Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Linda M. Whiteford


cooperation, development, disasters, reciprocity, resettlement


This dissertation addresses gaps in anthropological knowledge about how reciprocity--and a specifically Andean form of reciprocity--works in disaster and resettlement settings. This study looks at the practices of reciprocity in a disaster-affected community (Manzano) and a disaster-induced resettlement (Pusuca) in the Andean highlands of Ecuador. Specifically, it examines two aspects of reciprocal exchange practices in these sites. It first looks at some of the factors that affect the continuity of reciprocal exchange practices, which other studies have found to play a vital role in recovery from disasters and resettlement. It then looks to the roles of unequal power relations in the practices of reciprocity and a particularly Andean form of reciprocity and cooperative labor, the minga. The study identifies power-laden dynamics in the practice of reciprocity that tend to be overlooked in studies of social support and mutual aid in disasters and resettlements. I argue that these dynamics are critical to an examination of reciprocity in these contexts because they have important implications for the distribution of relief and development resources.

This study employed an iterative, mixed-method, 3-phase research strategy in the recursive discovery and corroboration of analytical domains and the evaluation of study hypotheses. In the first phase, exploratory observation, key informant interviews, and archival searches identified specific terms, practices, and events in order to design effective structured interview questions. In the second phase, I administered structured interviews to obtain quantitative indicators of reciprocal exchanges between group members, distribution of development benefits and collective resources, and occupational and socioeconomic data. In the third phase, I conducted focused observation and documentation of participation in decision-making, plus patterns of influence in public negotiations of development strategies and aid allocation.

The expectation of hypothesis 1 was that wage employment and residential distance would be negatively associated with minga participation. The results were mixed between the two sites. In Manzano, wage employment was not significantly associated with records of minga participation, but there was a significant negative correlation with residential distance and minga participation. In Pusuca, there were significant negative correlations with wage employment and residential distance with records of minga participation. The expectation of hypothesis 2 was that household exchange participation would be positively associated with minga participation. Multiple tests of the association between household minga attendance and total household exchange participation found positive associations between these two variables in Manzano, but not in Pusuca.

For hypothesis 3a, the expectation was that total household exchange participation would be positively associated with brokerage and decision-making power and statistical tests found a significant positive correlation between these variables in both sites. The implication is that one way that politically powerful individuals exercise and maintain their power is through forming reciprocal exchange ties. Those with more ties are more likely to act as brokers between their neighbors and scarce aid and development resources and more likely to have their views and agendas supported in local decision-making processes.

Hypothesis 3b tests the assumption that households connected through reciprocal exchange relations to highly connected households access a greater share of relief and development resources than others. Statistical tests indicated a significant positive association between being connected to highly connected households and project benefit inclusion in both sites. This suggests that it is not only the powerful that access scarce extra-local resources, but also their less connected allies, which can be taken as evidence of privileged inclusion as a form of power in both sites.

This study contributes to anthropological knowledge about the political economy of reciprocity in disaster-induced resettlements in two ways. First, it looks more broadly at the range of factors that could influence the continuity or disruption of practices of cooperation and reciprocal exchange in resettlement than other studies, which focuses on the narrow influence of policy practice. In this study, I draw on the economic anthropology of reciprocity and posit a possible role of wider political economic processes--growing integration into the capitalist wage labor economy--as an added explanatory factor for the dissolution of reciprocal exchange relations in post-disaster and resettlement contexts. The second way in which I seek to build upon these studies is by foregrounding the ways in which power relations are bound up in reciprocal exchange relations.