The Politics of Economic Activity. An Analytical Framework


The approach presented below builds upon, but also departs from, a wealth of literature on the economic and how it is structured by institutions. As we saw in chapter 1, particular emphasis has rightly been placed by many other authors upon the role played by these stabilized rules, norms, and conventions within markets, public policies, and interest representation. However, this literature also features a number of weaknesses, many of which stem from underspecification of ‘the politics of institutions’—a term constantly evoked but rarely used as an analytical tool. The challenge is therefore to build an alternative approach to studying the institutions that structure economic activity assembled around a definition of politics that is precise, heuristic, and capable of guiding rigorous empirical research.

Drawing heavily upon constructivist and sociological approaches to political science (Jobert & Muller, 1987; Abdelal, Blyth & Parsons, 2010; Hay, 2015), as well as lengthy collaborations with industrial economists (Jullien & Smith, 2008a, 2011 & 2014), this chapter sets out a generic approach to the governing of economic activities designed to equip research with theory- driven acceptance of both the economic and politics. Above all, the aim is to define a precise line of questioning which coherently and consistently melds these definitions together. Upon this solid base, I then present a central hypothesis concerning what constitutes the politics of this government. Finally, by developing the concept of ‘political work’, causal claims will progressively be developed. In so doing, the approach to economic activity outlined in the introduction to this book will be fleshed out by presenting more fully the following definition of politics: the mobilization or suppression of values to change or reproduce institutions. Throughout, empirical illustrations from research on the politics of the whisky industry will be repeatedly mobilized (Smith, 2009, 2010b). Beyond the necessarily brief empirical data presented here, the first objective of providing concrete examples from a relatively accessible area of economic activity is to begin familiarizing the reader with my analytical framework. The more fundamental aim, however, is to promote the very way of thinking about the politics-economics nexus that my framework advocates in this chapter, before being applied more fully to other empirical cases in those that follow.

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