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Open Anthro Vol 7-3 Trade, Trading, and Inequality



Open Anthropology, External Trade, Internal Trade, Inequality, trade inequality, anthropology, anthropology trade


The Editors’ Note: Trade, Trading, and Inequality

Jason Antrosio, Department of Anthropology, Hartwick College Sallie Han, Department of Anthropology, SUNY Oneonta
From Brexit to the prospect of “Trade Wars,” what once seemed a stable international trading system has been increasingly questioned and put up for negotiation. The fortunes of companies and entire countries can rise and fall over the course of a few tweets. Anthropologists have a long tradition of studying trade, traders, and trading. Anthropological examination stretches from the heights of international capitalist trade agreements to the commerce and exchanges of small-scale entrepreneurs who make the economy work.

This issue of Open Anthropology features anthropologists who build on anthropology’s rich tradition studying trade and exchange. We include 15 articles with an extraordinary geographical range—from free-trade zones in the Americas to financial speculation in Spain to markets in Africa to food-trade from Australia and Papua New Guinea. These articles reveal a diverse and active anthropology-on-the-move, illuminating aspects of human interconnection relevant to a wide audience. And although abstract economistic accounts of trade are based on idealized notions of equivalence and equality, anthropologists have revealed that trade is very often an activity in which inequalities are produced and exacerbated.

We begin with “Trueque: An Ethnographic Account of Barter, Trade and Money in Andean Ecuador” by Emilia Ferraro. Ferraro’s article, published in The Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology in 2011, provides an overview of some of the key issues anthropologists have examined regarding both monetary and non-monetary exchanges. In particular, Ferraro demonstrates the importance of barter, which “stands in complex and varied relationships to money, with which it coexists” (170). Ferraro makes the case that barter is worthy of anthropological attention, and that the Andean region is an important area to complement a tradition of anthropological research on exchange in Melanesia and Africa.

Ferraro begins with an ethnographic vignette introducing the idea of trueque or barter, which “involves the simultaneous use of money, goods, animals, and crops. . . . Trueque allows the exchange of goods for goods or cash, or animals. Therefore, it seems to stand between barter and commodity, without fitting comfortably into either category” (172). Such negotiations often involve money, but money is not the sole numerical measure for the transaction. Moreover, the transactions are located within socioeconomic historical relationships between individual trading partners and social groups. The multiple ethnic differentiations that characterize the area of fieldwork are negotiated and reasserted through it. Local notions of morality and fairness are attached to perceptions of ethnic and social identities, and have a place in the local cosmology (and geography) of the world, thus confirming that economic actors are never separate from the culturally defined exchanges that they create, and from the intentions they attach to them. (179)


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