Economies of obligation: Patronage as relational wealth in Bolivian gold mining

Mareike Winchell


Recent scholarship in anthropology offers critical attention to inequality as a constitutive feature of social life to which specific legal, cultural, and religious traditions supply diverging answers. Drawing upon these debates, this article explores the ways that Quechua- and Spanish-speaking subjects in the Bolivian province of Ayopaya imagine, inhabit, and strive to address inequalities stemming from the region’s history of labor violence. While Ayopaya’s history of hacienda servitude lives on in contemporary structures of racialized disparity, I argue that it also conditions particular traditions of exchange that rural groups draw from in order to contest a new gold mining economy. Against more pessimistic accounts of late capitalism as a moment of inexorable abandonment, particularly for indigenous groups, I query the tenacity of obligation and probe its political possibilities as a practice of claim making (and a scholarly heuristic) by which to expose the ethical refusals on which “free” exchange relies.


inequality, labor, indigeneity, ethics, extractivism, value, circulation

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.14318/hau7.3.011