5. The Market from a Humanist Point of View


As soon as I was old enough, I received threepence a week as spending money. The coin itself was a chunky polygon; but there was also in circulation an earlier round version called the “silver joey” and, because of its scarcity, I felt it was more precious. In any case, I rarely kept the money long. I spent it on sweets, which seem to have dominated this aspect of my economy then. In retrospect, these coins symbolise the idea of money as an external object of unknown social origin, passing much too quickly through my hands, a tantalising reminder of my childish powerlessness. I was a regular customer at Mrs. Hewitt’s sweet shop. There were many such shops in the neighbourhood, but I always went there with my weekly spending money. This meant that she reserved my favourites for me and sometimes gave me extra measure. When she sold the shop, she spent two weeks with the new owner introducing regular customers and their tastes. “This is Keith and he likes wine gums, pear drops and liquorice allsorts.” We will consider below whether this sort of behaviour was already archaic when I was young or is a more durable feature of modern markets. But there was more to it. This was a time of rationing, the “age of austerity” following the second world war; and everyone was entitled to the same meagre share. So, in addition to my threepence, which bought two ounces of sweets, I handed over a coupon entitling the bearer to that precise quantity. One day in 1948, when I was five, my mother announced that sugar rationing was over. From now on, people could buy as many sweets as they liked. I rushed to Mrs. Hewitt’s and ordered sweets up to the limit of my imagination, three bags of two ounces each. “That will be ninepence, please.” “But I only have threepence. They said you could now have as much as you like.” “Well, you need the money too.” And that is how I learned the bitter lesson that money, at least money as the traditional stuff I grew up with, is also a rationing device. Markets are democratically open to anybody. All you need is the money. Some people have lots of it and most people hardly any. But that is a deep mystery we should not seek to penetrate. As my Grandma used to say, “If you can’t pay, don’t go”.

My next formative experience in this regard occurred when I was nine years old. I was admitted to a children’s hospital to have my tonsils removed. Consistent with well-established family practice, my bribe for compliance was now two 4-ounce packets of my favourite sweets. (I was going up in the world). Almost as soon as I arrived, I was sedated, operated on and woke up sans tonsils the following morning. My mood was not great; but it was made worse by the discovery that my sweets, carefully stowed away in my bedside cabinet, were gone! I hunted high and low for them. I started shouting for the nurses and eventually one of them came. She seemed perplexed by my distress, pointing out that it was hospital policy for sweets to be pooled for the benefit of all the children, many of whom were too poor to buy their own. She knew I would be glad to learn that my sweets were enjoyed by the poor children. I was not. I was outraged. These people had knocked me out in order to rob me of my property while I was unconscious. I missed the sweets much more than my tonsils. I demanded restitution. She returned with a handful of sweets, but they were not my favourites. Ah, the National Health Service in its heyday, how decent it all was then.

Readers may be relieved (or disappointed) to learn that the next three chapters do not rest on personal anecdotes of this kind. I introduce Part II in this way because the aim and style of its contents differ quite substantially from what has come before. In Part I, I put together a vision of modern history as the development of capitalism, in which the process of making money with money became tied to successive stages of a machine revolution. This vision was, if anything, more pessimistic than the opposite. The big battalions of government and corporate bureaucracy have ensured that the world is still largely ruled by a remote elite in a way which condemns the bulk of humanity to lives of poverty and violence. The rest of us (and I include myself as someone who probably qualifies for membership in such an elite) are not powerless, however; and I argued that contemporary developments offer some limited prospect for greater economic democracy. This next section takes off from such a possibility. Money conceived of as buying and selling, as the market in other words, expresses our hope that humanity might be connected by means of equal exchange. I argue that, for this to be so, we need to approach markets and money as the result of human agency, as actual persons doing things with each other. This means developing an analytical method which incorporates a humanist perspective into its abstractions.

This chapter, therefore, lays the foundation for a normative approach which might be capable of leading us beyond the inequality endemic to capitalism. Starting from an anthropological critique of economic individualism, I try to show what happens when we consider markets from the point of view of their human participants. This perspective shows that market economy is more fluid and mobile in practice than its representation as ideas would suggest. And this opens up the prospect of a piecemeal approach to economic reform building on the substantive changes which have already taken place this century in the way living people encounter the structures they live by. The chapter following this one argues that money might increasingly come to be seen as a source of personal credit, with each of us playing a more creative role in managing its supply than was thought possible until recently. This chapter could be said to be an attempt to rescue the liberal tradition of Locke, Simmel and Keynes from the romantic and socialist critiques offered by Rousseau and Marx (which underpin much of Part I).

The general arguments made in both of these chapters are firmly anchored in the present and recent past, whereas Part I took its impetus from a much longer-term account of the historical past. The last chapter has its eyes fixed firmly on the future. What scenarios might inform the construction of a better world in the 21st century? Again the perspective is humanist and therefore individualistic in spirit. Social movements may arise from any quarter of global society; but this book is aimed at a middle-class, largely western readership with a view to making history (that is, society in movement) more personally accessible. These concluding remarks are aimed at promoting the possibility of self and the world being brought into a more meaningful relationship, one which encourages us to behave as economic agents, alone and in co-ordination with others. The trajectory from my childhood reminiscences above to the forward-looking collective agenda articulated in the final chapter may or may not be adequately supported by the chapters in-between. The point, however, is to try to place oneself in history, setting a personal example which others of like mind may care to follow in their own way.

The market, private property and liberal democracy

We experience the economy in modern society as a network of exchange relations. Most often these exchanges take place through the medium of money: the buyer hands over money to the seller in return for commodities. The sum total of these transactions is sometimes referred to as “the market”, an abstract entity whose extent is unknowable. It is only in recent decades that people everywhere have become linked up in a single nexus of exchange, “the world market”. There are no isolated pockets of humanity any more; and, in that sense, we are witnesses to the birth of world society in the form of a market. We cannot tell how such a society will evolve; but we can be sure that the properties of exchange will be central to that process. One major problem with thinking about markets is the part that money plays in them. We are aware of massive discrepancies in purchasing power. This inequality is so overwhelming that, for many people, the idea of a just society would require us to do away with money altogether and, with it, the system of buying and selling itself. But we may not have exhausted the potential of markets to support equal exchange.

What can the professionals tell us about markets? Economists generally approach markets as quantified abstractions, even as idealised curves on a graph. According to Marcel Mauss, the essence of such an approach is to assume that in market transactions the reciprocal acts of giving and making a return gift are collapsed into a single moment of instant equivalence. [i] Yet, despite the formal equality of the two sides, we distinguish in our language and thought between those who give in trade (sellers exchanging commodities for money) and those who take in trade (buyers exchanging money for commodities). In the hands of economists this transaction, when multiplied indefinitely, becomes the point of intersection between two curves representing the supply of and demand for specific commodities. [1] The equivalence of the exchange is symbolised by the agreed price at which the commodity is transferred from one party to the other. This price is considered to be fair when many sellers compete to find buyers. The condition of monopoly, where the absence of competition allows the seller to set the price, is taken to be abnormal. Prices are expected to move in response to short-term fluctuations in supply and demand; yet, as we will see below, fixed prices are normal in modern markets. Any particular market is held to be efficient when available supplies are cleared and buyers get what they want at a price they can afford.

It is part of the ideology of modern markets that they can take place any time, anywhere and that the individuals involved are independent and unknown to each other. This assumption (“economic individualism”) enables economists to construct mathematical models of great generality, since they are conceived of initially as referring to behaviour outside time, place and society. Moreover, there is indeed now a tendency for markets to take on these properties, with money itself being exchanged as a commodity 24 hours a day through telephones linking computers from all corners of the world. The institutional conditions which make the assumption of economic individualism even remotely plausible are quite abnormal and were won at first in a few countries only after centuries of political struggle. The idea of buyers and sellers being free to make decisions concerning the price and volume of commodities to be transferred between them is pretty remarkable, even when all that is at stake is an artefact like a pair of shoes; but imagine the complications when the commodity being traded is someone’s ability to work or a place for a family to live in. This led Karl Polanyi to insist that market transactions are usually “embedded” in social life, whatever efforts the accountants may make to treat them as “fictitious commodities”. [ii]

It is hard for workers to understand why they must lose jobs they are still perfectly capable of performing with skill, just because “the bottom line” says a firm is losing money. The Anglo-Saxon countries have gone further than the rest towards the acceptance of market forces as somehow inescapable. I was talking not long ago to a school janitor in a Paris suburb about the closure of a Renault car factory. He thought it was scandalous. I asked him whether the factory was losing money or not. He replied yes, but added “If it was making a loss, that was the bosses fault and they should be sacked. But the workers did what they were told to and they did it well. There is no way they should lose their jobs.” His response was based on a cultural belief that the French people had won certain rights irreversibly grounded in natural justice, such as the right to work. But the question of employment in a world of capitalist markets is a mystery which cannot be abolished merely by clinging to beliefs of this sort. The answer lies partly in the system of private property and the power of public institutions to override the interplay of private interests entailed in that system.

Private property is the ability of an individual owner to command exclusive rights over something against the rest of the world. [iii] We assume that, once we have bought an item, we can do what we like with it; the seller in turn has even greater freedom to dispose of the money we paid for it. Take a look at your personal possessions. They are yours. How did you get them and what gives you the right to think of them as your own? Your watch, for example, is clearly your own private property. It feels as if it is yours simply by virtue of being worn next to your skin. You probably bought it or it was a gift from someone who in bought it somewhere. Market exchange is therefore the source of your right to claim the watch. But what secures the market exchange? Most people barely think about this, until something goes wrong. You get mugged on a dark night and the stranger demands your watch. In your fear and anger you now realise that it is the state which underwrites your claim to own the watch and promises to restrict violent assaults on persons and property. Perhaps you resent the inadequate level of policing for a time; but eventually you settle back into thinking of your possessions as your own and forget about the social conditions that make it possible.

This idea of private property being secured by an anonymous state apparatus has been very rare in human history. More typically it was understood that ownership is relative to membership of concrete social groups capable of stopping others from infringing the right to control what belongs to us. In the extreme case of what Mauss called “total prestations”, [iv] exchange is carried out by clans or similar groups acting as undifferentiated units. More usually individual claims to ownership are modified by such groups asserting a collective overright, in contrast with the presumptively absolute individual ownership characteristic of private property. Take the following fictitious example as a case in point.

A Maasai warrior works as a nightwatchman in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi. The Maasai are famous for having maintained a traditional way of life based on cattle-herding and young men are formed into groups of warriors whose task is to defend the herds against allcomers. Nowadays many of them work temporarily for wages, often in jobs which require a watered down version of their warrior training. This migrant saves money and, before returning home, buys some commodities, including a watch which he wears on his wrist. On arriving back at his village, he meets an age-mate who says, “I like your watch: give it to me” and he must give it up. Why? Because all property in the village is held by virtue of the ability of warriors to ward off predators, both animal and human; and their solidarity, essential in battle, is undermined by any tendency of individuals to differentiate their own interests from those of the rest. They assert that a man’s wife belongs to all his age-mates, even though it would be rare for sexual access to be demanded by one of them as a right. Our ex-nightwatchman must be taught to recognise that life in the village still rests on different principles from those obtaining in Nairobi, and he hands over the watch.

In western legal history the Romans are credited with having invented private property. Before they achieved a strong state linked to extensive markets, property rights were based on the same ability of local kin-groups to assert their interests against similar groups. This was called ius in personam and it stated that rights over things are always mediated by concrete personal ties. [v] In societies such as this ownership was derived from either production or consumption: something belonged to you because you had made it or because you needed to use it; and both kinds of right were exercised through membership of local groups. Traders on the other hand wanted to hold property in a wholly different sense: they needed to secure the right to own something they had neither produced themselves nor would use personally, but rather intended to sell for money. Moreover, they were exposed to the brigandage of any small group wishing to enforce its own local monopoly of violence. In the interest of furthering long-distance trade, the Roman state offered military protection to these private merchants. It supported their claim to ius in rem, rights over things unmediated by personal relationships, in other words, the same system of private property which we now take so much for granted. [2]

To summarise, in order to allow the free circulation of commodities in exchange for money, both the connection between persons and objects and that between persons in groups were weakened in law. Yet physical association between persons and objects is still quite strong for modern English-speakers (“possession is nine-tenths of the law”), even if the social ties which make ownership possible have receded to the point of invisibility in the face of an atomising economic ideology. What if there is more to market exchange than meets the eye? Unfortunately, as a result of what amounts to a wholesale conspiracy of western intellectuals, especially the anthropologists, to leave core modern institutions largely uninspected, empirically-informed theoretical analysis of market relations remains at a stage which has not advanced far beyond Emile Durkheim writing 100 years ago. [vii] But, before embarking on this task in however limited a fashion, we should at least touch on the historical and theoretical relationship claimed to exist between markets and the political project of liberal democracy. And this in turn requires us to consider the thought and times of John Locke.

I have only come to John Locke while writing this book. It is hard to recall just how important he was. In 1683, at the age of 51, Locke was an unpublished Oxford academic and the client of a discredited politician. During the exclusion crisis of the Catholic James II’s accession to the throne, he fled for his life to Holland and was sacked by his college. He returned to England six years later after William’s establishment of a Protestant monarchy in the Glorious Revolution of 1688. In that same year he published Two Treatises of Government and Essay Concerning Human Understanding, both of them considered classics of philosophy today. [ix] In 1693 he published Some Thoughts Concerning Education which shaped 18th century thinking on this topic in Britain. [3] [x] He was appointed to the Board of Trade and wrote influential pamphlets on money which helped to resolve the recoinage crisis of the 1690s. [xi] Long before his death in 1704 he had become so famous that one of his correspondents could describe him without irony as “the greatest man in the world”. [xii] He was certainly the leading public intellectual in the period when the United Kingdom was formed. As an architect of the middle-class revolution, he sought to build the stable infrastructure of a new world economy with England at its centre. The 18th century Enlightenment was largely a continental response to his work. The Americans wrote their constitution (fruit of the first anti-colonial revolution) on the basis of his ideas. Now he is merely credited with theorising the narrow economic individualism on which neo-classical economics is founded. My interest, however, is in recovering something of what he discovered to such amazing social and intellectual effect; and I know that it can’t be just that he found a way of mystifying capitalist exploitation.

When I finally got round to Locke’s Two Treatises of Government, I did not find in them the story of possessive individualism I had been led to expect. [xiii] I found that the purpose of his Commonwealth was to preserve everyone’s property in themselves and their possessions. “The end of law is… to preserve and enlarge freedom”. Freedom is “…a liberty to dispose and order, as he lists, his person, actions, possessions and his whole property within the allowance of those laws under which he is, and therein not to be subject to the arbitrary will of another, but freely follow his own.” [xiv] The main emphasis is on the political conditions of personal autonomy. Both treatises turn out, in my view, to be extended essays on the theme of parent-child relations. In the first Locke denies the right of absolute monarchs to claim to be the father of their subjects. In the second, he allows only one exception to the rule of autonomy of citizens and that is childhood. He poses the question, how can we protect children so that they grow up to be independent? This is a contradiction that no society has yet solved and it explains why he was known for his educational theories rather than for his politics or epistemology in 18th century England.

Locke also anticipated Kant’s concerns when he asked how a single Commonwealth can protect the property of foreigners passing through it (Who or what secures the property of the Dutchman in London?), thereby opening up the issue of cosmopolitan society beyond the boundaries of states. Yet Locke deserves to be seen as the founder of state capitalism, long before Bismarck and the rest. He anticipated and worked for a world economy with England as its guarantor. In the recoinage crisis of the 1690s, he insisted on the state securing the currency according to an internationally reliable metallic content against proto-Keynesians who just wanted to keep domestic prices and employment up. [4] [xv] Locke’s project was nothing less than the establishment of the infrastructure of global trade for the following century, emphasising the need to stabilise the means of communication and exchange, words and money. For him, there were economic criminals and semantic criminals. The state can hang counterfeiters, but what do you do with people who never say what they mean? Each undermines confidence in civil society. Remember that 17th century England had been a very turbulent place and by the end of it a sort of criminal informal economy was threatening to get out of control, while resources were stretched to fight the most expensive war in history against Louis XIV.

It is only with hindsight that this urgent and farsighted political project could come to be regarded as an essential plank in the establishment of an ideology of economic individualism, cloaking the inequalities of an emergent capitalism in a rhetoric of market democracy and natural rights. [5] [xvi] I will return in the final chapter to the question of whether liberal democracy can be salvaged from its association with economic individualism, as manifested today in the modern discipline of economics. But first we should consider the critique of that ideology launched from the perspective of the founders of economic anthropology.

The anthropological critique of economic individualism

The first world war posed a shattering challenge to notions of civilisation which had been prevalent in the nineteenth century. The founders of modern economic anthropology, Bronislaw Malinowski and Marcel Mauss, responded to that challenge in the 1920s by suggesting that western conventions of economic rationality were neither universal nor inevitable. Moreover, each found in the idea of the gift an appeal to a fuller conception of humanity than that enshrined in modern markets. Each was influenced by the critical work of sociological theory carried out by Emile Durkheim in the decades leading up to the war (which, in the case of Mauss, was hardly surprising, since he was his nephew). And each was a major influence in turn on Karl Polanyi whose The Great Transformation (1944) was written in the belief that the attempt to build civilisation on the basis of the market had been a disastrous failure.

Rarely have writers been confounded so completely or quickly as Polanyi was by the revival of the world market under American leadership in the immediate postwar period. Perhaps the financial turbulence of the late 1990s has brought back echoes of the Wall Street crash of 1929 to undermine our confidence in the market regime. But it is hard for us, who have seen the triumphant march of commerce in recent decades, to imagine the faith placed by these writers of the early 20th century in non-market mechanisms of economic life. Any forward-looking anthropology of exchange must be rooted in their work and it is as well to bear in mind the historical circumstances of their writing. For texts are not just dead ideas embalmed forever on a library shelf; they once took life from the purposes of a human being engaged with a specific social context. And they can live again when read with similar purposes in mind.


The way for Malinowski and Mauss was prepared by Emile Durkheim, who sought, in work published in the decades around the turn of the century, to establish a science of society with which to counteract the market liberalism of his day. He identified the ideology of economic individualism with the English thinker, Herbert Spencer, whose ideas enjoyed enormous popularity at the turn of the century in a form which has come to be known as “Social Darwinism”. [xvii] This doctrine combined evolutionary biology and the economic theory of competitive markets to explain riches and poverty as the outcome of innate individual differences. Durkheim had no time for the self-serving racism and class triumphalism of the bourgeoisie; his target was a broader and more elusive one.

He believed that, although society is not easily visible to us, we must strive to understand its influence on our individual behaviour. We live normally in an everyday world made up of small events and pragmatic decisions, never pausing to ask how our ability to do these things rests on a largely invisible framework of shared social life. Durkheim despised economic individualism not because it was wrong, but because it left out the parts of human existence that we most need to understand, if we are to escape from the narrow treadmill of an unreflecting daily routine. In The Division of Social Labour [xviii] he focused on the core of everyday business practice, contracts. The exchange of contracts between individuals depends on a collective tradition of customary law, forms of government, social institutions and shared culture which might not always be visible, but are essential nonetheless. It may seem that, when you pay a few pence to a street vendor for a newspaper, only the immediate interests of the two parties are involved and then only for a transient moment. But try the thought experiment of locating the transaction in a largely uninhabited jungle and you can imagine what might be missing from that fleeting urban encounter. Durkheim called this social background to individual acts of exchange “the non-contractual element in the contract”; and it was central to his vision of the world.

His main enquiry was into the sources of common moral sentiments or social solidarity. France’s experience of modern history had been highly disruptive, to say the least, with wars, invasions and revolutions punctuating attempts to stabilise political order. Durkheim’s interest was in securing the foundations of the Third Republic; and to this end he constructed two types corresponding roughly to primitive and modern societies. In the first, which he called “mechanical solidarity”, people thought alike and hung together because they were in essence the same, lived the same kind of life; whereas in the second, “organic solidarity”, division of labour made people interdependent precisely because they were different, did different things. The organic solidarity of industrial societies was potentially more durable than the mechanical form because specialised producers need each other and people who are self-sufficient do not. Implicit in this analysis was a critique of nationalism, the attempt to build solidarity on a primitive appeal to sameness.

Durkheim, like many of his contemporaries, noticed that the world was rapidly becoming centralised, as large-scale industry concentrated people in mushrooming cities and governments acquired unprecedented powers of control over these anonymous masses. Economic individualism seemed anachronistic in such a world and, with the intellectuals at least, Herbert Spencer fell out of favour, so that in the 1930s, Talcott Parsons, the founder of modern American sociology, was able to write: “Spencer is dead. But who killed him and how? This is the problem”, [6] [xix] listing Durkheim himself as the principal suspect.

When the Romans were still Latins living as part of a disorganised rabble in West-Central Italy, they invented the word society (societas). Only much later, as the medieval French word société, did this come to mean a bounded entity with a fixed centre. Originally it meant a loose network of allies, a confederation of equals pledged to follow any group whose need in an emergency gave them temporary leadership. [7] This was the context for another invention, the word “distribution”. At some stage it was felt that the association needed greater coherence. Accordingly, the confederation was divided into three parts (tribes or thirds) and in this form its members met from time to time to perform a ritual in which a cow was split into three and eaten by them separately and together. This process of division and allocation was called distributio, a sharing out between the tribes.

I mention this origin myth because it illustrates something important. Division is not just a way of separating parts from wholes, it can also be preliminary to their recombination as a whole made stronger by having well-defined complementary parts. The model of division of labour promoted by Adam Smith and his successors argues that economic efficiency is advanced by specialisation. The good of us all is increased by leaving each to do what they can do best. Countries and regions should trade only in what they are naturally suited to produce (“comparative advantage”). Within work organisations, tasks should be broken down into their minimal components in order to benefit from smooth repetition. Competitive markets will weed out the inefficient operations. This is all very well, but most people and social groups fear the consequences of going out of business; they resent performing mindless tasks; and they wish to ensure that provision of basic needs remains within their own control. This version of division of labour seems to rest on a distribution mechanism which is inadequately social.

Emile Durkheim argued that the point of division is to increase the cohesion of the whole, as in the case of the Latin tribes mentioned above. To divide is not just to separate, but potentially to unify on the basis of complementary difference. So that one reason for the traditional division of tasks between men and women might be to add strength to their union over long periods (in marriage, for example), when otherwise they would drift apart. In this scenario, markets induced by specialisation create the conditions for interdependence which could mitigate war. Europeans made a common market not least because they did not want to repeat the experience of two world wars fought largely on their territory. Division of labour can thus also be seen as a matter of life and death. Our future as a species depends on how the evolutionary questions raised here are resolved.


The high point of Victorian rationalism was long gone by the time Durkheim set to work. The ranks of those capable of exercising reason had begun to seem rather narrow, since women, children, servants, uneducated workers, madmen, criminals, savages and the darker races were all excluded. Then Freud pointed out that even the enlightened few were probably the unconscious victims of irrational forces laid down in childhood. And Frazer’s The Golden Bough made it obvious to his many readers that magic and religion had not been banished from their own scientific cosmology. [xx] Belief in the superiority of western civilisation had thus been seriously undermined by the time that the first world war brought about its collapse.

For how could societies claim to be based on reason when they sent millions of their citizens to an appalling death in the trenches? When the war was over, several countries seemed on the brink of emulating Russia’s revolution. And, even when that moment passed, there was a popular thirst for new visions of civilisation less restrictive than the last. This was Bronislaw Malinowski’s opportunity and the year (1922) in which he published his book Argonauts of the Western Pacific [xxi] saw a remarkable outpouring of literary and artistic innovation. The death of a civilisation was commemorated in T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, while Joyce’s Ulysses and Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus are now seen as twentieth century landmarks; and crowds flocked to admire the resilience of the Eskimo protagonist in Robert Flaherty’s movie, Nanook of the North.

Malinowski’s title evoked the mythical journeys of discovery undertaken by Jason and the Argonauts. He had spent much of the war in the Trobriand islands, off the coast of Papua New Guinea. These islands were linked by trade to a number of others, creating a regional interdependence which evoked in microcosm the global maritime economy of the day. Malinowski retained and made famous the indigenous term for the social mechanism which made this exchange possible, the kula. His intention was explicit. He wanted to show that a complex system of interlocal trade flourished without benefit of merchants, markets or money and without centralised authority (states). Moreover, this system made sense, even though the natives despised commercial motives and based their conduct on an ethos of generosity in giving. Malinowski’s aim was thus to show that the stereotype of economic man (homo oeconomicus) was not universal; that western notions of civilisation were restrictive, even narrow-minded; and that a fuller conception of rational humanity would include the customs of people who had hitherto been dismissed as “savages”.

The peoples of the Western Pacific have a common culture with elaborated material needs which cannot usually be met out of local resources alone. The islands are not self-sufficient: one will be rich in sago palms, another in stone or clay, while yet another may be noted for a particular kind of fish. The question is: how to ensure the circulation of these specialist items between islands who lack any overarching guarantee of the peace? The islanders do trade with each other by means of individual haggling, a form of two-way exchange (e.g. so many fish for an equivalent number of yams) in which the ratio of the commodities is negotiated without benefit of money prices. But it is not always the case that each side has what the other wants at the time; and longer-distance trips are too fraught with danger to allow for the unrestrained competition of commercial barter. So an alternative method has evolved based on the exchange of valuables between leaders of expeditions and their respective followers. Kula is both the practice of exchanging these valuables and the name for the tokens themselves. A good deal also goes on under the umbrella of kula whose importance is frequently denied by the leaders.

It works like this. Very few communities in the region have official chiefs. Instead there is an unstable pattern of political leadership in which “big men” (leaders without office) compete for followers. If people from island A want to acquire a commodity x from island B, they organise a canoe expedition under the leadership of a big man who has a longstanding partnership with a big man in island B. They take with them kula valuables of which there are two types: red necklaces and white armshells. These valuables are named and the history of transactions involving the more famous ones is well known. Big men vie with each other to attract the best pieces to themselves. On this occasion the big man from A will set out carrying, say, red necklaces only and no other commodities. The canoes arrive empty-handed except for the necklaces. The big men from A and B will discuss which white armshell the latter may bring the next time he visits A. In the meantime their followers strike up partnerships, make promises of valuable exchange and load up the canoes with commodity x. They may also haggle over other individual items, safe in the peace secured by their leaders. The canoes return home and, when an expedition from B arrives some time later, carrying white armshells, the process is enacted again in reverse, with commodity y being loaded into B’s canoes.

It can be seen from this brief description that the kula is at one level a method of ranking political actors in a climate of unstable competition for power. At another level, acts of utilitarian exchange are carried out through an institution which stresses the generosity of givers rather than narrow calculation of profit. What the Melanesians are afraid of is appearing to be cheap, so that their attractiveness as potential exchange partners would be diminished. They therefore affect to despise barter for its selfishness, standing on its head the economic ethos which underlies modern western civilisation. More than once in his narrative, Malinowski draws attention to the parallels with aristocracy in the western tradition; hence his allusion to the mythical heroes of ancient Greece.


Marcel Mauss, Durkheim’s nephew, started in the mid-1920’s with the recent ethnography of gift-exchange produced by Malinowski for the Pacific and by Franz Boas and his students for America’s Northwest Coast. In the latter case, an institution known as potlatch pitted indigenous leaders against each other in an orgy of competitive giving and material destruction. [xxii] Mauss saw that there were parallels in western history and he proposed to outline a general theory of exchange based on these examples. Many people have subsequently read his Essai sur le Don (The Gift) [xxiii] as offering a model of the gift economy to set in opposition to modern commerce, much as Malinowski’s Argonauts did. In fact, Mauss’s intentions were the opposite. He wanted to show that the contrast between primitive and modern economy was a false one, being based on a split between society and the individual which has to be integrated if human beings of any time or place are to enjoy full lives.

The simple contrastive approach to markets and gift-exchange rests on the notion that whereas “we” moderns are selfish individuals, “they”, the primitives, serve only the interests of their communities. Hence they prefer the generosity, even altruism and self-sacrifice of the gift, while we base our contracts on the pursuit of narrow personal advantage. By labelling one practice primitive and the other modern, we imply that the direction of social evolution is, however regrettably, towards economic individualism. Mauss profoundly rejected this argument. First of all, his uncle had already shown that market economy rests on social institutions as well as on individual interests. Then again, the gift still flourishes in pockets such as Christmas and weddings; and can be shown to underlie some of the contracts most central to capitalism, such as wages. Equally, the kula and the potlatch reveal a rampant egotism on the part of competing leaders which hardly squares with the stereotype of primitive communism. No, this attempt to separate individual and society as a developmental sequence just will not do. Mauss held that there are two prerequisites for being human: we each have to learn to be self-reliant to a high degree and we have to belong to others in order to survive, merging our identities in a bewildering variety of social relationships. Managing to be both at once is extraordinarily difficult and this accounts for how few truly successful human beings there are. Even so, we must try and this means that we all carry around in our heads knowledge of the principles of exchange, whether or not we succeed in practising them.

Mauss asked how we create society where it did not exist before; and by this he meant every new instance of social connection from falling in love and bringing up baby to registering a business and establishing international relations. His answer was reciprocity, the idea that exchange must be two-sided. He broke reciprocity down into three rules which he believed were common to all humanity: the obligation to give; the obligation to receive the gift; and the obligation to make a return gift in time. All forms of exchange are variants of this logic which is as universal as parent-child relations. Mauss wrote of a spiritual bond between persons and material objects which extended to relationships formed through the circulation of these objects. In every way modern markets deny this premise, separating individuals from the object world and from each other, banishing the spirituality and social substance from exchange. Yet our humanity inserts the spirit of the gift into market economy in profound ways.

Mauss believed that reciprocity probably had its origin in sacrifice, do ut des, I give so that you will give to me. Faced with the overwhelming forces of the natural world, primitive man gave up something material in the hope of making a spiritual connection which would be translated into a reciprocal social relationship with unseen powers, the gods. [8] The next stage in this speculative evolutionary sequence he called “total prestations”, meetings between whole communities in which everything was exchanged, much in the manner of medieval fairs. Mauss imagined that gift-exchange might be a step towards individuation of these collective encounters, leading as it does to the threshold of authoritarian rule. Giving in the form of alms or charity exchanges material support for moral deference in evolved systems of social stratification. Finally, individuals confront each other as equals in markets, without benefit of social or spiritual ties. And this enables, on the face of it, a clean separation of persons and things to occur, so that buyers can walk away from sellers, knowing that any obligation between them has been wiped out by the equivalence of whatever has been paid.

In this account, the human story begins with religious alienation and culminates in a secular version of the same condition with which we are all too familiar. Mauss sought to provide us with the means of rediscovering the common basis of reciprocity which underlies market economy, since the logic of the gift persists at all sorts of levels unknown to the prevailing ideology. The big difference between gifts and market contracts, according to Mauss, lies in the timing of the return. A gift must be returned at some time in the future, whereas a contract is defined by the instant equivalence of the exchange. Mauss noted that givers are superior to receivers as long as their gift stays unreciprocated; if recipients cannot make a material return, they owe spiritual deference. This points to the conclusion that giving is intrinsically unequal, leading to the contests between participants in gift-exchange, each striving to outdo the other in order to cancel outstanding debts and establish a temporary advantage as the last one to give. If anyone should doubt the inequality of the gift (as in the Innuit proverb: “Gifts make slaves as whips make dogs”), [xxiv] remember that the archetypal gift relationship is that between parents and children and they don’t come more unequal than that.

It follows that Mauss thought markets were a force for greater social equality. The idea that “my money is as good as yours” and that people walk away from contracts having established their mutual equality was quite widespread in the Manchester of my childhood. My grandmother, whose family was not long emancipated from a feudal estate, refused to join the “free” library or to accept National Health spectacles, since they smacked of the gift and charity. She had no intention of going back to the world of handouts from the lord and master. Today we are more sensitive perhaps to the fact that people enter the market with huge discrepancies in the amount of money at their disposal; and we vote for governments pledged to redressing such inequalities through the power of the state. Mauss was prescient (as was my grandmother) in recognising the potential of the welfare state to reproduce a new class system based on the superiority of tax donors to the recipients of benefits.

His more general point was that we all understand the principles of exchange, whether we objectify them or not. A young woman who goes out with a man to the cinema has a stock repertoire of responses to his offer to buy both tickets. Going dutch means that she refuses social obligation at this stage; accepting the offer leaves open the question of how the gift will be returned… On other occasions we make compromises, perhaps offering to pay the tip while one’s companion picks up the bill for a shared meal. This retains the social and spiritual companionship of the gift, while asserting an underlying willingness and ability to reciprocate as an equal in future.

Seen in this light, the pure types of selfish and generous economic action obscure the complex interplay of human reciprocity as we seek to define our individuality while belonging in subtle ways to others. Immature individuals have problems with subtlety and commonly have resort instead to one extreme or the other. Consider, for example, the baby in its pushchair. One moment it clings to its toy as a matter of life or death, refusing to part with it, person and thing wedded together in a parody of possessive individualism; the next moment it throws the toy overboard, supremely indifferent to its fate or perhaps altruistically sharing it with the world. It says little for our ideologies that they rest on a similar childishness. Consider again how lovers behave, especially at the beginning of an affair. One moment he will insist on controlling her every movement, the next he will be offering himself, heart and soul for ever, with no thought for his own independence. It is a sad reflection on our society than many people never get beyond this stage. If learning to be two-sided, to reciprocate, is the means of becoming human, then the lesson is clearly hard to learn.

The ideology Mauss fought has made a strong recovery in the second half of the twentieth century. So much so that most readers of his essay still think that it is about an alternative to capitalism called the gift economy. [9] [xxv] His mission was to show people who live by markets that they too belong to each other in society. This is not the opposite of individualism, since no-one is of any use to society if they can’t look after themselves. The same imperatives hold in so-called “primitive” societies, as Malinowski’s ethnography showed, even if his rhetoric favoured a more extreme contrast with the West. Mauss concluded that the gift was still present in such market contracts as wages; for does not the worker give his labour on the promise of future payment? Even more profoundly, the linguistic distinction between sellers and buyers, between those who give and take in trade, [10] [xxvi] suggests an older inequality beneath the surface of equal exchange. And, as a personal example of the kind of society he wanted to live in, he laboured to publish the research of colleagues killed needlessly in the first world war.

I often wondered why Mauss wrote so little, a handful of essays only; and the idea of selfless labour on behalf of dead colleagues filled that gap. But recently a huge volume of his occasional political writings was published, 800 pages, two thirds of them written in the period 1920-25. [xxvii] Here Mauss is revealed as a passionate advocate of the co-operative labour movement and prescient critic of Bolshevism. The societies he was concerned with (in rough order of index citations) were France, Russia, England, Germany, the United States, Switzerland, Italy, Belgium, Holland, Scotland, Morocco and Denmark. Not much on the kula or the potlatch here. It is something of a tragedy that Mauss’s academic admirers in the late 20th century should have been oblivious of what was clearly his greater commitment, to the political causes of his day. This separation of engagement and exoticism, of the personal and the impersonal, which Mauss reproduced even as he transcended it, is one legacy of modern anthropology that we must put behind us.


Karl Polanyi wrote The Great Transformation [xxviii] towards the end of the second world war. The transformation he referred to was the attempt to build a civilisation on the basis of self-regulating markets. This attempt appeared to be successful for the 100 years which separated the Congress of Vienna in 1815 (the formal end of the Napoleonic wars) and the outbreak of the first world war. The last thirty years, however, had been an unmitigated disaster, with two world wars separated by the collapse of the gold standard, the Wall Street crash and the Great Depression, the rise of totalitarian states, the Spanish civil war and many other catastrophes. In Polanyi’s overview this depressing sequence was the outcome of the 19th century’s experiment in market economy; the repair of civilisation now required nothing less than a return to economic principles which had underpinned society since time immemorial.

The civilisation of the 19th century, with its centre in Britain, had rested on unsustainable institutional premises. These were four: the balance of power; the gold standard; the liberal state; and the self-regulating market. The 100 years peace (1815-1914) depended on a balance of power between the major European nations which on the whole made them hold back from waging war on each other. Underlying this truce was a growing economic interdependence manifested in trade and finance (a sort of organic solidarity, if you like) which in turn required the operation of a stable international monetary system, the gold standard. The idea that money was a commodity, convertible to gold, and thereby freed from government interference was matched by the liberal norm of a minimal or “nightwatchman” state whose principal function was to leave the economy to its own devices. This last was, of course, based on the market, whose operations were guided, not by conscious human intervention, but rather by a “hidden hand”, a natural tendency towards equilibrium which ensured prosperity for all in the long run. (But, as the great man said, in the long run we are all dead…)

In Polanyi’s view, this scheme was at best utopian and at worst a cynical cover for anti-social accumulation of wealth. States were ultimately obliged to give vent to the social interests of their people. This meant that they could not disguise their internal social conflicts indefinitely and they could not sit idly by while commodity-based money (immune to manipulation in the public interest) destroyed their economies. The collapse of the gold standard in the face of national protectionism after the first world war was inevitable. The liberal state had no moral authority, since its laissez-faire ideology disguised strong intervention in the interests of capital at everyone else’s expense. Worst of all, there was nothing in the market mechanism to stop it ruining economies when left unchecked. The Great Depression was proof of this and fascism and communism were the political result.

Like Max Weber before him, Polanyi was aware that the market had always been kept on the periphery of preindustrial societies. People exchanged commodities in the form of manufactured objects (shoes, hats etc.) or small agricultural surpluses; but the main means of production and reproduction (food, housing, working the land) were kept largely outside the circuit of commerce and money. This meant that the economy was “embedded” in social relations which owed little or nothing to the market. In the age of mechanisation, markets had arisen for what Polanyi called the “fictitious commodities”. Nature, society and humanity are not themselves produced by people, as normal commodities are. The political economy of the 19th century, by calling them land, capital (society as money) and labour, commodities to be bought and sold just like artefacts, subjected the very substance of human survival to the forces of unregulated commerce. In the process, environment, social life and human creativity were casually destroyed in the name of the market’s unfettered progress.

Individual freedom, for Polanyi, was meaningless unless it was based on recognising the necessity of society as the precondition for decision-making at any level. Aristotle had been right to make our social nature the central premise of his philosophy (“man is a political animal”). Material survival itself depends on observing the rules of social interdependence. What then are these rules? Polanyi turned to the evidence of anthropology and economic history. Where transactions take place between equals, the norm is one of reciprocity (see Mauss’s The Gift throughout). Where a hierarchy exists, fairness is secured by a norm of redistribution: an agent reallocates the pooled resources of the group according to need. To these timeless economic rules, Polanyi also proposed that the principle of “householding”, budgeting for self-sufficiency, should normally take precedence over markets, which would consequently be made marginal to basic livelihood or at least regulated in the public interest. This was the basis for a discipline to which he devoted much personal effort: social planning.

Polanyi had all the makings of a great prophet except one — his timing was terrible. For the end of the second world war signalled America’s emergence as the dominant power of a world economy which once more was driven by market expansion. As we have seen, the 25 year period, 1948-1973, saw the biggest economic boom in world history. And, even when the boom ended, neo-liberal conservatives (Reagan, Thatcher and their ilk) acquired a hegemony which has only recently given way to a period of centre-left governments practising similar policies, but with an interventionist rhetoric. In the process, Stalinism has withered away and with it the Cold War rivalry between state socialism and “the free market”. The triumphalism of 1989, which proclaimed a victory for the market and private property, has not lasted long and, at the millennium, there are far fewer takers for the idea that self-regulating markets hold the key to global prosperity.

Of the four thinkers considered above, Durkheim and Polanyi concentrated on the market end of the primitive/modern pair at a high level of theoretical abstraction, while Malinowski and Mauss approached the gift as a concrete ethnographic phenomenon, allowing their commentaries on market economy to remain largely implicit. This leaves an obvious hole which the following section begins to fill, namely the need for a concrete analysis of market relations in modern societies.

Market relations in time and space

We have already seen that markets are constituted by acts of sale and purchase which economists collapse into a single timeless moment when the two sides achieve equivalence. But if we look more closely, the moment is always embedded in social processes which both precede and succeed it. Thus the commodity being sold had to be produced and brought to the point of sale; and, once it is bought, it is taken away to be consumed by the buyer. The chain of production and consumption may be called into question for any number of reasons, such as when the buyer has a complaint against the seller or original producer owing to the goods being faulty when used.

There is a further major consideration. Market relations involve money. In Marx’s classical formulation (see Figure 3.1), this may be represented as a sequence, C-M-C (where C = commodity and M = money); a seller exchanges commodities for money and later uses that money to buy commodities. But the money involved is also subject to complex social procedures. The seller may offer credit, allowing the buyer to delay payment. Or, if cash is handed over, there is a time when the seller is holding money which can be put to several alternative uses, ranging from personal consumption to investment in other forms of enterprise. It is therefore a particularly strong assumption to isolate the frozen moment when something is bought and sold; and it separates economists from all the rest of us. Put simply, in the real world market relations involve considerations of time and social complexity.

As Mauss pointed out, many of the contracts central to modern economy have a time element built into them which expresses the variable social relations linking buyers and sellers. Have you ever considered why, if you work for wages, you only get paid after you have done the work; or why, if you rent accommodation, you normally have to pay before you use it? This inequality reflects the social superiority of employers and landlords, their ability to regulate who bears the risk of non-payment. But the area in which time and social inequality enters most strongly into modern economies is finance, the market for money itself. The essence of credit is that a buyer gets something for nothing initially and pays later, usually with interest. This may take the form of a loan of money or an advance of commodities. In either case, time is intrinsic to the transaction and the social relations entailed in credit/debt are fraught with difficulty. We have all experienced the social embarrassment of an unrepaid loan. Credit inevitably invokes the personal side of market transactions, in a way that impersonal purchases with cash need not.

One variant of the stereotypical contrast between primitive exchange and modern markets is the notion that traditional markets, of the kind found in peasant societies or the oriental bazaar, rely on personalised transactions (typified by bargaining) which have been largely displaced from the modern economy. Thus, in many non-industrial societies it is normal for individuals to form longstanding partnerships based on the loyalty of customers to particular traders. Yet recourse to even casual introspection reveals that such a personalised approach to market relations is not foreign to industrial societies. I have already mentioned my childhood addiction to sweets and choice of a single seller, Mrs. Hewitt, as purveyor of my weekly fix. Maybe that kind of commerce is now archaic in western economies. But I cannot help noticing how many people, especially those who feel vulnerable when faced with the need to maintain an essential good, such as their car or computer, try to build a sense of interdependence with particular companies and even persons.

It is nevertheless the case that the personal dimension of economic life is more obvious in many non-western societies. When I went to Ghana as an anthropological fieldworker in the 1960s, I was initially slow to recognise how the pervasiveness of credit altered the working of market relations. For example, a small number of women brewers catered at weekends for the drinking needs of young male migrants to the city. Their profit levels at first seemed to be staggering. I worked it out that sales of millet beer were valued at eight times the costs of production. Like everyone else, I assumed that these women must be rich; but they were not. The vast bulk of sales were on credit and the rate of payment was so poor that the women often found it difficult to raise the cash to buy the ingredients for another brew. Instead they had a large retinue of regular customers in their debt, young men whom they could call upon for various services. Some of these women were politically influential; they had substantial investments in social ties, but they had little more money to spend than the majority of their customers.

For the truth is that most people in our world do not have enough money in hand to make markets a paying proposition without widespread extension of credit facilities. As it is, levels of market activity are depressed in many poorer regions; and buying now in order to pay later is indispensable to maintaining even those levels. In Ghana a fruit or vegetables trader would typically sit in a part of the market surrounded by women selling the same commodity. She would take her supply for the day and put one-third in a basket under the table. The rest would be divided into small bundles for a few pence each, adding in total to a sum which left her some margin of profit over her costs. Every customer paid the same amount, but she would use the stuff in the basket to give extras to regulars or as a way of attracting new customers. Contrary to western stereotypes, haggling was rare under these circumstances and a high proportion of sales would be on credit, with each customer’s record locked away safely in her capacious memory.

In my experience, everyday comestibles like food were bought and sold in this way. The obvious interest of the client was in gaining access to regular supplies even when he had no money (which was normal) or when supplies were scarce (which was often). The trader’s interest lay in attracting a stable clientele from competitors and in having a regular outlet even when the market was oversupplied and prices would otherwise tumble. One reason for traders sticking together in the same place is that they can pool information about credit risks and are less likely to be played off against each other by unscrupulous customers. You do not usually haggle when relations are circumscribed in this way. Bargaining occurred more naturally when people made occasional purchases of consumer durables, such as a chair. Here long-term association between buyer and seller is unnecessary and the business of getting the best possible deal can take up a lot of time.

To sum up this part of the argument, models of supply and demand require prices to adjust up and down for markets to clear. There is no need for this process to involve direct haggling between individual buyers and sellers, yet such bargaining would be a natural expression of the conflicting interests of the two sides. In economic orthodoxy, however, emphasis is placed on competition between sellers and the idea of conflict between buyer and seller is associated with less developed markets. This assertion is clearly ideological, since it abstracts from the real social relations which inevitably arise in modern markets when a time dimension is involved. Credit, wherever it occurs (and it is indispensable to the functioning of markets everywhere), introduces a bias towards greater co-operation between buyer and seller and reduced competition between sellers. These patterns of association, taken to be anomalous in economic theory, are intrinsic to the way markets work.

This discussion of market relations in time should have done enough to indicate why it is dangerous to make a glib contrast between western impersonal markets and their personalised “peasant” equivalents. It is also often claimed that, whereas traditional commerce occurs mainly in real market places, in modern societies “the market” has become an abstract or virtual network whose functioning is largely independent of place. Karl Polanyi, writing some years after The Great Transformation, held that in industrial societies “the market” had become an idea abstracted from real social relations and therefore, as an autonomous sphere, was amenable to the form of analysis devised by modern economists. But in all other societies, past and present, markets were located in real places where they were kept marginal and subject to regulation by the agents of dominant social institutions. [11] [xxix] This was the main theme of an edited volume, Markets in Africa, [xxx] which, following Polanyi, emphasised the spatial dimension of markets and linked this to a simple theory of development. In Africa, markets were traditionally restricted to specific times and places, thereby leaving the bulk of production and consumption to be organised by kinship ties. The development of more broadly based colonial markets for export crops and wage labour meant that the market principle became more pervasive, undermining traditional authorities.

Why are markets supposed to be subversive of traditional social arrangements? In essence it is because commerce knows no bounds and most local societies are predicated on maintaining a measure of control over their members which is threatened by that lack of limitation. All markets are in a sense world markets, in that they link specific places to a proliferating network of infinite scope. In the face of this unknowable extension of human sociability, the ruling elements of local societies seek to keep markets and those who specialise in them at arm’s length. Often the concrete symbol of the threat posed by markets lies in merchants’ greater command of money which in turn is just a measure of their access to a wider world. Markets likewise offer a potential means of escape to the dominated classes: women, young people, serfs and slaves, ethnic minorities. In this sense, the money to be gained from buying and selling offers relative freedom from local social obligations, at the same time as making much wider social connections possible.

In historical reality, the power of long-distance merchants has frequently modified the autonomy of local rulers; and markets have not always been peripheral, as the latter may have wished. Rather the dialectic of local and global economy has defined the struggle between these co-existing interests long before they emerged as prominent features of the way we perceive the modern world. Traditional societies have varied in the methods they adopted to tackle the problem of markets. But one common ploy has been the restriction of mercantile activities to excluded ethnic groups, thereby ensuring that local citizens had no access to money and that those who did lacked political power. The most famous example was the pariah status of Jews in medieval Europe (also, at varying times and places, other mercantile groups such as Greeks and Syrians). The British, as we have seen, gave Indians in colonial East Africa a trading monopoly, but debarred them from owning any land, which was restricted to whites and blacks. The preindustrial civilisations of Asia and the Near East habitually prevented merchants from investing in production, with the same ultimate intention of protecting local monopolies of power from the disruptive influence of markets and money.

Nor is this tension an insignificant feature of the modern world. For nation-states have habitually struggled to defend local economic priorities against the forces of the world market (sometimes called just “the markets”). This battle between territorial nationalism and cosmopolitan commerce has its roots in the traditional opposition between local societies and market places. Max Weber was intrigued to know how western societies came to allow markets to be central to their functioning. Yet this process is far from complete. One conclusion concerning the spatial dimensions of exchange is that, just as traditional rural societies were always linked by markets to world civilisation, modern markets have not yet transcended the attempts of political society to place physical restrictions on their operations. The emergence of the internet as a site for commerce brings this contradictory relationship to a new level.

As I have said, the contrast between fixed and sliding prices, between the absence and presence of bargaining, has often been taken to be the distinguishing feature of modern and traditional markets respectively. The Alexanders, anthropologists who studied Indonesian markets, asked why many American tourists in Bali choose western-style shops, with their posted (and higher) prices, over the local bazaar with its haggling and generally lower prices. [xxxi] Obviously, because they find them more familiar and feel more comfortable there. But this is merely to say that people are programmed to stay within their own culture, even when travelling abroad. Where does the institution of fixed, posted prices come from? Or, to put the boot on the other foot for a change, instead of looking on bargaining as abnormal, what happens if we treat fixed prices as an anomaly of recent history?

In a novel of life in the English Potteries at the end of the last century, [12] [xxxii] Arnold Bennett describes the appearance of the phenomenon of posted prices. People were used to engaging with shopkeepers personally; and each purchase took place under particular circumstances, involving variable price, quality and credit terms, all of them based on the specific relationship between trader and customer. Bennett recalls the shock of encountering for the first time goods identified by little white cards with non-negotiable prices on them. That was little more than a 100 years ago, yet the descendants of these pioneers now find sliding prices to be almost as threatening as beggars in the street.

The period from the 1880s to the first world war, which I have identified with the origins of 20th century state capitalism and the bureaucratic revolution, was the age of the first department stores, concentrating under one roof a wide range of commodities which would previously have been sold in separate shops. This is where fixed prices came from. The shift towards more impersonal forms of economic organisation had important consequences for marketing. Bureaucracies limit the personal discretion of employees, hedging their activities around with rules which can only be broken at risk of dismissal. In the new stores, customers dealt face-to-face with assistants who had no power to negotiate. That power rested with owners and managers who were now removed from the point of sale, unlike the small shopkeeper. The main imperative of management was to control subordinates; and this ethos stretched back to the production lines as well as outwards to an anonymous market of consumers whose tastes were manipulated by public advertising.

The remarkable thing is that this bureaucratic revolution passed unnoticed by the economists, who chose the same moment (the end of the 19th century) to reinvent their discipline as the study of individuals making rational decisions in competitive markets. Political economy’s embarrassing emphasis on class divisions was disposed of and the overwhelming social trend towards centralisation (which so impressed Durkheim and his contemporaries, from Engels to Weber) was ignored. It is a short step from here to an economic ideology which represents the modern world as a competitive market driven by the independent decisions of a mass of individuals. Now we can perhaps see dimly through the fog of a modern rhetoric which systematically misrepresents the corporations of our day as individual agents with an economic profile which would not be out of place in an eastern bazaar. At the heart of the confusion is the systematic refusal of western intellectuals to analyse the institutions of modern economy. Above all what is needed is an effort to distinguish between the properties of markets, of buying and selling as a form of human activity, and those of a capitalism increasingly organised by states and bureaucracy.

If the trend a century ago was towards centralisation, the reorganisation of society from the top in an era of mass production and consumption, there is some evidence to support the idea that today the technological trend supports decentralisation of economic and political power, even as the world market becomes more integrated. It is impossible to address such a proposition by means of orthodox economics, since the discipline is based on a systematic attempt to misrepresent the truth of that earlier transition. Even sadder, resistance to the power of big money and its political representatives has led many ordinary people, especially on the left, to regard markets and money as intrinsically anti-social institutions, along with the capitalism which has flourished on their foundation. Yet it is inconceivable that modern citizens could do all the things they would like to in a day without having recourse to buying and selling in some form. Moreover, I would argue that it is conceivable they could do so with a greater sense of personal involvement and without accepting the predations of capitalists as inevitable. Disentangling the potential of market relations from their embodiment in capitalism will take more than intellectual effort; but we must begin to do so.

The moral economy of paid and unpaid labour

Most of us “make” money by working. Work is a very modern concept. For one thing, it is usually performed in a special time and place, away from home. For another, it is not really work unless it is paid, thereby generating another contrast between wage employment and unpaid work. Finally, work is effort, the expenditure of energy; and in the modern period that energy is usually supplemented by machines. In this section I will consider the social question of working for money, the division between an impersonal, public sphere of work and the personal world of home and private life. This separation lies at the roots of modern culture and consciousness, so much so that it seems almost natural for most of us. Yet we will see that it is historically recent and, in an important sense, anomalous. There are already signs that it is giving way to new patterns of economic life.

Money, time and energy constitute the essential infrastructure of the market economy. All three lend themselves to quantification; they have become embedded in our collective consciousness as so many numbers. We are used to calculating the costs of alternative courses of action in terms of these variable elements. Should I take the car or catch the train? How long will it take? Can I get someone to share the fuel? We are even slowly becoming aware of the collective energy costs involved in choosing between public and private transport. Money, time, energy – the calculus of modern life. But it is highly unusual for human beings to divide up the components of their world in such a precise manner. A lot of it has to do with the distinctive way in which we now work.

We have seen above that Emile Durkheim made a rough contrast between primitive and modern societies in terms of the development of the division of labour. It was based on the observation that, while simple organisms do everything they need for themselves, more complex forms of life (notably ourselves) split up necessary tasks between specialists who thereby become interdependent. Adam Smith took the idea further in The Wealth of Nations when he suggested that this process of specialisation in production held the key to increased efficiency and economic progress. The Victorian social philosopher Herbert Spencer turned this into a general theory of evolution in which forms of life advanced towards greater complexity and internal difference. [xxxiii]

All of these writers were trying to come to grips with a fundamental change in the way people now experienced the world. Before the industrial revolution, with the exception of some systems of slave-based agriculture, work was quite closely integrated with domestic life. Although some sectors of production were organised in a socially complex manner, most work was carried out in loosely co-operative teams containing a high proportion of members of the same family. Roles were diffusely defined and easily switched according to the fluctuating rhythms of personal, domestic and community life. Very little of this work earned direct money payment and hence there was less concern with time spent on particular tasks. In any case, there was little social pressure to improve the efficiency of production; people were generally content to carry on doing what they had done before. In a traditional context like this it was hard to distinguish one aspect of life from any other.

As the factory system of industrial production grew in significance from the late 18th century and throughout the 19th, it became clear that traditional work patterns had to be broken up in order to get people to endure the new disciplines associated with wage employment. This process was analysed by Max Weber; [xxxiv] but the fullest account is to be found in E.P. Thompson’s The Making of the English Working Class. [xxxv] At first the new wage labourers brought peasant attitudes into the factories. If a sheep was sick, they stayed at home to tend it. The owners could not put up with such slackness; the steam-driven machines used up fuel continuously and human work patterns had to be adapted to this. As Thompson and others have shown, the imposition of time discipline was often brutal. Gradually it became established that workers were paid for precisely how long they worked and how much they produced. They did this under strict supervision in a special place sharply demarcated from their homes. The modern world of work was ideally impersonal. Men were “hands” and, if they were given the sack, it was inappropriate to take this as a personal affront from their boss. For one of the most important disciplines of industrial employment was acceptance of an ideology which attributed such calamities to the inscrutable forces of “the market”.

Impersonal social institutions were the hallmark of the early modern city. Max Weber, in The City, [xxxvi] pointed out that relations in premodern societies were personal. All authority figures from God and the king to priests and landlords cloaked themselves in the symbolism of male heads of families, the father or patriarch. This lent a moral dimension to social order, but it also encouraged arbitrary treatment according to the superior party’s disposition. The medieval cities of Northern Italy and the Netherlands committed themselves to founding public life on written rules which applied to everyone equally. This is the origin of bureaucracy, rule by office rather than persons, and it is well to remember that its initial impulse was democratic and egalitarian, an attempt to escape from the corruption and violence of a feudal regime. The problem was and is that, in carving out a sphere of impersonal law, the subjective basis for a moral connection between self and society was ruptured, generating a permanent crisis of legitimacy for modern governments.
We have seen that the market nexus also rests on a degree of impersonality, breaking the intimate connection between persons and things and, by emphasising the equivalence of the exchange, reducing the need for ongoing social ties between buyers and sellers. But, as Polanyi insisted, we also saw that this anonymous ideal was stretched to its limit when what was bought and sold was inseparable from persons, namely human work itself (“labour”). If someone buys a hat, it is not hard to imagine that the hat ceases to have any connection with the seller. But how do you persuade a paid worker that his work no longer belongs to him once it has been bought, that the impersonal rules of the labour market take over at the expense of his own personality? Buying and selling human beings is an old practice. We call it slavery. Typically a slave was a war captive or a victim of debt who was eventually sold on to a master who had command over his or her labour for life. In the Roman tradition, the slave was an object, not a subject with personality, an instrumentum vocale (“speaking tool”), part of the family property along with the animals. Even so slaves had some rights as family members and it was in the interest of the owner to maintain the value of a life-time asset. This is the Achilles heel of slavery: why buy labour for a lump sum in advance when you can hire it piecemeal as needed? [xxxvii]

A wage is a pledge, a promise to pay when the work is done. As long as there are people ready to sell their labour, hiring for wages is more flexible than slavery and it ties up much less capital, just whatever it costs for a day’s or week’s work. Wage employment [13] was not invented by the industrial revolution. Indeed recent work by economic historians shows that the institution was widespread in rural England as early as the 13th century, a relative exception in medieval Europe. [xxxviii] Nevertheless there was something of a crisis in the late 18th century when the numbers of so-called vagrants, migrants in search of work, began to overwhelm the poor relief system. [xxxix] And the subsequent flood of rural-urban migrants into industrial employment established wage labour as the norm. It is worth remembering, however, that there were still many peasants, servants and self-employed workers in 19th century Europe; and the wage system never took over completely.

The growth of wage labour in the modern economy led to an attempt to separate the spheres in which paid and unpaid work predominated. The first was ideally objective and impersonal, specialised and calculated; the second was subjective and personal, diffuse, based on long-term interdependence. Inevitably, the one was associated with the payment of money in a public place, the other with “home”; so that “work” without a marker usually meant outside activities and the business of maintaining families became known as “housework”. It is a short step from this conceptual separation to the idea that the real work of production is supported by domestic reproduction; that the energies used up in work are restored by leisure at home, giving rise to a marked oscillation between work and rest (evenings, weekends and holidays).

This is how the citizens of modern societies now live. We earn money when we work and we spend it in our spare time which is focused on the home. Production and consumption are linked in an endless cycle of complementary activities. But it is not easy. Work still has a strong element of compulsion in it. It is necessary, whereas consumption is notionally a sphere of freedom – we can choose what to spend our money on. Perhaps it is extreme to label our normal condition wage slavery; perhaps not. In any case we have to knuckle under to regimes of varying rigidity. And we do so under the threat of losing our job, often for unexplained and anonymous reasons. Job loss, of course, means a massive reduction in our ability to spend. Especially at times of crisis, it is difficult to keep the personal and the impersonal apart; yet our economic culture demands nothing less of us, day in, day out for most of our adult lives.

The system of paid and unpaid labour has, of course, been until recently gendered. The separation of the two was made clearer if men worked for money outside and women were responsible for the home. Returning from a hard day at the factory or office, the patriarch beat the kids, ate a meal, put his feet up and enjoyed free sex before sleep completed the process of restoring him for the next day’s work. This was the moral universe of early industrial society. It rested on a strong opposition between the money sphere of buying and selling and the domestic sphere of give-and-take. This is why money has a sharp cultural resonance for us that it lacks in societies which have not instituted such a strong polarity between (outside) work and home. [xl] For example, I was once talking to a Ghanaian student about exchanges between lovers and he said that it was quite common for a boy who has slept with a girl after a party to leave some money as a gift and token of esteem. Once he had done this with a visiting American student and the resulting explosion was gigantic – “Do you imagine that I am a prostitute?” etc. Prostitution is, of course, at the contradictory core of the modern economic system and its moral defences. What could be more personal than sex and more impersonal than a money payment? The combination of the two strikes at the heart of the attempt to separate male and female spheres of work. No wonder women sex workers often provoke a moral panic. When the institutional division of work and home is itself breaking down, occasions for moral outrage multiply daily.

Let me spell out why the division between paid and unpaid labour lies at the core of capitalism’s moral economy. At the end of the 20th century, people have never been more conscious of themselves as unique personalities seeking full expression of their subjectivity in the world. Scientific knowledge has lent to that consciousness the promise of increased collective control over the material condition which before placed severe limits on human aspirations. Why then do most people feel so powerless in the face of the forces governing their co-existence? The answer is obvious. Society is unknowably large and complex, being driven by impersonal institutions whose effects can be devastating (war, mass unemployment), while the actions of individuals are trivial and meaningless. Between self and society there is an apparently unbridgeable gap which leaves most of us alienated from the sources of our collective being, confining our energies and ambitions to the petty projects of everyday life. It was once the task of religion to fill that gap; and, for many of the world’s dispossessed, it still is. Today money is both a principal reason for our vulnerability in experiencing society as a remote external object and a means of connection between the two, a practical symbol allowing each of us to make an impersonal world meaningful. If Durkheim said we worship society and call it God, [xli] money is the God of capitalist society.

The modern economy consists of two complementary spheres which have to be kept separate, despite their interdependence. One of them is a zone of infinite scope where things and increasingly human creativity are bought and sold for money, the market. The second is a protected zone of domestic life where intimate personal relations hold sway, home. The market is unbounded and, in a sense, unknowable, whereas the bounds of domestic life are known only too well. The normal link between the two is that some adults, traditionally men more often than women, go out to work, to “make” the money on which the household subsists. The economy of the home rests on spending this money and performing services without payment. The result is a heightened sense of division between an outside world in which our humanity feels swamped and a precarious zone of protected personality at home. This duality is the moral and practical foundation of capitalist society. It is reflected in the institutional segregation of selling and buying, production and consumption, income and expenditure, work and home.

We have seen that the attempt to construct a market in which commodities are exchanged instantly and impersonally as alienable private property is utopian. The idea of civil society in this sense was to grant a measure of independence for market agents from the arbitrary interventions of personalised rule. Relations in such a system between owners of property and workers without property (“servants” for John Locke) were left obscure, leaving it to Karl Marx to make their opposed interests brutally clear. All the efforts of economists to insist on the autonomy of an abstract market logic cannot disguise the fact that market relations inevitably have a personal and social component. This is particularly the case when the commodity being bought and sold is human creativity.

Markets and money were until recently minor appendages of agricultural society, largely external to relations organising the performance of work on the land and to the distribution of its product. The owners of money capital were in turn excluded from political power. Even though the rulers needed money to fight wars and to buy imported luxuries, markets remained on the margins of mainstream society. The middle-class revolution of the 17th and 18th centuries changed all that, by preparing the way for markets to be accepted at the centre of society, a process given intellectual weight by Adam Smith in particular. But it was the industrial revolution and subsequent mechanisation which made selling ones labour for wages the main source of livelihood. Only now did the market, more especially that for human services, become the principal means of connecting families to society at large.

Where does the social pressure come from to make markets impersonal, at least in theory? Max Weber’s answer is as good as any: rational calculation of profit in enterprises depends on the capitalist’s ability to control the markets for his products and for the “factors of production”, especially labour. [xlii] It is alright for the squire to have diffuse personal relations with his peasants, who are in any case going nowhere; but it will not do to let such considerations interfere with the running of a factory. The principle is that, once a commodity has been sold, the buyer is free to do with it what he likes. But, in the case of a wage contract, the human source of work is not an object separable from the work that has been bought. Nevertheless, people must be taught to submit to the impersonal disciplines of the workplace. The struggle to impose formal criteria of accountancy on people’s economic lives has never been completely won. So, just as money is intrinsic to the home economy, personality remains intrinsic to the labour market. In consequence of this overlap in practice, the cultural effort required to keep the two spheres separate, if only at the conceptual level, is huge.

The members of societies which have been run on capitalist principles for some time maintain that the mere act of paying money transforms a relationship. Money stands for alienation, detachment, impersonal society, the outside; its origins lie beyond our control. Relations marked by the absence of money are the model of personal integration and free association, of what we take to be familiar, the inside. The issue is essentially a moral one. Commodities are “goods” because we consume them in person, but we find it difficult to embrace money, the means of their exchange, as “good” because it belongs to a sphere which is indifferent to morality and, in some sense, stays there. The good life, instead of uniting work and home, is restricted to what takes place in the latter. We live for the weekends and for holidays; the value of our jobs is to make home life enjoyable. There are those who commit themselves wholly to work or public life; but this reproduces the division between paid and unpaid labour, rather than subverting it.

Either markets are universal and everything is bought and sold, as some economists insist, or personality is universally acknowledged to be intrinsic to social relations, as most humanists would argue. But institutional dualism of the sort outlined here, forcing individuals to divide themselves, asks too much of us. Consequently, not only has the structure never been fully realised in practice, but it has been breaking down for some time in the face of people’s need to integrate the personal and impersonal dimensions of their lives. They want to integrate division, to make some meaningful connection between themselves as subjects and society as an object. This process has been aided by the fact that money, as well as being the means of separating public and domestic life, was always the main bridge between the two. That is why the project of bringing together the different spheres of exchange into some meaningful unity is more likely to succeed through developing new approaches to money than by turning our backs on it.

Changing economic relations between men and women

In capitalist societies, then, production and reproduction have been separated into two spheres, one associated with the market, the other with home. But such a separation is only recent, partial and transient. To represent such an arrangement as eternal, as a culture of public and domestic life anchored in a sexual division of labour as old as the human species itself, masks the historical reality, which consists of continuous movement and cross-cultural variation. It is important to understand how people have already transformed static ideas into the practical dynamics of everyday life; for this makes contemplation of alternative economic forms less daunting than when change is conceived of as a leap from one abstract idea to its opposite. Accordingly, I now approach changing relations between work and home through an examination of gender divisions in three places I have lived and worked in: Britain, the Caribbean and West Africa. [14] [xliii] The main theme of this history is the growing marginality of domestic life to social reproduction, as well as to production. I will finally address how the latest phase of the machine revolution potentially subverts the conventional division between work and home.


In the Southeast heartlands of England’s medieval civilisation, the state and market were strong enough as early as the 13th century to sustain commercial agriculture and a rural wage labour force on a significant scale. This allowed an unusual degree of individuation to develop within a general framework of peasant patriarchy. [15] [xliv] Hence the longstanding British conception of the family as an individual household united under its male head. This early development of the labour market and of a family structure adapted to it no doubt facilitated Britain’s pioneering breakthrough to industrial capitalism. The first phase of the machine revolution saw the wholesale transfer of peasant families into Lancashire’s textile factories. [xlv] Men and women carried out their traditional tasks under the supervision of the former and children performed menial duties. But the factory owners turned increasingly to cheaper female and child labour in the drive to reduce costs. Patriarchy was, if anything, reinforced by the Victorians and women were herded into domestic service, prostitution and badly paid wage labour. Their position in society deteriorated with the coming of industrial capitalism.

Social pressure built up against these early abuses of the industrial system. This was due in part to improvements in machinery which made it more profitable for some capitalists to raise the productivity of labour (Marx’s relative surplus value) than to cheapen its absolute cost. The decades leading up to the first world war witnessed a shift towards heavy industries like shipbuilding and steel mills. This, coming on top of campaigns to release children for schooling and women for housework, consolidated the power of monopoly trade unions in key industries where male productivity was high enough to justify wages sufficient to support whole families. The is the specific origin of the “breadwinner/housewife” model of conjugal relations from which British women have been seeking to emancipate themselves in recent decades. [xlvi] Before the 1880s, only middle-class wives, supported by servants, restricted their attentions to the home. By the end of the century, a major plank of Labour Party and trade union policy was to seek similar privileges for working class women. Europe’s main Marxist party, the German Social Democrats, took a similar line; and the International Labour Office, from its foundation, promoted the aim of sparing women the burdens of wage labour. This coincided with a fall in the birth rate and the rise of family planning. It was also the period of maximum agitation for women’s political rights (the suffragette movement).

It seems, therefore, that the emergence of a clearcut sexual division of labour identifying men with wage employment and women with housework, belongs to that second phase of mechanisation which I have linked to the bureaucratic revolution and the rise of state capitalism. Moreover, working people themselves played a strong part in bringing it about, recognising no doubt that, as long as husbands and wives competed in the same labour market, they drove down the wages of each. There are plenty of analogous examples of peasant societies where men have converted a new affluence into seclusion of their wives from working in public view (the institution of the veil, for instance). [xlvii] This then was the general model of family life for a broad spectrum of middle- and working-class Britons until the 1960s. The extremes of rich and poor were largely untouched by these developments. The youth rebellion was the beginning of a decisive phase in women’s emancipation. Now, with immigration being discouraged and the postwar economic boom at its height, women at home constituted the last great reserve of labour to which capitalists could turn. [xlviii] Their subsequent mass re-entry into the wage labour force led to struggles against discrimination which were soon seen to be as much cultural as economic. Eventually, British feminists, and after them gay men, took on marriage and the sexual division of labour itself, the idea that men and women perform complementary productive tasks which are rooted in their respective reproductive roles.

Throughout all this, the state has played a crucial part in promoting the concept of individual citizenship at the expense of traditional family responsibilities. An army of professionals – doctors, teachers, lawyers, social workers – now supervises the process whereby the young enter society; and they frequently exercise their legal powers to override parental control. There is, of course, resistance from conservatives; and the battle-ground that constitutes the future of the family is nowhere contested more keenly than in the controversy over the abortion laws. The link between reproduction in the home and production outside it has been substantially eroded in Britain as we approach the millennium; but it is not yet broken. That moral certainty which, for a remarkably short period of time underwrote the normative separation of work and home as a natural fact of marriage, is now on the wane, opening up new possibilities for the construction of economic life.

The Caribbean

Most societies in the modern world are long-established peasant civilisations in the early throes of the machine revolution. The Caribbean sugar islands were created as part of a precocious experiment in social engineering. The indigenous populations and their traditions were eliminated to make way for colonial plantation economies employing workers ripped out of their familiar environments (slaves and indentured labourers). Africans and Asians spoke variants of the languages of their European masters as they toiled in what were once the most advanced industrial enterprises in the western world. As the region’s greatest writer, C.L.R. James, always insisted, [16] [xlix] this peculiar history has thrown up a distinctive people, one of the most modern in the world. This is no sleepy backwater, a tourist suntrap occupied by a few rum-drinking fishermen: it is a major crucible of the social forms that are taking over contemporary society everywhere.

In the heyday of the Atlantic slave trade, owners did not need the negro family as a means of reproducing their labour supply. Some of them were hostile to the formation of kinship ties among the slaves, seeing in them the seeds of autonomy and resistance. But, by the end of the 18th century, most owners were indifferent to whether the slaves reproduced themselves or not. The latter built up informal kinship systems, whatever their masters’ attitudes, and these were strongest on large estates with stable workforces which encouraged subsistence cultivation as a fallback when market demand for sugar was weak. The notion of a patriarchal family was reserved for the estate as a whole. This meant that male slaves had no direct jural authority over women and children and their families had little or no official standing. There was no social sanction for marriage or sexual division of labour between slaves; but work roles did follow a gender-specific pattern. Women performed most of the unskilled field labour, while men held down the skilled jobs offering a measure of privilege. Some women entered informal unions with whites, thereby endowing their offspring with limited prospects for upward mobility. Unions between slaves were consensual, usually involving visits to separate residences, and women undertook the bulk of family responsibilities.

The abolition of slavery made possible the emergence of an independent black peasantry in the 19th century. [l] The former slaves tried to develop a subsistence base for patriarchal families; but not enough land was released by the owners to make that option viable and they remained dependent on the plantations, this time as a wage labour force. Some women may have retreated from field labour to purely domestic tasks; certainly, in some cases, African women were replaced by indentured Indian workers on the plantations. The demise of slavery coincided with an upsurge of syncretistic Christianity and this revival helped to consolidate socially sanctioned family life among the former slaves. The decades before the first world war saw a sharp shift of population into urban areas, with women outnumbering men in the principal towns. [li] They performed domestic labour for the growing white and brown middle class and they dominated petty trade. It is probable that these women, like their counterparts elsewhere, had more to gain from escaping rural patriarchy. [17] [lii] At the same time, successive waves of men emigrated to Central America and the United States, establishing the 20th century pattern of male absenteeism and dependence of families on their female members.

In the 20th century a strongly dualistic family pattern has been established. [liii] On the one-hand, the Christian churches endorse the middle-class ideal of marriage for all strata of the population, but without the norm of female seclusion that often goes with it. On the other hand, there is a working-class model of conjugal visiting, unstable unions and matrifocality, in which women put up with a culture of machismo and assume most of the responsibility for reproduction. The two types are often combined within individual family careers, with women pressing to make their unions and offspring official, when their men get older and perhaps tire of a predatory existence. Women stay in the education system longer than men and have the larger share of jobs in the bureaucracy.

Sex divisions are no more rigid in the Caribbean today than they were under slavery; and that synthesis of peasant patriarchy and middle-class family norms which briefly dominated western industrial societies has not taken root there. In the absence of a viable local capitalism, wage employment is not an adequate staple for most families, so that the breadwinner/housewife model has scarcely been given a chance. High male unemployment rates undermine any improvements in men’s jural status brought about by emancipation; and the women sustain a boom in evangelical protestantism as a distraction from their menfolk’s failings. As the western nuclear family crumbles, giving rise to households resembling the fluid forms which have long been typical of the Caribbean, it becomes plausible to argue that the family pattern pioneered by the former slaves is better suited to modern conditions than the exaggerated sexual division of labour I grew up with in Britain. Caribbean families have never been organised by a strong separation of work and home; and to that extent their history may be prophetic of what happens to industrialised peasantries when that division breaks down.

West Africa

My concern here is with the region’s traditional rural societies, excluding the Islamic savanna interior and the coastal trading towns. These societies were governed by peasant patriarchy, with and without the reinforcement of indigenous states. In some cases, group membership was traced though the female line, but this did not devolve authority from men to women. [18] Throughout West Africa, the division of labour rested on a combination of gender and age. Married men controlled the distribution of agricultural goods produced mainly by dependent women and young men. These “elders” disposed of moveable wealth in the form of animals, cloth, precious metals and slaves. [liv] They monopolised long-distance trade and restricted the movements of women. Each of the sexes was responsible for a long list of manufactures and services. Polygamy was normal, with the elders delaying marriage for their sons and junior brothers through control of bridewealth; girls married at puberty.

Urbanisation and rural development in the 20th century have introduced several modifications to this pattern. [lv] Men have taken up most cash-cropping and wage employment opportunities; women are concentrated in small and middle-level trade, giving them a reputation for controlling money. The upper echelons of both colonial and postcolonial society, however, have been dominated by men, who vastly outnumber women in government, the army, higher education, banking and international trade. [lvi] Women do have their secret societies, market chiefs and queen mothers; and they show scant deference to their menfolk. But they have further to go than their Caribbean sisters towards achieving social equality. They do often feel that they are better off than their European and American counterparts; and in this they may not be wrong.

An example from classical ethnography illustrates how West African gender divisions have fared in the face of 20th century developments. [lvii] Among the Nupe of Northern Nigeria before colonial rule, married men controlled the essentials of life (food grains) and bridewealth tokens (cattle). Unmarried young men, who could be as old as their late 30s, worked on the farms of their elders in the hope of eventually being allowed to marry. Women, in addition to their domestic duties, kept small gardens in which they grew the relishes to relieve a monotonous diet; and they sometimes exchanged these peas, beans and tomatoes in local markets. British colonialism brought new markets, for wage labourers to build roads and towns and for farmers cultivating export crops like groundnuts. These opportunities were taken up with alacrity by the young men who left their villages in droves as migrants. Meanwhile, local markets expanded rapidly and many women found increased economic independence as traders.

To make matters worse for the elders, the colonial authorities levied taxes on heads of households who were forced to turn to the women and young men for the cash. They raised the number of animals to be paid for a wife in a vain attempt to assert their control over their juniors; and witchcraft accusations escalated against women. Eventually they sought an accommodation with their colonial rulers, offering their services as labour recruiters and local crowd control. This alliance between traditional and modern authorities sparked off a vicious class conflict and inequalities along lines of gender and age became more rigid as a consequence of colonial rule. West Africa is even more marginal to global capitalism than the Caribbean. Some feminist researchers have seen West African women as a model of independence, an inspiration to their downtrodden western sisters. Others see only that they are victims of capitalist oppression, like most Third World women. In any case, there is even less evidence from this region of that sexual division of labour which briefly underpinned the moral economy of societies reorganised to meet the needs of state capitalism.

The family under national capitalism

The more I have pursued these comparative researches, the more anomalous the pattern of family life I witnessed as a boy now seems. Eternal and universal though it was made out to be, it can now be seen to have lasted only in a few countries from the 1890s to the 1950s. We should not be surprised that the attempt to separate work and home failed. It was an outlandish experiment, the domestic counterpart to state capitalism’s reliance on bureaucracy and, at the same time, a vivid example of modern regression to the institutions of agrarian civilisation. As we have seen, a way of life based on extracting energy from plants and animals is being rapidly replaced by one where goods and services are exchanged within built environments and even over telephone wires. The social patterns that have emerged under these circumstances represent an uneasy amalgam of agrarian and commercial institutions whose spread has been extremely uneven in geographical terms. The power of the money and machines at our disposal has been used to intensify old (and some new) patterns of exploitation; while reduction in exposure to back-breaking toil and premature death has been a source of liberation.

In the centres of capitalism, economic organisation has been taken away from peasant families and concentrated in the hands of corporations large enough to control the labour force, capital and machinery needed for survival in a rapidly evolving world market. The relocation of much work and reproduction outside the home has introduced a new discontinuity between production and consumption. The sexual division of labour, which appeared as suitable sticking plaster for this alienating structure, was at first intensified and then undermined by the contradictions of state capitalism. Both states and markets are impersonal institutions, treating human beings as abstract individuals: citizens, voters, employees, households. The conception of society implied by both is composed of units endowed with the same atomised structure. Neither of them has much room for the mess of particularistic groupings on which agricultural and early urban society were founded. [19] This makes them profoundly egalitarian, while they reproduce agrarian hierarchy. Mobility is built into modern markets; the division of labour is complex and highly volatile, so that people must move in order to live. The state’s job is to equip them with the education that makes this possible. [lviii] Less and less is left in the hands of families, whose responsibilities are taken over by an army of university-trained professionals. At the same time the right of men to control their women’s property and beat them up has been abolished, making patriarchy less tenable as the foundation of family life.

The conjugal nuclear family (man, wife and 2.4 kids), whatever its agrarian antecedents, is an early and transient compromise between patriarchy and individualism. One solution to the problems entailed in habitual nomadism is to withdraw women and children from the labour market and make them tag along with the male breadwinner. In the 1950s, just before the deluge, this was being seriously touted by American sociologists as the functional answer to advanced capitalism’s reproductive dilemmas. [20] [lix] No doubt the idea appeals to a certain type of atavistic male mentality; but it will not stand up long in the face of market penetration of domestic life and the relocation of much reproduction into the public sphere. The maintenance of a reserve army of cheap female labour also has its appeal in societies which are not committed to improving productivity through mechanisation. But in general the family is becoming an almost contingent feature of capitalist societies. For these societies replenish their resources in ways that no longer depend on any particular division of labour between men and women.

People may still seek personal fulfilment in conjugal arrangements; but society does not really care any more how they do it. Parent-child relations have nothing like the significance they once had in how people expect to live. The majority of households contain only one or two people. The fastest-growing type of family in the world is the matrifocal one (mother alone with her kids) previously associated with poor black people and underdevelopment. There are major variations between the leading capitalist nations: thus British women are still punished for trying to combine wage employment and motherhood, while their French counterparts have won cheap and effective sources of alternative childcare. We all inhabit a space between patriarchy and the possibility of more equal relations between men and women; and the permutations are infinite. The marginality of domestic life to the organisation of social production and reproduction by states and markets leaves considerable scope for personal initiative. As family patterns are made increasingly consensual and voluntary, it seems likely that the sexual division of labour will be weakened to the point of being little more than a cultural memory. In this respect, the economic emancipation of women is the strongest sign that we may be entering a period when capitalism’s moral economy can be remade.

Beyond wage slavery?

I have suggested that living in two strongly contrasted spheres of the economy, in the impersonal world of work and the personal world of home, poses intrinsic difficulties for our humanity. At the root of the problem is the way we work for each other through the market, when the buying and selling of services (as opposed to objects) is becoming by far the largest part of the human economy. A market economy may be said to be “capitalist” when people are paid to work, mainly outside the home in establishments controlled by the owners of money. There was always a tension between the needs of domestic or local organisation and participation in market networks; but this was manageable, as long as the bulk of livelihood was generated outside the market. Wholesale conversion to the wage labour system simultaneously made the market more central to economic life and reinforced the division between work and home. Morality itself was banished from public life, leaving individuals with no responsible or meaningful connection between private and public life. Yet the security of families depended on maintaining access to wage employment which was granted or withheld by remote agents in the public sphere. This is, of course, intolerable; and people responded in a number of ways.

One was to seek personal integration through the job itself. It is unreasonable to expect people to detach their long-term life expectations from their work; and one trend of the past two centuries has been to attach reproductive considerations to jobs. The Japanese are famous for the way that companies and their employees make a life-time commitment to each other; but the security of “jobs for life” has made its mark in most modern societies. The distinction between wages and salaries has often been one of class. [21] [lx] The salaried middle classes were quick to establish rights in pensions, health and education schemes, subsidies to housing, insurance and other supplements linking their direct income to security in the long run for themselves and their families. Later workers in protected and high productivity industries like mining, steel and shipbuilding were able to win similar, but not as extensive concessions. In the 20th century a scaled-down version of these guarantees was provided by the welfare state. The result was a bureaucratic form of paternalism which modified wage employment in a direction reminiscent of the more benevolent versions of slavery.

The idea of the job is one of the chief examples of how the institutions of agrarian civilisation have been adapted to conditions spawned by the machine revolution. A slave or serf depended for their livelihood on a landowner; a wage employee is likewise dependent on his boss, except that their contract is short-term and reversible; and it leaves the worker with more responsibility for his own security than before. Moreover, volatile labour markets pose a persistent challenge to the wages system. The whole point of paying workers on a short-term basis is to be able to lay them off when demand slackens. This gave rise in some industries and trades (such as the docks and construction) to a pattern of casual hiring and firing which undermined attempts to build family life around a stable source of employment. Worse, it made redundancy and unemployment a fact of life for generations of workers. Sometimes groups of workers would forget that their livelihood depended on evanescent markets. The mill towns around Manchester dominated the world’s trade in cotton textiles for a century and a half. Today the blackened centres of these towns are derelict; the market has moved on and they failed to adapt. The lesson is a deeply distressing one: wage employment is at worst insecure and what seems secure can soon be wiped out, leaving ruined communities as mute testimony to the error of relying on jobs generated by capitalist markets. These fluctuations have always put pressure on the cultural programme of stabilising work and home as the twin bulwarks of a harmonious cycle of production and reproduction.

Only in retrospect will the work patterns of the 20th century be revealed as the bizarre deviations from normal human life that they were. Men working outside the home for almost all the hours available to them in order to prove their devotion to their jobs; returning to wives who barely managed to get out of the house at any time; travelling to city offices from far suburbs daily in order to put as much distance as possible between work and home. [22] [lxi] While well-paid workaholics cling to the few remaining jobs of a traditional kind, for most young people entering the labour market today the prospects are rather different. For there has been a revolution in the organisation of production during the last two decades, mainly but not exclusively in America. [23] This has in turn been shaped by the developments in information technology and money markets discussed in the previous chapters. The literature dealing with these topics is vast and takes us beyond the scope of the present book. But a few points should be noted here.

The bureaucratic revolution was mainly about centralising control of all the factors relevant to manufacturing a product. Thus Henry Ford not only made the paint for his cars, he even raised sheep in a neighbouring county to feed and clothe his workers. Recently firms have been drastically reducing their workforces, for the first time at managerial as well as lower levels. This is known as “downsizing” and, when it applies to senior and middle-level management, as “delayering”. At the same time and in a related process, information technology has been introduced on a wide scale, especially to facilitate the development of networks and electronic data interchange systems within reorganised corporations. These are increasingly focused around their so-called “core competences” and have shed a range of support tasks to small specialist firms outside the company. This process of “outsourcing” has allowed the lead firms to become hubs of what are often giant networks of firms relying on deregulated markets to keep down internal costs while making it increasingly difficult for outsiders to compete effectively. This has led to a round of super-mergers across national boundaries which is rapidly reducing the number of corporate players in global markets.

Of course, employees in “outsourced” firms are often temporary, get lower pay, have “flexible” working hours and do not enjoy the health and other benefits which are available to regular employees in the core firm. They are often located in Third World countries. If the scale and rapidity with which the 20th century system of manufacture is being reformed is remarkable, the process of “outsourcing” is not new. It used to be called “the putting out system” and it is as ancient as the factory itself. This involved leaving parts of production to be performed at home by domestic workers, usually more cheaply than their hire as wage employees would be. The Japanese corporations who encouraged their core employees to embrace an ethos of life-time commitment also relied heavily on casualised domestic workers; and this duality has been reproduced in countless ways throughout the short history of capitalism. What is new is the harnessing of information technology and networking to this process. At the very least we should be aware that the rigid separation of work and home in capitalism’s moral economy has been more complicated in practice; and that contemporary developments have their analogies in the past.

It is hard to see the patterns emerging at this time. That is one reason for stepping back to look at the history of the modern period as a whole. On the one hand, it seems that whatever security workers were able to win under state capitalism is being eroded. Labour markets are less regulated and the power of unions has been much diminished. The growth of employment in recent years has been largely in what are sometimes called “macjobs”, after the hamburger retailing chain which specialises in hiring young, low-paid, part-time, temporary workers to perform unskilled tasks with no prospects of improvement. What is for sure is that any hope people once had that they could rely on “a good job” and state protection for their long-term security is less justified today than it ever was. The state capitalist experiment of linking human reproduction to anonymous bureaucratic structures seems to have failed.

At the same time, the communications revolution has opened up many new possibilities for reconfiguring the relationship between work and home. “Teleworking”, the idea of working for one’s employer from home on a flexible basis, has often been touted as an inevitable corollary of the new information technologies. The ramifications are infinite and lie beyond the scope of a book whose prime focus is on the means of exchange, not production and reproduction. The purpose of this chapter has been to establish that the money system, when considered as a market economy, has always been in movement, whatever attempts to stabilise the conditions of capital accumulation may have been made. This for the good reason that it is people who animate economic life. In the next chapter we will see how they animate money itself.

Guide to further reading

The subject matter of this chapter is closest to my academic teaching of economic anthropology. There is only one place to start, with Marcel Mauss’s The Gift (note 1). Readers of French should also look at his political journalism (27). Emile Durkheim’s The Division of Social Labour (7) provides the essential background to his nephew’s efforts. Modern British social anthropology has its conventional origin in the publication of Malinowski’s brilliant ethnography, Argonauts of the Western Pacific (21). Polanyi’s The Great Transformation (2) is a wonderful, flawed critique of market capitalism. More recent contributions of note include Bohannan and Dalton’s collection on African markets (30), Gregory’s Gifts and Commodities and Strathern’s Gender of the Gift (25); the Alexanders’ article offers an engaging point of entry into the anthropology of markets (31). Marshall Sahlins’s Stone-age Economics is an original tour de force and very accessible. [lxii] I have written a short polemical review of economic anthropology for a journal symposium. [lxiii]

One anthropologist, Louis Dumont, has attempted the intellectual history of early modern economic ideas (16). Otherwise, we depend heavily on Macpherson’s efforts in the field of property (3, 13). Chris Hann has edited an impressive collection of articles by anthropologists on the subject. [lxiv] Sir John Hick’s Theory of Economic History is a bit wild, but very stimulating and readable (6). And, for those who refuse to read John Locke in the original, I can only repeat my endorsement of Caffentzis’s extraordinary study (15).

There is a vast literature on the social institutions of early capitalism. I would cite only four here: Weber’s General Economic History (34), Engels’s The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844, [lxv] E.P. Thompson’s The Making of the English Working Class (35) and Neil Smelser’s Social Change in the Industrial Revolution (45). On money and moral principle, the Parry and Bloch collection points to major differences between the west and the rest (40). The collection I edited deals quite fully with the sexual division of labour in the Caribbean (43); but see also Smith’s seminal Guiana study (53). Nadel’s West African ethnography, A Black Byzantium, is the best I know, for changing sex divisions and much else (57). William Goode’s survey of world family patterns in the early 1960s is still worth reading, if only as a reminder of social science’s complacency before the deluge (59). Sandy Robertson’s review of contemporary institutions of social reproduction is as forward-looking as any (60).

[1] I had in mind to include the sort of graph which illustrates the intersecting curves of supply and demand in elementary economic textbooks. But then I realised that most of my readers will already have seen one; and those who haven’t could find one easily, if they wished.

[2] The Nobel prize-winning economist, Sir John Hicks, has written a speculative account of economic evolution which addresses the issues raised here in a manner that is at once analytically insightful and cheerfully indifferent to historical detail.

[3] Locke was the first writer to stress the importance of toilet training!

[4] I am grateful to Simon Schaffer for having pointed me to G. Caffentzis Clipped Coins, Abused Words and Civil Government: John Locke’s Philosophy of Money, a work which has done more to shape the present book than any other.

[5] This was rather a project of the 18th and 19th centuries, culminating in classical political economy.

[6] Durkheim was one of four assassins identified by Parsons, the others being Alfred Marshall, Vilfredo Pareto and Max Weber. His purpose was to establish the rise of a subjectivist and morally accountable social science in the early 20th century, with himself as the founder of the American branch.

[7] From sokw-yo, o-grade form of the Indo-European root, sekw- to follow (American Heritage Dictionary, 3rd edition).

[8] This idea is close to the notion of “fetishism” associated with Marx.

[9] A mini-industry in economic anthropology was sparked off by Chris Gregory’s Gifts and Commodities (1982). He set out there to show how both types of exchange were combined in the practices of contemporary Papua New Guinea. But his readers generally preferred to identify the gift economy with “primitive societies” such as those he referred to. Marilyn Strathern, in her classic The Gender of the Gift (1988) postulates a radical contrast between gift and commodity which she associates with that between “The West” and “Melanesia”. Gregory has tried, in Savage Money (1997, chapter 2), to restate his position that the logical conceptualisation of gift and commodity was not intended as a basis for ethnographic classification. But this argument too will probably fall on deaf ears, since modern anthropologists, following Malinowski, have too much at stake in claiming to derive special knowledge from their exotic encounters.

[10] In the Indo-European tradition, it is as common to identify the participants in trade as to differentiate them into buyers and sellers.

[11] The collection Trade and Market in the Early Empires launched postwar economic anthropology as a fratricidal conflict between those who aped the methods of neo-classical economics (“formalists”) and those who followed Polanyi in studying the institutions of pre-modern economies (“substantivists”). More profoundly, for Polanyi himself, it represented a retreat from the splendid iconoclasm of 1944 into an academic division of labour respecting the economics’ profession’s monopoly in “market” economies.

[12] Almost certainly from the Clayhanger trilogy of Bennett’s “Five Towns” novels, since shops figure prominently there, either Clayhanger (1910) or Hilda Lessways (1911).

[13] In case you wondered, “work” is Germanic, “labour” is Latin and “employment” is French – they are broadly substitutable. The oldest English term appears to be “job”. The different resonance of these terms is associated with historical periods and social strata which introduced them to the language.

[14] This section is a condensed version of my lead article, “The sexual division of labour”, in a volume I edited, Women and the Sexual Division of Labour in the Caribbean. In what follows, references are kept to the minimum, but a much wider range of references may be found in that earlier work.

[15] Alan Macfarlane stresses this point in The Origins of English Individualism. He tends to abstract the individualism of medieval England from its feudal context; but London’s size as a market did stimulate precocious commercial development in the surrounding counties.

[16] Most notably in his masterpiece, The Black Jacobins (1938), a history of the world’s only successful slave revolution in Haiti.

[17] A.F. Weber writes of a Frauenuberschuss (an excess or women, literally an overshoot) in Central Europe. A similar phenomenon could be found in 20th century Latin America. The common factor is the absence of wage opportunities for working class men in major cities, along with high demand for domestics. Most African cities during this century supported an excess of men, many of them in domestic service.

[18] Matrilineal kinship was an egalitarian political device blocking the accumulation of male power through the father-son relationship. In states like Ashanti, the army and central bureaucracy rested on such father-son ties, while the villages were organised through matrilineages. The West African mammy, stereotype of the fearless female trader, was mainly a feature of the coastal enclaves before this century.

[19] The great discovery of modern social anthropology was the importance of these complex sources of identity and organisation in traditional societies, many of them extensions of the patriarchal family. The same finding was stressed by 19th century historians of economy and jurisprudence, such as Vinogradoff and Maitland.

[20] Mainly by Talcott Parsons and his following of functionalist sociologists.

[21] I have benefited over the years from conversations with Sandy Robertson and his Beyond the Family contains a much fuller treatment of this topic.

[22] A.F. Weber, witness to the early stages of American suburbanisation, predicted that the limit to suburban sprawl was 5 miles from the city centre, since no-one would be willing to travel more than a half-hour in either direction and the maximum speed of trains was 10 miles per hour!

[23] I am grateful to Don Robotham for showing me an unpublished paper, “Globalization: a pivotal process for health and environment in the developing and developed world”, on which I have drawn freely at this point.

[i] M. Mauss The Gift: the form and reason for exchange in archaic societies, Routledge, London, 1990 (Essai sur le Don, 1925)

[ii] K. Polanyi The Great Transformation: the political and economic origins of our times, Beacon Books, Boston, 1944, chapter 6

[iii] C.B. Macpherson ed Property: mainstream and critical positions, University of Toronto Press, Toronto, 1978

[iv] See note 1

[v] A.R. Radcliffe-Brown Structure and Function in Primitive Societies, Oxford U.P., London, 1952

[vi] J.Hicks A Theory of Economic History, Oxford U.P., London, 1969

[vii] E. Durkheim The Division of Labour in Society, Free Press, Glencoe, Ill., 1960 (1933)

[viii] J. Dunn Locke, Oxford U.P., Oxford, 1984

[ix] J. Locke Two Treatises of Government, Cambridge U.P., Cambridge, 1960 (1690); An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1975 (1700, 4th edition)

[x] J.Locke Some Thoughts Concerning Education, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1989 (1695, 3rd edition)

[xi] J. Locke Several Papers relating to Money, Interest and Trade etc, writ upon several occasions and published at different times, A. and J. Churchill, London, 1696, especially “Some Considerations of Lowering the Interest and of Raising the Value of Money”; “Further Considerations concerning Raising the Value of Money”; see note 14

[xii] See note 8, op. cit., p. 1

[xiii] C.B. Macpherson The Political Theory of Possessive Individualism, University of Toronto Press, Toronto, 1963

[xiv] J. Locke Two Treatises of Government (see note 8), p. 306

[xv] G. Caffentzis Clipped Coins, Abused Words and Civil Government: John Locke’s Philosophy of Money, Autonomedia, New York, 1989

[xvi] L. Dumont From Mandeville to Marx: the genesis and triumph of economic ideology, Chicago U.P., Chicago, 1977

[xvii] J.D.Y. Peel (ed) Herbert Spencer on Social Evolution, Chicago U. P., Chicago 1972; R. Hofstadter Social Darwinism in American Thought, Beacon, Boston, 1992

[xviii] See note 7

[xix] Talcott Parsons The Structure of Social Action: a study in social theory with special reference to a group of recent European writers, Free Press, Glencoe, 1937, p. 3

[xx] J. Frazer The Golden Bough: a study in magic and religion, Macmillan, London, 1923

[xxi] B. Malinowski Argonauts of the Western Pacific: an account of native enterprise and adventure in the archipelagos of Melanesian New Guinea, Dutton, New York, 1961 (1922)

[xxii] H. Codere Fighting with Property: a study of Kwakiutl potlatching and warfare, 1792-1930, J.J. Augustin, Seattle, 1950

[xxiii] See note 1

[xxiv] M. Sahlins Stone-age Economics, Aldine, Chicago, 1972, p. 133

[xxv] C. Gregory Gifts and Commodities, Academic Press, London, 1982; Savage Money: the anthropology and politics of commodity exchange, Harwood, Amsterdam, 1997; M. Strathern The Gender of the Gift: problems with women and problems with society in Melanesia, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1988

[xxvi] Carl S. Buck Dictionary of Selected Synonyms in the Principal Indo-European Languages, Chicago U.P., Chicago, 1949, p.817

[xxvii] Marcel Mauss Ecrits Politiques, Marcel Fournier ed, Fayard, Paris, 1997

[xxviii] K. Polanyi The Great Transformation: the political and economic origins of our time, Beacon Books, Boston, 1944

[xxix] K. Polanyi, “The economy as instituted process” in K. Polanyi, C. Arensberg and H. Pearson (eds) Trade and Market in the Early Empires, Free Press, Glencoe, 1957; E. Leclair and H. Schneider eds Economic Anthropology, Holt Rhinehart Winstone, New York, 1968; K. Hart contribution to History of Political Economy Symposium, 2000

[xxx] P. Bohannan and G. Dalton (eds) Markets in Africa Northwestern U.P., Evanston, 1962

[xxxi] J. and P. Alexander “What’s a fair price: price-setting and trading partnerships in Javanese markets”, Man, Sept. 1991

[xxxii] A. Bennett Clayhanger, Penguin, London, 1989 (1910)

[xxxiii] See note 17

[xxxiv] M. Weber General Economic History, Transaction Books, New Brunswick, NJ, 1981, part IV

[xxxv] E.P. Thompson The Making of the English Working Class, Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1968

[xxxvi] M. Weber Economy and Society Volume II, G. Roth and C. Wittich eds, University of California Press, Berkeley, chapter 16, pp.1212-1372: “The City (Non-legitimate Domination)”

[xxxvii] M. Weber The Agrarian Sociology of Ancient Civilisations, New Left Books, London, 1976

[xxxviii] E. Miller and J. Hatcher Medieval England: towns, commerce and crafts, 1086-1348, Longman, London, 1995

[xxxix] Joseph Townsend A Dissertation on the Poor Laws (by a well-wisher to mankind), 1786, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1971

[xl] J. Parry and M. Bloch eds Money and the Morality of Exchange, Cambridge U.P., Cambridge 1989

[xli] E. Durkheim The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life, Free Press, Glencoe, 1965 (1912)

[xlii] See note 34

[xliii] K. Hart ed Women and the Sexual Division of Labour in the Caribbean (Canoe Press, Mona, Kingston, Jamaica, 1996 (1989)

[xliv] A. Macfarlane The Origins of English Individualism: the family, property and social transition, Blackwell, Oxford, 1978

[xlv] N. Smelser Social Change in the Industrial Revolution: an application of theory to the Lancashire cotton industry 1770-1840, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1967

[xlvi] L. Tilly and J. Scott Women, Work and Family, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1989

[xlvii] U. Wikan Behind the Veil in Arabia: women in Oman, Johns Hopkins U.P., Baltimore, 1982

[xlviii] K. Hart “Commoditisation and the standard of living” in A. Sen The Standard of Living, Cambridge U.P. Cambridge, 1987

[xlix] C.L.R. James The Black Jacobins, Secker & Warburg, London, 1938; K. Hart “Introduction” in Women and the Sexual Division of Labour (see note 42)

[l] M. Cross and G. Heuman Labour in the Caribbean from Emancipation to Independence, Macmillan, London, 1988

[li] B. Higman Writing West Indian Histories, Macmillan, London, 1999

[lii] A.F. Weber The Growth of Cities in the Nineteenth Century, Cornell U.P., Ithaca, NY, 1965 (1899), pp. 276-80

[liii] Raymond T. Smith The Negro Family in British Guiana: family structure and social status in the villages, Cambridge U.P., Cambridge, 1958

[liv] Meillassoux, C. Maidens, Meal and Money: capitalism and the domestic community. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981

[lv] J. Gugler and W. Flanagan Urbanization and social change in West Africa, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1978

[lvi] K. Hart The Political Economy of West African Agriculture, Cambridge U.P., Cambridge, 1982, pp. 142-5

[lvii] S.F. Nadel A Black Byzantium: the kingdom of Nupe in Nigeria, Oxford U.P., London, 1942

[lviii] E. Gellner Nations and Nationalism, Blackwell, Oxford, 1983

[lix] W. Goode World revolution and family patterns, Collier-Macmillan, London, 1968

[lx] A.F. Robertson Beyond the Family: the social organisation of human reproduction Polity Press, Cambridge, 1991

[lxi] See note 52, op.cit., p.471

[lxii] M. Sahlins Stone-age Economics, Aldine, Chicago, 1972

[lxiii] K. Hart in History of Political Economy symposium, 2000

[lxiv] C. Hann ed Property Relations: renewing the anthropological tradition, Cambridge U.P., Cambridge, 1998

[lxv] F. Engels The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844, Lovell, New York, 1887

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