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The Value of Aesthetics: Oaxacan Woodcarvers in Global Economies of Culture

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Published as a monograph in 2019 by The University of Texas Press

Recipient of the Emslie Horniman Anthropological Scholarship, 2007


This project is based on twenty months of ethnographic fieldwork (2008-2009) with artisans in the village of San MartÍn Tilcajete, Oaxaca, where Oaxacan woodcarvings (or “alebrijes”) are produced for sale to tourists, art collectors, museums and wholesalers. The central theoretical concern is how the aesthetic projects and expectations of art producers and consumers condition the economic and social worlds in which artisans and artists work and live. 


The publications based on this research address questions that fall within three general themes: (1) artisans’ aesthetic practices, including questions of how production is experienced aesthetically and conceptualisations of authorship, style and skill; (2) how different actors’ aesthetic sensibilities produce and reproduce the woodcarvings as a genre; and (3) the political consequences of these aesthetic practices for issues of competition, community politics, belonging and emergent understandings of aesthetic ownership, now frequently framed in the language of intellectual property. In making these arguments, the project also charts the nature of contemporary artisanal work from the micro-level of household workshops, to international experiences of artisans in the ethnic art markets in the United States, and to large-scale issues of the globalization of culture.



1. ​2022. The Best Books About People Who Make Things For A Living.

2. 2019. The Value of Aesthetics: Oaxacan woodcarvers in Global Economies of Culture. Austin: University of Texas Press.

3. 2023. 'Writing Practices' and Writing 'Practices': observation and struggle in fieldnotes about artisanal work.' In C. Bose and M. Mohsini, eds. Encountering Craft
Methodological Approaches from Anthropology, Art History, and Design
. Abingdon: Routledge. (Download text only)​

4. 2020. The Politics of Craft and Working Without Skill. In. D. Wood, ed. Craft Is Political: Economic, social and technological Contexts. London: Bloomsbury. (Download text only)​​

5. 2018. “Making” Hierarchies of Labour in Mexican Artisanal Workshops.’ Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 24(S1): S61-S74. (Download text only)​

6. 2016. The Art of Indigeneity: aesthetics and competition in Mexican economies of culture. Ethnos: Journal of Anthropology 81(1): 152-177.  (Download text only)

7. 2016. Who Authors Crafts? Producing woodcarvings and authorship in Oaxaca, Mexico.  Critical Craft: Technology, Globalization and Capitalism Clare Wilkinson-Weber and Alicia Ory de Nicola (eds). London: Bloomsbury, pp. 19-34. (Download text only)

8. 2015. The Allure of Art and Intellectual Property: artisans and industrial replicas in Mexican cultural economies. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 21(4): 820-837. (Download text only)

9. 2015. One Image, Two Stories: Ethnographic and Touristic Photography and the Practice of Craft in Mexico’ Visual Anthropology 28 (4): 277-285. (Download text only)

10. 2012. American Aesthetics and Chinese copies: the new politics of artisanship in Oaxaca, Mexico. Anthropology News 53(10) [December 2012]: 48-49.

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