Raced Markets Workshop 'Key Conversations' Paper
On December 10th 2015 I delivered a paper to the Raced Markets Workshop held at the University of Warwick, as part of a 'Key Conversations' session with Professor John Holmwood from the School of Sociology and Social Policy at the University of Nottingham. The paper is entitled, 'Robinson Crusoe and the Raced Market Frame of Orthodox Economics Textbooks', and it is available from me on request. Here is the abstract. A recording of the session was also made and can be accessed here: https://racedmarkets.wordpress.com/2016/01/20/thinking-race-through-economics-a-conversation-between-robbie-shilliam-matthew-watson-and-john-holmwood/.
"The signifiers ‘Crusoe’ and ‘Friday’ necessarily evoke a world of racial oppression and domination, one where the economic success of the white colonist depends wholly on the forced servitude of the ‘native’ population. Economics textbooks are perhaps the sole remaining medium in which the relations of power that exist between the two men are simply wished away. Economists appeal to the so-called Robinson Crusoe Economy to teach students basic conceptualisation techniques suitable for learning their subject field’s prevailing market models. Their Crusoe and Friday figures have none of the colonial history that Defoe imposed upon the original characters. Consequently, they are also not susceptible to the systematic deconstruction of racial hierarchies that marks the later tradition of postcolonial Robinsonades. The economics textbook writers populate their desert islands with a Crusoe and a Friday who instinctively recognise their equality under contract law and who therefore engage in entirely voluntary market exchange. Yet in acting against everything that is implied by the ‘Crusoe’ and ‘Friday’ signifiers they do nothing to erase the racial hierarchies into which they are locked. Indeed, the whole point of writing the current paper is to think through the alternative possibility that they simply serve to reinforce them. There is an important substantive link between economists’ market models and the market institutions that are created to regulate everyday economic behaviour. Therefore, if market models do indeed reproduce the signifiers ‘Crusoe’ and ‘Friday’, the possibility exists that market institutions are similarly raced even before any conscious agency is attempted within them."