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Victoria Kline
April 20, 2005
Seminar in Ethnology
Dr. Pérez

Culture, Economy, Power Week 13

Part 3: Hegemonies and Histories

Chapter 12: The Discipline of Patriarchy? The Political Economy of Patriarchy: Miquiladoras in Yucatan, Mexico by Marie France Labrecque

A beautifully written argument, calls attention to the rise of the maquiladora in the Yucatan, the preference for female workers, and the changes the culture is undergoing because of the newfound economic power women have gained because of their nature (passive, docile, workers). They are also very focused and skilled workers in the garment industry.

The situation in Yucatan is similar to that in Cuidad Juarez, a northern Mexican town on the US border. Maquiladoras there prefer women workers, and because of the influx of women into the area, and the newfound economic freedom these women are gaining because they are able to hold down employment, the men have become the marginalized ones and are resisting it in ways that are a danger to women. Violence against women is increased in these situations. Men cannot take the blow to patriarchal control over women. It is interesting that the new generation of young men now fit the profile for hiring in Yucatan: docile, quiet workers, and so the tide may turn the other way. What this author argues is that the state, that used to be the main influence on the formation of gender identity, is no longer in control. Globalization has taken over that control by the influx of international business taking advantage of the cheap and plentiful labor resources in Mexico and other third world countries.

One disadvantage to this takeover of the labor force is that the gap in income levels ever widens with the international interest in cheap labor.

Another interesting item from this article is that Labrecque says the Maya of Yucatan call themselves mestizos. Mestizo means mixed race (Indian and Spanish), but it sounds like they are pure Maya. This also puzzles the author.

Discussion Question: The maquiladora is a phenomenon happening all over Mesoamerica. In Ciudad Juarez, Mexico women are being murdered at an alarming rate. Is the situation different in Yucatan because it does not border the US? Can a comparison be made of the two areas? If the young men in Yucatan are now being targeted as potential maquiladora workers (quiet, docile, essentially feminine in tendency) perhaps it is the aggressive border reaction to poverty and declining power that men are reacting towards women in the violence of murder. In Yucatan, however, Labrecque points out the structural violence targeted at women.

Discussion Question: The article says that the state has lost its hegemonic control over gender identity, but the state began the campaign to put people to work by soliciting foreign companies with the promise of a cheap and burgeoning labor force. Isn’t the state responsible for the welfare of its people, especially since they are the force that put the workforce slaves up for sale?

Define patriarch: the male head of the family or tribe.
How is the state responsible for the role of the patriarch? The development of the state grew out of smaller political units and patriarchy had to have been one of the early manifestations of family economic unit formation.

Chapter 13: Remembering “The Ancient Ones”: Memory, Hegemony, and the Shadows of State Terror in the Argentinean Chaco by Gaston Gordillo

Gordillo points out a skewed social memory among the indigenous Toba of Argentina. With modernization, the Toba remember the ancient ones (their ancestors), as poor stupid people who did not know any better. Who knew nothing, and were ignorant of the fact of ownership and therefore killed cattle that were the property of someone, thereby bringing down the wrath of the new settlers to the area (the white cattle owners). In contrast, memories about armed battles between Tobas and Argentinean military in 1917 recalls the military feats of the ancient Tobas as those of bravery, military prowess, and winning. This is not how written history remembers the event. The Tobas collective memory recalls that the Tobas won, did not loose any members, and that the Argentinean military lost many men. Written history states that many Tobas were killed in the battle.

So, the author shows that there is ambiguity in the way the ancients are remembered: as inept stupid people who did not know anything, to brave and valorous winners in armed resistance against the oppressive Argentinean military. There are other contrasts too: in health, the contemporary Tobas believe the ancestors to have been much healthier because of the natural diet they ate and the medicinal plants they knew and the knowledge that the shamans possessed in the past that they do not have access to in the present. There is contrast between the how modern everyday items such as chairs and tables are viewed that the new generation believes is better than the way the ancients lived. So there are lots of contradictions in the way the ancients are spoken of.

Depending on the context, they are either ignorant or smart, brave winners of conflict and healthy and knowledgeable of natural foods and medicinal plants, or old fashioned people who did not know the modern good conveniences.

Discussion Question: With a rise in population, people cannot all go out into nature to collect food, as doing this would deplete the plant and animal resources for a good distance from the settled area. Isn’t it better to at least partially collect naturally occurring food sources? Could this fit into our current lifestyle? Are the current markets the institutions that discourage foraging of this kind? Or is it the state or a combination of both?

Chapter 14: Class, Discipline, and the Politics of Opposition in Ontario by Belinda Leach

The working class was given a boost in class through Fordist economics. But, the precarious position that high paid, semi-skilled factory workers enjoy cannot be counted on for security and especially cannot be counted on to go on indefinitely.

Factory workers in the Canadian town that the author is talking about are mainly white males, in other words, there were hiring preferences for white males. Women and minorities took this issue to task and won some jobs, but when the economy dipped, since the factory structure is one of seniority, those minorities and women were laid off first.

Those that were in secure factory jobs believe they deserve security and benefits, that they have sacrificed their time, energy, and wanderlust to do their daily repetitive task jobs. Families enjoyed a higher standard of living. But even with the good wages and benefits, Leach says that management controls everything, and the workers are still dispensable especially in economically declining times.

Chapter 15: Militant Particularism and Cultural Struggles as Cape Breton Burns Again by Pauline Gardiner Barber

This town in Nova Scotia, Canada is a town made up of working class families. Industrial workers that rely on unions to keep wages high and jobs secure. However, in recent times there has been some upheaval in the way things have been going. Some of industries that the people have relied on for support are ready to taper off and go defunct. These industries have not only supported families with fairly good incomes, they have also in some cases been major pollutants of the environment. In the first instance of union-worker revolt against non-union work place, workers protesting building by non-union workers torched a housing project and completely destroyed it.

They felt justified in doing so. It was clearly an act that was illegal, but the police force took no violent action against the crowd. Now we could say that these people know each other, and that it is a small town, and maybe that is why there was no action taken against the rebellious crowd. Legally, there was an investigation against the union and union workers until those responsible for the destruction were identified. The builders were compensated for their monetary losses, but the next time the building got under way, union workers were hired. Eventually those charged were required to do community service as part of their punishment, which the author says is ironic as they thought they were performing community service by protesting the influx of scab labor.

This essay is related to the previous one in that it involves Canadian trade workers the work force of which was made up of white males. Both towns afforded a decent living wage, and all the amenities that go along with that. They could afford to purchase homes and cars and other luxuries to raise their standard of living. Both areas were affected by declining economic times. The first essay included non-violent forms of protest, the second with arson and roughing up scab laborers. Both essays have actors that are concerned about loosing their way of life through changes to the infrastructure.

Both sets of actors have been socialized in a certain way and now find it difficult to adjust to change. The necessity to change causes tension between workers and administrators for sure. In the Cape Breton case, workers protest angrily and loudly in order to retain a way of life that is slowly slipping away. 

Chapter 16: Acquiescence and Quiescence: Gender and Politics in Rural Languedoc by Winnie Lem

Nicely argued chapter by one of the editors of the volume, Lem shows how female agency has deteriorated over time through the state’s project of modernization and the effects of capitalism on the economy. In Languedoc, France, women used to be much involved in the production and care of wine grapes and in political protest when they felt their jobs or work under threat by vineyard owners. Recent developments in the area have focused the vineyard jobs, and opportunities to procure mechanization equipment on men. Men in turn have taken over most political involvement.

Discussion Question: Did anyone else get this contradiction: men continue to fight for the right of the traditional society, relegating women to the background, but men are the ones, by dominating economic activity in the area that are forcing the change to modernism. In contrast, women who have been displaced from the traditional workforce, who used to fight fiercely to sustain traditional work roles and ways of life, now embrace the modernizing effects of the state project, and by being passive participants move the modernization process forward.          

Chapter 17: Red Flags and Lace Coiffes: Identity, Livelihood, and the Politics of Survival in the Bigoudennie, France by Charles R. Menzies

A significant event in Bigouden was the protesting of fishing crewmen against the importation of fish from outside the local area. In reality, the fishing crewmembers were not in the position of gaining monetarily or otherwise through their protest. In fact the fishing boat owners were the only ones to gain financially through the protest. Fishing crewmembers protested in lieu of loss of their jobs on fishing boats. The state reinforces the class discrepancy through policies of subsidies, loans, and breaks for fishing boat owners. Boat owners in turn make no promises to crewmembers in the way of job security or fair wages.

The women of Bigouden are relegated to work in the industrial factories of capitalists. The wearing of the traditional lace coiffe, a tall, strange looking cylindrical hat, traces its history to the first rural Bigouden women to enter industrial jobs for wage work. From that time it came and went as an ethnic identifier for the wearer, to a traditional folk costume now, and the wearing of it for the entertainment of tourists. 

Chapter 18: Out of Site: The Horizon of Collective Identity by Gavin Smith

This chapter deals with the formation of the collective identity in relation to place and then work place. That people were at once rural workers identified with the out of doors and their farms and their interactions with others through shared working of the land or other labors of the house is contrasted to the way in which people have come to be identified with the work place: a place that industry sought to cut off from workers homes. With industrialization and the workforce employed there, from management the underlying message was to separate work and home, persons at home were not supposed to work, persons at work were out of contact with family.

This seems to be what part of our problem is now, the ability to be self-employed persons has been socialized out of us. If we are not at “work” we look for some form of entertainment. 


Lem, Winnie and Belinda Leach eds.
2002  Culture, Economy, Power: Anthropology as Critique, Anthropology of Praxis. Albany: State University of New York Press.


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