Programme in anthropology and economy

The programme takes classic streams of analysis in new directions drawing on a wide range of theories and ethnographic settings

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.

Research topics

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.

Seminars and events

Inclusive Economies/Anthropology of Economy Seminar Series

Financialization, Development and Economic Inclusion

Old Anthropology Library, 6th Floor, Old Building, Wed. Fortnightly, 5.00-6.30 pm

Presented by the Department of International Development and Department of Anthropology, this themed series of the Inclusive Economies/Anthropology of Economy Seminar explores how financialization is reshaping processes of development and economic inclusion. It focuses on specific domains of the financialization of development, including the financialization of infrastructure, water, agriculture, health, aid, and philanthropy.  Within each of these various domains we seek a deeper examination of what financialization ‘does’ in terms of its micro as well as macro-effects on markets, regulation, production, and popular livelihoods.  Presentations will unravel how financialization is reconfiguring regulatory systems and shaping the terms as well as the meaning of economic inclusion.

16 October 2019
Pon Souvannaseng (University of Manchester)        
Fast Finance:  Who Gives a Dam?  Perils and Pitfalls of Asymmetric South-South Finance

30 October 2019
Kimberly Chong (UCL)
Building a Paradise: Financialization, Management consulting and post-Mao visions of transformation and expertise 

13 November 2019 
Kate Bayliss (SOAS)
The Financialisation of Water: From Natural Resource to Commercial Asset

27 November 2019
Zenia Kish (University of Tulsa)
The Invisible Heart of Markets: Ethics, Affect, and Impact Investors 

5 February 2020
Leigh Johnson (University of Oregon)  
Unmaking ‘risk capacity’: African sovereign drought insurance and its discontents 

19 February 2020
Stefan Ouma (University of Bayreuth) 
Agriculture as Financial Asset: Global Money and the Making of Institutional Landscapes

4 March 2020
Susan Erikson (Simon Fraser University)
Risk Business: How Pandemic Bonds Recalibrate Humanitarian Aid

18 March 2020
Elisa van Waeyenberge (SOAS) 
The Financialization of Aid (full title TBA)