Emotion in Exchange: Situating Hmong Depressed Mood in Social Context


  • Christian Postert


The connections between emotions and social exchange in non-Western communities remain largely uncharted. I conducted long-term anthropological fieldwork on the dynamics of depressed mood in exchange cycles from 2000 to 2002 in Hmong highland villages in the Province of Luang Phabang, Laos. Hmong gift and commodity exchanges embody diametrically opposed values and different social configurations. Hmong depressed mood (tu siab) emerges as a regulatory device at the tension-laden intersection of these opposing spheres of social exchange. Tu siab is part of a bidirectional process that connects the individual and social realm and may be conceived of as a means of local cultural resistance to global processes of monetarization and commodification. Comparison to Hmong communities in French Guiana reveals that depressed mood plays a key role in the regulation of exchange even after substantial socioeconomic transformations in the framework of global and local market economies. These data provide evidence of the deep embeddedness of Hmong depressed mood (tu siab) in specific cultural contexts, challenging universalizing and psychopathologizing approaches to cross-cultural research on emotions.