This post is part of a feature on “How Capitalists Think,” moderated and edited by Patrick Neveling (University of Bergen) and Tijo Salverda (University of Cologne).
Research on capitalism commonly distinguishes between neoclassical economics and political economy. If neoclassical economics have dominated scientific debates since the 1930s at the latest, the nineteenth century view was that of political economy, with Karl Marx providing a powerful critique thereof. Both theories influence scientific reasoning until today. Yet, could both also elucidate the quotidian behavior of “normal” people in ethnographies of everyday life in the twenty-first century?
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
There was a strong relationship between music and political-economic power in the precolonial Congo basin. This was because music was an integral part of a ritual nexus that dominated social life. Those who controlled the ritual nexus became rich and powerful, and controlled trade between locals and an expanding capitalism (MacGaffey 2000). Here I will show how music was important to this interface.