Don Slater
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Markets, materiality and the ‘new economy’

The contemporary 'cultural turn' in thinking about economic processes has been deeply bound up with narratives of 'dematerialisation'. This chapter argues that characterisations of 'new economy' are based on the idea of dematerialisation are problematic because the distinction on which they are based misrepresents the issue of materiality. 'Dematerialisation', however, rests on a dubious distinction that has plagued much social theory: the distinction between objects and signs. This distinction equates 'materiality' with the physicality, or physical properties, of goods and social objects. In both economic and cultural theory, the social object oscillates wildly between an absolute, pregiven 'thingness' and an equally absolute indeterminacy, when it is treated as a sign. It is as if objects have to be 'black boxed' for fear that, once opened, they will behave like a Pandora's box, issuing formless spectres. Economic analysis categorisation provides a stable framework within which market analyses can be carried out.

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