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Toward An Anthropological Theory of Value: The False Coin of Our Own Dreams
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Toward An Anthropological Theory of Value: The False Coin of Our Own Dreams

4.12  ·  Rating details ·  224 ratings  ·  16 reviews
This innovative book is the first comprehensive synthesis of economic, political, and cultural theories of value. David Graeber reexamines a century of anthropological thought about value and exchange, in large measure to find a way out of quandaries in current social theory, which have become critical at the present moment of ideological collapse in the face of Neoliberal ...more
Paperback, 352 pages
Published December 14th 2001 by Palgrave Macmillan (first published January 1st 2001)
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4.12  · 
Rating details
 ·  224 ratings  ·  16 reviews

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my name is corey irl
May 01, 2013 rated it really liked it
DAvid grubber im goin to try readin all your books even the real boring ones. wish me luck
Andrew Tang
Dec 28, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
not as dense and academic as other are saying imo, though probably at least an introductory level of anthropology & its history is needed before going in. Graeber presents diverse and fascinating views on value, exploring the histories of formalism vs substantivism and other debates around anthropology (especially concerning value, economic anthro and exchange), while maintaining a normative framework to imagine a better world and how examining and changing these value systems in question ca ...more
tom bomp
Interesting book. It's mostly pretty readable - more so than most academic books, although there are some difficult parts - although it's definitely focused towards a somewhat more academic audience and you'll have problems unless you understand some basic anthropological concepts. I like his talk about focusing on actions and potentials creating a society rather than the common idea of seeing rules that get put into practise with a clear separation between the two. His more typical anthropologi ...more
Dec 10, 2012 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Social science or philosophy PhDs
This is a book that could not be interesting or comprehensible in its entirety to more than about a thousand professional anthropologists and economic philosophers. Even for the trained and interested reader, this book presents a challenge to the attention span. The problem is not entirely in the authoring; the writing is crisp, confident and witty, and the author devoted much apparent effort into not losing his readers even in the course of threading subtle arguments that required the inclusion ...more
Jun 07, 2007 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: potlatchers, malagasy monarchs, people who just don't get Marilyn Strathern
Still mulling over the impact of this book. Unlike most important anthro books these days, Graeber writes with clarity and wit in a language that people might actually speak to each other. Graeber is post-postmodern in the sense that he is all about building grand narratives if in a more critical and measured way than most. The intial review of recent exchange theory is helpful and his rereading of Mauss as a political thinker both simultaneously helped me put into words what always bugged me ab ...more
Shelby Goerlitz
May 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
I get a lot of energy from reading Graeber. I find him curious, playful, well-read, open and a very original thinker. In his writing, including this book, I find there's some kind of truth bomb every 10 pages or so.

I'm still processing The False Coin of Our Own Dreams. In fact I have it on my pile to re-read. I'm not a professional anthropologist, but I like his central question -- is there any way to measure value across cultures? -- as well as the conversation of ideas he generates from some i
DeAnna Knippling
Jun 24, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Crap, I have no idea how to review this book. So complex, and written for people more familiar with the field. But it did underline how difficult it is to extricate the idea of value from culture. I've been looking around and going, "Really? That ____ makes you feel like you're an individual? How's that working out for you?" and "stuck doing the invisible work again" and "antagonistic gift exchange." Maybe in a year or two I'll be able to tell you what the title means :)
Eric Pecile
Jan 21, 2016 rated it really liked it
A commendable attempt to define value according to anthropology. Unfortunately the conclusion leaves one wanting more as no set definition or theory of value is established, but considering the title, one should not be too disappointed.
Alex Kartelias
Having read his book, "Debt" I was curious about his notion of there being 3 modes of being which overlap each other in all social relations, independant of the institutional forces at play. This book is an in-depth elaboration on that suggestion. He gives fragmentary commentaries on important anthropological ideas and seeks to suggest a kind of 'dynamic-structuralism' which accomadates both the top-down Ideal based approach to value, and the more bottom-up approaches of say, Lacan, Piaget, Derr ...more
Jul 04, 2014 rated it liked it
Después de haber leído algunos de sus ensayos más recientes, y especialmente Debt, the first 5,000 years, las reflexiones de Graeber en este libro resultan algo desordenadas. El primer capítulo sugiere una contrastación entre las axiologías filosóficas y las reflexiones antropológicas sobre el valor (dispersas y asistemáticas, estas últimas), pero el resto del texto desaprovecha esa oportunidad perdiéndose en episodios interesantes, pero ya agotadísimos para cualquier antropólogo: el ensayo del ...more
Stacy Moore
Jan 18, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This is an academic and rigorous text. This review is not. The book is also not for the armchair teabagger who's only knowledge of Marx or Mauss is Groucho and Mickey. Graeber, who is well-known for his work on debt, takes on the theory and meaning of value from an anthropological perspective. Value is by no means universal. Modern capitalism, as we experience it today, takes some of the social values from our smaller tribal experiences and enhances them. You'll never look the same way at exchan ...more
Xavier Shay
Apr 12, 2015 rated it liked it
I am not the target audience for this book. I would have gotten a lot more out of it if I was a) an anthropologist, and b) more familiar with primary source material such a Mauss and Marx. Not that he doesn't explain them, it's just a lot to take in on a first pass.

It's more detailed that what I needed, but still plenty of interesting (technical) stuff about why different societies want different things and what might unify them.
I actually haven't read this whole book yet. After I read The Gift by Hyde, I decided to get this book and read what Graebar had to say about Maus. So far I have only read the chapters on gift giving.
Jan 08, 2008 is currently reading it
Interesting synthesis of Marx and Mauss. More soon.
Stephen CM
Aug 21, 2012 rated it really liked it
Good book. I feel like it's fairly important, and I'd like to re-read it.
Jesse Cohn
Sep 07, 2007 rated it really liked it
Excellent, but a pity it's not more informed by the anarchist tradition -- Graeber reinvents the wheel a few times.
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David Rolfe Graeber is an American anthropologist and anarchist.

On June 15, 2007, Graeber accepted the offer of a lectureship in the anthropology department at Goldsmiths College, University of London, where he currently holds the title of Reader in Social Anthropology.

He was an associate professor of anthropology at Yale University, although Yale controversially declined to rehire him, and his te
“But if all maximizing models are really arguing is that “people will always seek to maximize something,” then they obviously can’t predict anything, which means employing them can hardly be said to make anthropology more scientific. All they really add to analysis is a set of assumptions about human nature. The assumption, most of all, that no one ever does anything primarily out of concern for others; that whatever one does, one is only trying to get something out of it for oneself. In common English, there is a word for this attitude. It’s called “cynicism.” Most of us try to avoid people who take it too much to heart. In economics, apparently, they call it “science.” 11 likes
“In a broader sense, the value of heirlooms is always, as I have said, an historical value, derived from acts of production, use, or appropriation that have involved the object in the past. The value of an heirloom is really that of actions: actions whose significance has been, as it were, absorbed into the object’s current identity—whether the emphasis is placed on the inspired labors of the artist who created it, the lengths to which some people have been known to go to acquire it, or the fact that it was once used to cut off a mythical giant’s head. Since the value of the actions has already been fixed in the physical being of the object, it is perhaps a short leap to begin attributing the agency behind such actions to the object as well, and speak, as Mauss does, of valuables that transfer themselves from owner to owner or actively influence their owners’ fates. The” 0 likes
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