Today we live in what Ulrich Beck has aptly characterized as a “risk society” shaped by intensifying crises outside of our control and seemingly outside of our comprehension. The master narrative that was supposed to lead us to secular salvation—economics—has proved to be a large part of the problem rather than the much anticipated solution. In The Anthropology of Complex Economic Systems, Niccolo Caldararo offers a much more radical and challenging answer: that the fundamental assumptions on which the modern “science” of economics has been erected are false, and that it is through the medium of anthropology, particularly the relatively neglected field of economic anthropology, that an alternative and sound basis for both the understanding of economic behavior and for the shaping of economic futures can be constructed. Caldararo not only challenges the foundational assumptions of conventional economic theory, but situates economic behavior (something quite different and universal amongst human beings) in both a historical and an ecological context. Contemporary discussions of “sustainability,” especially in the field of development studies, have oddly neglected to look to anthropology. Economic anthropology, is the repository of a vast store of wisdom both about actual alternative and workable economic systems and about their evolution. By drawing on this source, Caldararo builds a model of the evolution of human economies which stir up substantial debate, shows how economic anthropology provides a tool for the interrogation of economic theory, and ties economics to ecology. It has been the rupture of this fundamental relationship that lies at the basis of much of our present crisis and the unsustainable economic patterns that humans have created. By bringing together in a new configuration economic anthropology, ecology, and culture history, Caldararo not only proposes a new model of human social evolution, but equally importantly creates a methodology for speaking to, and against, our present economic and environmental situation.
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Niccolo Leo Caldararo, PhD, is a lecturer at San Francisco State University. He is also the owner, director, and founder of Conservation Art Service.
Caldararo begins to explore how human economic systems might have changed and evolved during the last several million years. This is an ambitious undertaking and he is to be congratulated for taking it on . . . I found many of the ideas and pieces of evidence in the book fascinating and thought-provoking. . . .[There is] a great deal to admire: this is a big book about big ideas. I loved his wide-ranging discussion, and I welcomed his argument that there is nothing so different about modern and traditional human economic systems that they cannot be studied within the same framework. (Reviews in Anthropology)
In The Anthropology of Complex Economic Systems: Inequality, Stability, and Cycles of Crisis, author Niccolo Caldararo rightly points to our understanding and application of economics as the source of our modern problems. Caldararo questions the assumptions upon which modern economics is based and proposes that by exploring economic anthropology one can better understand the basis of human economic behavior and can be applied to guide our future economic decisions and understanding. If one looks at early human populations and their interaction with and influence upon the environment and understands the challenges and decisions faced by these populations, we may better understand our modern economic behavior that may help uncover better solutions to present day issues and problems. A substantial part of the book is dedicated to establishing a model of the evolution of human economies and he strongly bases this model within human cultural history and its effects on the environment. He appeals to his readers to use the understanding of economic anthropology in explaining modern economic behavior and events. This well-composed book will be a valuable read not only for stimulating academic debate and further study but also for environmentalists, activists, and economists as we continue to address the serious problems facing our modern civilization. (Daniel Harder, Santa Cruz Natural History Museum)
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