Insights on capitalism from Oceania

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2013, 33 pp. 1 - 27
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Purpose: The authors introduce the chapters of Engaging with Capitalism with a discussion of anthropological and other social theory about peoples' approaches to capitalism, especially peoples with vibrant noncapitalist social systems, such as are found in Oceania. Approach: The introduction is in the form of a review of anthropological and other social theory about interactions between capitalism and noncapitalist social systems. Findings: The theoretical literature has tended to dichotomize capitalist and noncapitalist societies. While heuristically it is useful to contrast capitalist and noncapitalist social systems, in practice once societies come into the orbit of capitalism people adapt elements of capitalism to suit their aims. Furthermore, societies generally considered thoroughly capitalist also include noncapitalist features. So it is more accurate to think of societies as involving a mix of capitalism and noncapitalism, and the nature of that mix is part of what makes each society distinct. Social implications: The theoretical dichotomization of societies as capitalist or not, with capitalism understood as being universal, and noncapitalism understood in general terms such as gift economy, is prevalent in public imaginaries. Domestic social policy and international development assistance are often based on this dualistic understanding. Such programs could work better if they were based instead on an understanding that each group of people has a dynamic economic system, which includes capitalist and noncapitalist elements that interact in ways influenced by their history and locality. Value of paper: The chapter provides a conceptual scaffold for thinking about the ways people engage with capitalism. © 2013 by Emerald Group Publishing Limited.
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