremonial expenditures encourage specialization in two ways. First, ceremonies demand highly specialized goods. Second, spending for life-cycle events and for the busy ritual calendar has important timing effects, that is, households and specialists alike cannot possibly have all goods stored up all the time, and will need to borrow and to work to produce goods on time for the occasion. Ceremonial obligations often extend well beyond the community, to the regional and even interregional scales (pilgrimages, for example). These extended ceremonial obligations replicate, reinforce, or fill in the gaps in

A Theory of the Ancient Mesoamerican Economy


underlying economic exchange patterns. They help to build zonification and market connections. In the main, tribute and fiesta obligations serve as stimulus. Demand for labor or specific goods for tribute or fiestas lowers the rate of savings in other goods as well, because household labor is not applied to those ends. Such obligations directly deplete producers’ labor, creating more demand for labor and thus raising its price. The increased cost of labor is met by increased production. Mesoamerica’s remarkable and famous system of obligatory expenditures is explained not only by its social functions but also by the important role it had in stimulating market exchange. The generalization that obligatory expenditures promote market participation is subject to qualifications. First, it assumes that tribute demands are relatively low, which seems to be the case for the most part. Also, in the case of attempted local community self-sufficiency, the reciprocal exchange of labor or goods used to build one’s social ties may have a weaker affect on market trade, to the extent that the goods exchanged are not circulating in market channels or when the goods exchanged are cheap. When market exchange is relatively weak, local corporate community ritual obligations seem to work as a substitute. Generally, this type of obligatory expenditure is strong in times and places when opportunities to generate and invest wealth through market mechanisms are weak. The broad conclusion is that obligatory expenditures of all types serve to increase production, exchange, and consumption. The opposition between local obligatory expenditure versus investment in things where market principles prevail is by no means simple in practice. Actors may do both – giving generously in hopes of reaping future economic gain as well as building their social ties; local rituals can turn into events attracting commerce and pilgrims from afar. And not all ceremonial expenditures are obligatory. Actors sometimes commit to the fiesta and sometimes they commit to the market. Households acting as sellers of goods or lenders of labor evaluate the choice between using the ceremonial outlet or the market outlet in terms of the transaction costs of each as well as the potential gains.

States States are bound up in the market economy. State actors affect the economy as they engage in long-distance trade, oversee marketplaces, levy tribute, own agricultural land, control landless laborers, promote security or go to



war, lower or raise market transaction costs, subsidize transportation, promote luxury crafting, withhold or expend quasi-money, and regulate ceremonies. States also depend on the market economy, indirectly because commerce generates most goods and services, and directly from marketplace taxes, from the state’s own investments in long-distance trade, and from exchange of production from state-held lands. It is easy to see how the state influences transportation and transaction costs by putting up or lowering protectionist barriers – or worse. Tariffs per se are not known but states undoubtedly have concerns and policies regarding the movement of people and goods across territorial lines. Regional societies or their rulers oppose penetration by foreign goods or merchants if those undercut their own commerce. They welcome the same if they are not already involved in making or trading the same goods or if their city has a major role in long-distance trade. Interfering with outside merchants makes sense for local kings if they themselves are being forced out of the long-distance trade. Mesoamerican states are generally small. Their power is restricted by neighboring states, by internal countervailing forces, especially the constituent communities, and by the fact that their administrative apparatus is small relative to the size of population. Mesoamerican kings are glorious conquerors one and all, it seems, but they have no head for the economy. In general, the effective control of most land is in the hands of local communities, the king directly controls some belonging to his own house, likewise other nobility have estates. Most land and labor are not despotically held – with some exceptions. Neither land nor labor is commoditized – granted there is a little leakage into the market, but households control most production and communities hold most land. Mesoamerica does not have the money-power to break the ties between community-held land and its labor, and apparently its war-power does not alter the long-term structure either. A ceremonial practice that had some limited economic significance is what we may call state hoarding. State temples and palaces themselves are public works of considerable importance as symbolic display. But sometimes they are also places where precious objects are kept out of public view. The size of these holdings or buried offerings is not especially large compared to other places in the world. These hoards contain special or rare ceremonial objects or goods too valuable to allow to circulate in exchange – top-of-thepyramid goods, so to speak. Because such goods require one-time expenditures, they benefit luxury-good producers, who may then enjoy enhanced sales opportunities for the lower, less sumptuary, middle-of-the-pyramid

A Theory of the Ancient Mesoamerican Economy


goods that they make. State hoards are in some ways like ceremonial or fiesta expenditures, yet the possibility for rather arbitrary manipulation on the sumptuary margin suggests some room for high-end profiteering.

Dialectics This presentation is brief, general, and abstract because its objective is to describe a general theory. Mesoamerican society was not of one piece – it was complicated, variegated, and its constituent societies changed a lot during the 1500-year period of concern here. One approach to respecting this dynamic variation is to recognize that people have quite different interests and strategies depending on their positions, that they are members of various types of social groups that have both cooperative and conflictive relationships with each other. Individuals are joined together in households, but they are also members of local groups and communities, which in turn are parts of petty kingdoms that have hereditary lords. These small states can be joined, rather loosely sometimes, into alliances or conquest empires of more or less ephemeral duration. At each level interests and loyalties are potentially divided. Barrios or local communities exist to guard and maintain land rights, against each other and against landlord-nobles. Communities tend to be in conflict with the nobility, who wish to expand their own holdings and control labor. The balance of power ebbed and flowed between nobles and communities, sometimes with the one and then the other in the ascendancy. Attitudes toward the commercial market vary between these different social groups, not in fixed ways either, but depending on their political cooperation or conflict, on their position in core or periphery, and on whether they are experiencing good times or bad times. Connecting expectations or implications of theory to specific times and places requires recognition of such dialectics.

Growth and Collapse Strong markets, market integration, and population growth are positively related, as suggested in Fig. 1. Whether the posited trends take place over years, decades, or longer is uncertain. It seems likely that the material remains of the archaeological record are not made uniformly over the years, but in spurts corresponding to growth and peak sections of the cycle.


Population, Market Integration



Fig. 1. Predicted Relationship Between Population and the Extension of Market Systems Over Time. The Spatial and Temporal Scales Are Not Specified. This Example Speculates That the Cycle Has Increasing Frequency and Amplitude, As Well As A General Trend Toward Increasing Growth and Integration.

Mesoamerica experiences general growth early in the Classic period. Not only is there widespread growth but also there is considerable interregional market integration. This high degree of market dependency and interregional market integration begins to break apart in the Late Classic (in some places earlier than others, for example, late in parts of the Maya area, early in West Mexico). The growth is followed by a time of general disintegration, when at best only regional-scale urban systems could take hold, while other regions were virtually abandoned. Yet this phase of attempted self-sufficiency does not last, for out of it grows a Late Postclassic world-system with the greatest urban density, highest populations, and greatest degree of market integration ever. Although the Late Postclassic is generally more market-integrated, there are exceptions, for example, in the Maya lowlands it is the Late Classic rather than the Late Postclassic that may have had the stronger market integration. Such variation offers opportunities for testing hypotheses about degree and form of market integration. Many explanations for ‘‘cyclical’’ dynamics in preindustrial civilizations (and they all exhibit such episodes of growth and decline) rely on exogenous factors – political manipulation, war, climate/weather, or population pressure. Most of these explanations are ad hoc and lack generality. Currently it is fashionable to find climate changes that match up with

A Theory of the Ancient Mesoamerican Economy


growth or decline phases of societies. But if we are going to be able to sort out causal factors, including climate change, in a more sophisticated way than we do now, it will be necessary to understand internal processes too. This chapter presents an alternative hypothesis that does not rely on causes coming from outside society, but instead on causes arising from the human side. The hypothesis is that growth and decline are expected in market economies, that such economies now and in the past have phases of growth, decline, and stagnation, perhaps in short or long cycles, or irregular movements, and perhaps some types of market economies experience swings of greater amplitude or longer period than others.

Archaeological Implications This theory has implications that might be tested with archaeological data. The general implications need to be specified for particular times, places, and scales of analysis. The following hypotheses flow from the theory and are general expectations subject to appropriate specification: household consumption rates (measured by, among other things, the value of the house itself) are associated with market integration; greater market dominance produces a wider range of house sizes than when nonmarket principles prevail; high-value goods are exchanged in the market only when market participation is high, otherwise they are deployed in nonmarket ways; market integration explains variation in product elaboration for consumer goods; household activity differentiation depends on market participation; demographic behavior, for instance the rate of household formation, is related to market development; transaction costs should be lower within a political realm compared to between realms, and lower when there is spatial continuity in settlement than when settlements are spatially discontinuous, and these measures of transaction costs should vary with the degree of specialization and exchange; local and regional specialization (zonification) develops with market integration; the form of central-place system varies with economic integration; hoards are inversely related to market exchange; regional and long-distance ceremonial obligations map or fill in the gaps in market exchange; coinage is related to the political economy of staple grains; archaeological material remains were not produced evenly over time but in episodes corresponding to the high consumption rate of growth or peak phases of the economic cycle; growth and decline have economic causes apart from climate change or historically particular events.



MESOAMERICA AS A MARKET ECONOMY This discussion brings the Mesoamerican case into closer relation with economic studies of other times and places. The Mesoamerican economy depends on and is largely structured by a system of goods exchange consistent with market principles. It is not a capitalist economy nor is it a tribute economy; it is heavily commercial with a great deal of specialization, urbanization, and marketplace activity; it does not have coinage and its land and labor are (generally) not commodities available on the market. This chapter is not concerned about what type of economy this is, or its origins. Instead it explores how the Mesoamerican economy functions. The basic and most important actors in the ancient Mesoamerican economy are households – not the state and corporations. Households are the firms, at once the producers, managers, savers, investors, and consumers. Households are not autonomous or self-sufficient. They depend and thrive on exchange. The numbers of households (the population), the quantity of things exchanged, and the numbers of transactions are so large that Mesoamericans do what other large-scale societies have done – they create institutions that work on market principles. These institutions structure the economy. Mesoamerica has a high density of marketplaces, on which people depend, and market principles govern or influence many other exchanges outside the marketplace, for example, the actions of mobile vendors, buyers, producer-sellers, and merchants. The crux of the economy is nonmonetary goods exchange. It is not barter, it is not simple by any means, and it is not ad hoc – it is systematic. Goods have prices relative to one another. A change in the supply or demand for one good has an effect on its price and an effect on the prices of other goods. For example, if an increase in the demand for lime used in construction raises its price from four units of red beans to six units of beans, and a unit of beans is the price of a fashionable hairdo, there is now more demand for beans and a little pressure to increase the price of that fashionable hairdo. Bean producers respond by marketing more red beans. Producers and consumers respond to supply and demand through these relative prices. Facilitating such exchange is a form of commodity money, here called quasi-moneys, which are goods designated by convention as standards of value, media of exchange, and perhaps means of accounting and means of savings and investment. I still cannot quite imagine what retail and wholesale transactions look like, to an economic ethnographer on the scene.

A Theory of the Ancient Mesoamerican Economy


How did the buyer and seller calculate and account, what was handed over? In any case, these exchanges work, thousands of times a day, in every village, town, and city. The essential economic circuit is deceptively simple. The household is the key producer, trader, and consumer. For many compelling reasons, it wishes to consume various goods it chooses not to produce (though it conceivably could). The household therefore must produce things for exchange, thus goods, including labor, circulate. Households gain by acquiring more goods. Their demand pushes prices upward. In anticipation of further advantage, households save labor and goods, and invest these savings, again through exchange. Increasing prices stimulate increased production and consumption. Conversely, falling prices discourage consumption and market participation, and savings tend to be hoarded instead of being put into circulation. Should markets weaken, valuable goods do not enter into circulation, but they may be deployed in nonmarket ways such as display or gifting. Specialization of labor and differentiation of product as a household strategy has profound structural consequences. Because exchange is to their advantage, households and communities promote and defend local institutions of exchange. Control over the means of production also tends to reside close to the base of society – in local communities and in states too small to be permanent expropriators. Households are not autonomous subsistence farms. They produce for markets and they consume from markets. The domestic unit is where most economic specialization is organized and where it resides. Specialization is a strategy producers employ when the costs of production and exchange are low and when there is demand for goods to be held by exchange. (Here the scale is the individual household, but the same process works at larger scales – regional zonification is a consequence of low transaction costs.) Households produce things that other households do not and they forego making things that they could, in theory, make themselves. It is hardly important whether they spend all their working time or just some of their working time making goods that some other producers do not make. What counts is that they labor or make goods for organized exchange, they are exchange-dependent, and they rationalize their behavior as producers and traders. In Mesoamerica agriculture itself is highly differentiated, it permits and flourishes with a fine division of labor, and its branches large and small offer opportunities for economies of scale, product differentiation and innovation, increasing returns to investment, and new consumption. Industrial production does not have sole and absolute claim to providing



opportunities for growth – making food, fiber, fuel, and materials (the agricultural and extractive sector) can too. The concentration in staple grain (or grain and livestock, not a factor in Mesoamerica) known in the West as subsistence or self-sufficient farming is of course a specialization. It occurs in Mesoamerica and elsewhere as a facet of spatially patterned production and exchange. Staple grain producers of Europe or the Great Plains are really not self-sufficient, though they may be portrayed as able to make everything they need – they need more than they say they do. They need cash – enter the state. But in Mesoamerica there is no cash in the Western sense, no piece of metal or paper that is the economic social fact par excellence. States are small, numerous, and do not have large administrative apparatuses. The state does not have the power to rest control over the means of production by linking staple grain production to cash and controlling the money supply. Instead of bullion or state coinage, there are quasi-moneys, goods that have use-value and that in some cases people can produce. Obligatory expenditures, such as funding rituals and paying tribute, are not market behavior, but they can have important effects on the market. In the main, these social obligations act to stimulate production and consumption. But when and where markets are weak, community-level obligations can act as an alternative to or a refuge from the market. The growth and decline of urban centers, as well as demographic growth and decline, are closely related to the functioning of the market. Markets can promote growth, but they can also fail. Markets can lose their geographical integration, that is, they no longer bind together localities and regions, which diminishes the division of labor; and markets can fail to be efficient in meeting demand with supply at expected price. Exchange relies on credit, and although Mesoamerica does not have the credit instruments of a cash economy, exchange depends on credit, and credit can be overextended and debt obligations can accumulate. The economy is subject to boom and bust. Markets rely on the confidence and expectations of participants, and confidence is not a constant. Households may withdraw from the market and hoard savings instead of investing through exchange. As market integration spreads, prices and quasi-moneys become more uniform across wider geographical areas. When markets disintegrate into smaller, local systems, the opposite occurs – prices diverge and quasi-moneys decline and become less uniform. This chapter has addressed the question of how the ancient Mesoamerican economy worked. The answer is incomplete. There is much that we do not know in the factual realm. Other approaches to theory building could be

A Theory of the Ancient Mesoamerican Economy


tried (e.g., modeling prices under nonmonetary goods exchange using multiple quasi-moneys, and cross-cultural analyses from a formal economic perspective). The ancient Mesoamerican economy was not lethargic or static. Because of internal, economic forces it was subject to periods of growth and periods of decline, as in other market economies. There were periods of economic growth and expansion and rising prices, accompanied by high rates of consumption and demographic increase; there were periods of contraction, declining production and consumption, falling prices, and population stasis or decline. There was no stable equilibrium point at either pole or in the middle. Since these economic forces were capable of causing major periods of growth and decline, not just in local areas but quite broadly, not just temporarily but for many decades or longer, we should not be too quick to invoke exogenous (climate) or ad hoc (warfare) explanations for civilization’s ups and downs. The causes probably lie within and it would not be a bad idea to understand them more profoundly.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS I thank Richard Blanton, Gary Feinman, Robert Hunt, John O’Looney, Jacqueline Saindon, Michael Smith, Ben Steere, and Bram Tucker for suggestions on earlier drafts of this chapter, which is not to imply that they agree with it. Two anonymous reviewers and the editors provided additional help by pointing out statements that needed clarification or better development.

REFERENCES Berdan, F. F., Blanton, R. E., Boone, E. H., Hodge, M. G., Smith, M. E., & Umberger, E. (1996). Aztec imperial strategies. Washington DC: Dumbarton Oaks. Blanton, R. E. (1985). A comparison of early market systems. In S. Plattner (Ed.), Markets and marketing (pp. 399–416). Lanham, MD: University Press of America. Fargher, L. F. (2009). A comparison of the spatial distribution of agriculture and craft specialization in five state-level societies. Journal of Anthropological Research, 65, 353–387. Feinman, G. M., & Garraty, C. P. (2010). Preindustrial markets and marketing: Archaeological perspectives. Annual Review of Anthropology, 39, 167–191. Garraty, C. P., & Stark, B. L. (Eds.). (2010). Archaeological approaches to market exchange in ancient societies. Boulder: University of Colorado Press.



McAnany, P. A. (2010). Ancestral Maya economies in archaeological perspective. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Smith, C. A. (2002). Concordant change and core-periphery dynamics: a synthesis of highland Mesoamerican archaeological survey data. Ph.D. dissertation, Department of Anthropology, University of Georgia, Athens. Smith, M. E., & Berdan, F. F. (Eds.). (2003). The postclassic Mesoamerican world. Salt Lake City, UT: University of Utah Press. Williams, E. (Ed.). (2004). Bienes estrate´gicos del antiguo occidente de Me´xico. Zamora: El Colegio de Michoaca´n.

THE LATE PREHISPANIC ECONOMY OF THE VALLEY OF OAXACA, MEXICO: WEAVING THREADS FROM DATA, THEORY, AND SUBSEQUENT HISTORY Gary M. Feinman and Linda M. Nicholas ABSTRACT 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

Political Economy, Neoliberalism, and the Prehistoric Economies of Latin America Research in Economic Anthropology, Volume 32, 225–258 Copyright r 2012 by Emerald Group Publishing Limited All rights of reproduction in any form reserved ISSN: 0190-1281/doi:10.1108/S0190-1281(2012)0000032013




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. Keywords: Highland Mesoamerica; Valley of Oaxaca; economy; marketplace exchange; craft production

THEORETICAL INTRODUCTION We explicitly approach this investigation of an ancient economy from two directions – first, from the top-down in reconsidering and questioning key theoretical perspectives that have been used to understand prehispanic Mesoamerican economic practice, and second, from the bottom-up in drawing on our more than 30 years of archaeological research, and the findings of many others, that are relevant to the Classic and Postclassic periods in the highlands of Mexico and, most specifically, the Valley of Oaxaca. Our analysis is grounded in the tenet that to understand a society (and how it changed over time) you must have basic information about its economy. At the same time, it is firmly centered in our belief that, based on new empirical and theoretical knowledge, revision is necessary to the perspectives on the ancient Mesoamerican economy, and specifically the later prehispanic Valley of Oaxaca economy, that were framed in the writings of such influential theorists as Marx (1971), Wittfogel (1957), Polanyi (Polanyi, Arensberg, & Pearson, 1957), Wolf, and Palerm (Palerm & Wolf, 1957) and others. Although the key theoretical tenets that inspired our thinking and

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research represented an important turning point for the discipline decades ago, the research that was stimulated by this framework has, in turn, shown those basic conceptual underpinnings to be untenable. Given the broad scope of the topic we consider and the space available, we cannot make a complete statement, nor would we attempt a final one. Nevertheless, by juxtaposing new data observed at several scales of analysis with some long-held theoretical questions, we hopefully can offer new insights and perspectives on prehispanic Mesoamerican economies that will allow us to conceptualize and understand the long-term histories of these societies more clearly. The study of prehispanic Mesoamerica, particularly highland Mesoamerica, underwent a fundamental shift in focus during the mid-20th century. As described by Eric Wolf (1994, pp. 3–4), prior to World War II, ‘‘stress was laid primarily on y possession of literacy, scripts, and calendars, on y artistic accomplishments, and on the grandeur of y pyramids. But this enthusiasm for high culture carried with it no equivalent concern with how these societies sustained themselves economically, and managed their evident complexity politically.’’ Wolf, along with other intellectual giants, including Palerm, Sanders, and Armillas, ushered in new perspectives that not only gave greater theoretical focus to matters economic but asked questions such as how were political leaders sustained? No one can doubt that this post-World War II paradigm has spurred and framed a good deal of subsequent archaeological research in Mesoamerica, including studies of regional settlement patterns and residential excavations (e.g., Balkansky, 2006; Blanton, Kowalewski, Feinman, & Finsten, 1993; pp. 8–27; Carballo, 2011; Nichols, 1996; Santley & Hirth, 1993; Wolf, 1994). Following the decades-long implementation of these studies, not only do we now know a great deal more about the prehispanic Mesoamerican world, but the empirical grounding for our debates is far more ample than was the case five to six decades ago. Our aim here is not to criticize the ideas of people (such as Armillas, Palerm, and Wolf) that we see as our intellectual ancestors, but rather it is to question and rework some of their presumptions based on new empirical findings that we now have in large part as a consequence of the foundation laid by their theoretical works.

EARLY PERSPECTIVES ON THE ANCIENT MESOAMERICAN ECONOMY Early models of the ancient Mesoamerican economy relied heavily on the Asiatic mode of production (Marx, 1971), Polanyi’s redistributive economy



(Polanyi et al., 1957), and Wittfogel’s (1957) idea of hydraulic civilization (Isaac, 1993). Each of these approaches envisioned centralized, autocratic states that were directly monitoring and controlling economic production and exchange, which afforded their basis for rule. For many early adherents, following Wittfogel (1957), the management of irrigation systems was seen to promote the centralization of political power and economic control over production and distribution. In 1955, Palerm (1955, p. 39) opined: ‘‘we view the development of irrigation in the Valley of Mexico not so much as the result of many small-scale initiatives by small groups, but as the result of large-scale enterprise, well-planned, in which an enormous number of people took part, engaged in important and prolonged public works under centralized and authoritative leadership.’’ It was furthermore argued that states assumed primary economic control over production and distribution. For example, Carrasco (2001, p. 363) wrote ‘‘[a]ncient Mexico had a politically integrated economy. The government controlled the basic means of production, land, and labor, and accumulated the surplus in the form of tribute.’’ We reference Carrasco here as he formulated some of the most explicit discussions of the economy for Mesoamerica and amplified this general theoretical perspective with documentary accounts of the Aztec. Two features of the economy stand out in the documentary sources on the Aztec. The first is diverse kinds of tribute or tax, a matter of great economic concern to the conquering Spanish as they wished to follow earlier practices and extract resources from the natives (e.g., Berdan & Anawalt, 1992). The second is marketing and markets, whose size and activity greatly impressed many of the Spanish chroniclers, some of whom were already familiar with the Mediterranean centers of European commerce. Dı´ az del Castillo (2003, p. 218) recounted: ‘‘we turned to look at the great market place and the crowds of people that were in it, some buying and others selling, so that the murmur and hum of their voices y could be heard from more than a league off. Some of the soldiers among us who had been in many parts of the world, in Constantinople, and all over Italy, and in Rome, said that so large a market place and so full of people y they had never beheld before.’’ In contrast to the emphasis on markets, large-scale storehouses or granaries, though occasionally noted in passing, were not emphasized in 16th-century texts, nor did such facilities serve to feed the pillaging European invaders as they did in the Andes. Integrating these documentary accounts into the general models advanced by Marx, Wittfogel, and Polanyi, Carrasco (2001) and others stressed the centrality of tribute and state control of production and exchange, while underplaying the role of markets. For example, Sanders, Parsons, and

The Late Prehispanic Economy of the Valley of Oaxaca


Santley (1979) not only describe the Aztec economy as redistributive despite the vital role of markets but also question whether Aztec marketers had any concern with deriving profit. In general, prehispanic Mesoamerican markets have been viewed until recently as only trafficking in local, low-value goods, or as being a late prehispanic function of the Aztec empire and so not widespread in time or space. Since the mid-20th century, most archaeologists have conceived of or modeled the ancient Mesoamerican economy as a redistributive or managed economy with both production and key modes of transfer centralized under political control. Whereas market exchange has been underemphasized in these discussions, tribute has been stressed and seen as a central driver of the economy (cf. Kowalewski, 1990, p. 54). This mid-century vision of the prehispanic Mesoamerican economy has endured for decades despite serious empirical and theoretical questions concerning the presumed catalytic role of large-scale irrigation in political change in ancient Mesoamerica (e.g., Baker, 1998; Kirkby, 1973; Lees, 1973; Offner, 1981a, 1981b). As early as the 1950s and 1960s, it became evident that not only was massive canal irrigation or large water control facilities geographically restricted in Mesoamerica (e.g., there is basically no evidence of it in highland Oaxaca), but where it was found (such as the Aztec-era Basin of Mexico), its construction was very late in the prehispanic period, well after the rise of states in most regions. Prior to the Postclassic, even in the Basin of Mexico, most empirically evidenced irrigation, such as small, temporary canals for floodwater farming, could have been built and maintained by small-scale cooperative arrangements (Doolittle, 1990; Nichols & Frederick, 1993; Scarborough, 1991, 2006, pp. 224–235; Spencer, 2000, p. 175). ‘‘Although canalization has been reported as early as 700 B.C y clear associations between the state and the construction and maintenance of water systems are not apparent until the Aztec Postclassic period (A.D. 350–1520)’’ (Scarborough, 1991, p. 128). Thus, given the preponderance of small-scale irrigation in Mesoamerica, it is more difficult to argue that the management of irrigation prompted the political control of the economy or the rise of political complexity in Mesoamerica (Butzer, 1996; Scarborough, 2006, p. 233). And yet, with few exceptions, Mesoamericanists have clung to the presumptions that prehispanic states controlled production, that exchange occurred mostly through centralized redistributive or tributary networks, and that most households were largely self-sufficient food producers, who were pulled out from that role only by political coercion or demographic stress. In other words, a key tenet of this long-held perspective is that



commoners or subalterns have little or no agency, autonomy, or economic rationality. Based on these traditional mid-20th century models, we would expect that the prehispanic Mesoamerica economy was characterized by (1) little nonagricultural production in domestic contexts (self-sufficiency) and especially little variation from house to house in what was produced at each settlement or across a region, (2) the domestic production that is evidenced should be devoted to basic necessities, (3) high-status households should be managerially focused rather than craft producers themselves, (4) large centralized storage facilities should be present at politically important sites and in elite contexts as a basis for redistribution, (5) pooling or an even distribution of nonlocal goods from one house to another should be the rule given a reliance on redistributive transfers, and (6) market-based exchange should have relatively little economic significance. In reality, since the 1960s and 1970s, a second perspective on the prehispanic Valley of Oaxaca economy has been outlined, but it has received less consideration in the archaeological literature. This perspective, less general in scope than the aforementioned theoretical schemes, grew out of ethnographic studies and analyses of rural economies in Oaxaca during the 1960s through the present and can be most closely associated with the works of Ralph Beals, his students, associates, and intellectual descendants (e.g., Beals, 1970, 1975; Cohen, 1999; Cook, 1970; Cook & Diskin, 1975). These ethnographic descriptions provide a very different picture of an economy than the command economy models. In contrast, the ethnographic accounts of mid-20th century Oaxaca emphasize small-scale agriculture, domestic craft production for exchange, heavy degrees of participation in the market, economic interdependence and cooperation between households both within and between communities (through customary practices such as tequio, guelaguetza, compadrazgo, mayordomı´a, and others), little household self-sufficiency, and considerable flexibility in economic occupation/pursuits (e.g., Parsons, 1936; Rees, 2006; Selby, Murphy, & Lorenzen, 1990; VargasBaro´n, 1968). Migration in and out of the valley to and from places near and far also characterizes these ethnographic accounts, as does the movement of people, following economic opportunities, within the valley (e.g., Kappel, 1977; Kowalewski, 2005; Murphy & Stepick, 1991). Several points of clarification are in order regarding the observations of Beals and his colleagues. Although no formal model for the past was advanced, Beals clearly stated that he believed that some of his broad-based observations from the ethnographic present had important relevance for the prehispanic era (Beals, 1975, pp. 265–266). Also, we stress that in

The Late Prehispanic Economy of the Valley of Oaxaca


constructing models from accounts of the ethnographic present to the past, we are neither advocating an application of the direct historical approach nor do we expect that any specific 20th-century institution had a direct parallel or analogue in the past. We recognize the great changes that have occurred in Oaxaca and Mesoamerica between A.D. 1520 and 1960 (e.g., Gibson, 1964; Taylor, 1972). Although we do not diminish the catastrophic and significant shifts that occurred with conquest, domestic production and market activities appear to have retained significant importance in Oaxaca during the colonial era (Baskes, 2005, pp. 192–193). Nevertheless, we also propose that certain economic pursuits often tend to have a better chance of working, providing sustenance in specific social, economic, and ecological contexts than the alternatives. Certain successful ways of life may be favorably remembered and so have a greater chance to become reinvented traditions or customs than others. Kowalewski’s (2005) analysis of 3,500 years of demographic history in the Valley of Oaxaca highlights some examples of such practices, which correspond closely with Beals’ observations. For example, more open access to markets seems to correlate with rapid times of growth in the valley (Kowalewski, 2005, pp. 321–322), while the region’s population declined during the Mexican Revolution. This relatively sharp decline was not due to high numbers of war casualties but from being cut off from market networks (Kowalewski, 2005, p. 320). Likewise, following the Revolution, in those towns where land was distributed as smallholdings, demographic expansion was more rapid than where it was not (Kowalewski, 2005, p. 321). Small-scale production, networks of cooperation, active participation in the market, economic flexibility, and household interdependence may be relatively resilient means to make a living in the Valley of Oaxaca, where temporal and spatial diversity in climatic cycles, resource distributions, and agrarian opportunities are all rather marked.

NEW RESEARCH As a direct outgrowth of the fieldwork focus that was generated in archaeology by the new theoretical approaches of the mid-20th century, we now have a much stronger empirical record on which to evaluate these contrasting expectations. In this discussion, we draw most heavily on the research that we have codirected in the Valley of Oaxaca and focused on the Classic period (ca. A.D. 200–900) (Table 1). But many of the basic findings that we present do not seem out of line with what we know about other



Table 1.

Chronology for Prehispanic Mesoamerica and the Valley of Oaxaca. 1500 1000

Late Postclassic Early Postclassic Late Classic

500 AD/BC

Early Classic Terminal Formative Late Formative

500 Middle Formative 1000 Early Formative 1500

regions of highland Mesoamerica during the Classic and Postclassic periods. We also believe that some of the basic economic fundamentals that we argue for the Valley of Oaxaca Classic period would apply to the Postclassic (A.D. 900–1520) in the region as well, although we return to the issue of key changes/differences later in the chapter. We began our decades-long archaeological investigations in the Valley of Oaxaca on regional settlement pattern survey crews (Blanton, Kowalewski, Feinman, & Appel, 1982; Feinman & Nicholas, 1990; Kowalewski, Feinman, Finsten, Blanton, & Nicholas, 1989) that systematically walked over and recorded sites across this extensive valley. More recently, we have directed Classic-period household excavations at three sites, Ejutla, El Palmillo, and the Mitla Fortress (Fig. 1); at the latter site the residential occupation extends into the Early Postclassic period. Before discussing findings from these excavations and the issues outlined, we provide a brief background on the Classic-period Valley of Oaxaca.

BACKGROUND TO THE VALLEY OF OAXACA The Valley of Oaxaca is the largest expanse of flat land in the southern highlands of Mexico. The valley floor, ringed by mountains, surrounds the Atoyac River and a major tributary, the Salado River. The valley is divided into three major arms or branches. The region has a semiarid climate and rainfall today in many parts of the region is close to the minimum amount

The Late Prehispanic Economy of the Valley of Oaxaca

Fig. 1.


Map of Oaxaca, Showing Places Mentioned in the Text.

necessary to grow maize. Rainfall is patchy, varying markedly in both time and space. During the Classic period, hilltop Monte Alba´n, situated at the center of the Valley of Oaxaca’s three arms, was the region’s largest settlement with a far greater volume of monumental construction than any other community in the area (Blanton, 1978; Blanton et al., 1993). Monte Alba´n’s size, architectural grandeur, record of carved stones (several exhibiting the capture of adversaries), and central location have prompted most scholars to envision the settlement as the region’s capital until near the end of the Classic period (ca. A.D. 700–900) when its power began to wane. The specific manifestation, however, of Monte Alba´n’s rule, revenues, and relations with outlying sites during this era remain sketchily evidenced and under debate. Nevertheless, based on a web of hilltop terrace sites that encircle much of the region (Feinman & Nicholas, 1990, 1999; Kowalewski et al., 1989) and a distinct ceramic complex that includes both the iconic Zapotec urns (Caso & Bernal, 1952) and a very high proportion of reducedfired graywares that are not common in other highland regions (Caso, Bernal, & Acosta, 1967; Feinman, Banker, Cooper, Cook, & Nicholas,



1989), there appears to have been more connectivity within the Valley of Oaxaca than with areas outside for much of the Classic period. Since the early 1990s, much of our research has turned to house excavations undertaken first at Ejutla, in the valley’s southernmost extension, then at El Palmillo (where we have the largest sample of residences), and most recently at the Mitla Fortress. The latter two sites are situated in the dry eastern arm of the valley. At El Palmillo, the Mitla Fortress, and a third site, Guiru´n, we also conducted intensive site surveys, during which we devoted more time to clearing and mapping than was possible during the regional-scale research (Feinman & Nicholas, 2004). Our multiscalar vantage on this highland valley, its component communities, and domestic units not only provides multitiered foci on the economic practices but also yields a holistic, as opposed to strictly elite, perspective on this prehispanic society.

EMPIRICAL CHALLENGES TO TRADITIONAL PERSPECTIVES With the two overarching frameworks outlined, we now review empirical findings that led us, research project by research project, to bump against and challenge the expectations of the Asiatic/command economic model as considered for the Classic-period Valley of Oaxaca and more broadly for prehispanic Mesoamerica. We do not proceed, point by point, through each of the expectations outlined (Table 2). Rather we follow the stream of our investigations. That is, we review the evidence and analytical interpretations that led us to question and ultimately see the basic unsuitability of the command model (and the potential utility of the studies of Beals and other ethnographers) as we conducted a multiyear sequence of archaeological field

Table 2. Expectations of the Command Economy Model. 1. Little nonagricultural production in domestic contexts (self-sufficiency); little variation in production from house to house in each settlement or across a region 2. Domestic production devoted to basic necessities 3. High-status households managerially focused 4. Large centralized storage facilities at politically important sites and in elite contexts as basis for redistribution 5. Pooling or even distribution of nonlocal goods among houses 6. Market-based exchange not economically significant

The Late Prehispanic Economy of the Valley of Oaxaca


studies. Again, we see these broad-brush correspondences between the past and present, not as direct parallels or evidence of cultural or societal stability (both of which we know not to be the case) but as a basis to contextualize and provide a plausible foundation to compare with the archaeological findings.

Systematic Settlement Pattern Surveys Based on systematic regional survey findings for the Valley of Oaxaca and its immediate surrounds, we, in conjunction with our colleagues, made a series of observations. (1) An examination of public architecture and site layouts revealed no indications of large storehouses or granaries at Monte Alba´n or other large sites, even though we had mapped many mounds and platforms of various kinds at more than 100 sites. (2) There was no indication of the pooling or centralized redistribution of goods centered at Monte Alba´n. Samples of one exotic material that can be sourced, obsidian, indicate that different sources (and proportions of the material) were procured at different sites (Fig. 2). For example, in an analysis of Classicperiod sites with at least 10 pieces of sourced obsidian, we found that the most abundant source at Ejutla, Ucareo (Michoacan), is almost absent in a large sourced obsidian sample from Monte Alba´n. The inhabitants of Ejutla likely had their own networks through the coast to procure this West Mexican obsidian. The specific patterning of obsidian at Monte Alba´n is not matched at any other site. In addition, given the hilltop and peripheral location of many of the large Classic-period sites in the valley, any model in which goods flowed in and out of just a few central places, such as Monte Alba´n, seems rather unlikely. At the same time, although some craft activities, such as ceramic production, spinning, and stone working, were practiced at Monte Alba´n, the material residues of such economic practices were recorded at many other settlements as well, large and small (Fig. 3). These surface data provided early, preliminary evidence that more goods were circulating in the region than many had suspected (craft activities were not limited to Monte Alba´n or even large sites) and that it would be difficult to centrally manage or control such dispersed production (Feinman, 1997). We also carried out a number of analyses at various scales to examine the diachronic relationship between settlements and agrarian resources (land and water) (Nicholas, 1989). These investigations are based on a series of assumptions and calculations about ancient maize yields, rainfall variability, and labor



Fig. 2. Proportion of Obsidian from Different Sources in Stone Assemblages at Select Classic Period Sites in the Valley of Oaxaca (sourcing data drawn from Elam, 1993; Nolin, 2006) (All pie charts start at top [12:00] and are read in clockwise order following listed sequence in legend).

practices (Kirkby, 1973; Kowalewski, 1980, 1982), so they provide more general parameters rather than precise predictions. Yet even when all the assumptions were stacked toward self-sufficiency, they yielded support for the observation that basic goods, even foodstuffs, likely were exchanged in quantity during the Classic period. Based on the survey findings, we were beginning to doubt that most Classic-period Oaxaca households were largely self-sufficient. Rather, specialized production was widespread, and

The Late Prehispanic Economy of the Valley of Oaxaca


Fig. 3. Distribution of Prehispanic Specialized Activities Recorded During Systematic Regional Surveys in the Valley of Oaxaca.



these goods circulated between sites in the region, making centralized control over production and distribution unlikely, particularly given the transport technologies available, the virtual absence of large-scale centralized storage facilities, and the basic nature of even household storage (as the bell-shaped pits described for Formative-period Mesoamerican villages [Flannery, 1976] are not a typical part of Classic-period domestic units).

Household Excavations in Ejutla In the early 1990s, we began excavations at the edge of the contemporary community of Ejutla, in an area where we had found anomalous quantities of marine shell on the surface (Fig. 4; Feinman & Nicholas, 2001). There, we unearthed a Classic-period house and associated exterior space. Although we suspected that this rare finding (numerous pieces of surface shell) would relate to craftwork, we did not expect that it would be linked to domesticscale production, which it was (Feinman, 1999a; Feinman & Nicholas, 2000). We recovered few finished shell ornaments, even in a domestic tomb associated with the house, so that most finished shell pieces likely were exchanged. Most of the more than 20,000 pieces of marine shell that we recovered were blanks or debris. We also found that this same household engaged simultaneously in ceramic manufacture (including figurines) and some lapidary work, thus documenting not only that specialized production for exchange was occurring in domestic contexts as opposed to nonresidential workshops but that such craftwork was neither confined to basic necessities nor limited to a single craft activity per domestic unit (a practice we termed ‘‘multicrafting’’) (Feinman & Nicholas, 2007). The Ejutla findings led us to undertake a more thorough analysis of excavated craft production contexts throughout prehispanic Mesoamerica, and with very few exceptions these activities could clearly be localized to domestic contexts (Feinman, 1999a; see also Hirth, 2009). In retrospect, this should not have been surprising given how so much artisan production for exchange is still carried out in residential settings in Mexico and Oaxaca today (e.g., Rothstein & Rothstein, 2002).

Household Excavations at El Palmillo and the Mitla Fortress The limitation of the Ejutla finding was that we were able to excavate and study only a single residence due to the heavy sediment overburden and the

The Late Prehispanic Economy of the Valley of Oaxaca

Fig. 4.


Excavated Classic-Period Residence and Associated Midden and Firing Featues at the Ejutla Site.



time that we had to spend to locate an ancient house with intact stratigraphic deposits. As a result of modern farming, some prehispanic houses in this sector of the site were destroyed. With these considerations in mind, we accepted the logistic challenges and began to investigate hilltop terrace sites in the eastern Tlacolula arm of the valley, first at El Palmillo, where we excavated eight houses (Fig. 5), and then at the Mitla Fortress, where we have examined three (Fig. 6). Although excavating on the slopes and tops of hills presents a range of challenges, the presence of residential terraces at these sites provides indications where the general perimeters of past household units were situated and so we can work more efficiently. The house excavations at El Palmillo and the Mitla Fortress have provided a firmer empirical basis to support key findings regarding nonagricultural production noted earlier at Ejutla. At El Palmillo and the Mitla Fortress, we have recovered significant indications of nonagricultural

Fig. 5.

Map of El Palmillo, Showing the Location of Excavated Contexts.

The Late Prehispanic Economy of the Valley of Oaxaca

Fig. 6.


Map of the Mitla Fortress, Showing the Location of Excavated Contexts.

production in every house studied and multicrafting in many (Feinman & Nicholas, 2005). At these two sites, we have found evidence for fiber working (spinning and weaving) as well as chipped stone tool manufacture (Feinman & Nicholas, 2011a). Nevertheless, we observed different patterns between the house samples from the two sites (specifically obsidian working was more important at the Fortress, while textile and fiber working were carried out with greater intensity at El Palmillo). In making comparisons among the excavated terraces at El Palmillo and the Mitla Fortress, we assume that the domestic and craft-related debris



found in association with structures and other contexts on each terrace primarily reflects activities carried out on or very near that terrace. The trash is most likely to have originated with the inhabitants of that residential complex or nearby households in the immediate vicinity (e.g., Bayham, 1996; Beck, 2003; Beck & Hill, 2004; Blinman, 1989). All the tables to follow include the complete counts of artifacts that we found on each terrace (associated with a specific domestic unit). Given the limited size of the terraces and their hillslope location, some refuse undoubtedly has been lost through erosion. Such processes would have affected all the terraces, and considerable quantities of debris remained on each terrace and in association with all the residential complexes. We also note that few, if any, subterranean pits were associated with any Classic-period domestic unit, and lime-plastered room floors were generally swept clean. Thus sample

Fig. 7.

Proportional Representation of Each Bone Tool Type in Excavated Houses at El Palmillo.


The Late Prehispanic Economy of the Valley of Oaxaca

sizes would be minuscule, and much information disregarded, if we opted to depend exclusively on primary contexts. Significantly, even within the same site, there was variation from house to house. For example, at El Palmillo, where we have the largest sample of residences, some houses had more bone weaving tools (battens) (Fig. 7), while others had more implements for spinning, especially spindle whorls (Table 3). At that site, we noted variation in spindle whorl sizes (see Parsons & Parsons, 1990; Parsons, 1972), which pattern into three groups by weight (likely cotton, fine maguey, coarse maguey) (Fig. 8). The distribution of whorls varied so that higher-status houses had more small whorls used for finer fibers and other houses were associated with the spinning of coarse fibers, likely maguey (Fig. 9, Table 4). Yet even nonelite houses had different proportions of whorls in the three size classes. Furthermore, at El Palmillo, one house engaged in obsidian tool production, while several others were associated with large quantities of chert debris, indicative of the working of that material, which is available on site (Haines, Feinman, & Nicholas, 2004). In some cases, we were able to document that the inhabitants of individual houses slightly altered their economic strategies over time.

Table 3.

Distribution of Tools Associated with Cloth and Fiber Production in Excavated Houses at El Palmillo.

Tool Bone tools Awl Awl/batten Batten Disk/spindle whorl Needle Perforator Perforator/needle Shuttle







St. 35

Pl. 11





11 5 4

5 2 3 3

6 1 1

15 3 10

10 5 7

19 1 14 1 10 13

19 4 20



3 3 3 2

3 5 1 7


5 12

1 1

Ceramic tools Spindle whorls









Stone & ceramic tools Raspador Abrader Spinning bowl

40 15 3

27 21 1

22 12 4

43 16 1

47 45 8

18 56 5

82 24 6

52 30 2




hole diameter (mm)

12.0 10.0 8.0 6.0 4.0 2.0 0.0 0.0









weight (g)

Fig. 8.

Size Distribution of Spindle Whorls from Excavated Contexts at El Palmillo.

Overall, we have excavated 12 houses at three sites, and all were associated with some kind of nonagricultural production for exchange. Each house has a slightly (or very) different mix of activities, and in some instances these shifted over time. Every house we studied also included goods – both raw materials and finished products – that they could not procure locally (such as obsidian), or that were not manufactured by that household (such as ceramics in most cases). Even the faunal assemblages vary in significant ways at the three sites (Fig. 10). By site, there may have been differences in animal raising/procurement/acquisition patterns, such that dogs were more prominent at Ejutla, turkeys at the Mitla Fortress, and rabbits at El Palmillo. Likewise, at El Palmillo and the Mitla Fortress (where we have larger samples), we observed variation between certain houses as well. Most households produced a slightly distinct suite of goods and consumed products that they did not make, and so there was a considerable degree of domestic interdependence, both within a settlement and through networks that went beyond communities. There is little to support the long-held notion that prehispanic householders were entirely or even largely economically self-sufficient. We suspect that the Classic-period pattern was similar to that noted by Beals (1975, pp. 56–57) for more recent times, whereby only a small subset of goods, like maize, were produced in every


The Late Prehispanic Economy of the Valley of Oaxaca

Fig. 9.

Proportional Representation of Spindle Whorls of Varying Size in Excavated Houses at El Palmillo.

Table 4.

Distribution of Spindle Whorls in Three Size Categories in Excavated Houses at El Palmillo.


Cotton (0–8 g)

Fine Maguey (8–29 g)

Coarse Maguey (29 g þ)

1162 1163 1147/48 925 507 335 St. 35 Pl. 11 Total

4 1 2 4 9 10 21 13 64

7 10 10 2 8 22 24 11 94

2 4


2 1 4 4 3 1 19




Fig. 10.


Proportion of Major Animal Taxa in Faunal Assemblages at Ejutla, El Palmillo, and the Mitla Fortress.

community, and no item was produced by every household. Valley communities had economic foci, but there was marked house-to-house variation within those settlements as well. In addition, at El Palmillo, we excavated three high-status houses or palaces (Fig. 11). And two of those dwellings also were associated with numerous small spindle whorls for spinning fine fibers (see Fig. 9, Table 4). Thus even elite domestic units may have produced for exchange, and we found no indications of large-scale storage facilities or ample areas adjacent

The Late Prehispanic Economy of the Valley of Oaxaca

Fig. 11.


High-Status Residential Precinct at El Palmillo.

to houses to board numbers of unrelated attached specialists. Based on our findings, such widely dispersed production activities were unlikely to have been controlled directly by an overarching authority. We also have no empirical indication that palace dwellers engaged in economic management. Given the degree of household economic connectivity and the evidence that goods were exchanged both between neighbors and longer distances, it seems likely that marketplace exchange, so significant in Mexico today and so vibrant at the time of Spanish Conquest, has a longer and more significant history across Mesoamerica than is generally presumed. As Beals



(1975, p. 266) wrote decades ago: ‘‘There is y reason to believe that marketing activity has existed in the Oaxaca region for a very long time.’’ In this regard, we have noted that Monte Alba´n (Blanton, 1978), El Palmillo, the Mitla Fortress (Feinman & Nicholas, 2004, 2010), and a number of other hilltop Classic-period sites each have open plazas near the bases of those settlements that were not associated with mounded constructions, but were adjacent to several paths or roads that came from beyond the settlement. The sizes of these plazas correlate with the sizes of the sites themselves during the Classic period. According to documentary sources (Pohl, Monaghan, & Stiver, 1997), 16th-century markets in Oaxaca were situated exterior to (or at the edges of) communities, descriptively paralleling these open plazas. Sixteenth-century accounts, as well as more recent discussions, also emphasize the complex interplays of different exchange modes, including marketing (e.g., Berdan, 1977, 1985; Garraty & Stark, 2010). We should stress that we are not denying the existence of tributary payments, which we know were part of Aztec and other late prehispanic economies including in the Valley of Oaxaca (e.g., Horcasitas & George, 1955). We also know that there were other political impacts and constraints (such as market judges and the ownership of land) on prehispanic highland Mesoamerican economic systems (e.g., Berdan, 1985, 2007; Carrasco, 2001) that likely varied in nature and intensity over time and space. Yet we do question whether we should envision tribute or centralized political control as having been at the core of (or the driver of) all prehispanic Mesoamerican economies as has been explicitly or implicitly implied for decades (Kowalewski, 1990; cf. Wolf, 1982, pp. 79–88).

TAKING STOCK AND LOOKING FORWARD For Classic-period Oaxaca, none of the six expectations for the longstanding command model of the economy have been borne out. After all, many of the basic tenets of the Asiatic mode have been found wanting for Asia itself by O’Leary (1989), Thapar (1992), Morrison (1994), Brook (Brook & Blue, 1999), and others (e.g., Blanton & Fargher, 2008). And we suspect that most scholars would agree that hydraulic agriculture, despotic political practices, cheap modes of long-distance bulk transport, and highyield farming were all less prominent in prehispanic Mesoamerica than in many parts of preindustrial Asia. These marked differences in basic technological and economic parameters weaken the theoretical logic behind this traditional frame’s applicability (with its emphasis on despotic rule, top-

The Late Prehispanic Economy of the Valley of Oaxaca


down economic control, and domestic self-sufficiency) for understanding ancient Mesoamerica. So how do we reboot our models and framing tenets? In Mesoamerican archaeology to date, we have been guided by two main conceptual paradigms, culture history and then the theoretical derivatives of the Asiatic mode (Wolf, 1994). Both of these theoretical frames focus principally on rulers or elites, rather than the ruled, and neither gives agency or any degree of autonomy to the lion’s share of the people. A broader consideration of larger segments of society seems overdue. But, in our opinion, nascent considerations of agency and resistance (e.g., Joyce, Arnaud Bustamante, & Levine, 2001) have often proven somewhat unconvincing, as they have not provided clear theoretical guidance as to why and how commoner agency becomes a cogent consideration. Rather, in these efforts, commoners tend to be afforded agency as a disruptive force only at certain times and not more generally. Often in these nascent efforts, the traditional model of commoner conformance is considered at work until there is evidence of a change or collapse, and then resistance is harkened. But why is the dynamic between different sectors of society only a force or factor then? And assuming that householders lack voice until things spin out of control ignores what we see as fundamental features of the economy in the Valley of Oaxaca and beyond, where householders, despite constraints, appear to have made economic choices and mobility decisions (see findings in Kowalewski, 2005; also Blanton, Finsten, Kowalewski, & Feinman, 1996). Rather, looking at Oaxaca and highland Mexico in the recent past and present, we see fundamental elements of the Mesoamerican economy, outlined in ethnographic accounts decades ago, that also are broadly recognizable into the deeper past and should help frame our revised perspective. Nonagricultural production activities tend to be domestically situated. Such modes of production often entail both flexibility (e.g., multicrafting) and house-to-house interdependence (not self-sufficiency) as different households make distinct goods, which they then exchange. In Mesoamerica, domestic craft production goes back to the beginnings of sedentary life, and exchange of household-made goods was a key facet of the region’s dynamic throughout the prehispanic era (Flannery, 1976). Household economic interdependence/cooperation has long been important in highland Mesoamerica. Small-scale agriculture was the rule at most times and places, but in those rare instances in the past when larger, centrally managed water control systems were built (as in the Basin of Mexico), they tend to occur late, generally well after the emergence of states. Marketplace exchange was a key mode of transfer in Mesoamerica back to the Classic



period if not earlier (Garraty & Stark, 2010; Hirth, 1998). The great Tenochitla´n market and the Aztec marketing system did not rise without antecedents, and it has been illustrated that it was not just a late consequence of empire (Berdan et al., 1996; especially Blanton, 1996). Garnering empirical evidence for market exchange is not an easy archaeological assignment, but progress has been made over the last decade or so (Feinman & Garraty, 2010; Garraty & Stark, 2010; Hirth, 1998). Significantly, both flexibility/variability in domestic productive practices, residential mobility, inter-household interdependence, and a reliance on markets entail cooperation and degrees of broad-based economic agency. Here, cooperation is used in its broadest sense as participation in larger socioeconomic networks. Following William H. Sewell, Jr. (1992, 2005), Mancur Olson (1965), Margaret Levi (1988), and Richard Blanton (Blanton & Fargher, 2008), inequalities in power can clearly be part of such networks, and so we should consider reframing the questions to ask why and how did Mesoamerican households migrate and aggregate, expand and contract their webs of economic and political networks, and shift their strategies of production and consumption in the face of different interests or governing regimes? One of the key questions that we might ask (rather than simply assuming the answer to be undifferentiated tribute), is in which ways did Mesoamerican polities accumulate revenues and how did differences in revenue generation relate (or not) to recognized variation in the nature of prehispanic Mesoamerican rulership and diversity in household economic practices? Framing the questions in this manner, as opposed to assuming top-down control and management, would give us the means to compare how economic practices and movement decisions varied in the face of shifting political-economic constraints and conditions. Here, we return briefly to the changes and differences between the Classic and Postclassic periods in the Valley of Oaxaca (Feinman, 1999b; Feinman & Nicholas, 2011b). We suspect that many of the fundamental bases, such as small-scale production and domestic interdependence, of the Classic-period economy also apply to the Late Postclassic period as well. But there also were differences. We long have argued that marketing activities and the long-distance movement of goods (and people) increased in volume during the last centuries of the prehispanic era (Blanton & Feinman, 1984; Blanton et al., 1993; Kowalewski, Blanton, Feinman, & Finsten, 1983; Smith & Berdan, 2003). Changes in these flows also likely had effects on how (and how much) revenues were derived by elites from the rest of the population, thereby providing a theoretical basis for understanding some of the key differences and changes between the Classic and Postclassic periods in the

The Late Prehispanic Economy of the Valley of Oaxaca


Valley of Oaxaca (e.g., Appel, 1982, 1986; Feinman, 1999b, 2007). For example, Late Postclassic caciques in Oaxaca may have derived greater proportions of their resources through long-distance exchanges and warfare (as opposed to agrarian production), allowing these leaders to maintain a greater portion of their wealth for their own households. The diminished dependence on commoner producers may help account for the much greater concentration of resources in Late Postclassic elite funerary contexts (e.g., Caso, 1969; Gallegos Ruiz, 1978) as compared to those of the earlier Classic period. During the former era, valley rulers may have been more dependent on local agricultural production for their revenues and so their reliance on local commoner populations was greater. As a consequence, elite-commoner differentials in wealth were somewhat dampened or depressed in the Classic period as compared to later, a difference indicated by the less elaborate burial furniture present in the earlier period tombs. Shifting the tenets and questions that we use to frame our work on ancient Mesoamerican economies both builds on the productive research spurred by earlier paradigms and still provides us with necessary avenues to move beyond the contradictions that we presently face between a heavily top-down theory that appears out-of-sync with the emerging bottom-up domestic perspective that now helps gird the archaeological record for ancient Mesoamerica. Revising our theoretical frame also would enable us to restore degrees of agency to the populations that lived in this region during the deep past, while weaning us away from ‘‘our predilection for viewing the New World through Old World lenses’’ (Isaac, 1993, p. 463).

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS Our fieldwork over the years has been supported generously by the National Science Foundation (BNS-89-19164, BNS-91-05780, SBR-9304258, SBR9805288, BCS-0349668), the National Geographic Society, the Heinz Foundation, the Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies, the Negaunee Foundation, the Field Museum, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, as well as other generous parties. We owe them all a debt of gratitude. We also are grateful for the significant help we have received from Mexico’s Instituto Nacional de Antropologı´ a e Historia and the Centro Regional de Oaxaca. We also thank the people and authorities of Ejutla de Crespo, Santiago Matatla´n, and San Pablo Villa de Mitla for their support. We are especially indebted to our field and laboratory crews for the effort and sweat that they gave to advance the projects on which our



interpretations are based. We also express appreciation to the editorial staff and two anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments on an earlier draft of this chapter.

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Vargas-Baro´n, E. (1968). Development and change of rural artisanry: Weaving industries of the Oaxaca Valley, Mexico. Ph.D. dissertation, Department of Anthropology, Stanford University, Stanford, CA. Wittfogel, K. (1957). Oriental despotism. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. Wolf, E. R. (1982). Europe and the people without history. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. Wolf, E. R. (1994). Explaining Mesoamerica. Social Anthropology, 2, 1–17.

WEALTH ON THE HOOF: CAMELID FAUNAL REMAINS AND SUBSISTENCE PRACTICES IN JACHAKALA, BOLIVIA Christine Beaule ABSTRACT 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

Political Economy, Neoliberalism, and the Prehistoric Economies of Latin America Research in Economic Anthropology, Volume 32, 259–289 Copyright r 2012 by Emerald Group Publishing Limited All rights of reproduction in any form reserved ISSN: 0190-1281/doi:10.1108/S0190-1281(2012)0000032014




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. Keywords: Origins of complexity; Andes; Bolivia; camelids; faunal remains Complex societies are ones with distinct variability in individual and household access to resources, prestige or social status, labor, and power. As an intrinsically social activity, the preparation, presentation, and conspicuous consumption of food often plays a critical role in the development of socioeconomic differentiation in complex societies ranging from simple chiefdoms to full-blown states. Differences in subsistence, craft production, ritual, political, and other activities are well documented in the archaeological record. However, the origins of complexity present us with a different set of research problems (see Hayden, 1995 for a good discussion). Archaeologically, this critical step in prehistory is marked by a variety of incipient wealth or status differences between people, none of which are necessarily strong, widespread, or long-lasting. How is it that early wealth differences first develop within the context of a subsistence-oriented community? Within all societies, food may be prepared and distributed outside of household contexts. In socially stratified ones, elites may reinforce their position by hosting and funding feasts and rituals that emphasize social cohesion. Special function structures in settlements, caches or midden deposits with high proportions of serving wares, significantly greater access to preferred food, special food preparation techniques, and drink and narcotics are all complementary lines of evidence that food had political dimensions. The development of general-purpose accumulation strategies, within the socially acceptable context of community-wide functions, can also create a

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framework of inequality for expanding differences in other, more personal ways (Earle, 1997; Hirth, 1996). Households’ surplus accumulation and consumption may produce visible wealth differences such as those commonly referred to as elite/commoner distinctions, especially if they are institutionalized over time. Other models of the origins of complexity emphasize manipulation of the production or distribution of crafts, subsistence production (land, irrigation systems, herds of animals, etc.), exchange networks (for the acquisition of exotic goods or trade of locally produced prestige goods), religion, or followers in a system of competitive factions. But for wealth inequalities to be archaeologically measurable, they must involve the differential accumulation of material goods of some type. Therefore, one way of organizing models of incipient complexity is to draw distinctions between the types of resources (and their uses) whose differential distributions constitute or are correlated with economic inequality. Some archaeologists have envisioned control over food surpluses in this role (Johnson & Earle, 1987; Schurr & Schoeninger, 1995), while others argued for the importance of nonutilitarian or luxury goods (Brumfiel & Earle, 1987; Roscoe, 1993) that justify and express political rank (Dietler, 1996; Earle, 1997). Production strategies of some sort, whether framed in terms of labor mobilization, agricultural intensification, tributary obligations, surplus mobilization, or controlled craft economies, are usually fundamental to political economy models. Social institutions (as opposed to economic control) such as feasting traditions (Brumfiel & Fox, 1994; Clark & Blake, 1994), redistribution (Service, 1962), and prestige-good distribution systems (Cobb, 1991; Costin, 1991; Helms, 1993; Kristiansen, 1991; Peregrine, 1996; Steponaitis, 1992) lie at the heart of the classic elite redistribution models of the 1990s. Gumerman’s (1997) excellent review of the stages of food production, processing, consumption, and disposal presents a set of theoretical approaches to uncovering the symbolic and social implications of food in a society. In contrast, domestic economies are ones in which households or groups of households (often linked by kinship ties) focus their productive energies on meeting culturally defined needs and desires. There are fewer opportunities for people to specialize in pottery production, trade, metallurgy, or other non-subsistence activities. Theoretically, it takes little more than time and increased energy input to accumulate more than one’s neighbors, but there must be also be culturally acceptable opportunities to store, display, or consume that wealth. Food, whether still on the hoof or in a feast, frequently played an important role in this process.



Even in subsistence production, short-term intensification by some households relative to others should not necessarily construe wealthcreating surplus accumulation. Small-scale agrarian households may produce surpluses to counter resource shortfalls or support a growing family, and they do so without political intervention from above or outside. This flexibility in production levels is the basis for low-level economic differentiation in societies with egalitarian ideologies. Such economic differentiation can stem from the sizes of co-residential units, including nuclear and extended kin groups, households at various stages of their life cycles, and those with social ties to other communities or regions, which can also yield greater status for a household.

MEAT IN ITS SOCIAL CONTEXT The distribution of meat is something that can maintain or strain the social order of hunters and gatherers such as the southern African !Kung San (Lee, 2003; Shostak, 1981); agropastoralists in the U.S. Great Basin, Neolithic and Bronze Age Greece, and China (Halstead, 1996; Hockett, 1998; Kim, 1994); chiefdoms in Hawai’i, the Philippines and Peru (Jackson & Scott, 1995; Junker, 2001; Kolb, 1994; Miller, 1979; Miller & Burger, 1995, 2000; Welch & Scarry, 1995); and states in Middle Saxon England, the Near East, Mayan lowlands, and the Andes (Brotherston, 1989; Crabtree, 1990, 1996; Falconer, 1995; Pohl, 1985). As Voss (1987, as cited in Junker, 2001) notes, ‘‘the protocol of meat circulation ... maintains and reproduces the structure of the relationship between community members.’’ A number of studies propose different theoretical schema for characterizing the contexts in which feasting occur, such as Hayden’s (1996) contrast between public feasts emphasizing group solidarity and competitive private feasts that demonstrate or increase power differentials between elites and their constituents. Thus faunal remains provide an important line of evidence for reconstructing sociopolitical relationships within and between communities, particularly during periods of social flux characteristic of the origins of complexity. Junker’s (2001) work in the Philippines provides an example of meat’s role in power dynamics. She analyzes ritual feasting systems in which animals, alcohol, and plant foods ‘‘sacrificed’’ in ceremonies act as intermediaries between the human and spirit worlds. Feasts affirm the community’s social interconnectedness ‘‘whether those social relations involve a kin-like alliance between social equals or asymmetrical patronclient ties.’’ Both meat and fat were distributed to participants in a strictly

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monitored system matching guests’ social prestige with their relative shares. She interprets the increased use of pig and water buffalo in the diet of Tanjay and Cebu site residents as their social transformation into ‘‘stored forms of wealth’’ (p. 288). But 64% of nonelite households also had pig and water buffalo remains, which were important subsistence resources as well as sources of wealth and prestige in ceremonial contexts. It is precisely this multifunctionality that give zooarchaeological studies their enormous value in anthropological approaches to the past. According to Spanish ethnohistorical accounts, the Filipino chief’s immediate relatives and other attending elites received portions of the pigs’ forelimbs, vertebrae, and ribs, the meatiest cuts. Distributions thus took cultural notions of desirability into account as well as the volume of meat. Pig and water buffalo skulls are seen as the locus of animal vitality among the Buid, for example, a contemporary tribal group in Midoro, Philippines (Gibson, 1986). Although such cultural considerations can make an archaeologist’s interpretations more difficult, they can provide analogous examples that might explain anomalous patterns. One fairly common zooarchaeological pattern is significantly higher proportions of either meat-bearing elements (or domesticated vs. hunted animals) in elite or public areas of communities. Hockett (1998), for example, recovered higher frequencies of ungulate and leoprid bones in Baker Village’s Central Structure deposits than in nearby pithouses; he interprets this as evidence for private feasting among these horticulturalists on the Colorado Plateau. Miller and Burger (1995) found more fish bones (though no more camelid bones than elsewhere) in the higher status areas of Chavı´ n de Hua´ntar, Peru, and Pohl (1985) found more rare animal taxa in Seibal’s elite areas. Similarly, the leaders of Cahokia and other Mississippian sites had privileged access to the meatier parts of deer (Jackson & Scott, 1995). Such broad patterns are further complicated by differences between hunted and domesticated taxa, different ownership and herding patterns, and culturally specific ideas about entitlement to cuts of meat and contexts for their consumption. Hockett (1998) uses faunal distributions to argue that Baker Village’s ‘‘leaders of influence’’ did not likely monopolize prime cuts of meat, but used ceremonial occasions to claim a greater share of hunted animals. However, domesticated animals in pastoralist and agropastoralist economies are probably more likely to be differentially distributed. Perhaps only some of the residents own, herd, trade or caravan animals. In these cases, patterns of differential meat distribution do not necessarily imply power inequalities, but they do reinforce the call for more comprehensive study of the social contexts (who, which animals, where,



when, and for what purpose) in which animals are herded, culled, and consumed.

Andean Camelids as Wealth Crabtree (1990) rightly argues that ‘‘the economic importance of domesticated animals cannot simply be equated with their caloric value as meat sources.’’ Wool, dairy products, transport, hides, tendons, and other secondary products may even outweigh meat in economic importance. Using animals on the hoof rather than in the cooking pot significantly affects kill patterns and sex ratios in archaeological faunal assemblages. Analyses of Andean faunal assemblages have long taken these factors into account. The domesticated animals that were available to pre-Colombian populations were quite limited, including llamas, alpacas, guinea pigs, and the dog. The two wild cousins of the llamas and alpacas (vicun˜as and guanaco), deer and fish also contributed to indigenous populations’ diets, but camelids constitute the largest and most frequently studied faunal population. Valdez and Valdez (1997) argue, however, that the relative absence of guinea pigs in the faunal record is not an evidence of their unimportance to the diet. Their experimental archaeological excavations in a recently abandoned household in highland Peru where guinea pigs (cuy) were known to be raised and regularly consumed revealed no evidence whatsoever of their presence or dietary significance, because kitchen floors were swept daily to remove their feces, and bones were quickly and wholly consumed by household dogs. Still, there is little we can do except speculate about the importance that cuy must have had in prehistoric highlanders’ diets; in careful household excavations in the Bolivian altiplano, for example, I found not a single cuy bone (though we did recover fish and bird bones). So this study of subsistence patterns, like most from the Andes, focuses on camelids. Since their domestication around 4000 BC (Browman, 1989), camelid herding was a crucial part of the domestic economy of noncomplex societies throughout the Andean highlands and the political economy of ancient states like the Inka. Brotherston (1989) recounts that during the time of the Inka, the Collasuyu (southern quarter of the empire incorporating large areas of southern Peru, Bolivia, and northern Chile and Argentina) was home to huge herds of llamas and alpacas. In fact, peoples of the Tiwanaku Basin and the surrounding plateaus retained considerable rights to local herd ownership even under Inka dominion. Economically, camelids were

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important sources of meat (fresh or freeze-dried as ch’arki), hide for sandals and attaching foot plows and other tools onto handles, fat for tallow, dung as fuel and agricultural fertilizer, tendons into slings, bones for weaving and other tools, and as beasts of burden in widespread trading networks. It seems milk and dairy products were not extracted in the past (Flores Ochoa, 1968). They also served an important ceremonial function; at the time of Manco Capac (the first Inkan emperor), the white alpaca was revered as a tribal ancestor and was sometimes dressed accordingly in gold jewelry and red shirts. They served as bearers of human guilt whose sins were bled out by evisceration in sacrificial rituals (Brotherston, 1989). Because so many of these economic functions were fulfilled by live animals, offtake rates from camelid herds were typically fairly low. Browman (1975) reports that poor families might consume only three or four animals in an average year while wealthier households had one a month. Camelid herds are also subject to disease, accidental death and injury, insufficient pasturage, and notoriously fickle reproductive preferences. Average herd size can vary quite a bit, from small household herds of a few animals to more than a thousand belonging to the wealthiest families included in a census conducted by Diez de San Miguel in 1657, averaging fifty to eighty animals around the Titicaca Basin at that time (Browman, 1975). Ethnographically, camelid pastoralism is sometimes a cooperative enterprise joining several households who share both the social and security costs. LaBarre (1948) writes that poor Aymara in highland Bolivia rarely ‘‘indulge in the luxury of meat,’’ and were careful to preserve their dried meat, killing even guinea pigs only on special occasions. In fact, he argued, ‘‘The llama, in short, was and is as important to the Aymara as the reindeer to the Siberian herdsman or sea-mammals to the Eskimo.’’ By this, he must mean that their social and economic importance far outweigh their contribution to the diet, because their domesticated animals are exploited so differently than the primary food sources of the Siberian and Inuit hunter. In small village communities in the Andean archaeological record, factors such as these must be taken into account when using camelid faunal assemblages to test models of the origins of small-scale complexity. If households maintained larger-than-average herds and used surplus animals to trade dung or wool for agricultural products, as beasts of burden in lucrative trading networks, or in some other capacity that produced wealth without killing and consuming them, such enterprises might not be archaeologically visible. If camelids are portable, tradable, visible forms of wealth, in other words, we should not assume that wealthy herders or herd owners will necessarily eat more meat or have the skeletal remains of more



valuable cuts of meat in their middens. Ethnographic studies of herding patterns provide some insight into typical use patterns for camelid herders. Browman’s (1990) study reveals that ‘‘resource extraction was based on live animals.’’ A typical family herd’s annual offtake rate was only about 15%: 3% for meat consumption, 4% to make into ch’arki for trade, and 8% sold as live animals. Numbers varied, as one might expect, with the relative wealth of the herder. A poor agropastoralist might consume just three to four animals a year, but this ranged up to twelve annually in Paratia, Puno (Flores Ochoa, 1968, as cited in Browman, 1990). In Huancabamba where Browman conducted his survey, the average herding family consumed five to six camelids annually (1990). Two approaches to these problems that have been used extensively in Andean zooarchaeology include consideration of taphonomic processes and the ch’arki effect. Where animals are raised, butchered, and consumed, we can expect to find all anatomical elements proportionally represented. But this probably was not the case for Andean camelids. Taphonomic processes such as differential preservation of skeletal elements related to bone densities, carnivore gnawing, and breakage patterns will skew those proportions (Crabtree, 1990). The selective supply of certain animal parts to consumers and such impersonal economic factors as direct market exchange of meat products in urban settings can also significantly affect faunal assemblages (Crabtree, 1996). Culturally dictated disposal patterns and the selective use of certain elements for bone tool manufacture further skew distributions. For example, sheep and goat mandibles were modified for use as tools in western Iran (Gilbert, 1979), and camelid mandible tools are found at Tiwanaku – contemporary sites in the south-central Andes (Bermann, 1994). Crabtree (1990) argues that studies of intrasite variability should therefore compare faunal samples from similar archaeological contexts (such as household middens) that have presumably been affected by similar cultural and natural taphonomic processes and depositional histories. We followed this advice in the Jachakala Project, using faunal collections (mostly) from household middens as comparable assemblages for synchronic and diachronic analyses. A second approach to faunal distributions is illustrated by Miller and Burger’s study (1995) of the ch’arki effect at the site of Chavı´ n de Hua´ntar in central Peru. Nightly frosts and strong sun during the dry winters in the central and southern Andes make freeze drying potatoes (chun˜o) and meat (ch’arki) a practical means of preserving food. Studies from modern puna herding communities reveal that head and foot skeletal elements are overrepresented (they are five times more common than leg bones at one


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community) (Miller & Burger, 1995). Andean ch’arki production practices leave the bones in the meat and use all parts of the animal except the head and feet. The resulting jerky can be stored to guard against subsistence shortages or traded over long distances for other goods. Thus, testing for statistically significant overrepresentation of those skeletal elements indicating ch’arki production gives us another window on subsistence strategies, but also on relative rates of participation in trade networks. We used this approach at Jachakala, but the results were not statistically significant.

THE SITE OF JACHAKALA Jachakala is a small village (6.72 ha in surface area) in the Bolivian altiplano (Fig. 1) canton of La Joya, Department of Oruro, that was occupied from ca. AD 170–1100, straddling the Early Intermediate Period (200 BC–AD 600), the Middle Horizon (AD 600–1000), and the Late Intermediate Period (AD 1000–1470). Dynamic patterns of staple and craft production, wealth inequalities, supra-regional exchange, and material styles were explored extensively at this multicomponent site. The overarching goal of my research was to test whether variability in the economic organization of households underwrote the emergence of social, political, and/or wealth differences between areas of the village. The faunal analyses described here were one part of the research that turned out to be particularly important to interpreting the evidence at Jachakala for early complexity (Beaule, 2002). A brief history of the community follows to provide some context.

SITE HISTORY During the Nin˜alupita Period (ca. AD 170–500), Jachakala covered between three and four hectares. A single calibrated radiocarbon date from a wellpreserved hearth in the deepest cultural level dates the site’s initial occupation to 1720760 years BP, between AD 170 and 290. Artifacts recovered from the deepest strata (120–200 cm below the surface) of pits taken to sterile soil include ceramic wares, basalt debitage, and faunal remains, with very small quantities of semiprecious stones or other nonutilitarian imports. While no complete residential stone foundations were


Fig. 1.


Map Showing the Location of the Jachakala in the Bolivian Highlands.

identified deeper than a meter below the site surface, typical domestic features such as small, unlined hearths, ash-filled pits, storage pits, and a small number of possible activity areas are scattered throughout the compact, silty clay matrix. This combination of artifacts and small features extends from the southernmost border of the site to the middle of the central zone. Some 40–50 m to the north of this initial occupation, the site’s residents had already begun to bury their dead in a small area that was to serve as the cemetery for the entire thousand or so years of the village’s occupation. The well-preserved remains of three older males were excavated in Nin˜alupita Period levels of this cemetery. The physical orientation, position, and

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treatment these three received differed greatly; one underwent postmortem mutilation, another was lain extended atop a small fire, and a third was interred in a fetal position. Other than large round stones and a small number of undecorated sherds, no grave goods accompanied any of these three individuals. It is primarily in the central strata (30–120 cm below the surface) of pits to sterile soil that the initial differences between households in different areas of the site are evident. The community began to slowly expand to the north, growing in size to cover about 5 ha during the Isahuara Period (ca. AD 500– 800). Occupation continued in the southern area of the site, while the community expanded to include newly established households to the north of the Nin˜alupita Period settlement. Only two identifiable household foundations were ever uncovered during this phase; site size estimates are strictly based on the depth at which randomly placed pits throughout the site reached sterile soil. Instead, a range of domestic features and artifacts similar to those from the Nin˜alupita Period were uncovered throughout the Isahuara Period strata at Jachakala. Structures from the upper 30 cm of cultural materials date to the Jachakala Period (ca. AD 800–1100) on the basis of the recovery of Tiwanaku IV and V phase ceramic wares from within and around their foundations. Contact with Tiwanaku occurred only during the latter half of the Isahuara Period. The deepest levels of that period contain no Tiwanakustyle ceramic wares outside of intrusive midden contexts. The three-period chronology relies instead on local economic changes through time, rather than on evidence dating the community’s first contact with this external political entity. This is consistent with the Jachakala Project’s emphasis on local history (Beaule, 2002). Typical household activities during the Isahuara and Jachakala Periods include the manufacture and refurbishment of basalt bifacial hoes, scrapers, projectile points, and other stone tools. Residents consumed camelid meat, made bone tools, hunted, and participated in rituals at the household and community scales. Some households, if not all, participated in long-distance exchange networks, acquiring a variety of imports from Tiwanaku-style pottery and pyroengraved bone, to marine shell, obsidian, o´palo, and other semi-precious stones. Some residents made or used camelid mandible tools and a small number of copper ornaments. All residents obtained finegrained black basalt tool blanks from mines around Lake Poopo´ to the south (Fig. 1), from which the entire lithics assemblage was made. Together, these materials represent the average domestic economy during the Isahuara and Jachakala Periods.



By the end of the Jachakala Period, the site had grown to cover 6.7 hectares, again expanding primarily to the north. The dense scatter of remains visible on the surface of the site dates to this occupation. These include the stone foundations of numerous architectural units, which are spatially grouped into three zones or sectors of the site. A sample of structures in each zone was exposed in large, contiguous horizontal excavations that exposed an average of 24 m2; a total of 340 m2 of surface area across the site was opened up in this manner. As shown in Fig. 2, two large, east-west oriented, adobe mudbrick walls physically divide the community into three zones. Many smaller, straight walls appear within each of the zones, perhaps once serving as windbreaks used for some

Fig. 2. Map of the Site of Jachakala, Showing Foundations of Domestic and Public Structures and Dividing Walls Visible on the Surface. Contour Lines in the Southwest Corner Mark One-Meter Intervals.


Wealth on the Hoof

measure of protection against the sudden strong gusts and mini-tornadoes that are such common features of the flat, high plains. Artifacts and structures in these three areas, which are spatially equal in area, are discussed separately because developments in each differ. A general description of Jachakala Period remains in the southern, central, and northern zones follows.

THE THREE ZONES The southernmost zone of the site includes the least amount of architectural remains. It is possible that residents of the modern hacienda (the 19th century farm whose abandoned structures lay next to the southern border of Jachakala) harvested foundation stones from the site surface. Spatially, this zone covers a slightly smaller area than the original occupation of the site during the Nin˜alupita Period. Recognizable domestic architecture is confined, however, to the uppermost 60 cm of the area. The field crew excavated extensively in and around three houses in this zone, two of which were single-rowed circular foundations, and the southern half of a large rectangular foundation. Numerous small refuse and storage pits and a hearth were recovered within the foundations of these three households. In addition, six 2  2 m2 pits were randomly placed and excavated down to sterile soil within this southern zone; in combination with the three excavated household units, these units (chosen with the aid of a random number table and a grid overlaid on the site map) bring the total surface area excavated in the south to 54 m2. Generally speaking, residents here had access to some long-distance exchange items such as obsidian, seashell, and o´palo, as well as some types of Tiwanaku-style vessels. While a few small areas on the surface yielded large quantities of basalt microlithics, frequencies of basalt drop dramatically below the surface. Utilitarian ceramics of all vessel forms are ubiquitous, including a small quantity of the local decorated styles. Faunal remains from camelids are ubiquitous. Occupation of the central zone covered about 2 ha. Six house foundations were excavated in this area, one square-shaped and five circular. Five 2  2 m2 pits were also brought down to sterile soil here, bringing the total excavated surface area in the central zone to 180 m2 (20 m2 of surface area covered by the randomly selected excavation units, plus 160 m2 divided among the six broad horizontal excavations revealing the household units). Household units in this part of the site had diverse artifact assemblages,



including ceramics, lithics, and faunal remains, but also Tiwanaku-style ritual vessels and other classes of imported goods. Most houses in the center also have evidence of household ritual activities in the form of offerings buried against an interior wall, often consisting of an undecorated Tiwanaku vessel form with ash and carbon remains of burned materials inside them. Nearly all households in this zone had large and fairly deep middens immediately outside the southwestern corner of their foundations. These middens contained camelid remains, and notably high densities of basalt lithic debitage from all stages of manufacturing (including entire hoes and/or handaxes). Small storage pits and sherds from large storage jars in the middens next to central zone households set them apart from their southern neighbors. Most yielded small quantities of long-distance trade goods such as semi-precious stones and marine shell, and about a dozen well-preserved personal adornments of copper (including bow-shaped objects and tupu pins) from some domestic contexts. Architecturally speaking, central zone houses are no more stylistically diverse than those in the south, with large and small circular, as well as square or rectangular foundations in both areas. Most but not all of the structures in the center had short sections of adobe walls extending straight off their southwest corners, perhaps mimicking through this feature the large temple to the north (described below). Some but not all include narrow alcoves formed by secondary walls built partway around the primary foundation, thus extending the total square area covered by the roof while maintaining the circular shape of the interior room. A single square structure on the western margin of this zone also boasted a large unique stone bench, perhaps a sleeping or storage platform. Jachakala’s northern zone has evidence for numerous nondomestic functions. As the smallest of the three zones, it covers less than 2 ha, which are physically separated from the residential areas of the site by a large, double-rowed wall broken by two narrow doorways. Three small storage silos, two large, circular temples, and a sizeable structure composed of two conjoined circular foundations (possibly a double llama corral) are located in this area. Additional units in the cemetery, also located here, were opened up to reveal two more burials. Also, a single circular household foundation was identified and excavated, next to the large dividing wall but still within the northern zone. Altogether, five 2  2 m2 units were taken down to sterile soil in this area of Jachakala, contributing to a total of 106 m2 of excavations (20 m2 includes randomly selected deep excavation units, plus 86 m2 of broad horizontal exposures).

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INTERZONAL COMPARISONS Faunal remains were grouped by both period and zone to create nine comparable assemblages: southern, central, and northern zone remains dating to the Nin˜alupita, Isahuara, and Jachakala Periods. The southern and central zones seem to have been exclusively residential in nature throughout the community’s history, while the northern zone was created late in that history and was almost exclusively nondomestic (with a single unremarkable household unit as the exception). The southern and central zone collections I created contained artifacts from groups of domestic features in two areas of the site. Those midden features were associated with structures on the surface of the site, and so were part of Isahuara or Jachakala Period household units. On the surface, the zones represent social divisions, which correspond with economic differences, since Jachakala’s residents divided themselves with walls. Below the surface, however, there is no clear evidence to suggest that these social divisions predate the walls’ construction. The interzonal comparisons of Nin˜alupita and Isahuara Period remains contrast the domestic economy of sections of the community that are averaged in the sense that grouping households negates the effect of idiosyncratic outliers in the sample of household units or domestic features. By grouping all artifacts of each class recovered from a group of stratigraphic levels in pits whose placement was determined by later factors (association with a Jachakala Period structure), each Isahuara Period unit’s collection is a randomly selected (with a grid and random number table) observation of remains deposited over several centuries in one 2  2 m2 spot. In this way, grouping artifacts from the units in the south or center gives me comparable samples of domestic refuse, because random sampling strategies were employed across the site. My interzonal comparisons of Isahuara and Nin˜alupita Period remains describe differences in the proportions of related artifact types (such as faunal packets or lithic categories of debris) within collections of samples of domestic refuse. Because of the dividing walls, Jachakala Period interzonal analyses have an additional component of selfimposed social divisions. There are analytical advantages to grouping artifacts in this way. House floor assemblages are more likely to reflect post-abandonment accumulations than the domestic activities of residents (unless the structure is deliberately destroyed, which there is no evidence for at Jachakala). In contrast, exterior midden deposits reflect many years of steady deposits from a range of domestic activities, thereby mitigating some of the idiosyncrasies characteristic of floor assemblages. Interzonal comparisons of groups of household



units (each of which includes any combination of middens, storage pits, hearths, and floors) offer the additional advantage of allowing archaeologists to ignore the palimpsest nature of individual house floors. The most important assumption underlying the application of this approach at Jachakala is that refuse produced by households in the southern (or central) zone is more likely to be dumped around their dwellings than it is to be disposed of near the houses of people living in another area of the site. So in total, faunal remains used in these interzonal comparisons came from seven comparable samples: two of those are 2  2 m2 excavations placed over middens adjacent to household units in the southern zone (the household foundations fell within randomly selected excavation units, which were then expanded horizontally until the entire household structural foundation, adjacent activity areas and middens were uncovered). A 2  2 m2 excavation unit was then judgmentally placed over the midden, and taken down in 10 cm levels until sterile soil was reached. Three samples come from the center, where the same process of random sampling located an initial excavation unit within a house foundation, which was then expanded to expose the entire household unit; lastly, a 2  2 m2 excavation unit was placed judgmentally atop the midden. The three central zone samples then represent household middens adjacent to foundations that were originally selected through a random sampling strategy. The last two samples included in this faunal study were also randomly placed 2  2 m2 units in the northern zone, but not associated with any visible domestic or public structural remains. All seven of these 2  2 m2 excavation units were excavated in 10 cm levels until culturally sterile soil was reached and confirmed in 20 cm of artifact-free levels. However, the northern zone levels never achieved Nin˜alupita Period depth, and so this zone is excluded from Nin˜alupita Period analyses.

GOALS AND METHODS OF FAUNAL ANALYSIS The objective of the analysis of Nin˜alupita Period faunal remains was to compare camelid consumption patterns, rather than to document particular butchery, herding, or ch’arki (dried meat) production practices. Because ethnographically and ethnohistorically known butchery practices in the Andes (Miller & Burger, 1995) involve the division of carcasses into large units of meat, this approach was applied to the Jachakala faunal assemblage. Identified skeletal elements were grouped into large packets or groups of elements that represent meat units such as the forelimbs,


Wealth on the Hoof

vertebral column, and so forth. The particular categories used, with minor revisions, are those presented by Aldenderfer (1998), whose categories based on ethnographic observation serve as a base model for exploring questions of subsistence. The five meat units, called faunal ‘‘packets,’’ include the cranium, vertebrae (‘‘trunk’’), forelimbs, hindlimbs, and ribs. These five packets have quite different amounts of meat attached to them in a typical adult llama. The individual elements and meat utilities assigned to each of the five are presented in Table 1. The meat utility values assigned to each of the five faunal packets are calculated by simply summing utilities for the skeletal elements included in each packet. They are also presented in the graphs in order of descending meat values for easy visual comparison. As these

Table 1. Packets

Packet 1: Trunk

Packet 2: Forelimb

Packet 3: Hindlimb

Packet 4: Ribs Packet 5: Head

Faunal Packet Compositions and Relative Meat Utility Indices. Elements

Pelvis Scapula Thoracic vertebrae Lumbar vertebrae Sacrum (0.67  vertebral fragments) Cervical vertebrae Humerus Radius Ulna (0.50  long bone fragments) (0.33  vertebral fragments) Femur Tibia (0.50  long bone fragments) Ribs Sternum (not identified) Cranium Mandible Axis

Individual Meat Utilities

Total Packet MUI

40.2 41.7 61.8 77.9 – –




36.7 23.0 23.0 – – 75.9 43.0 –


100.0 – 14.8 9.9 8.6

100.0 33.3



meat utility values illustrate, the greatest difference is between the trunk and forelimb packets. Therefore, differences between these two packets in particular are more meaningful than differences between, for instance, the hindlimb and rib packets. Differential access to the better cuts of meat will appear as statistically significant unequal access to the prime meat of the trunk packet, and differences in the proportions of better to lesser cuts. Two assumptions should be noted. First, the domesticated llama (Lama glama) and alpaca (Lama pacos), the undomesticated guanaco (Lama guanicoe) and vicun˜a (Lama vicugna), and cervids such as the taruca (Hippocamelus antisensis) may have contributed to the Jachakala assemblage. However, these large mammal taxa are aggregated under the broader camelid heading due to difficulties inherent in distinguishing one from another. Furthermore, the meat utility indices appropriate for each individual species must be ignored in favor of that associated with the most common animal, the llama. The values assigned to each packet in Table 1 exclusively represent those available for llama. A second potential source of sampling bias affecting faunal assemblages relates to preservation conditions. Although post-depositional factors such as carnivore ravaging and differential survival rates stemming from element densities (Aldenderfer, 1998) may have altered the composition of the surviving Jachakala assemblage, I assume that these factors affected each faunal assemblage more or less equally. Therefore, I take the relative proportions of packets recovered from each subassemblage to represent consumption patterns.

SORTING JACHAKALA’S FAUNA A total of 62,924 faunal elements were recovered at Jachakala; 9,402 or 14.94% of these constitute the sample assemblage from the seven excavation units used for these analyses. Faunal remains were, whenever possible, classified as one of the following skeletal elements: cranium, mandible, cervical, thoracic, or lumbar vertebrae, unidentified vertebral fragment, axis, scapula, pelvis, ribs, sacrum, humerus, femur, tibia, radius-ulna, unidentified long bone fragment, metapodials, phalanges, and unidentified bone fragments. The high degree of faunal preservation at Jachakala contributed to low breakage or fragmentation levels, thus greatly facilitating the identification of almost 40% of the bones in selected units. All unidentified fragments are excluded from the following statistical analyses.

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Because both long bone and vertebral fragments crosscut several packets, these counts were further divided between possible original elements. For instance, the total number of vertebral fragments in a given collection was divided by three, and each third assigned to the same respective packet as cervical, thoracic, and lumbar vertebrae. A similar approach to the large category of long bone fragments evenly split the difference between the forelimb and hindlimb packets. Additionally, non-camelid remains were separated, and recognizable juvenile elements counted. Bones from immature animals are distinguished from adult camelid remains based on both their size and the degree of epiphysis fusion. Identified juvenile fragments total 543, or 5.74% of the analyzed assemblage. Non-camelid remains, including various species of snake, hare, dog, bird, and rodent families are also grouped separately. The non-camelid category, totaling 42 bones, forms only 0.45% of the sample. There seems to have been little use of hunted meat. Given the generally good state of preservation of bones, moreover, I am confident that non-camelid remains are not grossly underrepresented. In fact, many of the 42 identified non-camelid bones are from rodents and birds. My first step was to compare the relative packet proportions by level for each excavation unit to identify general patterns over space and through time. This was accomplished by calculating the proportions of each packet and then graphing the results by descending meat utility value. Proportions were calculated by summing the five packet subtotals together and then dividing each packet total by this number, so that they add up to 100%. These proportions were calculated for each level of each unit, each period (set of levels) by unit, and for each period by zone (set of units), and then compared via chi-square tests. All bar graphs (see Fig. 3) represent, from left to right, the relative proportions of trunk, forelimb, hindlimb, rib, and head packets found in a specified collection. These are ordered in terms of descending meat utility or desirability for an easy visual comparison of generally high-utility (downward sloping) versus low-utility (upward sloping) assemblages. Because the trunk packet has the highest meat utility index at 221.6 (Table 1), followed by the forelimb (146.9), hindlimb (118.9), ribs (100.0), and head (33.3) packets, the largest proportion of skeletal elements in an ‘‘optimal’’ distribution of meat would be from the trunk of a camelid. Of the remaining packets, the second largest category should be forelimb elements, followed by hindlimb parts, and so forth. Thus, an optimal ‘‘high-utility’’ assemblage would produce a descending staircase (left to right) bar graph.



Fig. 3. Nin˜alupita Period Faunal Packet Proportions in the Southern and Central Zones, Isahuara Period Faunal Packet Proportions in the Southern, Central, and Northern Zones, and Jachakala Period Faunal Packet Proportions in the Southern, Central, and Northern Zones.

Wealth on the Hoof


RESULTS OF THE INTERZONAL FAUNAL ANALYSIS Differences in Nin˜alupita Period faunal packet proportions are evident in the first graph in Fig. 3, and tested by chi-square. They show the central zone’s higher proportions of trunk and cranial packets, and southern households’ higher proportions of the three intermediately valued meat units, the forelimb, hindlimb, and ribs. Overall, there is less than a 1% chance that these differences between the Nin˜alupita Period central and southern zones derive from random variation (X2 ¼ 15.1307, df ¼ 4, .999WpW.99, V ¼ 0.13). Because the meat utility value of the trunk packet is so much greater than the other packets, I also ran a chi-square test on the number of skeletal elements in the trunk packet and non-trunk packet totals (equaling the sum of the forelimb, hindlimb, ribs, and head packets) in the south and center. The results are moderately significant (X2 ¼ 2.6899, df ¼ 1, .20WpW.10); the chance that the differences in numbers of trunk and non-trunk elements in the two residential zones of Jachakala are caused by the vagaries of sampling is just slightly more than 10%. However, a Cramer’s V test of the strength reveals that the actual difference between the observed and expected values is only about 5% (V ¼ 0.0527). The difference in meat utility values between the trunk and other faunal packets may suggest early differential access between two areas of the village to preferred cuts of meat, or perhaps differences in the sizes of households, their stages in the life cycle, or other normal variation in the domestic economy of households within a community. In the second graph in Fig. 3, the Isahuara Period central zone proportions (white bars) most closely resemble the generally high (downward sloping) utility assemblage, with the greatest proportion of skeletal elements coming from the trunk packet. A chi-square test comparing the packet proportions from each of the three zones indicates highly significant differences between them (X2 ¼ 78.5687, df ¼ 8, po.001, V ¼ 0.15). There is less than a 0.1% chance that observed differences come from the vagaries of sampling rather than representing populations with significantly different packet proportions. Similarly, comparing only the two residential areas of the site show highly significant interzonal differences during this period (X2 ¼ 21.7005, df ¼ 4, po.001, V ¼ 0.13). The Jachakala Period packet proportions from the south, center, and north are also significantly different (X2 ¼ 34.0111, df ¼ 8, po.001, V ¼ 0.19), as are differences between just the south’s and center’s faunal packet proportions (X2 ¼ 11.1097, df ¼ 4, .05WpW.02, V ¼ 0.23).



Again comparing the number of skeletal elements in the trunk packet and non-trunk packet totals (equaling the sum of the forelimb, hindlimb, ribs, and head packets) in the south and center, Isahuara Period proportions are significantly different (X2 ¼ 13.774, df ¼ 1, po.001, V ¼ 0.10). A Cramer’s V test of the strength reveals that the actual difference between the observed and expected values is only 10% (V ¼ 0.10), however. The two Jachakala Period assemblages were also significantly different in their proportions of trunk and non-trunk packets (X2 ¼ 4.8084, df ¼ 1, .05WpW.02), with 15% differentiation (V ¼ 0.15).

SYNCHRONIC PATTERNS IN MEAT CONSUMPTION Overall, the faunal assemblage displays meaningful variability in the distribution of some of the meat units, beginning with the initial occupation of the site. We can be fairly confident that residents in the south consumed proportionally more camelid forelimbs than their neighbors during the Nin˜alupita Period. This is as one might expect from the domestic economy model, under which a moderate degree of subsistence heterogeneity is expected within any community. However, the central zone’s greater access to parts of the trunk is more striking, perhaps indicating greater involvement in herding, or first choice of the meat packets from the animals killed. This can be interpreted as evidence that some differences in pastoral subsistence practices date as far back as the Nin˜alupita Period. We cannot know if there was just a single household in the center more involved in herding (i.e., one or more extremely different households skewing the assemblage) or if the entire central zone had access to the best (and worst) cut of meat. However, because each assemblage comprises the pooled domestic remains of multiple households, the differential proportions of trunk packet elements in the two zones reflect a more systematic kind of inter-household difference than is typically expected in a subsistence economy. As a group, the southern zone households were doing something different in their meat consumption patterns than the central zone households. I believe this is one manifestation of early socioeconomic complexity (Beaule, 2002). The differences in relative proportions of Nin˜alupita Period faunal packets continued during the Isahuara and Jachakala Periods. This aspect of Jachakala’s interzonal differences is especially important when one considers the large difference in meat utility values between the trunk packet

Wealth on the Hoof


and all other groups of camelid skeletal elements. In all three periods, the central zone assemblage yielded significantly higher proportions of trunk packets than the southern and northern zone collections. These results were supported through a number of statistical tests, including chi-square analyses measuring the degree to which faunal proportions differed in all three areas of Jachakala, as well as just the south and center. An additional set of chi-square tests comparing trunk and non-trunk groups of elements also support these results. Interzonal differences in the proportional distribution of the most valuable meat packet appeared during the Nin˜alupita Period, and continued throughout the site’s history.

DIACHRONIC FAUNAL COMPARISONS Comparisons of faunal assemblages within each zone over time reveal several general patterns. The first graph in Fig. 4 shows that units from the southern zone exhibit a decline in the most valuable meat packets over time, and a slight increase in those of moderate meat utility values. However, a chi-square test of the significance of the differences in southern zone faunal assemblages from each of Jachakala’s three occupations reveals an almost 50% chance that differences derive from the vagaries of sampling (X2 ¼ 7.5039, df ¼ 8, 0.50WpW0.20). Overall, the three assemblages differ by only 5% (V ¼ 0.05). So access to different parts of the camelid changed relatively little over the centuries in the longest occupied area of the community. Assemblages in the central zone seem at first glance to have changed relatively little, but differences between the three central zone faunal collections are highly significant (X2 ¼ 16.4708, df ¼ 8, 0.05WpW0.02, V ¼ 0.09). Closer study reveals that the biggest change is the increase in the proportion of trunk packet elements from the Nin˜alupita to the Isahuara Period, as well as changes in the proportion of cranial packet elements through time. The proportional increase in trunk remains is well supported by the Isahuara and Jachakala Period synchronic patterns discussed above. It is important to note too that faunal packet proportions in this zone most closely resemble the descending-staircase-shaped ideal distribution during all three periods. This area may be where the village’s relatively wealthier or higher status residents lived, perhaps like Baker Village’s ‘‘leaders of influence’’ (Hockett, 1998), or perhaps communal feasting took place there.


Fig. 4.


Faunal Packet Proportions in the Northern, Central, and Southern Zones for All Three Periods.

The northern zone assemblages saw the biggest decreases in all meat packets except ribs. However, the results of a chi-square analysis indicate the most significant (X2 ¼ 28.8089, df ¼ 4, 0.001Wp) diachronic change in faunal assemblages in this area of Jachakala. The Isahuara and Jachakala


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Period collections from the north differ, moreover, by 22% (V ¼ 0.22). The large increase in the proportion of camelid ribs from the Isahuara and Jachakala Periods is the most visibly significant contribution. Overall, these diachronic analyses of Jachakala’s faunal assemblages suggest two things. First, the faunal collections from the southern zone changed the least over time compared to those from the other two areas. Second, changes in the central zone primarily include increased access to the most valuable packets of meat. Differences in the northern zone, however, follow neither of these patterns, depending instead on a decrease in the proportion of all meat packets except camelid ribs.

INVOLVEMENT WITH CAMELIDS The ratios in Table 2 represent the number of faunal fragments over the total number of ceramic sherds in each zone, and the site overall, for all three occupations. Synchronic and diachronic differences are striking. One can see that ratios in the southern zone are considerably higher than those from the central and northern zones. Turning to the total number of camelid bone fragments over sherds for each period (under ‘‘Site Overall’’), we see a notable increase from the Nin˜alupita to Isahuara Period, followed by a drop during the Jachakala Period back to Nin˜alupita levels. Compared to the other two zones of the site, the southern zone was most heavily involved with some aspect of these animals (ratios of bones over sherds cannot tell us whether that involvement was with herding, exchange, butchery, or consumption of camelids) during all three phases. This result is surprising because the most valuable butchery packets formed a significantly greater proportion of the faunal assemblages of the central zone, not the south. Relatively greater involvement in this aspect of the domestic economy did not afford residents of the south access to the trunk more

Table 2.

Ratios of Bones over Sherds by Zone, Period, and for the Site of Jachakala Overall.

Nin˜alupita Period Isahuara Period Jachakala Period

Southern Zone

Central Zone

Northern Zone

Site Overall

0.20 0.34 0.91

0.03 0.16 0.20

– 0.11 0.05

0.08 0.19 0.08



often than their neighbors. One implication is that the basis for this facet (different cuts of meat) of the increasing interzonal wealth differentiation at Jachakala did not derive from differential involvement in pastoralism. Other evidence (Beaule, 2002) suggests that the center’s greater access to better cuts of meat comes from those residents’ ties to the structures and activities in the northern zone. Compared to the south, the central and northern zone units had much higher proportions of rib meat during the Jachakala Period (Fig. 3). This may be tied to the cultural desirability of ribs, such as in the Philippines (Junker, 2001). Also, a comparison of proportions of cranial packets among the three zones reveals a change over time similar to the rib packet. During the Isahuara Period, units in the north had the most cranial elements, while the south and center had more or less equal amounts. However, the center and north were equal in their cranial packet elements in the Jachakala Period, with much less in the south. These two distributions suggest that similar activities occurred in the central and northern zones involving elements from the head and rib faunal packets. One possibility that may have contributed to this pattern relates to the appearance of camelid mandible tools during the Isahuara Period. These tools made from the broken mandibles of camelids are found at Tiwanakucontemporary occupations of sites throughout the south-central Andes, including Jachakala. Of the eighteen camelid mandible tools found in Isahuara Period levels of the site, eleven were from the center and seven from the north. Fifteen were recovered from the Jachakala Period, with fourteen of those in the center, and a single example from the north. These tools and their symbolic association with the Tiwanaku State may help explain the parallel increase in camelid cranial packets in the center and northern zone. Another possibility is that these two cranial packets were more highly valued by Jachakala’s residents than their low meat utility values suggest. If camelid tongue or brains were valuable delicacies, for instance, that desirability would explain their relatively high proportions in central and northern zone faunal assemblages. One contemporary group from the Philippines sees pig and water buffalo skulls as housing those animals’ vitality (Gibson, 1986). Perhaps camelid skulls held similar ritual significance at Jachakala. Overall, the northern zone faunal collection might be the result of specialized activities of some sort rather than domestic refuse, such as community functions or gatherings. However, there is no clear evidence of the kinds of feasting or elite-sponsored ceremonies often mentioned in traditional models of political economy. Alternatively, maybe animals were butchered in the north, where the least valuable parts were left behind while

Wealth on the Hoof


the rest was divided up and distributed to the south and center. In Miller’s study (1979) of modern Peruvian camelid herders’ butchery practices, faunal elements with little attached meat were left behind, leaving higher than expected frequencies. Meatier parts such as the upper limbs were laid out in the dry, cold nighttime air to freeze-dry. The resulting ch’arki (meat jerky on the bone) was commonly used for trade (Miller, 1979). While I did not set out to answer questions about meat processing and exchange, Miller’s observations could be relevant to interpretations of Jachakala’s patterns.

FOOD AND COMPLEXITY AT JACHAKALA AND BEYOND To summarize, central zone households maintained preferential access to the trunk during all three periods at Jachakala, seemingly at the expense of southern zone households. This trend also appears to have intensified through time. Southern residents did maintain regular access to all packets except that of the highest meat utility, which indicates their continued access to meat as part of domestic subsistence. Perhaps southern zone households emphasized basic subsistence in their pastoral pursuits, generally conforming to a model of domestic economy, while the central zone’s corresponding artifact collections indicate an expansion or restructuring of household activities associated with the emergence of moderate, even modest, subsistence and wealth differences. During the Jachakala Period, the center and north both had greater proportions and mean numbers of the trunk, ribs, and cranium than the south. Southern zone households had higher proportions of forelimb and hindlimb packets instead. These differences in subsistence practices might relate to the center’s stronger ties to activities taking place in the northern zone, the location of communal feasts, the production of camelid mandible tools in those areas, and/or the ritual significance of animal skulls. Given the wide range of meat utility values attached to the skeletal packets, interzonal differences at Jachakala represent the local origins of complexity in the La Joya region. Camelid faunal differences are a manifestation of wealth differences, which are more comprehensive than just unequal levels of participation in ritual activities, trade, or the production and consumption of luxury goods, because households’ access to subsistence resources varied by zone. The higher overall utility of the meat packets preferred in the central and northern zone structures is directly related to those residents’ increased participation in the community’s non-subsistence



activities, such as the support of trade caravans or ritual feasting, a pattern complemented by the overall consistency in the southern zone assemblages through time. It is also possible that the south was just more involved in pastoralism, an interpretation supported by the faunal:ceramic artifact ratios indicating the relative involvement of each zone in the faunal economy. One would expect central zone residents to have participated more in herding activities overall, given their preferential access to better cuts of meat, but the southern zone had higher ratios of camelid bones to ceramic fragments throughout Jachakala’s history. Ethnographic studies tell us that offtake rates from herds of domesticated camelids are typically quite low, and that camelids are highly prized for the resources they provide as live animals. So maybe the south had larger herds than they did in the center. Or perhaps central zone households simply used their animals for different purposes, such as wool, trade as live animals, and sacrifices in rituals performed in northern zones structures. These activities would have brought their hosts prestige rather than wealth, as we saw in Junker’s (2001) and Crabtree’s (1990) work. Because camelid herds are wealth in the Andes, the center’s consistently greater access to the most valuable meat packets indicates their relatively higher social status or economic position within this small community. Regardless of how (or even if) the different activities associated with camelids were divided up among Jachakala’s residents, the interzonal differences described above show how wealth differences can emerge in agropastoral societies. This is one case study in which early wealth differentiation is not related to differential control over or access to agricultural resources, but rather faunal subsistence (and transportation, wool, bone, hide, sinews, and so on) patterns.

REFERENCES Aldenderfer, M. S. (1998). Montane foragers: Asana and the South-Central Andean Archaic. Iowa City, IA: University of Iowa Press. Beaule, C. D. (2002). Late Intermediate Period political economy and household organization at Jachakala, Bolivia. Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation. University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh. Bermann, M. P. (1994). Lukurmata: Household archaeology in prehispanic Bolivia. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Brotherston, G. (1989). Andean pastoralism and Inca ideology. In J. Clutton-Brock (Ed.), The walking larder: Patterns of domestication, pastoralism, and predation (pp. 240–255). London: Unwin Hyman Ltd.

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Browman, D. L. (1975). Trade patterns in the central highlands of Peru in the first millennium B.C. World Archaeology, 6(3), 322–329. Browman, D. L. (1989). Origins and development of Andean pastoralism: An overview of the past 6000 years. In J. Clutton-Brock (Ed.), The walking larder: Patterns of domestication, pastoralism, and predation (pp. 256–268). London: Unwin Hyman Ltd. Browman, D. L. (1990). High altitude camelid pastoralism of the Andes. In J. G. Galaty & D. L. Johnson (Eds.), The world of pastoralism: Herding systems in comparative perspective (pp. 323–353). London: Belhaven Press. Brumfiel, E., & Fox, J. (Eds.). (1994). Factional competition and political development in the New World. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Brumfiel, E. M., & Earle, T. K. (1987). Specialization, exchange, and complex societies: An introduction. In E. M. Brumfiel & T. K. Earle (Eds.), Specialization, exchange, and complex societies (pp. 1–9). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Clark, J., & Blake, M. (1994). The power of prestige: Competitive generosity and the emergence of rank societies in lowland Mesoamerica. In E. M. Brumfiel & J. Fox (Eds.), Factional competition and political development in the New World (pp. 17–30). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Cobb, C. R. (1991). Social reproduction and the ‘‘longue duree’’ in the prehistory of the midcontinental United States. In R. Preucel (Ed.), Processual and postprocessual archaeologies (pp. 168–182). Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press. Costin, C. L. (1991). Craft specialization: Issues in defining, documenting, and explaining the organization of production. In M. B. Schiffer (Ed.), Archaeological method and theory (Vol. 3, pp. 1–56). Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press. Crabtree, P. J. (1990). Zooarchaeology and complex societies: Some uses of faunal analysis for the study of trade, social status, and ethnicity. In M. B. Schiffer (Ed.), Archaeological method and theory (Vol. 2, pp. 155–205). Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press. Crabtree, P. J. (1996). Production and consumption in an early complex society: Animal use in Middle Saxon East Anglia. World Archaeology, 28(1), 58–75. Dietler, M. (1996). Feasts and commensal politics in the political economy: Food, power and status in prehistoric Europe. In P. Wiessner & W. Schiefenhovel (Eds.), Food and the status quest: An interdisciplinary perspective (pp. 87–125). Providence, RI: Berghahn Books. Earle, T. K. (1997). How chiefs come to power: The political economy in prehistory. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. Falconer, S. E. (1995). Rural responses to early urbanism: Bronze Age household and village economy at Tell el-Hayyat, Jordan. Journal of Field Archaeology, 22(4), 399–419. Flores Ochoa, J. A. (1968). Los pastores de paratı´ a: Una introduccio´n a su estudio. Instituto Indigenista Interamericano. Series antropologı´a Social, 10. Gibson, T. (1986). Sacrifice and sharing in the Philippine highlands: Religion and society among the Buhid of Mindoro. London School of Economics Monographs in Social Anthropology (Vol. No. 57). London: Athlone Press. Gilbert, A. S. (1979). Urban taphonomy of mammalian remains from the Bronze Age of Godin Tepe, Western Iran. Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation. Columbia University, New York, NY. Gumerman, G., IV. (1997). Food and complex societies. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory, 4(2), 105–139. Halstead, P. (1996). Pastoralism or household herding? Problems of scale and specialization in early Greek animal husbandry. World Archaeology, 28(1), 20–42.



Hayden, B. (1995). Pathways to power: Principles for creating socioeconomic inequalities. In T. D. Price & G. M. Feinman (Eds.), Foundations of social inequality (pp. 15–86). New York, NY: Plenum Press. Hayden, B. (1996). Feasting in prehistoric and traditional societies. In P. Wiessner & W. Schiefenhovel (Eds.), Food and the status quest: An interdisciplinary perspective (pp. 127–147). Providence, RI: Berghahn Books. Helms, M. W. (1993). Craft and the kingly ideal. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press. Hirth, K. G. (1996). Political economy and archaeology: Perspectives on exchange and production. Journal of Archaeological Research, 4(3), 203–239. Hockett, B. S. (1998). Sociopolitical meaning of faunal remains from Baker Village. American Antiquity, 63(2), 289–302. Jackson, H. E., & Scott, S. L. (1995). The faunal record of the southeastern elite: The implications of economy, social relations, and ideology. Southeastern Archaeology, 14(2), 103–119. Johnson, A. W., & Earle, T. K. (1987). The evolution of human societies. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. Junker, L. L. (2001). The evolution of ritual feasting systems in Prehispanic Phillipine chiefdoms. In M. Dietler & B. Hayden (Eds.), Feasts: Archaeological and ethnographic perspectives on food, politics, and power (pp. 267–310). Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press. Kim, S. (1994). Burials, pigs, and political prestige in Neolithic China. Current Anthropology, 35, 119–141. Kolb, M. J. (1994). Monumentality and the rise of religious authority in precontact Hawai’i. Current Anthropology, 35, 521–547. Kristiansen, K. (1991). Chiefdoms, states, and systems of social evolution. In T. K. Earle (Ed.), Chiefdoms: Power, economy, and ideology (pp. 16–43). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. LaBarre, W. (1948). The Aymara Indians of the Lake Titicaca Basin, Bolivia. Memoirs of the American Anthropological Association, Number 68. American Anthropologist 50, 1(2). Lee, R. B. (2003). The Dobe Ju/’hoansi (3rd ed.). Toronto: Wadsworth Thomson Learning. Miller, G. (1979). An introduction to the ethnoarchaeology of the Andean camelids. Unpublished Ph.D. thesis. Department of Anthropology, University of California, Berkeley, CA. Miller, G., & Burger, R. (1995). Our father the cayman, our dinner the llama: Animal utilization at Chavı´ n de Hua´ntar, Peru. American Antiquity, 60(3), 421–458. Miller, G., & Burger, R. (2000). Ch’arki at Chavı´ n: Ethnographic models and archaeological data. American Antiquity, 5(3), 573–576. Peregrine, P. N. (1996). Mississippian evolution: A world-systems perspective. Madison, WI: Prehistory Press. Pohl, M. (1985). The privileges of Maya elites: Prehistoric vertebrate fauna from Seibal. In M. Pohl (Ed.), Prehistoric lowland Maya environment and subsistence economy (pp. 133– 145). Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Papers No. 77. Harvard: Harvard University. Roscoe, P. B. (1993). Practice and political centralization: A new approach to political evolution. Current Anthropology, 34, 111–140. Schurr, M. R., & Schoeninger, M. J. (1995). Associations between agricultural intensi!cation and social complexity: An example from the prehistoric Ohio Valley. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, 14, 315–339. Service, E. R. (1962). Primitive social organization. New York, NY: Random House.

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Shostak, M. (1981). Nisa: The life and words of a !Kung woman. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Steponaitis, V. P. (1992). Contrasting patterns of Mississippian development. In T. K. Earle (Ed.), Chiefdoms: Power, economy, and ideology (pp. 193–228). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Valdez, L. M., & Valdez, J. E. (1997). Reconsidering the archaeological rarity of guinea pig bones in the central Andes. Current Anthropology, 38(5), 896–898. Voss, J. (1987). The politics of pork and rituals of rice: Redistributive feasting and commodity circulation in northern Luzon, the Philippines. In J. Clammer (Ed.), Beyond the new economic anthropology (pp. 121–141). New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press. Welch, P. D., & Scarry, C. M. (1995). Status-related variation in foodways in the Moundville chiefdom. American Antiquity, 60, 397–419.

INTERREGIONAL INTERACTION AND SOCIAL CHANGE AT EL DORNAJO Sarah R. Taylor ABSTRACT 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 Political Economy, Neoliberalism, and the Prehistoric Economies of Latin America Research in Economic Anthropology, Volume 32, 291–325 Copyright r 2012 by Emerald Group Publishing Limited All rights of reproduction in any form reserved ISSN: 0190-1281/doi:10.1108/S0190-1281(2012)0000032015




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. Keywords: Interregional interaction; prestige economy; Ecuador; social change

INTRODUCTION The El Oro-Tumbes region of southern Ecuador and northern Peru lies in a culturally transitional zone between the northern and central Andean traditions. The northern Andes are characterized by a broad range of highly variable chiefdoms, many with elaborate trade and agricultural systems. The central Andes are characterized by large expansive states with sophisticated craft production and agriculturally based economies. Because El OroTumbes exhibits stylistic and cultural traits of both traditions but lacks the level of complexity exhibited by its neighbors, it has been called a ‘‘cultural frontier’’ (Burger, 2003; Feldman & Moseley, 1983; Hocquenghem, 1998; Richardson, McConaughy, Pen˜a, & Zamecnik, 1990). The designation of the area as a cultural frontier betrays deep-seated notions about the nature of social change in the region. Foremost among these is the notion that because it was a cultural frontier, it was also a political frontier; this implies that the developmental trajectory of the area was tied to that of the more complexly organized societies surrounding it. This perspective on cultural frontiers assumes that interregional interaction affected past societies in ways not unlike how it affects developing nations today. Regional and local economies, politics, and cultural practices are seen as becoming increasingly integrated through larger networks of interaction and trade. There are a number of ways that interregional interaction might promote social change in peripheral regions, and a number of different kinds of social change that it might entail. One of the most profound changes in any human society, however, is the emergence of an institutionalized hierarchical social organization. Many believe that as peripheral regions are brought into

Interregional Interaction and Social Change at El Dornajo


larger networks of interaction this kind of social complexity increases through contact with their more complexly organized neighbors (Algaze et al., 1989; Champion, 1995; Feinman & Nicholas, 1992; Hall & ChaseDunn, 2006; Schortman & Urban, 1987, 1992a). The emergence of social inequality is inextricably linked to profound changes in the political economy of society. It entails a shift from a purely kin-based mode of production to a tributary mode of production, even when this happens within a sociopolitical system still based on kinship. This process alienates producers from at least some of their products. This is true even in its simplest form where labor or subsistence goods are given to elites in exchange for rights to resources like land or personal security. Therefore, if an increase in interregional interaction is likely to pull frontier regions into larger networks of interaction that tie their development to that of their more complex neighbors, then we would expect to see not only the emergence of social inequality in conjunction with increased interaction, but a change in the political-economic structure of the frontier

Fig. 1.

Location of the El Oro-Tumbes Region, the Zarumilla River Valley, and El Dornajo.



community. This chapter is concerned with the extent to which increased interregional interaction was pivotal to the emergence of social inequality and if so, in what ways that change affected the local economy, at the site of El Dornajo in the El Oro-Tumbes region – a site that was the center of small polity during the Early Regional Development Period (Fig. 1). Since the question of interregional interaction involves macro-regional processes one might imagine that it has to be addressed at the macro-regional, or at least regional, scale. The question can also be taken up on the community scale, however. If we identify the emergence of institutionalized inequality on a regional scale by noting the appearance of centralized and hierarchical communities, then we can take the conditions under which such places emerged as an indication of what kinds of conditions mattered most.

SITE METHODOLOGY El Dornajo is located on a pair of finger ridges above the Zarumilla River floodplain, 10 km inland from the Jambelı´ Archipelago and 12 km from the Andean foothills. The site was divided into three sectors corresponding to the names of landowners at the time of fieldwork (see Fig. 2). The northern ridge is called Loma Segarra. The southern ridge is artificially divided in to two parts (Loma Blasio and Loma Alvarado). The section called Loma Alvarado was largely destroyed by gravel mining. The portions of the site referred to as Loma Segarra and Loma Blasio were divided into 2,500 m2 blocks, and one 1 m  1 m test unit from each block was selected for excavation using a random number generator. The portion of the site referred to as Loma Alvarado was also divided into 2,500 m2 blocks, but since most of this part of the site is no longer intact, units were chosen more opportunistically. Four of the six units on Loma Alvarado are 2 m dog-leash surface collections of back-dirt piles produced when the underlying gravel deposits were mined in the 1990s. Two units were placed in intact deposits along a cut between Loma Blasio and Loma Segarra that falls on the property line. Three additional 1 m  1 m units were excavated on the north, south, and east edges of an artificial mound to look at construction through time. Finally, horizontal expansions were opened-up around features in three places. All units were excavated in 20 cm levels within natural/cultural strata and all soil was passed through a 1/2 inch screen mesh. These test units comprise a series of assemblages that provide a large sample of the range and distribution of garbage throughout the site, thus reflecting how activities, subsistence practices, and statuses of residents/

Interregional Interaction and Social Change at El Dornajo

Fig. 2.

Map of El Dornajo, Including the Locations of Analytical Groups.




households varied. Individual households are not identified per se, but if household assemblages differed little at the site then there will be only relatively small differences from one unit to the next in the proportions of different kinds of artifacts. In contrast, if households at the site differed from one another, then so will units in different locations. After excavation, the site was analytically divided into four sectors (Groups 1, 2, 3, and 4) based on multidimensional scaling of shellfish proportions by weight (Fig. 3). These four groups were then dated with radiocarbon samples from secure contexts (Taylor, 2011). The dating scheme used in this chapter is based on Moore, 2010. Group 1, which includes the lower stratum of all units on the western end of Loma Segarra, dates to the Early Formative Period (3500–1550 BC). Groups 2, 3, and 4 all date to the Early Regional Development Period (300 BC–800 AD). Group 2 consists of the upper stratum of all units on Loma Segarra and the eastern side of Loma Blasio. Group 3 consists of all strata in the units on the

Fig. 3.

Results of Multidimensional Scaling Based on Shellfish Proportions (MDS analysis Conducted Using Gowers Coefficient in Two Dimensions).


Interregional Interaction and Social Change at El Dornajo

Table 1.

Radiocarbon Dates with Associated Contexts and Analytical Groups.

Sample No. and Type


1: Shell and carbon Bottom of Stratum B

2: Shell 3: Carbon 4: 5: 6: 7:

Carbon Carbon Carbon Carbon


Calibrated Date (2 SE)

Analytical Group Represented


3252–2872 BC shell 2864–2468 BC carbon


Unit 10, midden


Bottom of Stratum A Unit 10, midden Tola Unit 2 Stratum AA, hearth Tola Unit 2 Stratum I, floor Unit 47 Stratum F, midden Unit 47 Stratum D, midden Unit 50 Stratum C-2, floor





254–534 AD


1,663750 1,769748 1,758748 1,410747

265–572 145–431 262–572 602–773

3 4 4 3


western side of Loma Blasio. Group 4 consists of all strata in the units on Loma Alvarado. The groups are all treated as cluster samples used to look at both spatial and temporal differences in artifact assemblages at the site (Table 1).

DEVELOPMENTAL TRAJECTORY The Zarumilla River Valley was continuously occupied from the early Archaic Period (ca. 4000 BC) to the Spanish Conquest. There were only two noticeable surges in social complexity along the river during this long occupation, one during the Formative Period and another during the Early Regional Development Period. The first may have lasted for several hundred years and was centered at the site of Un˜a de Gato, a large village with four artificial nondomestic mounds (Moore, 2010). The second lasted only a few hundred years and was focused on the site of El Dornajo, a small village with one artificial mound. El Dornajo was first occupied in the Early Formative Period around 2600 BC. At this time the site was a 1 ha hamlet consisting of perhaps four or five households. Residents of the site consumed mangrove resources (primarily oyster and marine catfish) and deer. The site was not occupied during the remainder of the Formative Period, a time when many people in the valley may have been attracted to the emerging center of Un˜a de Gato. El Dornajo



was re-occupied during the Early Regional Development Period around 300 AD, as much as 700 years after the decline of Un˜a de Gato. The site continued to be occupied until perhaps 600/700 AD. During its Early Regional Development Period occupation El Dornajo was a 5.5 ha village of some 20–25 households. Residents continued to rely on mangrove resources and deer, though the focus shifted to concha rayada (Chione subrugosa) and a greater variety of mammals were consumed. There is also some evidence that residents consumed tubers and tree fruits. No evidence for the use of annuals such as maize was identified, though this is most likely the result of diluted phytolith samples. Early on in the re-occupation of El Dornajo, around 300 AD, there are signs of social inequality. A modest tola was constructed, and richly adorned individuals were interred nearby. Tolas, or mounds, involve community scale labor investment and the presence of richly adorned burials indicates that status differences were present. The rich burials included multiple persons in each pit with one principal personage who was adorned in precious metal and stone ornaments. In one burial pit, the principal personage was a child suggesting that status was ascribed. At least twice in the following 300 years the tola was expanded and additional (though somewhat more modest) burials were interred nearby. Multidimensional scaling of the burial data suggests both horizontal and vertical social differences at the site (Taylor, 2011). The number and kinds of burial goods cluster into three groups indicating three social classes (vertical differentiation) referred to here as rulers, elites, and nonelites, further substantiating the conclusion that status differences were present at this time. Groups 2, 3, and 4 from the multidimensional scaling analysis of shellfish proportions previously discussed, represent socially distinct (horizontally differentiated) sectors of the site during its Early Regional Development Period occupation. Groups 3 and 4 represent elite households and are characterized by proximity to the tola, rich burials, and a very high proportion of decorated ceramics. These sectors combined would have included some 6–8 households. No burials and few decorated ceramics were found in Group 2 which is considered a nonelite sector of the site and would have included some 15–20 households.

INTERREGIONAL INTERACTION AND SOCIAL CHANGE Perspectives on the role of interregional interaction are not all congruent, but one of the major lines of inquiry involves core-periphery models. It is

Interregional Interaction and Social Change at El Dornajo


this kind of interaction that applies to the Zarumilla River since no community along the river was comparable in complexity to neighboring Moche-Vicu´s or Manten˜o polities. The region is referred to as a ‘‘cultural frontier’’ rather than a periphery, however, because there is no evidence that a direct or unequal relationship existed between the El Oro-Tumbes region and its neighbors prior to the Inca Period. Therefore, this is a case of what Hall and Chase-Dunn (2006) call core-periphery differentiation rather than core-periphery hierarchy. Core-periphery models span a wide array of perspectives and approaches. Broadly speaking, they can be divided between those who see such interaction as encouraging the development of the lesserdeveloped society, and those who see it as having a discouraging effect on the lesser-developed society. In this case we are looking at the potential for interaction with more than one core area promoting social hierarchy in the periphery. Amplified interregional interaction changes the conditions under which people/communities make decisions, which means that it creates opportunities for change in existing social structures. Because societies are not homogenous entities, not all members of a society have equal access to external contacts (Schortman & Urban, 1992b, p. 237). If such contacts give individuals preferential access to economically or socially valued goods, then those individuals and their factions are in a position to control access to such items within the community (Brumfiel & Earle, 1987; Frankenstein & Rowlands, 1978; Peregrine, 1992). Most commonly access to such items would involve an exchange in labor, thereby allowing individuals with greater external contacts to assert control over the productive activities of others (Schortman & Urban, 1987, 1992b). This implies change in both the domestic and political economies. Three plausible models for how interregional interaction and associated exchange networks might promote an increase in social inequality by altering economic relationships along the Zarumilla River will be considered: middleman, export economy, and prestige economy. The first two models emphasize economic mechanisms grounded in wealth accumulation. The prestige economy model emphasizes political mechanisms based on the accumulation of status.

Middleman In this model the geopolitical position of El Dornajo in relation to a new exchange network would put residents in contact with both people and goods from outside of the region. By positioning themselves as middlemen



in the trade network between northern and central Andean polities, either through serving as a bulking station (e.g., Muse, 1991) or by transporting goods through this peripheral region, some people at El Dornajo could have created a new service industry that provided them with wealth and power. Wealth would come in the form of payment for services rendered whereas power would come from controlling the distribution of desirable goods in the region. This model is similar to what Ferguson (2004) describes for the Yanomami during the Colonial Period and Shimada (2006) has suggested for the Piura Valley in Peru.

Export Economy Alternatively the appearance of a large exchange network in the region might introduce a new market for local goods (e.g., Earle, 2002; Feinman & Nicholas, 1992; Friedman & Rowlands, 1977; Langebaek, 1991) and encourage the development of an export industry based on craft production. Those households able to control the production or distribution of export goods would be in a position to accumulate previously unavailable wealth. This wealth would then be converted into power by re-investing it locally through redistribution in one form or another. This model is similar to Earle’s (2002) model for Bronze Age Thuy or Langebaek’s (1991) description of the Muisca and their neighbors. Craft production might be ‘‘attached to/embedded in’’ elite households thereby providing direct control over the production and distribution of goods (e.g., Ames, 1995; Brumfiel & Earle, 1987; Costin, 1991; Santley, 1993). Or it may have involved a larger portion of the population and taken place in numerous households throughout the site (e.g., Feinman & Nicholas, 1992; Martin Noriega, 2010a, 2010b; Masucci, 1995). While the development of an export economy is perhaps most likely to focus on luxury goods since these are the kinds of items most likely to be in demand from distant neighbors, more common utilitarian goods could also play a role.

Prestige Economy In this model the presence of previously unavailable exotic items within the region promotes the growth of networks of prestige goods circulation through gifting and social indebtedness (Clark & Blake, 1994; Mauss, 1990; Peregrine, 2000; Vaughn, 2004). Gifting might take place between the elites

Interregional Interaction and Social Change at El Dornajo


of a given community and those of their more socially complex neighbors, or with neighboring communities of similar complexity. In the first case a patron–client relationship develops. Interaction of this sort is based on the idea that the more complex society is either securing its frontiers or gaining access to resources through gifting prestige items to local elites. In the second case, equals are gifting to build alliances between regional elites as a means of solidifying their power at home and as a way to buffer against both subsistence and social risks (Renfrew & Cherry, 1986). Foreign goods assume social value because they are rare, participation in the necessary exchange network is limited, and they symbolize access to ‘‘esoteric knowledge’’ about production (Hayden, 1998) or knowledge of foreign places and powerful people (Helms, 1979; Steponaitis, 1991). Therefore, controlling access to such items is a mechanism for power. This model is more political than economic, but it would have economic consequences since leaders have to find a way to acquire the foreign goods. This is often done by encouraging intensification of domestic production (e.g., Johnson & Earle, 1987/2000; Kristiansen & Rowlands, 1998) or engaging in the production of luxury items themselves (e.g., Helms, 1993). The middleman and export economy models could very well be accompanied by a prestige economy. If this were the case, then the exchange of luxury items among elites would be a political mechanism for storing and symbolizing wealth accumulated in more strictly economic ways. In order for a prestige economy to be pivotal to emergent inequality, as opposed to important to its maintenance, participation in the network of interaction must itself be the foundation of social inequality. This can happen when the foreign goods include items that are necessary for biological or social reproduction and therefore highly valued by a broad spectrum of the community.

LINES OF INQUIRY All three models have clear expectations for the archaeological record. First, there should be an increase in interaction with polities to the north and south at the same time that social inequality is evident at El Dornajo around 300 AD. This would be seen by an increase in nonlocal items and styles as compared to earlier periods. Second, there should be an increase in items specifically associated with each of the models. For the middleman model we would expect to see items like naipes (copper axe money or sheets) and chaquira (shell beads) which



may have served a monetary-like function in the region in prehistory (Fonseca & Richardson, 1978; Marcos, 1977). We might also expect to see large storage spaces for bulking and potentially an increase in camelid remains for transporting goods. For the export economy model we expect to see an increase in the production of an exportable good. That increase should be intensive enough and on a large enough scale to exceed the needs of the local community. For the prestige economy model prestige goods should be differentially associated with the central site within the polity since that is where the elites would be living (Peregrine, 1992). Additionally, the kinds of goods observed should be similar to those found at central sites in neighboring regions during the same time period, since they are most often acquired through exchange relationships with elites in relatively nearby places forming an elite prestige goods exchange system. We might also expect to see evidence for communal contexts where gifting took place, such as ritual or feasting events since gifting is a public display of prestige. Third, if elites are taking advantage of newly available political-economic opportunities, then the artifacts identified with each model should be distributed in certain ways at the site. For the middleman model items should be differentially associated with elite sectors of the site. For the export economy, we would either expect the changes in production to be seen in association with elite sectors of the site, indicating ‘‘attached’’ production of some kind; or we would expect to see an increase in the intensity and scale of production in the majority of the households at the site, indicating that export production took place on the domestic scale. If these anticipated patterns of distribution are not met, then it would be hard to argue that the economic activities imagined for these models were in fact part of elite strategies for acquiring power rather than changes in the productive activities of the population that were not directly associated with emergent inequality. Such changes in response to increased interregional interaction are certainly worthy of discussion and investigation, but they are not the topic of this chapter. In the case of the prestige economy model foreign goods should be broadly distributed at the site though they may be more abundant and of greater value in elite contexts. The foreign items in elite and nonelite contexts need not be the same items, but if nonelites do not have access to some foreign goods then there is no incentive for them to participate in the system and it becomes more likely that the foreign goods are about prestige display than the foundation of inequality. In other words, as Drennan (1991, p. 281) put it, ‘‘the plumes of the chiefly peacock, not its basic diet.’’ This is not to suggest that the political importance of prestige display is insignificant, only that it does not always involve the

Interregional Interaction and Social Change at El Dornajo


kinds of social transaction that are likely to underwrite institutionalized inequality (ibid.).

INTERREGIONAL INTERACTION AT EL DORNAJO There are no long-distance goods in the Early Formative Period occupation of El Dornajo. Eighty-one obsidian flakes were recovered from the Formative Period site of Un˜a de Gato and analysis indicates that the obsidian came from the Mullimaca (435 km away) and Carboncillo (115 km away) sources (Moore, Davila Manrique, & Pajuelo, 2008). Additionally, some of the ceramic sherds from the site have distinctly Chorreroid incisions (ibid.). So while Un˜a de Gato was clearly tapped into interregional exchange networks (mostly in the Late Formative Period), it was at a very small scale. El Dornajo, only a small hamlet at this time, was not involved in any such interactions. There is no data for the centuries between the occupation of Un˜a de Gato and El Dornajo (ca. 200 BC–300 AD). The Early Regional Development Period occupation of El Dornajo, however, has more evidence of interregional interaction than is known from any other site along the river. Evidence for increased interaction in seen from early on in the Early Regional Development Period occupation and is contemporaneous with the presence of social inequality at the site, both appearing around 300 AD. Markers of social inequality include public architecture, the differential distribution of fancy pottery, and the nonlocal adornments and prestige items previously discussed. The foreign prestige goods at El Dornajo are located almost exclusively in burials (see Figs. 4 and 5). A Manten˜o frogware vessel was found with Burial 2 and is of nonlocal origin based on visual inspection of the paste and firing quality. It probably originated to the north in the Manabı´ Province. Although likely of local manufacture, a handful of vessels resembling nonlocal ceramics stylistically were also recovered from burials. A vessel resembling Sica´n vessels (very similar to another described by Moore et al., 2008 from the site of La Palma) was reportedly found during the looting of burials on Loma Alvarado. A drum found with Burial 7 is of a style previously found in Alto Piura, northern Peru (J. B. Richardson III, personal communication, University of Pittsburgh, November 2008) and Catamayo, in the southern highlands of Ecuador (Guffroy, 2004). Finally, a basket handle olla reportedly found during the looting of Loma Alvarado is of a style previously reported for Vicu´s burials in Alto Piura (Hocquenghem, 1991; Lanning, 1963).



Fig. 4. Prestige Items from El Dornajo: Basket Handle Vessel (Top Left), Sica´n Style Vessel (Top Middle), Ceramic Drum (Top Right), Ceramic Stool (Bottom Left), and Manten˜o Frogware Jar (Bottom Right).

Shell bead collars found in Burials 1 and 15 include numerous spondylus shell beads. Spondylus is not common in this area but is known to occur in abundance along the Manabı´ coastline. There is no evidence to suggest that these beads were locally manufactured (i.e., drills or spondylus debris). The closest known location for the production of such beads is the site of El Azucar in the Guayas Province to the north (Masucci, 1995). A quartz bead found with the collar in Burial 1 is identical to those manufactured at the site of Pirincay, Azuay Province (O’ Bruhns, 1989). Emerald beads found in

Interregional Interaction and Social Change at El Dornajo


Fig. 5. Prestige Items from El Dornajo: Copper Alloy Dangle Earrings (Top Left), Copper Narigueras and Emerald Bead (Top Right), Gold Coil Earrings with Emerald Beads, Gold Nariguera, and Gold Adornment (Bottom Left); and Spondylus Shell, Quartz, and Stone Bead Collar (Bottom Right).

Burials 4 and 18 (and reportedly looted from a wealthy burial on Loma Alvarado) would have originated far to the north near Colombia. Chroniclers at the time of the Spanish conquest report that many emeralds were found on the Esmeraldas and Manabı´ coasts (Saville, 1907). The site of La Tolita on the north coast of Ecuador is contemporaneous with El Dornajo and had emeralds as well (Masucci, 2008).



Most numerous are the various metal adornments found in the burials from El Dornajo. The majority of the metal adornments and items are in a distinctly Vicu´s-Moche style and very likely came from the Piura or Chira valleys, from contemporaneous sites like Vicu´s and Cerro Calingara´. Dangles, ear plugs, and cut copper sheet items, as well as the rattle and point from the looted burial on Loma Alvarado are all distinctly central Andean in character. In contrast, coiled earrings and a lost wax cast nariguera found in burials at El Dornajo are northern Andean in style. The nearby Arenillas River was once rich in placer gold deposits (Murillo, 2002) and the Zarumilla River very likely held such deposits as well since both originate in

Fig. 6.

Map of the Trade Route Proposed by Hocquenghem (1991), and the Likely Origins of Nonlocal Artifacts Found at El Dornajo.

Interregional Interaction and Social Change at El Dornajo


a region of the Andes known for rich gold deposits. There is little evidence of metallurgy at El Dornajo, however. It is more likely that many of these metal items originated elsewhere to the north and south. In total these items number fewer than the obsidian flakes from Un˜a de Gato. But the obsidian flakes at Un˜a de Gato came from one highland Ecuadorian exchange route, and could have been manufactured from only a few obsidian nodules. The goods at El Dornajo, in contrast, came from coastal and highland exchange routes running through both Ecuador and Peru. The items are all fairly easily transported (except for the frogware jar), but they are bulkier than obsidian nodules or flakes, and could not have been manufactured from just a few parent items. This indicates relatively sustained interaction in a large trade network, specifically, the long-distance network proposed by Hocquenghem (1991) (see Fig. 6). She suggests that at this time a trade network ran between La Tolita and Alto Piura, passing through the southern highlands of Ecuador, out to coastal Manabı´ , and along the north coast of Ecuador. The information from El Dornajo agrees with Hocquenghem’s proposed route. This route is contemporaneous with changes at both El Dornajo and in the southern highlands of Ecuador that suggest the two areas were involved in similar networks of interaction. Nonetheless, the overall small number of nonlocal items and their nearly exclusively burial contexts demonstrate that interaction was still on a small scale. The evidence indicates that the network discussed above did not pass directly through the Zarumilla River region, though some people at El Dornajo were tapped into the network during the Regional Development Period.

ELITE ACTIVITIES The data indicate that an increase in interregional interaction does correspond temporally with the evidence for social inequality at the site. This does not mean that interregional interaction promoted social change, however. Elites could have invested wealth and power in the acquisition of newly available finery without those acquisitions having any real impact on the local social organization. If the two phenomena are directly related, then we expect to see the changes in activities/artifact assemblages at the site previously discussed. This expectation is examined by comparisons of artifact distribution both between and within time periods using the four groups identified in multidimensional scaling previously discussed. Proportions were calculated



for each group as a cluster sample whose sampling units were the strata in the 1 m  1 m units excavated at the site. Groups 2–4 were then pooled to arrive at pooled proportions for the Early Regional Development Period that could be compared with Group 1 for the Early Formative Period. The proportions were calculated by converting artifact to sherd ratios into proportions. For example, the number of flakes divided by the number of flakes plus the number of sherds. The approach taken here assumes that ceramic use remained essentially constant through time; an assumption that was validated in this dataset (see Taylor, 2011). Middleman Model If elites at El Dornajo were acting as middlemen in a larger trade network, then we expect them to be differentially associated with currency items, bulking facilities, and camelid remains. No naipes or chaquira were recovered and no large storage spaces were identified. There does appear to be an increase in camelid remains though not on the scale one would expect if they were being used frequently for transport. No camelid remains were found at any of the Formative Period sites that have been studied, including Un˜a de Gato. Nine specimens were found at El Dornajo but seven of the nine specimens were part of a few articulated bones belonging to one individual found in Group 2. Additionally, one specimen was found in Group 4 and one in the tola fill. Thus it appears that camelids had made their way to coastal Ecuador by the Early Regional Development Period, but they were not there in economically significant numbers. Camelids are known in the southern highlands of Ecuador and in Alto Piura Peru at this time (Kaulicke, 2006; Stahl, 2003). In fact, the site of Vicu´s in Alto Piura appears to have been involved in camelid husbandry (Kaulicke, 1991), so we would expect to see more camelid remains at El Dornajo if they were being used as beasts of burden. Therefore, the middleman model is not supported by the data. This is not really surprising since the exchange network turns out not to have passed directly through the Zarumilla River Valley, so El Dornajo was outside of what Hall and Chase-Dunn (2006, p. 41) refer to as the ‘‘bulk goods and political military networks’’ where a service industry would be likely to develop. Export Economy Model If elites at El Dornajo were benefiting from an economic reorganization toward an export economy, then we expect to see an increase in the scale

Interregional Interaction and Social Change at El Dornajo


and intensity of the production of exportable goods. In order to examine this expectation three factors were considered: intensity, scale, and distribution. Intensity refers to the labor investment of producers in a given productive task. High-intensity production indicates that producers spend most of their time on that activity, in other words, that they are specialists. Scale refers to the proportion of the population who are involved in the production of a given product. Large-scale production involves most families of a community (Costin, 1991). The distribution of goods identifies which sectors of the site were involved in a given productive activity. Scale and distribution are examined for each category of production identified at the site. Scale is based on the percentage of contexts at the site in which any evidence of production was recovered. Distribution is based on the proportion of production-related items found in each sector of the site. Intensity is discussed below. Elite control of an export economy could take two forms; attached specialists or domestic re-organization to meet elite demands. If elites were financing attached craft producers, then we would expect to see high intensity (specialists) – small-scale (few households) production taking place primarily in elite sectors of the site. If the domestic economy re-organized to meet elite demands, then we would expect to see low intensity (part-time producers) – large-scale (most households) production across the site. The kinds of goods produced at El Dornajo were largely domestic, appear in low quantities, and were mixed with ordinary domestic refuse, all of which indicate low-intensity production (Feinman & Nicholas, 2000). Thus models based on high-intensity production, like the attached specialists model, are not applicable here. The analysis below examines the possibility of a reorganization of the domestic economy.

Cloth Spindle whorls are used for the spinning of threads used in weaving. All of the spindle whorls from El Dornajo are made of clay and most have incised designs around the exterior. Fig. 7 illustrates that there is no difference in the distribution of spindle whorls between groups at the site, indicating that both elite and nonelite sectors of the site were involved in spinning. Additionally, spindle whorls were only found in 6 of the 64 contexts (unit/ stratum) excavated at El Dornajo, or 9% (77% at the 95% CL). If more than a very small proportion of the settlement’s population were involved in spinning, then we would expect to recover spindle whorls in a larger proportion of the contexts. Thus cloth production was a small-scale,


Fig. 7.


Spindle Whorl to Sherd Proportion for Each Group, and for the Pooled Groups 2–4 (No Spindle Whorls Were Found in Group 1).

low-intensity activity that both elite and nonelite sectors of the site participated in. Ceramics No items directly associated with ceramic production, such as paddles, anvils, kilns, wasters, etc. were recovered. Nonetheless, the temper of nearly all of the sherds from El Dornajo consists of alluvial sands from the floodplain and ancient river channels suggesting that the manufacture of ceramics took place somewhere along the river. Some polishing stones, which are often used to burnish ceramics, were recovered. But only 4 of 64 contexts (unit/stratum) excavated at the site, or 6% (76% at the 95% CL) contained polishing stones. If more than a very small proportion of the settlement’s population were involved in making/ decorating ceramics, then we would expect to recover polishing stones in a larger proportion of the contexts. These artifacts were found in normal domestic middens and number only four in total; indicating that production was a low-intensity task. Finally, both Groups 2 and 4 had polishing stones indicating that their use was not restricted to elite sectors of the site. Wood Work and Hides Hardwoods such as hualtaco and zapote are native to this area and would have made good materials for the production of numerous items. Indeed, wooden stains in the shape of spears or staffs in Burial 4 and Vessel 11 suggest that these woods were used for crafting items. Faunal remains demonstrate the use of deer, the hides of which can be exchangeable commodities. Both crafts require stone tools for their manufacture. The two

Interregional Interaction and Social Change at El Dornajo


kinds of chipped stone artifacts found at El Dornajo are flakes and scrapers. The flakes from the site showed no signs of use wear and primary, secondary, and tertiary flakes are all represented. They are therefore considered production debris, although they may well have been used expediently. Flakes were found in 11 of 64 contexts (unit/stratum) excavated at the site, or 17% (79% at the 95% CL) and scrapers were found in only 4 of 64 contexts excavated at the site, or 6% (76% at the 95% CL). If more than a small proportion of the settlement’s population were involved in wood working or hide processing, then we would expect to recover chipped stone in a larger proportion of the contexts. In the case of flakes the scale of production is larger than that of other crafts considered here, but still modest considering the variety of activities that flakes might have been involved in. Fig. 8 shows that we can be more than 99% confident that Group 4 had roughly twice the chipped stone of other groups at El Dornajo, whether flakes or scrapers. These data indicate that there was unequal participation in activities like wood working and/or hide processing. Yet these remains are few in number and were found in mixed domestic midden deposits indicating a low-intensity of production within elite sectors. As a low-scale and low-intensity activity, production of these goods is not likely to have

Fig. 8. Flake to Sherd and Scraper to Sherd Proportions for Each Group at the Site, and the Pooled Groups 2–4 (No Flakes Were Found in Group 1 and No Scrapers Were Found in Groups 1 or 2).



been part of an export economy even though elites were more involved in it. They were likely involved as part-time producers of status items for their own consumption or as gifts in elite exchanges. Metallurgy Three items associated with metallurgy were recovered from El Dornajo, and as previously discussed, metal ore (at least gold) was locally available. One clay truyere fragment (Fig. 9) was found in Group 4. Truyeres are placed on the end of reed tubes that are used to oxigenate fires for smelting. The process often leaves droplets of the smelted metal on sherds inside of the kiln and one sherd with copper drops on the interior was found in the tola fill. Additionally, a stone hammer for annealing was reportedly found in the wealthy burial looted on Loma Alvarado (Fig. 9). Smooth hammers are used to thin metal ingots into sheets. So while the kinds of artifacts expected for metallurgical production were found at the site, only one of each was found, which indicates very lowintensity manufacture of metal items if any at all. All three items were found in elite sectors of the site, so any production that did take place would have been associated with elites; but these items are so few that they may be prestige items themselves. Certainly no slag, vitrified clay, or kiln fragments were found. In short, there is no support for the export economy model. The overall intensity of production was very low, the scale of production was small, and with the exception of chipped stone both elite and nonelite households

Fig. 9.

Ceramic Truyere and Metallurgical Hammer from El Dornajo.

Interregional Interaction and Social Change at El Dornajo


engaged in production. This means that some households were part-time producers of different goods for community consumption. The difference between the Early Regional Development Period and the Early Formative Period assemblages is a reflection of the greater variety of domestic tasks undertaken by residents of the site during the later period rather than the implementation of an export economy. These two periods are separated by thousands of years, so we would expect that a variety of new domestic tasks would be present in the later context.

Prestige Economy Model If elites at El Dornajo were accumulating status through participation in a prestige goods network, then we would expect the associated goods to be found primarily at El Dornajo within the Zarumilla River Valley; but to see similar changes in artifact assemblages throughout the larger region at the same time we see them at El Dornajo. Indeed, no other site along the river has evidence for participation in interregional exchange at this time, and similar changes in artifact assemblages were found at El Dornajo and sites in the southern highlands of Ecuador. Specifically, both see the appearance of larger and thicker jars and ollas, large bowls, compoteras, ceramic stools, and metal items at this time (O’Bruhns, 2003; Taylor, 2011). We might also expect to see ritual or feasting contexts at El Dornajo where gifting and the display of prestige goods would take place. There is, in fact, evidence for feasting in elite contexts of the site. Very dense shellfish middens were found in both elite sectors, three times as many decorated ceramics were found in one elite sector than in any other context at the site, and all exceptionally large serving vessels (generally 30 cm or more in diameter) were found in elite contexts (Taylor, 2011). These data support the prestige economy model. There is no evidence for an increase in domestic production to support the acquisition of prestige goods, however. While the intensification of agricultural production may not be readily observable, there is no increase in the presence of agricultural implements (ibid.). However, as previously suggested the differential association of elite sectors with chipped stone could mean that elites were producing hardwood staffs or spears for elite exchanges. This activity could potentially have financed the acquisition of prestige goods. Thus financing participation in the prestige goods network probably required very little, if any, significant change to the domestic economy.



The kinds of goods that were acquired through access to the northerncentral Andean exchange network were almost exclusively ornamental items found in elite burial. In other words, nonelites were not able to obtain items coming from the highland network. This would seem to suggest that emergent inequality was not built upon a prestige economy; however, important access to foreign luxury goods might have been politically. But there is no reason that the goods nonelites were getting need to be the same kinds of goods, or even come from the same place, as the prestige items; as long as elite participation in the prestige network gave nonelites access to a valued nonlocal good. Chione subrugosa shellfish from the coast were found in large quantities in the feasting deposits (ibid.). Since feasts are likely to have involved the entire community, nonelites would have had access to coastal resources through these elite sponsored feasts/clam bakes. One can imagine a scenario where access to luxury goods as a result of an increase in interregional interaction fuels a prestige economy that bolsters elites throughout the region and affects the movement of more mundane domestic goods regionally. Such a scenario is visually depicted in Fig. 10. In this scenario prestige goods like metal ornaments might be part of bride wealth and political gifting to form alliances and ensure access to coastal resources like chione.

El Dornajo


W dS


en am rn O




n Or

M et al











h lfis


Fig. 10.


Hypothetical Exchange Network in the Zarumilla River Valley.

Interregional Interaction and Social Change at El Dornajo


Thus, if access to luxury items from increased interregional interaction was necessary for access to chione, as indicated in the scenario in Fig. 10, then one could indeed argue for a prestige economy being part of the foundation of social inequality at El Dornajo. If we were to replace the prestige goods moving from El Dornajo to the coast in Fig. 10 with agricultural products and deer (also a plausible scenario), then increased interregional interaction would no longer play a critical role in how power was obtained at El Dornajo. However, looters collections in the region demonstrate that coastal sites had access to highland prestige goods despite their greater distance from the exchange network and there is a real paucity at El Dornajo of agricultural implements to suggest increased production, or projectile points for hunting deer. The scenario presented in Fig. 10 therefore, seems more likely at this time.

LOCAL CONDITIONS AND THE EMERGENCE OF A PRESTIGE ECONOMY Coastal resources are among the most stable and abundant foods in this region where climatic fluctuations can periodically place communities at risk. The fact that shellfish were a valued resource in the region is demonstrated by their heavy consumption all along the river and by all households in earlier periods. Furthermore, it is likely that in earlier periods the middle valley and the coast of the Zarumilla River Valley had a symbiotic relationship, perhaps based on kinship, which allowed communities in both resource zones access to a wider variety of foods. This kind of relationship was very common in Prehispanic Ecuador (Reitz & Masucci, 2004) and is similar to the transaction called wasi that was ethnographically documented by Malinowski (1932) in the Trobriand Islands. This kind of regional sharing of subsistence goods is not an uncommon part of the domestic economy in environmentally variable and risky areas. Since it was access to chione that would have allowed elites at El Dornajo to harness the productive energy of the community, then access to chione would have been the foundation of social inequality. Yet since shellfish had been readily accessible to all members of communities along the river in the Formative Period, and formed an important part of the domestic economy at that time, how could it become the base upon which inequality was built during the Early Regional Development Period? The answer lies in environmental disruptions to resource availability on the landscape. There is evidence that a mega El Nin˜o event occurred



immediately prior to the re-occupation of El Dornajo in the Early Regional Development Period causing the Zarumilla River to change its course; and that the region continued to experience heightened ENSO activity throughout the site’s occupation (Taylor, 2011). This region is the epicenter of El Nin˜o activity in the western hemisphere. During mega El Nin˜o events the Zarumilla River is prone to flooding, and sometimes changes its course. Heavy rainfall and discharge decrease oxygen content of the water creating conditions of hypoxia and lower the salinity to below some species thresholds (Lucero, Carlos, Cantera, Jaime, & Romero, 2006). Oyster, the preferred shellfish during the Formative Period, is especially susceptible to these changes and in fact all but disappeared from sites in the region during the Late Formative Period (Currie, 1989; Staller, 1994; Taylor, 2011; Vilchez Carrasco, Moore, & Pajuelo, 2007). Overall shellfish consumption at El Dornajo was down nearly 40% (at the 99% CL) from its Early Formative Period level during the Early Regional Development Period occupation (Taylor, 2011). Furthermore, over 90% of the shellfish consumed during the Early Regional Development Period were intertidal species rather than mangrove species like oyster (ibid.). Oyster alone made up some 65% of the shellfish consumed during the Early Formative Period (ibid). Oyster was likely a preferred resource in earlier periods because it is easily harvested in large quantities on the prop roots of mangroves at low tide. With the exception of chione, other available shellfish must be raked from the mud flats or hunted in the mud below the mangrove roots which is very time-consuming. Chione, however, is known to occur in beds making it easy to harvest and would therefore have been a desirable resource in the post mega El Nin˜o period because it could replace oyster. Since chione occurs in beds it would also be a more easily controlled resource than oyster had been because beds could belong to specific lineages or communities. Thus, if a mega El Nin˜o event changed the availability of subsistence resources on the landscape making it possible for some of those resources to be controlled, then emergent elites at El Dornajo could have coopted traditional risk buffering mechanisms based on kinship relations with neighboring environmental zones, if they could monopolize relationships with coastal lineage who had access to chione; and they seem to have done so. Indeed its distribution at El Dornajo is largely restricted to elite sectors where 74%77% (at the 99% CL) of the shellfish consists of chione (Taylor, 2011). If all members of the community had equal access to chione, we would expect its distribution to be more even.

Interregional Interaction and Social Change at El Dornajo


SUMMARY In summary, there was an increase in interregional interaction along the Zarumilla River during the Early Regional Development Period. This occupation at El Dornajo is characterized by more interaction with neighboring polities than had been true for earlier sites along the river. At this time exchange would have been between the Vicu´s-Moche states of Peru and various Ecuadorian chiefdoms, passing from Alto Piura in Peru, through the highlands of southern Ecuador, and possibly out to the northern coast of Ecuador through Manabı´ and La Tolita (Hocquenghem, 1991; Hocquenghem, Idrovo, Kaulicke, & Gomiz, 1993). This network has been proposed on the basis of shared styles and the movement of coppergold and spondylus seen at sites along this corridor. The kinds of goods being acquired through this network at El Dornajo were prestige items found almost exclusively in burial contexts and consisting primarily of personal adornments. Furthermore, these items were found in small numbers overall, meaning that particularly large caches of wealth were not found. Thus, some residents of the site were tapped into interregional exchange networks but there is no evidence to suggest that they were directly involved in them. The network probably did not pass through the Zarumilla River, but rather passed by it in the highlands to the east. Residents of El Dornajo did not serve as middlemen in the trade network. This is clear because no large-scale storage features, naipes/chaquiras, or large numbers of camelid remains were found. Neither is there evidence to support a re-organization toward an export economy at El Dornajo in response to this interaction. Productive activity at the site is of both low intensity and small scale, consistent with a few part-time producers making domestic goods for local consumption. Therefore, an increase in interregional interaction did not promote social inequality in a directly economic way. There is enough evidence to make the prestige economy model a plausible one for the emergence of social inequality at El Dornajo. El Dornajo is the only site along the Zarumilla River with foreign luxury goods, there are similar changes in artifact assemblages at El Dornajo and sites in the southern highlands at this time, and feasting was a notable activity at El Dornajo. Both elites and nonelites had access to some kinds of nonlocal goods during these feasting events; elites had access to foreign luxury ornaments, while both elites and nonelites had access to shellfish. Clearly elites only had access to foreign ornaments because of the increase in



interaction between the northern and central Andean polities. It is less clear that access to chione required those same luxury goods and their associated relationships. Since there is evidence that a symbiotic relationship existed between the middle valley and the coast for thousands of years, elites at El Dornajo might have acquired chione through existing social mechanisms without need of the newly available finery. Considering the restricted distribution of chione at El Dornajo, however, there is some reason to believe that luxury goods might have been the inducement coastal lineages with control of chione shell beds needed to persuade them to deal exclusively with elite lineages at El Dornajo. The effect of such a relationship would be to change what was previously part of the domestic economy into the foundation of the political economy.

CONCLUSIONS AND DISCUSSION This study set out to examine the extent to which increased interregional interaction between the northern and central Andes promoted social inequality at the site of El Dornajo in the frontier region. Three models were considered: middleman, export economy, and prestige economy. The data indicate that elites at El Dornajo were tapped into the interregional exchange network via personal relationships with neighboring highland communities and that social inequality emerged at the site contemporaneously with increased interaction. The data do not support the middleman or export economy models, but do support the prestige economy model. At El Dornajo, the use of luxury goods acquired through the highland exchange route appears to have promoted a change in the nature of regional relationships that allowed elites to co-opt a traditional risk buffering strategy. Therefore, to the extent that the prestige items used in alliance building at El Dornajo became available because of increased interregional interaction between northern Peru and southern Ecuador, changes in macro-regional geopolitics do appear to have played a role in the emergence of social inequality at the site. Yet to simply state that a prestige economy emerged out of circumstances of increasing interregional interaction would overemphasize the role of the luxury goods in the system. It is the goods received by nonelites that most directly fuel the political economy of a community, and in this case that would be chione shellfish from the coast, not foreign ornaments from the highlands. Newly available finery may have enticed coastal lineages with chione shell beds into a network of elite interaction, but they were not what

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enticed nonelites to participate. Nonelites participated because of access to coastal subsistence resources that were part of their traditional diet. Therefore, the circumstances that made the prestige economy a successful mechanism for emergent elites to gain power is at least as dependent on the re-organization of subsistence resources on the landscape by natural hazards as it was on an increase in interregional interaction. Nonetheless, the prestige goods acquired through increased interregional interaction may have been the glue that united those along the Zarumilla River with access to desirable resources (both subsistence and social). This network of elite interaction permitted some people at El Dornajo to co-opt traditional risk buffering strategies, replacing coastal-inland symbiotic socioeconomic systems operating at the household scale, with a community-scale redistributive socioeconomic system. This is indeed a major change in the nature of local economic interaction, and one that does appear to have come about in part because of increased interregional interaction.

External Relationships and System Stability It has often been said that hierarchical social organization based on external relationships is fundamentally unstable since trade routes and relationships can change (Earle, 1991; McGuire, 1989). The El Dornajo case suggests that this depends on the time frame being considered. From the perspective of a very short time frame it was local environmental hazards that created conditions favorable to social change and access to a regional prestige network that made those changes sustainable. Oyster would have begun to recover after only about 50 years (Coker, 1910, as cited in Vilchez Carrasco et al., 2007) making it possible for previous risk buffering strategies based on relationships among nonelites on the coast and in the middle valley to reassert themselves. Yet feasting on chione and the acquisition of highland prestige goods continued at the site until its abandonment some three hundred years later. This implies that the ideology underlying social relationships at El Dornajo had changed and that inequality came to be symbolically legitimated through access to prestige goods. Thus an increase in interregional interaction provided stability to the new social system at El Dornajo, when seen on the very short term. From a somewhat longer time frame the result of becoming enmeshed in a larger network of interaction appears to have had the anticipated destabilizing effect. El Dornajo was abandoned at a time when trade between southern Ecuador and northern Peru became more formalized and larger in



scale around 600/700 AD (Martin Noriega, 2010a, 2010b). The trade network may have shifted to a coastal route at this time, leaving the southern highlands of Ecuador behind and cutting El Dornajo out of the loop by bringing prestige goods directly to the coast.

External and Internal Dimensions of Authority Finally, this chapter supports the argument that the emergence of institutionalized inequality requires control over both internal and external relationships (Clark & Blake, 1994; Earle, 1991; Spencer, 1993). This argument, most clearly elaborated by Spencer (1993), contends that ‘‘big man’’ achieved authority can convert itself into ‘‘chiefly’’ ascribed authority only when internal and external dimensions of power are well articulated. The internal dimension of power refers to the relationship between leaders and their factions, as well as the expansion of factions beyond the village scale. The external dimension of authority refers to the extra-factional arena; or long-distance relationships. The external dimension tends to be discussed as warfare or long-distance exchange, interactions that do not take place on a daily basis; while the internal dimension refers to daily interactions between neighbors or human–environment interaction (Taylor, 2010). Participation in a regional prestige economy is a way to expand one’s authority into the external dimension. Monopolization of chione relied on internal dimensions of power based on relationships between followers and nearby villages. Therefore, the two dimensions articulated at El Dornajo during the Early Regional Development Period and were together responsible for making hierarchical social organization possible. The implications of this perspective for how we approach understanding the emergence of institutionalized inequality are important. A considerable portion of the archaeological literature dichotomizes itself between models based on internal conditions and those based on external conditions. Critics of the first approach accuse researchers of seeing societies from within a cultural vacuum. Critics of the second approach argue that there is no evidence for long-distance relationships being central to emergent inequality. 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. Furthermore, Spencer’s model helps to explain the timing/pace of social change in different places by suggesting that a chiefdom can develop only when expansion of the internal and external dimensions of authority are

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actually possible (Drennan, 1995). This was true at El Dornajo during the Early Regional Development Period but was perhaps not true for the preceding 500 years where there is no evidence of complexity in the area. Therefore, the internal/external model has the potential to help us to explain both the peaks and the valleys in developmental trajectories. This final observation may explain why the developmental trajectories of cultural frontiers are so often seen as being tied to that of their more complexly developed neighbors. These regions may be ones in which there are few opportunities to expand the external dimension of authority simply because of their geopolitical locations. If this is true, then increased interregional interaction would almost certainly provide this opportunity and result in increased complexity; but only if the internal dimension could be expanded simultaneously.

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