Four neglected concepts with a role to play in explaining the origins of agriculture

Curr Anthropol. 2009 Oct;50(5):645-8. doi: 10.1086/605355.


Explanations of the socioeconomic changes accompanying the transition from foraging through mixed economies to societies that take up full-time agriculture will entail concepts of risk, discounting, economies of scale, and transaction costs. The spatial form and temporal scale of agricultural production fundamentally change the parameters of risk management. Delays between investment decisions and consumption of yields grow in duration and significance, elevating the salience of discounting. Localization and control over property and productivity generate opportunities for specialization and economies of scale, at the same time setting up the possibility of exchange among specialists and between locales with differential production advantages and consumption needs. Full evolutionary analysis of the origins of agriculture entails these ideas; their use in anthropology will require that we temper our history of economic substantivism with recognition that certain concepts forged to understand market economies are applicable much more broadly.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Agriculture / history*
  • Anthropology, Cultural
  • History, Ancient
  • Humans
  • Socioeconomic Factors