The Rich Possibilities of Greed and Excess



“Greed” and “excess” carry negative connotations in many of the societies in which we live, even if they are not typical terms framing a great deal of anthropological work today. My approach here is to suggest that “greed” and “excess” may be most productive to thinkers and analysts if we use the terms to lead us to topics to which they seem to be potentially connected—that is, to get us to explore those questions from a reinvigorated or new angle—rather than trying to identify analytically comparable enough phenomena that we could then call cases of “greed” or “excess” and compare them to each other. Hence, here, discursive connections between “greed” and moral failing, the invocation of “greed” as an accusation, and the sense that “greed” refers (somewhat implicitly, implicitly, or more explicitly) to serious inequality, accumulation (material or symbolic), and differentiation or distinction by being a desire for both are explored. This article also worries about certain possible unintended consequences of turning “greed” and “excess” into more typical frames of anthropological discussion.