Culture and markets

I’m working on a paper on culture and economic sociology – a sort-of review article of how culture gets used in the field. My main argument is that the field has until most recently been effectively split in its use of culture. Some markets have culture, while other markets are culture. The former, particularly in the literature on embeddedness, treat culture as a kind of independent variable, which has important implications for performance outcomes for those markets. The latter, by contrast, treats the market itself as problematic, and culture becomes something to be transformed into market.

This may parallel a bit Ann Swidler’s argument about culture during ‘settled’ and ‘unsettled’ times, though here it’s not entirely clear what a settled market really is – art markets have been around forever, are quite stable, it’s hard to think of them as settled. Contested vs. uncontested is closer, but I’m still trying to manage the distinctions.

The danger here, is the theoretical blindness vis-a-vis the opposite quadrants of the box. More recent work (Kieran, some of the STS) is moving towards trying to understand the way settled markets are also culture, and unsettled markets also have a culture. Shifting from continuum to a more orthgonal theoretical conception is where the innovation is at the moment.

My two examples are pollution and commodities markets, where I’ve done work. We’ll see how this turns out..

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