On the Social (dis)Embedding of the Economy: Where Anthropology and Sociology Meet, Listen, and Talk to Each Other.

Tuesday, 17 July 2018: 16:15
Oral Presentation
Simone GHEZZI, Università di Milano Bicocca, Italy
In Fragmented Societies Enzo Mingione was one of the first sociologists to critically revisit the Polanyian concept of embeddedness after Granovetter’s seminal essays of the 1980s. He called for an attentive analysis of the market and the reconceptualization of the term embeddedness in order to deconstruct the influential idea of the market as a separate system from social conditioning, as well as an encompassing and dominant structuring force in social life. This is not only an ethnocentric conception of the market paradigm, widely accepted in sociological tradition, but also fictitious. To begin with, the market, constrained by in its own logic of competitiveness, cannot endure self-regulating patterns and atomized individuals without causing social tensions; moreover, within alleged competitive social relations we continuously observe the formation of market exchange relations concealing non-economic behaviour (friendship, affinity, reciprocity and so forth) which contradicts both the idea of competitiveness and that of atomized decision making. This theoretical debate about the abstractedness of the economy fits perfectly with the anthropological inclination of calling into question the reification of the market, through empirical research. Polanyi’s perspective, for example, was influential in shaping economic anthropological thinking several decades ago (i.e. the substantive and formalist debate), but most of the research was carried out in marginal or non-Western societies. The renewed interest in the concept of embeddedness among current economic sociologists, as I will argue, has contributed to resume such anthropological debate, this time with reference to global capitalism and post-Fordist societies. Thus, my argument is that anthropology through ethnographic investigation may collaborate fruitfully with sociology to provide a ‘thick’ description of the social embeddedness of the economy by bringing into the framework the importance of culture and of the production of meaning stemming not from innate market behaviour but from power struggles.