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Market Boundaries

These papers explore the possible grounds for regarding the market as an unsuitable framework for certain kinds of social practice, and hence for their exclusion or protection from the market domain. The focus is mainly on activities of a cultural character, such as broadcasting, the arts, and academic research. Unlike much discussion of market limits in social and political philosophy, the emphasis is on the impact of markets on the conduct of production, rather than on the nature of market exchange.

The immediate political context for this research was the radical programme of institutional reform initiated by governments in the UK (and elsewhere) during the 1980s. This included significant extensions of the market domain, and the promotion of commercially modelled forms of organisation in previously non-commercial institutions.

The implications of these changes were explored in interdisciplinary research projects organised by the Centre for the Study of Cultural Values at Lancaster University. My work on market boundaries was initially carried out as part of these projects, some outcomes of which were published in two collections co-edited with Nick Abercrombie and Nigel Whiteley: Enterprise Culture (Routledge 1991; reissued by Routledge Revivals 2012) and The Authority of the Consumer (Routledge 1994). My contributions to these, along with several later papers, were brought together in Cultural Goods and the Limits of the Market (Palgrave Macmillan 2000). I have returned to these issues in some recent papers.

Full bibliographical information is provided in the initial footnote of each paper, and this should be used in any citations.



Consumer Sovereignty and the Integrity of Practices 1990
This paper presents a case for protecting cultural institutions from the market by drawing on Alasdair MacIntyre's conception of social practices, with their own internal goods and standards of excellence. It argues that an especially problematic feature of markets is ‘the sovereignty of consumers’, since consumer judgments may not be based on the same criteria as those employed by cultural practitioners, who may thus have to choose between maintaining the integrity of the practice and securing its material resources.


The Moral Boundaries of the Market 1993
This develops a theoretical framework for thinking about market boundaries, starting from Michael Walzer’s account of the separation of spheres and the risk of market domination. It explores the relationship between Walzer, Marx and Hegel, distinguishes goods-based from justice-based arguments for boundaries, and argues that the protection of various goods from the market requires attention to the conditions of their production rather than their exchange.


Scepticism, Authority and the Market 1994
This paper defends arguments for the protection of cultural practices from the market against the charge of elitism. Distinguishing ‘elitism of access’ from ‘elitism of judgment’, it explores how anti-elitism of the latter kind is supported by scepticism about values, and criticises justifications for the market that appeal to such scepticism. It argues that while the kind of epistemically based authority required by cultural practices implies the rejection of scepticism, such authority is not only compatible with, but conducive to, the autonomy of individuals.


Citizens, Consumers and the Environment 1994
In The Economy of the Earth, Mark Sagoff argues that the basic error in using cost-benefit analysis to make environmental decisions is that it requires people to think and act in their role as consumers, rather than as citizens. In response, is argued that what should also be recognised is that when deliberating and acting as citizens, people must consider the value both of the environment and of consumption, and make collective decisions about the priority to be given to these common goods when they conflict.


Values and Preferences in Neo-Classical Environmental Economics 1997
This paper explores theoretical problems in the use of cost-benefit analysis for environmental decision-making, arising from defects in the neo-classical concept of preferences. It argues that preferences depend on judgments, and that people’s judgments about their own well-being must be distinguished from their ethical judgments about the ‘existence value’ or ‘rights’ of non-human species. Failure to recognise this leads to illegitimate applications of market-modelled criteria to environmental decisions.


Delivering the Goods: Socialism, Liberalism and the Market 1997
This paper explores the relationships between goods-based arguments for market boundaries and wider debates and traditions in political theory. It argues that ‘classical’ justifications for the market, with their focus on human well-being, are more amenable to arguments for non-market provision than ‘liberal’ justifications that focus on contractual exchange, and criticises contemporary neutralist liberalism for excluding the substantive concerns about markets and goods that have been central to socialist and conservative traditions of political thought.


Colonisation by the Market: Walzer on Recognition 1997
Taking up Michael Walzer’s comment that colonisation (or domination) may result from an ‘illicit transfer of meanings’ from one sphere to another, it is argued that his own account of ‘modern’ recognition provides a possible example of this, with its subjective and competitive nature apparently being modelled on features of the market domain. This modern form of recognition, it is suggested, threatens the integrity of social practices such as scientific enquiry which require an objective, non-competitive mode of recognition. [See Science and Recognition (PDF) for a development of this argument]


Market Boundaries and the Commodification of Culture 1999
This paper argues that the protection of cultural practices from the market can be justified by showing how this enhances the ability of markets themselves to contribute to human well-being. The argument is developed through an analysis of how the value of certain kinds of consumer goods is realised outwith the economy, through their use in various social practices, and of how non-market cultural practices enable judgments to be made about the possible benefits of consumer goods.


Market Boundaries and Human Goods 2000
This paper argues that the protection of cultural practices from the market can be justified by showing how this enhances the ability of markets themselves to contribute to human well-being. The argument is developed through an analysis of how the value of certain kinds of consumer goods is realised outwith the economy, through their use in various social practices, and of how non-market cultural practices enable judgments to be made about the possible benefits of consumer goods.


Science and Recognition 2000
Through a critical commentary on sociological analyses of the organisation of modern science, this paper explores generic problems in the institutional design of social practices, giving particular attention to the nature and role of recognition. It argues for the importance of recognition in the form both of ‘moral acknowledgment’ and of ‘epistemic confirmation’, and also points to the damaging effects of the direct and competitive pursuit of recognition, and hence to the dangers posed to science and other practices by market-modelled institutional changes.


Political Philosophy and Public Service Broadcasting 2012
This paper examines possible justifications for public service broadcasting (PSB) in relation to debates in political philosophy about the proper grounds for state action. It argues that the nature of such justifications differs significantly between different kinds of programmes (News, Arts, Soap Opera); that the neutralist liberal exclusion of ethical purposes as grounds for state action unduly limits the legitimate scope of PSB, and that the concept of market failure in neo-classical welfare economies provides an inadequate basis for the justification of PSB.


Bringing Ethics Back In: Cultural Production as a Practice 2012
This paper argues for the importance of specifically ethical concepts in the understanding and critical evaluation of cultural production and its institutional requirements. In doing so it re-visits my earlier use MacIntyre’s concept of practices, with its focus on the kinds of goods promoted by different organisational forms, in the light of more recent work on varieties of capitalism and their implications for the commerce-culture relationship, and of broader issues about the ethical value of cultural production as a practice.


Contact Russell at: russell.keat@ed.ac.uk