The Economist as Shaman: Revisioning Our Role for a Sustainable, Provisioning Economy

15 Pages Posted: 10 Dec 2011

Date Written: July 9, 2011


In this paper I take a wide perspective on what the role of an economist might be in an anthropological sense, taking a step back and considering what an economist might be for in a general sense, rather than in the sense of a capitalist society in the early 21st century. I suggest that the role of an economist is one of an intermediary between people and the resources they need for survival, a role that in less rationalist societies might have been performed by a priest or shaman. In the era of climate change this role may be expressed in terms of the moral consequences of certain forms of consumption, such as eating meat or using airplanes for travel. At a deeper level, the economist may be well-placed to negotiate the nominal space between humans and other species, especially in situations where our survival requires the death of some species. What does this conception of economists as intermediaries imply for our role in an era where over-consumption is threatening our survival as a species and our lifestyles are threatening the existence of other species, as well as our own? I propose three central responsibilities for an economist in a sustainable society: supporting a process of re-embedding the economy in the environment; negotiating a respectful — even reverential — relationship between humans and non-human species; ensuring a means of acquiring resources that minimizes the entropic impact of the human community.

Keywords: sustainability, shamanism, re-embedding, nature, consumption

JEL Classification: A11, Q30

Suggested Citation

Scott Cato, Molly, The Economist as Shaman: Revisioning Our Role for a Sustainable, Provisioning Economy (July 9, 2011). Available at SSRN: or

Molly Scott Cato (Contact Author)

Roehampton University ( email )

Roehampton Lane
London, SW15 5PU
United Kingdom

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics