Accepted paper:

Toward an Anthropological Theorization of Primitive Accumulation


Donald Nonini (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill)

Paper short abstract:

At present capitalist financial crises lead to episodes of "primitive accumulation" in which wholesale dispossession of subaltern classes occurs. Anthropology, which up to now has failed to contribute to an understanding of capitalism, must develop a theorization of primitive accumulation.

Paper long abstract:

Despite the recurrent and intensified crises of global capitalism, contemporary anthropology and its current fetishization of ethnography and "culture" has so far done little to contribute to a deeper understanding of the dynamics of capitalist accumulation, class formation, and the destabilizing processes by which capitalism generates, as Sider (2005) has pointed out, chaos among those who are its objects of control and exploitation. This failure is most explicit in the case of what Marx in Capital I referred to as "primitive accumulation" or what Harvey (2003) refers to as "accumulation by dispossession." In a period dominated by finance capital and its crises of surplus absorption, and where the succession of "stable" capitalist labor regimes across the world has accelerated, leaving devalued classes and terrain in their wake, the processes of primitive accumulation have become the principal means through which accelerated capital accumulation now takes place. Thus the anthropological study of primitive accumulation must be central to a revitalized Marxist anthropology of the present. How therefore does anthropology theorize the processes by which capitalist states and capitalist corporations act together in the looting and wholesale appropriation of the means of production and reproduction of subaltern classes, and thus destroy and derange the relationships the latter have to these means of production and reproduction? In this paper, I ask, and seek to provide provisional answers to the questions: "What would an anthropological theorization of primitive accumulation look like?" And, "What are the methods within anthropology that would develop this theorization?"

panel PE39
Capitalism and global anthropology: Marxism resurgent