Alan Macfarlane, King's College, Cambridge
The serious contradictions embedded in capitalist civilization became widely apparent in the nineteenth century. Among these were the tensions between equality and fraternity, community and association, status and contract, mechanical and organic solidarity, capital and labour. Max Weber realized that one of the contradictions is that as capitalist society becomes more economically 'rational', in terms of means to ends relations, at the same time it becomes more culturally 'irrational' in terms of the ends it pursues. Likewise the tension between economic rationality and social cohesion, and that between economic rationality and religious meaning, was a central theme of his work. Behind much of these was the attempt to keep spheres apart, in particular to separate the social from the economic.
These contradictions are particularly ripe for analysis now because of three strong tides. The first is that 'capitalism' is spreading rapidly all over the world. The one major attempt (apart from Islam) to hold together spheres, to stop alienation, to prevent the social, economic, political and ideological spheres from breaking apart, namely the totalitarian approach of Utopian communism, has disintegrated. Hence we need to analyse the currently 'winning' system with particular care.
Secondly, the very rapid penetration of 'market forces' is destroying the major alternative social system which blended the economic and social over most of the world until very recently. Until as late as 1950 probably over three quarters of the peoples on earth were 'peasants', basing their system on the domestic mode of production. The 'European peasantry' was largely destroyed between 1950 and 1990. The other half of the world, in Asia, comprising over two billion 'peasants' are rapidly becoming petty capitalists, totally subject to 'market forces' and replacing family by other forms of labour.
Thirdly, it is clear that the central activity of humans in both 'peasant' and 'capitalist' societies is changing very rapidly. It is an irony that as Marxism as a solution is abandoned, many of Marx's prophecies are being fulfilled in a slightly different form. Marx foresaw that as 'capital' increased, the 'workers' would be dispensed with, becoming an under-class or reserve army. The situation is much graver than this, for almost 1everyone1 is now surplus to requirements. We now see that as technology (condensed knowledge and capital) makes both the muscles and brains of humans largely redundant, 'work' can no longer be the central activity of humans.
Most societies in the past have determined their existence in terms of status, that is fixed position in terms of birth. Yet with the development of a particular brand of Christian (Calvinist) capitalism in the West, work became the key to both economic and moral value. For the majority of the population a new situation developed in which there is very little else by which either rewards (money) can be obtained or people can judge their worth, other than by work. 'I work therefore I am'. This historical situation creates a crisis. The one objective standard in the double sense of financial and moral value is now crumbling as we move to a world where very little human work is needed. What happens when the whole set of moral, social and economic laws which were based on the premise of the widespread necessity and availability of work are no longer valid?
A number of these huge changes and problems focus our attention on the precise interface between the social (family/'status') and the economic (economy/'contract'). The Japanese deal with some of these contradictions by blending the two elements into what has been termed 'kintract' (Hsu), or what we might call 'artificial status'. That is, they operate precisely a 'sentimental economy', mixing the warmth of 'Community' with the efficiency of 'Association'. Historically they did this through their unusual family system, that is to say through flexible adoption. Somehow they have transferred this into the modern 'family-like' firm. How are the growing contradictions dealt with in the West?
One way in which to approach these important problems is to focus on the central issue, namely work. This is what Dr. Salazar does. The second is to concentrate precisely on that activity which has for various reasons tried to entangle the economic and the social, namely farming. The attempt to separate economy and society causes a particular problem in the case of small farming, because historically (and for intrinsic reasons, because of the diffuse, open-ended, nature of farming), farming in many places has represented the last bastion of the Domestic Mode of Production (DMP). Indeed the DMP is precisely that fusing of family and economy. How does such a system operate as the power of the market increases?
One solution to the problem of understanding complexity, as Durkheim realized, was to analyze an 'elementary' case. This is what Dr. Salazar does. He makes it possible to go deep into the problem by delimiting the area of observation, by 'seeing a world in a grain of sand' in the time-honoured anthropological way. He takes just 65 households in County Galway in the west of Ireland. He largely ignores much of their world, for instance politics and much of religion. He concentrates on their work practices, what they do, how they do it, with whom they do it, and what they think they are doing.
His insights are of interest for several reasons. He puts his findings within a framework of wider theory. He uses a true comparative model, that is to say one where he can compare another case (Catalonia, where he has done parallel fieldwork) to see similarities and differences. He has used the participant method of anthropology in the best way, by becoming deeply immersed in the tangle of people's lives and by working side by side with them in the fields. He has penetrated below the surface of their lives in an unusual way, perhaps helped by the fact that he is both outsider (Spanish) and insider (European/ at an English university/ Catholic). He has seen this world as both familiar and strange, a tension caught in the excellent photographs.
He is thus able to explore the contradiction which lies behind much of life in capitalist economies and which is caught in his title, 'A Sentimental Economy'. He explores the way in which humans construct their world so that the deadening hand of market transactions and the greying effect of money and bureaucratization of work are muffled, re-interpreted and socially constructed so that they do not make life intolerable.
Dr. Salazar shows how the harsh realities of market capitalism are masked by the representations people have. What appear as balanced reciprocities to the outsider are seen as generalized, unbalanced, non calculating. The trick is to maximize on both the front of economic efficiency and also to make life socially meaningful. By behaving in one way, and thinking one behaves in another, the contradiction can be partly overcome. This becomes manifest in the chapter on ritual. God needs to be efficiently manipulated, put under pressure to deliver 'the goods'. On the other hand, He ought also to be treated in a non-instrumental and general way and not expected to respond automatically to human pressure.
Thus Dr. Salazar illuminates some profound areas lying on the borderline between economy and society. The book is a subtle, sympathetic and well written account. It adds, I believe, a valuable case study to the distinguished set of works that have been produced on the 'Irish Countryman'.