When pawnshops talk: Popular credit and material culture in Mexico City, 1775-1916
AdvisorMeyer, Michael C.
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
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AbstractThis dissertation examines popular credit and material culture in Mexico City in the "long" nineteenth century. It considers the social relationships that constituted the pawning process, the development of pawning businesses, and the regulatory role of the state. The focus is on three sets of people--clients of pawning services, pawnbrokers, and state agents--as well as the material goods used to secure loans. For city residents, daily life was cash poor, a phenomenon that crossed class lines. Middle-class housekeepers, merchants and artisans as well as lower-class homemakers, carpenters and other workers faced daily challenges of meeting household, business and recreational needs with a scarcity of specie. The most common way to raise cash was to pawn material possessions such as clothing, tools, and jewels. The nature of the pawning process linked material culture and popular credit together as it was shaped by relations between pawnbrokers, pawning customers, and state agents. In order to obtain cash one had to have possessions for collateral, and the value of material goods determined one's credit line and the arena in which pawning occurred. Short-term credit secured by household goods financed cultural events, lifestyles, and further consumption. Pawnshops not only supplied credit, but they injected cash into a cash-starved economy. This study of pawning in Mexico City reveals a culture of negotiation: over what will be pawned, over values of goods and terms of credit, and over the freedom or pawnbrokers to make profits. This culture of negotiation was also one in which possessions served as tools of identity, cultural currency in the complexities of daily ethnic, gender and class relations in Mexico City. Pawning arenas included retail establishments in the colonial and early national period, the state-sponsored Monte de Piedad beginning in the late colonial period, and casas de empeno which emerged in the middle of the nineteenth century. Colonial and national states regulated the pawning business throughout this evolution, until the revolutionary state seriously curtailed interest rates and hence profits in the early twentieth century.
Degree ProgramGraduate College