Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Economic Common Sense and the Depoliticization of the Economic

Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Economic Common Sense and the Depoliticization of the Economic

Article excerpt

This article theorizes and begins to explore the extent to which academic and nonacademic discourses contribute to the reproduction and legitimacy of the economic status quo. The author argues that economic practices in the United States are often depoliticized in at least two different ways: They are naturalized or essentialized conceptually, and political control over them is limited. Drawing on antiessentialist Marxian economic theory, Gramsci's theory of hegemony, and poststructuralist theory, the author constructs a framework for conceptualizing economic practices in a more politicized manner. The author also provides some specific examples of depoliticized discourses and a few examples of more politicized discourses.

Keywords: political economy; discourse; capitalism; democracy; Gramsci

Economic practices in the United States are often depoliticized in at least two different, but related ways: (1) they are naturalized or essentialized conceptually, and (2) political control over them is limited. In this article, I examine some of the ways in which popular and academic discourses implicitly or explicitly depoliticize economic relations in one or both of these manners. This depoliticization is problematic not only philosophically but also politically. Feminist, poststructuralist, and Marxian theorists have long pointed out the philosophical problems with naturalized and essentialist conceptions of the individual and social practices, and the same problems hold for economically essentialist and determinist conceptions of economic practices.

In terms of its political impact, the conceptual depoliticization of economic practices, along with positive perceptions of market capitalism, leads many U.S. citizens, including many academics, to accept, or at least not to contest, existing economic relations, regardless of the problems and injustices they cause. As a result, such ways of thinking tend either deliberately or inadvertently to contribute to the reproduction and legitimacy of the economic status quo. In either case, alternative ways of organizing economic relations often appear not to exist-as inconceivable-or as illegitimate, unjust, or unwise (Gibson-Graham 1996; Watkins 1998; Block 1990).

Discourse is, consequently, an important factor in whether existing economic practices continue to be reproduced or become politically contested.1 The theoretical, normative, and political upshot of this article is that depoliticized conceptualizations need to be identified and criticized for both philosophical and political reasons. Academics and citizens who care about economic justice and democracy should therefore be attentive to how they conceptualize economic practices and the effects of their conceptualizations.

In the next section, I briefly indicate how economic practices in the United States have been depoliticized conceptually and/or practically (politically). In the following section, I draw on recent developments in antiessentialist Marxian economic theory, Antonio Gramsci's theory of hegemony, and poststructuralist theory to construct a framework for conceptualizing economic practices in a more politicized manner and for theorizing their relationship with political and cultural practices. The insights of these different theoretical approaches are rarely brought together within the fields of either political economy or political theory. Eschewing economistic and naturalized conceptions, the framework I develop conceives economic practices as contingent, historical, and thoroughly social, which means that citizens are able not only to freely regulate and redesign existing economic practices, but also to create new ones. This framework therefore aims at mitigating economic injustice as well as expanding the scope of democracy. In this way, my arguments for politicizing the economic contribute to theories of radical democracy, which have tended to undertheorize and/or to devote relatively little explicit attention to economic practices. …

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