The founders of neo-classical economics, such as Marshall (1890), started out with the same broad style of questioning as their classical predecessors, with speculations on human nature and society, that subsequently dropped out of the modern discipline, leaving it to anthropologists to pick up on these questions. Anthropologists aim to produce an understanding of the economy that has people in it, in two senses. First, we are concerned with what people do and think, both as workers or consumers in economies dominated by large-scale organizations and when left relatively free to be self-organized as farmers, traders, managers of households or givers of gifts. Second, our interest is in the universal history of humanity, in its past, present and future; and our examples are drawn from all over the world. Somehow we have to find meaningful ways of bridging the gap between the two. There are of course many economies at every level from the domestic to the global and they are not the same, but the prevailing approach to economic life is itself universal in pretension and so we too, in giving priority to people’s lives and purposes, aspire to a degree of intellectual unity. At the very least, an anthropological critique will show, as it always has, that claims for the inevitability of currently dominant economic institutions are false.
A related approach has been the cross-cultural application of game theory. Tests in Western societies have suggested that considerations of fairness, for example, can lead individual agents to deviate from the model of homo economicus. Some have come to similar conclusions on the basis of ‘experiments’ with games in different parts of the world (Henrich et al 2004). The objective of this research is not just to demonstrate that ‘culture’ determines economic behaviour, but to establish systematic links between cultural and biological evolution. Few contemporary anthropologists have been impressed by the results, but this attempt to get back to a 19th century agenda does build bridges to economists and biological anthropologists. Perhaps for the first time since Malinowski, papers by anthropologists have appeared in leading economics journals (Henrich ) (the reverse has not yet occurred).
Difference Between Anthropology and Sociology | …
Money is often considered to be a bad thing, especially by people who have little of it; Parker Shipton’s East African monograph, Bitter Money (1989), evokes Taussig’s famous The Devil and Commodity Fetishism in South America (1980). Recently, Heonik Kwon (2007) has shown how the process of dollarization in Vietnam is projected into the sphere of popular religion through payments of ghost money to the dead. The collection, Money and Modernity: state and local currencies in Melanesia (Akin and Robbins 1999), contains important essays by Foster (1999) and Guyer (1999), among others. Jane Guyer’s extensive research in this area – the collections Money Matters (1994), Credit, Currencies and Culture (2000, with Stiansen) and Money Struggles and City Life (2002) – has culminated in a synthesis (2004) in which she makes the case for the emergence of a distinctive commercial culture in Atlantic Africa that has been largely missed by ethnocentric economic historians and myopic ethnographers alike. Bill Maurer’s Mutual Life, Limited: Islamic banking, alternative currencies, lateral reason (2005) is another highly original contribution to this topic. Ruben Oliven (1998) offers a Brazilian anthropologist’s take on the American way of money, thereby opening up the endless possibilities for cross-cultural research in this field today.
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Fischer  1999 Anthropology as Cultural Critique: an Experimental Moment in the Human Sciences. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
By Maria Poviones-Bishop July 30th, 2001
Both economics and anthropology had experienced major changes since the 1870s. Professionalization, in the form of mathematical skills or learning vernacular languages, increasingly separated scholarly communities that had never been particularly close. Malinowski’s challenge to the economists was easily ignored by them, just as the Freudians were able to dismiss his assault on the Oedipus complex (1926). Mauss’s armchair speculations were hardly noticed outside his own country. Firth and Herskovits claimed that the burgeoning literature on primitive economics was ripe to launch a comparative analysis broadly using the categories of neo-classical economics, but this never came about. Instead, after the Second World War, in Heath Pearson’s words, ‘economics and anthropology went through an ugly, drawn-out divorce’ (2000: 982). It is not evident that they were married in the first place.
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Herskovits included Knight’s review along with his own rejoinder in the second edition of his book (1952). He still argued that ‘comparative economics’ was a project to which the two disciplines should each contribute. He rejected the notion that any science could rely exclusively on deduction and intuition or could be indifferent to facts; and clearly did not feel that he had lost the argument. Nor did anthropologists stop indulging in the practices that Knight complained of. But in the meantime, economics was rapidly remaking itself as a positive science. The organizational demands of the war led to a mathematical revolution in the discipline in the 1940s, led by two Dutchmen, Jan Tinbergen and Tjalling Koopmans (Warsh 2006). The post-war rise of economists to a position of unprecedented intellectual hegemony was fuelled by these econometric methods and by information-processors of increasing sophistication. Knight’s intuitive and normative approach to economic reasoning came to look rather quaint. It was displaced by an aspiration to model the real world; and economists asserted their new mastery of the public sphere with a dazzling repertoire of theorems, charts and numbers.