American Anthropological Association Annual Meeting, November 17-21, 2010

Panel: Circulations, Children, and Childhood

Paper: Circulating Imagery of Andean Childhood Poverty: Vending Postcards in Cusco, Peru

Co-written with Michael Hill

This paper examines the circulation of imagery of childhood and poverty in tourist markets in Cusco, Peru, drawing on analysis of popular postcards picturing “poor Andean children,” as well as on ethnographic fieldwork and interviews with image producers, tourist consumers, child vendors, and a range of locals. We argue that the deceptively simple act of a tourist buying and sending a postcard is only one nodal point in systems of circulation and interpretation involving numerous diversely positioned actors. Even as political-economic conditions allow for the reification of images in stereotypical ways, we make the case that what people do in the circulation of those images is much more crucial in understanding their structural and cultural effects. We discuss children’s roles in the development of this postcard genre and the strategies that child vendors use to sell postcards to tourists, as well as narratives by both children and tourists reflecting on the visual repertoires represented in the cards. The postcards by themselves are evocative objects that narrate economy, age, and culture in particular ways. Yet in the circulation of these images, children challenge those same readings and offer alternative lenses for viewing childhood in Cusco.

Aviva Sinervo