Whose Capability? Notes on the ‘Intimacies’ of the Marketplace

Fukukawa, Kyoko (2016). 'Whose Capability? Notes on the ‘Intimacies’ of the Marketplace' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Tokyo 2016.

abstract The influence of Adam Smith is evident to this day, notably with the work of Amartya Sen. In Sen’s ‘capability approach’, rather than focus on abstract and macro indicators of development (such as GDP, and industrialization etc.) his approach ‘inescapably focuses on the agency and judgment of individuals’ (Sen, 1999: 288). And like Smith, Sen privileges individual responsibility over social intervention and regulation; ‘there is no substitute for individual responsibility’ he writes (Sen, 1999: 283). However, a deconstructive account of Smith challenges how we define and separate out freedoms from duties. Arguably, what needs to be re-considered in reference to the ‘capability approach’ is the concept of the individual (and specifically the individual’s ability to make judgments as if singular bounded entities) and the need for greater historical and cultural specificity. The question of individual responsibility within the wider community is portrayed in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. The play culminates in the forfeiting of a loan and the scene in which the moneylender Shylock prepares to claim his ‘pound of flesh’ (as granted legally by the court). The defaulter on the loan, Antonio, prepares for the incision of a knife, but is saved by a deft legal appeal in which it is pointed out the contract only allows Shylock to remove the flesh, not the blood of Antonio. Since he can only remove the flesh by spilling the blood, the ‘repayment’ of the loan is forfeited. While the removal of the flesh may well be legal, the play reminds us of the coursing of the blood that allows transactions to flow in the first place. It is the dynamic, the flow of exchange that defines our capabilities. As Smith famously put it: ‘It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages’ (Smith, 1976: 26-7). While often cited as a cool model of the economy based on a principle of gains or advantages, the intimate ‘dialogue’ of exchange (and the judgements required) reveals an infinitely complex body of knowledge and communication.  In thinking through the ethics of capability this paper presents a set of accounts about the marketplace. Drawing on prior work (Fukukawa, 2014; Fukukawa and Teramoto 2009), three readings of ‘market integrity’ are offered: Firstly we can understand the market in terms of its efficiency, which evokes a mathematical ideal for its operation (in relation to which, Martin’s (2015) account of the ‘social logic’ of the derivative is highly pertinent). Secondly, with the emergence of a discourse of business ethics we have witnessed various regularity frameworks and principles to make the market more ‘ethical’. A criticism of which, however, might be the marketing of ethics (e.g. to play the ethical card for commercial gain). Finally, we can consider integrity in the market whereby individuals bring to bear their own ethical comportment. The disciplinary perspective of this earlier work is placed in this paper within the current discourse of the Capability Approach. A focus on the marketplace, which by definition requires forms of exchange, offers a fruitful dialogue and a means to further situate the agency and judgment of individuals.  It is widely accepted that the capabilities approach offers a new way of thinking about freedom and development. The move from utility to function marks an important shift. However, its focus on the site of the individual has been one criticism. As Ballet et al. (2014: 21) argue, it limits its interpretation of structures of power to the individual person, ‘and not to the power of the person relative to others in social interactions’. In some regards we can relate the capability approach to Douglas and Ney’s (1998) thesis of the ‘missing person’. Over a period of centuries they identify ‘Economic Man’ as a recurring trope: it is the construction of an individual operating in isolation in the economic realm. Against which they argue the need for a wider cultural reading. They cite Strathern’s suggestion that for ‘person’ we could write ‘gift’. The anthropological view of the person as defined through both giving and receiving – which at its most fundamental level is the definition of the marketplace – gives rise to a much more porous notion of identity, which in turn both adds to and complicates how we might model reflection upon our own needs and capabilities. It defines identity and personal freedom as a means of becoming, the becoming of a capable person in a given moment or dynamic.  According to Ballet et al. (2014), Kant brings us to something of an impasse regards freedom. He defines freedom as rationality, yet also refers to our freedom to choose, or moral freedom, as potentially irrational. It is the former rationality that has tended to prevail. As such, ‘economic science has dehumanised the person, to the extent of only accepting a representative individual, a sort of calculating machine who is, consequently, predictable’ (Ballet et al., 2014: 1). This paper argues that to assert individual freedoms within a social context requires more than a sense of responsibility. It requires the ability to be responsive to others and wider circumstances. Here, the paper draws on Kasulis’ (2002) account of both intimacy and integrity, which he explores in terms of what he calls a ‘cultural philosophy’. As both a critique and supplement to market integrity, intimacy ‘involves an inseparability, a belonging together, a sharing’ (24). Kasulis is careful not to define practices of intimacy as culturally essentialist, yet he observes how different cultural and subcultural conditions give rise to different responsive (intimate) and rule-based (integrity) approaches. It is an account that can help us to consider capability, defined not by a single individual or site of origin, but rather through relational means.

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