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Enriching Exchange: Cultural Dimensions of Markets

Lyn Spillman
The American Journal of Economics and Sociology
Vol. 58, No. 4 (Oct., 1999), pp. 1047-1071
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3488020
Page Count: 25
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Since scans are not currently available to screen readers, please contact JSTOR User Support for access. We'll provide a PDF copy for your screen reader.
Enriching Exchange: Cultural Dimensions of Markets
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Abstract

As economic sociologists have been arguing for some time, markets are not to be abstractly opposed to other social relations but rather to be understood as embedded in them, and indeed subject to the same kinds of analysis as other social relations. However, many accounts of embeddedness explain it in structural terms and still operate with an impoverished notion of culture. On the other hand, relatively few cultural sociologists have considered cultural dimensions of economic action. I first argue that there is a rich agenda for cultural investigation which has yet to be fully exploited in economic sociology, and fascinating work on economic embeddedness which could be enriched with more culturally oriented analysis and research. I go on to distinguish three issues on this agenda which are more often collapsed, arguing that the meaning of markets should be investigated in terms of the cultural construction of objects of market exchange, the cultural construction of parties to market exchange, and the cultural construction of norms of exchange. Distinguishing these three dimensions of market culture is productive because it links apparently disparate types of investigation and allows more precisely specified questions about their relations. Finally, I suggest that norms of market exchange are drawn from a richer symbolic repertoire than is usually imagined: reciprocity and redistribution, as well as market norms, are likely to be important as norms of mundane market action.

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