Author ORCID Identifier

Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Arts and Sciences



First Advisor

Dr. Ann Kingsolver

Second Advisor

Dr. Carmen Martínez Novo


This research focuses on the gendered labor of craft production and distribution of Otavaleños, an indigenous group in the Imbabura Valley in the Andes Mountains of Ecuador. Otavalans are often described as a society of weavers with strong gender divisions. Households typically function as units of production, with tasks ideally broken down along gender lines. Women are generally depicted as secondary workers who do not weave the textiles that make Otavalans famous; however, they are generally perceived as being responsible for selling these textiles in the market. This research argues that current gendered labor relations in Otavalan textile production can be understood as historically shaped by colonial obrajes, or “textile sweatshops,” in which indigenous people were forced to serve labor quotas for the Spanish crown. The contemporary idea that men should be the primary weavers is rooted in the obraje system, which required men to weave on floor looms in the Spanish tradition. Spanish-run obrajes treated men as representatives of their households, regardless of who actually fulfilled the labor quota. It is necessary to revisit and revise earlier works on gender and crafts in Otavalo to account for possible changes in gendered labor regarding production and distribution, and the implications of those changes for Otavalans today. The methods used in this research included participant observation, ethnographic interviews, family histories, and a modified form of photovoice.

This research contributes to the literature on Otavalan craft production by focusing on women’s activities and changing valorization of women’s roles, and also on market strategies (essential to livelihoods) that rely on the commodification of ethnicity, indigeneity, and performance of heritage. As Otavalan women’s work marketing crafts is documented, particular attention is paid in this dissertation to their market knowledge; their responses to the increasing presence of mass-produced imported goods competing with locally produced crafts in the marketplace; the performance of heritage and indigeneity for tourists; and relationships with new immigrants from Venezuela occupying the same economic sector. This research describes how global pressures and the push to commodify ethnicity encourage female craft production, and how that, in turn, transforms gender relations, as well as the consequences of those changes. Along with gendered stereotypes being critically examined in this dissertation is a political ecological consideration of how stereotypes of indigeneity and land stewardship can mask larger patterns of exploitation of both natural resources and indigenous labor.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

Funding Information

Fieldwork was funded in part by the Odear Award for Graduate Student Research in Latin America (University of Kentucky), Latin American, Caribbean, and Latino Studies Program’s Travel Grants for Research (University of Kentucky), and Adelski Dissertation Research Award (University of Kentucky) in 2018, and a research grant from the Philo & Sarah Blaisdell Foundation (Bradford, PA) in 2017.