Edited by James G. Carrier
Chapter 4: Decisions and Choices: The Rationality of Economic Actors
Sutti Ortiz While economists are concerned with how markets direct the actions of profit-maximising actors, anthropologists have been interested in exploring how actors’ perceptions, social relations and obligations affect their economic decisions. This wider social perspective became necessary when agricultural research stations began to design programmes to increase the productivity of small farmers in Africa, Asia and Latin America. It became clear that an economic evaluation of the technical packages designed by agronomists did not suffice. To avoid failures, researchers had to incorporate in their analysis an evaluation of the ecological, social and political conditions of the region and the goals and preferences of farmers. They also had to consider the information that was available to producers and the risks that they had to assume. This wider approach was known as Farming Systems Research and relied on interdisciplinary teams that included anthropologists and sociologists, though in secondary roles. Economic actors: individuals or households? One of the key findings that anthropologists and sociologists brought to Farming Systems Research was that, in non-Western societies, resources were often controlled by household or larger kin-based units rather than by individuals. Hence, production and investment decisions had to be made at the household or homestead level. Farming Systems Research adopted their recommendation; the household became the unit of analysis in surveys and assessments of production decisions (Mook 1986; Shaner, Philipp and Schmehl 1982; Turner and Brush 1987). Anthropologists and sociologists arrived at a similar conclusion when they studied consumption and job search activities in capitalist...
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