This volume on the Andean Indians’ participation in the market economy from contact in the sixteenth century to the present is composed of a dozen and a half papers first presented at a conference on the topic held in Sucre, Bolivia, in 1983. One collective objective, to paraphrase the compilers, was to bridge the gap (“salvar la distancia ”) between ethnohistorians who insist on the durability of Andean cultural and institutional norms in the face of market integration and economic historians who analyze the power of the market and the state to transform these norms during the whole of the colonial and republican eras (p. 21). Even a cursory review of the literature published over the last decade or so would substantiate the fact that the question is an important one and that the possibility of analyzing continuity and change from various methodological perspectives would greatly further serious research.

The various presentations used both standard documentary historical analysis and ethnography to determine the social and cultural consequences of the complex process by which the typically highland Indian was integrated into the market. Although some of the participants focused on very specific geographical areas (Larson and León, Lewinski, Platt, Langer, and others) at widely scattered points on the calendar, their findings coincide at several points. Perhaps the most significant point of correspondence relates to one also made by George Foster for Tzintzuntzan (Mexico) in the 1960s. He learned that many Indians participated in the market to maintain their status and traditional ways of life. His findings are substantiated here for the Andes. Saignes, who extends Assadourian’s, Hidalgo’s, and Dandler’s analyses, for example, described the contradictory role of the curaca (paramount lord) who sold his subjects’ labor or used mercantile activities to subsidize tribute payment and otherwise defend the community’s existence (see also Choque). Harris, on a variation on this theme, found that Indians sold potatoes to acquire valley products and cattle and to support traditional religious festivities. Thus, the market may have changed indigenous life in one or several respects, but it also often allowed natives to continue to defend or maintain the viability of their customary ways and traditional practices. Larson and León, Platt (in an innovative and original historical study), and Molina (in an excellent ethnographic piece) point out also that participation in the modern market sector does not preclude the simultaneous and continuing use of traditional means of exchange to meet other needs. Some communities combine the two very effectively. Resistance to market forces, according to Stern and Platt, was rare.

For an indigenous community, in short, the market does not necessarily mean a total disintegration and disappearance of long-held values and customs. Sometimes, however, contact with the market does have adverse effects. Some individuals so accepted capitalistic values that they began to accumulate material wealth. Such a process is hard on communities because, in at least one documented case (Langer), it produced an ever-widening gap between rich and poor. Those with land employed those with less or none as laborers. Thus, one effect is to weaken, polarize, or break the solidarity of the whole community.

Market participation might, secondly, marginalize and eventually undermine the ties some individuals have with the community. Some individuals leave, but maintain ties or return (Albó, Greaves, and Sandoval). Others eventually lose contact. As acculturation takes place along a continuum from comunero to forastero to yanacona to mestizo (cholo or ladino), individuals pass out of the cultural category of Indian altogether (Klein; Albó, Greaves, and Sandoval; Zulawski; and Santamaría). Market participation can thus entail a process of social and cultural mobility that is not necessarily linear or accomplished in one lifetime but affects the demographic future and possibly the very existence of the community.

This sampling of findings suggests that this tome of almost 800 pages is an important contribution to the field. It does have an unfinished quality, because there is no concluding and summary chapter to answer the question of why historians emphasize change and ethnohistorians emphasize continuity, or to synthesize the findings. Some would agree that it was enough to cover the highlands of southern Peru and Bolivia—where it is generally agreed (following Murra) that there were no established and regular markets or merchants before 1532. Others may wonder (as did I) why one or two papers were not sacrificed to make room for a discussion that would at least sample the research from other Andean regions (present-day Ecuador and the north and central coasts of Peru) where markets and specialists whom the Spanish called “merchants” were early evident. Such inclusion would have necessarily meant a closer look at the time of cultural transition before the Toledan era, but would have made this collection the definitive word to date on a crucial aspect of the relationship between traditional and modern sectors of society and the modernization process itself.