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Economy, Trade and Technology in the South-Central Andes

The interest that sustains this line of research goes back to my late high-school years in the aftermath of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in 1992. It was the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit that brought social well-being, cultural diversity and ecological sustainability into the international debate on development. The conference heightened public awareness and political recognition of the limits of capitalist growth. In order to understand the interrelation of cultural, environmental and economic issues, I studied anthropology, geography and economics at the University of Freiburg (Germany) and the University of Seville (Spain) from 1997 to 2003. Anthropology’s close ethnographic look at and engagement with everyday life was irrestistibly appealing.

After my doctoral research on labour migration from Bolivia and Ecuador to Spain (2007-2011), I went to the Andean high plateau with a project on commodity chains of electronic appliances from China via Chile into Bolivia (2013-2019). This research tackles the endurance of hundreds of traders as market participants in the electronics trade in Bolivia – traders who not only regularly source in China, but are collectively organised, care for their market territory both socially and ritually, and manage to defend their interests vis-à-vis national companies and global players such as Samsung and Huawei.

My new project (2019-2021) addresses the storage, repair and recycling of outdated electronic equipment, parts and materials in La Paz. Starting from insights from the previous research, it looks at processes of valuation and commercialization of ‘electronic waste’ in a historical culture of scarcity and an ecologically fragile highland environment.  

Related publications and links:

2021 The Limits of Corporate Chains and Brand Management: “Loyalty” and the Efficacy of Vernacular Markets in the Andes. Cultural Anthropology 36(2): 252-281.

2020 Webs of Fiesta-related Trade. Chinese Imports, Investment and Reciprocity in La Paz, Bolivia. Critique of Anthropology 40 (2): 238-263.

2020 Labelling, Packaging, Scanning: Commodity Paths and Diversions of Mobile Phones in the Andes. In: Exploring Materiality and Connectivity in Anthropology and Beyond, edited by Schorsch, Philipp, Saxer, Martin and Marlen Elders. London: UCL Press. 116-133.

2019 (Eveline Dürr and Juliane Müller, eds.). The Popular Economy in Urban Latin America: Informality, Materiality, and Gender in Commerce. Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books/Rowman & Littlefield.

2018 Andean-Pacific Commerce and Credit: Bolivian Traders, Asian Migrant Businesses, and International Manufacturers in the Regional Economy. Journal for Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology 23(1): 18–36. DOI: 10.1111/jlca.12328.

Re-published in: Trade, Trading, and Inequality, edited by Antrosio, Jason and Sallie Han. Open Anthropology 7(3) (Dec. 2019).

2018 Introduction: Popular Economies and the Remaking of China-Latin America Relations. Journal for Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology 23(1):  9–17. doi/abs/10.1111/jlca.12339 (with Rudi Colloredo-Mansfeld).

2017 Place-Based (In)Formalization: A Bolivian Marketplace for Consumer Electronics and Global Brands. Latin American Research Review 52(3): 393–404. DOI:

2017 La regulación del comercio en Bolivia: de la economía informal al mercado extralegal [The regulation of commerce in Bolivia: from informal economy to extralegal market]. Latin American Journal of Economic Development 28: 119-134.

2016 Plurale Ökonomie anders denken: Populärer Handel im Plurinationalen Staat Bolivien [Rethinking the Plural Economy: Popular Commerce in Pluri-National Bolivia]. Psychosozial 145(39): 95-109.

2015 Etnografía del área comercial Eloy Salmón (La Paz, Bolivia): Transformaciones territoriales, estrategias económicas y prácticas culturales [Ethnography of the Commercial Area Eloy Salmón (La Paz, Bolivia): Territorial Transformations, Economic Strategies, and Cultural Practices]. Revista Temas Sociales 37: 13-34.