||The structure or totality of relations of production, distribution, exchange and consumption of goods and services. While the economy as a set of material practices has existed ever since \'Adam delved and Eve span\', the economy as an idea, as something that could be spoken about as a separate entity, has existed for only about three hundred years (Dumont, 1977; Tribe, 1978). Mitchell (1998) suggests an even more recent date, arguing that it was only somewhere between 1930 and 1950 \'that the economy came to be understood as a self-evident totality\' (Mitchell, 1998, p. 88). Whatever the exact date, if there is an exact date, the point is that \'the economy\' is the outcome of a particular kind of discourse of a specific time and place, and does not precede or exist outside that discourse (a point also made by Buck Morss, 1995).
Of course, this doesn\'t mean that economic activities did not exist before this time, only that they were not recognized as such. Indeed, work carried out by twentieth-century economic historians and anthropologists shows the enormously diverse forms taken by different economies: from hunting and gathering to centrally planned production to market-based industrial post-Fordism. An especially important divide is between market and non-market economies, i.e., between economies organized and regulated by the movement of prices, typically but not exclusively found in capitalism, and those that are not. Furthermore, even within, say, the category \'market economy\' there is tremendous diversity. Marx, for example, writing in the second half of the nineteenth century, already recognized at least two varieties of industrial capitalism (\'manufacture\' and \'machinofacture\'), while more recently the Regulation school divides market economies according to both their regulatory framework and principal form of manufacturing, producing a plethora of subtypes (Tickell and Peck, 1992). In addition, economies can take on a mixture of both market and non-market characteristics such as the market socialism of China.
This kind of diversity is not always recognized by economists, a consequence again of the idiomatic origins of \'economy\'. The term arose at a particular historical juncture when a market-based economy predicated upon principles of profit-maximization and rational decision-making emerged for the first time. Those principles, in turn, were taken by first the classical economists, and later the neo-classical ones, as the defining features of all economies rather than the particular one in which they happened to live. Even now the \'formalist\' school of economic anthropology explains the operation of tribal economies on the basis of rational economic choice. In contrast, since the work of Karl Polanyi (1886-1964), and the substantive or institutionalist school he pioneered, that universalism has been challenged. Polanyi (1968), for example, argued that principles other than the market have organized economies; for example, \'reciprocation\' and \'redistribution\' (see also Sahlin\'s (1972) important statement about \'stone age economics\'). In addition, Polanyi was also keen to show that even market economies are maintained by, and depend upon, non-market social relations. As a result, the very distinction between things economic and things non-economic is called into question. This is a point with both practical and theoretical import.
Practically, the issue is one of knowing what (literally) counts as part of the economy. Even in market economies where goods and services are numerically valued difficulties and anomalies can arise. For example, current procedures of economic accounting would not include the time a parent spends looking after their child during the day as part of the economy, while the same amount of time spent by a paid babysitter would count. This definitional problem is further exacerbated by the existence of underground economies either based upon barter and unofficial currencies (Lee, 1996) or deliberately designed to avoid official detection (for example, illegal drug trade), both of which would not appear in official statistics. The point is that even as an empirical entity the economy is difficult to fix. It seems as much based on the kind of information that the state can collect as it is on any general principles. (Mitchell, 1998, sees this problem as endemic to any project that attempts to set irrevocable boundaries between one social sphere, in this case the economy, and any other.)
Theoretically the issue turns on the autonomy and causative power accorded the economy. Ever since the economy was recognized as a separate entity there has been discussion about its relationship to things non-economic. neo-classical economics tends to portray the economy as a separate realm, imbuing it with an independent logic based upon economic rationality and the power of the market (cf. rational choice theory). Similarly, classical forms of Marxian economics promulgate \'economism\', the idea that all the social and political relations are determined by the economy. In contrast, Polanyi\'s argument, which has been taken up by contemporary sociologists and recently also by some economic geographers (see new institutional economics), is that the economy is an integral component of a broader set of social, political and cultural relations. In this view the economy depends upon those relations for its continued existence, and as a consequence cannot be treated as an isolated, prime cause.
Geographers\' interest in the economy stems from its spatial embeddedness and variation. Initially, economic geographers, such as George Chisholm at Edinburgh University writing in the first part of the twentieth century, were content to document in meticulous detail the kinds of commodities produced in different places around the world, and the peculiar local conditions found in them (cf. commercial geography). Later there were attempts (often from a neo-classical economic perspective) at more systematic explanation which reached their peak in the 1960s as spatial science, and which understood economic geographical variation on the basis of a few, general assumptions. More recently, economic geographers have focused on the often subtle relations that tie particular places to specific economic forms. They have also become more interested in the relationship between the economy and other social relations, say, around gender or race or social Identity, and in this sense have moved closer to Polanyi\'s theoretical sensibility. Throughout this entire period, however, economic geographers of all theoretical stripes have consistently highlighted the geographically variable nature of the economy; that economies come in all shapes and sizes, and are not all cut from the same pattern. Geography matters.Â (TJB)
References Buck Morss, S. 1995: Envisioning capital: political economy on display. Cultural Inquiry 21: 434-68.Â Dumont, L. 1977: From Mandeville to Marx: the genesis and triumph of economic ideology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Â Lee, R. 1996: Moral money? LETS and the social construction of local economic geographies in Southeastern England. Environment and Planning A 28: 1377-94.Â Mitchell, T. 1998: Fixing the economy. Cultural Studies 12: 82-101.Â Polanyi, K. 1968: Primitive, archaic and modern economies, ed. G. Dalton. Boston: Beacon Press.Â Sahlins, M. 1972: Stone age economics. New York: Aldine.Â Tickell, A. and Peck, J. 1992: Accumulation, regulation and the geographies of post-Fordism: missing links in regulationist research. Progress in Human Geography 16: 196-218.Â Tribe, K. 1978: Land, labour and economic discourse. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
Suggested Reading Mitchell (1998).Â Polanyi (1968).