Homo economicus: A Maale mystery

Donald L. Donham

in History, Power, Ideology

Published by University of California Press

Published in print June 1999 | ISBN: 9780520213371
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520920798 | DOI:
Homo economicus: A Maale mystery

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In the 1960s, a grand argument arose in anthropology. Formalists, as they became known, maintained that neoclassical economics could be used to analyze any economy. So-called substantivists countered this with the charge that such theories are culture- and institution-bound; they can be applied only to capitalist economies. This chapter examines Marshall Sahlins's model of the “domestic mode of production,” itself a reformulation of the work of Russian economist Alexander Chayanov. It discusses how to specify alternative bodies of social theory—neoclassicism and Marxism, among others—and also explores whether the boundaries of neoclassical theory so specified coincide with the dividing line between capitalist and non-capitalist modes of production. The chapter considers the value of child labor when they guard ripening fields, the definition of “work” in non-capitalist economies, and the effects of ostracizing a young man from labor cooperation. It analyzes Chayanov's theory, confronts it with the Maale data, inquires into whether Sahlins's model of the domestic mode of production fits the data better, and concludes by considering the special character of both approaches as examples of neoclassical theory.

Keywords: Maale; neoclassicism; Marxism; anthropology; Marshall Sahlins; domestic mode; Alexander Chayanov; social theory; child labor

Chapter.  13290 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Comparative and Historical Sociology

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