Devil Pact Narratives in Rural Central America

Jansen, Kees & Roquas, Esther (2002), Devil Pact Narratives in Rural Central America: Class, Gender and ‘Resistance’. Journal of Peasant Studies: 29(3-4):270-299.
The Faustian bargain, or ‘pact with the devil’, made by a person who exchanges human souls in order to obtain unattainable riches and power, is a widespread peasant narrative in Central and South America. The narrative expresses various overlapping meanings, of which a sudden increase in wealth and a concomitant shift in social relationships is a central theme. In the case examined, peasants invoke the devil pact narrative and the realm of the supernatural to explain wealth and poverty in order to avoid tensions that socio-economic accounts would provoke. By not referring to the history of deceit, force, robbery, consent and complicity that has led to an unequal distribution of local resources, peasants make new forms of accumulation ideologically manageable. The Faustian narrative offers an ideologically acceptable explanation, and thus provides them with a way of handling the inequality between villagers created as a result of accumulation. It is therefore best seen as an adaptive mechanism in the face of contradictions generated by a modernizing agrarian capitalism, rather than – as in Taussig’s interpretation – as a form of resistance by the gift economy against unfolding capitalism, or – as in Edelman’s interpretation – as an everyday form of resistance against sexual domination.

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