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Measure for Measure: What’s Fair?

with Steve Gudeman

Fri, Jan 25, 2013

Small farmers in Panama and Colombia raise many crops for home consumption, including rice, maize, potatoes, beans and greens. To accomplish this work, they often recruit and trade labor, and to facilitate these exchanges, they use creative, homemade measures. Each crop and each task in a crop has a different ruler. The work is not interchangeable nor are the measures, such as a rice task for a maize task; they are incommensurate. The people do say, however, that they are trading life’s vitality or energy for life’s vitality. With changing times, the farmers also are raising crops for sale. Work in these crops is measured by the day and is priced and paid in money. This commensuration or bringing to a single bottom line is eroding the customary rulers and language. What are the traditional measures, and what does the local language about work tell us about market life?

Steve Gudeman is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Minnesota. He has carried out fieldwork in rural Panama, Colombia, Guatemala and Cuba. Recently through the Max Planck Institute in Germany he has overseen a comparative study of economy and ritual in six Eastern European and Asian countries. His primary interest is in local or cultural models of economy, a topic that includes anthropological settings as well as developed market economies and their theories. He has published six books, edited several others, had one book written about his work, and authored numerous articles.

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