Economy and culture are dead! Long live economy and culture!
This essay critically evaluates the debate in human geography and cognate fields about economy-culture relationships. It takes issue with the terms of the debate, wherein different authors have sought to ground their claims about economy and culture with reference to supposed 'ontological realities'. Building on the arguments of Don Mitchell (1995; 2000), I argue that economy and culture should be seen as two powerful ideas that help to create the realities they seem only to describe. Economy and culture cannot, I argue, be uncritically invoked by academic analysts as either objects of analysis or explanatory resources. Rather, we need to inquire into how the ideas of economy and culture are semantically 'fixed' and with reference to what 'real-world' phenomena. Taking the case of indigenous peoples' deployment of the idea of 'cultural property', I illustrate the kind of research agenda that follows from seeing 'economy' and 'culture' as two performative signifiers. I also challenge those involved in the economy-culture debate to take seriously their own role in sustaining, altering or eclipsing the various meanings and referents of these two powerful key words.
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