Gift exchange and critique of capitalism: From Sieber to Graeber

TERRA ECONOMICUS, , Vol. 19 (no. 4),

The critique of capitalism evolves alongside the ongoing development of capitalism. Even though more than a few centuries passed since the widespread adoption of capitalism, the voices of critics are still loud. They argue that capitalism does more harm and there are alternative ways of constructing economic activities within the society. To show such alternatives, the critics turn to economic anthropology. Using this tool, they study the economic activities of these societies and use their experience to criticize the existing capitalist system. However, is this criticism a dynamic one? We answer this question by comparing two prominent academic researchers of their time – Nikolai Sieber and David Graeber. Sieber is the last representative of the classical political economy of the 19th century and one of the first Marxists. Sieber was a proponent of left ideology and was noted by Karl Marx himself. His main work, which relates to economic anthropology, is called “Essays on Primitive Economic Culture” (1883). Within this book, Sieber attempts to systematize the structure of primitive societies, identifying the aspects of their economic life. David Graeber is also sharing left ideology. He is an anthropologist who has gained the greatest recognition in the 21st century after publishing a book called “Debt: The first 5000 years of history” (2011). This book, like Sieber’s “Essays”, covers a vast historical period and criticizes capitalism. By comparing the criticism from Sieber and Graeber, we put their intellectual heritage into the context of critique of capitalism within the framework of economic anthropology.
Citation: Raskov D., Tereshchenko P. (2021). Gift exchange and critique of capitalism: From Sieber to Graeber. Terra Economicus 19(4): 66–76. DOI: 10.18522/2073-6606-2021-19-4-66-76

Keywords: N. Sieber; D. Graeber; economic anthropology; gift; capitalism critique; primitive society

JEL codes: A12, Z13

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Publisher: Southern Federal University
Founder: Southern Federal University
ISSN: 2073-6606