By Russell Keat

Cultural goods and the limits of the market
Editions:Hardcover: € 143.00
ISBN: 978-0-333-69225-7
Pages: 220
ePub: € 110.00
ISBN: 978-0-230-59576-7

In Cultural Goods and the Limits of the Market, Russell Keat presents a theoretical challenge to recent extensions of the market domain and the introduction of commercially modeled forms of organization in areas such as broadcasting, the arts and academic research. Drawing on Walzer's pluralistic conception of social goods, and MacIntyre's account of social practices, he argues that cultural activities of this kind, and the institutions within which they are conducted, can best make their distinctive contributions to human well-being when protected from the damaging effects of an unbounded market.

About Russel Keat

Russel KeatRussell Keat is Emeritus Professor of Political Theory in the School of Social and Political Science at the University of Edinburgh. His recent research, on ethics and markets, has explored the ethical character of market institutions and of different kinds of capitalism. This followed on from earlier work about market boundaries, which examined the proper limits of the market domain and the implications of this for the provision of cultural goods.

Reviews:Peter Lindsay on American Political Science Review wrote:

"Keat’s general claim is not that the market is bereft of appeal, but simply that there are 'certain kinds of social activities and institutions which are appropriately governed by the market and others that are not.' [...] The strength of Keat’s argument is derived largely from his success at articulating the appeal of practices (for both producers and consumers). To the already converted, such articulation offers reassuring confirmation of what might be only intuitively understood. To the rest, it serves a more vital role of helping to broaden the support base for practices. [...] The argument has great force, in large part because Keat presents it with clear and coherent language. There are, however, a few problems here that should not go unmentioned, problems owing to the fact that this is not so much a book as a collection of essays on a theme. [...] Such problems are unfortunate, but they should not obscure the value of Keat’s contribution."

David Hesmondhalgh on International Journal of Cultural Policy wrote:

"Russell Keat is profoundly sceptical about markets yet he grounds his scepticism in a balanced and rigorous assessment of argument and evidence. One of the most valuable aspects of his book is that it locates questions about the dominance of the market in contemporary societies in a sophisticated set of deliberations about human well-being. His discussion, therefore, also pays close attention to debates about politics, citizenship, the environment, science and university teaching, as well as the specific contribution that cultural goods can make to our lives, drawing on a number of philosophical and sociological sources, perhaps the most significant of which is the neo-Aristotelian philosopher Alisdair Macintyre and his discussion of practices. [...] Keat’s book has been almost completely neglected in cultural policy studies, and in fields such as the political economy of culture, where questions of culture, economy and markets are central. Sadly, the book is available only for a princely sum in hardback. It just makes it into the top three million of Amazon’s list of all-time best-sellers. This then is a lost classic."

Fran Tonkiss on Contemporary Sociology wrote:

" This conceptual framework draws together Keat's writing in a range of contexts, treating variously on consumer sovereignty as a model for citizenship; consumption and environmental goods; markets and recognition; the practice of scientific research; market motives and competition; theories of the firm; market failure and common goods. His interest in the integrity of cultural practices and institutions is a unifying theme across the volume, but as Keat points out, there is a shift in his critical position over the essays gathered here. While the work from the early to mid-1990s contends that certain cultural practices are inconsistent with and undermined by market forms, the more recent arguments put this premise into question. Drawing on perspectives from institutional economics and economic sociology - and notably on the work of Robert Lane - Keat comes to see the relationship between markets and cultural practices as less clear cut and more undecided than his earlier analyses might suggest. The later discussions develop a more nuanced approach to cultural consumption, in contrast to the preceding critique of consumer sovereignty based on orthodox models of market behavior. Keat admits he finds these later arguments, where the criticism of markets is more qualified, less attractive even if more persuasive than some of his earlier positions. It is true that the recent work could read as a weary accommodation to market realities ('Making the best of the market,' as Keat titles this section), as much as a critical rethinking of market theories."

Table of Contents + Abstracts of Chapters


A striking development in Britain (and elsewhere) over the past 20 years or so has been the introduction of market or quasi-market principles and forms of organization into a wide range of institutions and social practices which had previously operated on quite different bases. I have in mind here not so much the privatization of publicly owned industries, but the radical reconstruction of a wide range of institutions which, although remaining within the public sector, have increasingly been required to operate in commercially-modeled ways. Amongst these have been local government, education and healthcare institutions, and also those which might broadly be termed cultural in character, including broadcasting, the various arts, academic research and so on. It is with these ‘cultural’ institutions that I shall primarily be concerned, though some of what I have to say may have wider application.

Keeping the Market at Bay

1. Consumer Sovereignty and the Integrity of Practices

A central feature of recent attempts to construct an ‘enterprise culture’ in Britain has been a series of institutional reforms designed to introduce market principles and commercially modelled forms of organization into a wide range of activities previously conducted upon different principles, and ‘protected’ by means such as public funding or subsidy from the forces operating in a free market economy. These extensions of the market have raised, in an often acute and practical form, an important set of theoretical issues about what kinds of activities are, and are not, appropriately governed by market mechanisms: about how, and upon what basis, the boundaries should be drawn between market and non-market domains.

2. Scepticism, Authority and the Market

This chapter explores some philosophical issues raised by debates about the desirability of protecting cultural practices from the effects of unregulated market forces. In particular, it considers the implications for these debates of the relationships between forms of social authority and epistemological theories (i.e., theories about whether, and in what ways, various kinds of knowledge-claims can be justified).

3. Citizens, Consumers and the Environment: Reflections on The Economy of the Earth

In The Economy of the Earth (1988) Mark Sagoff presents a sustained and deservedly influential attack on what I shall call the ‘economistic’ view of how decisions should be made about environmental issues, such as the protection of wilderness and landscapes, or of various species of plants or animals, the control of air and water pollution, and so on. This economistic approach does not consist of consigning such matters to the ‘decisions’ made by an unregulated market economy. Rather, it is espoused by those who recognize the frequent inability of markets to generate the ‘right’ decisions about the environment, but who none the less wish to deal with them by applying, in a suitably extended form, the conceptual framework of neo-classical economic theory to situations where the market itself fails to operate satisfactorily.

4. Colonization by the Market: Walzer on Recognition

Debates about the market amongst political theorists have mainly concerned its superiority or otherwise to the state as the primary means of economic organization. But even were the market to emerge victorious in this theoretical contest, there would remain a further set of issues to be addressed. These concern its proper scope or range of application: where, and on what grounds, are the lines to be drawn between those social practices that properly belong to the market domain, and those that do not? We may call this the question of ‘market boundaries’.

5. Science and Recognition

One may think of human societies as consisting, amongst other things, of various kinds of institutions through which equally varying kinds of human goods are produced. The question then arises of how these institutions manage to do this — by means of what devices and mechanisms, relying on what sorts of motivations and social relationships — and with what degrees of success. There is no reason to assume that the answers to these questions of ‘institutional design’ will be the same in every case: it might well be that different kinds of institutions are more or less successful for different kinds of goods.

Making the Best of the Market

6. Markets, Firms and Practices

Is it possible for economic production conducted in a market system to possess the character of a practice, as MacIntyre defines this concept in After Virtue? Clearly, MacIntyre himself thinks not. I shall argue that there are reasons for doubting this judgement, and hence for a more optimistic view of the possible relations between markets and practices.

7. Consumer-Friendly Production or Producer-Friendly Consumption?

At a time when political parties compete as the champions of consumers against producers, when consumer-friendliness is seen as the chief virtue of any product and cultural theorists celebrate the displacement of production by consumption as the basis of self-identity, it is refreshing to find such an intellectually vigorous challenge to all this in The Market Experience. Through a painstaking analysis of the empirical evidence, Robert Lane argues that, at least potentially, the contributions to people’s well-being from engagement in the processes of production are much greater than those deriving from its outputs: the acquisition of income and its deployment in consumption. But if this is so, he suggests, it points to a fundamental defect in the market. Market economies, he argues, are consumer economies: they tend inherently to prioritize consumer-satisfactions over producer-satisfactions. In doing so they sacrifice greater goods for lesser ones.

8. Justifying the Market and Its Limitation

If one wishes to argue that there are certain activities which should be excluded, or at least protected, from the market, whilst by no means wishing to dispense with this altogether, one must clearly avoid using arguments which would actually imply its total rejection. For example, if one argues that cultural institutions should be protected from the market because of the damaging effects upon them of ‘consumer sovereignty’, one must show why it is that such damage is not done in (all) other cases, or at least that in these it matters much less. Arguments for market boundaries must be such that something remains to be bounded.