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Economic Anthropology


Gifts, according to Mauss, create relationships not only between individuals but ... In 1851 The Ashburton's gave Christmas presents to the Carlyles ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Economic Anthropology

Economic Anthropology
Economic Anthropology
  • Economics is the study of production,
    distribution, and consumption of resources.
  • Economic Anthropology studies economics in a
    comparative perspective.

A societys economy consists of
  • Production
  • Distribution
  • Consumption

Economizing and Maximization
Classical economic theory assumes that
individuals universally act rationally, by
economizing to maximize profits, but comparative
data shows that people frequently respond to
other motivations than profit.
The Trobrianders produce far more yams than they
can ever eat and often simply allow them to rot.
The act of giving or taking one thing in return
for another
What kinds of things are exchanged?
If Friends make gifts, Gifts Make
Friends Marcel Mauss
  • In order for social relationships to exist we
    must exchange something whether it is
  • the communicative exchange of language,
  • the economic and/or ceremonial exchange of goods
  • or the exchange of spouses.
  • i.e. exchange is important for the establishment
    and maintenance of social relationships

  • exchange is important for the establishment and
    maintenance of relationships
  • Patterns of exchange and circulation, lead us to
    the heart of social and cultural organization  

WHO exchange relationships WHAT what is the
significance and meaning of what is
exchanged WHERE what is the significance and
meaning of where it is exchanged WHEN on what
occasions WHY social reasons HOW ceremony,
  • What kinds of gifts are there?
  • Who do we give gifts to?
  • When do we give gifts?
  • How do we give gifts?
  • Why do we give gifts?

  • What are the consequences of not reciprocating?
  • Are there bonds of obligation?
  • Is there some competitiveness involved in gift
  • How do we feel when we havent received a gift
    of at least equal value?
  • What if the gift returned is of higher value?

Marcel Mauss 1925 The Gift The Form and Reason
for Exchange in Archaic Societies
Mauss points to three fields of obligation to
give, to receive and to repay Gifts, according to
Mauss, create relationships not only between
individuals but between groups, relationships
which take the form of total prestations
1872 - 1950
What rule of legality and self-interest, in
societies of a backward or archaic type, compels
the gift that has been received to be
obligatorily reciprocated? What power resides in
the object given that causes its recipient to pay
it back? (Mauss 1925)
The Potlatch A form of ceremonial exchange of
gifts employed by indigenous groups on NW coast
of BC (Tlingit, Haida, Tsimshian and Kwakiutl
Aboriginally, The Kwakiutl, were very rich and
their fishing grounds supplied them with
considerable surplus Beginning of summer they
dispersed to go hunting, gather roots and
berries, fish for salmon in the rivers At the
onset of winter they concentrated in small
villages During this period social life became
extremely intense
E.S. Curtis, 1915
"Interior of Habitation at Nootka Sound"John
Webber (British), April 1778
The Kwakiutl house is constructed of cedar boards
on a framework of heavy logs. The ridge extends
from front to back, the roof-boards run from
ridge to eave, and the wall boards are
POTLATCH The word means to feed or to
  • held in connection with events in the life cycle,
    initiations, marriages, house building, funerals,
    assumption of certain dance privileges.
  • extravagant and lavish preparations including
    much food preparation and the creation of masks
    and art work are made by the host as gifts for
    the guests

A Kwakiutl clan chief wore this mask when
greeting rival chiefs invited for a potlatch. It
reminded the guests of their host's great riches
and their indebtedness to his generosity. This
Kwakiutl mask represents a mythic ogress of the
forest. Dz'onokwa, who skulked through villages
at night to steal children to eat. She was also
the "master of wealth," represented by the copper
of her eyebrows, and so an appropriate symbol for
the ceremonial feast.
The most central symbol of wealth, power and
prestige is the copper, a shield-shaped plate of
beaten copper that usually has a painted or
engraved representation of a crest animal on its
surface. Contemporary coppers as well as older
ones frequently bear animal names - Sea Lion,
Beaver face - probably referring to the crest of
their original owners.
The Kwakiutl chief Tulthidi prepares to give away
his valuable copper in honor of his son
Broken copperTsimshian Gitsan, British
ColumbiaCollected by G.T. Emmons, prior to 1914
Chilkat Blanket" 1890-1900, Tlingit
  • Because of all the gifts, a traditional potlatch
    took years to prepare
  • A large potlatch held in 1921 was said to take 17
    years of preparation
  • A modern day potlatch may take about a year to
    prepare and cost 10,000.

C. 1900
Today potlatch gifts include coffee mugs, socks,
hand knit blankets and clothes, as well as carved
masks and murals
Parties, as they are now sometimes called,
commemorate a significant event in an extended
family's or clan's collective life. They are held
today for baby showers, namings, weddings,
anniversaries, special birthdays, graduations,
and as memorials for the dead
Twined grass basketNootka/Makah, British
Cedar carrying basket with handles
Why would they spend years accumulating wealth
only to give it away - or even throw the objects
into the sea?
  • Social Significance
  • potlatch celebrations are a significant
    representation of the host's status and the
    display of rank and title
  • In return for giving away food and wealth they
    get recognition of their status and that of their
  • Marriages for ones children and places in the
    brotherhoods are only won during the potlatch
  • Potlatches become very competitive
  • aspiring leaders use competitive potlatching to
    move up the system.
  • The potlatch is a system of gift exchange---
    material goods are exchanged for social
    recognition and power

The obligation to give The obligation to
receive The obligation to reciprocate
  • Prestation
  • More than simple exchange
  • Also includes reciprocity and the various
  • total social phenomenon
  • It is not individuals but collectives that
    impose obligations of exchange and contract upon
    each other
  • What is exchanged is not solely property and

  • Thomas and Jane Carlyles Christmas Presents
  • Renowned 19th century English historian and
  • Spent Christmas in the 1850s with Lord and Lady
    Ashburton (wealthy Scottish banker)

Lord and Lady Ashburton
Thomas and Jane Carlyle
  • In 1851 The Ashburtons gave Christmas presents
    to the Carlyles
  • Mrs Carlyle got a scarf and a bracelet
  • Thomas got a jigsaw puzzle
  • both were well received

  • In 1855 Mrs Carlyle received a black silk dress -
    A novelty because it was only recently that they
    were produced by machine
  • Mrs Carlyle claimed that she was being insulted.

What do we have to know to be able to understand
those meanings attributed to these gifts?
class, social mobility, matrimony,
patronage, employment,
manufacturing processes, issues of style,
conventions of gift-giving.
Gift Exchange does not operate according to
market laws, but the social rules of power,
symbol, convention, etiquette, ritual, role and
Raffia Cloth among the Lele (Zaire)
The movement of raffia cloth among the Lele is
another example of the mediation of status by
goods. Younger men need raffia to marry.  But
raffia is made and controlled by older men.  In
order to have access to raffia and hence
marriage, younger men need the social approval of
older men. Since more raffia is required to marry
than any one man can produce, it takes community
approval to marry. In modern economy, men can
gain access to raffia through wage labor.  This
undercuts authority of elders and leads to
charges of the selling of brides.
Economic interactions are social interactions.
  • the flow of goods indicates social relations

Economic Anthropology
  • Substantivist
  • -economic affairs are embedded in social
    institutions and cannot be studied separately
    from other social institutions social structures
  • kinship system
  • political structure
  • religious ideologies
  • -people in nonindustrial economies function with
    different logic than capitalist economies.
    Exchanges occur for reasons other than economic
  • culturally unique values
  • group benefits
  • rational culturally relative
  • Formalists
  • maximization of personal gain
  • supply-demand relationships
  • rational decision-making
  • individual self interest
  • economy can be analyzed independent of other
    social structures and institutions
  • research tools of western economics applicable

Karl Polanyi Divided economies into three types
according to the dominant mode of distribution
reciprocity-- The return of a gift or
prestation redistribution -- collection from
members of a group and then redistribution within
this group. E.g. tribute, taxes market
--involves money and profit
Marshal Sahlins Stone Age Economics (1972)
  • A material transaction is usually a momentary
    episode in a continuous social relation.
  • The social relation governs the nature of the
    immediate exchange and the flow of goods
  • Sahlins suggests that there are 3 types of
    reciprocity that form a continuum that correlates
    with kinship and social distance.

Reciprocity exchange between social equals
  • Generalized
  • Balanced
  • Negative

  • Generalized reciprocity
  • e.g. gifts, or sharing, helping, generosity.
  • between close kin and friends
  • highly moral no expectation of return
  • Generalized reciprocity is correlated with
  • Rank
  • relative wealth and need
  • food
  • Geographic distance

Balanced reciprocity
  • return expected
  • delayed exchange
  • maintains ties with more distant people
  • A precise balance between the things exchanged
  • Important in e.g.. peace making death payments
    and marriage alliances.

Kula Ring Balanced Reciprocity
  • Kula Ring vast inter-island system of exchange
    of certain classes of ritual objects mens
    armbands and bracelets
  • exchange within Massim linguistic group
  • not a system of commercial trade in utilitarian
    objects (most islands self-sufficient in staple
    foods goods)
  • objects acquired, displayed, and then passed on

(No Transcript)
Like the crown jewels, their value is
symbolic There is no practical utility Each
valuable has its own name and history Owning
them provides the owner prestige and pride
  • at each meeting, visiting partner bestows gift
    on home partner
  • the same object that he received from his other
    partner a few months or years earlier
  • over time, value (rarity) of objects exchanged
    increases, as does renown of the partners

  • Kula Ring had been cited as an example of the
    economic irrationality of savages
  • took great risks for fanciful ends
  • not survival or commerce, but to obtain baubles
  • pursued out of sheer habit
  • the Kula Ring is a vital institution which
    contributes to the security and continuity of
    Massim cultures
  • needs to be seen within the total context of
    Massim society
  • ripped out of context, it appears irrational,

Negative Reciprocity
  • less common
  • impersonal, distrustful
  • not based on ongoing social relations
  • exchange without money
  • taking items by force

Haggling at the market of Riobamba, Ecuador
Reciprocity Generalized Balanced Negative
  • value unspecified
  • return not immediate
  • long term view
  • no gratitude expected
  • Creating AND satisfying
  • obligations
  • Equal value
  • Expectation of
  • immediate return
  • Similar to trade or
  • barter
  • Common in more
  • distant kin relationships
  • Personal gain
  • is primary motivator
  • something for
  • nothing
  • - haggling
  • - bargaining
  • - theft/seizure
  • - cheating

Self Interest
Prevalence in band societies
social distance determines the nature of the
Exchange among social unequals
  • centralized accumulation and reallocation of
    wealth (taxes, tributes, tithes, spoils)
  • maintain power, superior status (internally)
  • keep constituents happy, maintain standard of
  • use wealth to leverage power (externally)
  • leveling mechanisms
  • typical mode of exchange in chiefdoms and some
    non-industrial states

These workers in Yunnan Province, China, strive
for an equal distribution of meat.
Redistribution in Western Society
Market exchange
  • value preset by impersonal market forces
  • exchange occurs presumably independent of and
    uninfluenced by social relations
  • usually involves money, a widely agreed on
    abstract symbol used to measure value