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The Quest for Wealth. A formal criterion for the classification of human societies

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Abstract

In the perspective of forging a general classification of human societies, and contrary to the classical approach that favours political criteria, the French anthropologist Alain Testart focused on the emergence of wealth. This, according to him, was characterised by the presence of matrimonial (bride price) and judicial (wergeld) payments. Such a solution, however, appears too restrictive and leads to certain insoluble contradictions. By taking up the path opened by this scholar, while correcting his few errors, this article proposes an alternative definition of wealth, which offers an irreplaceable tool for a classification of societies. Wealth refers to a specific subset of property rights, which relate to objects other than human beings. Two forms of wealth must then be distinguished, depending on whether these rights are convertible into rights of the same type, or into other elements of the social system.

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2021-09-26