Economic anthropology was a prominent focus of the discipline in general during the period of what we might call the Rooseveltian or Keynesian consensus, 1950s to 70s. In the last three decades of neoliberal globalization, when sub-disciplines proliferated, this one became more marginal. Perhaps the economic crisis of 2008-9 brings in another epoch for our topic. Look at the number of related panels at this coming AAA meeting.

In any case, it would be useful for us to say why we signed up for this group. What is the significance of economic anthropology for each of you?

I can kick off by saying that I have always been attracted by the promise of economics to place our common and individual affairs on a more rational footing and appalled by the way the economists have abused the public's trust in their ability to do that.

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Thanks for the tip, Pam. I am a great fan of Karen's work and of her. She has taken it up to the US Congress, where she had to explain why second-hand clothing sent from America to Africa was not an insult to black people everywhere. (I recall the 'jumble sales' I went to with my mother when I was young, the excitement of all those women rushing in when the doors opened and tossing the clothes frantically in order to find the early bargains). Olumide (@loomnie) is also working on this issue in Nigeria, where the second-hand clothes trade is banned for similar reasons, but of course flourishes regardless. What this means is that the 'free market' in this particular item carries a freight of ideological baggage which may or may not slow down the trade.

East Africa is fascinating also for the extraordinary growth of commerce, banking and administration linked to mobile telephones. I wonder if harnessing this technology makes the markets more or less free. In general, I have a cod formula: IE + IT = ED. Informal economy plus information technology equals economic democracy. For surely the free market means lack of regulation, ie. informal and, for all their efforts to control it, cybercommerce is usually freer than anything that materializes on the ground.

Pamthropologist said:
I am late to join the discussion but I wondered if anyone had read the book The Travels of a T-Shirt in a Global Economy? ....Its sheer popularity speaks to some desire to understand the world economy through a more anthropological lens.
An interesting article has appeared in today's Guardian (English left-wing newspaper), you can find at:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2009/aug/17/left-politics-capita...

It asks a question that I've been thinking over for quite some time now, and one which in my view is related to that of this discussion group. The article is focused on the UK, but not exclusively. It also has - I believe - something to say to anthropologists interested in economy and society and especially in the creation of alternative relations between the two (am I being old fashioned?).

Here is an extract to get your appetites going:

"The left just gave up on economics," says the economist Paul Ormerod, who retains sympathy for the cause. "Marx and Keynes cast such long shadows. There was too much of the left saying, 'It's all there in the old masters.'" Marx died in 1883 and Keynes in 1946; by the 80s – some would say much earlier – the world economy had changed sufficiently to invalidate some of their ideas. Yet the left was more interested by then, Ormerod argues, in other issues such as race and gender and sexuality. Lawson agrees: "We've had a hollowed-out generation of economic thinkers."

Since the 80s, Ormerod says, rightwing economists "have taken over in treasuries and central banks all over the world". Western universities, too, have become production lines for rightwing economics graduates – and for graduates who do not even consider a complete faith in the free market to be a political position at all. Meanwhile, the left has suffered a broader crisis of confidence: as Lawson puts it, "We've had the intellectual stuffing knocked out of us – the fall of communism, the fall of postwar social democracy."
Giovanni Orlando said:
An interesting article has appeared in today's Guardian (English left-wing newspaper), you can find at:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2009/aug/17/left-politics-capita... "We've had the intellectual stuffing knocked out of us – the fall of communism, the fall of postwar social democracy."

I do think this article raises questions that ought to engage a project calling itself economic anthropology, Giovanni. I have been living in France for 12 years now and I have made a bet that French left thinking on social economy will have a market in the anglophone world, especially after the crash of 2008. I have a number of collaborations there: an international conference on Mauss with follow-up publications in the works; a Guide to alternative ideas about economy; and a network of researchers on money. In addition, Chris Hann and I have just published a book of critical essays on Polanyi. I would also mention a book on Debt that David Graeber is writing now which covers similar ground in a wholly new way.

The common theme of this work is to reject a totalizing notion of 'capitalism' and even more a radical alternative opposed to it. Rather, contemporary economy is seen to be highly plural, containing most of the human possibilities that have existed and might in the future. What matters is to find a new direction and emphasis for combining them. This work is practical and empirical, examining what exists in the light of a critique of the hegemonic synthesis that is embraced by both the right and far left and proposing new institutional initiatives. The two figures most often cited in this programme are Mauss and Polanyi, suggesting that economic anthropology is central to it.

It is not coincidental that the three most inspiring explanations for the financial crisis I have seen are by economic anthropologists: Gillian Tett's Fool's Gold (an expose of credit derivatives by an FT journalist); Alexandra Ouroussoff's War on Wall Street (currently under publisher's review, about the conflict between corporate executives and the ratings agencies for control of capitalism's future) and Horacio Ortiz's Paris PhD thesis, The political anthropology of contemporary finance (based on fieldwork in Franco-American finance houses). A recent FT review of ten books on the economic crisis suggested that we might be looking at a new synthesis of anthropology, economics and history here.

So why is the conventional left so ineffectual? Because they are wedded to a monolithic idea of 'capitalism' that oversimplifies contemporary economic life as much as the right-wing economists do. Because they prefer to cling to their own old ideas rather than confront what our world is becoming. I would say because they have an old-fashioned and negative view of markets and money that Mauss and Polanyi both put in a more constructive perspective.
History of Human development from stone age to this modern world is the effects and repercussions of ECONOMIC change and revolution. Economy has been a very essential factor for the development of human and society.

How shall we now about to analyze the usual economic occurrences which touches the life of normal people like price-hike on daily stuffs, inflation,shortages etc. in a anthropological perspective? i leave this matter here to be discussed and so the very forum maintained by Mr. KEITH HART is interesting.i like this.

How a man since his inception of career in any field, after he starts generating income to sustain his family, can be acknowledged on the balanced anthropo-economic life, that he is heading to achieve a happy and satisfied life ahead.


Thanks MR. KEITH.
I am currently in the process of changing careers to one that I really enjoy. I have been a lay student of both anthropology and economics, in the field of Business Intelligence. I am now applying my interest and understanding to the field. I have some ideas that we need to study both the differences and similarities of our larger economic cultures and how they work and do not work together. I am really interested in building an historical database of comparative economic cultures.

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