New Fall 2006 Course



Anthropology 242

Professor Derick Fay

MWF 11:45 AM-12:50 PM

Olin 306

Course Description

This course explores the social and cultural dimensions of production, exchange and consumption. We hear every day about "the economy," an identifiably separate sphere of human life with its own rules and principles and its own scholarly discipline (economics). This class starts from the premise that this "common sense" idea of the economy is only one way to view the way people produce, exchange and consume in order to meet their basic and not-so-basic human needs.

This class asks some big questions. Do all people everywhere seek to accumulate property, and to maximize profits? Is "rationality" the same in every culture? Do all think the same way about debt, bribery, gambling or marriage payments? Do human economies evolve inexorably-for example, from public to private property, from cowrie shells to electronic money, or from gifts and barter to sale and credit? Or is the picture more complex and the direction inconstant? Is there really any such thing as a "free" gift? What does The Godfather have to do with the exchange of necklaces and armbands in the South Pacific? Who wins and loses from "globalization"? Why do people value things?

We'll ask these questions in a characteristically anthropological way. In considering other ways of understanding the aspects of human behavior that are conventionally called "economic," we'll read in detail about peoples' lives, including Maine lobstermen, Shanghai stock traders, Pacific Northwest Native American chiefs, and Zimbabwean cosmetics consumers. Throughout the course, we'll take a cross-cultural perspective, confronting "Western" arguments about economic behavior and human nature with alternative practices and understandings.