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Economic Anthropology

This paper will briefly describe the meaning of anthropology and its scope. And closer examine principles that govern production, distribution and consumption in horticultural and peasant communities. Anthropology is the study of man. But economic anthropology corresponds to one of fields of anthropology which is known as ‘cultural anthropology – the study of human culture and behavior across cultures. It describes and explains human condition across all cultures and times. Economic anthropology is the study of the economic aspects of cultures.

This subfield of cultural anthropology examines the relationships between systems of production, striation and the socio-cultural matrix in which economic life is embedded. Thus placing economic structures such as markets, commodities, money and others within a cultural context by paying particular attention to the ways in which various factors, for example, relations of power, kinship, gender, ecological factors and others, affect the structure and organization of economic institutions, decisions and behavior.

To study this, economic anthropologists usually observe the people they study or their artifacts for extended periods of time through fieldwork. Moreover usually it is participant observation”, which means that anthropologists live in the local community and are involved in activities. Most of information is generated by conversations, interviews and

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observations. Economic anthropology proves that economic sphere of behavior is not separate from social, religious and political spheres. In fact, it has wider scope than most industrialized societies.

Economic anthropologists emphasize that economic behavior and institutions shouldn’t be analyzed only in terms of economic parameters, otherwise it merely ignores the relevant non-economic parameters. They focus on economic activities at the micro- level, like microeconomics, because it looks at the smaller picture and focuses more on basic theories and individuals. Economic anthropologists study processes of production and consumption of different sorts of objects in social settings. By ‘objects’ here it is meant different material things, as well as what people do for each other, for example, providing of labor and services.

Economic anthropologist differs from economists in ways of studying economic processes. Latter restricts themselves to monetary transactions, whereas anthropologists are concerned with all forms of reduction and circulation, be it monetary or not. Also they are trying to describe and understand economic actions in social and cultural context. An important concept in economic anthropology is modes of production. Anthropologists usually study the domestic mode of production – economic system where the bulk of productive tasks are performed by members of the domestic group who live together.

Main modes of production are foraging, horticulturalist, nomadic pastoralist and peasant farming. Horticulture is plant cultivation which is not intensive; it is based on the use of impel tools and cyclical, non-continuous use crop lands. This subsistence pattern involves at least part time planting and tending of domesticated food plants. Some of horticulturalists produce a small surplus to sell or exchange for things that they can’t produce themselves. Slash-and-burn cultivation, ‘Sweden’ agriculture and shifting cultivation are alternative labels for horticulture. Sweden’ is an agricultural strategy that necessitates the slashing, cutting, telling, and burning to tottered areas tort the planting of impermanent garden plots or agricultural fields, and that has been the mainstay of horticulturalists and peasant farmers in the tropics and primeval. This method of agricultural intensification, more widely known as “slash-burn” agriculture. It is often associated with patterns of shifting cultivation or extensive agriculture via which soil exhaustion or weed intrusion necessitates plot rotation and fallow cycles.

To assure sustainable fertility the farm plot is abandoned when labor input rises to an unreasonable level and when there is decline in productivity. This allows reverting to the original natural vegetation again. This is ‘shifting pattern’ of field use. Religion plays significant role in governing processes in this culture. They have term ‘use rights’ but not as something that an individual can own and sell. Peasants usually produce primarily for their own consumption, using simple labor- intensive technology. Secants as well are small-scale, but they are intensive agriculturalists. Their production is usually defined as being organized by domestic units such as households. Despite the fact that peasants are self-sufficient, they also produce foodstuffs and other goods that flow into urban centers, thus tying them into cities and markets. Peasants can be incorporated within different modes of production, with differing access to the means of production, and subject to different forms or appropriation of surplus.

Peasants can be owners of the land they cultivate, with their surpluses appropriated by the state or other outside power holders. Land can be owned by a feudal lord, who owns everything what is produced, in such case peasants are bounded as serfs to this land. Or peasants can be renters who contractually divide their crops with a landowner or must sell a portion to pay their rent. The allocation of factors of production by a peasant household results from overall factors.

It varies according to characteristics of the domestic mode of production, the division of labor, attributions, and responsibilities within the household; it is influenced by mechanisms existing at the community level; it will be constrained or favored by endowments of the natural environment; last but not least – aspects of the broader society, and the political economy resulting from state policies and market intervention play an essential role in peasant decision making. The family is the basic unit of production, and gender and age are important in organizing work.

Productive work is usually performed by men while women are assigned to work at home, processing food, maintaining the household, and caring for children. Basically men are more involved with the outside, but women – in the domestic domain. Male labor and decisions are predominating. Peasant agriculture can be intensive. It is usually in high population areas. In general main principles are the same, except that intensive peasants are more connected with economics and involved in markets. Due to substantial investment in land, peasants have concept of property right.

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