Markets, Models and Morality The Power of Practices
Markets have long been of interest to economists, for according to most arguments only through the competitive transactions that take place in markets can allocative efficiency in production and distribution be reached. Markets allow choice to be exercised, rationality to be displayed and personal goals to be optimised. But markets not only possess attributes worthy of theoretical speculation, they are important in material life and have provided a host of metaphors affirming the importance of political freedom. Anthopologists, however, have been wary, if not ambivalent, about the study of markets. Some apply market models in the belief that this illuminates ethnographic data everywhere ( Plattner 1989a, 1989b); others, such as Marxists, avoid focusing on markets for theoretical reasons; a number of anthropologists stay clear of the subject out of respect for the technical proficiency of economists. Only rarely have anthropologists used their own techniques and theories in the analysis of markets ( Bohannan and Dalton 1965; Geertz 1979; Gell 1982; Malinowski and de la Fuente 1982). The essays of this volume, by starting with ethnographic observations and human practices, mark a fresh step in research on markets: they reinsert anthropology into the study of one of the world's central institutions and offer valuable insights into market-place behaviour.
Many of the essays' themes revolve about models of the market, and I shall explore three of the issues that are raised -- specifically, the form of models, the link between models and morality, and the connection between rationality and practices. Elsewhere I have suggested that two model types might be distinguished: the universal and the local ( Gudeman 1986; Gudeman and Penn 1982). This polarity, however, may be viewed epistemologically, for the model types are linked to different ways of putting knowledge into practice and practice into knowledge. For its part, universal knowledge is axiomatic and deductive (Euclidean theorems being a good example); it features central assumptions, modes of deduction and inferences. Universal knowledge is said to be timeless, because it reaches towards the fundamentals of human thought and behaviour, and is claimed to be global in reach. Yet, it is open to correction and amplification through procedures of verification or falsification. Universal knowledge is closely linked to rational thought, defined either as the use of consistent criteria in choice or the considered selection of means to reach established