The imagination of tradition: pawnshops and anxiety on the edge of the global
Niko Besnier (Universiteit van Amsterdam)
Many people around the world mobilize the imagination as a resource to deal with the anxiety and materiality of ongoing crisis. Entrepreneurs in Tonga have set up pawnshops that offer monetary loans to needy customers but only accept traditional textiles as collateral. The demand for these textiles is increasing, as fewer women produce them and people are under pressure to provide larger and larger quantities in exchange ritual, but so is the need for money. Pawnshop owners, predominantly men, convert valuables into commodities and transform the social logic of prestation, but these transformations are suffused with anxiety revolving around gender, prestige, and shame. While representing an imaginative elaboration of tradition at moments of crisis, Tongan pawnshops are not good candidates for the usual celebration with which anthropologists generally approach the imagination, but they demand that we focus equally on the materiality of need and the intersubjective play of emotions.
Economic crisis or the crisis of an imagined economy