Quisiera empezar con un necesario agradecimiento a José Ossandón y a todos los creadores de Estudios de la Economía por mantener este importante punto de encuentro y discusión para investigadoras e investigadores que intentan comprender la economía desde lo social. Extiendo la gratitud por mantener las fronteras de la definición de lo que sea hacerlo suficientemente amplias para que distintas perspectivas disciplinarias puedan sumarse, y no competir, para mejor comprender lo que hacen y como significan humanos (y no humanos!) las trocas económicas. Agregarme al blog es encontrar algunos viejos amigos (en pasado nos encontramos en tierras extranjeras) y, estoy cierto, hacer otros. No puedo pensar en mejor espacio para compartir algunas inquietudes intelectuales y ojalá recibir los aportes de compañeras y compañeros de estudios sociales de la economía.
En este sentido, me gustaría estrenar mi participación compartiendo abajo lo que es mi agenda de investigación actual. Yo busco comprender las condiciones de producción y negociación identitária de individuos y grupos en medio a la acción mercantil, en contextos de (i) inserción de poblaciones periféricas en los circuitos globales del capital y (ii) diversidad sociocultural, en que se renegocian papeles y reputaciones de los agentes más allá del mercado. Creo que comprender los sentidos de la acción económica para los actores mismos requiere analizar el conjunto de relaciones – materiales, culturales, políticas y sociales – y trayectorias personales en que las transacciones están insertas y con las cuales se entrelazan. Solamente así se pueden revelar proyectos personales y colectivos más amplios, no puramente materiales e inclusive identitários, que orientan actores en sus intercambios mercantiles y a los cuales se subordinan transacciones y su sentido para los actores. Por eso, mi propuesta es seguir y describir las redes (ó circuitos) de relaciones sociales (no puramente económicas) que generan y son generadas, así como de dispositivos (en especial las representaciones culturales que son negociadas e intercambiadas) en los procesos de circulación global de personas y objetos. Estoy particularmente interesado en la capacidad de actores de manipular representaciones para definir los valores de productos intercambiados y, en el proceso, su propio valor social, pero igualmente en el papel que dispositivos de organización espacial, material y temporal de los mercados tienen en la conformación de contextos de intercambio y de representaciones. En razón de este objeto y la pretensión de comprender como los actores mismos otorgan sentido a su acción, tengo una preferencia metodológica por la observación participante.
En este post presento un sumario de esta investigación en curso. Antes de empezar, me gustaría disculparme por utilizar el inglés en la parte restante de la presentación por una razón de comodidad, puesto que esta es la lengua principal en que vengo trabajando. Aunque sea así, comentarios en español, portugués ó inglés son muy bienvenidos.
Identidades en dos mercados
Markets are one of the central institutions of contemporary life, an arena of dense sociability. As such, it should cause no surprise that representations are disputed and identities negotiated amidst market transactions. Numerous works have analysed labour, consumption and competition amongst firms in relation to identity and subjectification. Class and occupation are recognised as important elements forging identity, as well as defining cultural and political attitudes (Aronowitz 1992; Brubacker & Cooper 2000; Goldthorpe et al. 1968). Relations between identity, social spaces and consumption have been thoroughly surveyed as well (Belk 1988; Bourdieu 1984; Douglas & Isherwood 1979; Dubuisson-Quellier 2009; McCracken 1988; Miller 1987; Sahlins 1976; Warde 1994). Economic sociologists have also analysed how identities define positions of producers in the market (Podolny 2008; White 2002) and strategies of producers to define their status in the market associating their goods with identity traits of ideal-typical consumers (Aspers 2010). Despite their interest in markets and identity, the relations between market transactions and the production and negotiation of identities, amidst controversies involving qualifications of economic activities, exchanged goods and actors, remain overlooked by sociological and anthropological studies.
This study proposes to remedy this gap, facing the question of how and under which circumstances negotiations of identity might take place amidst market transactions. It intends to demonstrate that, in contrast to such assumptions, acting in the market might provide agents with symbolic and material resources to dispute their worth and the categories with which they are judged. In order to provide a fine-grained analysis accounting for the complexity of these relations, this study turns to the interplay between value in market transactions and representations of agents, spaces and objects of exchange. Representations animate exchange and provide sociocultural foundations for judgments of worth, but economic valuation in market transactions also alters representations about goods, spaces and agents.
These representations are not singular, rigid and remain disputed as alternative or complementary qualifications of objects, agents and spaces of exchange, associated with a number of material, symbolic, aesthetic and affective properties. These controversies involve attempts to legitimize market transactions, qualify objects and define their value. At stake is also the worth of exchange agents, in association to the nature of transactions and the qualities of goods they trade. The aim of this research is to verify whether actors may produce new self-representations and subjectivities manipulating these associations, as well as the social meanings of their markers of difference (social position, ethnicity and national origin) amidst market interactions. The outcome of exchange might also interfere in the sense of worth of agents and their reputation. In this sense, this research intends to contribute to debates on the conditions of production of identity in late modernity (Dubar 2000; Giddens 1991; Lahire 2004).
The debate on identity and the research question become more relevant, in theoretical and practical terms, in the current context of increased mobilities of people, objects and images (Urry 2002). Both animated by and animating economic transactions, these fluxes promote encounters amidst sociocultural difference, which give rise to new representations that might be negotiated by actors. They also produce new regimes of control, which together with disputed representations, reconfigure the (imagined) territories of exchange and their actors. Socially and culturally diverse markets constitute a vantage point to understand intercultural relations and the role of markets in promoting them (Hiebert, Rath & Vertovec 2014). Taking this into account, I propose to examine the relations between market transactions and identity constitution by means of a comparative analysis of two of such cases. Both are instances of encounters that involve attempts of peripheral populations to integrate global circuits of capital. They also highlight the role that imagined and constructed territories, with equally represented populations, may assume in economic exchange and social interaction of various sorts.
The first case corresponds to market transactions that entail the circulation of cultural elements of the Yawanawa, a native population from the southwestern Amazon. These were the object of my doctoral research. They include performing rituals for external audiences and selling annatto seeds, employed as a pigment in makeup products, together with images of painted bodies, to an American firm. In order to promote these activities, the Yawanawa and their partners rely on a historical narrative about their struggle to maintain their traditions, land rights and the forest. The promotion of such activities relied on the development of new representations about Amazonian populations associating them with the conservation of the forest and the possession of traditions that should be preserved. These representations clashed with the pervasive colonial discourses that considered Indigenous populations a hindrance to national development and their beliefs primitive superstitions, creating opportunities for new alliances to bring income and defend collective rights.
The second case corresponds to a street market (Feira da Madrugada) and its surrounding garment shops on Oriente Street, the main thoroughfare of Pari, a central area of the city of São Paulo. This is a socially and culturally diverse space for ordinary economic practices in which agents ‘get by’ selling mostly inexpensive mass-produced goods, mostly garment and small electronic devices, in stalls and over face-to-face interactions. This is another setting in which it is possible to analyse global flows of goods and persons. Street vendors, many of which immigrants from China and South America, meet customers, amongst which travelling salespersons from various regions of the country and Lusophone Africa, to exchange goods from different parts of the world.
The transactions involving the Yawanawa are saturated with symbols that are considered as their identifiers. Collective identity is the very object of exchange. By turning attention to an informal urban market, the study can explore the role of symbolic representations and the constitution of identities amidst market transactions even when goods are standardized and mass-produced. A phenomenon common to metropolises of the developing world, there is a permanent dispute for the imaginary surrounding these markets, between the shadow of their activities and doubtful provenance of their goods, on the one side, and the celebration of entrepreneurship and consumption of the poor, on the other. Traders are sometimes regarded as criminals, and sometimes as new entrepreneurs. States have been central promoting both representations. Local governments in these metropolises mobilize an array of devices to reassert their control over land use and enforce laws against counterfeited and illegal goods, which promote the former vision. At the same time, government officials also recognise the importance of the informal economy and have developed different attitudes and programmes to promote it. Traders are now part of specific programs that recognize the importance of such forms of economic practice and intend to stimulate the formalization of the space, the agents and their activities, as forms of petty entrepreneurship.
In order to examine the question of identities and market transactions in the new case study, I propose a mix-methods design, mixing (i) documentary research and interview with municipal authorities to recreate legal and political macro-processes, situated within recent history, that are sources of regulatory devices and representations that might be mobilised to qualify goods, agents and spaces, (ii) fieldwork and in-depth interactions with key actors – sellers, buyers and those who organize and regulate exchange –, experiencing their workings to mobilize representations that prompt the qualifications they want, and describing how devices organizing transactions and serving to qualify agents, goods and the space of exchange operate; (iii) and life-story interviews with selected actors to recreate their trajectories and shifts in their self-representations. Given the stated theoretical interests, I focus on the trajectories of vendors and travelling salespersons, from different regions of Brazil, South America, Africa and Asia. These groups are more frequently in the space and transactions are more important for them than to occasional consumers.
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