Dissertation Abstracts

Selling “Cultures”: The Traffic of Cultural Representations from the Yawanawa

Author: Nahoum, André V, andre.nahoum@gmail.com
Department: Department of Sociology
University: University of Sao Paulo, Brazil
Supervisor: Prof. Nadya Araujo Guimaraes
Year of completion: 2013
Language of dissertation: English

Keywords: Commodification , Markets , Indigenous cultures , Amazon
Areas of Research: Economy and Society , Local-Global Relations , Social Transformations and Sociology of Development


What are the tensions, alliances, negotiations, and translations underlying the traffic of cultural representations in markets? This research analyzes two economic projects maintained by the Yawanawa, an indigenous population from southwestern Amazon: one project produces annatto seeds for an American cosmetic firm, and the other involves the public performance of cultural and, notably, spiritual practices. The indigenization of market practices and specific Euro-American categories - such as monetary exchange, environmental protection, and cultural difference - allow cultural elements to be translated into representations of enduring cultures, harmonious lifestyles, and good environmental practices. The economic valuation of cultural representations is being used as a new tool in local conflicts that occur internally among leaders and groups in their quest for prestige, loyalty, and material resources, and externally with the region's non-native population and with national initiatives to develop profitable activities in the Amazon. As part of the global market society, the Yawanawa can also employ the demand and valuation of representations associated with their culture to individual projects on the construction of reputation and leadership, and more broadly, to the reassertion of their collective identity as a specific indigenous population with special rights. But reanimating tradition amidst an increasing participation in the so-called modern global society does not come without tensions and ambivalent visions about the role of tradition and external objects and institutions in the community. This research explores market exchange as an arena of complex sociability and conflict, in which meanings and values are created and negotiated. It analyzes how values are created and exchanged within the market in a true cultural economy, and how individual and collective identity projects are constructed, challenged, and sometimes reproduced by the traffic of material and immaterial objects.