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I.3.1 Meaning, scope and relevance of economic anthropology;


Economic Anthropology describes analysis and interprets the economic life of all people in their social-cultural contexts in all places at all times. It examines economic life as part social-cultural order.

  1. Firth –  Economic Anthropology deals primarily with “the economic aspects of social relatives”,
  2. Nush – Economic anthropology analyses “econonic life as a sub-system of society”.
  3. Beals and Hoijer –  Economic Anthropology studies “the production of goods and services and their diştribution and consumption as these, are institutionalized or formalized in socio-cultural subsystems”.
  4. Plattener – Economic Anthropology studies economic behaviour as thoroughly embedded in socio-cultural aspects.

The scope of Economic Anthropology

During its formative period, its scope was restricted to the study of economic life of the primitives. The major debates in economic anthropology have centered around (a) the universal applicability of Western generated categories of analysis, (b) the question of value, (c) the question of history and connectedness between polities, and (d) the weight of culture (meaning) in economic processes.

Its coverage has widened to include the study of economic life of primitives, peasants and modern societies.It has now amplified in several branches.

    1. Anthropology of Subsistence Systems,
    2. Anthropology of Economic History,
    3. Anthropology of Primitive Economy,
    4. Anthropology of  Peasant Economies,
    5. Anthropology of Urban Economies,
    6. Anthropology of Entrepreneurship,
    7. Business Anthropology,
    8. Anthropology of Economic Holism
    9. Anthropology of Economic Development.

I. Anthropology of subsistence System– It studies subsistence systems as part of socio-economic systems.

Forde, Wispel  and several other examined the complex relationship and studied relationships that create major patterns of socio-economic adaptations like hunting-gathering, horticulture, pastoralism and agriculture.

II. Anthropology of Economic History- It studies the evolution of economic systems. Morgan, Tylor and Wheeler, etc have shown that simple economic systems gave rise to complex economic systems. The technology has played a key role in every stage of development of the systems of production, distribution and consumption in diverse societies.

III. Anthropology of Primitive Economies- It studies and services in simple societies. Malinowski, Firth, Herskovits, Thurnwald, etc have shown that the primitive economies are characterized by simple tools, limited number of tools, little specialization of labour, early work apprenticeship and familial and custodial type of production.

IV. Anthropology of Peasant Economies- It studies the economic systems of  rural agriculturists. Nash, Foster etc studied the peasant economies. peasant societies are partly self-sufficient. The means and results of their production are controlled by the outside elite groups.

V. Anthropology of urban Economies- It studies the economic life of migrants and poor in urban centres. Gluckvan, Oscar Lewis , Polanyi, Bohannan, Sahlins (1960), Service etc show that economic system are.

VI. Business Anthropology- It analyses the internal operations of companies, sometimes carrying out cultural audits, it surveys market potential for products, help business improve their efficiency. Anne weber, Brian, Hendrich, Soya, etc studied Business anthropology.

VII. Anthropology of Entrepreneurship- It studies entrepreneurs in primitive, peasant and industrial societies. Firth ,  Timberg , Mortin ,Geetz , singer (1963)etc have contributed in the field. They has shown that the successes of the entrepreneurs depend upon their resourcefulness organizational skills and correct understanding of regional, national and international situations for products and services.

VIII. Anthropology of Economic Holism- It deals with the inter-relatives of economic life in holistic manner. Forde (1948) exanined econony in relation to habitat and society. Evans-Pritchard (1940) analysed the inter-relations of Nuer econonic and linguistic aspects. Malinowski (1935) examined the close relations between magic and economic life of Trobrianders. Fried (1960, 1967) has shown how econonic life and political life are interwoven with each other. Rappopart and Sahlins (1968, 1972) studied the inter-relations of magic, religion and economies. Bohannan (1963) analysed the correspondence of kinship and economy.

IX. Anthropology of Economic Development– It deals with a variety of strategies designed for increasing thecapabilities of national economic systems to improve human welfare. It shows role of individuals, nations, and international aid agencies to achieve economic development and the impact of different personal, political, religious and ethnic beliefs and values on Economic Anthropology. Anthropology of worker system is another interest.

Economic Anthropology has adopted substantive and formal approaches to study the static and dynamic aspects of economic life of primitive, peasant and urban societies. Thus economiç anthropology has acquired vast scope as it has developed in the past six decades.


  1. The methods of economic anthropology is the basic methods of social cultural anthropology.
  2. Focus on the informal sector of the economy has also contributed a major breakthrough by expanding the concept of ‘work.’ Research on informal relations economic or otherwise) is bound to prove fruitful as the realities of flexible production, the weakening of the nation-state model, the informational revolution, and massive population movements point to the increasing value of personal networks in the structuring of contemporary societies.
  3. Earlier anthropologist didn’t recognize the economic thread of the culture ,this purpose was served by economic anthropologist.
  4. Presently, economic anthropology is moving beyond the boundaries of a conceptual economic domain. While it remains useful to retain the material emphasis of economic processes, in practice, material relations should be studied together with their cultural expressions. On the other hand, ideas of worldwide connectedness—in systems of provisioning, relations of production, cultures of consumption, labor migration, etc.—need to be taken into account. The practice of economic anthropology seems bound toward the study of social reproduction as a whole.
  5. Economic anthropology is great tool to understand the tribal socio cultural structure.

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