Preface and acknowledgments
Edited by James G. Carrier
PRELIMS 21/2/05 9:39 AM Page 15 Preface and acknowledgements Those who work in economic anthropology are aware of the importance of the economy in public thought and debate. In retrospect, Adam Smith might well have titled his book The health of nations, for in our day, if not in his, it seems that the health of a country is defined by its wealth, just as the final judgement of an activity is its bottom line, how it gains or loses money. And overweening in our day is economics, whether the formal, theoretical economics of scholars like Gary Becker, the more applied economics of bodies like the Federal Reserve Board or the Bank of England, or the less rigorous economics of public thought and debate. This state of affairs is likely both to exhilarate and to distress anthropologists who work on economy. It exhilarates because it points out the importance of what they study, which is, after all, economic life. It is likely to distress because the economic life that they see in their research often looks so different from the world construed by those theoretical, applied and popular economics. And the word ‘world’ is not simple hyperbole, for economics, talk of economy, touches on and assumes so much about human life: what it means to be a person, how people think and act, what value is and what is valued, how people relate to and deal with one another. Perhaps the exhilaration, or maybe just the prospect of it,...