ABSTRACT

Who can hold a share? What may appear to be a simple question is in fact often difficult to answer. Earlier sources with a comparative perspective were quick to suggest two options, namely individual and collective holding of shares. During the last two centuries many accounts about the ways in which humans “elsewhere” were sharing their resources were discussed on the basis of a European ideology that contrasted “Western individualism” and the “collectivism” or “primitive communism” of the “Rest” (see Chapter 1). The default assumption was that self-contained and self-interested individuals are exchanging objects with other, similarly bounded individual subjects for their mutual benefit. All sharing phenomena encountered that departed from this expectation seemed to indicate “collective property” or “common goods”. As we shall see in this chapter, this has also got to do with the self-image of the shareholding society that was emerging in the modern capitalist world. What this chapter tries to do is to overcome the simplistic and misleading individualist versus collectivist dichotomy. In an attempt to arrive at a broader understanding of what it can mean to hold a share, I focus on contemporary indigenous groups. These relative newcomers to the world of capitalist shareholders are today faced with a novel situation. Their lives are increasingly governed by commercial markets, nation states and international corporations. Their experience, I suggest, provides a diagnostic view of sharing under the emerging conditions of corporate shareholding. These conditions are a reality for all of us but they tend to be more difficult to see for those who have been thoroughly immersed in them for a long time. Towards the end of the chapter I shall return to those who consider themselves longstanding “natives” of the capitalist world but who are faced with an increasing inequality between the few who dominate corporations by owning the larger part of the world’s wealth and “the remaining 99 percent”.