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The Formalist/substantivist Debate

In the 1950s a group of social scientists, the most prominent among them being Karl Polanyi, proposed that trade was a social construction like the rest of culture and could not be usefully examined outside of its unique social setting. This perspective came to be known as "substantivism." The substantivists argued that economic analyses of noncapitalist trade employing concepts like supply and demand, rational choice, profit, and other ideas linked to capitalist market economics was misguided, because these concepts were either meaningless or had different meanings in noncapitalist social settings. Other scholars, and archaeologists in particular, countered that markets and market-like economies were present for millennia before capitalism, and that many noncapitalist economies appear to be usefully analyzed with concepts and methods drawn from the study of capitalism. This perspective came to be known as "formalism." The "formalist/substantivist" debate consumed economic anthropology throughout much of the 1960s, with no clear winner emerging. In the early twenty-first century, most anthropologists see the benefits of both perspectives in understanding trade.

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Toxicology - Toxicology In Practice to TwinsTrade - Approaches To The Study Of Trade, The Formalist/substantivist Debate, Trade And The Development Of Civilization