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Historical perspectives on markets and development


Markets have existed for millennia, but a society organized largely—though, never exclusively— around markets is only three centuries old. One of the cultural conditions of existence of a “market society” is developmentalism— i.e. the belief that there are unending possibilities to “improving” economic life. Markets derive their legitimacy from the claim that they work better than any other institution at enabling expanded production and consumption of more and better commodities. However, “development” remains a vexed philosophical notion, which has deep implications for political choices any society makes—e.g. the rising clamour of the “degrowth” campaign in the wake of heightened awareness and concerns about climate change).

Historicizing markets requires us to recognize a) that all societies rely, to varying degrees, on market and non-market institutions (government, community, civil society associations etc.) for production, distribution and consumption of goods and services, and b) that specific political, economic and cultural conditions of existence (property rights, contract enforcement, law and order, trust, belief system, economic and political rights etc.) must exist for markets to emerge in a society. In short, markets are neither universal nor permanent social institutions and they are not self-reproducing, self-regulating and self-stabilizing. Hence, markets must be understood in terms of processes of their social reproduction—cultural representations, political articulations and economic transactions. Throughout history, markets have seen rises and falls in specific spheres of the economy. A historical approach to markets is thus integral to history of societies. 

We invite studies—both theoretical and empirical—which contribute to historical understandings of the processes of (contingent) reproduction of markets as social institutions and their “framing” as privileged institutions of development. Specifically, we welcome studies that connect markets to economic inequalities, distribution of property, gender norms, social discrimination, human-nature interactions, local or global politics, discursive interventions, epistemes and doxas etc.

Queries related to this track may be addressed to Dr. Rajesh Bhattacharya: rb@iimcal.ac.in