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Capital and community

Capital and community

Ryan Schram


Mills 169 (A26)

Monday, August 20, 2018

Available at http://anthro.rschram.org/1002/4.1

The ANTH 1002 essay

The instructions for the essay are on Canvas and are visible now under 'Assignments'.

The essay is due on 14 September at 4 p.m. online on Canvas.

For this essay, you will read a supplemental article by Lynne Milgram (2018) and choose two other case studies from class readings. (One of your cases can be Ongka's Big Moka.)

In your essay you should make an argument that shows how Milgram’s examples and the evidence from two other ethnographic cases provide evidence for the claim that the social force of reciprocity and interdependence determines the ways in which a community participates in the global capitalist system

You can drop in to the Writing Hub in Teachers' College for advice about writing essays and developing arguments.

Gifts and commodities

These two things are sitting on my desk in my office:

  • A basket
  • New school supplies

What's the difference?

Commodities and capitalism

  • Commodities are bought and sold for a price.
  • You can think of commodities as a “sphere of exchange.” When you exchange commodities for money, and back again, you are following certain rules.
  • The sale of commodities generates a profit.
  • A system of producing, selling and distributing commodities as the main form of economic system is associated with capitalism.

Capitalism is...

  • Capitalism is a system in which the means of production are privately owned by one social class.
  • Capitalism is a system in which nobody else has access to the means of production; in order to live, people have to sell their labor.

Talk about selling out...

A worker under capitalism brings “his own hide to market and has nothing to expect but – a hiding” (Marx 1867, chap. 6).

What do you think he means by this? Buzz about this. What do you associate with the word Capitalism? Marxism? When did you first hear these words? Have you ever read the Communist Manifesto?

Money and profits

Let C represent a good, e.g. boots, cell phone, gum.

Let M represent money.

  1. C - M - C' The simple exchange of goods.
  2. M - C - M' The making of profit through the exchange of commodities.

Marx wants to know why society moved from #1 to #2.

Marxist analysis is about finding contradictions

  • It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
  • Never before can we feed so many, and never before have so many people been without food.
  • Everyone in Australia can afford “fast fashion,” but people in Bangladesh work themselves to death for minimal wages.
  • Social systems and the global systems are defined by their contradictions. They contain an ongoing struggle of life and death.

Mauss and Marx

In developing his ideas, Mauss did not borrow directly from Marx.

At the same time, Mauss's idea of the gift can be seen as the logical opposite of the Marxist conception of the commodity:

  • Reciprocity is the exchange of unalienated objects between people who are interdependent and mutually indebted.
  • Commodity exchange (buying and selling in a capitalist system) is the exchange of alienable things between people who are independent of each other.


Marx, Karl. 1867. Capital, Vol. 1. Moscow: Progress Publishers. https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/.

Milgram, B. Lynne. 2008. “Activating Frontier Livelihoods: Women And The Transnational Secondhand Clothing Trade Between Hong Kong And The Philippines.” Urban Anthropology 37 (1): 5–47. (You can download a copy of this paper from the class Canvas site on the Assignments page.)

A guide to the unit

1002/2018/4.1.txt · Last modified: 2020/01/25 15:28 (external edit)