The Anthropology of Economic Institutions and their Social Transformations

This information is for the 2013/14 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Laura Bear OLD 6.09 and Dr Gisa Weszkalnys


This course is compulsory on the BA in Social Anthropology and BSc in Social Anthropology. This course is available on the BA in Anthropology and Law and BSc in Human Resource Management and Employment Relations. This course is available as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit and to General Course students.


Undergraduates taking this course should have completed an introductory course in anthropology unless granted exemption by the course teacher.

Course content

This course examines ‘the economy’, as an object of social scientific analysis and a domain of human action. In the first half of the course, we will start by asking: How did people come to conceive of this domain? How have they have tried to measure, describe, model, and predict its behaviour? What form do economic institutions take cross-culturally? And how have these institutions been transformed as a result of their incorporation into a wider capitalist market, state policies and development initiatives?

The second half of the course addresses the anthropology of globalisation. Scholars have various ways of analysing the new forms of production, consumption, exchange and circulation that have emerged since the 1980s. Some emphasise post-Fordist methods of flexible production and neo-liberal elite projects. Others focus on trans-state processes of globalisation. For other theorists shifts in state policies such as austerity, decentralised planning, public-private partnerships and the deregulation of financial markets are at the centre of analysis. Others address new forms of consumer society, popular desires for social mobility and transnational migration. Drawing from ethnographies and anthropological theory the second half of the course will cast a critical eye over these arguments. It will also revisit classic topics from the perspective of present realities — for example production and intimate economies; formal markets in relation to informalised, violent economies; circulation in relation to financial debt and risk; and consumption and consumer citizenship. Throughout the course, students will become familiar with the key concepts of economic anthropology with reference to selected ethnography and gain a solid understanding of relevant theoretical debates.


10 hours of lectures and 10 hours of classes in the MT. 10 hours of lectures and 10 hours of classes in the LT.

Formative coursework

Students are expected to prepare discussion material for presentation in the classes and are required to write assessment essays. Anthropology students taking this course will have an opportunity to submit a tutorial essay for this course to their personal tutors. For non-Anthropology students taking this course, a formative essay may be submitted to the course teacher.

Indicative reading

M Sahlins, Stone Age Economics (1974); J Parry and M Bloch (Eds), Money and the Morality of Exchange (1989); S Plattner (ed.), Economic Anthropology (1989); J Carrier, A Handbook of Economic Anthropology (2005); J Inda and R Rosaldo (eds) The Anthropology of Globalisation (2007); M Edelman and A Haugerud (eds) The Anthropology of Development and Globalization (2004); J Collier and A Ong (eds) Global Assemblages: Technology, Politics and Ethics as Anthropological Problems (2004); A Tsing, Friction: an Ethnography of  Global Connection (2004);  C Hann, Life in Debt: Times of Care and Violence in Neo-Liberal Chile (2012); K Ho, Liquidated: an Ethnography of Wall Street (2010). This is an indicative reading list: detailed reading lists are provided at the beginning of the course.


Exam (70%, duration: 3 hours) in the main exam period.
Essay (15%, 2500 words) in the MT.
Essay (15%, 2500 words) in the LT.

Key facts

Department: Anthropology

Total students 2012/13: 36

Average class size 2012/13: 13

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information