glyph 566: simple rural economiies, labor, capital, savings ... anthropology and economics
Polly Hill's work shows a way to think about the economics of simple rural communities that integrates well with the approach to human action developed by the Austrian School of economists (See Mises, Human Action).
From 1954 until 1965, Hill was employed as a Research Fellow at the University of Ghana when, as she put it, she became a pupil of the migrant cocoa farmers of Ghana. Thus began her work as 'field economist', a term that best describes the unique fieldwork methods she pioneered. She began her research using the standard questionnaire method and wrote up the result of this research in her second book, The Gold Coast Cocoa Farmer: a preliminary survey (1956).
When she subsequently realised that this method had led her to accept uncritically some false, conventional assumptions about the backgrounds of these farmers, she abandoned the method in favour of one that would enable her to make empirical discoveries. Her new method combined the methods of an economic historian, human geographer and economic anthropologist. She made intensive studies of villages, conducted extensive archival work, and situated her findings in the relevant comparative and historical context. All her subsequent works were based on original data that she collected using her rigorous scholarly methods.
Interviewed by Alan Macfarlane:
Studies in Rural Capitalism in West Africa, Polly Hill, Cambridge University Press, 1970.
November 18, 2016; edited/updated December 26, 2016