The University of Arizona

Incommensurability and new economic strategies among indigenous and traditional peoples

Kathleen Lowrey


This article takes as a central problem why both a tiny laboratory and an enormous national park were almost simultaneously established in a remote tropical Bolivian indigenous community (Isoso) in the mid-1990s. Both projects – laboratory and the park – were oriented to non-economic values: the laboratory to those of traditional medicine and culture and the park to those of unspoiled nature. However, Isoseño people were particularly attentive to the projects' economic value, exploring the ways these might act as wellsprings of money revenue. The analysis presented here suggests that the tension among divergent orders of value that characterizes the contemporary global situation can present special opportunities, and not just challenges, to indigenous and traditional peoples living in places like Isoso. The essay brings together discussions of "incommensurability" made separately in recent cultural anthropological and ecological economic literature in order to show how and why this is so.

Key words: indigenous peoples, economic strategies, traditional medicine, incommensurability, Bolivia, national park

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