CAPITAL(ISM(S)) Anthropology Colloquium Series: Dr. Rahul Oka

Penn Museum Rm 345

Penn Museum

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.