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Programme on the Anthropology of Economy


Programme in Anthropology and Economy

Anthropology at the LSE was founded by academics such as Malinowski and Firth who engaged with the key categories of the discipline of economics. This tradition has been strengthened through the years by the work of Bloch and Parry on monetary exchange and Fuller and Parry on globalisation, industrialisation and class. Faculty (including Bear, Gardner, Graeber, James, Shah and Weszkalnys) are currently taking these streams of analysis in new directions drawing on a wide range of theories and ethnographic settings. Some of the issues we are exploring together are as follows:

Questioning the Economy

Anthropologists and sociologists have revealed the technical practices of economists and financial traders that construct the arena of the economy. Yet we still have very little theoretical or ethnographic understanding of how these intersect with social projects of production, reproduction, distribution and consumption. We wish to return to the question of ‘what is the economy?’ with an approach that focuses on the unintended effects and social entanglements of formal models. This is important because it will allow an examination of the relationships between market devices and the political economy of inequality.

Popular Economies

We still know far too little about how economic practice is framed and enacted. Behavioural economics provides complex theories and terminologies for explaining how people act within a ‘market-place.’ These models are increasingly applied to non-market consumption situations such as choices in higher education and politics. Our research explores how people from macro-economists to precarious workers conceptualise and act on the productivity of the world. Do they partition the market from ethics, kinship, ritual and politics? If they do separate out the market, does it include some unexpected elements not recognizable in economists’ models of it? We also ask if formal models of the market have popular moral and religious underpinnings. These are important questions because it is popular economies that generate the social forms of capitalism around us.

Intimate and Generative Economies

Anthropology has long forged the analysis of how household and kinship practices relate to capitalism.  Building on this we explore intimate and generative economies. Intimate economies are the lived experiences of labour, reproduction and consumption in relation to which individual and household projects are forged. Generative economies are the wider, collective social arrangements that emerge from these intimate economies. In them production, reproduction, procreation and the processes of generation that exist within the natural world intersect. This approach challenges older models of a disembedded market, by starting with the diverse life-worlds of capitalism.


 At the centre of our inquiry is an explanation of contemporary inequality. Rather than taking as given accounts of the spread of ‘globalisation’ or ‘neo-liberalism,’ we will examine the precise technical mechanisms, institutional forms and social practices through which unequal accumulation occurs. In particular we will focus on the effects of debt (including sovereign debt), new forms of precarious labour and the structuring of informality. Reflecting our various regional expertise our research will build a new understanding of the political economy of inequality with a global reach. 



Infrastructures of Inclusion: Technology, Services, Markets and Finance

London School of Economics, Thurs 27 April

Open to academics and graduate students only. Please email Kate Meagher K.Meagher@lse.ac.uk if you want to attend. 

Workshop Schedule

9:30                      Welcome and Introduction

Session 1. Technology

Chair: Catherine Dolan
Discussant: Dinah Rajak (University of Sussex)

9:40-10:00         Keith Brekenridge, University of Witwatersrand. The Global Ambitions of the Biometric Anti-Bank: Net1 and African Models of Financialised Social Inclusion

10:00-10:20      Laura Mann, London School of Economics. The Liberal Creed, Digital Disruption and the Protective Response: Smartcards on Informal Buses in Nairobi and Johannesburg

10:20-10:40      Jamie Cross, University of Edinburgh. Everyone is Not Illuminated: Solar Energy, Green Capitalism and Infrastructures of Inclusion in India

10:40-11:10      Discussion                                                                                   

11:10-11:30  Coffee/Tea Break

Session 2. Physical Infrastructure and Services

Chair: Kate Meagher (LSE)
Discussant: Catherine Dolan (SOAS)

11:30-11:50      Colin McFarlane, Durham University. Waste, Infrastructure, Body: Reforming Political Urbanisms 

11:50-12:10      Nikhil Anand, University of Pennsylvania. Unequal Inclusions: Public Pipes and the Administration of Life 

12:10-12:30      Alice Street (University of Edinburgh) & Ian Harper (University of Edinburgh). Hard to Reach: How Schemes to Enable Healthcare Access for Remote         Populations Have Failed 

12:30-1:00         Discussion    
1:00-2:15       Lunch 

Session 3. Market and Labor Infrastructures

Chair: Dinah Rajak 
Discussant: Marco DiNunzio (Université Libre de Bruxelles)

2:15-2:35            Nancy Ettlinger. Ohio State University. Microwork Developments and Development 

2:35-2:55         Catherine Dolan, SOAS. and Kate Roll (University of Oxford). Deflection and Remote Engagement in White Spaces: Route-to-Market Programmes at the               Bottom of the Pyramid

2:55-3:15          Kate Meagher, London School of Economics. Precarious Inclusion:  Inclusive Capitalism and Labour Informalization in Africa

3:15-3:35          Johan Lindquist, University of Stockholm. Infrastructures of Escort:         Transnational Migration and the Cultural Economy of Connection In Indonesia

3:35-4.05           Discussion        
4.05-4.25       Coffee/Tea 

Session 4 : Financial Infrastructures/ Financial Inclusion 

Chair:  Dinah Rajak
Discussant:  Deborah James

4:25-4:45            Paul Langley, Durham University. Infrastructures of Financial Inclusion

4:45-5.05            Sohini Kar. London School of Economics. Accumulation by Saturation: Welfare and the Financial Infrastructures of Inclusion in India

5.05-5:25            Gianluca Iazzolino. University of Edinburgh. Beyond P2P Mobile Money Transfer: Promises and Pitfalls of Leveraging Bulk Payments to Build a Digital         Financial Ecosystem

5:25-5:45            Discussion 

5:45-6.00            Wrap-up Session