Paper short abstract:
Drawing on insights from food production industries, this paper addresses how concepts and boundaries make the world amenable to economic intervention, and suggests ways of achieving a better understanding of the cultural work that justifies economic decisions and directs economic flows.
Paper 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'.
Markets and cultures: articulations, constellations and new challenges for anthropology