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2022/2023  BA-BBLCV1702U  There’s no such thing as the economy: An introduction to economic anthropology

English Title
There’s no such thing as the economy: An introduction to economic anthropology

Course information

Language English
Course ECTS 7.5 ECTS
Type Elective
Level Bachelor
Duration One Semester
Start time of the course Autumn
Timetable Course schedule will be posted at calendar.cbs.dk
Max. participants 75
Study board
Study Board for BSc and MSc in Business, Language and Culture, BSc
Course coordinator
  • Daniel Souleles - Department of Business Humanities and Law
Main academic disciplines
  • Sociology
  • Cultural studies
  • Economics
Teaching methods
  • Face-to-face teaching
Last updated on 15-02-2022

Relevant links

Learning objectives
  • Understand and apply anthropological theories of value and exchange.
  • Understand arguments for the context-dependence of cognitive and ethical systems.
  • Understand the promise and constraints of wage labor.
  • Understand the relation between states, capitalism, and colonialism.
  • Do independent research based on course concepts, texts, and the students’ own research agendas.
There's no such thing as the economy: An introduction to economic anthropology:
Exam ECTS 7,5
Examination form Home assignment - written product
Individual or group exam Individual exam
Size of written product Max. 10 pages
Assignment type Written assignment
Duration Written product to be submitted on specified date and time.
Grading scale 7-point grading scale
Examiner(s) One internal examiner
Exam period Winter
Make-up exam/re-exam
Same examination form as the ordinary exam
Description of the exam procedure

Students will complete an 8-10 page research paper on a topic of their choosing. The paper should cite and engage at least three (3) sources from the course’s material, as well as five (5) other sources (primary or secondary, academic or not). The paper should have a thesis statement, deploy evidence to make an argument, and have some manner of conclusion. The instructor needs to approve the topic ahead of time. Record of this approval needs to be confirmed via e-mail.


As a preparation for the exam student have the possibility of handing in three voluntary research assignments during the course. See feedback section.

Course content, structure and pedagogical approach

Many of us come to universities, at least in part, to answer some of life’s big questions: What does it mean to be human? What makes for a good society? How can I tell if I’ve led a good life?


Sadly, for many students, particularly those in a business school, solutions to those big questions tend to come from either economists themselves or instrumental disciplines that are captured by individualist, economistic thinking. All of this leads to some pretty underwhelming answers: A human is a rational maximizer. A good society is one in which markets and efficiency are prized above all else. You’ve led a good life if you’ve maximized your utility and consumption functions. Humans are essentially insatiable devouring machines; and the pinnacle of societal achievement is greasing the slide on the food-chute. Inspiring. Also, not terribly accurate.


Economic Anthropology generally, and this course specifically offers a contrast to all of this. Over the last century or so, Anthropologists have developed their own discipline, describing how humans create lives and wealth for themselves. For anthropologists, humans are never individuals. Rather they exist insofar as they have family and friends, enemies and cosmologies, insofar as people have context. Humans measure their worth against this larger social universe. This course, as an introduction to economic anthropology, will show students how anthropologists know all this.


The course will proceed in five parts. Broadly speaking it will introduce a set of basic ideas for understanding how humans lead their lives (exchange and value theories). Then the course will spend most of it’s time seeing how these theories work at different scales of analysis, starting in the individual’s head and talking about cognitive processes, and ultimately working our way up to global economic and political systems. Here follows a more specific explanation:


First, the course will start off arguing that “the economy” does not exist. Given that, a different way of understanding the common areas of concern encompassed by “economic” analysis is necessary. In turn, the course will then present anthropological theories of exchange and value, theories which will be the course’s through-line (or red thread). Second, the course will focus on individuals and their understanding of the world looking at numeracy, ethics, and rationality in a cross-cultural context. Third, the course will look at work, the way it’s gendered, the way it’s raced, the way it’s compensated, and the way people’s work makes and remakes the social world, one day at a time. Fourth, the course will talk about big systems and processes: capitalism, empires, colonialism. The idea with these big systems is to give some larger historical context to the lives that humans lead, as well as some insight as to where these systems come from and how they might go away. Finally, the course will end by arguing that friendship or affinity, and everyday communism seem to be true human universals around which people might build a better world. Again, the idea with all this is that the course will show that theories of value and exchange are relevant at whatever scale of analysis, from individual brains, up to big bad world systems.


Across the three central topics, students will have the opportunity to conduct independent research projects of their own choosing which will draw on ideas from the course. This, coupled with reading responses, and a final research paper will make for this course’s individually completed, written, home examination packet.


Description of the teaching methods
Course meetings will be a mix of lectures, discussions, and activities.

Students should read and be prepared to discuss all readings prior to class.

Students should attend class as they’re unlikely to understand course material otherwise.
Feedback during the teaching period
As a preparation for the exam, students can complete three independent research assignments which will each generate a written report of max 3 pages and which cites no fewer than three (3) readings from the course. The assignments follow:

a. Research Assignment 1 “Values”: Students will conduct a life-history interview with someone who is at least 50 years of age about how that person’s life has gone and what they think is important in their life.

b. Research Assignment 2 “Work”: Students will conduct a life-history interview with someone who is retired and at least 67 about the jobs they’ve had and what they thought of them.

c. Research Assignment 3 “Capitalism”: Students will research one well-reported (1) violent crime, and one (1) well-reported financial crime, reviewing at least five (5) primary sources (newspaper articles, magazine stories, television news reports, documentary films, etc.) for each crime. Students will then compare both the facts and the coverage of the crime discussing comparatively how each crime is portrayed, prosecuted, and punished.Students will have opportunities to receive feedback on all exam components. The professor will also make adequate course time to discuss and workshop exam components.

The students will receive feedback on the assignments.
Student workload
Teaching 36 hours
Preparation Hours 130 hours
Examination Hours 40 hours
In total 206 hours
Further Information

The main discipline for this course is Anthropology.

Expected literature

Reading list will be available on Canvas

Last updated on 15-02-2022