Oslo Summer School in Comparative Social Science Studies 2002

Money and Markets with People in Mind

Lecturer: Dr. Keith Hart, Senior Research Fellow at The Arkleton Centre,
University of Aberdeen, Scotland
Dates: 29. July - 2. August 2002

Civilization is widely regarded as an economy these days. Money is the most universal means of communication we have and the most inclusive concept of society is the world market. Most people feel estranged from money and markets; and this is encouraged by intellectuals, particularly economists, who prefer to dwell on their own abstractions than on human experience of the economy in daily life. This course asks how the mainstream economic institutions of contemporary western society are experienced by the people who live in them and how they might be made more amenable to general human interests.

The approach adopted is broadly that of economic anthropology, supplemented by the classics of social theory (Marx, Weber, Polanyi). It is laid out in the lecturer's Money in an Unequal World (2001) which seeks to separate the logic of markets from capitalism. Reference will be made to non-western and archaic societies, but the main focus in on the West. Particular attention will be paid to our moment in history, which is characterized by a communications revolution whose symbol is the internet. People, machines and money must all be studied closely, if we are to make sense of economic development today, even more if we are to grasp the means of advancing economic democracy. The course explores the idea that money itself might become a commons to which all have open access.

General remark
It`s essential that students obtain and read the following book in advance of the course:

Outline of Lectures

Lecture 1: People, machines and money
What matters most in our society are people, machines and money, in that order. Most intellectuals are alienated from all three and know little about them, preferring to live in a world dominated by their own abstract categories. Economic anthropology offers one means of exploring how people experience changing forms of money and exchange in an age of communications revolution. Money has replaced God as the most inclusive concept of society we have.

Lecture 2: The market and capitalism
If capitalism is the unequal face of money, the principle of the market is equal exchange. Are markets and money inseparable from the pathologies of capitalism or might they be formed with the interests of people in mind? The ideas of Marx, Weber and Polanyi are reviewed in the light of empirical studies of economic institutions taken from ethnography and social history.

Lecture 3: Gift, barter and market
Money and markets are thought to have evolved from economic forms whose principles are very different, specifically gift and barter. Mauss and Malinowski founded economic anthropology by examining the universal claims of modern economics with reference to evidence from societies in which gift exchange predominated. At stake here are the ways individual and collective interests might be combined in economic life.

Lecture 4: The moral economy of paid and unpaid labour
Capitalist economies divide human activities between 'work' and 'home', a sphere of production for the market where labour is paid and a domestic sphere of consumption where it is not. This is the source of the huge moral significance westerners attach to the presence or absence of money in transactions. The history of relations between men, women and children is examined in the light of this evolving contrast.

Lecture 5: Consumption and subjectivity in economic life
Twentieth century economy was dominated by the impersonal institutions of mass production, state bureaucracy and capitalist markets. Even so a zone of domestic privacy allowed for the construction of a 'haven from a heartless world'. How is the relationship between production and consumption evolving? Do recent developments increase the scope for personal agency and subjectivity in economic life?

Lecture 6: Entrepreneurs: the personal face of capitalism
While the world market is dominated by a few huge corporations, the scope for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) is also expanding, while that for conventional employment ('wage slavery') is contracting. The issue of personal economic leadership is of growing significance. It also draws our attention to the economic functions of institutions people make themselves (social networks, family firms, community associations and so on).

Lecture 7: State capitalism and the informal economy
The idea of an 'informal sector' of self-generated economic activities beyond state regulation originated in the anthropological study of Third World cities, but it is now seen as an aspect of economy everywhere, including the world market. It is the counterpart of 'state capitalism', the faltering attempt to manage markets and accumulation through national bureaucracies. The economic rules are more contested than ever.

Lecture 8: Community currencies
Money as we know it is a scarce commodity supplied by remote authorities; its distribution is highly unequal; and it sustains markets of unknowable scope. Community currencies, such as LETS systems, are people's attempts to make money themselves. A closed circuit of exchange employs a self-designated currency issued by all the members of a voluntary association that is normally local, but may be virtual.

Lecture 9: Virtual capitalism, the network economy and open money
The new economy of information services, increasingly transacted through the internet, represents a new phase of capitalism. This is marked by the detachment of the money circuit from real production and a shift from material goods to intangible commodities. What are the distinguishing features of the network economy? Competing methods of software distribution point to the possibility of more open and free access to money itself.

Lecture 10: The future of economic democracy
Markets are in principle democratic, but the form of money that sustains capitalism subverts that principle in practice. The future of the commons is threatened by privatization. How might we win more effective control over the conditions of shared and individual economic life? We need to look again at essential common infrastructures -- land, law, money, language and technology -- with the interests of people in mind..




The lecturer
Keith Hart is an anthropologist who holds a research post in Aberdeen and lives in Paris. He is an occasional Visiting Professor at the Institute of Social Anthropology, University of Oslo. He contributed the concept of the informal economy to economics on the basis of an ethnographic study of migration and urban economy in Ghana. He is the author of Money in an Unequal World (2001), an inquiry into the consequences of the communications revolution for the forms of money and exchange today. (See the book's website, www.thememorybank.co.uk, and the article in Anthropological Theory, Sept. 2001). He is now writing a collaborative book on community currencies, Common Wealth.

He is also the author of The Political Economy of West African Agriculture (1982) and co-editor of C.L.R. James American Civilization (1993) and Why Angola Matters (1995). He has recently carried out research on Indian businessmen in Durban, South Africa and on decentralized development in the Scottish Highlands. But, for some time now, the main focus of his research interest has been the evolution of mainstream economic institutions in North America and Western Europe. Hart has taught in universities on both sides of the Atlantic, including Yale, Michigan, Chicago and Manchester, but for the longest period at Cambridge, where he was Director of the African Studies Centre and received the university's first teaching prize in the humanities and social sciences. He has worked as a part-time journalist for The Economist and as a development policy consultant. He has made a living as a gambler. He co-founded Prickly Pear Press, a series of pamphlets aimed at bringing anthropology to the general public.