In the villages and small towns of Oaxaca, Mexico, as in much of rural Latin America, cooperation among neighbors is essential for personal and community survival. It can take many forms, from godparenting to sponsoring fiestas, holding civic offices, or exchanging agricultural or other kinds of labor. This book examines the ways in which the people of Santa Ana del Valle practice these traditional cooperative and reciprocal relationships and also invent new relationships to respond to global forces of social and economic change at work within their community.
Based on fieldwork he conducted in this Zapotec-speaking community between 1992 and 1996, Jeffrey Cohen describes continuities in the Santañeros' practices of cooperation, as well as changes resulting from transnational migration, tourism, increasing educational opportunities, and improved communications. His nuanced portrayal of the benefits and burdens of cooperation is buttressed by the words of many villagers who explain why and how they participate-or not-in reciprocal family and community networks. This rich ethnographic material offers a working definition of community created in and through cooperative relationships.
List of Illustrations
List of Abbreviations
Introduction: Cooperation in Context: A Framework for Analysis
Chapter One: Four Eras, One Village: Geography and History in Santa Ana del Valle
Chapter Two: Economy and the Structure of lroduction in Santa Ana del Valle
Chapter Three: Patterns of Cooperation in the Santañero Household
Chapter Four: Guelaguetza and Compadrazgo: Interhousehold Cooperation in Santa Ana
Chapter Five: Cooperation and Community: Tequio, Cooperación, and Servicio
Chapter Six: Cooperation, the Politics of Leadership, and Civil Society
Conclusions: Santa Ana in the World and Cooperation in Southern Mexico
SANTAÑERO: Do you like our village?
VISITOR: Why yes, it seems very nice.
SANTAÑERO: You know we work very hard here, we help each other out, we support each other.
VISITOR: Uh-huh, nice.
SANTAÑERO: Yes, but you see that village across the valley? San Juan.... In that village they will steal your money. Over here, near us in Díaz Ordaz.... There they are all involved in illegal drugs. And Teotitlán.... Oh my, don't go there, they will rob you. But not here. Here it is peaceful and everyone helps out.
VISITOR: You don't say....
SANTAÑERO: Yes, but make sure to be careful as you go about. And if you spend the night, hide your valuables from the thieves.
When strangers enter Santa Ana del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico, whether tourists on a day trip or anthropologists planning a year's fieldwork, they are greeted by this odd and often repeated dialogue concerning the village, its peaceful qualities, and the cooperative goodwill of the inhabitants. The exchange is one that I engaged in regularly, especially during the early months of fieldwork. It is the incongrous punch line of the dialogue that captures my attention, and I remain intrigued by the juxtaposition of village peace with the suggestion of local thievery and mistrust.
The contradictions of the scene might suggest that Santañeros are hiding something. Perhaps in some instances, they really do not cooperate, and this story of village harmony is nothing more than a narrative used in conversation with the occasional visitor to deny a less congenial reality. However, among Santañeros the evidence of cooperation is abundant. Family, friends, and households regularly participate in formal as well as informal relationships that include guelaguetza (reciprocal exchanges of gifts and services) and compadrazgo (godparenthood). Parents and children work together at looms, weaving woolen textiles and pooling resources for shared futures. Friends lend assistance to one another when the time comes to plant and harvest. Households come together around celebrations, during fiestas, and for important rites of passage. Beyond ties of kin and friendship, Santañeros invest their time, effort, and wealth in tequio (community-based labor projects), cooperación (money given to support village projects and programs), servicio (voluntary service in one of the community's many cargos or committees), two mayordomías (family-sponsored saint's day celebrations), and many village fiestas following local custom and tradition (see Acevedo and Restrepo 1991; Monaghan 1990; Nader 1969). Román Sánchez, a middle-aged former village leader, described the situation honestly when he said, "Why do we do these things? Because we must . . . they make us Santañero."
In this world of mutual aid, reciprocity, and support, contradictions abound and mistrust is often manifest among villagers. Individuals complain when the time arrives to repay a guelaguetza debt. Tequio crews are typically hard to organize. Finding willing participants to staff even small-scale work projects can be daunting. Cargos and committees are often difficult to fill, and village leaders sometimes find it necessary to push Santañeros forcefully into nombramientos (positions of service in village committees). Cooperation itself can become a coercive force. Heads of households (male and female) use the histories of their familial investments (both real and fictitious), reciprocal relationships, and authority in order to control (some might say through inducing guilt) the labor and earnings of their children (see Cook and Binford 1990). Textile workshops that employ entire families in production typically put children to work at looms, preparing threads and finishing projects, with little or no remuneration. Fathers expect the support of their sons and daughters who live and work outside natal homes, and mothers demand assistance from their children in the care and maintenance of their households.
The commitments and contradictions inherent in cooperative and reciprocal relationships extend beyond the physical confines of Santa Ana. Migrants living in Los Angeles participate in their home village society through the continuous support of family, household, and community. Most Santañeros cite the commitment to family and the need to support children as a primary motivating factor in their decision to migrate, and many officers in the local political hierarchy rely on migrant remittances or savings to cover their commitments and expenses of offce. The point is not to determine whether all Santañeros remit to support their families and households, or even if those Santañeros who talk of familial support always practice what they preach. Rather, in the examples of cooperation that fill the remainder of this text, we are interested in understanding the ways in which cooperation and reciprocity become structures for rationalizing social action (see Chapter Three).
Similar patterns of cooperation and reciprocity, though in very different social settings, are found among Santañeros who have chosen to convert and follow evangelical faiths in place of traditional Catholicism (see Chapter Four). For these families new relationships have replaced cooperative ties traditionally created within the village. Evangélicos (converts to evangelical Protestant sects) pitted their practices against the Catholic majority in 1991 and again in 1996. For many Santañeros the problem that strained community morality and caused tensions to flare was not whether evangelicals shared core religious doctrines, but the converts' failing belief in the central place of traditional cooperative and reciprocal ties (Cohen n.d.).
Finally, real divisions of class and status continue to grow among households and families within the community, even as cooperative ties link the various social strata of the village. Nearly all families cooperate, or talk of cooperation. However, the actions and expectations of the wealthy and high-status members of the community are different from the needs and actions of poor or low-status members of the village. Wealthy Santañeros have the luxury of participating in the relationships they choose, although they can never forget that their social status is determined largely by that participation (Scott 1989). On the other hand, a poor family may have a much more realistic need for cooperation in its struggle to survive and prosper in a rapidly changing economy. Thus, while wealthy, high-status Santañeros explain cooperation using the same terms as low-status relatives, the reasons for entering reciprocal relationships and the expectations placed on the resulting alliances are quite different from those of the poor, low-status individual or family.
Given the contradictions in Santañero reciprocity, how are we to explain cooperation's role in social life? Contemporary theories typically explain cooperative and reciprocal relationships by framing them as structures through which prosperity is gained and community built (see, for example, Fukuyama 1995: 186, 205-207; Putnam 1993). On the other hand, cooperative relationships are also defined as exploitative structures that obscure the exercise of power (see Bourdieu 1977: 192). The first approach fails to recognize the place of coercion in the construction of social order (Portes and Landolt 1996: 20). The second forgets that cooperation does in fact work for those involved in reciprocal relationships (Axelrod 1984). It plays a role in the reproduction of a group's social universe and in its construction of identity. Simultaneously, it limits and places constraints on what is proper, normal, and expected by defining codes of conduct and action (Brandes 1988: 160; Eriksen 1991; Jenkins 1992; Watanabe 1992).
This ethnography of Santa Ana del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico, offers a new approach to the study of cooperation, and a new framework for understanding the contradictions inherent in social life. Rather than defining cooperative relationships as determinative structures based upon social custom (Durkheim 1964; Mauss 1990) or, fundamentally, the division of labor (see McLellan 1977: 170), I approach cooperation and reciprocity as the outcomes of individual social actions and choices, made within the confines of households and communities. I concentrate on the ways in which cooperative practices create and/or reproduce identity and become frameworks for negotiating and coping with ongoing social, economic, and political change (Giddens 1984: 25; Ortner 1973: 154; Robben 1989: 7).
Custom and division of labor certainly constrain and limit the actions of individual actors, as does history, education, practical cultural knowledge, and political or economic realities. However, working within the above limits of competence and situation, people create their own social realities—constantly manipulating, interpreting, subverting, and re-creating the world in which they live (Moore 1975; Watanabe 1992; Wilson 1993). In other words, people are not automatons serving out socially predetermined roles; neither are they fully free and independent actors, willfully creating the world as they see fit (Jenkins 1992: 71). Rather, they are social actors, free in varying degrees to create personal realities. The convergence of experience, ability, history, and situation defines the constraints of social action.
Cooperation in Practice
To understand the limits that exist and define Santañero social reality (which social practices reproduce and even at times transcend), Chapters One and Two explore the historical development and current economy of Santa Ana. Rather than setting forth a detailed history of Santa Ana, which is beyond the scope of this work, Chapter One outlines four important periods of social development and transformation in the community: first, the pre-Columbian origins of the village; second, the reorganization of the community as a congregación (ecclesiastical settlement) in the early years of New Spain; third, the Porfiriato (the period during which Mexico was under the control of Porfirio Díaz) and the establishment by foreign investors of a mining settlement on community lands; and fourth, the devastating impact of the Mexican Revolution on the local population.
The discussion of local history notes the connections between Santañeros and the state, the nation, and the world through time, to show that the cooperative and reciprocal relationships that typify the community are neither isolated inventions of a recently formed closed corporate system, the outcomes of a mythic and timeless pre-Hispanic past, nor a reflection of the shared psychological attitude of a population (see, for example, Redfield 1928, 1950). Structures of cooperation have evolved within the village and its population through time (Wolf 1986). As the needs of villagers have changed, so have their cooperative relationships and the meaning of reciprocity and communal action.
Chapter Two defines changes in the current economy. In particular, I discuss the growing importance of the production of handwoven, woolen textiles for export, the increase in transnational migration, and the decline of subsistence agriculture among villagers.
There has been a marked shift in economic activity among Santañeros. Only twenty years ago, villagers were concerned primarily with the reproduction and provisioning of the household and with meeting basic fmily needs. Much of a household's efforts focused on subsistence agriculture. Santañeros produced textiles and migrated for employment, but did not follow current patterns of production or levels of movement. Two decades ago, the migrant who left the community typically returned quickly and likely ventured no farther than Mexico City or Chiapas to fill seasonal jobs in the city or on coastal plantations. The weaver was likely to rely on his or her work as a minor supplement to farming, and lacked an export market for finished work.
Access to new markets, a growing demand for consumer goods, a rapidly increasing population, and Mexico's continued economic crisis brought Santañeros more directly into the global economy in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Nearly all families produce woolen textiles for export and sale in the local tourist market. Subsistence farming is on the decline and there is a growing number of villagers with little or no land for cultivation. Transnational migration is increasing as well. Santañeros may leave the village for years, returning infrequently, if at all, to visit family and friends (Cohen 1998; Conway and Cohen 1998).
Given these changes in local economic patterns and practices, cooperation remains a "key symbol" of Santañero life and an important element in the construction of modern Santañero society. As a key symbol, cooperation elaborates experience, orders knowledge, summarizes and grounds meaning, and orients social action (Ortner 1973). When older Santañeros recall a past where people supported and protected each other in trust and good faith, they are not simply telling us that cooperation is part of a bygone era and no longer important. Rather, they are using cooperation to evaluate and organize a world that is rapidly changing. Cooperation is more than an empty tradition. Members of the community invent new ways of cooperating and reorient traditional relationships to meet new needs, even as they participate in traditional forms of association and, in the process, rebuild the community as a social entity (Wilson 1993).
Chapters Three through Six define the structure of cooperation in Santa Ana, and explore the role of reciprocity in the construction, reproduction, and negotiation of social life. Used in the negotiation and evaluation of social life, cooperation has a complex nexus of meanings. It is rooted in the past and in traditional practices, but gains renewed importance through its application and purpose in the present. We can think of cooperation as a form of habitus. It is "history turned into nature." Cooperation and reciprocity are motivating structures, or "durable, transposable disposition[s]" that frame action and through which a group can formally measure behavior (Bourdieu 1977: 78, 73).
The Nature of Reciprocity and Cooperation
Cooperation is not restricted to a particular social context. It functions among household members, and between households in their associations with one another. Beyond the household, cooperation and reciprocity establish long-term relationships between friends and neighbors and within the community as a whole. Cooperation also organizes relationships at a distance, such as those that exist between Santañero migrants and their friends and relatives at home (see Hirabayashi 1993). Cooperation is the basis for the most intimate, profound, and long-lasting relationships any individual will hold. The ideologies of mutual support and harmony create strong bonds among family members (Nader 1990). Of course, these relationships are not the same for every individual, in every family or household. Furthermore, the structure of cooperation does not remain constant through the life course of a particular family, household, or network. Thus, after defining basic patterns of association, I examine how cooperation becomes a setting for the negotiation of status and prestige through time.
Restricted to the household, cooperation would not be the powerful social force it is in Santa Ana. Chapters Four and Five consider the place of cooperative relationships in community life. Attention is paid to the ways in which systems of guelaguetza, compadrazgo, and tequio reproduce the cooperative goals found within the family. Again, in this respect, cooperation is a key symbol through which villagers can talk about the social world, objectify and enact conventions of morality and community, and critique the world beyond the village (Ortner 1973; Watanabe 1992). Thus, cooperation and reciprocity create bonds between the various strata of Santañero society, and bring a sense of harmonía (harmony) to a system that might otherwise be marked by a great degree of conflict and contest (Nader 1990).
Santañero society is marked by both commitment and contest. Cooperative relationships are one way in which local hierarchy is constructed and power exercised. Reciprocity and cooperation can be structures for contest, and at the same time, platforms through which state hegemony is mediated. The mediation of state power happens in at least three ways: through the structure of local authority, the organization of local politics, and the limits that local systems for dispute resolution place on the state's legal bureaucracy.
First, the structure of authority in the community is not based on blatant coercion and open physical domination; rather, authority and power are exercised through reciprocity, patronage, and the careful movement of individuals through ever more prestigious (and burdensome) positions in local government (see López-Cortés 1991). The staged development of authority in the community parallels and reproduces the very hierarchical structure of local society, and the abuse of power is, to a degree, mediated by the public nature of local power (see Hardin 1993; Mousse 1988). In this familiar setting, individual politicians are easier to approach than they would be if installed through the exercise of state power or terror. Furthermore, political control—while unequally distributed and often favoring the wealthy at the expense of the poor—remains embedded in local systems of morality and service (see Coleman 1988).
Following Bourdieu (1977), it can be argued the situation is a classic example of symbolic violence. The rhetoric of cooperation is manipulated in the service to and construction of hierarchy. But it is a local hierarchy measured by local ideas of morality and commitment. As such, power and prestige within the community cannot be amassed like economic capital or used in the brute exercise of political domination. Scott makes the point quite clearly when he states "one can amass wealth whether or not others believe one to be wealthy. But prestige is something that others confer, not something that can be unilaterally acquired" (1989: 249).
A second set of contests occurs around the negotiation of political power and prestige in Santa Ana. Santañeros may be cynical when it comes to national presidential elections; however, where local politics are concerned, the ballot box and an ability to build a consensus remain influential correctives to the outright abuse of power within the village. In fact, one viliager went so far as to suggest that the president of the Republic needed to visit Santa Ana to understand the meaning of the term democracy. Putting his fate in the hands of villagers rather than the hands of big business would teach the president how to govern with the support of his constituency.
Nombramientos and cargos (like guelaguetza and compadrazgo) bring Santañeros together and establish "cross-linkages" (Nader 1990), orstructures that work to unite local society into a cohesive unit (El-Guindi and Selby 1976). All Santañeros, rich and poor, of high and low status, serve in local government from time to time as representatives of their families. Thus, a second way in which hierarchy is reproduced (and yet mediated) in local government is through the dynamic mix of wealthy and poor that marks the individuals who fill village committees.
Third and finally, the importance of local dispute resolution by village leaders limits the involvement of the state in community life. Local officials (typically alcaldes) adjudicate many of the disputes that arise among villagers in order to avoid the involvement of Mexico's formal judicial system (Nader 1990; Parnell 1988). Large disputes, such as the 1991 struggle between Catholic and evangelical factions, ended with outside mediation. However, the majority of decisions continue to be made within the village by the community's alcaldes (Cohen n.d.).
Cooperation is a powerful symbol used in the definition and social construction of community. Santañeros describe themselves as members of their community by fate of birth. However, community is more than a birthplace or birthright, and to remain an active participant in the social life of the community demands participation in locally sanctioned and defined relationships (see Watanabe 1992).
Thus, cooperation is not simply a story told about village life. Rather, it is a set of practices through which Santa Ana as a social entity is created. Cooperation and reciprocity are the arenas through which socially significant actions take place and through which the practices and commitments of Santañeros are measured (Barth 1992; Bender 1978). Geography comes to be less important than commitment. The migrant living far from home can be an active participant in the creation of community (Conway and Cohen rg98; Hirabayashi 1993). Alternatively, the local who declines to take part in cooperative relationships and the social life of the community will hold little meaning or importance in the construction, reproduction, and development of society.
Furthermore, cooperation is an evaluative structure that creates local identity through which Santañeros separate themselves from other communities and populations (see Eriksen 1991; Watanabe 1992). It matters very little that cooperative structures are found in most rural, indigenous communities in Mexico and Mesoamerica. For Santañeros, cooperation defines their community as a unique and uncommon entity. In this respect, cooperation becomes a framework for the mediation of ongoing social and economic change. Reciprocal ties and their historical development (whether real or simply perceived) become structures through which the community is defended against the impact of global capitalism (see Chapter Six and Conclusions). Santañeros may be part of a global economy, but cooperative networks locate the individual in a set of relationships that transcend the oppressive force of capitalism and the sometimes overpowering reach of the market. Santañero migrants who work in low-paying, low-prestige jobs know that they are not defined solely by their positions. They are also important members of families, households, and community as established through their social networks. In other words, cooperative and reciprocal networks divide the world into friendly and unfriendly realms, rendering it safe, knowable, and "according to the standards prevailing in society" (Marshall 1973: 72; Tester 1992: 10).
As a structure for the critique and comprehension of social, economic, and political forces, traditional social relationships are a measure against which Santañeros can judge themselves as well as their changing world. To be a Santañero is to choose a particular path, one defined by the reciprocal relationships shared with others. The pursuits of personal fortune (typically identified as antithetical to the structure of the Mexican peasant community, in Beltran 1967; Crumrine 1969; Redfield 1960) are not as problematic as the ways in which the resulting wealth is framed and, to some extent, used (see Greenberg 1995: 78). Thus, the wealthy Santañero who shares in the support and management of the community is looked upon with high regard. On the other hand, the merchant who severs social ties to the community but continues to live in its center is ridiculed (see Chapter Five). Furthermore, outsiders who enter the village (and here I am thinking of individuals hailing from as far away as Mexico City who have married into the village) and embrace the local framework of meaning and action as active participants are more likely to become successful members of the community than native-born Santañeros who choose to reject their role in village life.
Cooperation in a Changing World
Why does cooperation continue as a framework for action when research suggests it should decline in response to the growing involvement of the community in capitalism (see Hart 1982; Heyman 1990: 355; Marx 1906: 370; Mauss 1990: 46; Weber 1946: 215-216)? One key is the continued viability of cooperation and its local worth and status vis-à-vis the realities of Mexican politics and global market economics (see Granovetter 1995; Greenberg 1995; Stark 1992: 9; Wellman 1979).
Santañeros rely on, but are not necessarily limited by, the cooperative relationships in which they choose to participate. Associations that no longer serve to meet local needs are modified or abandoned. For example, the use of tequio to complete community projects is decreasing as work requirements change and the number of men available to participate declines in response to the rapid increase in migration. Alternatively, cooperación is increasing as Santañeros become embedded in global capital markets and comfortable with cash-based transactions.
Santañeros have established new ways of cooperating in response to changing situations and the demands (as well as possibilities) of a changing economy. Migrants develop social networks once they are settled in their new households (see Hirabayashi 1983; Kearney 1994, 1995). At home, basketball teams organized among friends and relatives create new frameworks for cooperation and contest within the village. Cooperation in these settings is based not on the need for mutual aid to guarantee survival but upon shared morality.
New opportunities and new markets lead to an improving local economy (although many families continue to struggle). Furthermore, market transactions have developed to replace subsistence agriculture and barter. However, cooperation remains important and develops as a social goal in and of itself. It is also a symbol of local identity and a tool in the constant evaluation and manipulation of local social relationships (Cohen n.d.).
The example of Santa Ana and the continued importance of cooperative relationships present an interesting contrast to Cancian's restudy of Zinacantán (1990; 1992). He found the village cargo system in sharp decline upon his return to the community. The decrease in participation was a dramatic change from his earlier research. At that time Zinacantecos competed for prestigious cargo offices, and the waiting lists that accompanied many posts were long (Cancian 1965). Participation in the cargos is waning as Zinacantecos grow involved in cash-based, extra-local economic relationships and business investment. As a result, Cancian found Zinacanteco society becoming more "atomistic" (Gilmore 1975), or focused on the individual, and less concerned with the well-being of the village (Cancian 1990).
Given parallel macroeconomic changes in Santa Ana and Zinacantán, how are we to explain the maintenance of cooperation in the former and its decline, signified by the collapse in the cargo waiting lists, in the latter? First, while changes in each community are similar, Santa Ana is smaller and lacks a set of satellite settlements around which conflicts arise. In fact, Santa Ana can be categorized as an economic satellite of Teotitlán. Not surprisingly, Santañeros are united in their dislike and mistrust of Teotitecos (people from Teotitlán, the dominant weaving village in the area). Santañeros describe their relationship with Teotitecos as "us against them." The ambivalence Santañeros feel toward Teotiteco merchants and intermediaries creates common ground in the village, and local conflict is, to a degree, less pronounced as tensions are eased by shared attitudes.
Second, Zinacantán is a site of political infighting. Mexico's various parties are associated with particular individuals, towns, and hamlets in the area (Cancian 1992: 150). In contrast, the PRI remains powerful in Santa Ana and there are few if any struggles over political parties and control.
Third, while Santañeros participate in a global market economy, much like Zinacantecos, the market is not a localized site for competition. In Zinacantán, economic development is manifest in the growth of the local trucking industry. In contrast, there are few opportunities for economic investment in Santa Ana. Apart from a handful of stores and businesses, the outward signs of growing class differences are few. Santañeros become part of the global economy through migration and the production of woven textiles for export, not through localized economic development. And while Santañeros weave for tourism and export out of their homes, the industry remains a mix of traditional technology, family workshops, and modern market relationships (Cook 1984). Weaving relies on the unpaid or underpaid participation of many family members, and is itself a framework for cooperative actions.
Fourth and finally, Santañeros working in the United States have not abandoned their reciprocal ties to family and community. Rather, migrants are instrumental in the maintenance of community and the continued development of the village (Smith 1992). Thus, in Santa Ana cooperation remains a viable framework for the organization and development of social solidarity.
In understanding the viability of cooperative associations in Santañero daily life, we do not necessarily need to deny the presence of tension, contradiction, and contest. If cooperation were a perfect system, we would not expect to hear words of mistrust such as those at the end of the "greeting dialogue" described in the opening of this introduction. Why the caution if the community is as peaceful as villagers maintain? Santañeros do cooperate, but they also use their relationships, symbols, and ideals to vie with one another for power and status within the community. We should not mistake the presence of cooperative relationships as evidence that local harmony always works, and that conflict is nonexistent among villagers (see Portes and Landolt 1996). Thus, understanding the meaning and place of cooperation among Santañeros demands that we determine how cooperative relationships are represented and manipulated in the service of local hierarchy, authority, and prestige.
The issues of contest in cooperation that are discussed throughout the text are highlighted in Chapter Six, where the tensions surrounding local politics are explored in detail. In 1992, a new generation of community leaders clashed with Santa Ana's "old guard." The village's new presidente municipal came into office with a set of projects and programs that he hoped would jump-start Santa Ana's economic development and lead to the improvement of the village's infrastructure and educational system (Cohen 1994). While most Santañeros supported the plans of the new administration, the president and his officers struggled throughout the early months of their tenure. The problems faced by the administration were not due to a lack of goals or a divergence of ideas between community and president. Rather, the difficulty lay in the misjudgments the president made, when it came time to promote a new set of developmental goals, concerning the importance of traditional practices (such as ritual drinking). The analysis of the president's controversial actions in Chapter Six, allows the opportunity to explore how cooperation, as a set of ideals as well as real relationships, becomes a setting for (and a force in) the negotiation of prestige, social identity, and community development.
The practice of cooperation and reciprocity in Santa Ana is not simple; rather, it identifies a set of complex relationships and attitudes used in the negotiation and evaluation of everyday life. It is rooted in household relationships and repeated in an ever widening circle of associations that can reach well beyond the physical boundaries of the village. This ethnography describes the meanings and uses of cooperation in contemporary Santañero social life.
Santañeros do not live in a vacuum, removed from external influence and interaction. The community is part of a rapidly globalizing market society. Therefore, an additional goal of this ethnography describes how cooperative relationships are built on local knowledge and traditional practices and remain viable in an increasingly cash-based economy (Wilson 1993). Finally, anthropologists have long been interested in the nature and meaning of community. However, in our analyses we are often tempted to overemphasize the importance of geography and misinterpret the centrality of social practice. Through the analysis of cooperative networks arnong Santañeros, we are able instead to define community as a "context of actions and result of actions but not as a thing" (Barth 1992: 31; Eriksen 1991). An emphasis on the use of social networks in the negotiation of social life, locally and beyond the physical village, allows us to understand how community becomes a powerful symbol even for migrants living far from their natal home. In effect, cooperation is a social filter mediating external forces of change and, in the process, defending cultural beliefs (Greenberg 1995; Mallon 1983; Smith 1989).
Is cooperation relevant and meaningful in a society that is growing ever more involved in international economics, politics, and culture? The example of Santa Ana suggests that structures of mutual support and reciprocity remain vital, and can increase in importance as tools to help a population make sense of change. In addition, cooperative relationships play an important role in self-defense and self-definition as a community makes and remakes itself as a social entity over time. I return to the odd juxtaposition of harmony and mistrust that opened this introduction and finish unraveling its meaning in the conclusions to this work. Cooperative relationships are the setting for consensus and contest, for resistance and hierarchy. They are the central symbols of what it means to be Santañero, and it is through the enactment of the various relationships that villagers create themselves and their community, and interpret their world.
By Jeffrey H. Cohen
"This is a clearly argued, well-documented ethnography of social cooperation in the face of economic and social change in [a] Zapotec town."
—John M. Watanabe, author of Maya Saints and Souls in a Changing World