Waste and Potency: Making Men with Minerals in Guanajuato and Tucson

Citation:

Ferry, Elizabeth Emma. 2011. “Waste and Potency: Making Men with Minerals in Guanajuato and Tucson.” Comparative Studies in Society and History 53 (4): 914–44. doi:10.1017/S0010417511000454.

Author: Elizabeth Emma Ferry

Abstract:

All the miners in Guanajuato (and most other mining localities) are men, as are most of the collectors and dealers in Tucson (and most other mineral marketplaces). Additionally, the minerals themselves are enmeshed in webs of meaning that emphasize gender prominently, though not always in predictable ways. This article explores the complex ways in which producers and consumers interact with minerals as gendered objects and, in doing so, create themselves as gendered subjects. Their interactions with minerals, of course, are not the sole site for acts of self-creation, but they are a site that brings together processes of human labor, embodied and sensory experience, and the organization of social networks in the making of gendered subjectivity.

I begin from the premise that the gendering of the mineral economy is intimately linked to the peculiar circumstances of mineral production and consumption: in particular, minerals are extracted (in Guanajuato and many places) as the byproduct of ore extraction; and once they leave the mine, they are not supposed to be altered (though as we will see, they often are). These distinctive characteristics of mineral production and consumption in Guanajuato and Tucson allow for a concentration of gendered associations at both ends of the commodity chain. In the process of making and accommodating these gendered meanings, producers and consumers relate to minerals in creative, culturally rich, and sometimes oddly parallel ways.

Scholars have frequently asked how consumers make themselves and their lived worlds through their interaction with commodities. The role of producers has not been entirely ignored in this process, but it has tended to be limited to examining relations among people and between people and their own labor. There has been far less attention to the relation between producers and their products as a cultural process. What happens if we look at how producers of mineral specimens also make themselves through their interaction with the things they produce, and ask how this might affect the global commodity chain of mineral specimens?

In what follows, I build on feminist analyses of global commodity chains that have forcefully demonstrated the ways in which gender is embedded with global arrangements of capital and labor, often in shifting and/or contradictory ways (Collins 2003; Wright 2003; Ramamurthy 2004; Salzinger 2003; Freeman 2001). I focus especially on the link between the creation of the commodity as valued object and the creation of the person—producer or consumer— as gendered subject. That is to say, men and women make themselves not only through their relations to each other but also through their relations to the things they produce and consume.

Annotation:

Summary:

All the miners in Guanajuato (and most other mining localities) are men, as are most of the collectors and dealers in Tucson (and most other mineral marketplaces). Additionally, the minerals themselves are enmeshed in webs of meaning that emphasize gender prominently, though not always in predictable ways. This article explores the complex ways in which producers and consumers interact with minerals as gendered objects and, in doing so, create themselves as gendered subjects. Their interactions with minerals, of course, are not the sole site for acts of self-creation, but they are a site that brings together processes of human labor, embodied and sensory experience, and the organization of social networks in the making of gendered subjectivity.

I begin from the premise that the gendering of the mineral economy is intimately linked to the peculiar circumstances of mineral production and consumption: in particular, minerals are extracted (in Guanajuato and many places) as the byproduct of ore extraction; and once they leave the mine, they are not supposed to be altered (though as we will see, they often are). These distinctive characteristics of mineral production and consumption in Guanajuato and Tucson allow for a concentration of gendered associations at both ends of the commodity chain. In the process of making and accommodating these gendered meanings, producers and consumers relate to minerals in creative, culturally rich, and sometimes oddly parallel ways.

Scholars have frequently asked how consumers make themselves and their lived worlds through their interaction with commodities. The role of producers has not been entirely ignored in this process, but it has tended to be limited to examining relations among people and between people and their own labor. There has been far less attention to the relation between producers and their products as a cultural process. What happens if we look at how producers of mineral specimens also make themselves through their interaction with the things they produce, and ask how this might affect the global commodity chain of mineral specimens?

In what follows, I build on feminist analyses of global commodity chains that have forcefully demonstrated the ways in which gender is embedded with global arrangements of capital and labor, often in shifting and/or contradictory ways (Collins 2003; Wright 2003; Ramamurthy 2004; Salzinger 2003; Freeman 2001). I focus especially on the link between the creation of the commodity as valued object and the creation of the person—producer or consumer— as gendered subject. That is to say, men and women make themselves not only through their relations to each other but also through their relations to the things they produce and consume.

Topics: Economies, Extractive Industries, Feminisms, Gender, Men, Masculinity/ies, Gendered Power Relations, Livelihoods Regions: Americas, North America Countries: Mexico, United States of America

Year: 2011

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