Economics: An Anthropological Perspective

“In what ways does an anthropological perspective add to the understanding of economic systems and their effects on people’s lives?”

An anthropological perspective tends to look at issues within economics to expand their knowledge in understanding economic systems. To further pursue for understanding regarding the economic system, the question arises, “What is Economics?” and “What are the elements which make up an economic system?” The definition of economics is complex. Economists define the study of “economics” as the science of wealth. Economics is based on the principle of demand and supply.

The understanding of economic systems requires a keen understanding of ‘Production’, ‘Consumption’ and ‘Exchange.’ There are five modes of production and they are cited as under –

Foraging; which is the food offered by nature through hunting and gathering. Horticulture; which requires growing domesticated crops in the garden by using hand tools. Pastoralism; requires keeping domesticated animal herds and producing products from it, such as milk, meat, eggs, etc. Agriculture; requires growing crops in the land by plowing, irrigation and fertilizer. Lastly, Industrialism; it means the production of labour within the industries.

These modes of production have certain effects on people’s lives. An example would be, Foragers are dependent on the food being offered by nature. The food serves as a basic necessity for them, but, when the desired food is not found in the temperate regions or circumpolar regions due to temperature or climatic change, the foragers end up starving and starving affects their lives in terms of health issues.

The second aspect of economic system is consumption. Consumption has two forms; ‘Minimalism’ and ‘Consumerism’. Minimalism means limited consumption by the people and its means satisfies, while on the other hand, Consumerism means infinite consumption by the people and its means are never sufficient. Here arises the principle of demand and supply. When the consumers are more as compared to the supply, it affects the lives of people. It has always been the tendency of consumers from the time immemorial to consume the desired product of their choice, but in a situation when the production of the product is less or when there is a shortage of that particular product, the consumer has to suffer.

The third aspect of economic system is ‘exchange’. Exchange can be in many forms or ways, such as, reciprocation, balanced-exchange, unbalanced-exchange, market exchange, etc. Exchange is done mutually between two parties or more. The problem arises when the purpose of one party does not get served properly. An example would be, in market exchange, when the shopkeeper buys products from the manufacturer at a cheaper price and then sells the products to buyer at a higher price. In this context, if affects the buyer financial-wise and the vendor earns profit monetarily. Hence, one side gets affected and suffers, while the other side enjoys the leisure made out of profits. Nonetheless, it has been tendency of businesspeople from the time immemorial and it continues to be. Thus, this is how the business of vendors runs most of the time and rich becomes richer and poor becomes poorer.

In conclusion, the anthropological perspective refers to the idea of looking at the cultural-economic issues as per the anthropologists’ point of view. In other words, the anthropologists study human behaviour in an economic system, as regards to how human act and what are the issues which make humans to act and react such within the economic system.


~ Copyright © Surabhi Kaura 2012


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