Economic anthropology


Economic anthropology

A forum to discuss how economic anthropology might be regenerated by taking advantage of new social forms such as this one.

Location: OAC
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Latest Activity: Mar 26, 2017

texts referred to on the comments wall

Discussion Forum

Keith Hart on the human economy at MAD, New York, 29th November 7pm 3 Replies

Started by Keith Hart. Last reply by Keith Hart Dec 9, 2012.

The Madness of National Rankings

Started by John McCreery May 2, 2012.

Anthropology of finance 10 Replies

Started by Nathan Dobson. Last reply by Nathan Dobson Apr 30, 2012.

The story of the crash (and what to do about it) 19 Replies

Started by Keith Hart. Last reply by Nathan Dobson Apr 30, 2012.

Fungible money 2 Replies

Started by Nathan Dobson. Last reply by Nathan Dobson Mar 21, 2012.

Comment Wall


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Comment by Kathryn Papp on June 6, 2011 at 4:36pm

on a lighter note ... brains and politics.  a study sponsored by Colin Firth, the British actor:

Comment by Joshua Smith on June 2, 2011 at 11:54pm

I agree that it is insufficient to motivate change... by itself. But all it takes is convincing enough people. And this has succeeded in stopping many government and development projects. Sol Tax succeeded in the 1960s and is remembered well by many communities, but not by anthropologists for his work. I am part of a local organization in my home town that teaches free anthropology classes, which has brought together several cross-sections of the community from street folks to upper middle class people who are interested in the issues, but dont know where to go for good information. The government does not provide it and the media does not either.People do take offense and that is why it is important to frame the problem in ways that different audiences can understand and locate themselves in  it. Many people wont, but through our work, enough people get involved, they learn, which Treaty area they live in.


I agree, too, that coalitions and common ground are key- thats what the Treaty framework was about- mutual obligations and cohesiveness. But it is impossible to build a coalition with the government or corporation that seeks to assimilate you or destroy you, either directly or systemically. And that was my question to Kathryn, not to argue whether or not it is the best, but I wonder what ways we can engage with powerful organisations like the World Bank and the IMF to incorporate entities or voices that will certainly not jive with their ideology? I have already seen the successes of public engagement, when it is done in an inclusive and positive tone. I have seen immense results and changes in people when they understand, in a positive way, how it is all of our problem and that their are ways to address it. This is the work that Sol Tax engaged in and made anthropology relevant to the colonial issues of Native peoples all over North America. He answered Deloria's call for anthropolgosits to do something other than study the 'Indian' and write dissertations about it. These moves were positive and well received.

I am sure that the worst we could do is to say that is too hard to take a stand on the most ignored issues in North America by seeing them as unrealistic or too hard.. or too offensive. This is one way that colonialism works and is guaranteed to thrive if we are, too, apathetic to our complicity in it as it is not somethign that 'happened' or is 'over'. It continues here in Canada in rudimentary ways, in systemic ways and much of the legal scholarship on the relationship here shows how Canada is in the same situation that South Africa was a hundred years ago. We live in an unacknowledged apartheid.


Comment by John McCreery on June 2, 2011 at 10:46pm

Awareness building is important, but a common academic misconception is to think of it as sufficient to motivate change. Speaking from personal experience, I would say that any politically active person rapidly becomes the target of a broad and endless stream of appeals to support some cause in which the sender feels a particular interest. Unless the issue has some particular relevance for the individual who receives the message, its most likely fate is, if not to be ignored entirely, to go to the bottom of a stack of things that might be attended to at some later time that recedes endlessly into the future. The most effective messages are those which evoke a shared predicament, and this, to me, is the greatest weakness in the way in which Joshua has framed his issue. Not entirely a First Nation's issue? Fine, good starting point. Entirely a "settler society" issue? A turnoff for most of the people you hope to influence, who have a lot of other things on their minds and are, if they pay attention, more likely to react by being offended than convinced. That is what makes the discovery of common ground and building coalitions on it so important to successful political action. 


The anti-Vietnam War movement in which I myself participated is a good case in point. The news coverage vastly expanded horrified awareness of what was going on; but the primary driver of the movement was the threat to young men of being drafted and put in harm's way for a cause in which they no longer believed. The post-Vietnam elimination of the draft has, whether intended or not, had the effect of gutting the peace movement's protests against the U.S.'s current wars in the Middle East. The professionalization of the military has made war somebody else's problem for most members of the middle class, who are, in any case, far more worried about finding and keeping jobs in a down economy than horrors that, with memories of 9/11 fading, remain safely on the other side of the TV screen.


Native Americans? First Nations? The predictable response is, "Life's a bitch. Not my problem." That is the barrier that effective political action on behalf of these groups must overcome. Academic engagement is the first step, but only a first step on a long, long journey in which, to borrow Paul Wellstone's formula, how to mobilize, energize and organize is a deeply serious set of problems.

Comment by Kathryn Papp on June 2, 2011 at 4:21pm

also to ask how it can be done ... activism divides itself in many ways.  complementary groups need to be formed: a method scientists use for discovery.

Anthropology is making its way into business, certainly into development organizations.  Here in the USA the University of Arizona is launching some very audacious projects.  Carl Folke in Sweden has also pushed on Europe and the UN to think more about the societal aspects of environmental issues.

Yesterday I was struck by a lecture title: Continuous Partial Awareness - it came from an artist who was being medicated for cancer and lost short term memory.  But then I did a "mind map" with that as the center and it tracks to a lot of things: disciplinary studies, 'personalized' web browsing, large aggregate numbers, skewed income distribution, replication w/o networking, population myopia .... and indigenous peoples, too.

There are several ways to increase awareness: talk about it, relanguage it, include the most unlikely people, talk about even more, facebook it, screen save it, apply to TED, more???

Comment by Joshua Smith on June 2, 2011 at 3:25am
They key is for all of us to ask\ what can be done'? It is precisely the attitude, in Canada, that this is a 'First Nations' problem, when it is settler society that needs to seriously look at how we are living in accordance with Indigenous peoples. How we have sustained ourselves on their lands. These are serious questions and a lot of great scholarship is being done on understanding how to move forward in understanding our (settler) treaty obligations (for example, John Long's book on Treaty No. 9). It is also our problem in that Indigenous communities are on the front lines of protecting waters, fish, game, forests, etc on all of our behalf. This is a major component of my work in engaging in a public anthropology and pursuing ways to educate and involve settlers in understanding our legal obligations to the land the peoples who permitted us to setter here. Thus, I dont think it is going to be through finding a space in the existing government structures, but looking to the original spirit and intent of the Treaties that are actually quite reasonable agreements. Sol Tax is exceptional example of someone in the U.S. who accomplished a great deal in engaging with the devastating policies of the U.S. Due to his activism grounded in ethnography, he successfully advocated with folks like Vine Deloria to prevent immense damage that would have otherwise been caused by legislation that sought to disenfranchise all Indian communities. There is a lot of hope here in Canada, but a lot of work in education and public engagement are needed. Anthropologists ought to be playing a larger role in this.
Comment by John McCreery on June 1, 2011 at 6:02pm

My scepticism lies in the fact that to be influential and welcomed to the tables requires assimilating to the values and ethics they presume to implement irregardless of the intangible costs.


I wouldn't call that skepticism. I'd call it realism. The problem is that, if your description of the problem is correct, First Nations peoples are stuck in what is, in power terms, a structurally inferior position. Their cause may be just; but the odds of justice being done are low. Past experience, e.g., trade union and revolutionary party organizing, suggests that a lot of assumptions, including assumptions about who "we" are have to change, to provide a foundation broad enough on which to build a coalition big enough to drive change. If the choice comes down to one between people who cling sentimentally to a past no longer recoverable and those who ask, "What can be done?" given existing conditions, those in the former category are not likely to achieve their aims. Not saying that isn't sad, possibly even unjust. But, if wishes were know the rest.

Comment by Joshua Smith on June 1, 2011 at 5:39pm
Thanks for the sources Kathryn.
Comment by Joshua Smith on June 1, 2011 at 5:35pm

Thanks John. Im not sure I would use 'political impotence' in the case of Canada. What continues here is a complete systemic colonial mindset that is framed in the arguments furnished by socio-evolutionary theories. Canadian law, branches of the goverment (department of mines, fish and game regulations, etc) all function in sustaining discourses and practices that keep assuming a paternal (imperial) role over Indigenous groups. Voting and representation in government isnt (or shouldnt be an issue) since they have special rights (albeit denied and undermined by what I tried to describe above) either through Treaties guaranteeing them self-government- much of British Columbia is unceded land, the the governments of B.C. and Canada continue to try to side step. These are also the reasons why Canada has been so stubbornly reluctant to support the UN's Declaration on the rights of Indigenous Peoples. Unfortunately, becoming more influential here means conceding to the sovereignty of an colonially imposed power when many groups here already have very fair Treaty agreements with the Crown- these are nation to nation agreements that gave settlers permission to live on these lands. Im not sure about ethic-self-identification in the U.S., but that isnt the issue here where people belong to a social, cultural and political community with their own laws and ways of life- that are guaranteed in many of the Treay agreements.

The plights of Indigenous peoples in Canada (what are known as First Nations, Inuit and Metis) are about getting Canada to honour its Treaty relations and the economic and political rights guaranteed by these treaties- where there are no Treaties, Canada does not technically have jurisdiction over the land or the people . This is why B.C. is anxious to resolve this because investors wont move until it is. My scepticism lies in the fact that to be influential and welcomed to the tables requires assimilating to the values and ethics they presume to implement irregardless of the intangible costs.

At the end of the day, it is still about helping 'Indians' to 'develop' and assimilate. When its not development these communities are fundamentally opposed to, but the lack of their roles in making decisions- in a real and meaningful way (such as saying no to a project that will decimate their home).It isnt really identity politics that are the case although anthropology makes a great deal of this in our fetish for hybridity and creolization or globalization if we prefer (eg. Kantian, universalism etc).


Comment by Kathryn Papp on June 1, 2011 at 5:27pm

Joshua - there are a couple of excellent Canadian organizations that can help you:

University Manitoba - see Fikret Berkes and his work

IDRC has regular information on this.

The Canadians have led in developing "co-management" theory and practice, based on work with Canadian tribes.

The difficulty with the large development organizations is that they do hire many anthropologists and program evaluation specialists ... but they are contracted to do project reports that are often buried deeply.  The key is to find the reports that document the most local level activities, as they are loaded with the kind of detail that highlights "governance", property rights etc.

Otherwise, also look at International Funders for Indigenous People's website and follow the leads.

Comment by John McCreery on June 1, 2011 at 5:07pm

Joshua, I wonder, could it be the narrowness of ethnic self-identification that is, at least, in part responsible for political impotence?

When I was, for my sins, International Vice Chair of Democrats Abroad (the branch of the US Democratic Party that gets out the vote among US voters living outside the US), I was told by a senior party official that party leaders are focused on how much money can be raised and how many votes delivered by constituencies making claims on party resources to support their particular interests. That encounter reminded me of the enduring importance of building united fronts to promote progressive causes. 

More recently, in a similar debate on Savage Minds, I was told (I am not an expert here) that Native Americans account for about 0.5% of the US population. Since Native Americans are, moreover, geographically dispersed, the odds of their becoming by themselves a swing block of voters are low. Some tribes have become influential by running casinos or entering into economic arrangements with resource-extraction industries—both being ways to generate the money needed to buy political influence. But these are not the sorts of strategies that utopian critics usually have in mind, and the danger of corruption is, as the Jack Ambramoff case illustrated, very real, indeed. 


The obvious conclusion is, then, that to become more influential Native Americans need to form alliances with other groups. In this context, an overemphasis on ethnic identity as opposed to shared interest can be an obstacle to overcome instead of a useful tool.


One might add that alliances confined to well-meaning academics, who are themselves not all that influential these days, will not be sufficient. 


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