Goods and Ethnicity: Trade and Bazaars in Laos from a Gift Perspective; A Discussion

  • Guido Sprenger (Author)

    Guido Sprenger is Professor of Anthropology at the Institut für Ethnologie, Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg. He has previously published on ritual, exchange, human-environment relations, kinship and social morphology, cultural identity, and sexuality. 

  • Chris Gregory (Author)
  • Kostas Retsikas (Author)
  • Hans Peter Hahn (Author)

Identifiers (Article)


Drawing on ethnographic observations in Lao markets and bazaars, this article proposes a new and experimental framework for the analysis of multi-ethnic trading. It explores bazaars and trade as sites of the (re-)production of ethnicity through the perspective of gift exchange theory. On markets, transcultural differences can be identified and stabilized through the exchange of goods and money. This draws attention to the role of trade items as foci – and perhaps even as non-human agents – in the emergence of ethnicity and other forms of local identity. The value of items’ specific origins is thus linked to social structure. This helps us to see how the shaping of group identity can be better understood by considering how the goods they bring to market carry with them some features of the gift. 


Laos, exchange, markets, ethnicity, gift