Anthropology, Department of


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Published in THE NEBRASKA ANTHROPOLOGIST, Volume 2 (1975). Published by the Anthropology Student Group, Department of Anthropology, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, Nebraska 68588


The value system of a society defines and grades the ends actors seek. The ends sought in the economic sphere must be consonant with, or complementary to, goals in other spheres. Economic activity derives its meaning from the norms of the society, and people engage in economic activity for rewards often extrinsic to the economy itself. In any community (society) the norms and values used to define a resource, a commodity, control over certain goods and services, the distributive process, and standards of economic behavior are norms governing most social interaction. The economy is not so structurally differentiated that one set of values holds there and other sets hold in other contexts. In the language of social science, the economy is "embedded" in the culture and does not exhibit an ethic counterposed to the regnant value system.

The functional interdependence of economy and society stems from the fact that the same persons are actors in the economic, social structural, political, environmental and cognitive systems.

The causal interaction of economy and society pivots on the provision of facilities. For given forms of social structure a given variety and volume of goods and services are required, and if there are shifts in facilities available there will be shifts in the rest of society. The converse is also logically true; shifts in the social structure will change the volume and variety of goods and services a society produces.

Studies in economic change have shown that modifications in economic activity setup a series of pressures and tensions in the society and culture. The possibilities for the resolution of these pressures and tensions are limited by the situations in which they exist.

Economic systems are one of the most dynamic parts of a society. Economic activity, in the sense of providing facilities for the organization of the rest of society, is one of the most pervasive and determinative aspects of social life. It sets some of the limits within which social structures and cultural patterns may fall.

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