1996, 4th Biennial Conference, Barcelona

Culture and Economy: Conflicting Interests, Divided Loyalties

In today’s world, as markets expand, the idea of culture seems also to become increasingly popular and ubiquitous among scholars involved in planning and development. Markets and cultures are often held to evoke contradictory imperatives of social action. Cultural values are seen as conflicting with pragmatic reason, thus anthropological knowledge appears to be on a collision course with economic analysis. Yet economic practices and institutions are culturally constructed. The Fourth Biennial EASA Conference, in Barcelona, 12th-15th July, 1996, will have as its main theme the interrelations and confrontations between culture and economy in anthropological thought.

One area of theoretical concern of the Conference will be the relation between the notions of interest and social action. Interest has often been posited as existing outside the realm of culture, as an engine of individual action, at the same time subverting the boundaries of communities and nations, pursuing material goals, and using physical violence as one of its means. Yet interests are constructed in cultural terms, by collectivities as well as individuals, and stand in varied relationships to identities. What are the limits of interest? How does interest relate to guilt, sin and duty? Groups and nations may pursue conflicting interest – when, and in what way, can they be understood also to involve clashes between cultures? How do conflicting interest and cultural alignments work themselves out where loyalties are divided? How do interests defined in terms of gender identity inform socio-cultural processes?

The Conference will also focus on the relations between sentiments and material concerns. How do emotions relate to economic interest? Social power, hegemony and violence are all mediated by sentiment. Personal identity and the self are constructed in terms of sentiments and emotions; the body is the primary material vehicle of sentiments. Collective identities depend for their reproduction on the materialisation of sentiments – family ties, gender roles, kinship relations, alliance and marriage are all part of this. Sentiments are dependent on memory (collective and personal) and mnemonic devices: a focus will also be placed on the aesthetic aspects of sentiment as materialised in texts, rituals, and cultural emblems.

Shifts in economic power centres and regional configurations entail changes in the cultural map, nationally as well as transnationally. Emergent economic strata and interest groups develop their own cultural emblems. There are new cultural commodity flows and a changing cultural division of labour. Cultural diversity and hibridity increase locally with the influx of labour migrants and economic refugees. There are practices of cultural protection on the part of states, movements, and communities.

The distribution of knowledge in the world is also a question of a relationship between culture and economy, and of the power to advance one’s interests. Anthropological knowledge is subject to appropriation. In this context, the interest of the anthropologists themselves, engaged in the study of social groups that also have their own interest, will be examined.