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.


Fall Calendar

September 10.  Hannah Chadeayne Appel, UCLA. Oil and the Licit Life of Capitalism in Equatorial Guinea.  

September 17.  Walter Licht,  University of Pennsylvania, History. “Capitalism”: Is it Time to Abandon the Term? Reflections of a Historian. 

September 24.  Paige West, Barnard and Columbia. A Prayer for the World: Capital, Affect and Writing the Future.

October 1. Courtney Boen, University of Pennsylvania, Sociology. Criminal Justice Contacts and Psychophysiological Functioning in Early Adulthood: Population Health Inequality in the Carceral State.

October 8. Rahul Oka, University of Notre Dame. In Defense of Capitalism: Realist-Empiricist Views from the Ethnography and Archaeology of Trade, Exchange, and Markets. 

October 22. Robert Schuyler, University of Pennsylvania, Anthropology. Lowell: One of the First Industrial Capitalistic Communities in America. 

October 29. Greg Urban, University of Pennsylvania. Collective Economic Actors in a Theory of Capitalism.

November 5.  Thomas Leatherman, University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Confrontations with Capitalism: Land, Labor and Health in the Andes. 

November 12. Ryan Jobson, University of Chicago. Deepwater Sovereignty, or, the Political Theology of the Petrostate.

November 26. Kristen Ghodsee, University of Pennsylvania, Russian and East European Studies. Capitalism between the Sheets: Sexual Economics Theory and the Commodification of Everyday Intimacy.

December 3.  Eitan Wilf, Hebrew University. Creativity on Demand: The Dilemmas and Consequences of Innovation in the Accelerated Age.  

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