Issue 17.3, August 2002


Essay Excerpt

From "Inalienable Commodities: The Production and Circulation of Silver and Patrimony in a Mexican Mining Cooperative" by Elizabeth Emma Ferry.

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 ofcapital 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 ofvalue 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.