The Genesis of Capitalism Amongst a South American Peasantry Michael Taussig Taussig beliefs are based on his field research. He believed that the behavior and certain beliefs of lower classes suggest that the characteristics of the capital mode of production are viewed as unnatural and even evil. His belief that semi-proletarianized peasants in Colombia can make a contract with the devil that will cause them to make a good deal of money, but that this money can be spent only on frivolous consumer goods, and that the cutter will die an early miserable death.
Taussig suggests that earlier anthropologists might have argued that this belief is a hold-over from pre-capitalist culture, or serves as a levelling mechanism that ensures no individual can become significantly wealthier than the other workers. Taussig argues that through the devil, peasants express their recognition that capitalism is based on the magic belief that capital is productive, when in fact capitalism breeds poverty, disease, and death.
Another of Taussig theories is that peasants’ representing their own understanding of capitalism’s claim that capital is productive: the belief that some people engineer a switch that results in a peso, rather than a baby, being baptized. The consequence is that the money, alive, will return to its original owner no matter how it is spent, and bring more money back with it. Michael Taussig also believed that that people living in the periphery of the world capitalist economy have a critical vantage point on capitalism, and articulate their critiques of capitalism in terms of their own cultural idioms.
Taussig concludes that anthropologists should study peoples living on the periphery of the world capitalist economy as a way of gaining critical insight into the anthropologists’ own culture. This will have the anthropologists’ object of study from that of other cultures to that of their own, and repositions the former objects of anthropological study as valued critical thinkers. QUESTION ONE What does wage labor mean to a peasant? QUESTION TWO What is the natural character attributed to monetary exchange and the productive process?