Economic Development vs. Cultural Preservation

The Webster article discusses pastoralism in the Andes and more interestingly; the diet of the Andean lamoids. There is an overlying theme of subsistence farming in which farmers utilize the land to produce enough food for their community. I found it interesting how the hilltops are considered sacred; due to it being the highest point where the “pure” rain rolls down the hill and allows crops to grow in the pasture. Another interesting point is the mechanics of the community’s ecosystem. Such limited resources will eventually call for the need to disperse in order to locate more however; the community won’t abruptly split up simply out of necessity. The leader dictates what will happen and they are only allowed to move when he gives the green light. Men seem to hold the power within the domestic group and it is the job of the women to coincide with the agenda of the males.


Pastoralism is used to further discuss the development of networks the relationships between different families. Traditionally the family of the wife has more resources and this results in the asymmetrical client-patron relationship that we discussed not too long ago.  Debt is used to create dependency, in essence, one might say that wealthier families exploit the need for a wider network of kin.  Webster closes with a comparison between pastoralism in the Andes verses that of the Old World. He states that the hierarchy of the domestic group is highly dictated by wealth and character, this wasn’t the case in the Old World.


Foster’s article reminded me of Hobbes because of his “world view perspective”. He asks the question “How does an anthropologist fathom the cognitive orientation of the group he studies…?” Componential analysis is the scientific approach but in my opinion, a bit of cultural relativism would go a long way. Foster is attempting to understand peasant behavior. After reading the article, I realized that he made some valid points. The “luck” syndrome supplements the lack of a “need for achievement”; if there is no incentive or desire to improve then a person will remain stagnant. It’s somewhat odd to think that an elevation in status is viewed negatively within the community and wealthy people actually portray themselves as poor in order to not be a threat.  In relation to the Culture of Poverty, Foster brings up the concept of a “limited good” where peasants feel as if everything is constrained and there is always a sense of scarcity.  Anyone who makes progress is viewed as doing it at the expense of others, when in reality, that is not the case. In the peasant community, progress is the ultimate threat and this hampers economic development.


Otavalan society consists of various familial farming units that form a larger network of manufacturing units that make up the economy.  Salomon characterizes it as “a nest of systems within systems, a set of concentric productive and political units with the nuclear family at the center”.  The farming-weaving household operates on various plots and the jobs are divided up amongst the family. The parcialidad is the community that these families join; parcialidades have a distinct material culture, and a poor mestizo minority.  On the topic of economic development, Salomon says that their system of industrialism will weaken land-based organization although they have found an alternative to cultural extinction by weaving.  Their whole goal was to capitalize on small industry while preserving culture.


A very insightful article by De Leon focuses on the tools used by immigrants to hide themselves while crossing the border and how they keep themselves alive.  He discusses the relationships of objects and people; how they function at an individual level.  De Leon takes a deeper approach to these relationships by attempting to understand the repeated use of certain objects and the effect they have on the people that use them. Water bottles have been adapted to the conditions of the desert; the shape of the vessel is associated with migrants. He describes why this is the water bottle of choice amongst migrants. They are often covered in plastic in order to hide it from the border patrol.  Although they are incognito, they do not hold nearly enough water to properly sustain a human being for the duration of the 3-day journey through the desert.  The “material culture” that De Leon describes, alludes to the concept of people utilizing objects to their fullest potential. Years and years of use have led to the identification of immigrants based on the materials that they carry; much like people identify someone with a lighter as a smoker. Better to Be Hot than Caught comes full circle when it sums up how the use of dark clothes and water bottles create the stereotype of being a border-crosser.


The 4 articles have helped me shape an opinion on economic development, or at least gain a better understanding of the subject.  It is very important for the people within these communities to preserve their culture while attempting to maintain some sort of economic equilibrium. Subsistence farming allows familial units to stick together but also expand and gain more kin. However, these familial units are usually plagued by the culture of poverty and the idea of a limited good. In addition, the repetitive use of certain objects creates culture based off of those materials.  A recent article discusses how immigration to the U.S. has resurfaced now that the economy is more stable.  As a result, border security has increased and they know how to identify border-crossers.


The development of Mexico’s economy discouraged immigration for a period in time but even amidst a slack job market, the United States still seems to be an attractive place for immigrants.

3 thoughts on “Economic Development vs. Cultural Preservation

  1. I also found the idea of the ritual areas in Webster’s article interesting. I did notice that maintain a lot of authority in decision making, but I also noticed that Webster mentions matrilocal marriage which allows the husband to share in the wife’s role which I thought gave some authority to the wife in certain cases. He also discussed the inheritance factor which at times puts females on the same level as males depending on their birth order. I thought the idea of evil spirits related to some of the previous articles we’ve discussed in class. I agree with your idea of the Culture of Poverty and Limited Goods Theory, but I think this idea of Limited Goods goes further than the culture of Poverty. I feel that part of the Culture of Poverty meant that if you did acquire wealth, you feel obligated to share it with those in your community. The individuals in Foster’s study seem to have no interest in acquiring wealth and tend to hide it if it is acquired which paints a picture of an even more dangerous level of CoP. The most interesting part of the Otavalo article for me was the effect change is having on their society. I also found it interesting but not surprising that the “blancos” handled most of the business in the Otavalo society. De Leon’s article of the techniques used to cross the border were insightful because I have never considered the material culture when discussing immigrants; however, this article is also disappointing. I have always been bothered by what our closest neighbors are willing to go through in order to cross into a country that each year more adamantly fights to keep them out despite being a country built on the backs of immigrants. Your news article ties well with both DeLeon and parts of Foster. It reminded me of Foster’s idea of having to leave in order to achieve success although I did notice the article stated that the desire to cross for work seems to be decreasing due to the increased age of laborers. I look forward to today’s discussion.

  2. The most interesting topic of all this to me was how people feel it beneficial to appear as poor and hide any success they may have. I feel like the slight wealth one may have acquired is most likely the maximum wealth possible for a person living this life, because its not like you can make millions on a farm in a mountain miles and miles away from a city. So is it really worth having that little bit extra to be looked down upon by the only people you have? The way these people live has been the same way for hundreds of years, theres no capitalistic competition with in the community, only group success. I also found the idea of “luck” interesting and how it can downplay success. I feel like people would see the “luck” more as a gift from one of their gods. Personally this would kill my motivation in a group if I had this mind set of “oh it’ll get done some how” or “the gods wont let us down”. It undermines the idea of what you put in is what you get out, and nullifies hard work. Even more so when you don’t really want to become wealthy, because thats frowned upon. The attached article on BBC is the same report I saw on MSNBC’s Hardball with Chris Matthews Sunday evening. The most interesting statistic I heard was about 52% of illegal immigrants in the county are Mexican. Americans have this misconception that the number is more like 85%. We are quicker to judge the status of a person of Mexican decent than any other ethnicity. The most influential part of this topic is what the government will pass as the immigration reform bill. Democrats and GOPers have been going back and forth on this for a while and have not really been close to a settlement. Hopefully the Gang of 8 can come through with a compromise and cool the fire to the hot topic of illegal immigrants.

  3. Very interesting comments posted by all. I think the thread going through the articles was the cultural logic of marginalized communities, that one the outside seem “maladaptive,” but actual constitute a form of survival, continuance, and/or resistance. And the idea of “luck” playing a larger role in one’s well-being and fortune than a Weberian/Protestant work ethic is more telling about the larger global-economic system than the actual labor practices of any member of the community.

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