AN256      Half Unit
Economic Anthropology (1): Production and Exchange

This information is for the 2019/20 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Luke Heslop OLD 6.17A


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, Exchange Programme for Students in Anthropology (Fudan), Exchange Programme for Students in Anthropology (Melbourne) and Exchange Programme for Students in Anthropology (Tokyo). This course is available as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit and to General Course students.

Course content

This course examines ‘the economy’ as an object of scholarly analysis and a domain of social action. We start by asking how scholars have measured, described, modeled, and predicted its behaviour; what forms economic institutions take cross-culturally; and how these institutions were transformed as a result of their incorporation into a wider capitalist markets, state systems, and development initiatives. For example, we will examine the central place of households within capitalist economies, largely overlooked by mainstream economic analyses, and the role that money can play in both dividing and uniting human societies. The course will familiarise students with fundamental aspects of the field and with core concepts used in anthropological analyses of economic life, such as production, consumption, exchange, property, alienation, scarcity, and value. But we will also try to break open the standard frames of the debate by highlighting, for example, the entanglement of nature in the capitalist expansion, and how economic life is rarely stable. What progress have anthropologists made in understanding booms, busts, prolonged pauses and delays? What can ethnography tell us about how people cope with crises and instabilities, individually and collectively, and how they seek to anticipate what the future may hold? Throughout the course, students will engage both with theoretical writings and with a range of select ethnographies to gain a rounded understanding of relevant debates.


10 hours of lectures and 10 hours of classes in the MT. 1 hour of lectures in the ST.

This course has a reading week in Week 6 of MT.

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to produce 1 piece of coursework in the MT.

Indicative reading

J.G. Carrier and D. Miller (1998) Virtualism: A New Political Economy. M Sahlins (1974), Stone Age Economics; J Parry and M Bloch (Eds) (1989), Money and the Morality of Exchange; K. Polanyi (1944) The Great Transformation. K Ho (2010) Liquidated: an Ethnography of Wall Street. S. Mintz (1985) Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History; E. Shever  (2012) Resources for Reform: Oil and Neoliberalism in Argentina; C.Hann and K.Hart (2011) Economic Anthropology: History, Ethnography, Critique. This is an indicative reading list: detailed reading lists are provided at the beginning of the course.


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

Key facts

Department: Anthropology

Total students 2018/19: 54

Average class size 2018/19: 14

Capped 2018/19: No

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills