Livelihood Survival Strategies: The Commodification of Cultural Objects During Disasters

Thursday, July 17, 2014: 10:30 AM
Room: Booth 48
Oral Presentation
Michele COMPANION , Sociology, University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, CO
This study examines the commodification of culture as an adaptive strategy among local street vendors. As migration from rural to urban zones occurs as a result of disasters, competition in market areas increases. These forces produce constraints on the market’s ability to absorb new vendors, but also create new opportunities. Vendors are forced to alter their offerings in order to compete. One adaptation has been to commercialize aspects of traditional culture to produce items specifically for the tourist trade. In parts of Ethiopia, this has included specializing in making traditional toothbrushes. While some are marketed to recent émigrés, others are carved more elaborately and marketed to tourists in the region. Some vendors have focused on creating new niches within traditional tourist items. In Mozambique, wood carvers have adapted a traditional tourist item, the three monkeys or “starving men” representing “hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil,” to include a fourth: “do no evil.” This represents the impact of HIV/AIDS in local communities. These markets developed in areas heavily frequented by missionaries and NGO activity. This study tracks the trend of expansion and adaptation of marketed items and provides vendor impressions of adaptation to disaster conditions.