SEA 2013 Meeting Paper Abstacts

 Julia Bailey,  McGill University

The Topography of Money and Networks of Exchange between Maasai Women: Mitigating the landscape of gender inequality. 

My presentation discusses how Maasai women earn, use and manage money in order to understand how they engage in processes of commercialization. Previous research has shown that women in comparison to men have lost significant control over key resources (Hodgson 2000, 2001, Kipuri 1989, Talle 1988), particularly livestock and land, as pastoralists become integrated into commercial economies where these resources can be bought and sold. While this research has been critical to understanding the particular experiences of pastoral women overtime, and the contemporary gender inequalities they now face, little is known on how women cope in this context. By exploring the topography of money through the lens of Maasai women this presentation will show how new currencies, practices and systems of exchange are emerging to mitigate gender inequalities in pastoral settings.

In particular I will discuss women’s participation in savings groups and the implications these groups have on local spheres of exchange. Women are finding ways to access cash outside of the livestock economy, by selling their labor and goods, such as beads, firewood, charcoal, and grass to their neighbors and in local markets. The money earned from these activities is exclusively circulated by these same women in savings groups, which typically consist of ten to fifteen participants who manage their money collectively according to prescribed sets of rules. Many Maasai women are members of as many as six to ten groups simultaneously, each of which may be formed either implicitly or explicitly around class, place of residence, friendships and clan-membership. The relatively defined terms of exchange and membership contrast the degree of informality that characterizes everyday transactions that operate under the cultural ideal of sharing, such as uneven borrowing and lending of food.

As will be discussed in this presentation, women strategically formalize the terms of exchange to manage the paradox of money: its finitude and its potential to answer growing (perhaps infinite) needs and wants. In doing so, women have created autonomous networks of exchange that exist outside of the household economy where men have progressively gained control over their family’s resources. This collective autonomy provides women with bargaining power vis-à-vis their husbands in managing their money, and thus financial, but also social and political capital that helps them access resources and negotiate their relative economic marginalization.

Geoff Childs, Washington University in St. Louis

Perpetuating Inequality through Education?  Relative Wealth and School Sponsorships in Highland Nepal

In recent years, parents in Nepal’s ethnic Tibetan enclaves of Nubri and Tsum have sent increasing numbers of their children outside the village to reside in boarding schools and monasteries in Kathmandu and India. According to the author’s 2012 household survey, roughly 80% of boys and 70% of girls aged 10-19 now live outside of their natal households; about half reside in boarding schools and half in monasteries or convents. This paper focuses on those who reside in boarding schools, located in Kathmandu, that accommodate children of Tibetan ethnic origin. Through foreign donations these schools provide hundreds of scholarships each year to Tibetan children from Nepal’s highland border communities. Anecdotally, some people in Nubri and Tsum remark that families with wealth and connections are better able to obtain scholarship support than others. Using data obtained through a household demographic survey and a relative wealth survey, the author tests the hypothesis that parents who are relatively wealthy are more likely to obtain scholarships at Tibetan boarding schools in Kathmandu than parents who are relatively poor. Qualitative data (interviews with parents) will be used to explore the reasons behind the findings, and assess the potential for foreign scholarships to entrench or even increase wealth disparities in Nubri and Tsum.

Laura L. Cochrane, Central Michigan University

Addressing Global Economic Inequalities in Local Ways in Senegal’s Artisanal Workshops

Once a thriving agricultural region, central Senegal has experienced repeated droughts over the past century. Senegal is at the edge of the Sahel, the West African area bordering the Sahara Desert to the south, and has shared in the Sahel’s droughts and resulting food and financial insecurities. The long-term land degradation, along with the current global economic crisis, has affected both the economic and social well-being of central Senegal, compounding global economic inequalities in local ways.

This paper addresses two local economic development projects in these regions, and the ways they have either used or not used local social structures to address these economic inequalities. Both started artisanal workshops in the 1980s in the hopes of regenerating artisanal practices and reversing the trend of rural village abandonment. Ndem, a village in the Diourbel Region, runs Maam Samba, a high-end textile cooperative with international clients. It uses kinship and religious networks as a way to integrate the organization with the village and the surrounding region. Raab is a weaving workshop and gallery in Dekka, a coastal village within the Thiès Region. It was started by a foreign foundation with a business plan and good intentions, yet no attachment to local social structures. The administrators of both Maam Samba and Raab have worked to support their respective communities so that artisanal work, once an established trade in the region, can again be a part of growing town economies. I will first explore the importance of kinship and religious relationships for the region, and the ways these workshops have used, or lacked, this social foundation of participatory networks to work toward financial viability. Then, I will discuss the degree to which they have adapted to changes in global textile markets.

Through these two examples, I discuss the ways that social and economic sustainability are related. Both organizations seek to address economic inequalities through local development projects, yet with differing results. I argue that local development projects that use existing social strengths as organizing principles are able to adapt to environmental and economic challenges more successfully than those organizations that do not. Existing networks that strengthen communities also strengthen efforts to address global economic inequalities in local ways.

Liliana R Goldin (New York University)  and Courtney Dowdall (Florida International University) 

Inequality of Rights: Rural Industrial Workers of Guatemala Inhabiting Tenuous Legal Spaces

Research with hundreds of mostly indigenous Maya workers in the export processing plants of highland Guatemala revealed a large disconnect between working conditions in the factories, perceived rights, the existence of a wide spectrum of national and international labor laws to which Guatemala subscribes and systems of tutelage and enforcement of the law. The study utilized a TAR (territory, authority, rights) framework (Sassen 2006) to understand the conditions characterizing contemporary global assemblages that organize production. We conclude that because of such detachment, efforts to address workers’ plights need to engage the complex conditions of the current labor regimes. Maquilas operate in contexts that are virtually exempt from regulation and conflate national and global orders precluding a clear perspective on issues of rights and legal claims. In the new geographies of power, workers in transnational factories fall in the interstices between state and non-state spaces, resulting in a loss of social rights, entitlements, and unclear places in the law. 

Christopher M. Gunn, University of Kentucky

Household Economic Interaction and Political Economy in the Late and Terminal Classic Maya Polity of Kiuic, Yucatan, Mexico.

Households are an important context in which broader socioeconomic inequalities are lived on a daily basis. The consumption demands of household members often involve them in systems of exchange with other households in their communities. Importantly, the degree of inequality among participants in exchange networks structures the specific mechanisms that circulate goods. Horizontal exchanges of utilitarian or prestige goods occur among households that are of roughly equal socioeconomic rank. Typically, these kinds of exchanges are mutually beneficial for both parties. Vertical exchanges move goods among unequally ranked households, and provide an economic context in which elites often manipulate economic systems to their advantage. They may do so by restricting the flow of high value items only to households offering political support, or elites may use their power to demand tribute or taxes from lower ranking households. All three of these kinds of exchanges may exist alongside market exchanges controlled by local elite households. Each of these kinds of exchanges fosters economic integration, but each has different consequences for interaction among elites and non-elites. This study considers the role of household economic interaction in the political economic trajectory of the ancient Maya polity of Kiuic during the Late and Terminal Classic periods (600-1000 AD). Kiuic, like most sites in the Puuc Hills of northwestern Yucatan, experienced a rapid and dramatic florescence and decline during this span of time. Architectural and iconographic programs executed by Puuc elites clearly indicate that they were materially and qualitatively distinguished from middle and lower-ranked members of their polities. However, architecture and iconography are relatively mute on the ways that elite power permeated local exchange networks. The degree to which ancient Maya elites manipulated economic interaction to maintain their privileged status is currently not well understood. To address these issues, this study utilizes compositional and morphological analyses of utilitarian and prestige ceramic wares to identify horizontal, vertical, and market exchanges among Kiuic’s elite, middle-ranked, and low-ranked households. In turn, this knowledge allows a better understanding of the consequence of elite manipulation of household economies in the expansion and disintegration of their political power.

Lee D. Hoffer, Case Western Reserve University

Modeling an economic inequality countermeasure in the heroin market and its consequences on trading partnerships

Consistently purchasing heroin exerts a heavy economic toll on the lives of those who are addicted and seek to sustain their addictions. Both the psychological and physical wellbeing of drug addict’s is threatened when they cannot consume the drug, and it is acquired overwhelmingly in cash only sales. A perplexing question to investigate in this economic context is what happens when users run out of money to buy heroin? Or, more importantly, how does a market sustain itself requiring participants to purchase such expensive commodities on such a regular basis? Like legitimate markets, some consumers have more resources to purchase heroin than others. But unlike legitimate markets, accessing drug sellers is restricted and is a form of capital. Despite a public consensus that illegal drug markets reflect laissez-faire capitalism, paradoxically it is their ability to effectively distribute economic resources between customers that sustain them. Essential to this form of economy is consumers (without money) can trade access to a commodity in exchange for the capacity to consume it. “Copping drugs for others” is when one drug user acquires drugs for another user, typically receiving and/or charging a fee (paid in drugs) for this service. In heroin markets, such indirect transactions are more common than direct sales because: 1) sellers actively conceal, control, and restrict access to their services, 2) sellers often are unreliable and get arrested, and 3) users are highly motivated by strategies to acquire drugs without money. In this paper, the author uses agent-based modeling techniques to reproduce the dynamics of a heroin market incorporating this indirect form of exchange, measuring how effective it is in distributing the drug from users who have resources to pay for it to those who do not. The aggregated influence of “copping” increases the capacity of heroin markets by extending buying power to more consumers without infringing on profits of sellers. This clearly lessens the economic inequality between individual consumers and extends the capacity of the marketplace. But although both individual and market advantages are evident, this indirect form of exchange conjoins social and economic meaning systems heroin users deploy to assess trading partnerships, impossibly complicating the community created in by its wake. Copping drugs for others also complicates status relationships by partially disconnecting the convention cash equals status. Both the practical implications of these findings, as well as their consequences for the study of economic anthropology will be discussed.

John K. Millhauser, North Carolina State University

Victims or pioneers? Identifying environmental inequality among rural saltmaking communities in the Postclassic Basin of Mexico

In this paper, I apply the concept of environmental inequality to the development of pre-industrial states. As the relationships between urban and rural areas coalesced in early agrarian states, what were the social and economic consequences for communities located in areas of marginal agricultural productivity? How did existing social and economic inequalities shape the patterns of access to natural resources and exposure to environmental risks? Alternatively, did the locations of new communities in the natural environment reinforce existing social and economic inequalities or create new ones?

To begin to address these questions, I present the findings of an archaeological and ethnohistoric investigation of saltmaking communities located along the shoreline of Lake Xaltocan in the northern Basin of Mexico during the Aztec and Spanish empires (ca. 1300-1520 CE). I ask what these rural settlements, situated in areas of marginal agricultural productivity, tell us about the links between environmental and social inequality in the Aztec state. Archaeological evidence of growth and increasing wealth suggests that the work of making salt could be socially valuable and economically rewarding. Alternatively, ethnohistoric sources depict saltmakers as victims of circumstance who eked out a living on marginal lands that were prone to flooding. The fates of these communities, many of which disappeared after the Spanish conquest, further suggests that these were among the groups most vulnerable to disruptions in the physical environment and the economy.

The case of these saltmakers shows how the natural environment could be a significant contributor to social and economic inequality in the Aztec state. However, the contradictory nature of some of the evidence brings to light several important caveats. First, we must consider the environment as a dynamic component of the Aztec state rather than a static backdrop. In so doing, we must also consider the intended and unintended consequences of human changes to the natural environment. Second, we must understand who had access to the knowledge and technology needed to make the land productive. Finally, we must recognize alternative and changing valuations of the land besides agricultural productivity. These findings are noteworthy because they show that environmental inequality is by no means limited to industrial or capitalist economies, as is the focus of the majority of the literature on environmental inequality, and that it is more broadly linked to the development of political economies in states and empires.

Diana Mincyte, New York University

Coding Poverty: Comparative Perspectives on Poverty Measurements in the United States and Europe

The poverty line is one of the most frequently cited and controversial statistics of inequality in the United States today. My research project is an analysis of the development of this measurement from an historical-comparative perspective, focusing on the public and social policy debates surrounding poverty metrics in the US and comparing it with its evolution in Western Europe, particularly in England and Germany. Current poverty measurements in the US have been calculated in terms of absolute values of material and caloric deprivation, while European welfare states have been using relative measures of poverty and probabilistic models of social exclusion. In the light of these stark differences, I ask the following questions: Why did different methodologies for measuring poverty emerge in these culturally, economically, and politically similar contexts? What institutional forces have played a role in shaping the particular organization of knowledge about poverty in the US? What is the role of social science—economics, nutritional science, and home economics in the US and qualitative branch in sociology in Europe—in the development of poverty measurements? More broadly, what are the mechanisms through which morality and responsibility to protect the weak are translated into poverty measurements?

In this paper, I take a performative approach to exploring the above questions. In this approach, scientific models are seen not as transparent representations of reality, but are themselves imbricated in the making of the realities they are describing. Scholars including Timothy Mitchell (2005), Marion Fourcade (2009), Michel Callon (1998), Donald MacKenzie (2006), and Lawrence Busch (2010), among others, have written extensively on the role that measurements and standards play in the organization of social relations by emphasizing the generative powers of the measurements to shape as well as reflect social phenomena. In rethinking the use of poverty measurements in performative terms, this paper highlights the connections between the technical design of the statistic and the changing definitions of quality of life, standards of living, basic human needs, and well-being.

Engaging the capabilities approach to defining poverty, this paper introduces the notion of “disciplinary embeddedness” to argue that nutritional sciences and home economics have played a central role in shaping the moral politics of redistribution and poverty relief in the United States, while European models of poverty have relied heavily on anthropological and qualitative sociological inquiry.

Arthur D. Murphy, Eric C. Jones, (The University of North Carolina at Greensboro), Albert J. Faas (North Carolina State University), Linda M. Whiteford, Graham A. Tobin (The University of South Florida).

Reciprocity and the Development of Inequality

The role of exchange in the survival of poor and peasant households in Latin America has been a topic of research since the days of Eric Wolf, Richard Adams and Larissa Lomnitz. The establishment of alliances between the poor and those with greater resources either through fictive kinship or the sharing of labor is often seen as a way for farmers and the poor to acquire necessary labor and other resources without the use of currency. In our research we see that inequality in the sharing of labor and other resources may lead to a variety of possible unequal economic arrangements. Additionally, lopsided interactions over material, informational, and emotional support can contribute to inequality in specific and powerful ways.

Within personal networks we looked at the sharing of informational, material/tangible, and emotional support, as well as whom was offered work. We looked the incidence of support in between all nodes in a network of 25 individuals named by ego. The list of names for each interviewee was generated when they were asked “Name any 45 people you know by sight or by name with whom you have interacted in the past 2 years or with whom you could have interacted if you wanted to interact with them.” We then randomly chose 25 of those individuals and asked the interviewee a variety of demographic and relationship information about them.

Analysis of the patterns of relations for thousands of individual relationships between the hundreds of people we interviewed and the individuals in their networks suggest that development and maintenance of inequality occurs through the accumulation of everyday work relationships, many of which are indirect, as well as through differential distribution of various kinds of support. In Ecuador, unidirectional work relationships (not reciprocal) within same wealth level accounted for 8% of dyadic ties (no work, unidirectional work, reciprocal work ties), while between wealth levels, the unidirectional work relationships accounted for 15% of total dyadic ties. The difference in Mexico was 5.6% and 7.3% respectively. The difference between the two countries suggests that exchange in Ecuador has a greater tendency to re-enforce class status than it does in Mexico. Alternatively, the reduced interclass labor exchange in Mexico means that classes might be more insular in their economic activity.

Daniel Murphy, University of Cincinnati

From Kin to Contract: Work, Inequality, and the Emergence of Class in Pastoral Mongolia

This paper explores, firstly, the transformation of rural labor exchange practices from kin-based inter-household cooperation to contractual wage and share-based herding employment, and secondly, the implications these growing shifts have for the emergence of class and new meanings of work and inequality. In doing so, I describe in ethnographic detail the distinctions between these kinds of labor exchange and the fundamental dynamics that underlie them. Moreover, I explore ethnographic data highlighting how the value of labor has shifted in the post-socialist wake of neoliberal shock therapy and the cultural work of contracts in changing notions of citizenship, personhood, and privilege.

Cooperative labor exchanges, as I show, are rooted in patron-client modalities referred to as ax duu, a hierarchical age and gender-based system of duties, rights, and obligations. Though these dynamics set the stage for contractual relationships they are in many ways contradictory. This is evident in the connections between rates of remuneration, bargaining power, surveillance and discipline that formulate contractual relations and manufacture consent (Burawoy 1979). Yet, in contrast to past work on similar labor transformations in pastoral regions (Ensminger 1996), I demonstrate how this shift toward contractual labor has occurred in the context of state retraction. Following other studies of class in pastoralism (Bradburd 1991; Rigby 1992) I explore both the intimate politics within households and the broader political economy to explain the cultural and political work that contracting accomplishes.

The engagement with global markets and the regional livestock product trade has re-oriented the cultural politics of work away from household reproductive and subsistence tasks to productive ones in which market transactions act as the arbiter of value. Accompanying this transition, however, livestock wealth has become fetishized as a product of magical and spiritual connections between male livestock owners and land; consequently, the realities of production, and the labor that makes production possible, become mystified in ways that privilege owners over laborers. These cultural shifts, I argue, have critical implications for institution-building and resource access in Mongolia’s rural political economy and consequently, as I show, may in fact explain the growth in contracts rather than the economic value of labor. Seeing contracting through this lens, I argue that we can attain not only a better understanding of why patron-employers increasingly prefer contracts to clients but also why clients remain, even in the absence of the state.

Justin Otten, University of Kent (UK)

The effects of European accession and kinship on inequality in Macedonia

This paper explores the shifting socio-economic terrain and consequent inequality in the transforming Tikveš wine region of the Republic of Macedonia. Through information gathered during dissertation fieldwork in 2010-11, it illustrates the widening gap between the haves and have-nots, and explains some of the forces behind this shift. Given the author’s focus on both how the region’s plot-farming grape growers have seen their livelihoods drastically altered due to the privatization of formerly state-owned wineries, along with radically different political and economic priorities in a 21st century globalized world, understanding inequality in Tikveš requires including the European Union (EU) and its accession and development processes at work in the country. In discussing the utilization and reception of the EU’s Instrument for Pre-accession Rural Development (IPARD) funding scheme—namely, who can afford to participate in it—this paper argues that for most agriculturalists the scheme represents a neo-liberal paradigm and uncertain future for agriculture in their country. As a substantial amount of money must be put down to take part in the program, capital which only the well-off have access to, participants must then also have the connections (vrski) to acquire the proper documentation to see their application through. Such connectedness is part of a larger “economy of favors,” whereby the cost of anything may entail a degree of social relations and patronage which are neither seen on the surface nor sanctioned by official administrative bodies. These “favors” usually take the form of gifting agricultural produce, their products, or other services, but also include expressing deference to the authors of the community’s “transcript” (Scott 1985). In addition, growing inequality means that those on the bottom have less to put forth within these economic transactions. Yet maintaining close kin-neighbor relations helps to ensure connectedness, redistribute wealth, and thus to mitigate and alleviate such financial and social burdens. For although it is shameful on the one hand to borrow from your kin, there is also a sense of obligation to provide one another with the means to survive, be it through cash or connections. In the form of hospitality, the frequent visits by women in the community to their relatives’ homes therefore help to maintain their social and familial relations, but also allow them to make their case for needs and charity. Overall, the obligation to assist makes for a constant tension and interaction among relatives, but is increasingly necessary given rising inequality and the disparities in wealth that accompany it.

Nicole Peterson, UNC Charlotte

Unequal sustainabilities: The role of social inequalities in conservation and development projects

Little attention has been paid to the social costs and benefits of sustainability, particularly to the impact of environmental and economic policies on already marginal communities. In this paper, I examine the efforts of a national marine protected area in Loreto, Mexico, to create sustainable development through regulations and economic development programs. I argue that these kinds of efforts can ignore social aspects of sustainability.

The introduction of the marine park by tourism interests in the name of sustainability threatened to further marginalize the fishermen through regulations that would restrict their livelihoods. This marginalization arose historically through differential relationships with the local resources, economic markets, and political institutions. While the marine park staff increasingly involved the fishermen in the discussions of the regulations for the protected area, the fishermen have been unable to influence the direction of the regulations because of educational, cultural and procedural marginalization. Yet these decisions can have greater impact on certain groups like the fishermen because of their reliance on the resource and their precarious economic positions. Conservation projects like the Loreto marine park thus often reinforce existing social, economic, and political inequalities, even when the process is participatory in nature.

One way that these kinds of projects have attempted to address the impact of new management regulations on livelihoods has been through economic development projects that ostensibly blend economic opportunities with environmental conservation. However, while addressing the environmental and economic dimensions of sustainability, these efforts can often lack awareness of the consequences of these projects on other aspects of the communities involved, such as failing to meet the needs of local communities due to a mismatch with cultural preferences about work and environmental relationships. In addition, an emphasis on changing fishermen livelihoods neglects the larger context of economic relationships surrounding the fisheries that drive unsustainable behaviors through market monopolies, corruption, and other interactions, which themselves developed from or take advantage of economic and political marginalization of the fishing communities.

These processes underlying environmental regulation and economic development suggest that the expression of sustainability in Loreto neglects the links and interdependencies among the economic, social, and environmental aspects of sustainability. In analyzing the case of Loreto, this paper suggests specific elements of social, economic, and political inequality that, if left unaddressed, would keep real sustainability out of reach.

Leila Rodriguez, University of Cincinnati  

Cooperative Farming and Migration in Rural Costa Rica: Why Reducing Inequality Promotes Migration (And Inequality)

Recent worldwide economic crises have fueled debate on forms of development and economic success that stand as alternatives to market/private and state/public ownership and management of resources. One model that is resurfacing invovles the proliferation of cooperatives, community organizations that are fully run by their members, with equal participation in investment, gains and losses. The importance of cooperativism is evidenced by the United Nations designation of 2012 as the International Year of Cooperatives. This initiative intens to “raise public awareness of the invaluable contribution of cooperative enterprises to poverty reduction, employment generation and social integration” (United Nations 2012).

Concurrently, international migration continues to be a central global concern, also directly related to poverty, employment and integration. My analysis relies on two explanations of migration. First, its origins are related to changes in the structure of global markets, as peripheral areas become increasingly integrated. It is in this global context that individuals and households adapt to these economic changes, with emigration being one alternative. A second set the theories emphasize the household as a unit of production that adapts to greater income certainty brought about changing market conditons. In this view, one or more households members emigrates to diversify risk, brought about not only by income uncertainty, ut also poor local credit and insurance markets. It is not the world’s poorest who migrate, but those with the resources (financial, social, informational and aspirational) that enable them to do so. In fact, high out migration is associated not with the world’s poorest countries, but those that have become intrinsically connected to the global economy.

In this paper, I argue first that cooperatives can play an important role in mediating changes in local rural production caused by global economic change. Given their purported role in local socioeconomic development, cooperatives have the potential to reduce the production activites. In 2010 I set out to study this in a rural community in southern Costa Rica and found evidence for the opposite relationship. I found that local cooperatives play an important role in sheltering local farmers from sudden economic shocks, and in improving their livelihood. This improved socioeconic wellbeing is often precisely the conditon that enable out migration. As migrants, individuals are then thrust into new differnces back home. My second arguement, then, is that a relative reduction in inequality, coupled with increased integration in the global market, promotes international migration, which in turn reproduces inequalities associated with the global capitalist economy.

Bram Tucker, University of Georgia

Of clan and clam: Why inequality is increasing among Vezo fishermen but not their farming and foraging neighbors in southwestern Madagascar

I present a case study for a recent, rapid increase in income inequality among Vezo coastal fishermen of southwestern Madagascar, in contrast to their Masikoro farming and Mikea foraging neighbors who have not experienced comparable changes in inequality. Vezo, Masikoro, and Mikea communities are similar in many ways. They share cultural origins and traditions, overlapping membership, and cross-cutting kin ties. An individual or household may become Vezo by adopting a coastal lifeway, or become Mikea by moving to the forest, etc. Despite their different subsistence modes, data from a livelihoods questionnaire (N=550 adults) suggest that members of all three groups produce statistically similar median market-valued incomes. Yet these data also indicate that income inequality, measured with the Gini coefficient, is significantly higher among Vezo fishermen (0.71) than Masikoro (0.58) or Mikea (0.57). Wealthy Vezo own luxuries like electric generators and televisions that are nearly absent among their immediate neighbors, and for the first time we see obesity as wealthy Vezo experience the nutritional transition to store-bought processed foods. Using quantitative and qualitative data, I argue that there are at least three factors contributing to the rise of income inequality among Vezo but not Masikoro or Mikea. (1) Vezo are highly dependent upon equipment-intensive fishing and export markets, so that Vezo society is differentiating into a class of gear owners and gear renters, consistent with Marxian expectations. But this is not the whole story, for Masikoro and Mikea have also participated in export markets in the past but have not experience similar increases in inequality. (2) The process of becoming Vezo involves “forgetting” patrilineal clan alliances and renegotiating relationships with ancestors. This allows Vezo to swap traditional inequalities based on gerontocracy, cattle ownership, and magic for market-based income inequality. By contrast, when Masikoro and Mikea experienced unequal gains from cash crops in the past, these gains were invested into traditional, kin-based social inequalities so that profits were distributed and inequality was diffused. (3) Income inequality is highly gendered among Vezo, which may be a result of their greater gendered division of labor. While men command canoes, nets, and teams of fishers during all tides, women’s activities are largely restricted to gathering octopus, sea cucumbers, giant clams, and other prey in shallow water during Springtide. I conclude by discussing a few meaningful exceptions to the trends illustrated above, and speculating about the longer-term trajectory of inequality for the region.

Hadas Weiss, Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies

Mortgage Debt and the Predicament of the Middleclass

The commodification of erstwhile public goods like housing (health and education would be comparable instances), is enabled by credit loans, like mortgages. They grant access to such goods far beyond one’s immediate buying power, at the price of inflated private debt, protracted into the future. Based on ethnographic fieldwork I have conducted in Israel in the wake of the 2011 housing protests, I will argue that that mortgage compels homebuyers to operate as investors, by making homeownership synonymous with security. This necessity glosses over and reproduces inequality in access to housing, by appearing as a free choice and rational path to upward mobility. Middleclass status, in turn, distinguishes normatively those who are able to take out burdensome loans in order to purchase homes, from those who cannot. This makes mortgage debt desirable, and defuses resistance to housing’s commodification and overpricing. Drawing on interviews with Israeli real-estate operatives, as well as on participant-observation of housing fairs, mortgage-transactions in banks, and housing purchase-groups, I demonstrate how debt-financed accumulation encourages and relies on the pursuit of social advantages through such things as homeownership. In Israel as in other advanced economies, this pursuit widens the gap between market growth and public welfare, even as they are perceived as interlinked.