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Modes of production and minke whaling: The case of Iceland
by Gísli Pálsson
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  To conclude, human production systems differ with respect to social relations. I have emphasised - drawing upon recent developments in economic anthropology - a distinction between three modes of production: household economies, simple commodity production, and capitalist firms. While in some ways simple commodity production resembles industrial, capitalist whaling, and may therefore be regarded as quasi-capitalistic, it also has much in common with household production. Simple commodity production, then, deserves a taxonomic place of its own as a mode of production which is neither fully capitalist nor simply domestic. Minke whaling in Iceland, as I have tried to show, is best described as simple commodity production. Here production is partly geared for the marked, but what motivates the producers is not primarily profit but rather social responsibilities, local committments, and kinship relations.
  There are good reasons why one should bother to construct and refine concepts of modes of production, including categories of whaling. For one thing, some kind of conceptual umbrella is needed to appreciate the different ways in which humans appropriate aquatic animals. If anthropology deserves to be called a comparative science, the units of comparison must be established on some logical basis and not just on the grounds that they are traditional. Also, classificatory schemes are often central for resource management and environmental rhetoric, especially with respect to sea mammals. A case in point is the notion of 'subsistence' production employed by the International Whaling Commission, for whom whaling is the privilege of 'indigenous' hunters who do not produce for markets and are, therefore, only minimally involved in the world economy. Such a notion, I have argued, is highly romantic in that it presents indigenous hunters as lay ecologists, as being closer to nature than the rest of humanity. While it may represent charitable motives, it has much in common with the ethnocentric discourse of the colonial past. Humans, whatever their mode of production or subsistence, are simultaneously part of nature and society. Modern policy on animal rights and the environment should be based on that premise - and not on the idea that humanity, or some part of it, is suspended above nature.
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Modes of production and minke whaling: The case of Iceland, by Gísli Pálsson.
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