For centuries throughout large portions of the globe, petty agriculturalists and industrialists have set their physical and mental energies to work producing products for direct consumption by their households and for exchange. This twofold household reproduction strategy, according to both Marxist and neoclassical approaches to development, should have disappeared from the global economy as labor was transformed into a producer as well as a consumer of capitalist commodities. But in fact, during the twentieth century, only the United States and Britain seem to have approximated this predicted scenario. Tens of millions of households in contemporary Asia, Africa, and Latin America and millions more in industrialized capitalist economies support themselves through petty commodity production alone or in combination with petty industry wage labor.
Obliging Need provides a detailed and comprehensive analysis of small-scale peasant and artisan enterprise in the Oaxaca Valley of Mexico. The authors show how commodity production is organized and operates in different craft industries, as well as the ways in which it combines with other activities such as household chores, agriculture, wage labor, and petty commerce. They demonstrate how—contrary to developmentalist dogma—small-scale capitalism develops from within Mexico's rural economy.
These findings will be important for everyone concerned with improving the lives and economic opportunities of countryfolk in the Third World. As the authors make clear, political mobilization in rural Mexico will succeed only as it addresses the direct producers' multiple needs for land, credit, more jobs, health insurance, and, most importantly, more equitable remuneration for their labor and greater rewards for their enterprise.
By Scott Cook and Leigh Binford
Scott Cook is Emeritus Professor of Anthropology at the University of Connecticut, Storrs. Leigh Binford is Professor of Sociology, Anthropology and Social Work at the College of Staten Island, City University of New York.
"… a detailed and comprehensive survey of rural artisan activity in a well-known and important region of Mexico. Very few studies have ever been completed with this depth and rigor in any part of the world, and even fewer have been effectively written up as books. …it provides an interesting bridge between the ideas and methods of economic anthropology and those of rural sociology." —Ray Bromley, Professor of Geography and Planning, State University of New York at Albany