Exchange, Action, and Social Structure: Elements of Economic Sociology

By Milan Zafirovski | Go to book overview

Chapter 5
The Cultural Constitution
of Economic Exchange

EXCHANGE AS A CULTURAL CREATION

A key hypothesis of a cultural analysis of exchange is variability in the cultural specification of market transactions (Fiske 1991:392), reflecting the general and persistent influence of culture on the economy (DiMaggio 1990). Specifically, this analysis views market exchange not as a natural, invariant phenomenon but rather as a cultural creation. It is such in the sense of being contingent on definite sociocultural conditions and having certain cultural dimensions1—that is, markets are seen as cultures (Abolafia 1996). Instances of the sociocultural conditions and dimensions of exchange represent economic cultures (Weber 1968:43–44) or work ethics as ideal or spiritual prerequisites of practical economic activities, especially exchange transactions. Hence, as part of an overall social structure, economic culture represents a sociocultural matrix for undertaking economic activities and establishing economic institutions, thus being a highly relevant precondition of the economy (Berger 1991:xx). Economic culture is exemplified in various historical-empirical forms, especially the Weberian spirit of capitalism, or the capitalist work ethic, with its origins in the ethic of ascetic Protestantism.

In a Weberian context, the practice or structure of modern capitalism, featuring a definite work style, has its historical source or cause in the spirit of capitalism, and thus in specific religious, ethical, ideal, and other cultural patterns. More precisely, Weber searched for the origin of the new capitalist ethos and practice in the Protestant religion. In retrospect, such a search turns on its head the materialistic conception positing only the causal effects of the economic base on the sociocultural superstructure, as well as rational

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