Comment on "The Meaning of Anthropology for Economic Science: A Case for Intellectual Reciprocity." (Notes and Communications)

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We applaud the premises and purpose of Professor Hamilton's December 1991 article: that the discipline of economics, and most notably institutional economics, should adopt the methods and attitudes as well as the data and analyses of anthropology into our perspectives on economic activity--that economics should be as sensitive to the folkviews and mythmaking of our own culture as anthropologists and others are to the folkviews of other peoples. It is therefore with some reluctance that we, as institutionalists in the Karl Polanyi tradition, express three disagreements with Hamilton's presentation.

Our first disagreement is with Hamilton's interpretation of Karl Polanyi's forms of integration and, in particular, with the meaning that be attaches to reciprocity: contrary to Hamilton's use, the forms of integration have no cultural or motivational content; rather, they are ways that analysts can map flows of goods. The forms of integration "map" the flows of goods among people and social units by describing or representing the physical and/or appropriational movement of goods, but they say nothing about the rules and folkviews that result in or give meaning to that pattern. For example, reciprocity describes both (1) the movement of expensive Christmas gifts from parents to children and of home-made Christmas gifts from children to parents and (2) gifts of treasure by Homeric warriors; the cultural contexts and social consequences of the two are entirely different. Thus, reciprocity as a form of integration is not a principle but a form or pattern. A diagram with arrows to indicate the movement of goods between parties may serve to illustrate "mapping" (see Figure 1).

Our second disagreement is with his interpretation of Polanyi's discussion of Speenhamland. Speenhamland, far from being the origin of the self-regulating market--or an end to the applicability of ethnographic method--as Hamilton argues, was the last major effort to keep the labor market embedded in other social relationships. Our final disagreement is about some views ascribed to Polanyi and the "Polanyi Group" [p. 942]. Hamilton asserts that people in the Polanyi tradition treat industrial as synonymous with market [p. 944]; here Hamilton appears to think that Polanyi and those who follow him confuse a form of integration (market) with a particular case of the form (market capitalism).

First disagreement. In The Great Transformation [1957a], Polanyi introduced the idea that economies could be classified, among other ways, by the dominant "form of integration of divided labor." The propositions were that labor-in making, storing, and moving things--was always divided by "sex, geography, and natural endowment," and that there were various ways that the results of the divided labor could be reintegrated in the distribution and use of things. Polanyi [1957a, 43-56] suggested that (as a matter of observation, not of logic) there seemed to be four such forms of integration--what we might call patterns for accessing the products of divided labor.

1. Reciprocity, marked by a continuous and recurring passing on of the results of divided labor from each unit within a symmetrically organized social system to some other unit.

2. Redistribution, marked by a delivery-physically or in appropriational authority--of the results of divided labor to a socially dominant center and its later redistribution by that center.

3. Householding: production by and within a unit for its own use. The social principle was autarchy. Householding in fact appeared to be redistribution-writ-small, which is why it later disappeared from Polanyi's [1957b, 250-256] list.

4. Barter, which fitted into a market pattern of society. Barter as a form of integration is now more commonly called a market system; and it would have been clearer had Polanyi said that the societies into which market systems fit must be characterized by legally independent units that may contract or refuse to contract with any other unit. …