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Present a critical review of contemporary geographical debates which focus upon culture and economy.

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Introduction

Laura Kelly BA (Hons) Geography Reg: 199938141 Dr. Mark Boyle Geographical Ideas and Debates 'Present a critical review of contemporary geographical debates which focus upon,... Culture and Economy' Following a rejection of the positivist approach in the discipline of human geography, an emergence of a relevance debate became apparent. Geographers became increasingly concerned with making geography relevant to and critical of real world problems. This relevance debate then gave rise to an opening up of geographical sub-disciplines, including those disciplines of cultural geography and economic geography. During the course of this essay I will offer a critical review of the contemporary culture-economy debate within human geography, starting with a historical account of the evolution of the debate, before reviewing the different aspects and voices of the debate, whilst critically engaging with these, and then finally to articulate my stance in the contemporary debate. Firstly, it is important to understand the evolution of the contemporary debate, in order to set current voices in context. The dominant school of thought in relation to the culture-economy debate, up until the 1980's, originated from the formations of modernity and 19th century social science. In particular, the wisdoms of German sociologist Karl Marx, who believed that 'culture is nothing but a derivative of class relations'. Geographers traditionally viewed the economy as determining culture in the way Marx and his contemporaries thought of structure determining agency in society. In analyzing urban problems, for example social exclusion, economic geographers would do so through emphasizing economic explanations and social structural class issues such as inequalities in the housing and labour markets and the influence of capitalism. ...read more.

Middle

For example, when people choose to live in particular prestigious areas of a city, or frequent particular, 'fancy' restaurants, they are doing so to convey who they are, as a symbolic reflection of their self identity. In deconstructing meaning from consumption and production practices, our worlds of consumption can be seen as socially created where 'processes of socially created needs come to the fore' of economic capitalist production (Johnston, 1997). The culturalisation thesis, as recognized by Simonsen, is developed by Lash and Urry (1994) to convey how economy and culture have now reached unprecendented levels of in their involvement with each other, that 'the economy is increasingly culturally inflected and culture is more and more economically inflected' in terms of consumption and production of economic goods, in so far that the division between the two is becoming increasingly unmarked. Shields, invited with Le Gales to offer a contribution to the debate, identifies with this approach emphasizing the 'importance of synthesizing the cultural and the economic' which, like Le Gales, he believes can be most effectively analysed in the 'lived reality' of the spatial locality, 'where there is the opportunity to see how culture 'works' and better understand what economic struggles 'mean''. Following examples of Nancy Fraser's (1989) argument that redistributive justice involves both economic justice and cultural struggles for recognition in our era of globalisation, Shields tries to demonstrate the inseperability of culture and economy. Opposed to the reductionism of political economy, Shields argues that it is impossible to conceive any social activity that is 'solely economic without a shred of cultural content'. ...read more.

Conclusion

We must think of meaning and practice as inseparable concepts and think of economic practices as norms and values and schemes of deeper meaning. We must recognize that practices and activities are about 'creating, negotiating and fixing meanings', and that as well as producing goods and services, these economic practices produce ways of doing and thinking, normatively or not. They argue that these ways of doing/thinking will 'need to be acknowledged in turn as frequently having critical economic effects' in terms of competitiveness of regions/firms/commodities/products. To illustrate their argument, they use the example of Zelizer's (1994) work on the social meaning of money, showing that contrary to instrumental views of money as ultimately objective, money has different social meanings indifferent contexts, eg. 'dirty' money, 'pocket' money, 'housekeeping' money, 'spending' money. This illustrates, according to Gregson et al, what they 'understand by the necessary connection between particular (economic) activities/practices/commodities and their meaningful constitution'. Here they have illustrated the inseparability, not merely the inflection, of economy-culture. In conclusion, it is obvious that the reconciliation of culture and economy is an incredibly complex and problematic challenge. As I have shown, through a review of critique, there are certain merits and restraints in each of the approaches. I agree with Simonsen, amongst others, that the dualistic nature and the oppositional nature of debates so far is 'devestating to a progressive reconstitution of critical urban and regional studies', as this acts as a barrier to formulating a clear theoretical framework of analysis. However, I think that the challenge is larger than first thought, and may even be an impossible one to put into practice. ...read more.

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