Working Paper 81

Trade's Reason

Stephen Gudeman

Department ‘Resilience and Transformation in Eurasia’

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Working Paper 81

Why is calculative reason so dominant in high market societies? Is it an inherent tendency that is manifested in all economies both ethnographic and historical, or is it culturally produced? If it is a cultural practice, how do we explain it? In this essay, I argue that calculative reason expands through competitive trade. It becomes prominent not through changes in beliefs and ideologies, economic scarcity, or the influence of economic theories but by the practice of impersonal exchange. Even if competitive trade is interwoven with social and personal ties, it induces calculated selection, which reverberates across other trades, cascades into the realm of mutuality, and becomes a satisfying practice itself. Taking on a life of its own, calculative reason is reified as the rational actor, although its subjective entrenchment varies by market, context and individual. As this practice expands, space for the expression of other forms of reason, other modes of allocation and ties of mutuality narrows.

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