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Economic Anthropology (Anth 3500 / 5500)

Economic Anthropology 3500

Tue & Thu 3:05-4:25 pm

Bentley Hall 304


Professor Smoki Musaraj

Bentley Annex 155

Office hours: Mon 4-4:45pm; Tue 4:30-5:15pm; Wed 9:30AM-12PM

Office: Bentley Annex 155




Course Description

Cowries, gold rings, coins, wampum, paper bills, mats, plastic cards, mobile phones, computer screens - these are all objects used at some point in time, in some place in the world as a store of value, as a medium of exchange, and as a unit of account. But the values, meanings, and uses of such objects are deeply intertwined with cultural, social, and political institutions. The subfield of economic anthropology underscores these intertwined relations between economy and society, markets and culture. From old and recent classics, such as Mauss's The Gift and Graeber's Debt, to cutting edge provocations of economic common sense, such as Weinner's Inalienable Possessions and Jane Guyer's Marginal Gains, economic anthropology has been a driving force in shaping broader theoretical debates within cultural anthropology and economics proper. 


This course provides an overview of some of these key concepts and debates across time and space. We will take a look at key topics in economic anthropology—such as money, value, and wealth; credit and debt; exchange, production, consumption, and redistribution; investment, saving and speculation—and explore how people in various parts of the world understand and deploy these economic practices in their everyday lives.


Course Objectives


       Provide a general overview of the history of the sub-field of economic anthropology.

       Engage with key questions about the cultural and social meanings of money and its uses in market and non-market contexts.

       Foster an understanding of the diversity of economic practices and institutions across cultures.

       Familiarize students with some of the key concepts in economic anthropology, including gift and commodity; value and wealth, credit and debt; production, redistribution, and consumption; remittances and development.

       Enable students to critically examine contemporary economic institutions and events, from understanding the nature of a globalized economy to examining the culture of wall street to learning about new monetary technologies, from Google Wallet in the Silicon Valley to Mobile Money in the Global South.

       Introduce students to alternative economic systems and principles -- among others, socialist systems, feminist approaches to the economy, fair-trade initiatives, and sharing economies.







Required Readings (available at the University Bookstore)


Anth 3500

·       Chris Han and Keith Hart. Economic Anthropology. Publisher: Polity Press. 2011. (In Store)

·       Bill Maurer. How Would You Like to Pay: How Technology is Changing the Future of Money. Duke University Press. 2015. (In Store)


·       Marcel Mauss. The Gift. Expanded Edition. Selected, Annotated, and Translated by Jane I. Guyer. (we will only be reading selections from the book)



Anth 5500

All of the above plus the following:


       Ananya Roy. Poverty Capital: Microfinance and the Making of Development. New York: Routledge.


Assignments and Grading


Grading Scheme

93-100             A

90-92.9            A-

86-89.9            B+

83-85.9            B

80-82.9            B-

76-79.9            C+

73-75.9            C

70-72.9            C-

66-69.9            D+

63-65.9            D

60-62.9            D-

59.9 & below   F


Anth 3500    

Attendance             15%

Blog Posts     (5)    25%

Concept Paper       20 %


Research Project   40%


         Abstract & Outline 10%

         In-class Presentation 10%

         Final Draft  20%




Description of Assignments


Attendance and Participation (15%): Attendance will be recorded every class. In addition, students will be graded for their participation in class discussions.


Blog Posts (25%): Due Sunday @ midnight or Wednesday @ noon before class.

1-2 Paragraph-long entries on the assigned readings of a given week to be posted on A prompt will be posted online by Friday before @ midnight. Posts should address the prompt by discussing the readings. Students are encouraged to also post questions for class discussion. Anth 5500 students are required to post 2 questions for class discussion. Bonus points will be given for comments on other students’ posts or for sharing related content from other media sources.


Concept Paper (20%), Due Friday, 10/14, @ 12 AM:  3 pages, double-spaced, Times New Roman 12point font. Concept papers should focus on one or several concepts discussed in the readings of weeks 1-6 (examples: gift, commodity, value, wealth, credit, debt). The papers should explain clearly how one or more authors define the chosen concept and how this definition applies to transactions on the ground.


Research Project (40%)

The grade for the research project is broken down into the following components:

Abstract and Outline -  Due  Friday, Oct 28th @ 12AM

In-class presentation (15 minutes) - during Week 14 and 15

Final Paper (10-15 pages double spaced) - Due Friday, Dec 9th, @ 12 AM


Research projects should explore a topic discussed in the course with specific examples from current or past events. These projects can be based on secondary research materials or first hand ethnographic research in the surrounding area of Athens/Columbus/Southeast Ohio (depending on access!). Students can select their topic but the instructor has to approve.

Students are required to submit an abstract and outline by week 10 of the course -- this also needs to be approved by the instructor.

Students are required to make an in-class presentation on the project during weeks 14-15. Presentations should be no longer than 10 min and may involve audio-visual materials (powerpoint; photography; video); they will be followed by a Q&A.

The research project will culminate in a final paper (10-15 pages, double spaced, Times New Roman 12 point font) due during exam week. The paper should reference sources assigned in the course or outside the course but relevant to the topics of economic anthropology. References should include at least 5 academic sources (books or peer reviewed journal articles).


Attendance Policy


Students are expected to attend all class lectures, submit all class assignments, and participate in all class activities and discussions. If you must miss a class, then it is your responsibility to keep up with class announcements and assignments.


The following absences are generally considered legitimate reasons for missing classes at the university: illness, death in the immediate family, religious observance, jury duty, and involvement in University–sponsored activities. If you miss class for any of these reasons, then you should plan to attend the instructor’s office hours to discuss the course content that you missed. It is your responsibility to do so.


In-class and Online Discussion


In-class and online participation are both key components of the learning and evaluation in this course. All students are required to be respectful of other peers' opinions expressed in the classroom as well as on the blog discussions.


In the classroom: This course is lecture and seminar-based and requires a collective effort in making it an enriching learning space. In-class discussion is one of the key modes of learning in this class. A good classroom discussion depends on student participation and a collegial atmosphere. For this reason, I encourage you all to actively participate in class discussions, by posing questions about the readings, providing examples from experience, responding to my and your peers' questions. If you do not understand a concept or passage from the readings, do not hesitate to ask about it in class. When responding to other students' questions or queries, please provide constructive feedback and allow time and space for others as well to feel welcomed in the discussion.


In the blogosphere: Blogging and social media have become an important platform for all kinds of personal and professional communication. I believe that learning how to contribute to social media platforms is an important skill that you should cultivate during the course of your education. For this reason, I have included a blog space for this course and encourage you all to participate in this space on a regular basis. In addition to posting commentaries on the readings, the blog is a space for us to continue our conversion beyond the classroom and to share resources and announcements on topics related to the course. Students are encouraged to participate in the blog by commenting on one another's posts, posting links to related sites, posting links to current events that speak to the class discussion. When commenting on another student's post, please be respectful and generous. This is a public blog - other people from outside the class can read your comments, only members can post and comment. I would encourage you to treat this as a professional space rather than a private social media space. If you are not sure about what may be appropriate/inappropriate to post on the blog, imagine saying that comment out loud in front of a large audience.


Disability services
Note that Ohio University Disability Services is located on the third floor of the Baker Center (room 348). Their phone number is 593-2620. Students requesting services and accommodations are required to register with the Office of Disability Services by submitting disability documentation from a qualified practitioner that clearly states a diagnosis and provides supporting information of the need for accommodation.


W 1

        Tue 8/23


        Thu 8/25



Course Introductions

Introductions and syllabus


What is economic anthropology?

·  Maurer, Bill. How Would You Like to Pay, Introduction & Chapter 1 (“Disruptions in Money”)



W 2

        Tue 8/30



        Thu 9/1

Concepts and History in Economic Anthropology

·  Required: Hann and Hart, Economic Anthropology, chapter 1

·  Recommended: Hann and Hart, Economic Anthropology, chapter 2


·  Maurer, Bill. How Would You Like to Pay, Chapter 2 (What is Money?)


W 3

       Tue 9/6




       Thu 9/8

Gift and Money, Anthropology and Economics

Marcel Mauss, The Gift (introduction & chapter 1)




·  Marcel Mauss, The Gift, Conclusion

·  Susan Brownell and Niko Besnier. “Do the Olympics Make Economic Sense?” Sapiens.


W 4

        Tue 9/13





        Thu 9/15

Are gifts uninterested and free?

Online discussion – Is the gift ever free? Is money (cash, gift card)  a worthy gift?

·  Read this first: Viviana Zelizer, 'The Best Present Money Can Buy" The New York Times. January 7, 2011, A3


In and Out of Africa Ethnographic Film (In Class)



(participation counts as 1 blog post & attendance)




W 5

       Tue 9/20




       Thu 9/22

Value and Wealth, Economy and Embeddedness

·  Weiner, Annette, 1994. “Cultural Difference and the Density of Objects” American Ethnologist. Volume 21, Issue 2:391–403. (BLACKBOARD)


·  Hann & Hart, Economic Anthropology, Chapters 4 & 5


W 6

      Tue 9/27


       Thu 9/29


Money, Intimacy, and Social Ties

·  Maurer, Bill. How Would You Like to Pay, Chapter 3, 4, 5


·  Zelizer, Viviana, “do markets poison intimacy?”  Contexts May 2006 vol. 5 no. 2 33-38 (BLACKBOARD)


W 7

      Tue 10/4




        Thu 10/6


Credit and Debt in Anthropological Thought

·  Graeber, David, Debt: The First Five Thousand Years. Chapter 1 (On The Experience of Moral Confusion) & chapter 8 (Credit vs Bullion) (BLACKBOARD)


David Graeber, “What is Debt?”

The International Politics of Debt


Recommended: Gustav Peebles, 2010. The Anthropology of Credit and Debt.” Annual Anthropology Review. Vol. 39: 225-240. (BLACKBOARD)




W 8

Tue 10/11

       Thu 10/13

Economies of Redistribution

Game Day: The QUEUE (half of the class meets)



Game Day: The QUEUE (the other half of the class meets)





Concept Papers are due Friday, 10/14, @ 12 AM

W 9

Tue 10/18



Thu 10/20


The Global Economy and International Development

·  Han and Hart, Economic Anthropology, chapter 6

In-class film: Life and Debt (2001) by Stephanie Black


Roy, Ananya. Poverty Capital. 2010. Chapter 1 (BLACKBOARD)

ANTH 5500 Panel on Development Economics (In-class)








W 10

Tue 10/25


Thu 10/27


High and Low Finance

·  Ho, Karen. Liquidated, Introduction, chapters 1 & 2



·  Max Woodworth (Geography at Ohio State Univ), “Ghosts in the Shell Game: Informal Finance and Urban Imaginaries in China’s Western Mining Frontier,” 3-4:30pm at Alden 319




Abstracts and Outlines DUE Friday, 10/28 @ 12AM

W 11

Tue 11/1



        Thu 11/3


Diverse Economies

·  Gibson-Graham, “Diverse Economies: Performative Practices for ‘Other Worlds’” Prog Hum Geogr October 2008 vol. 32 no. 5 613-632

·  Belk, R “You are what you can access: Sharing and collaborative consumption online” Journal of Consumer Research, 36 (2010), pp. 715–734


·  Echeverry & Herran, “Betting on Chance”










W 12

Tue 11/8

     Thu 11/10


New Money Forms in the Global North and South

·  Maurer, Bill. How Would You Like To Pay? Chapter 6, 7, 8, 9


·  Kusimba, Sibel. “Social Networks of Mobile Money in Kenya”



W 13

      Tue 11/15



Thu 11/17


Migrant Economies, Transnational Communities

·  June Hee Kwon, 2015, “Love and Money in a Korean Chinese Transnational Migration” Cultural Anthropology Vol 30(3):477-500.

·  “The Big Business of Europe’s Migration Crisis”


Research Project Presentations (of the freest and the bravests)



W 14

Tue 11/22

      Thu 11/24

Research Projects Presentations

Research Project Presentations





W 15

Tue 11/29

       Thu 12/1

Research Projects Presentations & Wrap UP

Research Project Presentations & Wrap Up

Research Project Presentations & Wrap Up



W 16


Final Papers DUE Friday, 12/9 @12AM