Stone Age Economics – hunter gatherers had much more leisure time
by Marshall Sahlins (Editor)
Ambitiously tackling the nature of economic life and how to study it comparatively, Stone Age Economics includes six studies that reflect the author’s ideas on revising traditional views of hunter-gatherer and so-called primitive societies, revealing them to be the original affluent society. When it was originally published in 1974, E. Evans-Pritchard of the Times Literary Supplement noted that this classic study of anthropological economics “is rich in factual evidence and in ideas, so rich that a brief review cannot do it justice; only another book could do that.
Not only an interesting read about the economy and trade of different tribes all over the world, but also a great insight into the mind of ancient people. It is often easy to think that an average stone-age man or woman had to do a lot of hard work in order to obtain all the necessities but Sahlins’ essays really show the ingenuity, logic and rationalism of these stone age people. Of all the many fine examples the author has described, my favourite has to be the trading system of the New Guinea coastal villages where every village had its fixed position in the trading network which worked like clockwork. Extremely enjoyable although at times I found the more concrete examples of different tribes and their lifestyle more interesting than the more theoretical parts.
Since its first publication over forty years ago Marshall Sahlins’s Stone Age Economics has established itself as a classic of modern anthropology and arguably one of the founding works of anthropological economics. Ambitiously tackling the nature of economic life and how to study it comparatively, Sahlins radically revises traditional views of the hunter-gatherer and so-called primitive societies, revealing them to be the original “affluent society.”
Sahlins examines notions of production, distribution and exchange in early communities and examines the link between economics and cultural and social factors. A radical study of tribal economies, domestic production for livelihood, and of the submission of domestic production to the material and political demands of society at large, Stone Age Economics regards the economy as a category of culture rather than behaviour, in a class with politics and religion rather than rationality or prudence. Sahlins concludes, controversially, that the experiences of those living in subsistence economies may actually have been better, healthier and more fulfilled than the millions enjoying the affluence and luxury afforded by the economics of modern industrialisation and agriculture.
This Routledge Classics edition includes a new foreword by David Graeber, London School of Economics.