Theory of value

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Toward An Anthropological Theory of Value z

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Toward An Anthropological Theory of Value z
The False Coin of Our Own Dreams
David Graeber

TOWARD AN ANTHROPOLOGICAL THEORY OF VALUE Copyright © David Graeber, 2001. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the caseof brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. First published 2001 by PALGRAVE™ 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010 and Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire, England RG21 6XS. Companies and representatives throughout the world. PALGRAVE is the new global publishing imprint of St. Martin’s Press LLC Scholarly and Reference Division and Palgrave Publishers Ltd. (formerly MacmillanPress Ltd). ISBN 0-312-24044-9 (cloth) ISBN 0-312-24045-7 (paperback) Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Graeber, David Toward an Anthropological Theory of Value: The False Coin of Our Own Dreams p. cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 0-312-240449 – ISBN 0-312-24045-7 (alk. paper) 1. Values. 2. Anthropology—Philosophy. 3. Social values. 4. Ceremonial exchange. I.Title. GN469.5.G73 2001 303.3’72—dc21 200121794 A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library. Design by Letra Libre, Inc. First edition: December 2001 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2


Printed in the United States of America.

Acknowledgments A Few Words by Way of Introduction Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Three Ways ofTalking 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 vii ix 1 23 49 91 117 151 229 263 281 317

Notes References Cited Index

The belief of all, faith,is the effect of the need of all, of their unanimous desires. Magical judgment is the object of a social consent, the translation of a social need. . . . It is because the effect desired by all is witnessed by all that the means are acknowledged as apt to produce the effect. It is because they desired the healing of the feverish patients that sprinklings of cold water and sympathetic contact witha frog seemed to the Hindus who called on the Brahmins of the Atharva-veda sufficient antagonists to third- or fourth-degree fever. In short, it is always society that pays itself in the counterfeit money of its dreams. —from Marcel Mauss and Henri Hubert, Mana and Magic (1904, trans. Loic Wacquant)



t feels a little silly writing acknowledgements for a book like this,an intellectual project at least fifteen years in the making. The logical thing would perhaps be to thank everyone I've ever known, because you never know where your ideas really came from. There are two names though that I really ought to mention: my oldest friend, Stuart Rockefeller, an intellectual companion since high school, and Nhu Thi Le, whose mind for the last six has touched everythingmine has. Any idea you read in here might very well actually have been invented by one of them; in many cases, perhaps most, they are really joint projects that all three of us, and probably others, are equally responsible for. (Except for the parts that are just dumb: I had nothing to do with those!) Aside from that I must acknowledge the professors and staff and students of the anthropologydepartment of the University of Chicago when I was there, who produced an environment that actually encouraged people to think for themselves and experiment with ideas, something surprisingly rare in academia; my fellow workers at Crerar; my colleagues and students at Haverford, NYU, and Yale; and my comrades in the direct action movement here and abroad who give me hope for humanity, and with whom I...
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