Edited by James G. Carrier
Chapter 3: Political Economy
Don Robotham Political economy is characterised by an analytical approach which treats the economy from the point of view of production rather than from that of distribution, exchange, consumption or the market. It does not ignore distribution and exchange but analyses these in relation to the role they play in the production of the material needs of a society, including the need to reproduce and expand the means of production themselves (Dupré and Rey 1978). The field is a vast one and contains many disputes. This chapter will address some of the central themes that arise within the political economy tradition. These themes will be pursued in general and by discussing their representation in the works of well-known anthropologists. The emphasis in this chapter is on the relationship of political economy to economic anthropology. At the same time it is important to recognise that political economy presents itself as a general theory of society, inequality, politics and culture. Some of the most significant work in political economy has been done in relationship to politics, for example the very important work of the late Eric Wolf (1999). Likewise, it is difficult to understand many of the current approaches to gender inequality in anthropology unless one understands the basis of this in theories of political economy. Here debates around the earlier work of Lisette Josephides, which explains the inequality of women in Melanesia as deriving from the exploitation of women in the production process, have played critical roles (Josephides 1985; Strathern 1988)...
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