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Trade is the movement of goods between individuals or groups where there is a general expectation of reciprocity and where the purpose is basically utilitarian. Anthropologists have long been interested in trade because it is an important factor in shaping social relations. The earliest anthropological approaches to trade focused on reciprocity and how the expectations of reciprocity shaped social relations. But it was soon recognized that many forms of trade are unequal, even exploitive. Capitalism seems particularly exploitive, and with increasingly global markets and the introduction of Western capitalism into all corners of the world, anthropologists have become more and more concerned with the effects of trade on the cultures they study. Trade not only introduces Western products but also many aspects of Western culture, both good and bad, as well as Western plants, animals, and diseases. These have had a devastating effect on non-Western cultures and have profoundly impacted world history. Trade has also been important prehistorically and is an important concept to scholars attempting to understand the evolution of civilization. Trade has been seen as essential to the evolution of centralized polities, as trade provides means to both legitimate and finance positions of authority. With trade being such an important concept for understanding both contemporary and past cultures of the world, it is likely that research on trade will remain a central concern in anthropology and the other social sciences.


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Peter N. Peregrine

Additional topics

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