After thoughtfully considering some of the comments made on my last post regarding Sahlins and Polanyi's infamous 'disembedded economy' thesis, I have been considering this line of argument even more carefully. Although there are inherently many issues with Sahlins's initial premise of 'affluence' among hunter-gatherers, I think it's crucial to point out that what his argument states, in a latent fashion, is that our society is not altogether different from those of the so-called 'primitives.' I'd argue that the disembedded economy is mythical because no purely 'embedded' economy exists. The concept has had tremendous import in early economic anthropology because of its poignant critique of capitalist interests, but the model fails to seriously grapple with measures of status and kinship, which even Mauss goes on to demonstrate as integral to the analysis of economies (albeit at a different level than market capitalism). On a superficial assessment, it may appear that kinship systems and the like are 'embedded,' and therefore, more ideal or supposedly egalitarian than market capitalism and in some senses, this is correct, at least in the sense that these structures mutually reinforce cultural beliefs of a particular kind. However, kinship, by its very essence, provides a structure through which women are subjected to inequalities and gendered expectations that actually subordinate them regardless of the economic ideology that pervades a particular time period.
In summary, I am probing the question: How can the disembedded economy idea (at least as it pertains to market capitalism) contain any value in contemporary anthropology when gender is remiss from its initial analysis?
I've been thinking of this in relation to Leslie Gates's argument in The Strategic Uses of Gender in Household Negotiations, which argues that women employ a model of 'doing gender' in the household to bargain for particular interests that might contradict their gender identity. Employment provided some sense of liberation for women from the repressive elements of home life that plagued them, while also furthering their leverage power over men. I find Polanyi's argument problematic on the basis that gender does not configure historically or culturally in his analysis, at least based on what I have read.
Could this provide evidence of work serving a self-empowering function in societies, at least in the case of women? Does this contradict with the central point advanced in Polanyi's thesis?
I know that his claims have largely been debunked, but his work is of great interest to many precisely because it defines a profit motive that most find to be a reprehensible aspect of market capitalism and the global system. Well, unless of course, you detach any moralistic perspective from monetary gain, which is observable in Hinduism, to cite one example.
Anyways, just some ideas. I better get back to revision. These blog posts are more of an attempt to condense my ideas into something that seems manageable and more comfortable, but I appreciate any feedback that will challenge or reform my own thoughts.