Mayas, Markets, and Multilingualism: The Political Economy of Linguistic and Social Exchange in Cobá, Quintana Roo, Mexico
Litka, Stephanie Joann (author)
Uzendoski, Michael (professor directing dissertation)
Hellweg, Joseph (committee member)
Pohl, Mary (committee member)
Sunderman, Gretchen (committee member)
Department of Anthropology (degree granting department)
Florida State University (degree granting institution)
This dissertation examines the political economy of linguistic and social exchange among Yucatec Maya tourist workers in Coba, Quintana Roo, Mexico. I argue that local employees recreate the house (`otoch') in the market through spheres of social action and code-switching to reproduce the locally-controlled ejido (communally-owned lands on which Coba was founded over sixty years ago). Despite globalization, I show how the Maya conceive of the house as a form of value that structures relations within the ejido, since it remains largely kin-based today. Since language represents social action, I view the house as a social unit that is continuously mediated and transcends biological limitations of kinship. Moreover, I show how local notions of the house have enabled the Maya to syncretically embrace, refashion, and reject external forms of political-economic interaction (most recently, through the global capitalist economy) throughout various periods in their history. The ejido therefore, encompasses a variety of kin-based networks that continuously span spatial and temporal boundaries of sociality among the Maya. Most recently, the tensions involved in cultural/linguistic commodification through global tourism have provided a new outlet for workers to utilize multilingualism and outside social networks to personify the contemporary marketplace. This is done in accordance with an indigenous logic of negotiating ejido lands and sociality centered on the conversion of commodities into gifts. In this sense, Coba's tourist workers are mediators of value who transform the potentially alientating effects of capitalism by adapting it to a Maya logic of creating persons in the market (Gregory 1982, 1997, Uzendoski 2005). While validating family ties centered on hierarchies of shared social space, cosmology, history, and language among community members, Coba's citizens realize that direct involvement with the global market economy and knowledge of other languages are needed in order to remain in control over household sociality within the ejido. My research contributes to the fields of anthropology, linguistics, history, and economics by showing how indigenous populations conceptualize value by continuously mediating between two seemingly disparate systems of exchange in the house and market. Rather than view these groups as having been relatively isolated from the market economy, I have taken a more critical approach of understanding indigenous participation in tourism by arguing that transactions based on commodified exchange have characterized the Maya throughout their history, not just in the contemporary era. Yet these and other non-Western groups have still managed to personify much of these transactions by transferring capital wealth into social relations that continuously mediate spheres of interaction. In this sense, the ejido plays a pivotal role in forming a local sense of control over how tourism is managed in Coba. Rather than view the house as a fixed entity limited to residential boundaries therefore, my data has shown how the ejido itself encompasses all of the complex social relations (including bonds and tensions) that interact on a daily basis. These are ultimately in accordance with a Mayan logic of negotiating kin ties, based on hierarchies of shared social space, cosmology, history, and language among its members.
Code-Switching, Exchange, Kinship, Tourism, Value, Yucatec Maya
October 28, 2011.
A Dissertation submitted to the Department of Anthropology in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
Includes bibliographical references.
Michael Uzendoski, Professor Directing Dissertation; Joseph Hellweg, Committee Member; Mary Pohl, Committee Member; Gretchen Sunderman, Committee Member.
Florida State University
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