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Capitalism, Kinship, and Fraud

The Case of Bernie Madoff

Sherry B. Ortner

Investment broker Bernie Madoff ran what is still considered the largest Ponzi scheme in history, defrauding thousands of investors over a 20-year period of more than $20 billion. He worked his game almost entirely through kinship connections—relatives, friends of relatives, and relatives of friends. The relationship between kinship and capitalism has drawn renewed attention by anthropologists, part of a broader effort to rethink capitalism not as a free-standing ‘economy’ but as deeply embedded in a wide range of social relations. In this article I use the Madoff case to illustrate, and develop further, several aspects of the kinship/capitalism connection. I also consider briefly the boundary between fraud and ‘legitimate’ capitalism, which many economic historians consider a fuzzy boundary at best.

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Tom Rockmore

9/11 represents less a tear in the fabric of history, or a break with the past, than an inflection in ongoing historical processes, such as the continued expansion of capitalism that at some recent time has supposedly attained a level of globalization. This paper considers the relation of war and politics with respect to three instances arising in the wake of 9/11, including the war in Afghanistan, the war in Iraq, and finally the global war on terror (GWT). I argue that these wars are superficially dissimilar, but that on a deeper level they all relate to a single ideological position that is an important motivation in current US foreign policy, and that this position is further related to capitalism.

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Anne-Christine Trémon

This article examines the process of neoliberalization in the Shenzhen special economic zone in Guangdong Province, China. Building on the case study of a former peasant and almost single-lineage village that has become a part of the city of Shenzhen, I show how neoliberal principles aimed at advancing the transition to capitalism are combined with and countered by other ethical traditions. Owing to the long-standing conception of the lineage as an enterprise, the maintenance of the lineage structure in the transformation of the rural collectives has offered fertile ground for the emergence of a local capitalist coalition. Yet the current discourses on the necessity of obliterating the remains of the collective economy and introducing individual ownership run counter to the collectivist values of the lineage village community and the embeddedness of its economy in kinship and territorial ties. I further illustrate this discordance by the way in which the villagers managed to save their founding ancestor's grave site following government requests to clear the land by removing tombs. These policies form a complex blend of state interventions in the economy, neoliberal governance, and Confucian principles.

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Donald Reid

Le Nouvel Esprit du capitalisme is a socio-cultural response to the neoliberal explanation of the successes and failures of capitalism in France during the last three decades in terms of individual rational actors and markets. Luc Boltanski and Eve Chiapello draw their inspiration from critical readings of sociologists who interpreted earlier incarnations of capitalism, including Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Max Weber, and Emile Durkheim.

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David L. Kelly

Foster, John B., Brett Clark, and Richard York. 2010. The Ecological Rift: Capitalism’s War on the Earth. New York: Monthly Review Press.

Williams, Chris. 2010. Ecology and Socialism: Solutions to Capitalist Ecological Crisis. Chicago, IL: Haymarket Books.

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A Capitalism That Kills

Workplace Suicides at France Télécom

Sarah Waters

France Télécom has been at the center of intense public scrutiny since 2008, following a sharp rise in workplace suicides at the company. This macabre reputation now stood in sharp contrast with the company's image during the 1980s and 1990s as a showpiece for successful liberalization and as a former state-owned enterprise that was blazing a trail toward a new globalized economy. Drawing on Emile Durkheim's seminal work, Suicide (1897), the article examines the social conditions that precipitated workplace suicides at France Télécom. It situates the suicides within the context of the rise of a new model of finance capitalism that profoundly transformed the status and perceived value of the individual worker in the production process. Far from representing a tragic accident or an aberration in an otherwise smooth-functioning economic order, the France Télécom suicides were the outcome of a management strategy that set out to fulfill the imperatives of finance capitalism by eliminating what was seen as an unacceptable obstacle to its economic goals: the company's own employees.

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Francio Guadeloupe and Vincent A. de Rooij

This essay argues that the way in which black, brown, and white youngsters in the Netherlands are taking on a new anti-essentialist version of black identity fabricated by the culture industry offers a mode of post-racialism in multicultural Europe. This new version of black identity is based upon the liberating potential in Black Atlantic music forms. Yet questions remain as to whether this potential is only temporary and whether it still bears traces of older modes of racial and gender exclusivism.

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Introduction

Marxian anthropology resurgent

Patrick Neveling and Luisa Steur

This introduction, coming out during the two hundredth anniversary of Karl Marx’s birth, discusses the distinctiveness of Marxian anthropology and what it has to offer to our efforts at understanding, and confronting, the complexities of the social contradictions constituted by—and constitutive of—twenty-first century capitalism. The article points out common denominators of Marxian anthropology going back to Marx’s insights, but also offers a cursory social history of the diverse lineages of enquiry within Marxian anthropology, shaped by the relations and inequalities of the context in which they emerged. Finally, we discuss certain crucial fields of engagement in contemporary Marxian anthropology as reflected in this theme section’s contributions.

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Introduction

Reading twenty-first-century capitalism through the lens of E. P. Thompson

Kathleen M. Millar

E. P. Thompson's social history of capitalism has enduring relevance for anthropological analyses of economic crisis, precarious labor, and class struggle today. This introduction provides a synthesis of the ethnographic cases in this theme section by reflecting on several impulses in Thompson's work that both resonate with and challenge current ethnography of political and economic change. Thompson's focus on moments of transition, his conception of human subjectivity as a process of “making,” and his view of class struggle as arising from tensions between old and new orders bring history and political economy into the study of emergent social formations. Inspired by Thompson's critique of rigid theoretical models, this introduction suggests ways not only to adopt but also to modify the historian's insights for ethnographic work on contemporary capitalism.

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Hadas Weiss

My goal in this forum essay is to brush the dust off Claude Meillassoux’s (1981) magnum opus, Maidens, Meal and Money, by demonstrating its relevance for the present day. While Meillassoux wrote primarily about precapitalist agricultural communities, he had sketched on their basis a model of social reproduction that incorporates social investments and powers, and he foregrounded the hierarchical and exploitative reproductive orders by which capitalism sustains accumulation. In the context of a renewed interest by feminist scholars in questions of social reproduction, I argue that the analytical tools developed by Meillassoux are at least as helpful in making sense of the age of financialization.