In Stone Age Economics, Marshall Sahlins offered cross-cultural interpretations of various economic practices. The most powerful argument in the opus concerned the economic behaviour of hunter-gatherers. It was a general anthropological assumption that hunter-gatherers were pre-occupied only with the quest for food and lived on the edge of starvation. However, in his book, Sahlins used anthropological field studies which revealed that contemporary hunter-gatherer societies not only have an adequate diet, but enjoy much more leisure time than supposedly more advanced agricultural peoples. Sahlins concluded that prehistoric hunter-gatherer communities were the “original affluent society.” The term did not go unnoticed amongst the scholars. Most anthropologists embraced the thesis, but some also showed some objections against the thesis. As a result, a hot debate was created within the scholars of economic anthropology.
Nurit Bird-David and David Kaplan form part of those who have emitted criticism of the original affluence thesis. In this essay, I discuss the opinions of the two scholars one at a time, showing the main arguments of their works. Then I shall proceed to describe points of commonality on which the two authors agree. Finally I will posit my own argument as to which scholar’s takes I think is more convincing.
Nurit Bird-David’s article - “Beyond ‘The Original Affluent Society’: A Culturalist Reformulation” (1992), the latter discusses the anterior work of Sahlins “Original Affluent Society.” She reviews Sahlins’ main contentions under a culturalist perspective. For Bird-David Sahlins’ work definitely succeeded in breaking the anthropological assumption that hunter-gatherers were poor, starving people; a view that David Kaplan as well share. However, for Bird-David Sahlins perpetrated a mistake; the one of confusing cultural ad ecological evaluations: “He overprocessed the ecologically oriented quantitative data from the […] studies and in the...
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