Three Essays on Economic Anthropology: Economic Development in Three Colombian Communities

Andres Gramajo

Advisor: Tyler Cowen, PhD, Department of Economics

Enterprise Hall, 318
July 04, 2006, 08:00 PM to 07:00 PM


This dissertation combines concepts of economics and methods of anthropology to analyze development in three rural communities in Colombia: (1) the indigenous Wayuu of La Guajira, (2) the non-indigenous of La Chamba, and (3) the indigenous Ticuna of the Colombian Amazon. What these communities have in common is craft production. Each essay, however, is an independent unit, has a different analytical framework, and comes to its own conclusions. The dissertation is based on eight months of fieldwork in Colombia, from July 2005 to March 2006. The first essay claims that there are characteristics of the institutional structures of some indigenous societies that, in some cases, prevent economic development by complicating the emergence of extra-family networks (social capital), as well as the transition from personal to impersonal exchange; these complications are illustrated in the context of the Wayuu people from the Guajira Peninsula of Colombia. The second essay claims that the La Chamba community experiences some of the characteristics of Schumpeter's (1949) idea of economic development; this case is important because it represents several mestizo communities in Latin America that experience deep involvement in national and international craft markets. The market economy penetrates La Chamba, fostering technological change, improving economic development, and creating economic differences across households. Finally, the third essay argues that two different manifestations of rational behavior coexist and collide in a Ticuna community in the Colombian Amazon; on the one hand, the majority of villagers tend to reach certain levels of material wealth (following the reasoning of Simon, 1947; 1997; Simon and Associates, 1986; Simon et al, 1989; Sahlins, 1972), and on the other hand, community leaders and schoolteachers tend to maximize their material wealth (Becker, 1981). These behavioral frameworks help explain the limited success of certain types of development programs in the Ticuna community.