Not available in 2020/21
AN252      Half Unit
Anthropological Approaches to Value

This information is for the 2020/21 session.

Teacher responsible

Professor David Graeber OLD.6.10


This course is available on the BA in Anthropology and Law, BA in Social Anthropology, BSc in Social Anthropology, Exchange Programme for Students in Anthropology (Cape Town), 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

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 classes in the MT.

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

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to produce 1 essay in the MT.

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


Take-home assessment (100%) in the MT.

The take home exam will be held the week following the end of the MT.

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2020/21 academic year some variation to teaching and learning activities may be required to respond to changes in public health advice and/or to account for the situation of students in attendance on campus and those studying online during the early part of the academic year. For assessment, this may involve changes to mode of delivery and/or the format or weighting of assessments. Changes will only be made if required and students will be notified about any changes to teaching or assessment plans at the earliest opportunity.

Key facts

Department: Anthropology

Total students 2019/20: 22

Average class size 2019/20: 12

Capped 2019/20: Yes (45)

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Team working
  • Problem solving
  • Communication
  • Commercial awareness
  • Specialist skills