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Around the world in 13 weeks

Around the world in 13 weeks

Ryan Schram

November 1, 2017


Mills 169 (A26)

Available at http://anthro.rschram.org/1002/13.2

With help from Terry Woronov, Emma Young and the ANTH 1002 tutors.

Note: These lecture notes are from 2015, and will be revised for the 2017 class.

How anthropologists look at globalization

As Terry Woronov said in her 2013 review of this class, “Globalization does not wipe out difference–it produces new dynamics that sustain difference, and enables the ongoing reproduction of difference.”

Snake and mongoose

Contemporary life is a lot like the snake and the mongoose: Fast friends, arch rivals! Available for streaming now!


The snake and the mongoose

Once upon a time there was a snake and a mongoose…

Many opposites - values, ideas, institutions - are not binary, either-or. They are contradictions and they exist in an ambiguous tension which is both a source of conflict but also creativity.

Snake and mongoose

That is, contemporary life is defined by its contradictions. There are copresent forces in tension, leading to confict and also unexpected side-effects.

  • Globalization involves change in societies.
  • Globalization allows people to recreate a coherent cultural order with new materials.

Everything is mixed

Categories are not dichotomous; Many opposites are actually co-present.

  • Tradition / modernity
  • Developed / undeveloped
  • Custom / rationality
  • Gift / commodity
  • Love / money

Gift and commodity

The first part of the class was devoted to the contradiction between gift and commodity.

  • What is the difference between a gift and a commodity?
  • What is an example of each of these?
  • What is an example where gift and commodity come together in one place?
    • An example we read or saw in class.
    • An example from your own knowledge and experience.

Marcel Mauss

Key ideas:

  • Exchange entails obligations to one's exchange partner and to society as a whole.
    • The obligation to give
    • The obligation to receive
    • The obligation to reciprocate.
  • Gifts have a spirit, the hau. A gift wishes to return to its birthplace.

Karl Marx

Key ideas:

  • Capitalism is a social system based on exchanging commodities.
  • Commodities are things that you can own as private property.
  • Ironic twist! Commodities are created by alienating them from the people who make them. Wage labor deprives people of the true value of their labor and allows owners of wealth to reap a profit from exchange.
  • The formula of capital is M - C - M'.

Marcel Mauss and Karl Marx, separated at birth??

Although Marx and Mauss did not directly address each other's ideas, they seem to have an affinity. This has been very important in the study of globalization. Anthropologists generally see globalization as an interaction between gift systems and capitalism.

Spheres of exchange

  • Paul Bohannon presents Tiv culture as an example in which all exchanges are regulated by spheres of exchange.
    1. Subsistence items, foodstuffs, tools.
    2. Prestige items, i.e. brass rods and fine tugudu cloth.
    3. Women as wives.
  • Cash did not collapse the spheres; it just got put in the lowest sphere. (At least at first.)

When worlds collide

  • Tension and conflict
  • Efflorescence
  • Transformation

What are some examples of each of these?

Oil on canvas


Why is this painting worth 140 million US dollars (in 2006)?

The problem of commodification

  • Can everything be a commodity?
    • Human organs?
    • Priceless art treasures (No. 5, 1948 by Jackson Pollock, sold for $140 M in 2006)?
    • Marriage?
  • You can't have growth in indigenous art forms without a commodity market to support it!
  • Cannibal Tours: Tourists want a unspoiled indigenous culture, but Sepik River villagers want money to send their children to school. Which is the ‘true’ Sepik River culture?

The family as site of analysis

People tend to assume that family is distinct from other kinds of relationship, or that one is either being a relative or being an economic actor.

Families are sites of snakes and mongooses. They are both moral and economic.

  • What are the readings in which a family is a site for revealing the copresence of moral and economic domains?
  • In what ways are families units of global economic systems? How do families regulate circulation, commodification, and production?

Becoming an individual, becoming a factory worker

In many societies, people are faced with alternative ways of being and ways of presenting oneself to others.

  • What readings are examples of alternative personhoods? Where do these alternative personhoods come from?

The concept of a culturally-constructed person is relevant to understanding the global economic order.

  • What kinds of persons facilitate global capitalism as we see it?

Multiple modernities

  • Not all change is progress.
  • There are multiple paths of change that societies can follow.
  • Not all societies want to imitate European history.
  • Not all social change can be described as individual liberation.
  • 'South-South' interaction is an important type of global circulation.

Parallel modernities

  • Bollywood in Nigeria:
    • Hindi stories allow Hausa men to imagine reimagine what change means.
  • Globalization is changing relationship between:
    • Media technology
    • Patterns of circulation
    • Patterns of consumption
    • Politics of identity
  • There are global routes of circulation which parallel the movement of Western forms to other societies.

Parallel modernities

  • There are many ways to move things around the world; there is no single system of circulation (ie, Hollywood's model of international licensing isn't the only way to get movies shown around the world.)
    • Nigerian Bollywood: informal systems of itinerant (Lebanese) traders, enmeshed in systems that bypass the formal banking system
    • Global body shopping: a system for circulating one kind of person (IT trained) around the world, driven by diasporic personal relations, parallel to formal recruitment systems)
    • Black markets (e.g., organs, drugs, 'illegal' migration).

Alternate modernities

Alternate modernity is the thesis that the same kinds of social forces which have transformed European societies have an analogue outside of the West.

Max Weber says Protestant Christianity in Europe taught people to see themselves as individuals, and to distinguish material wealth from moral thinking.

Brenner says that expressions of Islamic modesty, especially the veil, allow women to define their identity in opposition to the village and its obligations. Being a visibly pious Muslim is a way of asserting autonomy from traditional codes.

Alternate modernities

  • Max Weber predicts that as time goes by, all societies become less religious and more secular.
  • Veiling explicitly contests secular modernity:
    • Western modernity is based on secularism, freedom of religion, and personal choice.
    • The Islamic movement is based on individual faith, self-discipline and a break with traditional adat.
  • Veiling in Java is explicitly neither a “return to tradition” nor an “invented tradition.” Instead, it's an active search for new ways to be part of the modern world, other than those dictated by the West.


Blain, Andrea. 2014. “'Snake and Mongoo$e' Races into Homes This Spring.” PR Newschannel. January 21. http://www.prnewschannel.com/2014/01/21/action-packed-film-snake-and-mongoose-races-into-homes-this-spring/.

Lacock, Hennie. 2013. Cobra and Mongoose. Caters New Agency. http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/photo/2013-10/29/132841640_11n.jpg.

Pollock, Jackson. 1948. No. 5, 1948. Oil on canvas. http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=No._5,_1948&oldid=631373543.

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1002/13.2.txt · Last modified: 2017/07/11 19:04 by ryans