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

This information is for the 2020/21 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Alpa Shah 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 (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

What is the economy? We will explore how the history of capitalism has been inextricably tied to producing an idea of the economy as a distinctive domain of life and how anthropologists have persistently challenged this understanding, showing how economic life is inextricably tied to religion, politics and kinship, for instance. We will show the radical possibilities of social relations that anthropologists have offered by studying communities that appear to be ‘the original affluent society’, seemingly not affected by capitalist societies, or incorporated on their own terms. At the same time, we will examine the impact of capitalism and the inequalities it has brought on diverse people around the world, looking at the role of colonialism and empire, industrialisation and neoliberalisation, which includes regimes of production, accumulation and dispossession. Central to our examination will be understanding processes and experiences of exploitation, oppression and domination. We will unveil the invisible work of the many that is never valued but gets hidden in precarity, by migration regimes and within households. We will highlight the ways in which gender, race, ethnicity, caste and class need to be central to any analysis of the economy. At all times, we will look for people’s creative responses to the situations they find themselves in, whether it is through acquiescence, reincorporation, religious conversion, weapons of the weak or outright rejection and revolt.


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

This year, some or all of this teaching will be delivered through a combination of virtual lectures, classes and online interactive activities. The contact hours listed above are the minimum expected. 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

A few ethnographies to whet your appetite: Bronislaw Malinowski (1964) Argonauts of the Western Pacific; Marshall Sahlins (1974) Stone Age Economics; Marcel Mauss (1990 [1925)). The Gift: the form and reason for exchange in archaic societies; Sidney Mintz (1985) Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History; June Nash (1979) We Eat the Mines and the Mines Eat Us: dependency and exploitation in Bolivia's tin mines; Michael Taussig (1980) The Devil and Commodity Fetishism in South America; Jonathan Parry (2020) Classes of Labour in a Central Indian Steel Town; Maria Mies (1982) The Lace Makers of Narsapur: Indian Housewives produce for the World Market; Carol Stacks (1974) All Our Kin; Claude Meillassoux (1981) Maidens, Meal and Money: capitalism and the domestic community; Jan Breman (1974) Patronage and Exploitation: changing agrarian relations in South Gujarat India; Alpa Shah, Jens Lerche, Richard Axelby, Brendan Donegan, Dalel Benbabaali, Jayaseelan Raj and Vikramaditya Thakur (2018) Ground Down by Growth: Tribe, Caste, Class and Inequality in 21st Century India; Tania Murray Li (2014) Land's End: Capitalist Relations on the Indigenous Frontier. 

A few general overview texts: James G. Carrier and Don Kalb (eds) (2015) Anthropologies of Class: Power, Practice, and Inequality; Richard Wilk and Lisa Cliggett (1996) Economies and Cultures: Foundations of Economic Anthropology; James Carrier (ed) (2005) A Handbook of Economic Anthropology

Other general introductory texts: Stephen Gudeman (2001) The Anthropology of Economy; Chris Hann and Keith Hart (2011) Economic Anthropology; Susana Narotzky (1997) New Directions in Economic Anthropology; Jonathan Parry and Maurice Bloch (Eds) (1989), Money and the Morality of Exchange; Stuart Plattner (ed) (1989) Economic Anthropology; James Carrier (2019) A Research Agenda for Economic Anthropology.


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

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: 51

Average class size 2019/20: 13

Capped 2019/20: No

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Self-management
  • Problem solving
  • Application of information skills
  • Communication
  • Specialist skills