THE DEVIL AND COMMODITY FETISHISM IN SOUTH AMERICA by Michael T. Taussig

Michael T. Taussig, The Devil and Commodity Fetishism in South America: Thirtieth Anniversary Edition. University of North Carolina Press, 2010.

Originally published in 1980, I first heard of this book as a recommendation from Max Gladstone. It is an anthropological study – one might call it a Marxist anthropological synthesis – of certain cultural and social practices present in some areas of 1960s and 1970s South America. It focuses in particular on a practice of the “devil bargain” among male agricultural workers, and on practices involving a figure known as the “Tio,” or “uncle,” a devil-like figure, which are carried out by Bolivian tin-miners. Taussig strives to argue from historical cultural context, and makes a strong case for the continuity (and adaptation under new pressures) of historic cultural forms.

This is a complex book, with a strong theoretical focus drawing on Marx, which is not an area in which I’m competent to say much. But it is fascinating read, if at times a difficult one to follow.