93243 - Economic Anthropology

Course Unit Page

  • Teacher Marc Andrew Brightman

  • Credits 6

  • SSD M-DEA/01

  • Teaching Mode Traditional lectures

  • Language English

  • Campus of Ravenna

  • Degree Programme Second cycle degree programme (LM) in International Cooperation on Human Rights and Intercultural Heritage (cod. 9237)


This teaching activity contributes to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN 2030 Agenda.

Gender equality Decent work and economic growth Reduced inequalities

Academic Year 2021/2022

Learning outcomes

The course introduces students to economic anthropology, offering a broad overview to a subdiscipline that challenges the very notion of a discreet economic realm separable from others such as religion, kinship or politics. It covers key themes such as egalitarianism, notions of wealth and property, gifts and commodities, community and market exchange, marriage systems, money, symbolic exchange, ecology and the role of nonhumans, and finance. The course is taught using ethnographic case studies. It offers students critical insight into cross-cultural economic themes and allows them to improve their research and presentation skills.

Course contents

The course is designed to give a solid grounding in economic anthropology. It begins by introducing the anthropological legacy of Karl Polanyi’s seminal critique of classical economics inspired by early 20th century economic ethnography. The exploration of the ways in which economy is embedded in society is developed through the literature on gift exchange. We then examine egalitarianism and sharing economies among hunter gatherers, further challenging the figure of ‘economic man’. This leads us to sessions exploring different notions of ownership and property, and gender, kinship and economy. We then consider other systems of production and the entanglements of food, agriculture and social movements, before discussing how religion can be bound up with economy, and Protestantism’s relationship with capitalism. The final sessions introduce the concept of the informal economy, money and trade, and anthropological accounts of finance and financialization.


Indicative and preparatory readings:

Polanyi, K. 2001[1944] The great transformation. Boston: Beacon.

Hart, Keith and Ortiz, Horacio. 2014. “The Anthropology of Money and Finance: Between Ethnography and World History.” Annual Review of Anthropology, 45: 465-82.

Mintz, S. 1986 Sweetness and Power: The place of sugar in modern history. Penguin. 

Mauss, M. 2011. The Gift: Forms and Functions of Exchange in Archaic Societies. Eastford, CT: Martino Fine Books. 

Weiner, A. 1992. Inalienable Possessions: The Paradox of Keeping-While Giving. Berkeley: University of California Press. 

Graeber, D. 2011. Debt: The First 5000 Years. Brooklyn, NY: Melville House. 

Descola P., 2008. “Who owns nature ?”, La vie des idées, published online 21 Jan, www.laviedesidees.fr.  

Brightman, Fausto and Grotti (eds) 2016 Ownership and Nurture: studies in native Amazonian property relations. 

Strang, V. 2009. Gardening the World: agency, identity, and the ownership of water. New York & Oxford: Berghahn.

De La Cadena, M. (2010).’Indigenous cosmopolitics in the Andes: conceptual reflections beyond “politics”’. Cultural Anthropology, 25: 334–370.

Weber, M. The Protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism. Various editions. 

Maurer, B. 2008 ‘Re-socialising finance? Or dressing it in Mufti? Calculating alternatives for cultural economies’. Journal of Cultural Economy 1(1):65-78.

Hart, K. 2009. "On the informal economy: the political history of an ethnographic concept," Working Papers CEB 09-042.RS, ULB -- Universite Libre de Bruxelles. Available at: http://ideas.repec.org/p/sol/wpaper/09-042.html 

Gudeman, S. 2001. The anthropology of economy: community, market and culture. London: Blackwell.

Hart, K. 2005. ‘Notes towards an anthropology of money’. Kritikos 2, http://intertheory.org/hart.htm

Hart, K. The Memory Bank http://thememorybank.co.uk/

Humphrey, C. and S. Hugh-Jones (eds) 1992. Barter, exchange and value. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (introduction and chapter by Hugh-Jones). 

Gudeman, Stephen. 2015. "Piketty and anthropology." In Anthropological Forum, vol. 25, no. 1, pp. 66-83. Routledge,

Bear, Laura, Karen Ho, Anna Tsing, and Sylvia Yanagisako. 2015. "Gens: A feminist manifesto for the study of capitalism." Available at: https://culanth.org/fieldsights/652-gens-a-feminist-manifesto-for-the-study-of-capital ism.

Scott, Brett. 2013. The Heretic’s Guide to Global Finance: Hacking The Future of Money. London: Pluto Press.

Appadurai, Arjun 1986 “Introduction: commodities and the politics of value” from The Social Life of Things:

Carrier, James G. (ed.). 2005. A Handbook of Economic Anthropology. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing.

Hann, Chris and Keith Hart. 2011. Economic Anthropology: History, Ethnography, Critique. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Wilk, Richard R. and Lisa C. Cliggett. 2007. Economies and Cultures: Foundations of Economic Anthropology. Cambridge, MA: Westview Press.

Crewe, E. and R. Axelby 2012. Anthropology and Development: Culture, Morality and Politics in a Globalised World. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Escobar, A. 1995. Encountering development: the making and unmaking of the third world. Princeton: University of Princeton Press.

Ferguson, J. 1990. The anti-politics machine: Development, depoliticization and bureaucratic power in Lesotho. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hann and Hart 2011. Economic anthropology Cambridge: Polity Press.

Murray Li, T. 2007. The will to improve: governmentality, development, and the practice of politics. Durham: Duke.

Tsing, A. 2005. Friction: An ethnography of global connection. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Hart, Keith. 2014 Money and finance: For an anthropology of globalization. The Memory Bank.


Teaching methods

The course will be taught through the discussion of ethnographic case studies. The first half of each session will be in the form of a lecture, and the second half in the form of a student-led seminar. Students must read at least three of the texts for each session in advance, and prepare notes and a set of points for discussion. Pairs of students will prepare class presentations, based on wider engagement with course materials and themes, on subjects of their own choice, accompanied by slides, lasting between 8 and 10 minutes, for each seminar. This material will form the basis of an open discussion to delve more deeply into the themes that emerge. During the final session all students will give a second presentation engaging more broadly with different topics across the course.

Assessment methods

Assessment will be through oral examination, during which students must discuss an essay of c. 3000 words, on a theme based on the course, to be agreed with Prof. Brightman, which they must submit at least one week before the examination. Students should demonstrate initiative and are encouraged to explore readings beyond the course bibliography, and to draw on their own experience, fieldwork etc. The argument of the essay must engage with anthropological theory, and points must be substantiated with ethnographic evidence.

Students are also recommended to familiarise themselves with one or two detailed (i.e. book length) ethnographic case studies, which they can use to illustrate ideas discussed during the course. The reading list provided is intended as a guide, and students are urged to explore work published in major anthropology journals, such as Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, American Anthropologist, American Ethnologist, Cultural Anthropology, Social Anthropology, Current Anthropology, L'Homme (in French) or Mana (in Portuguese), and economic anthropology journals such as Economic Anthropology and Economy and Society.

Office hours

See the website of Marc Andrew Brightman