Kinds of Value

In this slim volume, anthropologist Paul Kockelman showcases, reworks, and extends some of the core resources anthropologists, and like-minded scholars, have developed over the past 200 years or so for thinking about value (however inexplicably they manage, like Ogden Nash’s everyman, to put them in their back pocket and sit down on them, having forgotten they were there).

Rather than theorize value head on, Kockelman a careful (but punchy and non-ponderous) interpretation of a Mayan text (about an offering to a god that lamentably goes awry), its telling, and the conditions of possibility for its original publication. Starting with a relatively simple definition of value--that which stands at the intersection of what signs stand for and what agents strive for--he unfolds, explicates, and experiments with its variations over the course of 33 incredibly short (and beautifully illustrated) chapters.

Contrary to widespread claims in and around the discipline, Kockelman argues that it is not ‘relations’, but rather relations between relations, that is at the heart of the interpretive endeavor.

Given its focus on possible worlds, worldliness, and worlding--as well as its expository techniques--it might best be understood as an experiment in modal anthropology.