Accepted paper:

Bodily skills, affective relations and inequality in Mexican craft production


Alanna Cant (University of Kent)

Paper short abstract:

This paper demonstrates the ambiguous position of Mexican artisans employed by relatives, through exploring the bodily skills and labour practices involved in their work. It argues that both attachment and alienation can emerge from seemingly favourable work conditions within familial household workshops.

Paper long abstract:

Even when embedded within capitalist economies, artisanal production is frequently understood by states, development institutions, and consumers as inherently more egalitarian and less alienating than industrial forms of production; crafts are often assumed to be communally beneficial products, rooted in place-based traditions or cultural identities. While earlier analyses have emphasized gender and class inequalities that emerge in contexts of craft production, in this paper I argue that artisanal labour may produce other kinds of inequalities that are particular to craft contexts. Based on ethnographic research in San Martín Tilcajete, a Mexican woodcarving village, I show that while skilled labour within small household-based workshops appears to foster achievement and economic well-being, in fact this socially embedded production creates ambiguous conditions for those artisans who work in the workshops of relatives. Drawing on analyses of "affective labour," I argue that the intermingling of kinship and employment relations within San Martín's household-workshops locates the overall value of artisanal labour in the interconnections of different people's bodily skills, thus generating affective attachments amongst artisans and between artisans and their work. At the same time, however, these durable affective relations put pressure on employees to remain in their relative's employment rather than using their skills to establish their own workshops, and potentially finding greater work fulfillment and economic security. I demonstrate that "affective labour" not only can produce social relations, but also economic relations and physical objects, and also that relations of solidarity themselves might at times produce particular forms of inequality and alienation.

panel P30
The uncertain bodily relations of contemporary economic practice