The materiality of poverty I: Crisis and resilience in Haiti

October 20th 2011

If materiality is integral to poverty, can poor people have positive relationships with materiality? Common understandings of poverty reduce the relationship of low income people with material culture largely to the expression of inequality as seen in their lack of income and possessions.

But just like everyone else, ‘poor’ people use material forms to creatively construct their social identities and communities, and transform their socioeconomic situations. Indeed their relationship to homes, clothes and other material goods may be more complex and nuanced precisely because the range is more constrained.

The materiality of the poor is not necessarily a materiality of poverty.

Creole economics: The case of the ‘Haitian dollar’

October 17th 2011

In the contemporary world we often think of economic systems as having little to do with local cultural practices. Shell money and barter have long been replaced with state-issued fiat money, customs houses and large-scale transnational trade.

If we do think about financial practices as having a cultural edge, we are probably most likely to focus on consumption, where local cultures have obvious influences on purchasing practices, or on the informal economy, where ‘street culture’ dictates the everyday running of distribution systems.

On a morning ride through Port-au-Prince

October 3rd 2011

This is a guest post by Matthew Levasseur.

Today I woke up, took a shower, and got a moto-taxi ride to the bus station. I paid about 12.50 for the motorcycle ride across town (it's pretty far), through the Port-au-Prince morning traffic. It was thrilling and scary as it always is, but today I found it relaxing for some reason.

The driver always needs to get ahead. We ride between the lanes of traffic and hope that they keep their formation, their straight lines. They never do, because the road is full of pot holes and inconsistencies; so the cars ahead are always coming together or moving apart. We constantly dive into the gap and hope. We have to avoid the pot holes too, and it makes for an interesting game. My part is to stay limber and balanced.

Markets as cultural intersections II: The economics of Dominican-Haitian social relations

September 26th 2011

In my last post I wrote about how longstanding differences in Dominican and Haitian national identities and economy are reflected throughout their production chain, from their creation by cultured subjects, their distribution in Santo Domingo's tourist markets, and also in the consumption by tourists who are drawn to their 'naïve' or 'colonial' aesthetics.

I wanted to make the point that while differences between the two nations are certainly real, the art markets themselves are somewhat artificial spaces where the cultural products for sale have been disembedded from the contexts of their production. They take on a kind of performative role that, while 'saying something' meaningful about identity, also flatten out its complexities.