Category Archives: Anthropology

Exchange in the human economy

This essay was written in August 2008 for a book that subsequently folded. The timing is important, the month of my retirement from the British academy (but not from university life), a month before the financial crash. I discovered it in my folders just recently and find it to be one of the better expressions… Read More »

Anthropology’s guilty secret

A response to John McCreery’s OAC blog post, Theory and method in anthropology: an historical speculation: Thanks for reposting this, John. I don’t expect us to agree on this one, but, despite or because of my training in British social anthropology, I take a rather different view of the epistemological problem. The attempt to separate… Read More »

The Origins of Money: 1. Cows and Shells

BBC Radio 3 talk by me    (15 minutes)     13 June 2011, 22: 45 Listen here The written text may be found below, but look at this description by the producer: “Money. You don’t know where it’s been, But you put it where your mouth is. And it talks.” (Money, by Dana Gioia) The… Read More »

The ethnography of finance and the history of money

Abstract Marcel Mauss was a prolific financial journalist, writing about the exchange rate crisis of 1922-24 at the same time as he was writing The Gift; but he kept them in separate compartments and economic anthropologists have been content to ignore his political writings. The recent emergence of the ethnographic study of finance promises to… Read More »

Kant’s relevance for anthropology today

“The distinctive feature of our age is that mankind as a whole is on the way to becoming fully conscious of itself.” (C.L.R. James) By “anthropology” I refer here not to the academic institution but to a human teleology in James’s sense. We must improve our self-knowledge as individuals and as a species, especially the… Read More »

An anthropology of the internet

Is an anthropology of the internet possible? If so, what would it look like? I will attempt a provisional answer here, building on my book about the consequences of the digital revolution for the forms of money and exchange. People, machines and money matter in this world, in that order. Most intellectuals know very little… Read More »

The social meaning of the power law

For some time now I have tried to relate major innovations in science and mathematics to the movement of society in history. At the grandest level of generalization, there are observations such as Oswald Spengler’s when, in The Decline of the West (1918), he contrasted ancient and modern ideas of number in terms of ‘magnitude’… Read More »

Studying world society as a vocation

Introduction I want to start with Immanuel Kant’s Perpetual Peace: a Philosophical Sketch (1795). He held that Cosmopolitan Right, the basic right of all world citizens, should rest on conditions of universal hospitality, that is, the right of a stranger not to be treated with hostility when he arrives on someone else’s territory. In other… Read More »