Anthropologist’s Research on Maya Street Vendors Receives Another Accolade

Anthropology Professor Walter Little's co-edited volume, Street Economies in the Urban Global South (School for Advanced Research, 2013), won the 2014 Society for the Anthropology of Work Book Prize. The book is an ethnography that focuses on the ways street vendors maintain their livelihood in the face of national and international economic and regulatory changes in cities such as Hanoi in Vietnam, Kumasi in Ghana, and Cusco in Peru. The book was the result of an Advanced Seminar awarded to Professor Little and his co-editors, Professor Karen Tranberg Hansen of Northwestern University and Professor B. Lynne Milgram of the Ontario College of Art and Design University. The book includes a chapter by Professor Little as well as one by Professor Ray Bromley of the Department of Geography and Planning.

Professor Little has spent his career studying the socio-economic and political lives of Latin Americans, primarily indigenous peoples. His multi-sited ethnographic research combines political economy and interpretive perspectives in order to better understand the politics of ethnic identity, international aid and development, tourism, marketplaces, and urban space.

Professor Walter Little and his co-editorsIn his recent book, Professor Little authored the chapter “Maya Street Vendors’ Political Alliances and Economic Strategies in the Tourism Spectacle of Antigua, Guatemala” in which he outlines the past and present strategies used by Maya street vendors to assert their place in the public spaces in Antigua, a place that had been denied them by municipal authorities seeking to create an orderly city center by excluding the chaotic Maya marketplace. During his extensive field work in Antigua over the past several years, Professor Little observed shifts in how street vendors approach this perennial issue. Most recently, they have begun to leverage their portrayal in mass media as a part of the Antigua tourism experience in order to gain access to previously restricted places such as the city center, hotel lobbies, and the like. Professor Little couches his observations in Guy Debord’s spectacle and contemplates whether the vendors’ reinsertion into public spaces constitutes the commodification of their heritage.

Professor Little has been on the faculty of the Department of Anthropology since 2003 and director of the Institute for Mesoamerican Studies since 2010. In addition to three co-authored books, several co-edited volumes, and numerous peer-reviewed articles, Professor Little authored Mayas in the Marketplace: Tourism, Globalization, and Cultural Identity (University of Texas Press, 2004), an ethnographic study of Maya handicraft vendors that won "Best Book of 2005" from the New England Council for Latin American Studies. He teaches undergraduate and graduate level courses on Mesoamerica, cultural and urban anthropology, and ethnology.