Edited by James G. Carrier
Chapter 6: Community and Economy: Economy’s Base
Stephen Gudeman An economy’s base is the social and material space that a community or association of people make in the world. Comprising shared material interests, it connects members of a group to one another, and is part of all economies. The base of a community changes over time and assumes many forms that vary by history and context. But it is not represented in economic theories, and our ordinary language often does not bring it to everyday awareness. The term ‘base’, however, is used in parts of Latin America, and studies from other parts of the world provide many examples of its presence. By twisting the lens on economic processes, we may help reveal the significance of the base, which underlies all economies and is connected to capital in market-dominated economies. But understanding the importance of the base, and the interwoven relation of community and markets, requires a broadened understanding of the sphere of economy. Ethnographers have demonstrated for more than a century that in other historical and ethnographic societies, as well as industrial ones, economy includes more than markets or the market-like exchange of goods and services. From an anthropological perspective, economy covers the acquisition, production, transfer and use of things and services. For example, material things are produced and processed outside formal markets, and many transfers take place through practices such as social allotment and apportionment, inheritance, dowry, bridewealth, bloodwealth, indenture and reciprocity, each mode having a variety of expressions. Modern (especially neoclassical) economics focuses primarily on...
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