OAC online seminar 26 September - 7 October Ryan Anderson "Landscapes of Wealth & Desire"

Welcome to a new season of online seminars. For those of you who are new to them, these last for 10-12 days. A paper is posted on the OAC Press site, in this case here, where it may be read in html or pdf format. After the seminar, we produce an e-publication with a link to the discussion included. The pace of the seminar is leisurely. There is time to read, reflect and respond to comments made by others. There is a chair who launches and moderates the discussion.

Ryan Anderson is a long-standing member of and contributor to the OAC. He is a graduate student in anthropology at the University of Kentucky.  His research focuses on the politics of development and tourism in Baja California Sur, Mexico. He is the editor of a collaborative online project anthropologies and blogs at ethnografix, as well as contributing to the collective anthropology blog, Savage Minds (For examples related to this paper, see this link, and this one). Ryan first encountered Baja California Sur in 2005 and is currently seeking funds to carry out his doctoral research there.

The present paper explores the historical background to a proposed study of political disputes over the value of large-scale tourism development in Baja California Sur. It starts with a review of anthropological discussions of value — focusing on the work of Kluckhohn, Graeber, Elyachar and Appadurai. The aim is to use an anthropological approach to value to place current conflicts over land and resources arising from recent developments within a historical perspective.  The paper then investigates how actors in different time periods have contributed to collective and often contradictory constructions of the area as a place of subsistence, adventure, possibilities, salvation, investment, leisure and conflict.  It is not a report on the contemporary situation, but rather it examines some of the key moments and events that have in the past created, reshaped, and defined Baja California Sur as a place of value, meaning, and importance. These episodes start with the Spanish contact period and focus primarily on the southern portion of the peninsula.

The paper concludes with an appendix containing some rather stunning photos of the place. Ryan and I encourage you to treat this as a work in progress. His main field research is still in the future! So we hope that the conversation will help him to clarify what he wants to do, as well as allowing him to share new ideas and information with us. The paper has two main parts: one is a discussion of some anthropological theories of value and the other is an episodic reconstruction of some of the key moments in the region's history. I would like our discussion to focus on these first and especially on how they might be made to illuminate each other . But of course ethnographers are mainly concerned with what is contemporary and our discussion wil inevitably gravitate towards the main point of the research, the politics of tourism development today. Perhaps we could save this issue for later. First let us engage with the paper.

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It is also important to consider the ways in which economic, social and cultural values/capital interact. The classic complaint about the nouveaux riche is that, while successful economically, they lack the refined tastes (cultural capital) to justify superior social status (social capital). Superior taste and status may may or may not lead directly to economic success. Thus the global pattern of the nouveaux riche marrying up and spending lavishly to educate their children, to increase their cultural and social capital. Bourdieu has a lot to say about this in Distinction. 

I am not claiming that these models apply directly to Los Cabos. What I am suggesting is that, besides thinking about different kinds of value and the mathematical properties thereof, it is also important to consider how one is converted into another.

 

Again, just brainstorming....

Hey John,

Just a quick note: Classifying value as aesthetic, political, or moral or regarding valued stuff as cultural, social or economic capital is one useful way to enrich the discussion. I have found that it also clarifies things a good deal to examine all of these categories in terms of their implicit mathematics. If a value x draws a distinction, what is the nature of this distinction?

It's also interesting to look at how value is actually produced or understand in some of these more calculated terms, and WHO actually thinks about value in these kinds of term. In the 1970s the Mexican government did this massive study and took several key variables into account (average temp, sunny days, distance to tourism markets, etc) in order to determine which sites they wanted to develop. This is what led to the creation of places like Cancun and San Jose del Cabo. All very statistical and calculated.

Thus the global pattern of the nouveaux riche marrying up and spending lavishly to educate their children, to increase their cultural and social capital. Bourdieu has a lot to say about this in Distinction.

That's definitely one book that I might need to check out for some ideas about all this, especially when it comes to trying to talk about aesthetic values. Good call John.

I am not claiming that these models apply directly to Los Cabos. What I am suggesting is that, besides thinking about different kinds of value and the mathematical properties thereof, it is also important to consider how one is converted into another.

Ya, either how it's converted...or maybe also how the same place/location exists as different types of value all at once for several social groups. For some who don't live there it's about real estate value, for others it may be about deep histories with a place, and still others a place may be valuable because of certain experiences or memories. What's interesting is that none of this is necessarily mutually exclusive.
It is a common approach to map clusters of values one-on-one to groups. I am suggesting that it might be more interesting to explore the circulation of similar values among the groups. I imagine, for example, investors who see in deep history a resource exploitable in marketing that improves ROI. As part of the marketing program, hotel workers are trained to refer to this history in interactions with customers. Some may embrace the history as something that makes their jobs more interesting. If locals, they may take what they see as justified pride in information that enriches their sense of who they are. Others, perhaps immigrants from different parts of Mexico with no local roots, may see the matter more cynically. Some tourists may find the history interesting. Others may head straight for the beach, without giving it a second thought. Knowing who cares about what and how is a question with enormous practical as well as political and theoretical significance.

[wpvideo PFFriwjK]

 

By chance I happened to come across this clip on Kumeyaay in the Baja peninsula.

Thanks for posting this video Huon.  This is a great piece from the LA Times.  I went to SDSU with Mike Wilken when I was working on my MA.  Not only is he a really great guy, but he also does a lot of really good work about the histories of northern Baja California.  I am always really impressed with what he's doing.


Nice work, Ryan.  Let me start my comment with a different story about value.  Where I work, it is common to see guests order dishes that remind them of home, family, childhood, romance, etc.  One executive ordered mac and cheese.  We spiced  it up by using  seared Kobe beef on top. Lately, I have been wondering  why things remain in our memory, and why others are  forgotten.  It can be the food one eats, the people he meets, or the place he visits.  I don't think it is  due to memory loss but value- emotional value, to  be exact. I found a  couple of papers by Hatzimoysis on sentimental  value and emotion,  but I still have to start reading them seriously after quick scanning.

 

I think your study, as a  work in progress, has many possibilities.  One of them is to include emotion in the defining  of  "value."  Studying a geography, a desert or a forest or an alley or a freeway, emotionalism is undeniably existent.  Your paper,  for instance, made me ask initially why the coastal territories of Baja  California Sur are valuable to people within and from outside.   It cannot be economic all the time that is the generalizing element.   Maybe Baja California Sur has emotional  value to these people.  Maybe  to Mexicans, it is a national pride or  a picture of progress and prosperity of a people in search of a national identity in a globalized world.  Maybe to campers, it  is a place for freedom, introspection, and existentialist escapism.  Maybe among drug-trafficking gangsters, it is a territory that marks their supremacy and sacrifice.  Maybe to the marginalized and dispossessed, it is a place where they still continue dreaming and hoping. 

 

It will be interesting to know how Baja California Sur has shaped or been shaping emotional values that obviously touch  and change people's lives.  It seems a bore to many now to read papers on  the  shaping  of  a geography.  Maybe geography shaping people is one  of those possibilities you can explore in your paper.  

 

 

Thanks for your comment, M.

Lately, I have been wondering why things remain in our memory, and why others are forgotten. It can be the food one eats, the people he meets, or the place he visits.

That's a really interesting way of thinking about value--what makes us remember certain things, moments, places, and events? What makes certain memories more meaningful? There are many factors that lead to a kind of ranking of meaning and importance, and it's not just about dollars and cents. I like where you're going with this.

I think your study, as a work in progress, has many possibilities. One of them is to include emotion in the defining of "value." Studying a geography, a desert or a forest or an alley or a freeway, emotionalism is undeniably existent.

Yes, I totally agree with you. These are exactly the kinds of questions about value that I want to explore in this research. It's not all about finance, money, and economic value. There are other meanings to these places, other ways of attributing worth and value--and that's what I hope to gain a better understanding of while doing extended fieldwork. How and why people create meaning and value based upon histories, daily practices, and attachments to specific people and places.

Maybe to Mexicans, it is a national pride or a picture of progress and prosperity of a people in search of a national identity in a globalized world. Maybe to campers, it is a place for freedom, introspection, and existentialist escapism. Maybe among drug-trafficking gangsters, it is the territory that marks their supremacy and sacrifice. Maybe to the marginalized and dispossessed, it is a place where they still continue dreaming and hoping.

Ya, there are tons of possibilities, and I am guessing that the difficult part of fieldwork will be finding a way to explore some of these different conceptions of value, meaning, etc and find ways to explore how they relate (if they do relate). The main thing that I keep reminding myself is that I have to keep things pretty wide open. I have this framework and all, but it's really just a starting point, one tool in a set of tools--and it has to be amenable to the data on the ground, so to speak. Thanks for your thoughts about this...these are just the kinds of questions and ways of thinking about value that I find really fascinating. Especially trying to figure out how all of this fits into the conflicts over development and change in the region. I am really interested, ultimately, in looking at power--or how some ways of valuing a place take precedence over others in development contexts. Whose values shape the creation of these places, and how does this happen? At this point, I have lots of questions!

It will be interesting to know how Baja California Sur has shaped or been shaping emotional values that obviously touch and change people's lives. It seems a bore to many now to read papers on the shaping of a geography. Maybe geography shaping people is one of those possibilities you can explore in your paper.

I think these kinds of questions are fascinating and important. That's probably why I have been reading a lot more work by geographers in the past year. And anthropologists (like Setha Low, Teresa Caldeira, and Keith Basso) who are looking more at space and place. How do places affect people? What role can geography play in all of this? How are specific places produced? I am absolutely interested in the relationships between people and their geographies. Great points, M. Thanks again for your comments and thoughts.


M Izabel said:

Nice work, Ryan.  Let me start my comment with a different story about value.  Where I work, it is common to see guests order dishes that remind them of home, family, childhood, romance, etc.  One executive ordered mac and cheese.  We spiced  it up by using  seared Kobe beef on top. Lately, I have been wondering  why things remain in our memory, and why others are  forgotten.  It can be the food one eats, the people he meets, or the place he visits.  I don't think it is  due to memory loss but value- emotional value, to  be exact. I found a  couple of papers by Hatzimoysis on sentimental  value and emotion,  but I still have to start reading them seriously after quick scanning.

 

I think your study, as a  work in progress, has many possibilities.  One of them is to include emotion in the defining  of  "value."  Studying a geography, a desert or a forest or an alley or a freeway, emotionalism is undeniably existent.  Your paper,  for instance, made me ask initially why the coastal territories of Baja  California Sur are valuable to people within and from outside.   It cannot be economic all the time that is the generalizing element.   Maybe Baja California Sur has emotional  value to these people.  Maybe  to Mexicans, it is a national pride or  a picture of progress and prosperity of a people in search of a national identity in a globalized world.  Maybe to campers, it  is a place for freedom, introspection, and existentialist escapism.  Maybe among drug-trafficking gangsters, it is the territory that marks their supremacy and sacrifice.  Maybe to the marginalized and dispossessed, it is a place where they still continue dreaming and hoping. 

 

It will be interesting to know how Baja California Sur has shaped or been shaping emotional values that obviously touch  and change people's lives.  It seems a bore to many now to read papers on  the  shaping  of  a geography.  Maybe geography shaping people is one  of those possibilities you can explore in your paper.  

 

 

I realised that things had gottten a little slow this past few months, but not that the OAC "community" would be so indifferent as to abandon the online seminar altogether. I take this reluctance to participate as a sign that running these seminars and the Working Papers on which they are based is an activity that you don't want to support. Imagine what you would think if you turned up for a terrestrial event and no-one spoke up, including the people are supposed to be leading the show. I can't hide that this is a personal setback and I would not wish to expose another presenter to it again.

In my initial comments I promised that we could move on to the topic that Ryan intends to research, the impact of recent tourism developments on this region. There used to be a flourishing tourism interest here. Have you all gone away?

Hey Ryan. I really enjoyed this paper. You are a great storyteller. The way to create a narrative...a story is simply wonderful. 

 

My only questions is regarding your use of the terms "re-imagine", "reconstruct", and "reshape". I have battled with the "re-" prefix for a long time. And I know it is only two letters, but I wonder if you could defend using "re-imagine" throughout your essay? Are people really "re-imagining" and "reshaping" a place that they have never visited before? Or are they simply "constructing", "imagining" and "shaping" the space during their visits? Can you re-construct a place that has constantly been constructed throughout history?

You write: "The contemporary socio-economic importance of the coastal territories of Baja California Sur was only made possible by a shift in how various actors—from global tourists to Mexican State officials—re-imagined and re-shaped the formerly 'desolate' environment into a desirable destination for travel, leisure, investment, and even permanent residence."

I know it is a moot point, but, for me, it stuck out.

 

My favorite line from your paper: "As the interlinked histories of the humans and landscapes of Baja California Sur show, there is no single way of a place to embody value, meaning, and importance." I completely agree. Cheers!

 

Ryan,

 

A wonderful paper. Since I know precious little about anthropological approaches to value, your discussion of this alone was - dare I say it - extremely valuable.

 

But your historical anthropological analysis is fascinating. It called to my mind Fernand Braudel - although I suppose that, if you really want to perform a Braudelian analysis of the longue durée, you'll have to start with the mountains!

 

I do have a (rather dubious) question. You quite brilliantly demonstrate how Baja California Sur shows up (especially from the point of view of its colonisers) in different forms over time as an imaginary space of Amazons, as a bounteous and sterile territory, a space of speculative ventures, spiritual conquests, and package holidays. One could say, it's a place invested over time with different interests, or, as you put it, it's a question of 'how the same place may embody very different political, economic, and cultural values'.

 

Sahlins' observes that the term 'interest' derives from the Latin meaning, 'to make a difference', so: an 'interest in something is the difference it makes for someone'. But, what is so interesting about Baja in your account is the difference Baja makes to people. So my (admittedly dodgy) question would be: Is it indeed the same place in all of these cultural, historical instantiations?

 

(And to repeat Keith's plea - I urge anyone to read Ryan's paper. It's very good indeed!)  

 

Ryan,

 

In response to Keith's nudge to move on to "the impact of recent tourism developments," but taking "recent" in a very broad sense, I'd like to ask an ethnographic question: Do the resorts have souvenir shops? If so, what do they sell and how is it presented in relation to the culture of the place or a larger region?

 

I pose this question because, serendipitously, I am at this moment reading an extraordinarily interesting book that I doubt anyone here, with the possible exception of Philip Swift, has ever heard of: Kim Brandt (2007) Kingdom of Beauty: Mingei and the Politics of Folk Art in Imperial Japan.

 

A literal translation of the term mingei  is "folk craft." The term was coined in the 1920s but is now firmly established in both art and business circles, where it refers to items which, whether displayed in museums or other collections or sold in department stores or tourist destination souvenir shops, points to items whose value lies in having a specific, local ambience and provenance. Brandt does a marvelous job of tracing the origins of "the mingei movement" to its founder Yanagi Tsuneo's earlier fascination with Korean ceramics, observing that Yanagi exemplified an aesthetically inclined offshoot of a rising middle class that was, on the one hand, emulating the elite gentleman's obsession with tea ceremony ceramics but unable to afford items whose prices had been driven to stratospheric heights. So its members turned, instead, to the as yet undiscovered aesthetic value of, first Korean Yi-dynasty porcelain, which was relatively cheap and accessible given Japan's recent acquisition of Korea as a colony, and later Japanese folk crafts, produced in rural places increasingly impoverished by the extraction of capital to build Japanese industry. Brandt's description of the tensions in a movement that started out heavily influenced by  the European Arts and Crafts Movement and Guild Socialism, with a stress on the value of objects produced by anonymous "folk," but whose early members and advocates included established artists with nationwide reputations, struggled on the one hand with other similar movements despised as merely aping European examples and, on the other, with a Ministry of Commerce and Industry, that both approved of mingei aesthetics and but preferred to see them as design inspiration for modern, mass-produced, industrial products, and became implicated with the rise of first modern consumerism (department store and museum exhibitions) and then Japanese facism, which, like its European counterparts, was fascinated with blood, soil, and the purity of local traditions.

 

I will, I must say, never look at the "famous local products" on display in tourist destination souvenir shops in Japan in the same innocent way I used to. And, returning now to Ryan's project, I wonder if a similar history lies behind the "Baja" or "Mexican" items that the souvenir shops I imagine sell. The coincidence of the development of interest in mingei in Japan and of similar "volkish" interests in Europe around the same time suggests that similar developments may have been taking place in Mexico. I could be hallucinating, however.

Thanks for the comments Conor, Philip, and John!

 

@Conor:  Ya, that's a good question about using the prefix "re" in front of words like imagine.  I guess at the individual level, these places are being imagined or constructed anew--since it's the first time that they have been there or interacted with this place.  At least, this would be the case for some.  From a longer historical perspective that looks beyond individual actors, I think it makes sense to talk about the place being imagined by some, and then re-imagined and re-created by others down the line.  But you're right, it would be good to parse that out a bit so it makes more sense.  In the case of tourism, however, I think it's a pretty clear case of individuals completely re-shaping and re-imagining places...since they know what the place looks like and then draw up plans and maps to transform it into something that will appeal to tourists.  Thanks for the comment--since I am trying to figure out how this process works, paying close attention to how I frame my language is really important.  It's definitely a good point to keep in mind...thanks again.

 

@Philip:

 

"So my (admittedly dodgy) question would be: Is it indeed the same place in all of these cultural, historical instantiations?


Actually, I really like that question, although it would be hard to answer. Is it the same place? It's surely the same geographic location...but as described and understood by different people over time, I think an argument could be made that it wasn't exactly the "same place." In the early colonial period this peninsula was a really remote, unknown, distant place. It was on the edge of the colonial sphere, and was (from some perspectives) almost totally unmapped. Now, from the perspective of the people who were living there it was known, mapped, and understood. So maybe it was two different places even at that time (one actually filled in with daily experiences and histories, and one constructed mostly from imagined possibilities and stories). Now, fast forward 500 years...what kind of place are we talking about now? It's accessible by air quite quickly--only two hours away from LAX. But again, it can still represent very different places, since tourists generally stick to some pretty pre-planned routes through the region (they don't spend much time hanging around the colonias on the edge of Cabo San Lucas). So there is the "Baja" that you see in all the tourist media, which focuses on key locations and idealized images, and there is the "Baja California Sur" of people who live there. Interesting question, Philip--although I am not sure how well I answered it!

@John:

"I'd like to ask an ethnographic question: Do the resorts have souvenir shops? If so, what do they sell and how is it presented in relation to the culture of the place or a larger region?"

Yes, there are definitely tourist shops, but they are of a very different sort than places that focus more on cultural tourism in other parts of Mexico (Oaxaca, for example). There is an attempt to sell "cultural" products at the southern tip of the peninsula, but a lot of it (jewelry, pottery) comes from OTHER parts of Mexico. So what is sold there is of a very generalized version of Mexico. Part of this is because the native people of the southern portion were pretty much wiped out (the Pericue). But that's a really interesting question John. What I can say about this region, and about this type of tourism, is that it's much less about culture, history, and "Mexico" than some other tourism destinations. One author I read calls it a kind of "placeless" tourism in Los Cabos, since it's geared toward luxury and certain activities rather than being in a particular place per se (I think it was Saragoza 2010). I am not sure if I buy the "placeless" argument, but it is pretty clear that this is a different kind of tourism that what you'll see in the more historical/archaeological/cultural sites (Mexico City, Chichen Itza, Oaxaca City, and so on). The "place" is sold in Baja, but in a different way.

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