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Ground between Two Stones: Melville Herskovits and the Fate of Economic Anthropology

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  • Heath Pearson
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    Melville Herskovits's work in economic anthropology, published between 1926 and 1952, sought to give the subdiscipline both a name and a characteristic mode of inquiry. The name stuck, but his methodological proposals were ultimately rejected by nearly all researchers in the field. Practitioners with an allegiance to economic theory took exception to Herskovits's insistence that culture be accepted as a primary determinant of human behavior; those with a commitment to anthropology proved equally resistant to his premise that all economic action be understood as “economizing,” that is, maximizing an objective subject to constraints. The fate of Herskovits's ideas over the past seventy years is distinctive: rejection was followed by caricature, then outright misrepresentation, and finally near-oblivion. This essay is offered not as a vindication of the Herskovits program for economic anthropology, but as a case study in how methodological exclusivity can result in flawed scholarship and in the stunting of interdisciplinary initiatives.

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    Article provided by Duke University Press in its journal History of Political Economy.

    Volume (Year): 42 (2010)
    Issue (Month): 5 (Supplement)
    Pages: 165-195

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    Handle: RePEc:hop:hopeec:v:42:y:2010:i:5:p:165-195
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