1999-2000 Pembroke Seminar

The Culture of the Market
Ellen Rooney, Professor of Modern Culture & Media and English

The Center’s theme for 1999-2000 is “The Culture of the Market.” The collapse of the socialist economies that offered themselves as alternatives to capitalism’s market economies and the advent of “globalization” as the dominant paradigm for thinking both economies and societies have effectively placed the “market” at the center of contemporary discourses on politics, culture, and social life. The triumph of the free market is celebrated well beyond the precincts of strictly economic exchange or financial calculation. Civic life increasingly conforms to market assumptions; the public sphere shrinks as its functions are privatized and assigned economic values; and the metaphor of the marketplace is at work in every realm of public discussion: family life, education, politics, the arts, civil society in general.

The seminar will consider the complex interplay between the culture of the market and the market as a form of culture. We will examine the forms of “culture” that market economies and assumptions underwrite, such as the opposition between high and low culture; the commodification of culture in the arts, the media, and personal life; the uneasy relation of the public to the private; the popular narrative of competition. But we will also take up the question of the market as culture, economic life as a fundamental form of culture. How do markets function as cultural practices? How does culture make a market? Where does cultural difference emerge within the paradigm of the market itself? How do markets produce difference?

These topics open onto a wide range of disciplines and historical issues. The questions that the seminar will take up may include the history of the market and the development of capitalism, the commodity form, and the problematic of exchange. What is the relationship between urban life, the market town, and the evolution of capital? How are the market and capital bound up with modernity as such? How do forms of exchange structure markets, and how is the history of money implicated in this process and in the development of market culture(s)? What is the dominant definition of a market? How is that definition complicated by the variety of markets: free markets, mass markets, monopolies, black markets, marriage markets, labor markets, art markets, stock markets, controlled markets? How is it shaped by terms and practices that emerge as the other of the market: tradition, the family, the state, aesthetics, the university? How do these terms vary across historical periods and national differences, and how do they emerge in the course of cross-cultural economic conflict?

Discussions may focus on the market as the engine of the culture industry and on the development of mass culture, as well as on the resistance of certain aesthetic practices to the market and its metaphors. How does the culture of the market structure the discourses of free speech, intellectual property, originality, and copyright? What is the rhetoric of the market? How do its narratives emerge in other cultural idioms? How have women been written into the logic of the market, as consumers and as commodities, objects of exchange? What does it mean to speak of the “femininity” of the commodity or mass culture? More generally, how are the idioms of economic analysis proper -- of the market as a force in the economics of the family, of the service economy, of consumer society -- embedded in cultural assumptions that are not derived from market paradigms? How does the market define the public sphere, and how does public culture redefine the market? How is the figure of homoeconomicus culturally produced and reproduced?