Invisible hands: alternate modes of prosperity, wealth and well-being 
Magnus Marsden (University of Sussex)
Kostas Retsikas (SOAS)
Appleton Tower, Lecture Theatre 4
Start time:
22 June, 2014 at 9:00 (UTC+0)
Session slots:

Short Abstract:

In response to A. Smith's privileging of the market for the attainment of prosperity, panellists are encouraged to employ ethnography to bring renewed attention to the diverse ways in which human beings, in various settings, seek to bring about ampleness and plenitude in their lives.

Long Abstract:

Adam Smith's modest use of the concept of the 'invisible hand' has effectively been transformed into a powerful catchphrase; it is often evoked by liberals as the transcendental element of economics, acting to promote individual and collective prosperity, and ensure that justice is delivered to all. The panel aims to explore critically the 'imagination' that has given rise to this understanding of affluence and well-being. Panellists are encouraged not merely to repeat those critiques of neoliberalism that have pre-occupied anthropological debates in recent years. Instead, we wish to build on Sahlins' valuable insights and launch an inquiry into modes of conceiving, achieving, and demonstrating abundance and prosperity that do not fit within the narrow horizons of neo-liberalism. Panellists are encouraged to present rich ethnographies of the devices, tools, procedures and strategies that particular societies and cultures have invented and developed for the purpose of achieving alternate modes of affluence. Papers might focus, for instance, on how modes of attaining prosperity long recognised in particular regions, such as through child birth and multiple marriage, have retained or been divested of their significance today, on the ways in which long-lasting travel, rather than mere mobility, is valued not only by hunter-gatherers but also by contemporary traders, or the manner in which specific re-interpretations of religious doctrine are re-casting the meaning of good fortune. The panel is primarily concerned with thinking critically about the presuppositions such devices involve, the values they are informed by, and the modes of sociality they uphold.

Accepted papers: