Economic Anthropology with definition and example

Economic Anthropology is the study of different kinds of economic life and its evolution.

Aim of Economic Anthropology (by Ralph Piddington)

  • To gather information about economic human nature.
  • To study the process and result of economic contacts.
  • To study primitive society and economic institutions in their most elementary form.
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Three interrelated aspects of Economic systems

  1. The pattern of subsistence: The means by which environmental resources are converted for human use.
  2. System of distribution: The means by which goods and services are made available to the members of a particular group.
  3. Pattern of consumption

Subsistence Strategies

Paul Bohannan gave 5 basic types of economy

  1. Hunting and gathering
  2. Herding
  3. Agriculture
  4. Horticulture
  5. Factory industrialism

Categories of Subsistence strategies

Paul Bohannan categorized Subsistence strategies into two groups:

  1. Food collectors
    • Small scale forages
    • Complex forages
  2. Food producers
    • Herders
    • Farmers
      • Horticulture
      • Intensive agriculture
      • Mechanical industrial agriculture

Modes of Exchange (given by Marshall Sahlins)

There are three types of exchange:

  1. Reciprocity
    • Generalized Reciprocity
    • Balanced Reciprocity
    • Negative Reciprocity
  2. Redistribution
  3. Market exchange


Reciprocity is a phenomena when two individuals or groups pass goods back and forth with aim of:

  • Helping someone in need by sharing goods with him or her.
  • Creating, maintaining, or strengthening the social relationship.
  • Obtaining goods for onself.
  1. Generalized Reciprocity
    • Generalized Reciprocity is a phenomenon in which those who give goods and services do not expect the recipient to make a return of the goods and services at any definite time in the future.
    • Example: Parents in all societies
  2. Balanced Reciprocity
    • Balanced Reciprocity is a phenomenon in which goods and services are given to someone with the expectation that a return in goods and services of roughly equal value will occur.
    • Example: Gifts exchange between Baigas, Bagatas Bhills.
  3. Negative Reciprocity
    • Negative Reciprocity is a phenomenon in which both parties attain to gain all from the exchange while giving up as much as possible.


  • Definition: Redistribution is a practice wherein all produce accumulated and then redistributed by the chief.
  • One earns as per the capacity and gets as per necessity.
  • Example: Hindu joint family, Tsembagan pig fest, etc.


  • Forces of supply and demand determine costs and prices. Goods or services are sold for money, which in turn used to purchase other goods, with the ultimate goal of acquiring more money and acquiring more goods.

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