Contesting Markets: Analyses of Ideology, Discourse and Practice

By Roy Dilly | Go to book overview

9
Wandering in the Market and the Forest

An Amazonian Theory of Production and Exchange 1

JOANNA OVERING

The Piaroa, a people of the Amazon Territory of Venezuela, subsumed 'shopping in the market-place' within the domain of production, and not, as one expect, within their own indigenous category of exchange. The salient distinction in the Piaroa understanding of sociality was that of production and exchange. As types of activity, production was about the acquisition or transformation of resources for use through the work of self or that of close kinsmen, while exchange was about the acquisition of goods created by a person from a foreign domain. Most importantly, the contrast centred upon the different types of social relationship that were involved in the flow of food and materials between people. On the one side, there were the internal relations of community life built through productive work, co-operation, sharing and the creation of intimacy and high spirits, 2 while on the other there were the external relations of exchange which, through the competition of individuals, created a world ever hovering on the edge of violence, coercion, predation and even war. Thus, the tranquil and safe community of insiders structured by the principles of sharing and production was in sharp contrast to the competitive and individualistic relations of foreign politics structured by the principle of exchange. It was a distinction of identity and difference that was complete, one that opposed the inside and the outside, safety and danger, friend and foe. The image of alterity always carried with it at the very least the potentiality of 'the cannibal other'. As will be discussed in the next section, it was the view of the Piaroa that going 'shopping' in a Venezuelan market town -- as light- hearted productive activity and not dangerous exchange -- involved the social relationship of insiders and not the competitive, foreign ones of exchange.

In order to unfold the logic of the Piaroa in their linkage of types of social relationship with the flow of things between people, it is necessary to follow Piaroa classification, and not received anthropological wisdom. The tendency in anthropological theory has been to over-value the place of exchange to the neglect of production and consumption in the social structure of so-called 'primitives'. Lévi-Strauss ( 1969:61), following the reasoning of Mauss, stresses the social value of 'primitive exchange' as a 'total phenomena'. The view of both is that it is through exchange and the reciprocal transfer of things and people that both peace and social relationships are created among 'primitive' peoples. Clastres ( 1977), writing on the tropical forest

-180-

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