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The Devil And Commodity Fetishism In South America

            This essay discusses Michael Taussig's ethnography of plantation and tin mine workers in South America in his book, The Devil and Commodity Fetishism in South America. The work deals mainly with the structure of society and the problems existing among the Columbian plantation workers and the Peruvian and bolivian tin mine workers when a capitalist economy is introduced.
             Taussig's perspective for interpretation of these societies is unashamedly Marxist. His aim is to interpret the effects of the disruption these societies experienced from what he calls, the capitalist exploitation of market based oppression, dating from the Spanish conquest to the present day. He tries to achieve this by analysing the subsequent changes in their folk beliefs. Comparing pre-conquest (use value market) beliefs, rites, magic, with those of the post-conquest (commodity driven market) periods of history.
             Taussig emphasises that in order to see the situation these societies find themselves in clearly we must look at them through precapitalist eyes. Stressing the importance of a self effacing critique of the capitalist world view, (one that the western reader has probably reified) is critical to comprehending the task he has undertaken.
             His aim is to show that the "alienation" experienced by individuals in a society, developed hand in hand with the change from a use value, or reciprocal exchange based economy, to a market based, non-reciprocal one. One that does not emphasise human relationships, but is focused on commodities (things), and in so doing fetishizes the commodities. The analogy his argument hinges on is the fetishization of the devil in the previously mentioned social groupings. Whereas in precapitalist times the gods or spirits in their folk beliefs were not inherently or predominantly evil, now because of the influences brought to bear on them from a commodity based market, their beliefs have changed or at least include an inanimate man made devil that is predominantly malevolent.

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