CAPITAL(ISM(S)) Anthropology Colloquium Series: Dr. Rahul Oka
Penn Museum Rm 345
The Department of Anthropology Colloquium for 2018-2019 "Capital(ism(s))" is co-sponsored by the Penn Program in Environmental Humanities
Rahul Oka (University of Notre Dame) "In Defense of Capitalism: Realist-Empiricist Views from the Ethnography and Archaeology of Trade, Exchange, and Markets"
The title of this talk is a tongue-in-cheek reference to Jeremy Bentham's 1787 'Defence of Usury.' However, this is not a polemical screed touting or decrying capitalism. In popular and even some academic discourse, capitalism is seen as a winner-take all Darwinian system of competition-based system of privately-owned production that (a) fairly rewards the meritorious, or (b) unfairly enables the rich to grow richer, leaving the poor to become poorer. I argue that such polemics result in lack of understanding of capitalism as a deep and enduring force in the human past and present. My primary intention is to generate a dialogue by which we recognize capitalism and 'related' concepts such as trade and markets as part of human social and cultural evolution and development with deep and enduring pasts. Specifically, I draw on my ethnographic work on traders across the world and on the archaeology of trading systems to understand exchange, trade, traders, trader networks, and markets as dynamic institutions that emerge in response to human needs, wants, desires, capacities, and abilities. I then argue for an understanding of capitalism as an emergent property of the interplay of these institutions at various scales within the larger political economies. I suggest that this will help understand how and why capitalism occurs frequently across space and time, but in various guises and manifestations, how it coexists with other forms of socio-economic processes, and also it is reproduced, reinforced, altered, and/or modified through the interplay between actors, stakeholders, and structures. I argue that this approach has far greater applicability and avoids the 'politicized' and 'polemical' understandings of capitalism that dominates much anthropological and academic discourse, hamstrings inter-disciplinary dialogue, and often leaves anthropologists outside larger conversations on global social economies.