Chapter 8: Labour
E. Paul Durrenberger Economists are known for their qualification ‘all other things being equal’, while anthropologists have made a discipline of the fact that things are never equal. Economic anthropology today is not best thought of as the study of economy in non-Western settings, but rather as anthropological approaches to economy in any setting. To meet their material needs, people produce, distribute and consume goods. Economic anthropology describes the systems in which people do these things, how these systems are organised, how they operate, how they got that way, how they relate to other systems, how people behave and make decisions in terms of such systems, and the consequences of people’s actions for the systems. To understand how various economic systems organise production, distribution and consumption, we have to understand what the system is, what its parts are and how the parts relate to one another. Another goal of economic anthropology is to describe these systems in locally meaningful terms that are universally relevant and useful for understanding any economic system at any time and any place (Durrenberger 1996). Here I shall discuss how anthropologists have classified economic systems in terms of the means they use to organise labour for production, the classification of production units according to different roles of labour in them, the role of labour in modern complex societies, how globalisation affects the organisation of labour, and the relationships between people’s involvement with labour and the forms of their consciousness, their cultures. Labour and the classification of...
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