American Anthropological Association Annual Meeting, December 2-6, 2009

Panel: Cultural Transmission and the Paradox of Children’s Agency

Paper: Cusco’s Child Vendors: Between Independence, Collaboration, and Coercion

In the streets and central plazas of Cusco, Peru, child vendors offer souvenirs and postcards to tourists who have come from all over the world to see Machu Picchu and other Inca ruins. Cusco’s children have developed entrepreneurial strategies for engaging their tourist clients, often creatively drawing on their own discourses of poverty and childhood to encourage both cultural and economic exchanges. Participation as informal vendors in this economy is often the affair of entire families, but children may earn as much as—or more than—their parents. Unlike common representations of “street children” as independent or abandoned by their families, many of Cusco’s child vendors are engaging in this informal economy alongside their parents and siblings. This paper will examine the ways in which children devise marketing strategies in collaboration, and in tension, with their peers and elders. In exploring the contradictions between how children sell, how wage-earning is actually distributed among members of a family, and how children’s selling strategies are created, this paper will consider the paradoxical nature of children’s agency.

Aviva Sinervo