At Andover he participated in the glee club, cross-country, and student government. At Princeton he joined Prospect Club and majored in art and archaeology. He left Princeton after his second year and then returned, graduating in 1955. His thesis on Northwest Coast Indian art was stimulated by his accidentally discovering a previously unrecognized collection of this work in the basement of Guyot Hall.
Spence’s subsequent life and his writings about social organization and economics were greatly influenced by his grandfather Spencer Heath, a dissident philosopher of money and community organization. In this context, and continuing his interest in the Northwest Coast Indians, Spence earned a master’s degree in social anthropology at the University of Washington in 1961, studying the life, culture, and stateless society of this community. His thesis was later published with the title The Art of Community. He then attended the University of Chicago in pursuit of a Ph.D. Illness prevented his completion of a proposed dissertation on the ethnography of a community.
In the mid-1970s, echoing his accidental discovery of the art of Northwest Coast Indians, he discovered and promoted the work of Juan Quezada, an unknown potter in Mata Ortiz, Mexico. This led to the development of a thriving pottery industry there, quite in harmony with Spence’s emerging ideas and written works on social policy.
Spence is survived by his wife, Emalie.