Seminar Summary: ‘Survival and Social Exchange: The Relevance of Giving, Receiving and Reciprocating’

Event Description: UPD Seminar by Prof Mercedes González de la Rocha (CIESAS del Occidente, Mexico), 8 November 2016

Contributed by Ulises Moreno


Prof Mercedes González de la Rocha was introduced warmly by her long-time colleague and friend, Prof Sylvia Chant. Prof González de la Rocha has been a professor of social anthropology at CIESAS del Occidente, a highly esteemed institution for social sciences in Mexico. Her profile, which includes articles, book chapters, awards, projects, and her CV, can be found here. We used the hashtag #LSEDeLaRocha for Twitter.

Prof Mercedes González’s presentation titled, ‘Survival and Social Exchange: The Relevance of Giving, Receiving and Reciprocating’, dealt with gender and survival / livelihoods, gender and Conditional Cash Transfers, as well as social exclusion and work. The presentation was organised into four different sections. In her presentation, Prof González provided a review of literature encompassing the causes and effects of social isolation using three examples from different countries and times. She went on to provide a context of household responses to economic change as studied in various contexts in Latin America, which included a historical account of the erosion of work and the limits of diversification. She concluded by arguing that these elements contribute to social isolation, which consists of cumulative disadvantages.

In discussing the erosion of work, which she defined as the erosion of wages and work conditions, Prof González pointed out the economic shock of 1982 in Mexico did not work as good as some economic theorists may argue. Informal work did not proliferate during times of economic crisis. For example, 74% of men did not have contracts, 61% of those working did not have benefits. Women did not fare better in these accounts. She also discussed the limits of diversification and private adjustments, concluding that these were elements of social and physical isolation. This includes a weakening of social links amongst the poor—the concept of reciprocity, itself not a ‘natural’ phenomena because it implies costs and it needs to be nourished through cultural norms and social networks.

Prof González concluded her presentation with a discussion of how social isolation leads to cumulative disadvantages, meaning different vulnerabilities that cluster together and work to further increase social isolation. She argued that the fabric of communication, from family neighbourhoods to city wide levels, deteriorates in the process of economic shocks. This violent process also includes a refeminisation of poverty.

After her presentation, Prof González answered a couple of questions in a question and answer session. Both faculty and students then joined her for drinks at the local pub, which was followed by dinner with faculty members and some students from the LSE Geography’s Urbanisation & Development cluster.

Ulises Moreno is a Research Student in the Department of Geography and the Environment