‘Substantivism’ as a Comparative Theory of Economic Forms

  • Alan Jenkins


The general aim and purpose of this paper is to discuss and criticise the dominant elements of what has become known as the ‘substantivist’ conception of the economy which, by and large, now appears to constitute an important element of accepted orthodox discussions of the relation of economy to society in much economic history, comparative sociology and economic anthropology. Now it cannot be said that ‘substantivism’, as a position within the social sciences attempting to pose and answer the problems arising from the varied place of the economic within the social whole, constitutes a really rigorous theoretical system supported by a body of work of advanced theoretical sophistication. Its true inauguration began in the iggos as the fruit of a collaboration between economists and economic historians, anthropologists and sociologists, and since this initial effort1 the substantivist torch has been carried primarily by anthropologists — chiefly Bohannan, Dalton and Sahlins in the United States. It cannot be said, however, that their subsequent work has produced substantial advancement in the theoretical rigour of substantivism since that time; it has sought rather to refine certain of Polanyi’s theses and to extend the domain of their application. Accordingly, the paper which follows may be said to possess a character quite different in some ways from the others here, in terms of the theoretical sophistication of the system of concepts examined.


Market Economy Market Exchange Economic Process Sociological Theory Market Institution 
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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1977

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  • Alan Jenkins

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