A lot of work in economic anthropology seems to be about allocation mechanisms. This feeds into economic discourses about the institutions governing markets and non-market alternatives, e.g. Douglas North (1977):
Markets and Other Allocation Systems in History: The Challenge of Karl Polanyi

It is reasonable to assume that the forces that lead to the substitution of firms for markets today may also help us to explain the variety of forms of economic organisation in past societies.

I wonder if similar work has been done on stocks and flows, i.e. a formal economic analysis of stocks (e.g. rights to access common land, its fruits once harvested, services such as healthcare, tools, artefacts) and flows (e.g. reciprocity mechanisms, both within and between groups).

There is ample qualitative analysis, e.g. in this volume edited by John Gowdy (1997) which includes a contribution by Marshall Sahlins (Stone Age Economics, 1972):
Limited Wants, Unlimited Means: A Reader On Hunter-Gatherer Economics And The Environment

I wonder if there have been attempts to formalise the stocks and flows?

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ You are not using here stocks and flows in their economic meaning. In economics stock is a level variable and flow is a change variable. Healthcare spending at a single point in time is stock not flow. Perhaps anthropology uses different definitions of stocks and flows but if so you need to provide their definitions otherwise this question lacks clarity on what you are actually looking for $\endgroup$
    – 1muflon1
    Nov 27, 2020 at 15:27
  • $\begingroup$ I've changed "healthcare" to "access rights to services such as healthcare". The idea being that if flows are not monetised they would be rights to the means of production (common land), or to the proceeds, or to services. Does that clarify it? $\endgroup$
    – sba222
    Nov 27, 2020 at 15:35
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ but access is not flow. For example, if someone has access to 100 units of healthcare (lets say 100 hours of medical services by doctor) - that is a stock of healthcare. A flow of healthcare would be when these 100 hours change between time to 150 - then the growth rate would be (150-100)/100 meaning flow is 0.5. Stocks and flows cannot even be directly compared in economics because they are not commensurable. Just have a look at wikipedia page to learn about what stocks and flows are in economics en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stock_and_flow $\endgroup$
    – 1muflon1
    Nov 27, 2020 at 15:40
  • $\begingroup$ If you are actually interested in hunter-gatherer societies and stockpiling, there have been studies such as southampton.ac.uk/archaeology/research/projects/… southampton.ac.uk/archaeology/research/projects/… jstor.org/stable/23486486?seq=1 $\endgroup$
    – Henry
    Nov 27, 2020 at 17:10
  • $\begingroup$ @1muflon1 How can healthcare be stored? $\endgroup$ Nov 27, 2020 at 17:58

1 Answer 1


Anthropology is concerned with understanding a society in qualitative terms rather than quantitative terms. To try to understand it in these terms is to misconceive how those societies work and what anthropology is.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.