"Para que cambiemos" / "So we can (ex)change": Economic activism and socio-cultural change in the barter systems of Medellín, Colombia
AuthorBurke, Brian J.
AdvisorGreenberg, James B.
MetadataShow full item record
PublisherThe University of Arizona.
RightsCopyright © is held by the author. Digital access to this material is made possible by the University Libraries, University of Arizona. Further transmission, reproduction or presentation (such as public display or performance) of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.
AbstractThis dissertation examines the work of alternative economies activists who have spent the last 18 years constructing barter systems and local currencies in Medellín, Colombia. Through barter, these activists hope to spark an ethical re-evaluation of production, exchange, and consumption, and to create an economy that serves Medellín's middle-class professionals, rural peasants, urban workers, students and the chronically under-employed. They also see barter as an important social and political project to repair a social fabric torn by decades of violence and economic exploitation. For these activists barter is a counter to capitalism, violence, and social fragmentation; it is a new proposal rooted in cooperation, collective well-being, and the development of local capacities. Previous researchers have thoroughly examined the emergence, organization, and impacts of these types of alternative economies, but they have neglected what many activists consider to be the greatest challenge: to cultivate the new social relations and subjectivities necessary to enact and maintain those models. In the words of Colombia's barter organizers, the goal is to "change the chip" and "clean out the cucarachas" of our capitalist mindsets in order to "create a new culture of solidarity." This research is located at precisely that sticking point. Drawing on 12 months of ethnographic research, I examine the nature and impacts of barter and the challenges that barter activists face as they try to recreate economies, social relations, and subjectivities. Medellín's barter projects, I conclude, offer extremely important opportunities for cross-class and cross-generational interaction in a city that is violently divided. They also provide material and social supports for traders who are seeking to develop alternative subjectivities, and they help active traders gain control over the means of production and the conditions of their work. However, their counter-hegemonic potential is significantly limited by three tensions within organizers' strategies: a tendency to prioritize socio-cultural forms of activism at the expense of economic ones, a focus on conscious and moral aspects of subjectivity rather than material and embodied aspects, and a stridently anti-capitalist stance that discourages economic articulations and thereby reinforces the material and socio-cultural power of capitalism.
Degree ProgramGraduate College