Talk:Anthropological theories of value

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
WikiProject Anthropology (Rated Start-class)
WikiProject icon This article is within the scope of WikiProject Anthropology, a collaborative effort to improve the coverage of Anthropology on Wikipedia. If you would like to participate, please visit the project page, where you can join the discussion and see a list of open tasks.
Start-Class article Start  This article has been rated as Start-Class on the quality scale.
 ???  This article has not yet received a rating on the importance scale.

Uh, for what it is worth, the notion that some things are notconsumed is far from original to Graeber. Mauss and Malinowski wrote about objects that circulate without being consumed. Bataille wrote about object which are destroyed, but not consumed. Others -- economists, anthropologists, art historians, and even others I am sure -- have written about objects whose value is tied up with neither circulating nor being consumed (e.g. gold reserves, warehoused paintings, damily heirlooms).

I also have qualms about the title of the article. I do not see the value of a list, especially when people will debate whether or not certain items belong on the list (in other words it is very POV). For example, many people would classify gardeining, cooking a meal, and playing in a band as productive acts (Marx certainly would); many people would classify going to a museum as a form of consumption. I do not disagre that there are other ways of framing or understanding these activities -- my point is that Mauss, Marx, and others are raising complex questions about value and our relations to objects that cannot take the form of a list.

Moreover, the phrasing "consumed or produced" is awkward and uninformative. BUT I am not suggesting it be deleted -- for the moment, it might serve as a good way to get more information out about different theories of value (Graeber's main point). I suspect that at some point, the contents of this page could and should be incorporated into a more general article on value or commodities. Slrubenstein

Just for the uninitiated, who is David Graeber? --KF 19:20 May 13, 2003 (UTC)

I added some info -- I'd like to encourage the author to add more too. Also, the link seems to be to a site under construction; I question its value (as it were) Slrubenstein

Isn't the whole thing rather an old Marxist idea? Also, could anyone tell me if the following activities might be included:
  • going window shopping
  • doing sports
  • acting
  • teaching
  • having an argument
  • playing games
  • having sex (unless you produce children of course)
  • attending a religious service
  • looking at old photos
  • aimlessly surfing the Internet
--KF 19:33 May 13, 2003 (UTC)

I think you are making a larger -- and very valid -- point that depending on whom you ask, this list can be infinite. For that reason alone, I think it lacks value! Slrubenstein

Here is the list, followed by a comment:

Although other anthropologists have argued that they may be classified using conventional taxa, the following is a list of things that in keeping with Graeber's argument might be considered neither consumption nor production. It is meant to be collaborative.

The List[edit]

  • Cooking a meal (production of finished goods from raw materials, consumes energy)
  • Extinguishing a fire
  • Applying makeup (consuming make-up, going from a non-used state to a non-reuseable state)
  • Watching television (consuming electricity, depreciating phospors in the TV)
  • Playing in a band (with musical instruments that have been purchased?)
  • Falling in love
  • Reading
  • Listening to music
  • Going to a museum or gallery (consuming items of value due to light destruction, albiet very minor, very long-term destruction)
  • Taking a photograph (consuming film - can also be considered an act of production in the finished photograph)
  • Gardening
  • Driving to your job at Delloite and Touche in your Hummvee
  • Writing (on paper, consumes ink and paper, on a computer consumes electricity as well as depreciation of computer's value)
  • Conducting a coming of age ceremony
  • add more here

I removed it because without clearer criteria for inclusion and exclusion, it can only be confusing. I have no objection to it being moved back into the article, as long as the criteria for inclusion -- currently suggested, but vaguely -- are made clearer. Also, it is essential that the criteria for exclusion be explained: what would count as consumption or production, here? are there other categories that are exclused -- or is this just a default or residual category of ALL things that are not production or consumption? Should we include sneezing or snoring? Rocks? tulips? Slrubenstein

So, how about these criteria for inclusion on the list: 1) It is an economic activity (not any old noun, like a 'rock') 2) It is not consumption, in the narrow sense of simply purchasing something. 3) It is not production, in the commodity sense.

I agree that at some point it would be quite worthwhile to integrate some of the results of this page into a much larger article, but for the time being I don't think it's worthwhile to remove the list.

-- USR:

Well, I think the invocation of Graeber ought to make clear in what way he is drawing on previous research, and in what way he is being original (besides adding information, it helps make the page look less like an ad) -- I made some changes to the page already with this in mind but perhaps you can do more, or more effectively. As for criteria -- okay, add what you suggest but please define them a little more fully and carefully. Thanks, Slrubenstein

The Wiki links at the top of this page are not particularly relevant at this point. Consumption interestingly points to the original meaning of the word, tuberculosis, a disease which seemed to wear away the hosts body. Exchange points to a clarification page, but none of the clarifications are relevant, and Production is as yet empty (seems like an unfortunate loss).

Putting in those links is one way to invite additional contributions. Slrubenstein

Hmmmm..... Time is money, it s often said, and (considered from the point of view of any individual), taking up a portion of the time of a writer (who spent years writing that novel) or a TV actor (or just the guy who programmed the computer to play the tape, in the case of a rerun), or the people next door who are distracted from their lovemaking by your Pete Townsend power chords, or any of the other people involved in the examples above - yes, even the one that you are in love with - can be considered as consumption of some small part of their allotted lifespan. Conversely, spending part of your 3 score years & 10 writing a novel or cooking a meal is, on a sense, producing something of (we hope) value.

I'll ... er ... stop consuming your time now. Tannin

I think Tannin is reminding us that consumption is itself a culturally constructed activity and concept. The article in its current state defined consumption rather narrowly, involving consuming commodities purchased at the market. On the one hand, I think this definition is unnecessarily limited and limiting; it serves only to create the problem of how we conceptualize items or activities people consume but not mediated through the market. On the other hand, it points to an issue in American culture, which is that consumption is more and more tied to marketed commodities. It seems to me that this latter issue is the real interesting question, and I don't see how Graeber's model contributes to understanding it. In short, either Graeber's model is inadequate, or the article, in its current state, inadequately explains how economic anthropoogists (like DG) are grappling with these problems. Slrubenstein
Actually, I think Tannin is rambling 'cause it's way past his bedtime. :) But, stretching my last few remaining active brain cells to their limit, yes, I guess that is the incoate truth underlying what I wrote above. Taking your argument one step further, SLR, the understanding of consumption is (in my view) as crucial to the study of modern society and the way it is evolving as an understanding of production was during the Industrial Revolution. It took the combined efforts of people like Smith, Ricardo, Marx, and Mill to drag the old 18th century mercantilist understandings of the way that things get made and what this meant for the shape of society into a whole new paradigm, one more suited to explaining the industrial societies of the 19th and early 20th centuries, and one which could provide an understanding of the massive social changes that were sweeping across England, then Europe and the rest of the world.
Those were times when demand could be more-or-less assumed as a given, and the key problems of society were to do with increasing and organising production, and to do with the social consequences of industrialisation. (Increasing populations in cities, breakdown of old local relationships, anonymity instead of community, the struggle over wages and working conditions, the rise of unions, and so on).
But from, say, the late 20th century on, in wealthy societies, production is a relative non-issue: so long as our natural resources last (which is another question, of course) we can now make plenty of almost everything. If the defining issue of the 19th & early 20th centuries was the social relations of production, it seems to me that the vital thing for the late 20th & 21st centuries are and will be the social relations of consumption.
I'm off-topic. I really should go to bed! Tannin

Tannin, I hope you had a good night's sleep. I find your comments very interesting. I recently had a go at NPOVing this article, and adding more context. I hope you will too, soon, Slrubenstein

Since this is linked from the economics article, two things should probably be noted:

  1. The economic use of the term consumption is far broader than the merely purchasing something and then tossing it, that the article seems to imply is the definition.
  2. Gary Becker's household production functions and similar topics note that people often purchase goods and then combine them with time to produce something that has meaning or practicality to them (a.k.a. produce utility)

Jrincayc 02:01, 15 Aug 2003 (UTC)

from vfd[edit]

Extinguishing a fire[edit]

It seems to me that extinguishing a fire is production. My reasoning is as follows: Presumably, a house or forest is less salable and less insurable when on fire. Also, when facing an uncontrolled fire, one must either extinguish it or allow it to destroy valuable household goods (in a house) or trees (in a forest) before it burns itself out. Therefore, uncontrolled fire is a liability. Extinguishing a fire means working off this liability, and therefore deriving economic benefit. NeonMerlin 17:46, 11 August 2006 (UTC)

Isn't the idea that the market deals in "commodities" relevent here? I find the "Criticisms" section very weak because it simple says that most use "a wider definition of production" than we see here. Is there a definition that is more substantive than this? There is no way to compress the idea of extinquishing a fire into these boxes. YMMV with the other examples as most things probably not all in or out. Also note: an unextinguished fire is a "potential liability" as it may burn something with little or not economic value and may even have a positive long term effect in an ecosystem. (Gerry Gleason)

Remove the Current List Completely[edit]

Although it is thought-provoking, the list is not appropriate for a Wiki page. The current page introduces the list as the work of a Yale undergrad, but I don't see how that fact makes it appropriate for inclusion. I'm also at Yale--does that mean I get to randomly post what I think are good examples of Graeber's ideas, too? Why don't I just paste in the essay I wrote for a seminar on Graeber's book? I hope you see what I'm getting at here. Just because this student knew Graeber that doesn't make him an authority to be cited. In fact, Wikipedia has an explicit policy against citing original research, which I think applies here. If we want a list, it should consist of Graeber's own examples or examples from the secondary literature J.jesse.ramirez (talk) 14:45, 29 March 2012 (UTC)

So the point of this article is to illustrate that someone has contested the idea that human social life consists only of producing and consuming? Isn't that already pretty obvious? The article doesn't indicate why such an intervention was even considered necessary in the first place. That is, where is the documentation of the supposedly dominant notion that social life consists mainly of producing and consuming? If that can't be demonstrated, then the argument presented here is constructed around a poorly argued straw man. It's like arguing that the alphabet does not merely consist of vowels, despite the canonical body of work to the contrary. For instance, there is b, c, d, f, g, etc., and of course there is the problematic case of y.... (talk) 10:58, 25 July 2012 (UTC)

this article is too weak to stand alone[edit]

what a disappointment.

I suggest this could become a small section of the value theory article (qua, sociology, or economics), and please, drop the list as almost every entry is debatable and it is just undergrad stuff, a bit embarrassing really.

Sorry to come on here just to complain, but I don't know how to make such changes. I hope someone else can see the "value" of these changes, though! (talk) 18:11, 21 October 2013 (UTC)

This point has already been removed so I reinstated it- I think the point is entirely valid and should be discussed- what makes "anthropological theories of value" more deserving of a page than sociological, or economic theories of value, which are sections of the page "value theory"? (talk) 18:39, 21 October 2013 (UTC)

RfD for List of things which are neither production nor consumption[edit]

The above redirect is currently being discussed at WP:RFD#List of things that are neither consumption or production. Your contributions there should be appreciated.

My own comments there are that this section appears to be WP:SYNTHESIS. I have put the references for Owens and Graeber inline, but Graeber's book does not include the term "meaning-making" or any similar term; Owens is (subscription required) which I don't have, but considering the talk above, it seems to me at first glance that this has had a fair amount of synthesis. I'd be glad to be mistaken. Si Trew (talk) 08:48, 15 February 2015 (UTC)


This subject (anthropological theories of value) is distinct from the subjects covered in: Imaginary (sociology). The subject also appears notable to me based on the number of relevant references I can find in general and academic search engines. The article certainly needs additional citations, so Template:Refimprove should remain until the lack of references is fixed. Some appropriate references on the anthropology of value can be found, for example, in this entry in Oxford Bibliographies: Sykes, Karen. "Value—Anthropology". Oxford Bibliographies. Retrieved 13 February 2017.  Other relevant references can be found by searching for the article title in general and academic search engines. Biogeographist (talk) 18:51, 13 February 2017 (UTC)