ANTH 2700: Key debates in anthropology
Social Sciences Building 410 (A02)
Week of March 28, 2022 (Week 6)
Slides available at http://anthro.rschram.org/2700/2022/6
Main reading: Straight (2002)
As people became more aware of the globalization of the economy, anthropology wanted to bring critical, skeptical perspective to global interconnection.
By the end of the 20th century, anthropology had fully embraced the idea that there was a global context for their work in any one single local setting.
Now it is common to hear that globalization may slowing down, or going in reverse, e.g.:
Globalization is ongoing, but hasn’t worked out the way anyone expected. What can we learn now from the anthropology of globalization in retrospect?
One example of the new anthropology of globalization is the study of objects and their movements, a “biography” of goods that reveals the hidden mechanisms of the global economic system (Kopytoff 1986; see also Appadurai 1990, 1996, 1988).
Marx has a different conception of the human subject from homo duplex. For Marx, a human is an animal that labors.
An animal merely feeds. It is so dependent on nature that it is part of nature.
A human makes food, and then eats. It knows the difference between its needs and the means to meet those needs. For the human subject, the environment is a resource.
Capitalism is a system in which some people use other people as tools to exploit resources.
Capitalism is a system in which all valuable things can be owned as private property.
A commodity appears, at first sight, a very trivial thing, and easily understood. Its analysis shows that it is, in reality, a very queer thing, abounding in metaphysical subtleties and theological niceties. […]
It is as clear as noon-day, that man, by his industry, changes the form of the materials furnished by Nature, in such a way as to make them useful to him. The form of wood, for instance, is altered, by making a table out of it. […] [S]o soon as it steps forth as a commodity, it is changed into something transcendant.
A commodity is therefore a mysterious thing, simply because in it the social character of men’s labor appears to them as an objective character stamped upon the product of that labour […]. (Marx  1972, 319–20)
There are at least three levels to Marx’s sense of fetish and fetishism
A global capitalist system is, by definition, also a system that comprises many different cultures, settings, and ways of life.
Yet the contact among cultures in a global system takes place in a very specific and highly unequal set of institutions:
Nostalgia for “traditional culture” is the commodity fetishism of difference.
jewelry : mporo : : Europe : Samburu
jewelry : mporo : : pleasure, gratification : authentic meaning and moral value
mporo : no mporo, secondhand clothes : : Samburu past : Samburu now
Samburu past : Samburu now : : tradition : modernity
What does the movement of Samburu necklaces to European shops say about globalization now?
Appadurai, Arjun. 1988. The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
———. 1990. “Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Cultural Economy.” Theory, Culture & Society 7 (2-3): 295–310. https://doi.org/10.1177/026327690007002017.
———. 1996. Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Kopytoff, Igor. 1986. “The Cultural Biography of Things: Commoditization as Process.” In The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective, edited by Arjun Appadurai, 64–91. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Marx, Karl. (1867) 1972. “Capital, Vol. 1.” In The Marx-Engels Reader, edited by Robert C. Tucker, 294–438. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.
Straight, B. 2002. “From Samburu heirloom to new age artifact: The cross-cultural consumption of Mporo marriage beads.” American Anthropologist 104 (1): 7–21. https://doi.org/10.1525/aa.2002.104.1.7.