9th Conference European Sociological Association

RN09 Economic Sociology

2009-09-03 09:00:00 2009-09-03 10:30:00 Thursday, 3 September 09:00 - 10:30 Marketization of Life Building AA, AA.228

The decommodification of humans, hell and ferocity: Notes and observations about empty markets

The emergence of markets receives plenty of attention in social-scientific theorizing and in empirical research. Not only economists study ?emerging markets? intensively, also sociologists have been tackling the problem. In sociological theory and research this is complemented with a thesis, sometimes also an implicit assumption, about the long term ?marketization? or ?commodification? of social life. This thesis or assumption basically boils down to the idea that monetized exchange in the long term has become an always more important part of social relationships and of relationships between people and goods.

This dominant way depicting the growing importance of markets in society passes over the existence of the opposite phenomenon. There is little doubt that some markets and goods have become de-commodified during the emergence of modern society. Excellent examples are found in slave markets, but also in the more exceptional phenomena of markets for gladiator fights and for indulgences. The (temporary) end state of this process of decommodification is defined as ?empty markets?. Studying empty markets and the processes associated with it seem to be left in the care of historians, as if they had no relevance whatsoever for the understanding of contemporary markets. This paper starts from the opposite intuition that the study of market decline may be an informative approach to understand more about the evolution of markets and market society.

Though they are seldom studied by social scientists interested in contemporary markets, empty markets may learn us a lot about the rules, regularities and mechanisms behind market change. For one thing, empty markets probably give us a hint about the role of changing preferences and ?tastes? in how markets may evolve.
This paper attempts to test hypotheses concerning the supposed relevance of changing tastes and preferences, i.e. changing individual agents and their cultures, as a causal condition of the process of emptying markets. Basically the standpoint will be defended that changing preferences and cultural tastes, in some cases even from suppliers, had a decisive effect on the process. The cases of the markets of gladiator games, slaves and indulgences serve as basis for some provisional conclusions.