The Human Economy

A forum to discuss the agenda laid out in a new book, The Human Economy: A Citizen's Guide.

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Latest Activity: Mar 13

Discussion Forum

Review article of David Graeber's Debt book featuring human economy 2 Replies

I have published this article-length review of Debt: The first 5,000 years as…Continue

Started by Keith Hart. Last reply by Erin B. Taylor Nov 20, 2012.

Conroy on informal economy (continued) 12 Replies

A chance to extend the seminar conversation around John…Continue

Started by Keith Hart. Last reply by John Conroy May 27, 2012.

The human economy in a revolutionary moment 10 Replies

The human economy in a revolutionary moment: political aspects of the economic crisisThis is the edited transcript of an improvised talk for a seminar, “Social movements and the solidarity economy”,…Continue

Started by Keith Hart. Last reply by Oscar González Feb 12, 2012.

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Comment by Nathan Dobson on December 20, 2011 at 10:16pm

Thanks for those links Keith.

One thing that stands out for me about these comics is that economics is present but secondary to the story; almost a by-product. This is quite different to a development initiative like "The financial diaries" project where it is up-front and in your face. Which one will be remembered and continue to influence people years down the line?

The boom in initiatives to offer financial services to the poor highlights the question Dickens asked 200 years ago: would the artful dodger have been any better off ditching Fagin and joining a decent pension scheme? 

Comment by Keith Hart on December 19, 2011 at 1:23pm

This is great stuff, Nathan, not least for the vibrancy and high volume circulation of this comic. I believe that the human economy must draw on literature as a model. There is a nice little book by Francis Wheen, Das Kapital: A Biography, where he claims that Marx synthesized political economy and the great novelists of the period, since fiction was indispensible to the project of capturing embryonic capitalism through a mix of science and critique. Noam Yuran, who appears here occasionally, wrote a great thesis on money which includes a chapter on Dickens in addition to ones on Marx, Weber, Veblen etc. As he shows, it is hard to beat the likes of Dickens, Balzac and Dostoevsky when it comes to humanizing the study of money. I can also recommend Marc Shell's The Economy of Literature which focuses on the ancient Greeks, but has always been a major source for me.

Comment by Nathan Dobson on December 19, 2011 at 12:27am

Everyone in the world seems to have taken it upon themselves to mark the double centenary of Dickens by linking his stories and characters to their own interests. Of all the tenuous links being made I was particularly struck by this recent article in the economist about Shujaaz in Kenya. Dickens and The Human Economy anyone?

Comment by Keith Hart on December 15, 2011 at 10:19pm

Thanks for posting this link, Huon. I was alerted to the paper at the time of the AAA meetings and I agree that it is very interesting as well as being lucid and new.

I got the impression that the aesthetic side of mobile money was less compelling than its practical use in making new kinds of social connection. I too noted that Haitains are on the whole more numerate than literate. It was a relief not to be told again how good it all is for the poor, although Erin promises this in future.

If you get a chance, I would like you to say more about the synthesis this approach might point to. I wonder if it has anything to do with your fascinating account of the Jamaican numbers racket, Drop Pan, from which I have borrowed shamelessly in the past.

Comment by Huon Wardle on December 15, 2011 at 6:22pm

Erin Taylor (an OACer) and colleagues have taken an interesting step in the study of money; they are looking at the aesthetics of electronic money (mobile phone money in this case) in Haiti. I have longstanding interest in the aesthetics of money: it is also a longterm concern of my colleague and friend here in St Andrews, Emilia Ferraro, who works in Ecuador. But I think there are important issues in this synthesis of the aesthetic, the quantitative and the new electronic forms of money abstraction: these need further thought:

Comment by Keith Hart on April 20, 2011 at 9:15am
Mallika Shakya's review of The Human Economy has now been published by OAC Press and can be discussed here or in the OAC Book Reviews Group.
Comment by Keith Hart on February 22, 2011 at 6:58am
Thank you, Detlev, Alexander, Doreen and David for your wonderful contributions. I am in New York lecturing on the financial crisis and after, while Libyan fighter pilots seek asylum in Malta rather than follow orders to bomb their own people. We are clearly living though an turning point in world history and each of you in your own way points to how this sharpens the purpose that launched this group. This common thread is a great place for us to introduce ourselves, but I would encourage some of you to start further discussions. Just remember that group members do not automatically get email notification of the speical discussions unless they click on the follow icon.
Comment by david seddon on February 22, 2011 at 6:41am

belatedly I rejoin the community of anthropologists - my interest in this group is theoretical and practical - as a Marxist I am interested in the way in which men and women make history but not under conditions of their own choosing, particularly through collective action. The current 'Arab revolt' is of particular interest, given a lengthy period of working in North Africa and the Middle East (PhD in Morocco) and an interest in popular protest and class struggle - see my book with John Walton, Free Markets and Food Riots, which I am currently updating with Peter Dwyer and Leo Zeilig as 'Global Dissent: popular protest and class struggle on a world scale'

class is all about shared experience - as is gender and ethnic identity etc - but there is a difference between sharing an experience by virtue of being in broadly the same circumstances and sharing it through actual physical-political solidarity, collective action, which does raise consciousness about what is being shared and why.. physical coming together is important, whether in the factory, or the public square and street, or maybe in the new forms of collective interaction (internet, face book, twitter etc) and particularly intervention (eg Avaaz,  Wikileaks etc.)

Was recently in Egypt and am currently in Kathmandu and would love to talk to Mallika particularly about the current potential for democracy movements and the need in Nepal now for collective action to move the 'political process' on...


Comment by doreen gordon on February 21, 2011 at 12:08pm

Hello Everyone,

Thanks Keith for the invitation to join this discussion forum, I look forward to participating. Let me briefly introduce myself to the participants. My name is Doreen Gordon, I am Jamaican and I have recently joined the Human Economy Project as a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Pretoria. I previously worked as a Lecturer at the University of the West Indies, Jamaica after completing my PhD in Anthropology in 2009 at the University of Manchester. 


My doctoral research was on Brazil, looking at the emergence of black middle classes in Salvador, Brazil. In particular, I was interested in the social networks and processes that facilitated/ or hindered their mobility into the middle classes. Thus I looked at the ways in which people organized, within families and communities and also across transnational borders, for improvement in their life conditions and the degrees of integration or segregation they experienced in terms of access to wealth, credit, opportunities and consumption lifestyles. I was really interested in reviving older debates about the relationship between race and capitalism or political economy - debates which had faded into the background in the face of newer theories emphasizing identity. I explicitly sought to ground the participants of my researchin the economic and amterial practicesin which they were embedded. I think that these interests can feed into discussions about the human economy and to other comparative situations that exist in Jamaica and South Africa.


My focus on the middle classes might not be immediately obvious as a theme that can be related to the human economy. However, economic prospects can be fueled by the expansion of a viable middle class (this is happening in Brazil) as the middle classes trigger expansion in the market for housing, cars and other consumer durables. In Brazil, African descendants who had become upwardly mobile played an important strategic role both in reproducing and challenging racial and economic inequalities - thus their potential in contributing to more democratic participation in the economy and society.


I listened to the LSE podcast and one question came immediately to mind (which draws on Alexander's question about extending the concept of human economy to the more formal expert world of investment and high finance)  - is how much do we really know about developments in Economics and in Finance and is there a way to engage these specialists in a wider debate? The promise of the Human Economy project and debates to be open to interdiscipinary and cross-regional analysis should prompt us to engage with and attempt to understand developments in the world of finance and economics, if we would like to be relevant beyond our narrow areas of interest.


I recently attended an informal meeting in Johannesburg with a group of Jamaicans seeking to form a Jamaican-South African association. Addressing the audience of 35 Jamaicans or persons of Jamaican descent was the Director of the Jamaica Diaspora Institute, Professor Neville Ying. He reported that Jamaica receives over $2 billion in remittances from Jamaicans living abroad - showing how this very important aspect of the economy is so very social and so linked to global flows of capital and money coming from Jamaicans living overseas to their family and friends back home.

Comment by Alexander Parkinson on February 19, 2011 at 3:06am
I would like to thank fellow contributors for an intellectually stimulating debate from which I have learnt some interesting points and that is, in its very nature, akin to my interests.
I read The Human Economy a couple of months ago when completing a PhD proposal for Manchester University and listened to the lecture on my journey to and from work today. I believe that the book is an incredible achievement in that it brings globally dispersed scholars with a plethora of distinct specialisations together coherently, under an umbrella concept of immense significance. I’d like to talk more about the general prescriptions of the book and position my views in relation to some of the comments here.
As with John’s reading of Keith, I see the The Human Economy as a rallying call for a widespread commitment to a better understanding of our economic lives – hopefully leading to more socially-responsible action. (This is also the case with The Great Transformation Today by Hann & Hart, which, if you haven’t read Detlev, I would strongly recommend). So…what can we do about it? Certainly, pointing to collective forms that are not captured by dominant disciplines, ideologies and institutions etc is essential. I believe that it is also necessary to directly tackle these entities – still building on what is already there but perhaps, more so, on the areas that are most problematic to our cause (of intellectuals and of species alike).
As Detlev’s invocation of Polanyi reminds us, haute finance is (re)made by humans. People do not form part of most financial/economic models but they create them and engage with their abstractions daily. Finance may be an arena for individual experts, but it is an indelibly social arena that shapes, and is shaped by, its participants. This has been shown recently, for example, by Karen Ho, Gillian Tett and Horacio Ortiz. In my view, we need to probe the ‘complex particulars’ of these expert domains. We can then question, for instance, how the notion that Wall Street ‘culture’ contributes to, or even creates, financial bubbles fits into finance’s trend analyses. More concretely, I’ve worked as a stockbroker in Manchester for nearly 4 years at two very different firms and can contrast:
1. A huge Canadian discount broker that seeks to employ people to only push buttons, minimise contact with clients by encouraging them to online trading, and attracts clients only usually interested with short-term share ownership, with…
2. A small Manchester investment ‘house’ whose current partners were there when the stock exchange was an ‘old boys club’, where deals are still hand written, with only human-human telephone dealing and clients that are almost always investing for the long term.
To say that both firms, their employees, and their clients are only “in it for the money” is a huge over-simplification. This example isn’t from Wall Street but it still references the economic lives of tens of thousands of people – and it could be unpacked much further. To give Mallika’s posts a deserved response, stockbroking here is an example of international trading (of shares) where corporations have not yet been able to move their operations abroad – rooted by expertise – although the Canadian firm from my example is edging closer to this! (also....see Threads by J Collins for an example of apparel capital opportunistically seeking out cheap labour)
My question, then, is do you believe that the human economy, as a concept, can extend to the more ‘formal’ expert world of investment and high finance? I believe that it can. Perhaps one way of achieving a fairer distribution of wealth or solidarity is to point to the social nature of the most impersonal aspects of our economy that exist already. At the very least, we can obtain a better understanding of value and maybe hedge against our past pitfalls. The project may be different but the cause is human.

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