EASA, 2006: EASA06: Europe and the world

Bristol, UK, 18/09/2006 – 21/09/2006


Markets and cultures: articulations, constellations and new challenges for anthropology

Location Victoria LT
Date and Start Time 19 Sep, 2006 at 09:00


Christina Garsten (Stockholm University) email
Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

The panel invites discussions into the varieties of articulation between market and cultural processes, the various constellations of ideas and actions, the challenges and opportunities these may bring to anthropology.

Long Abstract

Globalisation, the growth of trade blocks such as the European Union, social change! , and the spread of fast communications all increase the impact of the market in peoples’ lives, making an examination of social and cultural uses of the modern market all the more relevant. In ‘modern’ capitalist societies, markets are generally taken to be inevitable, pervasive and unproblematic, as simply a part of everyday life, whose form and function is seldom questioned. Certainly, markets have never been free of friction and contestation, but today we take note of a greater questioning of market processes, their logic and ethics, and of demands for responsibility and accountability in the marketplace. Simultaneously, markets are increasingly becoming arenas for political statements and action and for the self-definition of individuals and groups, as the swell in global flows of capital and goods now integrates culturally diverse and widely dispersed populations into each other’s agendas and aspirations. Whilst anthropologists have contributed substantially to the ethnography and understanding of market processes in more ‘traditional’ societies, less has been written about how people in complex market economies perceive, model, and use markets. The increasing emphasis on market mechanisms, indeed their elevation to a kind of ‘mantra’ leading to greater prosperity and development, makes such an examination all the more interesting and timely. The panel invites discussions into the varieties of articulation between market and cultural processes, the various constellations of ideas and actions, the challenges and opportunities these may bring to anthropology. The panel aims to open up for critical discussions into cultural processes taking place in modern markets; how certain groups employ the market to solve problems, create capital, gain particular political ends, pose pertinent arguments, question economic processes, and delineate moral values and responsibilities.


Naturalising markets: economic anthropology at home

Author: Marianne Elisabeth Lien (University of Oslo)  email
Mail All Authors

Long Abstract

Popular understandings of modern economies render the market as inevitable and largely apolitical. How can we move beyond the current 'black-boxing' of the neo-liberal market and engage with global economies in a more constructive manner? In order to achieve a better understanding of the way economic flows are structured, we must analyse institutions and those processes through which applications of the market principle are naturalised, sacralised or taken for granted. Approaching economy 'as society', I suggest that we need to pay more attention to the delineations and boundary work that is continuously going on within economic institutions in order to justify decisions and direct economic flows. Based on fieldwork in food production industries, I consider the cultural work that is achieved through terms like 'market', 'consumers' and 'products', and demonstrate the ways in which such terms structure the world of people, things and ideas and make them amenable to economic intervention. The paper considers challenges and opportunities inherent in addressing such issues ethnographically, and suggests that much can be gained from conceiving of economic anthropology as a radical instance of 'anthropology at home'.

The art of forecasting and the temporal politics of markets

Author: Georgina Born (University of Oxford )  email
Mail All Authors

Long Abstract

This paper probes a set of cultural processes, notably the engagement with a range of economic and other forms of expertise, central to the functioning of modern markets. It does this with reference to fieldwork on international media and IT corporations, which exemplify cutting-edge modalities of contemporary capitalism. In particular it examines three performative or protentive mechanisms by which corporations try to tame chronic uncertainties via knowledge processes that construe distinctive forms of temporal politics:

1) The attempt to fold consumption back into production, thereby appearing to bring full circle the unruly circuit of production-consumption, a process that Callon terms the 'economy of qualities'. Here market research attempts to render knowable dispersed consumption practices; yet rather than increased abstraction, the tendency has been to offer more embedded accounts of consumption, increasingly through the use of ethnography;

2) The use of market forecasting: here, on the basis of analyses of existing North American markets, predictive models are derived, which are translated into the collective calculations and strategies of corporations and regulatory bodies, which in turn powerfully form how markets develop. Economic and technological speculations derived from specific conditions become concretised in strategies and hence practically universalized; forecasting becomes a theatre of purified abstractions in which is conceived 'collective' imaginings of the future;

3) The drive on the part of new media corporations to engage in mass patenting, sometimes through the imposition of patent quotas as a performance measure for researchers. Here the mass production of patents is seen pre-emptively to frame and capture spaces of potential invention and therefore potential markets. This is a more chaotic and open-ended mechanism through which to wage the politics of time, since its protentive and pre-emptive qualities seem more completely speculative; the activity has as much symbolic as economic value. At stake for individual corporations is the potential for anti-invention: for the claiming of spaces and blocking of rivals' potential activities. Theoretically, the paper expands on recent work on performativity in markets by Callon, Barry and Slater and others; in its attention to the temporal politics immanent in these processes and the diversity of mechanisms, more and less virtual, it constitutes a revision of Miller and Carrier's notion of 'Virtualism'.

The Market as a 'technique of power': international relations and differentiated local contexts

Author: Laurent Bazin (CNRS)  email
Mail All Authors

Long Abstract

Based on ethnographic fieldwork in a communist municipality in the ex-coal mine area in Nothern France, and in post-soviet Uzbekistan, the paper asks how different market ideologies contribute to organise and structure the relations of power both at an international scale and in some national and local contexts. It will be argued that at a global (worldwide) scale, the process of globalisation (promotion and progress of the so called 'market economy') is linked to forms of culturalisation and ethnicisation of social relations that correspond to the modes of legitimisation of political power. The situation in France will be compared to that in Uzbekistan. In France, market powers have become more and more dominant, yet they are unable to control the marginalized social strata. Thus the progress of market ideologies is accompanied by a strengthening of police control in marginalised areas (banlieues) and their culturalisation, which contribute to construct people living in banlieues as 'others', culturally different. In Uzbekistan, though there is little progress of a market economy, the state is trying to legitimise itself through a process of authochtonisation: inventing and promoting an 'eternal' Uzbek culture. Processes of culturalisation and ethnicisation are, in this context, more evident modes of ruling society. By juxtaposing these two cases, the market as a 'technique of power' and its modes of legitimation will be discussed.

Marketing scents and the anthropology of smell

Author: Brian Moeran (University of Hong Kong)  email
Mail All Authors

Long Abstract

There is something that neither marketing nor anthropology has been able to deal with very successfully to date: the role of smell in our everyday lives. This is in large part because we have in general an extremely limited vocabulary with which to talk about smells and fragrances, but also because people's reactions to, and associations with, particular smells border on the anarchic. In other words, any notion of a 'taste culture' (or olfactory culture) based on particular social or cultural divisions is likely to fall apart at the seams and become as elusive, theoretically, as smells themselves are, physiologically, to the nose.

This paper addresses the anthropology of smell by examining, in particular, the production, packaging and consumption of incense in Japan. A number of questions arise in this context. How do professionals talk about smell in the incense, perfume, food and drinks industries? How can they ensure the consistent reproduction of mass-produced brands of incense, perfume, or whisky? What colour symbolism do they make use of in the packaging of their products, and how are colours integrated with the advertising of different smells? How is incense marketed to consumers, and how has the incense market in Japan been adapted from reliance on institutional ritual to the creation of a personalized leisure pastime? Fieldwork research data will be used to advance, if possible, some of the issues in which both marketing and the anthropology of smell are currently entangled.