Get access

Whatever happened to economic anthropology?

Authors


Abstract

In the 1970s, economic anthropology, along with kinship and ecological anthropology, was regarded as a core discipline in the teaching of anthropology. The centrality of all these subjects was reflected in the debates of the time. For economic anthropology, understanding the articulation of modes of production was the problem; the holy trinity—tribe, peasant, capitalist—provided the key terms of the debate. These terms, and this problem, are history. The discipline of anthropology has been de-cored over the past 30 years: economic anthropology, kinship and ecological anthropology are not even on the agenda in many universities today (ANU included). This presents us with a paradox because these academic trends are in inverse proportion to the importance of contemporary developments in the economy, the family and ecology as global problems facing humanity. This paradox must be addressed not by arguing for a rehabilitation of the core subjects of the 1970s—those days are long gone—but by taking a critical look at the implicit theories of value that inform anthropological thinking about the economy, the family and ecology today. I shall argue that, along with neoliberalism, ‘agency’ has been the key term of the new paradigm that emerged in the 1970s, that this paradigm is about to become history and that new ways of thinking about the economy will have to emerge as we all become victims of the ‘financialisation’ of Europe, the industrialisation of Asia and the desiccation of Australia.

Ancillary