University of Texas at Austin XXIX Annual ILASSA Student Conference, February 5-7, 2009

Paper: Entrepreneurialism and Affectivity: Selling Poverty and Childhood in Cusco

Cusco, Peru is one of Latin America’s leading tourist destinations. With Machu Picchu and other nearby Inca ruins as the main attractions, tourism has become the principal economic and development strategy for the city. This is apparent not just through numerous public and private investments in tourism infrastructure, and the popularity of guiding as a profession, but also because of the many families who participate in an informal street economy, vending souvenirs and artisanal products to tourists. Local children compose an active group of the most successful vendors, often because of the entrepreneurial strategies they have developed for engaging their clients. Child vendors creatively draw on their own discourses of poverty and childhood to encourage both cultural and economic exchanges, with the affectivity of children enabling them to earn as much as—or more than—their parents. This dissertation project investigates the interactions between children and tourists in Cusco in a number of spaces, including the streets and in aid centers. Focusing on interactions in this first space, this paper will explore several of the strategies that children use, including their development, how they are passed on between vendors, and their success. The economic roles that children play within their families, and the motivations children offer as to why they sell, will also be discussed. This project contributes to anthropological and interdisciplinary studies of childhood, poverty, and tourism, by exploring the economic and cultural exchanges that occur between local children and foreign tourists. In focusing on the children’s perspectives on their own labor and viewing their strategies as entrepreneurially supportive of their families, the project allows a nuanced understanding of child labor as both a global phenomenon and a real issue that many different actors are negotiating in Cusco.

Aviva Sinervo