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Writing Sample: Coca and Social Life in the Bolivian Yungas
The poignant final line of Alison Spedding’s essay, “The Cultural Life of Coca”, encapsulates the author’s representation of coca as an example of popular culture in the Bolivian Yungas: “The coca field can… be seen as a social nexus that unites all these diverse elements and activities: it is a total social fact” (591). I found this interesting because it seems Spedding is noting that the influence of coca is present in multiple facets of social life in the region, which in a sense unites people through coca. For example, she describes coca being “consumed socially between friends and visitors in the same way as tea or coffee in other societies—people say ‘Come round for a chew of coca’” (591). I found this example interesting because, in many countries, including Canada, coffee and tea are perceived not only as standard beverages but also in relation to social life. For example, they are often offered to communicate hospitality, enjoyed when meeting with a friend, and help one feel at home. As a result, Spedding’s observation of people coming “round for a chew of coca” seems strikingly familiar. The popular phrase, which Spedding references, implies coca’s role in the Bolivian Yungas as a kind of popular culture.

It was interesting to me that, from this excerpt and a few others, tea, coffee, and coca all seemed to have uses interwoven with the social life of their respective nations and to represent, despite their different geo-cultural contexts, the intersection of consumption and social interaction. 

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