"Economic economy" and "symbolic economy"

In analyzing the economy as "immediate" reality (non-symbolic interpreted) M. Foucault introduced the term "economic economy" which refers to the more descriptive aspects, ascertaining. There are different models of analysis of man in relation to the assumed "perspective." Essential is the need to consider partial use them together. "This overlapping of several models is not, however, a faulty method. We are in the presence of a defect method only when models are not ordered and explicitly articulated between them."[1]

In this sense, Foucault presents two analytical models of the economy (and other areas of human activity): a) from the perspective of "sciences about human" and b) in terms of "human science." As a science of man, economics could be considered as a science "of production and distribution of wealth." As a human science, economy has a different foundation: the representation.

As a science of man, the economy has a number of "positive" direct references to work, production, distribution, etc. "Really work, i.e. economic activity,* appeared in the history on the day when people saw that are too numerous to be able to feed only with wild fruits of the earth (...). Survival becoming more difficult, threat of death becoming more pressing as food becomes more difficult to obtain, work, inversely proportional, had to increase in intensity and use all possible means to become as productive (...). The economy no longer finds the principle of internal representation in games, but on the side of the dangerous areas where life struggling with death (...). Homo aeconomicus is not the one who represents his own needs and objects that are able to satisfy, but the one who spends, consumes, and loses in the end his life trying to escape the immanence of death."[2]

The more important the (theoretical and practical) perspective is, the more it brings an understanding of economics as human science. "Indeed, the social sciences address the man only when he lives, speaks and does things (...). Thus the based science of man can be located in the vicinity, near the border and throughout the development of this science is about life, work and language (... ) its subject human sciences begins where the action does not cease or effects but their very way of being this operation, where representations are emerging *-true or false, clear or muddy, fully aware or who knows the depths of which somnolence (...). Likewise, man is nothing if not the only species on earth that works, then at least only for the production, distribution and consumption of goods have assumed such importance and have put so many forms and differentiated (...) will not be, about science of man than if the question will address the way the individuals and groups representing their production and trading partners, how they find, ignore or conceal the operation and position they occupy within it, how they represent their company in which this operation takes place and how they are integrated, isolated, dependent subservient to or free in this society."[3] Referring to the representation leads us directly to the issue of symbolic economy.

Symbolic economy gives us the sense of human discipline in that, unlike the economy about man, describing his outside (the "observer") the real life of human, human economy deals with problems of "inside" the processes and interprets economic life as it is created, as people are creating. Representation can get different shapes. In the early stages of social life, when the man practice a "predatory economy" in the sense that only consume what nature created, his concerns to "produce" basic needs were deeply symbolic. In the face of forces of nature, man felt weak and threatened (animals, natural phenomena, other tribes) "primitive man often live in conditions close to those of hunger (...). The element of risk gave the search for food a considerable importance (... ) dangers and hunger have never ceased to be present in people's minds."[4]

So magic is born, which creates an entire symbolism about world, work, social relationships etc. Myths and symbolism gave life a whole fantastic coloring, things become "alive," animals acquire supernatural ways, even fundamental details of the world are full of special significance. "For secular experience, space is (... ) uniform and neutral (...). For religious man, space is not homogeneous, it presents fractures, faults, and there are portions of space qualitatively different from the other. "Stay away up here!" God tells Moses, "Take off your sandals because where you're standing in front of me is holy ground."[5]

For the "primitive" man the space is populated with various spirits the "traditional society man could live only in an 'open' to high level in which the rupture was symbolic ensured and in which communication with other world * the "transcendental" world was possible through ritual." Magic was a "practice" to "dominate" "supernatural" forces because it expresses primarily a world view. Meteorites were "loaded" with magic and sacred forces "from above" and this cosmogony was based on "practical metallurgy" and melting metals. "The cosmic origin of metals gave them, naturally, numerous magic virtues. Metals - whether it came from the heaven (from the meteor) or that were found within the earth - were imbued with magical forces. Therefore, not everyone can work with them. The metallurgical rituals (...) had a well-defined magic function."[6]

What we call today "metallurgical production" was first a symbolic practice. "Metallurgy was, therefore, everywhere a sacred art."[7] On hunting, the "primitive" man does not fight with the natural strength of the animals but with supernatural forces, told through myths and legends. Therefore, to succeed the man made a whole ritual practice (dance, drawings, masks, songs, stories) to gain strength and goodwill of good "spirits." And the trees are bearers of supernatural forces, so that the woodworking involves goodwill "spirit" to cut the tree and submission of "painful" actions on the wood.

Behold, at the origin of economic life is that "representation" of which Foucault spoke. And the animals are fighting each other to procure food, but only one is creating a representation of the activities and conducted during the hunt after his representation of animal. Totems can show human kinship with some animals. Some animals cannot be eaten because they are not "pure," others cannot be killed because they are "sacred" (cow for the Indians). Symbolic dimension ("representation") of the economy has generated a type of economy designed and built essentially on the production and symbolic exchange. We refer to what has been termed the phrase "economy of symbolic goods."

Symbolic dimension of the economy was characterized by experts as a production, circulation and consumption of values. In this context, the "rules of use which, apparently, are driven, oriented to object and pleasure meet, in fact, a different finality: to produce through differentiated signs, a social code of values. Not the individual interest function for an object is therefore crucial, but the social function of communication, exchange and distribution of values through a body of evidence. The consumption is not based on purchase satisfaction function; its function is to produce and therefore, as in the case of the material production is not individual but directly and totally collective."[8]

Economy of symbolic exchanges is correlated with the concept of "social capital" that represents "any property (chapter any physical, economic, cultural, social) when it is perceived by social agents whose categories of perceptions are such that they are able to know (to isolate) and to recognize, to value them."[9] The economy of symbolic symbols has as a first property "practices that have always double truth,"[10] meaning that the direct sense of the asset and sense of value (as symbolic meaning). A second property of symbolic exchange economy is the taboo of exploitation (i.e., leaving in "the vague" of the real from change which is the price). Thus, symbolic exchange economy takes place as a game on the principle "as if (as if one who receives the gift would not know its value, and the one that offers it would know what effect has on the one who looks at it).

  • [1] Foucault, Michel (1996), Words and Things. Bucharest: Univers, 418.
  • [2] Ibid. 304-305 (*-our emphasis)
  • [3] Ibid. p.410,412
  • [4] Radin Paul (1953), Le monde d l'homme primitif, Paris: Fayole. (see Gulian I. C. (1983), The Primitive Culture World. Bucharest: Albatros 15.)
  • [5] Eliade Mircea (1992), Sacred and Profane. Bucharest, Humanitas, 21. ibid., 42.
  • [6] Eliade Mircea (1991), Road to the Center. Bucharest: Univers, 519.
  • [7] ibid., 523.
  • [8] Boudrillard, J. (1970), La société de consummation. Paris : S.G.P.R., 121.
  • [9] Bourdieu, Pierre (1999), Practical Reasons. A Theory of Action. Bucharest: Meridiane, 85.
  • [10] ibid., 130.
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