Are Mixed Economies Persistent or Transitional? Evidence Using Social Networks from Arctic Alaska

Shauna BurnSilver, James Magdanz, Rhian Stotts, Matthew Berman, Gary Kofinas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

82 Scopus citations


Two opposing narratives describe future prospects for mixed economic livelihoods in Alaska and the broader Arctic. On the one hand, Arctic anthropologists have written about the emergence of persistent mixed economies in Native communities. A second narrative echoes modernization assumptions and assumes that "subsistence is dying," mixed economies are transitional, and Native communities are headed inevitably toward full market dependence. We provide evidence that mixed economies are not transitional. Mixed economies have three components: households engage in (1) market exchange, (2) subsistence activities, and (3) culturally embedded social relationships sustained by flows of wild food and other resources. Using household-level social network and economic data from two Iñupiat communities spanning 30 years, we explore hypotheses designed to test an assumed transition to market dependence. If transition assumptions hold, households with high engagement in the cash economy will have low engagement in subsistence production and diminished social relationships. Results do not support this narrative of change. Although there is considerable variability in household harvest, income, and social relationships, those highly engaged in market activities are also disproportionately involved in subsistence activities, sharing, and cooperation. Beyond broad narratives, an assessment of underlying processes and conditions supporting persistent mixed economies is warranted.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)121-129
Number of pages9
JournalAmerican Anthropologist
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1 2016


  • Arctic
  • Cash economy
  • Mixed economies
  • Social networks
  • Subsistence hunting

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anthropology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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