A Handbook of Economic Anthropology
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A Handbook of Economic Anthropology

Edited by James G. Carrier

This unique Handbook contains substantial and invaluable summary discussions of work on economic processes and issues, and on the relationship between economic and non-economic areas of life. Furthermore it describes conceptual orientations that are important among economic anthropologists, and presents summaries of key issues in the anthropological study of economic life in different regions of the world. Its scope and accessibility make it useful both to those who are interested in a particular topic and to those who want to see the breadth and fruitfulness of an anthropological study of economics.
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Chapter 10: Money: One Anthropologist’s View

Keith Hart


Keith Hart Most anthropologists don’t like money and they don’t have much of it. It symbolises the world they have rejected for something more authentic elsewhere. It lines them up with the have-nots and against the erosion of cultural diversity by globalisation. As a result, anthropologists have not had much of theoretical interest to say about money. Rather, they have been limited to discussing whether primitive valuables are money or not. Thus Bronislaw Malinowski (1921: 13; see Strathern and Stewart chap. 14 infra) was adamant that Trobriand kula valuables were not money in that they did not function as a medium of exchange and standard of value. But Marcel Mauss (1990 [1925]: 100) held out for a broader conception that goes beyond the kind of money we are familiar with: On this reasoning … there has only been money when precious things ... have been really made into currency – namely have been inscribed and impersonalised, and detached from any relationship with any legal entity, whether collective or individual, other than the state that mints them … One only defines in this way a second type of money – our own. He suggests (1990 [1925]: 101) that primitive valuables are like money in that they ‘have purchasing power and this power has a figure set on it’. This was the high point in anthropologists’ discussion of money. Mauss’s line was generally not taken up and, thereafter, economic anthropologists used concepts drawn from Western folk wisdom rather than from economics.1 Parry and Bloch (1989) show how...

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