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Economic Anthropology. Cross-cultural study of the production , distribution , and consumption of goods and services. Production. How people organize their work Preindustrial society divide labor by: Gender Age In Industrial societies, detail labor (labor split into subparts).

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economic anthropology
Economic Anthropology

Cross-cultural study of the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services.

  • How people organize their work
  • Preindustrial society divide labor by:
    • Gender
    • Age
  • In Industrial societies, detail labor (labor split into subparts)
  • Once produced, goods and services must be distributed
  • Three ways by which goods are distributed
    • Reciprocity: direct exchange of goods and services
    • Redistribution: Flow of goods and services to central authority, then returned in different form
    • Market Exchange: buying and selling through price mechanism
  • Ex: Yanomamo: trade is part of political alliance

Access to goods and services

economic system
Economic System
  • The part of society that deals with production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services
    • The way production is organized has consequences for the family and the political system
    • Economics is embedded in the social process and cultural patterns
marcel mauss the gift 1925
Marcel MaussThe Gift (1925)
  • Laid the foundation for economic anthropology
  • Mauss noted that a gift is never free; it entails three obligations:
    • To give
    • To receive
    • To reciprocate
obligations of gift exchange
Obligations of Gift Exchange
  • Obligation to give:
    • To extend social ties to other person or groups
  • Obligation to receive:
    • To accept relationship
  • Refusal:
    • Rejection of offered relationship
    • Induces hostilities
  • Obligation to repay
    • Failure to repay renders one a beggar
types of reciprocity generalized
Types of Reciprocity: Generalized
  • Reciprocity: people’s informal exchange of goods and services, and labor
  • Generalized Reciprocity: Generalized reciprocity is the exchange of goods and services without keeping track of their exact value, but often with the expectation that their value will balance out over time.
    • Ex: meat distribution among the !Kung
    • Ex: Parents providing for children
      • Kids expected to care for parents in the future, love them, give grandkids, etc
    • Example: family pooling of resources
      • Ex: birthday presents
  • Usually occurs among close kin
kula ring exchange
Kula Ring Exchange

A pattern of exchange among many trading partners in the Trobriands and other South Pacific islands

Participants travel at times hundreds of miles by canoe in order to exchange Kula valuables which consist of red shell-disc necklaces that are traded to the north (circling the ring in clockwise direction) and white shell armbands that are traded in the southern direction (circling counterclockwise)

generalized reciprocity whaling
Generalized Reciprocity: Whaling
  • Inuit whale hunting involves 10 to 15 boats
  • The first 8 boats to harpoon the whale receive stipulated portions of the meat
  • The captain of the first boat gives the shaman a narrow strip cut from the belly between the 8th boat’s strip and the genitals
  • The top of the head is cut up and eaten at once by everyone in the village
  • Portions of the tail are saved for feasting in the spring and autumn
types of reciprocity balanced
Types of Reciprocity: Balanced
  • Balanced Reciprocity: occurs when someone gives to someone else, expecting a fair and tangible return - at a specified amount, time, and place.
    • Ex: Selling surplus food
      • Sell food when ripe / ready… known price for food per pound, package, etc.
    • Ex:
      • trading of baseball cards
      • holding of dinner parties
      • buying a round of drinks
  • Usually occurs among distant kin
types of reciprocity negative
Types of Reciprocity: Negative
  • Negative Reciprocity: an exchange where one party tries to get the better of the exchange from the other party
    • Examples:
      • Hard bargaining or deception
      • Bartering
      • Gambling
      • Stealing
      • Selling used cars
      • Selling prepared food to a captive market
  • Usually occurs among unrelated persons
  • Process where goods and services flow to a strong central authority (king, chief, government, kinship based leadership) where they are sorted, counted, and reallocated according to culturally specific principles
    • Impersonal and occurs without regard to the social position of the participants.
  • When this is the key economic institution, social and political goals are less important than financial goals.
    • Ex:
      • Pure communism (commune, monastery, early Christianity)
      • Government programs and services
    • Ex: Potlatch
      • a competitive giveaway practiced by the Kwakiutl and other groups of the northwest coast of North America
    • Ex: Taxes
      • Redistribution of resources occurs where these resources are allocated back to individuals or groups within society either through the provision of public services or directly through welfare benefits.

Leveling mechanism is a practice, value, or form of social organization that evens out wealth within a society.

Cargo system is a ritual system common in Central and South America in which wealthy people are required to hold a series of costly ceremonial offices.

  • A potlatch is a gift-giving festival and primary economic system practiced by indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast of Canada and the United States
  • At potlatch gatherings, a family or hereditary leader hosts guests in their family\'s house and holds a feast for their guests.
  • The main purpose of the potlatch is the re-distribution and reciprocity of wealth.
  • Within it, hierarchical relations within and between clans, villages, and nations, are observed and reinforced through the distribution or sometimes destruction of wealth, dance performances, and other ceremonies. The status of any given family is raised not by who has the most resources, but by who distribute the most resources.
  • It equalizes the distribution of produce and confers prestige on those who give it.
    • Creates reciprocal obligations with those who receive
Blankets, the dominant potlatch item in the late nineteenth-century, are shown piled high in preparation for giving.
Alert Bay potlatch showing masks, bracelets and kitchen utensils on display under strung bolts of fabric
the big men of new guinea
The “Big Men” of New Guinea

Surplus economic resources – especially pigs – are accumulated and then distributed as gifts

Giving pigs increases the personal prestige and political influence of the giver – the “Big Man”

Creates obligation among those that receive it

market exchange
Market Exchange
  • Exchange of goods among many buyers and sellers directly, by barter, or indirectly, by money and pricing
    • Ex: Yoruba market in Nigeria; Haitian market woman
  • Markets include:
    • Crowds of buyers and sellers
    • Instant information on prices
    • Freedom of market entry and exit
market exchange1
Market Exchange
  • Buying and selling of goods and services
    • Prices set by supply and demand
  • Usually happens at specific times and places
  • Money exchanged instead of goods
market economy formal and informal sectors
Market Economy: Formal and Informal Sectors
  • That which is counted in the GNP (gross national product) is the formal sector.
    • In much of Third World, formal sector accounts for less than half of the economy.
  • Economic activities that aren’t counted in the GNP are in the informal sector:
    • Ex:
      • prostitution
      • flea markets
      • drug trade
      • bake sales
      • Illegal immigrant labor
  • Economic system
    • People work for wages.
    • Land and capital goods are privately owned.
    • Capital is invested for individual profit.
  • A small part of the population owns most of the resources or capital goods.
division of labor by gender
Division of Labor By Gender

Universal characteristic of society

In foraging societies, men generally hunt and women generally gather

In agricultural societies, both men and women play important roles in food production

division of labor craft specialization detail labor
Division of Labor: Craft Specialization / Detail Labor
  • With intensive cultivation more people can devote full time to specialized crafts
  • Craft Specialization
    • Knowledge extends to all aspects of a given craft
    • Individual Assembly
  • Detail Labor
    • Industrialization
    • Work on one specific part of assembly
  • Which is more efficient in pin production?
  • One man cutting wire, pointing pin, putting head on it, whiting it, and papering it
  • Or five me, one on each task?
industrial production system
Industrial Production System

Detail labor involves breaking each task down to its subtasks in production

Assigning each subtask to each individual and ordering each individual how to do each subtask.

effects globalized division of labor
Effects: Globalized Division of Labor
  • Has enabled globalization of production
  • Labor intensive tasks sent to Third World
    • Such as leatherworking operation in Ecuador
  • Result: downsizing and plant closures
    • Ex: Mexican maquiladoras close
  • As low wages in China and Bangladesh draw factories there
economic inequality
Economic Inequality

Inequality of wealth grows as society becomes more complex

if all of the wealth of the u s were represented by 100 and the population were 100 people
If All of the Wealth of the U.S. were Represented by $100 and the Population were 100 people:

1 person would have $38.10

4 people would have 5.32 each

5 people would have 2.30 each

10 people would have 1.25 each

20 people would have .60 each

20 people would have .23 each

40 people would have ½ cent each

warren buffet the world s fourth richest man
Warren Buffet, the World’s Fourth Richest Man
  • Income: $46 million last year
    • Tax rate: 17.7 %
  • His secretary earned $60,000 and paid at the 30 % rate
lifestyles of the superwealthy
Lifestyles of the Superwealthy

Mirage Villas, Las Vegas, 4,500 square feet of luxury for only $4,500 per night

check it out
Check It Out:
  • The Villas at the Caesars are even nicer—

8,800 sq ft for only $40,000 a night:

life of the super rich
Life of the Super Rich

bill gates net worth 2010
Bill Gates’ Net Worth: 2010

Over $50 billion in Microsoft stock, and an annual income of about $176 million

$30 to $40 billion that he has donated to his own charity, the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, which is currently his main work.

Compare this with the average net worth of the top 1 percent – only $14.8 million.


Transformation of goods, ideas, or other entities that may not normally be regarded as goods into a commodity.



The Role of the Mayan Rain God:

Past and Present

chaac background




chaac background1


  • Elephant-like nose
  • Sometimes depicted with tears in the eyes, representing rain
  • Associated with the frog
  • With his lightning axe, Chaac strikes the clouds and produces thunder and rain
chaac background2
  • Often represented as one god


  • As the four cardinal points:
      • Chac Xib Chaac (red Chaac of the East)
      • Sac Xib Chaac (white Chaac of the North)
      • Ek Xib Chaac (black Chaac of the West)
      • Kan Xib Chaac (yellow Chaac of the South)
chaac background3

Effigies of Chaac are often painted with blue, red, yellow, white, black, and green

chaac today
  • Conversion to Catholicism faciliatated by replacing indigeonous gods with Saints
  • Pre-colonialism prayers to Chaac are still in use, with Saint Thomas in place of Chaac
chaac today1
  • Cities were converted to Catholisim more easily
  • Rural areas retained more traditional Mayan beliefs
chaac today2

Often, the people in smaller towns will first pray in the Catholic church for rain, then will take prayers to Chaac into the cornfields if the rain still does not come

chaac today3


The Mayan Shaman chooses a spot near a tree, and conducts prayers with no other people nearby

The Shaman then makes ´Kol´, a corn based food, as well as a corn based drink

Food and drink are distributed among the people

chaac today4

Regular ceremonies to Chaac still exist

Cha-chaac is a ritual performed at the start of the rainy season

Mayan people must travel far into the wilderness to practice these rites, in order to avoid persecution

commodification of chaac
  • Tourism is one of the most important industries in Mexico and in the Yucatan
  • The Mexico Ministry of Tourism, the Commission of Tourism, and the Federal Law of Tourism work together to support this industry
commodification of chaac1

The Uxmal Light and Sound show is one example of attempts to use Mayan culture to bring in tourist revenue

commodification of chaac2

According to Eduardo of Muna, the commodification of Chaac as ornaments or souvenirs is not offensive to the Mayan people, since the traditional ancient rites have been all but forgotten by the common people

Juan of Merida, on the other hand, suggested that peddling Chaac images, especially those made in another country, cheapens the culture

commodification of chaac3

At Muna we found representations of Chaac that were much more than simple replicas…