Abstract: Among the early contact-period aboriginal societies of Northeast North America, objects that were perceived to be potent – including many obtained from European sources – fed into a burgeoning local ‘economy of emotion-work’. This system involved characteristic cycles of mundane and ritual exchange focussed on the accumulation and dispersal of bodies and belongings. The consequence of this process was, arguably, a distinctive way of structuring personhood vis-à-vis the village community.
Intriguingly, the social efficacy of this economy depended on ’emotion-work’ accomplished by the iterative bundling and fragmentation of highly affective, inalienable objects. Exchange with Europeans, however, required that alienable objects obtained in trade be materially transformed into inalienable ones appropriate to the demands of this affective economy.
Certain media, such as wampum (marine shell beads) and smoking pipes, were particularly suited to accomplishing these transformations, and were therefore crucial ‘switchers’ that linked local and global economies in the early seventeenth-century.
Dr. John L. Creese is a postdoctoral research fellow at the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, University of Cambridge. His current research explores changes in the configuration of social power, community, and identity among ancestral Iroquoian societies of eastern North America.
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