The Chicken and the Quetzal

Incommensurate Ontologies and Portable Values in Guatemala's Cloud Forest

The Chicken and the Quetzal

Book Pages: 208 Illustrations: Published: January 2016

Author: Paul Kockelman

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Latin American Studies > Central America, Sociology > Social Theory

In The Chicken and the Quetzal Paul Kockelman theorizes the creation, measurement, and capture of value by recounting the cultural history of a village in Guatemala's highland cloud forests and its relation to conservation movements and ecotourism. In 1990 a group of German ecologists founded an NGO to help preserve the habitat of the resplendent quetzal—the strikingly beautiful national bird of Guatemala—near the village of Chicacnab. The ecotourism project they established in Chicacnab was meant to provide new sources of income for its residents so they would abandon farming methods that destroyed quetzal habitat. The pressure on villagers to change their practices created new values and forced negotiations between indigenous worldviews and the conservationists' goals. Kockelman uses this story to offer a sweeping theoretical framework for understanding the entanglement of values as they are interpreted and travel across different and often incommensurate ontological worlds. His theorizations apply widely to studies of the production of value, the changing ways people make value portable, and value's relationship to ontology, affect, and selfhood. 


"The Chicken and the Quetzal is exemplary of semiotic ethnography, a thriving genre in linguistic anthropology that details much more than the linguistic aspect of social life.... Its theoretical contribution to linguistic anthropology is significant, and it offers an invitation to dialogue with other ways of doing anthropology and social science.... I encourage you to read the book, to respond, and so to generate the value that the semiotic process produces, coined in the currency of social relationality." — Christopher Ball, Anthropological Quarterly

"Kockelman is at his best when he deals with concrete examples, such as the cultural meaning embedded in language structures. It is these brilliant and illuminating insights that anthropological and historical specialists in Guatemala and elsewhere will find so thought-provoking." — Michael D. Kirkpatrick, History: Reviews of New Books

"By constantly recognising the universal in the local this book is anthropology at its best. Not an easy read, but this possible shortcoming in terms of immediate use value for Latin Americanists is more than made up for by being presented in an entertaining style which positively invites any reader to reflect on the fundamentals of research." — Stener Ekern, Journal of Latin American Studies

"In The Chicken and the Quetzal, Kockelman proves that he is one of anthropology’s last great system-builders. His analytical framework can be applied to any ethnographic object, regardless of time or place. Moreover, its multiple elements are of a piece.... [P]ondering the lessons of The Chicken and the Quetzal is a worthwhile endeavour for any anthropologist, from the beginning student to the seasoned professor." — Michael Cepek, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

"By providing an analysis of a case study as well as a meta-analysis of the academic discipline in which he writes, Kockelman establishes his book at the nexus of local and cross-disciplinary scales." — Andrea Delgado, Ameriquests

"This volume is a brilliant in-depth analysis that repays rereading not only for its empirical observations, but also for its theoretical connections to classic works by Marx, Veblen, Pierce and others. Whilst Kockelman explores the construction of values deep in the Guatemalan Cloud Forest, with a little imagination his work can be translated to address research in developed world urban contexts where value creation has become a key focus of applied tourism research." — Adrian R. Bailey, Tourism Management

"Paul Kockelman’s new book is an exhilarating read: the theoretical scope is ambitious, pulling together Peircian semiotics, neo-Marxist political economy, and Foucauldian critical studies, and the particular case study of a Maya Q’eqchi’ community’s interactions with foreign conservationists is compelling." — Edward F. Fischer, Journal of Linguistic Anthropology

"Kockelman discerningly constructs his analysis as a framework for extrapolating local observations to global concerns, positioning the book to offer perspectives of interest to critical geographers, political ecologists, feminist scholars, and Latin Americanists alike." — Jordan R. Cissell, Journal of Latin American Geography

"Rather like the fanciful flight of the title’s resplendent quetzal, Kockelman soars into abstraction, dives through delightful tours of linguistic untangling, then cruises close to the ground, providing detailed ethnography of Maya women caring for their chickens and fending off chicken hawks. . . . This slim book is a big project,with a lot packed in. . . . It succeeds because of Kockelman’s careful attention and close reasoning sustained at every step in untangling the ensembles of value in objects and social relations." — Abigail E. Adams, Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology

"Ethnohistorians will likely be most interested in Kockelman’s efforts to generate an integrated framework for analyzing the production of value across domains, a project to which he contributes significant insights. The book is most appropriate for graduate and professional audiences." — Laurie Medina, Ethnohistory

"This is a big book, speaking to the hard and intractable questions about the distinctions between the particular and the universal, the private and the public, and the intimate and the ultimate. Insofar as philosophy has tried to understand the human condition as bridging the mental and physical world, Paul Kockelman's book is one of the boldest things out there. I love this book and its analytical project. Anthropology needs something like this, now." — Bill Maurer, author of How Would You Like to Pay? How Technology Is Changing the Future of Money

"The Chicken and the Quetzal is a masterpiece. Paul Kockelman’s finely grained ethnography of an ecotourism NGO in Guatemala's highlands opens up new ways to think about meaning, value, ontology, ecology, development, indigenous studies, and more. A broad audience from advanced undergraduates to specialists will benefit from the insights of one of our generation's most rigorous and original thinkers presented in beautifully written prose. The Chicken and the Quetzal has the power to make one see the world in a different way." — Julia Elyachar, author of Markets of Dispossession: NGOs, Economic Development, and the State in Cairo


Availability: In stock
Price: $24.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Paul Kockelman is Professor of Anthropology at Yale University and the author of Agent, Person, Subject, Self: A Theory of Ontology, Interaction, and Infrastructure.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments  ix

Introduction. Enclosure and Disclosure  1

1. NGOs, Ecotourists, and Endangered Avifauna: Immaterial Labor, Incommensurate Values, and Intersubjective Intentions  13

2. A Mayan Ontology of Poultry: Selfhood, Affect, and Animals  49

3. From Reciprocation to Replacement: Grading Use Value, Labor Power, and Personhood  87

4. From Measurement to Meaning: Standardizing and Certifying Homes and Their Inhabitance  125

Conclusion. Paths, Portability, and Parasites  157

Notes  171

References  177

Index  189
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing
Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-6072-8 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-6056-8
Publicity material