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Thursday 19 October 2023 at 4.00-6.00pm (BST)

Register here for the online event: https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_0MYWV8dhRjClmNCJKLfYwA 


Barter and Social Regeneration in the Argentinean Andes 


The Royal Anthropological Institute is pleased to present ‘Reviewer meets Reviewed’, a discussion between author Professor Olivia Angé (Université libre de Bruxelles; Principal investigator Flourishing Seeds Project) and reviewer Dr Sofía Ugarte (British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow at LSE). The event is chaired by Dr James G Carrier.

Despite the pervasiveness of barter across societies, this mode of transaction has largely escaped the anthropologist’s gaze. Drawing on data from fairs in the Argentinean Andes, this book addresses a local modality of barter known as cambio. Bringing out its embeddedness within religious celebrations, it argues that cambio is practiced as a sacrifice to catholic figures and local ancestors, thereby challenging a widespread view of barter as a non-monetary form of commodity exchange. This ethnography of Andean barter considers processes of value creation, both economic and subjective, to further our understanding of how social groups create themselves through economic exchanges.


The book is published by Berghahn. More info here.



The review

Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 27 (4) December 2021, pp1014-1015

Sofía Ugarte

This book is a detailed ethnography of ritual economics in the Andes that analyses how social relationships and models of value are created and sustained through the material circulation of edible goods. It draws on long-term ethnographic research with Kolla indigenous peasants, herders, and traders from the lowlands and highlands of northwestern Argentina on the border with Bolivia. By analysing how they engage in a particular form of barter named cambio, Olivia Angé explores the empirical and theoretical intersections between economic interest, kinship communities, and cosmological orders. Through evocative descriptions of everyday village life, religious festivities, and fairs, the reader learns how economic morality takes shape in the Andes and how a close study of contemporary ritual exchange can open new ways to understand the politics of multiculturalism and heritage today.

Angé analyses cambio as a form of exchange that is instrumental, cosmological, utilitarian, and reciprocal, and through which the Kolla assert their ethnic identity as distinct from Creole mestizos and white Argentineans. The symbolic, social, and material values created in and through cambio are marked by Kolla religious and economic attachments to kinship and the Pachamama (Mother Earth). Inspired by the anthropology of ritual practices, ceremonial exchange, and value theories, Angé analyses the cambio of maize and meat between complementary ecological niches, and the socioreligious setting in which it comes about. By doing so, she challenges the myth of barter in economic theory (that it is only a mode of exchange in pre-monetary societies), as well as the distinction between ceremonial gift-giving and commodity trade, which some have argued sustains Mauss’s theory of exchange.

Throughout the book, Angé sets herself the task of repositioning barter in economic anthropology, arguing that barter as cambio, and its particular value regime in the Andes, is a performative mode of exchange through which social groups create themselves, both materially and symbolically. Following Munn’s work on value transformation, the author argues that the barter of edible goods in public fairs involves displaying agricultural produce, which feeds into the personal virtues of cultivators, herders, and generous kin. Plentiful and desirable meat and maize reflect the fuerza (strength) of human and nonhuman organisms and instantiate agricultural labour’s vitality in rural society. Moreover, the circulation of produce at fairs involves moral reciprocities that link social belonging with a particular ethnic identity, in which value regimes that guide barter negotiations and exchange are recurrently compared to nostalgic ideals of ancestral reciprocities.

Angé begins by outlining the significant aspects of daily life in the Argentinean Andes through the notion of kinship community that extends back to the Pachamama, the primordial ancestor from which peasants find growth and prosperity (chap. 1). The author continues analysing Andean fairs through an historical lens, highlighting the colonial roots of these religious and commercial events in the region (chap. 2). The following chapters constitute the empirical development of Angé’s central arguments. Through a close analysis of a regional fair during Easter celebrations, she develops a theory of value transformation of Kolla barter and gift. The goods index producers’ and consumers’ strength and identity by extending space and time (chap. 3). Angé then analyses cambio’s value system and the social fabric in which it comes about, comparing it with two other transactions that constitute exchange in fairs: negocio (business) and invitación (invitation), the latter oriented towards nurturing relationships via social and religious rituals of gifting (chap. 4).

The final chapter is a detailed ethnographic analysis of how cambio reproduces society through its ritualized, cosmological, and highly instrumental production and transformation of value, creating a social community among members of complementary ecological regions who share identical food habits (chap. 5). Angé also reflects on how broader political landscapes impact barter practices. She analyses Kolla nostalgic narratives of virtuous barter based on ancestral traditions vis-à-vis the heritagization of fairs and their incorporation into an indigenous moral order that essentializes ethnic identity and integrates the Kolla into an ideal multicultural nation. Here, the author might have reflected further on this process’s effects on cambio’s cosmo-economic features and how these new ethnic indexes might interact with forms of value transformation in a changing region.
An enjoyable read, this ethnography successfully situates barter as a significant form of exchange in the world today, making the book a worthy addition to undergraduate and postgraduate courses in diverse subjects. This detailed study contributes to contemporary anthropological debates by revisiting Munn’s value theory, old and new intersections between economics and morality, and kinship and critical heritage studies in Latin America and beyond.


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