Bored with IPE? Try "Cultural Political Economy"

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in at 5/14/2008 01:56:00 AM
(NOTE: This is the first of today's three features on economic geography.) One of the things that never fails to amaze me is the infinite number of offshoots IPE has as field of study. Call it a sign of maturity as an academic discipline--or call it marketing, which would be my take on it. As with virtually all things, academics is subject to marketing. One day you can brand yourself a globalization enthusiast, the next day an anti-globalization sceptic. It's so, how should I put it, Clintonian. If it helps sell books and attracts students (in academia), wins votes (in politics), or moves product (in business), then it smacks of marketing to me. No ifs, no buts.

Anyway, that introduction leads me to an article I found that was mentioned elsewhere regarding, get this, "cultural political economy." Mix one part IPE and another part cultural studies. Stir. Now I've heard of global political economy, regional political economy, critical political economy, but now "cultural political economy"? Since the authors of the article include the redoubtable Bob Jessop, it certainly merits attention. As you would expect of an article appearing in the geography journal Geoforum, it is rather leftist in terms of outlook. This particular article has Marxist leanings. Here is the abstract:
This article explores the implications of making the cultural turn in the engagement of economic and political geography with issues of political economy. It seeks to steer a path between a fetishistic, reified economics that naturalizes economic categories and a soft economic sociology that focuses on the similarities between economic and other socio-cultural activities at the expense of the specificity of the economic. We show how combining critical semiotic analysis with an evolutionary and institutional approach to political economy offers one interesting way to achieve this goal. An evolutionary and institutional approach to semiosis enables us to recognize the semiotic dimensions of political economy at the same time as establishing how and why only some economic imaginaries among the many that circulate actually come to be selected and institutionalized; and Marxian political economy enables us to identify the contradictions and conflicts that make capital accumulation inherently improbable and crisis-prone, creating the space for economic imaginaries to play a role in stabilizing accumulation in specific spatio-temporal fixes and/or pointing the way forward from recurrent crises. The paper illustrates these arguments with a case study on the Flemish ‘anchoring strategy’ as a specific regional economic development strategy. It concludes with a set of guidelines for the further development of cultural political economy.
Meanwhile, some suggestions for this "cultural political economy" include the following from p. 1167. Despite coming to the study of political economy from a different point of view, I really don't have much quibble with this set of suggestions. For cultural studies to better inform political economy, it needs to

1. engage with economics as discipline and not just with a preferred theorist or theorists;
2. address the concrete complexities of economic life, relations and discourses and not just treat theory as an adequate description of economic contexts;
3. get involved in collaborative work across disciplines rather than retreat into its own disciplinary boundaries; and
4. not unreflectively privilege forms of academic knowledge and knowledge production.

We would respond that political economy should follow the same recommendations. Thus scholars of political economy should

1. engage with cultural studies as a whole and not just with one preferred theorist or school;
2. address the complexities of semiosis and explore the discursive and material mechanisms that shape the manner and extent to which ‘ideas matter’ in political economy rather than merely asserting that they do and/or illustrating this with simple narrative accounts;
3. commit themselves to trans-disciplinary interaction or, better, sui generis post-disciplinary research rather than mechanically additive ‘multi-disciplinary’ team work; and
4. not unreflectively privilege forms of academic knowledge and knowledge production but examine in particular common sense economic imaginaries and actually existing struggles over their selection and retention.