Abaixo transcrevo as “opening remarks” que escrevemos (eu e outros pesquisadores ligados ao Programa de Estudos Latino-Americanos da Johns Hopkins) para a conferência “Development and Commodification in Latin America”:
“In the 20th century dominant images of modernity focused on capitalism and socialism. Within these competing images of modernity, capitalism came to equal market and socialism to equal state. Of course, these associations are contingent constructions, as has been noted in creative critiques that pay attention to the complexity of historical records and of popular-level interpretations of events. Contingent though they may be, these associations still manage to do significant work. The risk of incorporating analytic dualisms, such as rigid distinctions between market and state, state and society, foreign and local, and government and people continues to be a real one.
This call for papers and conference emerged from our desire to rethink polarized debates about market and state, state and society, foreign and local through papers that explore the particular formations that social forces have given, intentionally or not, to processes of development and commodification and their effects. Taking the relational nature of fields of development as a gathering or entry point, we hope to shift our discussion from whether markets play a positive role or negative in raising living standards and to focus instead on historically specific sets of conditions in which development logics and practices emerge.
We can think of ‘markets’ outside of capitalism. As historian Fernand Braudel taught us, capitalism can be thought of as an anti-market. As such it is a relational process of endless accumulation that involves a symbiotic connection between state and capital. Capital relies on the state to hold monopolistic positions used to extract surplus from the market economy and other spaces of social life. When this connection is broken, we can have markets without capitalism, allowing us to envision other forms of market transaction and exchange practices.
We can also think about social life beyond or outside the market. As Karl Polanyi taught us, the market is not the single form of organizing economic life. Historically, redistribution and reciprocity have each played an important role in economic exchanges. It is when markets are thought of as natural self-regulating mechanisms that the rule of thumb can becomes commodify everything (including knowledge, labor, nature and culture). In this picture redistribution and reciprocity lose ground to the principles of capital accumulation and profiteering.
Looking at processes at commodification also allows us insights into how the market is embedded in a larger social milieu. Accounts that depict commodities as active characters in history have cast light on the changing social or humanistic values that drive development processes. Take, for instance, Cuban Counterpoints: Tobacco and Sugar, by Fernando Ortiz. There, Ortiz treats the ‘development’ of these two raw commodities as the unfolding process by which users and producers fashion products and tastes, illustrating social patterns that are also metaphors for the wonders, hardships, harms, and contradictions marking Cuba’s evolution in the early 20th century. In this sense, accounts of commodification can help us think about how the market and economic exchanges are imbued with emotional, religious, and even magical transactions and practices.
The papers that are going to be presented in this conference examine the problematic of development and commodification in different settings in Latin America. The commodification of space, of nature, of labor and the very idea of development are criticized from the standpoint offered by specific case studies, ranging from Santa Fé, Argentina, to Yucatán, México. Hopefully, our discussions will help us to explore how markets can be harnessed for the purposes of development, whether it be development as a policy for raising living standards, a will to improve, as a life experience or as a set of governmental practices, and to envision situations in which development, however you define it, can happen outside the market. Thank you.”