Financialization and the capitalist moment: Marx versus Weber in the anthropology of global systems

by Don Kalb

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By Don KalbFull Article: onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/amet.12018/abstract

Kajsa Ekholm Friedman and Jonathan Friedman’s The Anthropology of Global Systems (AGS) is a robust, ambitious, and timely undertaking in macrotheoretical and macrohistorical anthropology. I show that, more than 30 years ago, its political-economic underpinnings anticipated the key mechanisms of financialization, so important for debates on the current financial crisis. By revisiting the “transition from feudalism to capitalism” debate with new insights from diplomatic history, I work out a Marxian critique of the Friedmans’ Weberian concept of capital, which is insufficiently relational and therefore not sufficiently alert to the politics of class. Attention to these relational politics adds an important measure of what I call “structured contingency,” and indeed agency, to temporal process, which in the AGS tends to become overly teleological. Building on my critique, I also draw attention to the absence of the possibility of “collective rationality” in the Friedmans’ grid of modern subject positions.

The ramifications of hegemonic decline in the Friedmans’ globalization framework. Figure courtesy of Jonathan Friedman.
The ramifications of hegemonic decline in the Friedmans’ globalization framework. Figure courtesy of Jonathan Friedman.

The ramifications of hegemonic decline in the Friedmans’ globalization framework. Figure courtesy of Jonathan Friedman.