Economic Action in Theory and Practice: Anthropological Investigations: Volume 30


Table of contents

(20 chapters)

This 30th volume of “Research in Economic Anthropology” (REA) consists of 13 original chapters focusing on various aspects of economic organization and behavior, most of which are based on empirical fieldwork conducted by the respective authors themselves. The volume has three parts. Chapters in Part I focus on development and inequalities – common and important themes in economic anthropology. Part II, in concentrating on market expansion and marketing in general, continues the theme of Part II of Volume 25 in the REA series (Wood, 2007, pp. 4–7). The final section – Part III – consists of three chapters that are concerned with economic activities and group or individual identity. The volume ends with a review by James R. Stanfield of a new book about the continuing relevance of Karl Polanyi's famous 1944 book, The Great Transformation, edited by Chris Hann and Keith Hart.

This study examines the way the government of Kazakhstan confronted informal (squatter) settlements and their property in Almaty in 2006. It argues that the way the state handled the issue as part of a broader state economic strategy was neither appropriate for the aim of creating a functioning property market nor for advancing social justice and welfare. The analysis focuses on the attempted demolition of two informal settlements, Bakay and Shanyrak, and subsequent events, including (a) militant and political responses among the residents and their supporters, (b) the legalization campaign, and (c) the effects of the global credit crunch on construction and property market in Almaty. The goal here is to refine the claim to a connection between formal economy, state practice, and squatters' experiences.

Income and wealth in Brazil is distributed as unequally and unjustly as in any other nation or region of the world. This chapter examines how wealth and income has been, is, or might be made available to the population. Using the conceptual framework of the substantive economics developed by Karl Polanyi, Conrad Arensberg, and their colleagues, the distribution of goods and services is analyzed as a socially “instituted process,” separate from production and other factors generally included in studies of economics. Four approaches are presented as they were elaborated in the thinking of authors who wrote at different times in history: The Infante Dom Pedro of Portugal in the early 15th century, Adam Smith in the late 18th century, Karl Marx in the 19th century, and Louis Kelso in the mid-20th century. Each approach, three of which have been, and one which might be instituted, is explored in terms of its potential for reducing poverty and correcting distributive injustice.

This chapter claims that the La Chamba community in central Colombia exhibits some characteristics of Schumpeter's (1949) concept of economic development. This case is important because it represents several mestizo communities in Latin America, which are deeply involved in domestic and international craft markets. The market economy penetrates the ceramic community of La Chamba, fostering technological change, improving economic development (as Schumpeter defines it), and creating economic differences across households.

In the case of migration to new destinations where the immigration stream from a particular locale is of little historical depth, it can be asked what people make up ego's adaptation network. It is argued here that networks of reciprocal exchange fortified by the creation of compadrazgo relationships (ritual kinship ties) provide the new immigrant with economic and affective benefits.

Archaeological evidence from the prehistoric Spondylus industry of coastal Ecuador is analyzed here to clarify how craft production was structured and the role that it played in the rise of social complexity. Many models of social development propose that elite cooption of specialized craft production can be a useful avenue through which aspiring elites can gain differential status. Contrary to the expectations of these models, data from coastal Ecuador indicates that craft production of sumptuary goods was an activity primarily carried out by household units for the benefit of the domestic economy. Increased trafficking with northern Peruvian states at ca. 750 seems to have promoted local social stratification by attracting large numbers of households to the restricted locales where they could exploit these resources, which in turn prompted a strengthening of the kinds of political conditions that facilitate orderly interaction and minimize internal social conflict.

This chapter focuses on donkey traders and trading in Kashgar in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, an area which has experienced unrest and also seen sporadic incidents of violence that reflect the social and political instability in China since the 1990s. The Uyghurs are a Turkic speaking Islamic people who are classified as one of the country's 56 ethnic groups. Since the establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949, mass migration of Han Chinese to this remote Central Asian region has intensified relations between the indigenous Uyghurs and the migrant Han Chinese, with many socioeconomic and political consequences. Through an exploration of the Uyghurs' cultural and religious understanding of donkeys and the multidimensional transactions of donkeys in livestock markets between Han Chinese and Uyghurs, the chapter argues that the practices and meanings of culture are both accommodated and contested when economic and political realities are simultaneously in play. Examining the changing characteristics of the intermediaries at donkey markets also sheds light on the ways in which these actors are becoming agents who bridge peasant communities in remote parts of southern Xinjiang and national markets amidst otherwise unfavourable social and economic conditions.

This chapter addresses urban food provisioning through a case study of banana plantain production, distribution, and consumption centering around two Cameroonian villages – Koumou and Oban. Recent and rapid urban population growth in Cameroon has brought attention to the issue of urban food supply, which has always been assured by a traditional organization of numerous small operators and which has proven to be more effective overall than initiatives adopted by public authorities. This chapter identifies the actors involved in urban food provisioning systems in Cameroon and highlights the often underlooked role played by cultural and social factors within the economy of food.

The “hostile worlds” view argues that money corrupts the meaning of art, but some suggest this is a dated concept in describing the art market. Instead of dismissing this view, this chapter argues that we need a typology of beliefs about art, money, and commensuration; what could be understood as a pluralist understanding. Based on ethnographic research on the high-end contemporary art market in New York and London, I find that collectors, investors, and art world experts often have different views about the relationship between art and money. This recognition is significant because art is a symbolic good with assigned, rather than intrinsic value, meaning that the value of art can be damaged for people holding hostile worlds views when the mechanisms that maintain the appropriate balance between art and money break down or are disregarded. In this sense, hostile worlds views create a performativity effect.

Flows of transnational popular culture into Egypt are not so much cases of foreign imperialism imposing itself on helpless Egyptians as they are processes managed by Cairene entrepreneurs whose accomplishments present them as successful agents of modernization, locating the cosmopolitan balance between global brands and goods and local markets and infrastructures. This chapter explores the links between these entrepreneurs, the state's “culture of development,” and class reproduction. Egyptian transnational entrepreneurialism – speculative, profit-oriented enterprises engaged with transnational flows of brands, commodities, and capital – has become yoked to the state's goal of national development through economic liberalization. Upper-class cosmopolitan entrepreneurs are increasingly positioned as agents of hybridity, culture brokers who can creatively forge links between supposedly rational and universal economic practices of market capital, and local cultural beliefs and values. Successful entrepreneurs are construed as possessing an “entrepreneurial imagination” by means of which they can overcome structural and cultural obstacles and contribute to the development of an Egyptian “enterprise culture.”

The market cross was a common structure and symbol used in early markets in England and Scotland. Although its precise origin is obscure, its use appears to be connected with religious traditions. Early markets in medieval Britain, especially rural markets with no central authority present, likely faced obstacles in serving as places of trade between strangers. Many market towns and trading centers did exist at church or religious gatherings, but these might have followed pre-Christian or pagan sites, and similarly, the market cross itself may be related to the pre-Christian practice of constructing stone pillars to create trade sanctuaries or to represent a divine witness. Such structures used as religious symbols, therefore, are likely to have facilitated the emergence of impersonal markets of exchange.

This chapter focuses on brokerage in the prestige economy of the Gabor Roma ethnic subgroup in Romania. It argues that the necessity of the brokers’ employment as well as their economic importance comes from the significant uncertainty characterising the prestige-object transactions, that is, these brokers are occasional entrepreneurs specialised in risk management. The theoretical purpose of the chapter is to demonstrate that brokers and goods mediated by them can be associated with more than one socially constructed transactional identity (cultural, political, economic, etc.) at the same time. It also aims to highlight the shifting nature of these identities – they are not constant and context-free qualities, but highly context-sensitive social constructions that can appear in various combinations.

This chapter looks at how Latin American immigrants go about shopping for groceries in Nashville, Tennessee, and relates this simple act to a wider political economy. The chapter examines the act of shopping for groceries and the immigrants' preferences through elements largely ignored by the prevailing economic paradigm. To some extent, the immigrants are aware that their mode of shopping is not entirely “rational” and that their choices are often informed by nothing more than “feelings” toward a place or product. The ethnography examines how the immigrants deal with their now dislocated practice of shopping in their everyday life in the new city. In examining this process, the ethnography considers the public spaces in which the practice of shopping takes place, and includes both those stores catering directly to immigrants and those serving a wider market.

Drilling rig work is dangerous, repetitive, and both physically and emotionally taxing, but is attractive to many workers because it affords a means whereby those lacking postsecondary education are able to earn high salaries while still in their twenties and thirties. This chapter examines the workplace culture of the personnel at a number of rig sites in Alberta, Canada. It focuses on the ways in which workers speak about their own motivations and goals and discusses the verbal norms surrounding safety and accidents. It concludes that – the insistence on “money” as the prime motivator in the workers' folk model notwithstanding – there are significant personal rewards inherent in being an accepted member of the production team.

Hann, C. & Hart, K. (Eds) (2009). Market and society: The great transformation today. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, cloth, $110.00, pp. xi, 320, index.

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Research in Economic Anthropology
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Emerald Publishing Limited
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