Patrick Neveling and Tijo Salverda: How capitalists think—about belonging, moralities, global entanglements, and historical social processes, for example

This introduction is part of a feature on “How Capitalists Think,” moderated and edited by Patrick Neveling (University of Bergen) and Tijo Salverda (University of Cologne).

Given that nowadays most people live in societies organized according to capitalist principles and given that few oppose those principles fundamentally, capitalists may well constitute the world’s largest ideology-based formation. Most anthropologists have undoubtedly had encounters with capitalists, who occupy positions in all social strata. Yet, apart from the “usual suspects” such as CEOs, elites, leading politicians, and other members of the transnational capitalist class, our discipline pays little, and certainly not enough, explicit attention to the many who equally support and/or benefit from capitalist principles—be they ordinary employees in governments and in the private sector, subalterns with native title claims, or even social welfare claimants (for the varying scope and scale of anthropological research so far, see Friedman 1999; Kalb 1997; Neveling 2015; Rose 2015; Salverda 2015).

Yet, beyond the candescent potentialities of anthropologies of the rich and powerful, anthropologies of the very agency of all these less prominent actors may equally shed light on what and who maintains everyday processes of capitalism in our research fields. In fact, if pursued comprehensively, this new feature of the anthropological paradigm and its inherent interest with the everyday may bring to the fore some troubling questions about our discipline’s conceptions of subalternity and representation. It may force us to doubt whether it is essentially beneficial for an advanced understanding of humanity’s capitalist predicament to portray much of the world’s population as mere victims of meta-developments such as “neoliberalism,” “financialization,” or “austerity.”

The contributions in this feature section raising the issue How Capitalists Think have emerged from a homonymous panel at the German Anthropological Association’s biannual conference in October 2017. While speaking from a plurality of angles and addressing conditions, class positions, and regions, they share an interest in exploring how “ordinary” actors identify themselves in myriad ways with capitalism through, for example, moral obligations and responsibilities, (various) perceptions of market exchange, and interactions between legal systems and capitalism. Our intention as editors of this theme section and as conveners of the 2017 panel is that, together, the contributions open up the discussion about whether anthropology’s theoretical and methodological premises change once we consider the world-making activities of ordinary capitalists as crucial factors in any social formation.

Patrick Neveling is Researcher in the Department for Social Anthropology at the University of Bergen and Associate of the Historical Institute at the University of Berne. He works on the historical anthropology of capitalism and is currently finishing a monograph on the global spread of special economic zones. He is also an editor of FocaalBlog.

Tijo Salverda is Researcher at the University of Cologne’s Global South Studies Center and Research Associate at the University of Pretoria’s Human Economy Programme. His current project investigates how investors/corporations involved in large-scale, land-based investments in Africa, in particular Zambia, respond—or not—to concerns raised by critics such as civil society, NGOs, rural residents, (activist) scholars, journalists, international governance institutions, and the like.


Friedman, Jonathan. 1999. “Indigenous struggles and the discreet charm of the bourgeoisie.” Journal of World System Research 5 (2): 391-411.

Kalb, Don. 1997. Expanding class: Power and everyday politics in industrial communities, the Netherlands, 1850-1950. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Neveling, Patrick. 2015. “Export Processing zones and global class formation.” In Anthropologies of class: Power, practice and inequality, ed. James Carrier and Don Kalb, 164-182. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Rose, Samuel W. 2015. “Two thematic manifestations of neotribal capitalism in the United States.” Anthropological Theory 15 (2): 218–238.

Salverda, Tijo. 2015. The Franco-Mauritian elite: Power and anxiety in the face of change. Oxford: Berghahn Books.

Cite as: Neveling, Patrick, and Tijo Salverda. 2018. “Patrick Neveling and Tijo Salverda: How capitalists think—about belonging, moralities, global entanglements, and historical social processes, for example.” FocaalBlog, 26 March.