The Anthropological theories of value reference article from the English Wikipedia on 24-Jul-2004
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Anthropological theories of value

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Anthropological theories of value attempt to expand on the traditional theories of value used by economists or ethicists. They are often broader in scope than the theories of value of Adam Smith, David Ricardo, John Stuart Mill, Karl Marx, etc. usually including sociological, political, institutional, and historical perspectives. Some have influenced feminist economics.

The basic premise is that economic activities can only be fully understood in the context of the society that creates them. The concept of "value" is a social construct, and as such is defined by the culture using the concept. Yet we can gain some insights into modern patterns of exchange, value, and wealth by examining previous societies. An anthropological approach to economic processes allows us to critically examine the cultural biases inherent in the principles of modern economics. Anthropological linguistics is a related field which looks at the terms we use to describe economic relations and the ecologies they are set within. Many anthropological economists (or economic anthropologists) are reacting against what they see as the portrayal of modern society as an economic machine that merely produces and consumes.

Marcel Mauss and Bronislaw Malinowski for example wrote about objects that circulate in society without being consumed. Georges Bataille wrote about object which are destroyed, but not consumed. Bruce Owens talks about objects of value that are neither circulating nor consumed (e.g. gold reserves, warehoused paintings, family heirlooms).

David Graeber attempts to synthesize the insights of Karl Marx and Marcel Mauss. He sees value as a model for human Ómeaning-makingÔ. Starting with Marxist definitions of consumption and production, he introduces MaussÒ idea of "objects that are not consumed" and constructs a list of things that are neither consumption nor production. GraeberÒs list includes those human activities that are not consumption, in the narrow sense of simply purchasing something, and are not production, in the sense of creating or modifying something intended for sale or exchange. It includes:

Table of contents
1 Criticisms
2 Further reading
3 See also

Criticisms

Economists typically use the term consumption in a way that is far broader than merely purchasing something and then tossing it. It is quite common to talk about the consumption of time. Many of the items on his list would be considered either production or consumption by most economists. Also Gary Becker's household production functions and similar topics note that people often purchase goods and then combine them with time to produce something that has meaning or practicality to them (a.k.a. produce utility)

Further reading

See also