The Real Economy

Essays in Ethnographic Theory

Edited by Federico Neiburg and Jane I. Guyer 

This collection highlights a key metaphor in contemporary discourse about economy and society. The contributors explore how references to reality and the real economy are linked both to the utopias of collective well-being, supported by real monies and good economies, and the dystopias of financial bubbles and busts, in which people’s own lives “crash” along with the reality of their economies.

The Real Economy is a milestone collection in economic anthropology that crosses disciplinary boundaries and adds new life to social studies of the economy.

The Real Economy by Federico Neiburg and Jane Guyer

“At a time of bewildering economic transformations, what a gift it is to read The Real Economy. Two brilliant scholars, Jane Guyer and Federico Neiburg, have assembled an international dream team of experts guiding us into new understandings of economic life. Mixing theoretical insight with fascinating ethnographic evidence, the essays take us along a memorable tour of the lived economic experience in the worlds of finance, households, currency exchanges, black economies and much more. By setting a new research agenda, the book will surely shape future cross-disciplinary research.”

— Viviana Zelizer, author of Economic lives: How culture shapes the economy

Federico Neiburg is Professor of Social Anthropology at the Museu Nacional, Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro. He is a lead researcher for the Brazilian National Research Council and the coordinator of the Center for Research in Culture and Economy. His books include Empires, Nations, and Natives: Anthropology and State-Making and, more recently, A Cultural History of Money in the Age of Empires.

Jane I. Guyer is Professor Emerita at Johns Hopkins University. She is the author of many books, including Marginal Gains: Monetary Transactions in Atlantic Africa; Legacies, Logics, Logistics: Essays in the Anthropology of the Platform Economy; and a new translation of Marcel Mauss’s The Gift: Expanded Edition.

6″ x 9″, 310 pp.

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The Real Economy


Introduction. The real in the real economy
     Federico Neiburg and Jane Guyer
Chapter 1. The live act of business and the culture of realization
     Fabian Muniesa
Chapter 2. Deductions and counter-deductions in South Africa
     Deborah James
Chapter 3. Resisting numbers: The favela as an (un)quantifiable reality
     Eugênia Motta
Chapter 4.  What is a ‘real’ transaction in high-frequency trading
     Juan Pablo Pardo-Guerra
Chapter 5. Soybean, bricks, dollars, and the reality of money in Argentina
     Mariana Luzzi and Ariel Wilkis
Chapter 6. A political anthropology of finance in cross-border investment in Shanghai
     Horacio Ortiz
Chapter 7. Corporate personhood and the competitive relation in antitrust
     Gustavo Onto
Chapter 8. Making workers real on a South African border farm
     Maxim Bolt
Chapter 9. How will we pay? Projective fictions and regimes of foresight in US college finance
     Caitlin Zaloom
Chapter 10.  Smuggling realities: On numbers, borders, and performances
    Fernando Rabossi 
Afterword. The method of the real: What do we intend with ethnographic infrastructure?
     Bill Maurer