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Towards A Social Ontology of Market Systems

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Drinks from 19:30

Academic analyses of market systems are deeply divided. While economists tend to neglect the personal and sociological factors that shape the behaviour of market actors, sociologists tend to discount the possibility of a systematic analysis of the consequences of market interactions. Economists thus end up with unrealistic models of markets, and sociologists end up unable to explain the economic impact of markets. This paper outlines a project that aims to produce an analysis of markets that is both sociologically realistic and capable of explaining economic effects. The project will construct a realistic ontological analysis of market systems, developed using a critical realist methodology. Market systems, it will argue, are social structures that depend ontologically upon both human individuals and a number of normative institutions. These institutions tend to produce coordinated interactions between market actors, and these interactions underpin mechanisms that endow market systems with emergent causal powers. Different types of interactions underpin different market mechanisms, including mechanisms like those theorised by mainstream economists, but also others that they tend to neglect, and an adequate understanding of real-world markets depends on analysing these multiple mechanisms and how they interact. This will be a theoretical project in economic sociology, drawing on existing empirical work without conducting new empirical research. It will be focussed primarily on contemporary product markets in advanced capitalist economies, while selected historical and alternative contemporary models will be considered more briefly to illustrate both the historical specificity of the dominant contemporary model and the possibility of alternative types of market system.

This talk is part of the Cambridge Realist Workshop series.

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