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Economy's Tension

Economy's Tension: The Dialectics of Community and Market

Stephen Gudeman
Copyright Date: 2008
Edition: NED - New edition, 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 196
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  • Book Info
    Economy's Tension
    Book Description:

    Why are we obsessed with calculating our selections? The author argues that competitive trade nurtures calculative reason, which provides the ground for most discourses on economy. But market descriptions of economy are incomplete. Drawing on a range of materials from small ethnographic contexts to global financial markets, the author shows that economy is dialectically made up of two value realms, termed mutuality and impersonal trade. One or the other may be dominant; however, market reason usually cascades into and debases the mutuality on which it depends. Using this cross-cultural model, the author explores mystifications of economic life, and explains how capital and derivatives can control an economy. The book offers a different conception of economic welfare, development, and freedom; it presents an approach for dealing with environmental devastation, and explains the growing inequalities of wealth within and between nations.

    eISBN: 978-0-85745-131-6
    Subjects: Anthropology, Sociology, Economics

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. 1 Models, Mutuality, and Trade
    (pp. 1-26)

    Why are we obsessed with calculating our selections? Why must we always make the “best” choice to feel satisfied? For many of us, rational selection is like a grammar: we use it to form acceptable statements and actions, and we invoke it to persuade others. We even value the act of choosing itself. But why does calculative reason dominate the lives of many in market economies, especially in the United States? Is it part of our genetic inheritance? Are we naturally avaricious? Have profit-seeing producers drawn us into their way of life? If so, how do we explain their calculated...

  5. 2 Exchange as Mutuality
    (pp. 27-47)

    The dialectic of keeping to the self and exchanging with others pervades all economies. Even if the balance between these modes varies, and market trade predominates in many areas, mutual connections always help make up economy, and at several levels. Communal economies can be small or large, and market economies depend on mutuality on the small and at the large. By mutuality I mean shared language, speech codes, body gestures, rituals, and unwritten practices and processes as well as norms, laws, and other social agreements. The central components of the mutual realm alone are (1) a base, (2) local stories...

  6. 3 Trade’s Reason
    (pp. 48-73)

    Trade makes the world fluid. Through it things, ideas, and even people are transformed into one another. Market trade is a dialectical process, but it occurs only when rates of exchange or prices are established between traders. And if the possibility of transforming one thing into another seems magical, the rates at which this magic takes place seem out of human control. Detached from mutual relationships and from relations between people and things, they have a life of their own. I term this seemingly independent power of exchange rates thefetishismof prices. We attend to prices, talk about them,...

  7. 4 Property and Base
    (pp. 74-94)

    Private property and mutual holdings are dramatically different types of possession, even if we confound them in theory and conflate them in practice. Private property is the substance of market trade; it is partible, alienable, and held by individuals or disjoint persons. In contrast, conjoint persons share access to a base in the mutual realm. The two forms of possession are distinctly justified. Local narratives, drawing on rhetorical devices and figurative forms of reason, usually legitimate a base and connect it to daily life. These persuasions are linked to the way a base is used and allotted. Private property has...

  8. 5 Contingency or Necessity? The Dialectic of Practices
    (pp. 95-123)

    Karl Polanyi bequeathed to anthropology the concept of the embedded economy. First developed in his bookThe Great Transformation(1944) to describe the transition from “pre-industrial” to industrial life, Polanyi subsequently used the idea of embeddedness to understand ethnographic (“primitive”) and historical (“archaic”) economies In the ethnographic cases, reciprocity is the predominant transaction mode; in the historical contexts, redistribution primarily governs the transaction types. In modern societies, disembedded markets dominate transactions. Despite his earlier historical presentation, Polanyi offered a static typology of economies that has usually been set within a binary opposition: either material life is embedded within social relationships...

  9. 6 Making Money
    (pp. 124-147)

    Money is a tool of exchange. Its uses range from maintaining mutuality to facilitating competitive trade; it can even be traded for itself. Money can measure the size of an obligation or be used to indebt others. In some economies several monies are used, and a single money can serve multiple purposes. The importance of money varies by economy, but almost everywhere narratives explain why it is legitimate just as it has local meanings.

    In contrast to most views, I see money as a composite instrument that is constructed through different modes of reason: analogy, metaphor, substitution, calculation. Money also...

  10. 7 Seeking a Balance
    (pp. 148-165)

    With the demise of communism and various forms of socialism, with the withering of the welfare state and the increasingly contested place of welfare plans in most nations, and with continuing pressures to privatize common tasks and spaces, market economics ever more guides material and social practices throughout the globe. The transcendence of market society seems to be the condition and promise of modernity. Remnants and achievements of central planning and socialism can be found, as in Cuba, and remains of the welfare state endure, as in the Nordic nations, but with heightened transnational flows, the “promissory notes” of modernity...

  11. References
    (pp. 166-181)
  12. Index
    (pp. 182-188)