Prof. Julia Fierman
Weds. 3:00 PM - 5:45 PM
This seminar in social anthropology presents value and the exchange of value as the foundations of economic, social, moral, and political life. The authors we read will argue that the exchange of value(s) between humans creates social solidarity. We are tied to our communities and friends through relationships of debt and expenditure; we give a gift with the expectation of receiving something in return, binding the gift giver and receiver in a social relationship that extends over space and time. For sociologist Marcel Mauss, even gestures of altruism are an attempt to create value and establish (or reinforce) relationships of alliance. We begin the semester with Mauss’s bold contention that no gift is given selflessly; we give in order to receive something in return. Mauss’s The Gift: Forms and Function of Exchange in Archaic Societies is a foundational text of economic social thought; he and the authors who follow him on the syllabus, foreground how social relationships of all sorts are governed by exchange, including relationships between the state and the pensioned worker (Mauss), between friends (Julian Pitt-Rivers), and between members of a community (Roberto Esposito). We then examine the moral and spiritual side of exchange through a close investigation of sacrifice and expenditure through the works of various philosophers, such as Jacques Derrida and Soren Kierkegaard. Ethnographic forays into value supplement these texts and foreground how notions of exchange, obligation, and expenditure guide religious, economic, and political cosmologies across societies. In the last third of the semester we turn to capitalist commodity production and the reified “money-form,” which Karl Marx argues are socially alienating and economically exploitative. We reflect on productions of value in the context of globalized capitalism and neoliberalism.