Category Archives: Modes of Production

Joe Trapido: Epochs and continents: Potlatch, articulation, and violence in the Congo

This post is part of the Modes of Production feature moderated and edited by Patrick Neveling and Joe Trapido.

From the sixteenth century onward, European trading networks grew ever more extensive. In some places, they displaced or directly subjugated the indigenous population early on. In others, merchants entered trading relationships with locals. In some parts of Asia, these traders interacted with forms of social organization that had affinities with Europe—dense populations with large merchant classes, and states that extracted tribute over large areas (Wolf 1997: 73–101). In other places, power and resources were distributed according to very different rules: in particular, wealth was more directly related to the person. This is not to say that these places lacked markets or currency;  they often held large markets and had an amazing diversity of objects for mediating transactions, but these objects are better seen as an element of, or adjunct to, the value of the person. I am calling such societies human modes of production.1
Continue reading

Jan Newberry: Restating the case: The social reproduction of care labor

Ever felt like the best conversation at the party is happening in the next room? When I did my field research in an urban neighborhood in Java some twenty years ago, it was at a time when we were “bringing the state back in” (Evans et al. 1985). I was deeply influenced by Philip Abrams’s “Notes on the Difficulty of Studying the State” ([1977] 1988) Corrigan and Sayer’s The Great Arch: English State Formation as Cultural Revolution (1985), and Everyday Forms of State Formation: Revolution and the Negotiation of Rule in Rural Mexico (Joseph and Nugent 1994) through my supervisor, the late Daniel Nugent. In my own work, I found “everyday forms of state formation” to be more than a great title; it provided a perspective on understanding how relations of production (and crucially reproduction) were entangled with culture, community, and forms of rule.
Continue reading

Sandy Smith-Nonini: Petrodollar financialization, the state, and fictive production

This article argues that the oil price shocks of the 1970s triggered a wave of global financialization led by Western banks and the US State that disconnected actual production from social reproduction in hundreds of indebted countries after 1982. It draws on a case study of Citibank lending in Mexico, the first country (of dozens) to default on the spate of cross-border loans spurred by new petrodollar (oil/gas debt) recycling strategies. I argue that this turn to fictive production—now ubiquitous as a neoliberal strategy—as well as the accompanying social exclusion that results, calls for rethinking the concept of “mode of production” in efforts to characterize late capitalism.
Continue reading

Samuel W. Rose: Marxism and mode of production in the anthropology of native North America

This contribution elaborates on the relevance of the concept of mode of production in understanding contemporary North American indigenous populations. While examination of Native American peoples played a crucial role in early Marxist thought, Marxist theory has never been popular in examinations of North American Indians and has even been rejected by many indigenous intellectuals as ethnocentric, colonialist, and otherwise irrelevant to the political interests of indigenous peoples. This discussion has two parts: first, I briefly discuss the history of Marxist engagements with Native American anthropology, showing how this engagement played a crucial role in the development of anthropological and Marxist theory. In the second part, I draw from Elizabeth Rata’s (2000) concept of neotribal capitalism to discuss the relevance and advantage of mode of production–based analyses to Native North America.

Continue reading

Rachel Smith: The “hidden abodes” of temporary migration programs

Organizations such as the World Bank have repeated what has been called the “migration development mantra.” In this, remittances appear as a panacea—or “wonder drug” (Green 2015)—for economic development, while in real world interactions “social remittances” import liberal ideals such as “work ethic,” “financial literacy,” and democracy. Thus, this “mantra” reflects a neoliberal revival of 1960s modernization narratives (Glick Schiller and Faist 2010; Wise and Covarrubias 2009) with which it promotes temporary worker programs in particular, as they facilitate the return of the migrant and remittances and thus (it is assumed) greater economic development in the area of origin.
Continue reading

Patrick Neveling & Joe Trapido: Modes of production: Try again, fail better?

The mode of production (MoP) was an important term in the Marxist anthropology of the 1970s. Its origins can be traced to the diverse uses of the words by Marx himself, to elaborations on this by Louis Althusser and Étienne Balibar (for an excellent overview, see Resch 1992), and to contributions from various French Africanist scholars. It was part of a wider conceptual vocabulary—about “articulation,” “social reproduction,” and “social formations”—that underpinned a number of innovative works in history and anthropology (Anderson 1974; Rey 1971; Wolf 1982).
Continue reading