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 12: Distribution and Redistribution

Thomas C. Patterson


Thomas C. Patterson Both anthropology and economics were constituted as disciplines in the context of a debate that began about 1750. This discourse is concerned with the rise of modern capitalism and its impact on peoples in both the core and peripheral areas of its development. One explanation of the difference between the two fields asserts that economists have sought to account for these changes in terms of universally applicable models of human nature – for instance, that human beings are naturally economising – whereas anthropologists have stressed the importance of culture and its shaping effects on behaviour, both individually and in the aggregate (Geertz 1984). As Joel Kahn (1990), Heath Pearson (2000) and others have shown, the inter-relationships of anthropology and economics are actually more complicated, and both contain in different ways elements of the dialogue among the diverse strands of liberal, romantic and Marxist social thought. Kahn further notes that concerns about cultural otherness manifested in both fields in the late nineteenth century occurred at a historical moment when traditional communities in both core and peripheral areas were being enmeshed increasingly in capitalist social relations and transformed differentially. One should add that new cultural identities were also forged in the process. A concern with the inter-relations of production and distribution has been an important feature of this debate. From the eighteenth century onward, classical political economists, including Karl Marx, based their arguments on the labour theory of value, distinguishing between (1) the amount of goods required to sustain the members...

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