domestic (structure) mode of (under) production

from marshall sahlins (1972) – stone age econ (ch 2) – so page numbers via that


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1 – The Original Affluent Society

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2 – The Domestic Mode of Production: The Structure of Underproduction

This chapter is constructed on an observation in apparent contradiction to the pristine *”affluence” I have just taken so much trouble to defend: the primitive economies are underproductive. The main run of them, **agricultural as well as preagricultural, ***seem not to realize their own economic capacities. Labor power is underused, technological means are not fully engaged, natural resources are left untapped

*original affluent society.. affluence w/o abundance et al

**agri surplus et al

***rather.. perhaps (and to me.. still not as much as it could be if all legit free) not exploited/oppressed/enclosed.. with cancerous distractions et al

This is not the simple point that the output of primitive societies is low: it is the complex problem that production is low relative to existing possibilities. So understood, “underproduction” is not necessarily inconsistent with a pristine “affluence.All the people’s material wants might still be easily satisfied even though the economy is running below capacity. Indeed, the former is rather a condition of the latter: given the modest ideas of “satisfaction” locally prevailing, labor and resources need not be exploited to the full.. t

need detox so we can do a legit global re\set.. so we can get back/to that enough ness.. so need 1st/most: means to undo our hierarchical listening to self/others/nature so we can org around legit needs

In any event, there are indications of underproduction from many parts of the primitive world, and the first task of the essay is to give some sense of the evidence. Beyond any initial attempt at explanation, the discovery of this tendency-more precisely of several related tendencies of the primitive economic performance-seems of greater importance. I raise the possibility that underproduction is in the nature of the economies at issue; that is, economies organized by domestic groups and kinship relations.

and to me.. those are better.. but still exploited/oppressed/enclosed.. with cancerous distractions et al

domesticate ness and steiner care to oppression law et al

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The major evidence for underexploitation of productive resources comes from agricultural societies, especially those practicing slashand-burn cultivation. Probably this is a function of *research procedures rather than a dubious special privilege of the subsistence type. Similar observations have been made of hunting and of herding economies, but anecdotally for the most part, and without benefit of a practicable measure. Slash-and-burn agriculture, on the other hand, **uniquely lends itself to quantified assessments of economic capacity. And in almost all the cases so far investigated, still not numerous but from many different parts of the globe, especially where the people have not been confined to “native reserves,” ***the actual production is substantially less than the possible.

*same song.. gray research law et al.. research ness

**oi.. measuring things et al.. graeber measure law.. et al .. graeber violence/quantification law et al..

***graeber stop at enough law et al

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That the labor forces of primitive communities are also underused is easier to document, thanks to a greater ethnographic attention. (Besides, this dimension of primitive underproduction conforms closely to European prejudices, so that many others besides anthropologists have noticed it, although the more appropriate deduction from the cultural differences might have been that Europeans are overworked.) It is only necessary to keep in mind that the manner by which labor-power is withheld from production is not everywhere the same. The institutional modalities vary considerably: from marked cultural abbreviations of the individual working-life span to immoderate standards of relaxation–or, what is probably a better understanding of the latter, very moderate standards of “sufficient work.”

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A third dimension of primitive underproduction, the final one here considered, is perhaps the most dramatic; at least it is the most serious for the people concerned. A fair percentage of domestic groups persistently fail to produce their own livelihood, although organized to do so. They occupy the lower end of a very large range of variation in household production, variation in appearance uncontrolled, but consistently observed in primitive societies of different circumstance, tradition and location. Once more the evidence is not definitive. But coupled to the logic of the case, it seems enough to encourage the following theoretical suggestion: that this variation, notably including a substantial degree of domestic economic failure, is a constitutedcondition of primitive economy.

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Elements of the Domestic Mode of Production The foregoing constitutes a first empirical experience of widespread and profound tendencies of underproduction in the primitive economies. The succeeding is a first attempt to explain these tendencies theoretically by reference to a widespread and profound structure of the economies in question, the domestic mode of production. Necessarily the analysis will be as generalized as the phenomena are broadly distributed and variably expressed, a procedure which demands as an initial task certain methodological apologies.

In a confrontation with a particular ethnographic case of underproduction, no abstract explanation can be as satisfactory as an accounting of the specific forces in play: the existing social and political relations, rights of property, ritual impediments to the deployment of labor, and the like. But insofar as the several forms of underproduction noted earlier are generally discovered in the primitive economies, no particular analysis of them will satisfy either. For then they belong to the nature of the economies at issue, and in that capacity must be interpreted from equally general conditions of economic organization. Such is the analysis attempted here.

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Yet the general only exists in particular forms. So the well-known methodological reservation of a well known social anthropologist remains pertinent: what is the use, he asked, of putting into comparison a society you have not first thoroughly understood? To this a colleague of mine once replied, as we walked along a dim academic corridor: “How can you understand a society you have not first compared?” This unhappy conjuncture of truths seems to leave anthropology in the position of a railroad engineer in the state of Connecticut, where (I am told) there is a law on the books to the effect that two trains moving in opposite directions along parallel tracks must, when they meet, come to a complete stop, and neither one may start up again until the other has passed out of sight. Undaunted anthropologists adopt cunning devices to break the impasse; for example, generalization by means of the “ideal type.” The “ideal type” is a logical construct founded at once on pretended knowledge and pretended ignorance of the real diversity in the world-with the mysterious power of rendering intelligible any particular case. The solution has a dignity equal to the problem. Perhaps then it will excuse this chapter, which is written in the genre.

? oi to both understanding ness and comparing ness

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But then, even to speak of “the economy” of a primitive society is an exercise in unreality. Structurally, “the economy” does not exist. Rather than a distinct and specialized organization, “economy” is something that generalized social groups and relations, notably kinship groups and relations, do. Economy is rather a function of the society than a structure, for the armature of the economic process is provided by groups classically conceived “noneconomic.” In particular, production is instituted by domestic groups, these ordinarily ordered as families of one kind or another. The household is to the tribal economy as the manor to the medieval economy or the corporation to modern capitalism: each is the dominant production-institution of its time. Each represents, moreover, a determinate mode of production, with an appropriate technology and division of labor, a characteristic economic objective or finality, specific forms of property, definite social and exchange relations between producing units and contradictions all its own. In brief, to explain the observed disposition toward underproduction in the primitive economies, I would reconstruct the “independent domestic economy” of Karl Bucher and earlier writers-but relocated now somewhat chez Marx, and redecorated in a more fashionable ethnography.

oikos (the economy our souls crave).. ‘i should say: the house shelters day-dreaming, the house protects the dreamer, the house allows one to dream in peace.’ – gaston bachelard, the poetics of space

For the domestic groups of primitive society have not yet suffered demotion to a mere consumption status, their labor power detached from the familial circle and, employed in an external realm, made subject to an alien organization and purpose. The household is as such charged with production, with the deployment and use of labor power, with the determination of the economic objective. Its own inner relations, as between husband and wife, parent and child, are the principal relations of production in society. The built-in etiquette of kinship statuses, the dominance and subordination of domestic life, the reciprocity and cooperation, here make the “economic” a modality of the intimate. How labor is to be expended, the terms and products of its activity, are in the main *domestic decisions. And these decisions are taken primarily with a view toward domestic contentment. Production is geared to the family’S customary requirements. Production is for the benefit of the producers.


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By its composition, the household makes up a kind of petite economy. In response to the technical scale and diversity of production, it is even expandable to a degree: the combination of nuclear elements in some form of extended family seems to make its debut as the social organization of an economic complexity . But more important than its size, familial control of production rests on another aspect of its composition. The family contains within itself the division of labor dominant in the society as a whole. A family-it is from the beginning and at the minimum a man and wife, an adult male and an adult female. Hence, from its inception a family combines the two essential social elements of production. Division of labor by sex is not the only economic specialization known to primitive societies. But it is the dominant form, transcending all other specialization in this sense: that the normal activities of any adult man, taken in conjunction with the normal activities of an adult woman, practically exhaust the customary works of society. Therefore marriage, among other things, establishes a generalized economic group constituted to produce the local conception of livelihood.

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The human capacities once achieved, ingenuity in turn loses its differentiating power. The world’s most primitive peoples-judged as such on the plane of overall cultural complexity—create unparalled technical masterpieces. Dismantled and shipped to New York or London, Bushman traps lie now gathering dust in the basements of a hundred museums, powerless even to instruct because no one can figure out how to put them back together again..t On a very broad view of cultural evolution, technical developments have accumulated not so much in ingenuity as along a different axis of the man-tool relationship. It is a question of the distribution of energy, skill, and intelligence between the two. In the primitive relation of man to tool, the balance of these is in favor of man; with the inception of a “machine age” the balance swings definitively in favor of the tool. The primitive relation between man and tool is a condition of the domestic mode of production. Typically, the instrument is an artificial extension of the person, not simply designed for individual use, but as an attachment that increases the body’s mechanical advantage (for example, a bow-drill or a spear thrower), or performs final operations (for example, cutting, digging) for which the body is not naturally well equipped. The tool thus delivers human energy and skill more than energy and skill of its own. But the latest technology would invert this relationship between man and tool. It becomes debatable which is the tool: ‘The share of the operative workman in the machine industry is (typically) that of an attendant, an assistant, whose duty it is to keep pace with the machine process and to help out with workmanlike manipulation at points where the machine process engaged is incomplete. His work supplements the machine process, rather than makes use of it. On the contrary the machine process makes use of the workman’ (Veblen

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The theoretical value placed by modern evolutionary anthropology on technology as such is historically contingent. *Man is now dependent on machines, and the evolutionary future of culture seems to hinge on the progress of this hardware. At the same time, prehistory is by and large a record of instruments-as a well-known archaeologist is reputed to have said, “the people, they’re dead.” These banal truths I think help explain the analytical privilege often conceded to primitive technology, perhaps as mistaken however as it is entrenched for its **exaggeration of the importance of tool over skill, and correlatively for its perception of the progress of man from ape to ancient empire as a series of petty industrial revolutions initiated by the development
of new tools or new energy sources
. For the greater part of human history, labor has been more significant than tools, the intelligent efforts of the producer more decisive than his simple equipment. The entire history of labor until very recently has been a history of skilled labor. Only an industrial system could survive on the proportion of unskilled workers as now exists; in a similar case, the paleolithic perishes. And the principal primitive “revolutions,” notably the neolithic domestication of food resources, were pure triumphs of human technique: new ways of relating to the existing energy sources (plants and animals) rather than new tools or new sources (see Chapter 1). The hardware of subsistence production may very well decline in the passage from the paleolithic to the neolithic-even as the output goes up. What is the Melanesian’s digging stick to the sealing gear of an Alaskan Eskimo? ***Up to the time of the true industrial revolution, the product of human labor probably increased much more in return to the worker’s skill than to the perfection of his tools

*mufleh humanity lawwe have seen advances in every aspect of our lives except our humanity– Luma Mufleh

**rather.. exag of importance over how a legit free person would/could be.. for the dance..

what computers can’t do et al

***need neither.. what we need is the energy of 8b alive people

humanity needs a leap.. to get back/to simultaneous spontaneity .. simultaneous fittingness.. everyone in sync..

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The classic distinction between “production for use” (that is, for the producers) and “production for exchange” was, from the beginning of an economic anthropology, at least in the Anglo-Saxon countries, interred in the graveyard of prehistoric concepts. True that Thurnwald had adopted these concepts to set off the primitive from modern monetary economies .. t

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The households of primitive communities are not usually self-sufficient, producing all they need and needing all they produce. Certainly there is exchange..Still, it is “what they need”: the exchange, and the production for it, are oriented to livelihood, not to profits..t

need a means/mech to org around legit needs not around quantity of product

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“production for use” and “production for exchange” pose thus contrasting finalities of production-and, accordingly, contrasting intensities of production. For one is an economic system of determinate and finite objectives while the other holds out the indefinite goal of “as much as possible.” It is a difference of quality as well as quantity: in the first place of quality. Production for livelihood envisions not only a moderate quota of good things, but these of a specific useful character responding to the producers’ customary requirements. Yet where the domestic economy seeks merely to reproduce itself, production for exchange (value) would constantly exceed itself: in the accumulation of a generalized “wealth.” It is not the production of goods in particular but of an abstract “wealth.” And “the sky’s the limit.”

Production is under no compulsion to proceed to the physical or gainful capacity, but inclined rather to break off for the time being when livelihood is assured for the time being. Production for use is discontinuous and irregular, and on the whole sparing of labor-power. Whereas, in production organized by and for exchange value:

graeber stop at enough law et al

It is regrettable that Economic Anthropology chose largely to ignore this distinction between production for use and production for exchange. Recognition of the difference in productivity between them had served the study of economic history honorably and well.

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Not only is each in reciprocal bond with the others, but each by its own modesty of scale is adapted to the nature of the others.

to me.. both reciprocity ness and adapting ness.. red flags.. forms of m\a\p that make us not us

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We need not be so fascinated with “title” to property as with entitlement, nor with abstract claims of “ownership” so much as real privileges of use and disposition.

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Lewis Henry Morgan called the program of the domestic economy “communism in living.” The name seems apposite, for householding is the highest form of economic sociability: “from each according to his abilities and to each according to his needs”-from the adults that with which they are charged by the division of labor; to them, but also to the elders, the children, the incapacitated, regardless of their contributions, that which they require. The sociological precipitate is a group with an interest and destiny apart from those outside and a prior claim on the sentiments and resources of those within. Pooling closes the domestic circle; the circumference becomes a line of social and economic demarcation. Sociologists call it a “primary group”; people call it “home.”


Considered in its own terms, as a structure of production, the DMP is a species of anarchy.

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I am at the most abstract, the most hypothetical, in brief, the wildest point of speculation: that the deeper structure of the economy,
the domestic mode of production, is like the state of nature, and the characteristic movement of the latter is also its own. *Left to its own devices, the DMP is inclined toward a maximum dispersion of homesteads, because maximum dispersion is the absence of interdependence and a common authority, and these are by and large the way production is organized. If within the domestic circle the decisive motions are centripetal, between households they are centrifugal, spinning off into the thinnest probable distribution-an effect pro-

*need this left to own devices ness: ‘in undisturbed ecosystems ..the average individual, species, or population, left to its own devices, behaves in ways that serve and stabilize the whole..’ –Dana Meadows

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My point is that primitive society is founded on an economic disconformity, a segmentary fragility that lends itself to and reverberates particular local causes of dispute, and in the absence of “mechanisms for holding a growing community together” realizes and resolves the crisis by fission. We have noticed that the domestic mode of production is discontinuous in time; here we see it is also discontinuous in space. And as the former discontinuity accounts for a certain underuse of labor, the latter implies a persistent underexploitation of resources. Our very roundabout and theoretical tour of the domestic mode of production thus comes back to its empirical point of departure. Constituted on an uncertain household base. which is in any case restrained in material objectives. stinted in its use of labor power and cloistered in relation to other groups. the domestic mode of production is not organized to give a brilliant performance.

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3 – The Domestic Mode of Production: Intensification of Production

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4 – The Spirit of the Gift