Course description

This course considers how culture shapes the economic aspects of our lives. That is, we seek to understand the economy not as a separate realm with its own special logic and structure but instead as embedded in the social relations, identities, and cultural practices of everyday life. Our major course themes include exchange, money, debt, commodification, markets, and labor. We consider questions such as, how do the different kinds of exchanges we engage in—gift exchanges versus market exchanges, for instance—shape our relationships with others? We explore the social meaning of money and the role of the market in our lives. In a world where it is possible to rent a family, does money destroy love and intimacy? What aspects of our lives are governed by the logic of capitalism and what aspects escape capitalism's grip? Why does it feel shameful to be in debt, and how has this shame been manipulated for political purposes? Why in the US do we consider work to be sacred and morally purifying even though many of us have tedious jobs? The course readings include theoretical and empirical works drawn mainly from the fields of anthropology, economic sociology, and heterodox economics. Our key texts include David Graeber's Debt, Viviana Zelizer's The Social Meaning of Money, and Sidney Mintz's Sweetness and Power.

Instructor

  • Director of the Harvard Writing Project and Preceptor in Expository Writing, Harvard University
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