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Market as Metaphor

Paper Session

Friday, Jan. 4, 2019 10:15 AM - 12:15 PM

Hilton Atlanta, Crystal A
Hosted By: Association for Social Economics
  • Chair: Zoe Sherman, Merrimack College

Political Economy of Marriage: Construction of Commodity and Gift within Marriage Practices and Transactions in India

Abhilasha Srivastava
Bridgewater State University


Are all aspects of human life subject to exchange? Or are some aspects not available for exchange? This paper explores these questions by analyzing preferences and behaviors around marriages in India. I use primary data from in-depth interviews to show that the market metaphor provides a universal language that structures practices, transactions, and decision-making around marriages within the vocabulary of exchange. In the process, this metaphor also creates its other—entities that are not available for exchange. In doing so, this paper shows that norms based on gender, and caste, which have historically governed the institution of marriage, are constituted and reconstituted within the overall vocabulary of market exchange. These norms shape preferences in the marriage market and determine how capabilities, roles, and rights of individuals are valued. Thereby, the language of the market, not only creates productive labor embodied in the groom as the ‘commodity’ for exchange in the marriage but simultaneously constructs its other-- reproductive labor embodied in the bride, as a 'gift' that is essentially non-commodifiable.

Interrogating the Analogy of the Marketplace of Ideas

Zoe Sherman
Merrimack College


In this paper, I investigate the origins and consequences of the commerce-communication analogy that is built into English language usage. The analogy of the marketplace of ideas arose after the conception of the “market” had burst its bounds as a designated time and place for monetized exchange and barter and the word market became a more abstract designation for exchange activity anytime and anywhere (or all the time and everywhere). Ironically, the market analogy for the communication of ideas restores the reference to a bounded space—a marketplace. This seems to imply that people arrive at the marketplace as fully formed autonomous actors, negotiate exchanges, and then withdraw again to a non-marketized realm. It also seems to imply a sharply delimited contact between buyer and seller—they trade what ideas they own without changing who they are, and their mutual obligations end with completion of the exchange. Like an exchange-focused view of the economy, a marketplace of ideas conception of communication obscures questions of the production process. Employing the marketplace of ideas analogy in our interpretation of free speech rights focuses our attention on the free trade standard—freedom from government restraint—but does not help us frame a standard of freedom to make meaning, establish durable social connections, and be heard. What if, instead of centering the commerce-communication link, our metaphors centered the resonances among the words communicate, community, and resources held in common? How might we then reimagine the meaning of free speech?

From 'Free' Labour to Labour Commons: Re-conceptualising Work

Asimina Christoforou
Athens University of Economics and Business
Fikret Adaman
Bogazici University


The present article examines the possibility of 'freeing' commodified labour forms by building labour commons and consulting with the values and institutions of cooperatives. We argue that this could enable economists to re-define the means and objectives of work, including their own. In modern capitalist societies, according to Marx, a dominant labour form is ‘free’ wage labour, freed from means of production and employers. We focus on the European Common Market which has been built on the four freedoms, namely the free movement of goods, services, capital and people. However, this freedom is by and large questionable, as labour is transformed into a commodity and ceases to provide the means for pursuing a good life and social progress. We use EU documentation and data to evidence the masses of unemployed due to crisis and austerity; the unfavourable working conditions; the marginalisation of groups due to illness, age, gender, ethnicity and race; and the policies centring on individuals' responsibility to be "employable" and "entrepreneurial". These are all indicative of the individuation and marketisation of work. We suggest a re-conceptualisation of work to restore its social, moral and political outreach by switching to labour commons. This is a space where labour is not a commodity; it is seen as an inherently social activity, a human capability organised and reproduced on the basis of rules and systems of cooperation and social welfare. We argue that cooperativist values and institutions can help build a labour commons by fostering participatory and deliberative democracy.

Methodological Implications of "The Machine": Economics for Humans

Ann Davis
Marist College


The description of “the economy” as a machine has both description and performative dimensions. That is, the machine is an accurate description of the mechanization of production processes with the onset of the industrial revolution, to improve productivity and efficiency. The focus on efficiency is ubiquitous in economics, from Adam Smith’s division of labor, to the “production possibilities frontier” of modern economic pedagogy. This description is also normative, since operation at the frontier of efficiency is the goal of increasing the “wealth of nations.”

This paper will explore the methods by which this metaphor of economy as a “machine” operates to achieve such reification of a human institution. One important institution is language, where a specific term can refer to an “object” which is also a human institution (Searle 2010). This term referring to an institutional “object,” like money or property, can help establish the institution and increase its conformity, reliability, and confidence. The differentiation of various “language games” into distinct rules, whereby some uses are “objective” and scientific, while others are expressive, can play an important part. Certain economic terms then acquire an objective character which becomes naturalized.

Other theorists like Nelson, Latour, Poovey, Mirowski, Wittgenstein, as well as Taylor can contribute to this analysis, whereby certain types of speech are accepted, even normative, the ethical dimensions of which are not understood. That is, such dehumanization would be condemned if recognized, while the operation of certain conventional language systems remains unexamined.
JEL Classifications
  • Z1 - Cultural Economics; Economic Sociology; Economic Anthropology