Vital energy: The current of relations

Stephen Gudeman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


'Vital energy' is a central idea in the economies of Panama and Colombia. Known as 'strength' or 'force', and assembled from the environment, this current connects all activities in the local economies and establishes relationships, from kin to strangers. Humans compose vital energy, but its sources are limited, and it is expended in use. Its availability is a gift from God and part of the unpredictable fortune that faces everyone. This economy exhibits a contrast between a social current and a market currency. It offers a materialist perspective, provides a critique of standard economics, suggests that sharing rather than reciprocity or rational choice is the 'fundamental' economic practice, and shows how an economy may be a kind of ritual legitimated by a belief in divine power that is displayed through personal fortune.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)57-73
Number of pages17
JournalSocial Analysis
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2012

Bibliographical note

Copyright 2012 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Current
  • Force
  • House economy
  • Markets
  • Sharing
  • Strength
  • Thrift
  • Vital energy


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