Chibnik, Michael. Anthropology, Economics, and Choice.

Author:Sampson, Carrie
Position:Book review

Chibnik, Michael. Anthropology, Economics, and Choice. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2011. x + 206 pages. Cloth, $55.00.

Social scientists often spend a considerable amount of time identifying factors that impact individual and group decisions. Anthropologist Michael Chibnik addresses five of the most common analytical dilemmas in decision-making from various social science perspectives, with particular emphasis on economics and anthropology. Using case studies to clarify these specific problems, Chibnik invests much of his energy convincing readers that anthropology provides valuable tools to help one understand decision- making. These tools, he believes, tend to be overshadowed by economic theories and methods.

As a foundation for the rest of his book, Chibnik provides a brief but clear explanation of the key differences in analyzing choice between economists and anthropologists. He states that, in general, economists are focused on rationality and adopt quantitative methods, whereas anthropologists pay close attention to cultural context and use qualitative, ethnographic methods. He then effectively guides his readers through the following five scenarios that complicate decision-making research: measuring unpaid work; calculating risk and uncertainty; using experiments to make generalizations; identifying units of analysis related to household decisions; and understanding the management of community resources (i.e., the tragedy of the commons). Within each of these situations, Chibnik details the methodological and analytical challenges that make it difficult for social scientists to develop precise and useful outcomes.

Supporting Chibnik's argument are case studies generated by his field research in Belize, Mexico, Peru, and the United States regarding different aspects of decision-making. In Belize, a community of rural farmers was faced with deciding between working as wage laborers, growing crops to sell at the market, or farming for home consumption. The growing market for woodcarvings in southern Mexico forced some residents to make decisions between adopting the woodcarving trade and pursuing other paths such as wage labor or migration to the Unites States. A group of Peruvian farmers had to decide annually whether to take out loans to harvest rice, whose profits are heavily dependent on uncertain weather-related factors. In the Midwestem United States, farmers faced choices over whether to adopt popular no-till...

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