Toward an Anthropological Theory of Value: The False Coin of Our Own Dreams / Edition 1

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This innovative book is the first comprehensive synthesis of economic, political, and cultural theories of value. David Graeber reexamines a century of anthropological thought about value and exchange, in large measure to find a way out of quandaries in current social theory, which have become critical at the present moment of ideological collapse in the face of Neoliberalism. Rooted in an engaged, dynamic realism, Graeber argues that projects of cultural comparison are in a sense necessarily revolutionary projects: He attempts to synthesize the best insights of Karl Marx and Marcel Mauss, arguing that these figures represent two extreme, but ultimately complementary, possibilities in the shape such a project might take. Graeber breathes new life into the classic anthropological texts on exchange, value, and economy. He rethinks the cases of Iroquois wampum, Pacific kula exchanges, and the Kwakiutl potlatch within the flow of world historical processes, and recasts value as a model of human meaning-making, which far exceeds rationalist/reductive economist paradigms.

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Editorial Reviews

In attempting to construct an anthropological theory of value and exchange, Graeber (anthropology, Yale U.) found himself questioning major assumptions of both anthropology and the social sciences in general. He argues that value can best be seen as actions incorporated in a larger, social totality<-->even if said totality exists primarily in the actor's imagination. Later, he presents a series of ethnographic case studies of "gift economies, magic and royal ritual, and the choices of decorative objects (beads, gold, shells, etc.) as currencies. Relying on a reading of Marx for the first part and the development of Marcel Mauss' theories for the second, he attempts to demonstrate that a combination of the two theories is not only possible, but can shed light on how humans construct value. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312240455
  • Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan
  • Publication date: 12/28/2001
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 647,330
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.78 (d)

Meet the Author

David Graeber teaches anthropology at Yale University. He is currently writing an ethnography of direct action as well as working with the Direct Action Network, People's Global Action, and Ya Basta!.

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Table of Contents

A Few Words by Way of Introduction
• Three Ways of Thinking About Value
• Current Directions in Exchange Theory
• Value as the Importance of Actions
• Action and Reflection, or, Notes Toward a Theory of Wealth and Power
• Wampum and Social Creativity Among the Iroquois
• Marcel Mauss Revisited
• The False Coin of Our Own Dreams, or, the Problem of the Fetish IIIb

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 17, 2001

    A great lit review plus interesting theory

    One of the many things excellent qualities of this book is the lit review in the first two chapters. If you are interested in exchange, value, or markets, this book is a great place to start. If you know the lit already, you'll love Graeber's no-holds-barred tackling of the topic. It gives you a great fly-over of the anthropological literature to date (and then develops a well-reasoned theory to boot). It's about time that someone made all the hard work on anthropologists relevant. Graeber deserves a lot of credit for doing that and doing in a readable but not dumbed-down style.

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