Not available in 2015/16
AN473      Half Unit
Anthropological Approaches to Value

This information is for the 2015/16 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof David Graeber OLD6.10


This course is available on the MPhil/PhD in Accounting, MSc in Anthropology and Development, MSc in Anthropology and Development Management, MSc in China in Comparative Perspective, MSc in Religion in the Contemporary World and MSc in Social Anthropology. This course is available as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

Course content

In this course we will first take stock of the current anthropological theories of value in contemporary anthropology. After a critical appraisal of such theories, we will explore what an anthropological theory of value might actually look like. After a brief exploration of Kluckhohn’s “values project”, the formalist-substantivist arguments, and debates about the nature of the social role of money, up to the recent neoliberal resurgence in anthropological theory, we’ll be looking at the contrasting legacies of Karl Marx and Marcel Mauss. Looking at these as two very different approaches to many of the same problems will provide enormous opportunities for creative synthesis. The course will include some fairly extended case studies (of Tiv fetishism, wampum, and anthropological studies of consumption), to investigate how useful all this theory can actually be in throwing new light on familiar problems.


15 hours of lectures and 10 hours of seminars in the LT.

Formative coursework

Students registered for Anthropology degrees may submit formative tutorial essays on the course content and receive feedback from their academic advisors. Students who are not registered for Anthropology degrees will be given the option of submitting essays to the course teacher and receiving feedback on them.

Indicative reading

Graeber, D. (2001) Toward an Anthropological Theory of Value: The False Coin of Our Own Dreams.

Graeber, D. (2011) Debt: The First Five Thousand Years

Godbout, J. & Caillé, A. (1998) The World of the Gift.

De Angelis, M. (2007) The Beginning of History: Value Struggles and Global Capitalism

Appadurai, A. (2013) The Future as Cultural Fact: Essays in the Global Condition

Turner, T. (1984)  “Value, production and exploitation in simple non-capitalist societies”

Munn, N. (1986) The fame of Gawa: A symbolic study of value transformation in a Massim (Papua New Guinea) society


Exam (100%, duration: 2 hours) in the main exam period.

Key facts

Department: Anthropology

Total students 2014/15: 13

Average class size 2014/15: 8

Controlled access 2014/15: Yes

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Team working
  • Problem solving
  • Communication
  • Specialist skills