Between Worlds of Exchange: Ethnicity among Peruvian Market Women

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Essay Excerpt

The daily economic transactions and language exchanges of the marketplace constitute a politics of culture and ethnicity in which concepts of nationalism and feelings of "nationness" are debated, evaluated, and contested, and some of the most volatile "infrapolitics of subordinate groups" (Scott 1990:183) may take place. These non-sanitized interethnic relations illustrate one aspect of the disjuncture between real collectivities in the making (Dominguez 1989; Gal 1989) and the "imagined community" of the nation (Anderson 1983). I have examined elsewhere the structural dynamics that have contributed to the proliferation of women in the informal sector as vendors in highland Peru (see Seligmann 1989, in press).' This article argues that the interactions between market women and their clients, who include peasants (campesinos) from the countryside and urban residents (mestizos), shed light upon how market women engage in mediation and why they are perceived as a substantial threat to certain sectors of Peruvian society. In the intermediate spaces of the marketplace where market women spend most of their day together, clashes between the reification of ethnic categories and the efforts of market women to question or ridicule them occur with a subdued but dramatic flair. Through these interactions, one gains a sense of some of the skills that market women deploy in structuring their own sense of identity, given the prevailing model of ethnicity held by the dominant classes and the state, a model that is really the "nation's controlling views of difference" (Boon 1990; Stoler 1989; Williams 1989). The daily activities and the forms of political mobilization engaged in by market women are also central to the story of the challenges these women present to the dominant vision of a Peruvian society and nation (187).

Seligmann, L. J. "Between Worlds of Exchange: Ethnicity among Peruvian Market Women." Cultural Anthropology 8.2(1993): 187–213.

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