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a key issue in economic anthropology is the mystification of the production of goods during gift and commodity exchange. In this mystification process, wrapping is crucial in defining the nature of social inequaility


Economic Anthropology



About this Module


This was the first module I created [in 2001] from scratch in my appointment as a Lecturer in Anthropology. It was meant to complement two other existing module on political economy, kinship and gender that run bi-annually along with this one. It was a non-compulsory module.


The original module had 10 tutorials and 10 lectures and when I taught it for the first time as a 20 credit module I found myself with the equivalent of a 30 credit module. My lecture notes were three times larger than the 53 pages of the Full Handout.


This handout is a revised version that I produced after incorporating student feedback over from 2001 to 2007. I remember, back in 2001 I had one tutorial on Marxism and one tutorial on the domestic mode of production and Marshall Shalins. For political departmental reasons I had to take these out of their tutorial section. I was not pleased with their absence so I re-incorporated them in the lectures and I also made a point of including a further lecture on marxists approach to culture in a module that I was writing on gender and sexuality that I started teaching in 2003. If I find the original ones I will incorporate them here on the additional section.


Along with this shift [originally they were both in lecture and tutorial] from 2001 to 2005 I incorporated a lecture based on my own research and my preocupation with commodity exchange and wrapping. In 2005 I also incorporated a complex lecture on space and culture and globalisation. I used many different sources in the building up of classnotes leading towards the Handout, including my own notes from when I was a student in a module in 'economic anthropology'.  From my experience as a student I had benefited from a lecture on the underside of the economy and I felt I wanted to include some of these elements in my own handout. I went back to my classnotes, readings, and I so much thanked my lecturer back then to having us provided with such a great introduction to it.


Place and Roads

Because I did my research within the area of economic anthropology I also attended my supervisor's lecturers [I was a tutor as a postgraduate student so I wanted to be able to complement the tutorials with an understanding of what the lectures were like]. I was blown away by the professionality and creativity of my supervisor on her lectures on Melanesian exchange and how she made students engage and participate with understanding Melanesian types of exchange. That influence lasted all my academic life and had an impact on how I deviced the module. After I graduated from my PhD, my supervisor, Lisette Josephides, who had done research in Papua New Guinea gave me a 'gift'. It was a Bilum she had been given to her by her own fieldwork mother in Papua New Guinea. She gave it to me, unwrapped, as she said, for me to carry my future children, books, piglets or anything else I needed to carry. That gift touched me profoundly and it had an effect on how I created this and the visual anthropology module. I used the Bilum to illustrate many aspects of exchange in Papua New Guinea and also to honour that conenction she had enabled me to share. In my heart that Bilum carried me through seven years of teaching economic anthropology and it carried the discipline within extending our 'roads' and helping us produce better anthropology.


I would probably have to say at this point that economic anthropology is at the heart of all my research and teaching. My research in Japan and Europe have always been on themes located within the area of economic anthropology, and thus, although my module was not compulsory for students it was my favourite module [also visual anthropology and gender and sexuality were, two of my other research interests]. In addition to economic anthropology I co-taught a module on political anthropology that complemented this one well. I was always proud of this module, also because my students seemed to enjoyed very much. Over the years of teaching this module I always found out at the end of the year that the students had been touched by it, some went into doing MA research and even PhD research on economic anthropology. I am proud of all the students that sat down with me to learn and discuss about economic anthropology, from the ones that found gift giving challenging to the ones that went onto embracing this field through their research. They made this course a joy to teach. I used to love when a student would walk into my room and unexpectedly say they had taken the module to fill their schedule and found out how the subject had really changed the way they thinked about the world.


Oratory and Time

A theme in the description of oratory in BigManship in Papua New Guinea has to do with the ability to convince others and to engage others in large chain of reciprocal exchanges, however these oratories are also underpinned by the capacity of these orators to set the time of Moka and other types of exchanges. I should probably add that I was always not good with time keeping for this module. When I started it in 2001 I would start punctually at the hour and fisinsh two and a half hours later, with one short break. I could't keep to the two 45 minute only session just. It carried me, I felt there was never time to stop. I talked and talked.


Over the years this module taught about keeping time and to breakdown all I had to say and how to discuss it with my students. I did eventually, not always, manage to stay within time, schedule and number of lectures. I did many voluntary after-class sessions. We would continue our conversations about it after class. This course, partly because of my love for the theme, because the way I was positioned within a framework larger than myself, partly because the students engaged so well with it, it became the favourite course I ever taught.


The Course Poster

The icon above was the course or module poster. I always design one for each of my courses. I designed here a composition of books in economic anthropology that students would examine through this module: Mauss' gift exchange, Strathern's Gende of the Gift, Appadauri's the life of things, Miller's theory of shopping, Marx' Captial, a small drowing of a detail of a Kula shell... These were some of the many books I used for this course, they represent some of the theories I would use and disputed against in class. The poster was not about representing the course per se, for example Narotzky's economic anthropology was central to many lectures but it was not in the poster. What I meant with the poster was to build up on my own research interests, on gift exchang, commodity exchange and the transformation and mystification of commodities into gifts. In my own work I argued that the theorisation of gift exchange in many contemporary societies like the Japanese, but also in many parts of Europe, is predicated upon several myths constructed at the back of a misuse of Mauss work, or an overinterpreation of Mauss' ideas. I would argue that in gift exchange, as I define it in Japan and in commodity exchange oriented socieites,  we have a process by which commodities are taken away from the market and mystified as gifts through the wrapping of these commodities. When 'we' exchange gifts, we are in fact, exchanging wrapped commodities. The wrapping has the effect to mystify the market origin of the commodity into a gift and take complex echanges and reduce them into and make them pretend as 'gift exchanges'. This in turn underpins a deifferentiation on the quality of the production of inequality of social relations as contemporary symbolic capital in commodity exchange. The poster is an abstract [very abstract] visualisation of my musing on these ideas.


[go back to all materialities] 

The Full Handout includes the following:


1- Course Description

2- Learning Objectives and Aims

3- Bibliography

4- Internet References

5- Intranet Readings

6- Course Itinerary

7- Assessment

8- Lecture and Tutorial Handouts

9- Revision and Exam Techniques





1- Introduction to economic anthropology

2- Debating the Economy: Economic rational in 'primitive' societies

3- Melanesia according to Mauss and Malinowsk: Hau and Kula

4- The making of a Big Man: Onka's Big Moka

5- Entangled Objects and Poisoned Gifts

6- Th evil money and the dirty market

7- Japanese gifts and the nature of capitalist gift exchange

8- Shopping, consumerism, commodities and wrapping

9- Space, culture and Capitalism

10- Development and globalisation: The transnational and the local

11- The underside of the economy. Hidden markets




1- Bundles and Grass Skirts: women's wealth

2- Exchange contested: The gender of yams and pigs

3- Money, Morality and Markets

4- Need and Consumption

5- Reserve - Revision Class



For queries, an email.