Economies And Cultures

I wasn’t happy with how my undergrad course on political economy went last time I taught it, so I spent a lot of this week looking for good introductory texts I could use. My big discovery was Richard Wilk’s Economies And Cultures: Foundations Of Economic Anthropology. I rarely use entire books in my classes, preferring to mix and match articles and book chapters, but this slim volume really impressed me as a solid and highly accessible introduction to the field of economic anthropology.

5 thoughts on “Economies And Cultures

  1. I think Rick would be quick to point out that economic anthropology cannot be reduced to political economy. That being said, my guess is that teaching political economy to a classroom full of anthropology majors would prove a much easier task than teaching economic anthropology to a classroom full of economics or political science majors.

  2. I use Wilk’s book as a recommended supplementary text to my Economic Systems class, but because of a general personal antipathy to textbooks I do not require it. While not perfect, I agree that it is perhaps the best intro-to-economic-anth text out there.

    It may be worth asking what other factors might have contributed to your dissatisfaction with the class, though. I inherited my class from a predecessor, and is a compulsory class for our second-year students, economics being one of the Four Pillars of Social Anthropology. As such it was deeply unpopular, both with students and, to be honest, myself, because the old syllabus was all Marx all the time, and it meant I ended each term of teaching it with reams of dutiful little essays on the domestic mode of production. Kill me now!

    So in addition to revamping the syllabus, this year I introduced a final project in which they had to go out into the actual world and do an actual bit of ethnographic investigation into some economic phenomenon in their lives. It worked. Students said they really enjoyed themselves, and while not all the projects were brilliant, some were, and one was very nearly publishable. Incidentally, and apropos of another thread, I got a number of intriguing projects on the prestige economy of friending on Facebook.

    It may not be, in other words, what they’re reading, but whether they can connect what they’re reading to what is actually going on around them?

  3. bq. It may not be, in other words, what they’re reading, but whether they can connect what they’re reading to what is actually going on around them?

    Bingo! One of my best experiences teaching kinship and marriage was the semester that I had the students compare what they read by anthropologists with what they found in bride magazines.

  4. Melissa,

    Yes, my situation was similar to yours: inheriting a deeply unpopular class and trying to revamp it. While I love the idea of having students do practical work in class, I have not been successful in my attempts to do this in the large undergraduate sections at my university. In fact, in a section which I co-teach we decided to stop doing this next year because it was such a disaster. And this is with a teacher who does this kind of practical work very well with her senior undergrad students in smaller classes. I’ve found that students respond very favorably to talking about ideas if I find good clear readings and spend a lot of time prepping my lectures.

    Why such a disaster? That will have to wait till I’m ready to write about it. Suffice to say, for now, that higher education in Taiwan has undergone some very radical changes in a very short period of time.

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