Inalienable Commodities: The Production and Circulation of Silver and Patrimony in a Mexican Mining Cooperative

Essay Excerpt

The following sections explore the implications of silver as inalienable commodity by first discussing the notion of inalienability as it has been treated in the anthropological literature on property relations and exchange. I then turn to the origins and development of the Santa Fe Cooperative and to the practices of silver production, exchange, and valuation to examine how shifts in the local and regional economies, the global silver market, and emerging regimes of capital accumulation have affected the uses of patrimony in the Santa Fe Cooperative. Finally, I suggest ways in which the anthropological literature on inalienability can be enriched by reexamining the conceptual complexities of earlier theorists of value—Marx and Simmel in particular. My reading of their theories of value and exchange allows for the coexistence of competing forms of value as a historical process rather than as a fixed scheme of incompatible categories. Once we see the politics of value as a historical process, we can examine how local actors use patrimony and inalienability as tools to place limits on, and give moral and social implications to, commodity exchange even as they engage in it. (333)

About the Author

Elizabeth Ferry is Associate Professor of Anthropology at Brandeis University. Her research interests lie in Mexico and U.S.-Mexican relations, and in silver mining, with special focus on theoretical concepts of patrimony and the production of value. Her current book project looks at the extraction, circulation and consumption of mineral specimens from Mexican mines, by miners, dealers, collectors, curators and mineralogists, to see how these transactions manifest and influence the experience of transnational space. She is the author of "Not Ours Alone: Patrimony, Value and Collectivity in Contemporary Mexico" (Columbia University Press, 2005). 

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