Author: Olivia Angé
Dates: 30th of June 2022
Venue: L’Homme, Spécial Issue Négative Ethics
Link to the publication:


In classic anthropological literature, barter epitomises materially interested transactions, in contrast with the gift, which is chiefly intended to create relatedness. Conversely, Andean scholarship has posited the direct exchange of agricultural produce as a benevolent act at the cornerstone of social organisation. This paper challenges both perspectives by exploring the ambivalent ethics of cambio, a direct transaction of produce from highland herders and lowland cultivators in the Argentinean Andes. Reportedly inherited from the ancestors, cambio equivalences are posited as an enactment of fairness between dwellers of complementary ecological niches. Yet what counts as the “elders’ measures” is often subject to controversy, and accusations of cheating abound. This paper argues that cheating, as both discursive regime and material transfer, is not only an economic abuse or a social failure but a constitutive part of cambio interactions. Both decried and normalised, practices and discourses of cheating bring forth identity and alterity between cambio partners, enacting an agricultural “collective” in the encounter of complementary ecological communities. Hence, considering the complex interplays between conceptions of good and bad invites us to rethink the polarised ethics of barter and to acknowledge the importance of instrumental exchange in the making of ethical self.