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Work, Cultural Resources, and Community Commodities in the Global Economy



In order to defend work and livelihoods, many communities claim special cultural value for their trades, products, or crops. In this special issue, we examine what makes a trade or a particular commodity a cultural asset, drawing on the details of four distinct cases: Russian salmon, Peruvian ceramics, Indonesian textiles, and Bolivian quinoa. Our analysis focuses on two crucial features: (1) a product's embeddedness in subsistence routines, ritual, and local hierarchies of status, and (2) a good's encloseability, or the features of place, community connectivity, or economic training that allows a group to monopolize a product or service. We frame our analysis as a “commons” problem for the way that it entails balancing private enterprises with shared responsibility for stewardship of a trade. Furthermore, a commons perspective helps assess the specific vulnerabilities of cultural assets and the way they can be simultaneously underused and overused. A key contribution of this set of papers is to show how shared cultural resources emerge in the midst of market activities and are not merely legacies of premarket relations and subsistence economies.