Department of Anthropology Colloquium Series


“Culture is at once capitalism's accomplice and adversary,” wrote Fernand Braudel (1980: 111). As scholars and producers of culture, anthropologists have often been in the adversarial role as capitalism’s critics. For some, capitalism requires the exploitation of labor and expansion of inequality, often operating through the creation and manipulation of social and cultural categories of people (e.g. race, class, gender). For others, it is destructive of the environment, a spigot through which toxins harmful to human as well as non-human life more generally spew, damaging to habitat and community alike. Yet, despite its critics, capitalism has proven resilient, adapting and evolving, bolstered by widely circulating beliefs and world views, in short, relying upon culture as its “accomplice.” Consequently, anthropologists find themselves caught in a bind, with some scholars examining the consequences of capitalism across global and local scales. Others, notably a small but growing segment of business anthropologists, examine how capitalism operates from the inside to promote an alternative but distinctly anthropological vision of corporations in social life.

The 2018-19 speaker series is designed to generate a broad cross-subfield discussion that explores the diversity of capitalist practices across time and space. In addition to the tension between unitary and diverse conceptions of modern capitalism, we hope to draw inspiration from its connection to the concept of “capital” in two of that word’s senses: first, as the accumulated products of labor that contribute to the production of other products; this sense enables us to situate modern capitalism with respect to its deepest evolutionary roots in tool making, as well as M — C — M’ processes and value creation; and second, in Bourdieu’s sense of putting the hierarchizing aspect of culture as scarce commodity (culture with a capital “C”) back into the anthropological concept of culture — hence, cultural capital, social capital, embodied capital alongside economic capital.  What is the place of capitalism within the long-term history and evolution of culture? In what ways do human biological propensities affect its trajectory, and in what ways does capitalism affect human biology, social relations, and the planet more generally? What circulating reflective cultural conceptions and beliefs contribute to the perpetuation of capitalist forms of social life, and what alternative future conceptualizations are in present-day circulation? These are among the questions we hope to explore in this yearlong series.


Spring Calendar 

January 28.  Nancy Fraser, The New School. Feminism for the 99%: A Manifesto.

February 4.  Gwen Gordon,  University of Pennsylvania.

February 11.  Brian Daniels, University of Pennsylvania. Moral Economies in the Production of Illicit and Licit Markets for Syrian Antiquities.

February 18.  Elizabeth Briody and Robert Morais, Consortium for Practicing and Applied Anthropology Programs.

February 25.  Michael Platt, University of Pennsylvania. Neuroeconomics and the Future of Business.

March 18.  Douglas Smit, University of Pennsylvania.

March 25.  Mauro Guillen, University of Pennsylvania, Anthropology. The Global System and Its Instability.

April 1. Morag Kersel, Depaul University. Creating Cultural Capital: Biblical Artifacts, Museums, and Archaeology. 

April 8. Kedron Thomas, Washington University in St. Louis. Supply Chain Capitalism and the Problem of Scale in “Ethical Fashion.”

April 15. Augustin Fuentes, University of Notre Dame. Are we naturally capitalist”? inequality, evolution and ‘human natures’”

April 22. Gillian Tett, Financial Times.  

All talks are given on Mondays at 12PM in Museum Room 345. Lunch will be provided.