Contesting Markets: Analyses of Ideology, Discourse and Practice

By Roy Dilly | Go to book overview

Hayek and the neo-liberals, to their credit, tried to set the ball rolling in the opposite direction with their concern for knowledge and beliefs. Indeed they put market theory back at the centre of social theory by claiming that markets offer the most perfect form for realising human freedom and social integration. Though they did not use the terms of our debates, Hayek and his followers effectively put economics and culture back together. 15

Unfortunately they did so while attempting to retain the notion of 'the economic' as a distinct sphere of activity. As I hope to have shown this attachment to the 'economic' and consequent blindness to the forms in which social power is enshrined, and to the range of motives at play in real-life markets, scupper the best efforts of bourgeois economics to account for real-life market behaviour. Perhaps this should hardly surprise us. Western folk models of the economy were, as Agnew argues, devised either as an 'ideological solution to the cultural confusions produced by the spread of market exchange' or as an attempt at the level of ideas to conceive the sort of market predictability that institutions such as the Royal Exchange were meant to establish in practice ( 1986: 2-6). There is thus little reason to try to apply these schema outside their original contexts. Our tasks should rather be to understand those schema, in their own context and to make the leap of imagination necessary to grasp other people's trading activity in its own terms.

Gudeman recommended that anthropological economics ought to study divergent models of production and distribution ( 1986). When we do so, he argues, there will be no simple relation between material practice and ideal model. I hope to have illustrated his argument in relation to an area of livelihood, haggled exchanges, which he passes over in that work. I do not, however, want to suggest that model and practice are only arbitrarily linked. So, by way of closing, I would ask whether the kind of active, entrepreneurial model of trade and exchange which the Gypsies adhere to might be related to their position on the underbelly of Hungarian society. Field reports of entrepreneurial activity seem to derive from lumpen groups in the slums and ghettos of semi-industrial societies ( Hart 1975: Pardo n. d.). These people lack the organisational power to establish associations and firms with which they could, like the rest of us, restrict 'market processes'. Could it be that the true bearers of the capitalist spirit, ever willing to act on an entrepreneurial hunch, are those excluded from the capitalist system in almost every other respect?


NOTES
1.
I was, for instance, told that under normal conditions the price of a top-quality horse was the same as that of two hectolitres of home-made wine sold at the house. This equivalence had been maintained over the lifespan of my peasant informants (some sixty years) with divergences especially during the 1950s when livestock fairs were suppressed by the communist authorities.

The horse-markets were also integrated to some extent with the world economy, at least at their extremes, because of the sale of horses via the state export agency to western European countries for horse-meat. Gypsies were the prime movers in this trade as well and I often saw horses removed from the Hungarian fair circuit in order to be more profitably sold on the meat market.

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