Selections from Timothy Mitchell, Fixing the Economy (Cultural Studies 12(1) 1998, p. 82-101)

These are a collection of quotes used in teaching this piece to Strategy students. The cultural studies take on the economy as a representation is a provocative one - EE

"Thus the development of the economy as a discursive object between the 1930s and the 1950s provided a new language in which the nation-state could speak for itself and imagine its existence as something natural, bounded and subject to political management." (91)

"Once economic discourse took as its object the fixed space of the nation-state - coinciding with the crisis of over-production and stagnation in the 1930s - it became possible and necessary to imagine economic growth in new terms, not as material and spatial extension but as the internal intensification of the totality of relations defining the economy as an object." (91)

"The power of the economy as a discursive process lies exactly with fixing this effect of the real (economy) versus its representation. The proliferation of models, statistics, plans and programmes of economic discourse all claim to represent the different elements and relationships of a real object, the national economy. Yet this object, as one could show at length, is itself constituted as a discursive process, a phenomenon of values, representations, communications, meanings, goals and uses, none of which can be separated from or said to pre-exist their representation in economic discourse." (92)
"No whole or totality can be represented without somehow fixing its exterior. To create the economy meant also to create the noneconomic." (92)

"Two aspects of what came to be excluded as standing outside the sphere of the economy deserve to be mentioned: the state and the household. The state presents itself as the site of the modes of planning and regulation that take the economy as their object. It is also the apparatus principally responsible for constructing representations of the economy, by defining, gathering and publishing economic data. In the form of the nation-state, this same apparatus establishes the spatial boundaries of the economy, creating the currency, the customs barriers and geographical borders that appear to separate one economy from the next. For all these reasons it seems clear that the state stands outside the economy, defining, representing and regulating the entire field of economic relations. Indeed, without these forms of regulation and representation, as one could demonstrate at some length, the economy would not exist." (92)

"The household marks another boundary of the economy, the one where monetary relations cease and the private or family sphere begins. Yet this boundary is as uncertain as that represented by the state. In the first place, the functioning of the economy depends on 'externalizing' the costs of reproducing the labour force, by having domestic labour performed without pay. What is organized and represented as external and secondary is actually central to the continued existence of the monetary economy. This dependence underlies a more general phenomenon. The conception and arrangement of the economy as a self contained sphere requires from the beginning, and at every point, in every interaction and exchange, the maintaining of a difference between the monetary and non-monetary, the economic and the personal, the public and the private. This process of differentiation, very fuzzy and uncertain in its details, precedes and makes possible the effect of the economy as a self-contained sphere. In this broader sense, then, what is depicted as the non-economic is implicated at every point in the creation of the economy." (93)

"Under the 'izba system, those who are employed on the large farms do not form an uprooted proletariat, fully integrated into the capitalist economy. Because they sustain and reproduce their lives outside the capitalist sector, they escape the economic discipline and regulation that govern the lives of a capitalist workforce. So the large landowners have to substitute 'non-economic' methods of integrating and regulating the peasantry. They employ political means - the direct coercive control exercised by those who supply and supervise the gangs of wage labourers - but also social and cultural means." (95)

"Numerous other examples could be described that show the difficulty of drawing a distinction between the market sector and the household sector. To put this in the context of our earlier discussion, in B'erat one would find it difficult to determine where the economy ends and the household begins. The economy has no distinct edge. Within the village, the national and transnational discursive regime that attempts to establish the economy as a self-contained sphere and to organize its development seems to lose its definition."(98)

"Moreover, the neat categorizations with which this ambiguity is overlooked tend to reiterate the ordered discourse of capitalism itself. This kind of analysis, in other words, is unintentionally complicitous with the discursive order of capital, with its attempt to establish the economy as a distinct, self-contained sphere - a sphere in whose construction the cultural, the traditional, the personal, supposedly play no part, except by their exclusion." (98)

"...even today, a century or more after the global consolidation of the capitalist order, half a century or more after the invention of the economy, a majority of people live hybrid lives, neither market nor subsistence, neither capital nor labour, neither within the national economy nor quite outside it, escaping the fixed categories of economic discourse. The undetermined identities of those whose lives place them at the edge of the economy represent neither a non-economic exterior, nor a temporary contradiction destined to resolve itself." (99)

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