Globalization: A Battle Over the Market Metaphor

Globalization: A Battle Over the Market Metaphor

Globalization debates can have a mind-boggling logic. They are often highly polarized, irrespective of whether they take place between like minded spirits or whether they consist of a dispute between two opposing camps. Recently, in a debate of the latter kind, Naomi Klein, author of No Logo and critic of globalization processes crossed swords with Sameena Ahmat, business correspondent for the Economist belonging to the camp of ‘globalists’. Although these antagonistic debates can be highly volatile and often contain interesting exchanges of arguments, they are to a large extent very predictable too. Speakers end up in a discursive form of trench warfare, leaving moderators with the uneasy task of transforming the stalemate of often glorious monologues into a dialogue. If the topic at hand is that of globalization, than it is a sure bet that the battle will be fought over ‘the market.’ The market takes center stage and at the same time unites and divides the contestants.
This is exactly what happened in the Pro Logo vs. No Logo debate mentioned above. Both sides were allowed to give an opening statement to frame the debate. Ahmat was to start and within minutes turned the debate into an argument about ‘the market,’ jumping to its defense. After she took issue with Klein’s argument against the pervasiveness of logos and their negative global effects by stressing choice, competition and innovation, she turned to the market for the defense of logos, growth, and globalization:
That is the wonderful thing of the open market system. When firms are acting within the law […] the result is to advance social good, almost by accident. […] the best decisions and the best regulation is provided by the market.
When Naomi Klein next attempts to critically question any of these assumptions, the rhetorical defense machinery is only being stepped up:
Naomi Klein mistakes and is mistaken to think that the people that believe in markets and companies [that are] being able to grow and invest in creating wealth, [think] that they shouldn’t be regulated. […] No person who believes in globalization or the free market would ever say that regulation is not necessary. So, it is completely fallacious […] trying to use WorldCom and Enron as a way to undermine the case for globalization just doesn’t work.
After taking a few of these turns, the debate has become thoroughly caught up in a deadlock over ‘the market.’ Although situations like these are predictable and are repeatedly encountered by anyone who has debated the issue of globalization, it is necessary to examine why they arise in the first place. I think the rhetorical situation encountered in the Pro Logo vs. No Logo debate is remarkable and telling in a number of respects. It is important to see that the debate was initiated and effectively framed by the protagonist of the market. The actual protagonist of the evening, Naomi Klein, was thus turned into an antagonist. It meant however as well that the market protagonist forced itself into a defensive disposition against an imagined enemy of the market. Next one can see Ahmat rehearse of a mix of textbook generalizations and anecdotal evidence about the market in support of her position. Naomi Klein virtually refrains from blank criticism of the market and attempts to deflect the debate to other focal points like that of corporatization. The framing imposed by Ahmat nonetheless forces Klein into the role of an antagonist. Hence what started as a debate about globalization seems to be locked up in a symbolic battle over ‘the market’ that resulted in an antagonistic impasse. The antagonists do not talk to come to an agreement, but only to reinforce their incompatible views. When the moderator of the debate checked with the audience – of whom about two thirds counted themselves in the Pro Logo camp – whether anyone had changed opinions during the debate the response confirmed that the camps are divided over the market and remain so. In the end, globalization debates amount to a clash of opinions about the market. More so, the debate is mostly symbolic in kind and consists of a battle over the market as a fetishistic icon.
I am inclined to claim that this situation is not at all accidental but in fact the consequence of the emergence of a global condition. In the next section I will argue in more detail that it is a structural feature of the idea of globalization that it coincides with the idea of the market. The market is the constitutive metaphor of globalization. Moreover, we will see that the global condition also intensifies a postmodern condition. A stalemate of reason as exemplified by the debate over the market seriously challenges our common understanding of progress in politics. If we recognize this and do not want to render to the fatalistic views of ‘anything goes’, it is crucial to see if this leaves any openings to break out of the current state of the debate. I hope this can be achieved if we gain more insights into some of the structural features of the global discourse of markets. That is the reason why I propose to study the globalization discourse as a discursive struggle over the market. This paper aims to offer some first steps in this direction.
My main objective is to draw out what I take to be the key features of this discursive struggle over ‘the market.’ As such this paper is mostly conceptual in nature. By way of preparation, I will first try to make plausible that the debate over the market is one of the key features if not the defining feature of the globalization discourse. Next I will consider the implications of conceiving of the globalization debate over the market as a discursive struggle. With some of these theoretical preliminaries in place, I will continue by charting of what I see as some of the main features of this discursive struggle. By way of conclusion I draw a few political implications from viewing globalization as a discursive struggle over the market.
Globalization: the market writ large
With globalization a new phase or perhaps face of modernity has emerged. Others would say that in fact modernity has been ‘supplanted’ (Giddens 1990, quoted in Rosenberg, 2000) or that it is another instance of the world becoming post-modern. Either way, as latest form of or radical break with modernity, the transformations implied in globalization nevertheless maintain a relation to modernity. Despite what one would expect given its geographical connotations, it is not some kind of spatio-temporal force that is doing the globalizing in globalization. As Rosenberg argues, it is fallacious for social theory to claim that globalization as a strictly spatio-temporal category can function as an explanans in globalization theories (Rosenberg, 2000, 164). The categories of modernity are still central to theories of globalization albeit that they have been sped up and expanded due to technological developments, if not been further multiplied, virtualized and complicated as a more post-modernist vision has it. Technologically augmented, the economic, social, cultural, and political processes of modernity have merely intensified the conditions of modernity or those of post-modernity.
One of the essential features of modernity is the emergence of the market as a central concept of social order. While societies gradually transformed into commercial societies, one can also witness a proliferation of the idea of the market within political thought. In order to conceptualize these many interrelations between ‘historical practice’ and ‘political thought’, Charles Taylor introduced the term “modern social imaginary” to denote what kept both together (Taylor, 2001). Taylor locates the moment of inception of these modern social imaginaries in Grotius and Locke and maintains that the market, in conceiving of society as existing of individuals subjected to some form of spontaneous order is central in if not constitutive of the modern imaginary.
Although one can read the history of the modern age in terms of a continuous struggle between two alternative conceptions of social order, namely between the ‘invisible hand’ of the market and the visible hand of the sovereign, the liberal conception of society seems to be well established (e.g. Arrighi, 1994). In the twentieth century finally, the atrocities of World War II were perceived by some to announce the end of this ideological strife (viz. Bell, 1960). Furthermore, with the alleged demise of communism, through the attempts of Fukuyama and the like, the idea of the market at least rhetorically became synonymous with the modernist imaginary of liberalism.
With the ascent of a more global condition consisting of the spread of modernist processes through all sorts of technological enhancements, the modern condition is only further emphasized. Likewise, the modern imaginary of the market gains in importance. Increased levels of globalization, either perceived or real, emphasize the acuteness of the modernist imaginary of the market in at least two ways. First, the imaginary of the global world, so to speak seems to be modeled on that of the market. Although not exclusively, descriptions of globalization often run in terms of a global market and an integration of the world economy. Globalization is the market writ large. Globalization as the phenomenon of a global order is an extreme version of an all-encompassing concept of social order. In the modernist imaginary, the market primarily served as a representation of the order of a social totality. This is exactly the reason why these models of the market and hence globalization are so powerful. According to Jameson: “The force, then, of the concept of the market lies in its “totalizing” structure, as they say nowadays: that is, in its capacity to afford a model of a social totality.” (1991, 272) The global condition, either as economy, society, or in the unlikely event of a global polis or culture denotes in fact a social totality that knows of no outside: the global condition coincides by definition with a universal social totality.
Yet there is a second structural feature of the global condition by which it is cast as the market writ large. Following the argument about the market as social totality, it could also be argued that a visible hand or sovereign were to assume the role of providing social order. As the idea of a global sovereign however seems not to have caught on, one instead seems to attribute global processes to the mysterious yet ideal operations of an ‘invisible hand.’ One speaks about global processes as if they have a logic or telos of their own.
The view that globalization operates by means of an invisible hand writ large does not go uncontested. In False Dawn, John Gray, attributes claims that equate the new world order with the invisible hand of the market to so-called hyperglobalists, such as Ohmae and Friedman. According to Gray these hyperglobalist views are however seriously mistaken. Michael Veseth in Selling Globalization, also points out that although this image is in fact a caricature, one should nevertheless take the fact that these have been advanced by globalists themselves seriously. Also in the thoroughly postmodern expressions of Negri and Hardt, the logic of globalization is attributed to an ‘immanent exercise of discipline’ (331). Even though Negri and Hardt explicitly denounce viewing their vision of Empire as an instance of spontaneous order or the invisible hand of world markets, it is not hard to read their account of “imperial sovereignty” as a radically postmodern version of a similarly invisible machine, an unordered, decentralized form of order.
Indeed, the critics and postmodern interpreters are right in saying that globalization is not the establishment of a true world market. Their remarks nonetheless reinforce the view that globalization is modeled upon the modern imaginary of the market as a social totality ruled by an invisible hand. As for Gray and Veseth, their criticisms of the depictions of the market by hyperglobalists, would probably also hold for their accounts of the market in a pre-global world. Similarly, postmodernists like Negri and Hardt, would also maintain that any non-global market would be subject to bifurcations and become hybrid and articifical. The global condition would merely exacerbate this situation by posing yet another crisis in this post-modern condition. Thus either way, as an extension of a modern or already post-modern modernity, the social imaginary of the market has been inscribed at large within globalization
Consequently, the global imaginary encounters the same challenges as the market usually meets. To name two common claims, the market is perceived to be at odds with states and it is accused of causing homogenization. Arguments against the market as a site of cultural homogenization known from the critiques of the Frankfurter Schule now resound in the globalization debate. Similarly, a common view that globalization challenges the nation-state can now be interpreted as a continuation of the historical animosity between the markets and states.

The implications that I want to draw from my claim that in globalization the modernist image of the market is writ large are modest at best. I will not state that globalization is only about markets, neither do I want to argue that markets are depicted correctly, nor that globalization is framed adequately by alluding to the modernist image of markets. Instead, I have drawn attention to the structural similarities that exist between the idea globalization and the modernist image of markets. The market is a central if not constitutive image for understanding globalization and hence occupies a key position in the debate over globalization. Moreover, establishing the importance of the market imagery in the debate warrants paying attention to the discursive struggles that take place within the globalization discourse. Consequently, I hope that my claim that globalization is the market writ large may not only serve to examine how the image of the market features in the debates as I am concerned with in this paper. It may also draw out features about the market that have only become visible through its incorporation in the globalization debate.
This being said, one could speculate about the place of the globalization debate within the history of ideas or intellectual history. After the ‘end of ideology’ and the ‘end of history’ the intellectual world seemed on the surface to be persuaded or at least muted by the truths of liberal democracies and the market. The unfolding of the globalization debate however enabled the release of the seemingly repressed ideas of Marxism and anti-capitalism. Drawing on its resistances against the market the globalization debate renewed the battle over the market. It is hard to determine who and what was first: the proponents or the opponents of markets, globalization or the debate about markets and both were in a way always already ‘there’. In the future, ironies are bound to emerge. Did the victory of the market raise its own critique and or was globalization provoked by the left?
Market what?: ideology, hegemony, discourse and rhetoric
Globalization thus has rekindled the debate about the market. Any understanding of globalization relies critically on the discursive struggle over the market that is being fought under its aegis. Not only does this discursive struggle divide its proponents or opponents rhetorically, but these struggles are intricately linked to its practices. Discursive operations mediate between the level of thought and practice and have a performative power over these very practices. Our academic discussions about markets and globalization are bound up with a whole world of discourse which they inform and are informed by. To give a few examples: Brazilian Meets Bush and Vows to Cooperate on Freer Trade, under this heading, the New York Times reports that a representative from Brazil’s president-elect Lula da Silva in an attempt to take away concerns about ideological differences ‘pledged to work with the Bush administration to open both countries’ markets to freer trade.’ A day later, Exxon Mobile ran an advertisement with the title ‘Free markets and the global classroom’ in the same newspaper promoting a non-profit called Junior Achievement concerned with fostering young people’s understanding of markets all over the world.
Consequently, we can witness social thinkers call for action in this war of words. Bourdieu and Wacquant warn in Le Monde Diplomatique (2000) that a “new planetary vulgate”, which is according to them ‘a neoliberal vulgate’, is taking hold throughout the global world. The symbolic violence perpetrated by this market vulgate is being propagated not only by its partisans but increasingly so by all kinds of cultural workers, left-wing activists and intellectuals alike. Hence the critical discourse analyst, Norman Fairclough calls – from a somewhat different angle – upon his colleagues for concerted action:
Language is an important part of the new order [‘(global) form of capitalism’]. First, because imposing the new order centrally involves the reflexive process of imposing new representations of the world, new discourses; second, because new ways of using language – new genres – are an important part of the new order .So the project of the new order is partly a language project. Correspondingly, the struggle against the new order is partly a struggle over language. (Fairclough, 2000, 147)

To give such an important place to the discursive struggles over markets in globalization necessarily implies notions such as ideology, hegemony, discourse and rhetoric. I will briefly discuss these in relation to the discursive struggle over the market.
Market ideology
The common understanding is that the discursive battle over the market is an ideological battle. In Globalism: the new market ideology, Manfred Steger argues that globalism is the dominant ideology of our times that relies on an ‘Anglo-American’ market doctrine fostering a neoliberal outlook (Steger, 2002). Steger’s conflation of the ideology of ‘globalism’, a ‘market-doctrine’ and the ideology of ‘neoliberalism’ pointedly shows a conceptual displacement that is common in the debate. As was shown in the previous section, the market is a central idea in globalization. This may explain why Steger grants it a central position in a globalization ideology, ‘globalism’. The market however also features predominantly in other ideological discourses, like neoliberalism, libertarianism, the Washington Consensus or anti-corporatism. It is a mistake however to claim that the market constitutes an ideology by itself, which would have to be called ‘marketism’, but is an ideologeme at best. To substantiate my claim, I will discuss the idea of ideology in some more detail.
The idea of an ideology gained momentum with Marx. Although a number of different interpretations of ideology exist within Marx’s work, the most common one depicts ideology as a set of ideas or forms of consciousness that express the material interests of a ruling class. Where Marx stresses the significance of illusion in ideologies, Hannah Arendt (1976) has an apparently opposite interpretation. For her, ideological thinking consists of a terror of logicality as exemplified by scientific reason. Ideologies offer a total explanation of the world, that is severed from experience and which orders facts into an ‘absolutely logical procedure’ (Arendt, 1976, 471). Marx and Arendt thus differ on where exactly to look for the evil genius, either in extreme reason or distortion, yet both bring up important features.
The Marxist idea of ideology became discredited especially after post-structuralist critiques. For post-structuralists, the idea of a false consciousness seems to be untenable as it would require the idea of a true consciousness. Although sensitive to critiques of this kind, Eagleton (1991) finds ground to maintain the notion of ideology by acknowledging the following six defining features. First, ideologies constitute a set of ideas, beliefs, and values. As such ideologies coincide with culture. Second, these sets of ideas symbolize a socially significant group and thirdly promote and legitimate this group against opposing interests. Fourth, ideologies may serve to grant power to a dominant group. Thus, ideologies create the hegemony of one group. Fifth, ideologies work through distortion and dissimulation and sixth these distortions and dissimulation may arise from the structure of society itself.
At prima facie, the imaginary of the market itself does not satisfy any of these criteria and hence it is hard to maintain that the market is itself an ideology. Nonetheless, to dismiss the ideological dimensions of the market in discursive struggles merely on these formalist grounds would be to miss the point. To see the ideological dimension in the discursive struggle over the market, it is helpful to analyze in what way the idea of the market can produce “ideological effects.” This is to say that the market operates as an ideologeme. Eagleton (1991) argues that ideologies often perform six distinct yet related functions that give a very clear sense of how the idea of the market has ideological effects in discursive struggles. First, markets perform through unification. As ideologies often consist of differentiated and contradictory demands the image of the market brings these together. Besides unifying ideologies, the image of the market also mediates between different ideological standpoints and as such model the various parties as opponents. The image of the market performs by bringing unity to disunity yet at the same time creates discord among the parties. Second, ideologies are action-oriented. Although it occupies the abstract realm of ideas, the market as ideological image performs through the action it engenders. Just like Taylor’s interpretation of imaginaries, ideologemes connect theory with practice, but also link the analytic with prescriptives, or mediate the technical and moral. Moreover, imaginaries serve to bind general or abstract representations with their more articulate appearances. In short, ideological ideas perform and have an effect.
Thirdly and fourth, ideologies rationalize and legitimize social interests in the face of opposition. Combined with action-orientedness these two features explain the force of ideologies. Although the market itself may not rationalize nor legitimize any action, it is often employed for that reason. Rationalization, the process of ascribing reason, cloaks underlying or unconscious reasons and feelings that are less credible or dignified. It may perform as an apologia, self-deception, or willful misrepresentation. The image of the market is used by both proponents and opponents as a guise. Martin Wolf, a journalist of the Financial Times argues that resistance to the market and globalization are a concealed form of xenophobia. Likewise, Stiglitz (2001) can be seen to accuse the IMF of employing market policies that covertly serve the interest of the financial world. Through rationalization a favorable image displaces an unfavorable one. Legitimization performs another displacement. The image manufactures consent. In consent agreement is being displaced by approval or permission. Through this displacement, power is being conferred. The image of the market is repeatedly invoked in the debate of globalization to legitimize whatever consequences.
The last two performative functions of ideological images, universalization and naturalization, in effect de-historicizes the ideological debate. Through universalization the particulars of an image are being generalized to capture all particulars. In the next section we will see how universalization lies at the root of hegemony. The interest of a particular is being universalized and considered to apply for each and everyone. As I argued in the previous section the universalization of the image of the market is a structural feature of the debate on globalization. Through naturalization, the depiction of something non-natural as natural, the idea is made to be perceived as-is. By naturalization the social is being perceived as a social reality and has been severed from its origins in the realm of ideas. The ideological content is considered self-evident and as a consequence becomes insusceptible to critique.
This enumeration shows a number of ways in which the image or ideologeme of the market can indeed have ideological effects within globalization debates. Mention of the market itself, without further ideological embellishment is however not sufficient reason to qualify it as a self-sufficient ideology. The imaginary of the market is amenable to various ideological uses and always prone to sort ideological effects. The capacity of the market to unify the debate and compel to action gives the image both its force and agitation. The way it serves to rationalize and legitimize and its concomitant displacements explain the versatility of the market image in debates and why it is both adopted by advocates and opponents. As a de-historicized idea, the market in both universalized and naturalized manifestations creates the impression that there is no alternative and gives the debate its edge.
Market hegemony
If not as market ideology per se, it is tempting to read the market in globalization as a representative of a new, global hegemony. That globalization is represented as the market writ large could in fact be a sign that the market has become a hegemonic entity: we cannot conceive of the world outside of this framing and any position in this global world is always already a relation to the market.
In a reading of Gramsci, Laclau (2000) advances the view that hegemony is a very specific political moment that emerges from the relation between a particular and a universal. The basic structure of a hegemonic relation is that a particularity, a particular representation is identified as universality. In ordinary terms this means that a particular representation of society, for instance that of a market society becomes the representation of society or the world as a whole. Or more specifically, a particular representation of a market, be it the farmers market on Union Square or the stock market at Wall Street becomes the representation of the global order. This relation of particularity to universality is hegemonic in that the universal never represents all particulars and as such it is ‘a universality contaminated by particularity.’ (Laclau, 2000, 51) The contingency of what particularity becomes the universal forms the hegemonic relation and is an expression of unevenness in power. Establishment of the universality out of a particularity always requires political mediation by representations. Similarly, any other particularity contesting the universality can only become political through another distorted universalization.
Hegemonic universalities thus have a strange if not impossible structure. According to Laclau they are best understood as a so-called empty signifier. An empty signifier, is often a proper name and forms a vacant placeholder for particular contents: “The universal is an empty place, a void which can be filled only by the particular, but which, through its emptiness, produces a series of crucial effects in the structuration/destructuration of social relations.” (58) As such, Laclau’s idea of an empty signifier is similar to the Lacanian idea of the symbolic, the prime concept for Žižek to understand politics. This structure of the empty signifier thus functions as the site where the various particulars struggle for hegemony.
This structure of the empty signifier seems very apt to describe the functioning of the signifier ‘market’ in the discourse of globalization. The name ‘market’ is indeed a rubric under which all possible displacements are gathered. As empty signifier ‘the market’ operates as the placeholder or what is sometimes called a container term, to accommodate a variety of heterogeneous demands. These vary from different understandings of the market to distinct images and even opposing images, such as democracy, freedom, or creativity but also tyranny, corruption, and destruction. Under the name of the market numerous hegemonic battles are being fought. The power of the market label lies in the fact that it is at the same time an infinitely abstract concept and yet it shows itself in several particular instantiations. We can as easily think of the market for peanut butter and paintings but also of markets for children, immigration, (sexual) partners or even of the marketplace of ideas or in terms of the abstractions of supply and demand graphs in economics. One signifier fits all.
Although the fact that the market operates as an empty signifier is a necessary condition for it to become a hegemonic structure, the exact contingencies of what hegemonic structure it represents is dependent on the discursive formation in which it operates. Even though the market is a potential site for a hegemonic struggle, it nevertheless requires additional discursive structures to give it its hegemonic specificity. To give an example, it needs to be part of a discourse, like neo-liberalism, for it to become truly hegemonic. At the moment I see no evidence that suggests that the market is the hegemonic structure many people hold it to be (eg. Chomsky, 1999). There are still significant amounts of resistance both from individuals as through institutions – there are still courts of law and government institutions – that counter the claims of neoliberalists. On the other hand, to claim that globalization is the market writ large suggests that the hegemony of the market has been strengthened.
Market discourse
From our discussion of ideology and hegemony it becomes clear that although the market obeys all structural features to have ideological or hegemonic effects, it only does so when it operates as part of a wider ideological or hegemonic discourse. Therefore it makes sense to speak of a market discourse. In terms of intellectual history one could argue that with the linguistic turn, discourse has replaced the idea of ideology.
There exists a lot of discourse about discourse and before we can speak of market discourse, it is helpful to make some distinctions. I will briefly discuss three ways of conceiving of discourse. All understandings of discourse share an emphasis on the importance of language and the structuring of linguistic expression. They are however differentiated to the extent in which they allow room for something ‘extra-discursive.’ In a weak sense, discourse is employed to denote all forms of expressions in language, such as speech, writing and other forms of communication. Outside this realm of language or thought, there exists an extra-discursive realm of practice, action, or social reality. Those who study discourse from this perspective, often called discourse analysts (important examples are Fairclough and van Dijk), examine the often complex interrelations between discourse and social practice. Following a weak understanding of discourse, discourse about the market is relatively independent from the real social structures and laws of markets and is conceived as important epiphenomena even though discourse and reality are mutually constitutive. This view allows for disagreements between discourse and practice, misrepresentations and adjustments of discourse to reality and vice versa. Discourses have a unity of their own that consists of sub-discourses and have relations between discourses. Given this understanding of discourse, we can see Fairclough call upon fellow ‘critical discourse analysts’ to analyze market discourse and most notably the ideological discourses of neoliberalism in order to see how they enable the formation of an undesirable global order.
Opposed to this conception of discourse stands the understanding of discourse in a strong sense. This approach is closest to Foucault’s use of discourse, but one could also fit Bourdieu in this category. It rests on a comprehensive understanding of discursivity. It claims that all social practices, including all sorts of institutions and other social processes, are discursive, i.e. forms of linguistic expression. Institutions like prisons, the law system, the organization of government, or capitalism all operate as expressions of and within a discursive structure. Unlike in a weak understanding of discourse, practices are not structurally or ontologically distinct from linguistic expressions, but are part of a single discursive formation. Practices are no more real or true than linguistic utterances. An implication of the strong view on discourse is that there is no vantage point from which these discourses can be read. This has incisive consequences for the role of the subject and the place of the sciences. Following up on Althusser’s views, subject positions are also no longer independent of or prior to the discursive structures in which they operate. Subject positions and their identities are not innate but emerge vis-à-vis the discursive structures. One is citizen, criminal, consumer, or producer because of one’s place in the discursive matrix. As a consequence of the absence of a vantage point outside discourse, the sciences can no longer claim independence as discursive expressions in their own right. Academic discourse is as much function of a prevailing discursive structure as any other discursive practice. An ensemble of these various discursive practices, like science, institutions, subject positions, Foucault calls a discursive formation. Foucault is not entirely unambiguous about how to conceive of disputes and contestation within discursive formations or how these change. He nevertheless stresses that discursive formations should be thought of as ‘systems of dispersal’ (Foucault, 1972). That is, discursive formations are not deterministic systems, but instead determine the limits within which discursive expressions can occur. Given that language is the model for all discourse, than the rules of discursive formations are according to Foucault analogous to the rules of grammar.
Foucault’s notion of discourse and discursive formations has drawn out a number of important features, most notably the incorporation of all sorts of practices, the role of subject positions and the importance of academic discourses. For our problematic, understanding the discursive struggle over the market, it seems however less suited. Although it raises important concerns about the role of the social sciences and notably economics in the constitution of the market, or the recognition of subject positions within markets, it seems hard to conceive of the market as a discursive formation in its own right. Even though one may observe the interlocking discourses of politics, science, the media, as well as local discourses of ideologues, at the WTO, in Porto Alegre and demonstrators on the street, it is hard to locate one underlying grammar in all these manifestations of the market. If Foucault’s archeological apparatus permits characterizing a general grammar, the discursive formation is more likely that of (late-)capitalism than that of the market. To state that the market plays within one of the discursive formations of our time, namely that of capitalism, appears however as a somewhat meaningless statement. This being said, the market can make a more interesting return if one considers that it occupies a position at the intersection of numerous often contesting discourses within this overarching discursive formation. Of these discourses, some have ideological or hegemonic effects, like that of neoliberalism or some anti-capitalist or nationalist critiques, others are political, scientific, or practical.
Although it is at many points transgressive, Foucault’s conception of discourse has strong structuralist overtones. Radical discourse theoreticians, the third tenet, pursue a total break with structuralist notions. Central figures in this strand of research are Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe, Slavoj Žižek, Frederic Jameson, and Stuart Hall that draw on the philosophies of Lyotard, Derrida and the psychoanalysis of Lacan. All of these thinkers subscribe to a strong, all-encompassing view of discourse, but seek to relinquish it from the structuralist implications of Foucault’s rules of formation. As a consequence they emphasize and celebrate the un-structural features of discourse. While they recognize the structuring features of discourse, every one of them will stress the ways in which this inevitably is time and again being undermined. The focus shifts from the centering features of discourse to its decentering tendencies and abilities to multiply, fold back, be substituted or subverted, and undergo all sorts of transformations.
In Laclau we already encountered how a radical understanding of discourse decenters the conception of hegemony. For Laclau and Mouffe (2001), discourse is inherently metaphorical. By this they mean that although discourses temporarily fix a particular structure or meaning, unlike with Foucault this is not an all-encompassing but only a limited structure. The excluded or outside of this structure, its non-meaning so to say, always contains the possibility of the disruption of the initial structure by replacing it with another. Thus, discourses are temporary centers in a field of otherwise flowing discursive relations. Each and every fixation of a discourse is therefore exclusive in nature. The notion of hegemony should be read against this background. A single discursive fixation however does not constitute a hegemonic relation. Only when a number of parallel discursive fixation create an interlacing structure, one can speak of a hegemonic formation. Such a structured set of temporary arrests in the discursive flow constitutes the contingency of a hegemonic structure. It is hegemonic in the sense that it excludes certain relations and privileges others. It is contingent because it could also have emphasized others.
This, in a nutshell, is an example of a radical approach to discourse. In the previous section we saw that this analysis of hegemony requires an empty signifier around which an antagonism can develop. We also saw that the market could be regarded as one. This is not sufficient ground however to conclude that all discourse around the signifier of the market is necessarily hegemonic. First, it needs to be established empirically that all discourses systematically privilege certain meanings over others. Is it for instance indeed the case that the neoliberal discourse about the market have been so firmly established or does it rather operate as a fad, that is bound to fade away with a slump? Second, the signifier of the market is as much part of a hegemonic formation of discourses as it is part of a counter-hegemonic set of discourses, discourses that exactly appeal to the void of the signifier in order to subvert it.
Another exponent of a radical approach to discourse is Jameson. Chapter eight of Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (1991) is devoted to an analysis of postmodernism and the market. As the title of the book indicates, Jameson argues in this book that postmodernism, a sort of kitch in images, has become the cultural logic of late capitalism. On the political level this entails that “the fundamental level on which political struggle is waged is that of the legitimacy of concepts like planning or the market – at least right now and in our current situation.” (264) The analysis of this political struggle obviously takes a postmodern turn in which the market has become a pure image, a representational fiction. He thus argues that the “slogan of the market not only covers a great variety of different referents or concerns but it is also virtually always a misnomer.” (266) The essentialist defenses of the market, those advanced for instance by neoliberalism or globalists, are in fact about something else altogether. Jameson claims that the free markets promoted by the ideologues are never free but always oligopolistic, they praise consumption whereas markets are mostly production markets, and where governments embody evil, it is in fact governments that are co-opted by markets. The market is no longer what it appears to be – and never was. Jameson challenges us by claiming that the meaning of the market has been displaced if not inverted and now represents the pacification of the evils of human freedom. The success of the market idea is hence not found in ‘the market’ itself but rather in self-gratified consumption of the idea. The medium has become the message and vice versa.
Radically discursive interpretations, such as Jameson’s, thus highlight the possible subversions that the signifier ‘market’ is amenable to. And indeed, various parties are ironically self-aware of the discourse they are employing. Nike and Shell are interested in sustainable development as long as it sells. This also shows that the rules of discourse, and ideological or hegemonic formations are sometimes less rigid than they may seem. It however remains to be seen how forceful any of these subversive powers turn out to be.
Market rhetoric
On par with references to market ideology, ‘market rhetoric’ is also often used in a pejorative sense. Images and arguments of markets are for instance used by corporations ‘merely’ to sort a favorable effect. Similarly, anti-market rhetoric of demonstrators in Genoa is dismissed as a form of rhetoric that dearly misses the point and misunderstands the issues. A non-pejorative and more technical view of ‘market rhetoric’ may however help to clarify the issue. Rhetoric is the tool with which one fights a discursive struggle and market rhetoric hence refers to the battle over the market. As we saw from our discussion of ideology, hegemony, and discourse, a discursive struggle assumes antagonists with opposing views. These analytical concepts however have only little means to describe how ideologies succeed in getting a foothold, how a hegemonic order is achieved and discourses operate.
In a war of words, persuasion is the weapon. Persuasion takes place in rhetorical processes. It is often assumed that persuasion works through reason. One adopts another belief because one sees the reasons why the old belief should be replaced. Reason is however only part of the rhetorical situation. In the Rhetoric of Economics, Deirdre McCloskey (1998) analyzes how economists persuade economists, but her views should be equally applicable to the issue of the market in globalization. She argues that the rhetorical performance of texts consists of four elements, what she calls the rhetorical tetrad: fact, logic, story, and metaphor. Market rhetoric therefore does not perform differently. Texts about markets perform by bringing in favorable facts that are presented as proof while leaving out others. These facts are subjected to a logic so as to arrive at conclusions about markets. Thus far the rhetorical performance is similar to the operations of reason. Texts however always also perform through their literary qualities, even texts on economics, McCloskey claims. They tell a story of some genre or another, with the aim of strengthening persuasion. Globalists are inclined to tell triumphal success stories, like Sameena Ahmat of the Economist did in the Pro Logo vs. No Logo debate. Opponents of globalization like Naomi Klein, on the other hand convey dramas featuring markets, for instance about how the appearance of the market led to social and environmental disasters.
Tropes are the fourth factor in a rhetorical performance. Of these, metaphor is the most important. The basic structure of a metaphor is that it denotes something by means of something else. Thus to speak of liquid assets in economics does not mean that money is literally fluid – and assets would be frozen when transported to the South Pole as the joke goes – but tries to explain the features of money by reference to fluids. Similarly, any reference to markets is metaphorical. The metaphor of the market ties together a whole chain of expressions, linking Adam Smith’s pin-factories to our everyday experiences of the produce market on Union Square, a shuk in East-Jerusalem and all the way to the equations of general equilibrium theory. Economic narratives derive their persuasiveness from emphasizing the right metaphorical meanings and suppressing others. Radical interpreters of discourse like Laclau stress that every form of meaning is metaphorical and is always part of an infinite chain of references. This not only explains why certain metaphors become hegemonic, but also provides the space for undermining them and thus the means for procuring a backlash.
The market is such a rhetorically powerful metaphor. It has firmly nestled itself at the heart of the discourse of globalization and is called upon by either proponents or opponents and has become its prime metaphorical site of contestation.

All this talk about language and discursive struggles fought over the market metaphor may give the impression that globalization is a process that takes place in the seminar room and if necessary it can be resisted from one’s armchair. What about the ‘real’ disruptive developments of the globalized world such as migration disasters, the irony of the free market as it comes to labor, impacts of global finance, major and rapid economic transformations in production, distribution and consumption, the failures of well-meaning adjustment programs, cultural homogenization, global terrorism and the emergence of an American Empire? As the strong and radical discursive programs indicate, a turn to discourse does not imply that these processes do not count. A major difference is that they are read differently, perhaps no longer as a reality more real and painful than that of words and culture, but all as expressions within a larger story. In the end, the result will have to be measured in the effects on these ‘real’ events.
Anatomy of the discursive struggle: a debate without a center
So far, I have mostly discussed the discursive features of the struggle, but not much attention was given to the arena in which this discursive battle is enacted. If one considers how the discursive struggle is being conducted one recognizes some of its peculiarities. I will briefly discuss three structural features of the debate that I believe are central for understanding the setting of the globalization discourse. Together with the theoretical discussion in the previous section, these structural features of the discursive setting inform the political strategies that I will formulate in the concluding section of this paper.
First and foremost, the discursive struggle over the market takes place in a debate without a center. The absence of a center is a crucial feature of the debate over the market. The Pro Logo vs. No Logo debate that opened this paper in a way forms an exception. It is a debate with a somewhat fixed center where proponents and opponents meet and exchange views. We already saw that an antagonism of proponents and opponents is crucial for the constitution of the debate and that such an opposition seems to be in place. What however is lacking in most of the global debate is a fixed site or center where the negotiations could be settled.
The lack of a center is an inevitable consequence of the global condition as much as it is its defining feature. The global is global precisely because it transgresses national borders, and economic, societal, or cultural boundaries. Where these borders and boundaries tended to force its constituents towards a center, in the global condition these centripetal forces are missing. Existing jurisdictions are challenged and there are no new ones to replace them. There are no political institutions that govern the universe and an unpredictable enmeshment of conventional economic, societal, or cultural meanings follows. As a consequence, there is no center to the debate, nor is there a procedure to arrive at an agreement, or is there any limitation to what means of argument can be employed. A truly global debate defies the rationality of a Habermasian speech community and the foundations of a public sphere. Put in less abstract terms, where do the challengers of global markets and their defenders meet. In Genoa or in Porto Alegre, in the Nation or in the Economist, at the tables of national governments, at institutional organization, or in the board rooms of multinational corporations? What is the outcome of their negotiations: the Washington consensus, anti-globalist manifestos like No Logo, or the universal declaration of the human rights? And what compelling force makes the opponents and proponents of the market listen to one another? Opponents read their own journals, newspapers and have their own debating groups on the Internet, just like the advocates have their own heroes, see their views vindicated and their principles reconfirmed.
Given the absence of a center for the debate, there is an inclination to return to earlier centers or to call for new. Hence, with the decentering of the debate one can witness in conservative circles a renewed emphasis on the nation state. Conversely, one can also observe a call for global institutions to impose new centers on the debate. In the meantime, as suggested by radical discourse theorists, the debate acquires a temporary center around icons or symbols, thus opening a new space. Whether or not you rally behind the icon determines in which camp you are. This marks the situation in which the debate about the market is in. In absence of a center to decide for or against it, one is engaged in a permanent battle over a metaphor.
A second structural feature about the debate over the market is that it is an uneven debate between two unequal camps. First this gives the debate an ironic twist. The debate originates from an opposition over a symbol, the market metaphor. The opponents in the debate, however, have a ‘discursive precedence’ in the debate. The antagonists are the first to move in the debate, if not to open the debate. This is a bold claim in need of historical analysis. The obvious counter-argument is to point at a host of so-called ‘globalists’ like Fukuyama and Friedman who fervently argue in favor of a global order based on the market. However, if the global order is indeed an instance of the market writ large, there would not be any need for the ‘globalists’ to argue their case, otherwise than in defense against a perceived opposition. Moreover, since many opponents argue like Chomsky (1999) that the market does not at all develop as it would in the ideal story, than there would be no need for them to protest other than to resist the imagined ideals of the proponents. It seems in both cases that resistance against the market has precedence in the discursive order with the ironic consequence that the debate is primarily brought down on the opponents.
This argument is overly simplistic and suppresses many intricacies, for instance that the liberal tradition has always been the dominant narrative. It seems however to be confirmed by the fact that analyses of the place of neo-liberalism in the global order, by noted linguistically sensitive scholars like Chomsky (1999) or Bourdieu (1998), mostly consist of defining the ideologies they resist so much. Steger (2002) in his analysis of ‘globalism’ as the new market ideology can easily summarize the mostly neoliberal views of the proponents, but seems to be at loss when it comes to describe the opponents. Globalism according to Steger, consists of the following five claims that all contest of the idea that globalization is the market writ large. Globalization is about the liberalization and global integration of markets. Second, globalization is inevitable and irreversible and third, nobody is in charge of it. Fourth, globalization renders benefits to everyone and fifth, it promotes the spread of democracy over the world. The effect of such well-defined lists is that apart from opposing, they also define the object of resistance. The neoliberal global order, or the Washington consensus did not exist prior to these formulations by their opponents. More so, the opponents of markets seem to lack a clear agenda. Even though as Steger (2002) notes, opposition to the market and globalization comes from both the Left and the Right and the latter has a clear program, the Left lacks an agenda that unifies their efforts. If one considers any of the anti-globalization demonstrations, it is obvious that the opposition consists of a chain of heterogeneous demands. As a consequence, the arguments and tropes against the market come from a variety of directions. Proponents of the market are molded into a coherent set of positions by opponents who themselves resist any definition. In the New York Times, someone recently wondered why there are so many Right-leaning single-issue radio, television or other media outlets, while there are none with a Leftist message. One of the explanations offered is that Left or progressive causes require by definition the expression of a multiplicity of voices. The Left declines to speak with one voice.
It must be admitted, however, that the advocates of the market have an easier case. To judge from their self-gratulating proclamations about the market and globalization, as recounted by Steger, it seems as if the proponents of markets speak as if they own being right. There is no need to argue, they seem to say, because the market is self-evident and the only possible reality. The arguments in favor of the market rely on some neoliberal version of the so-called kettle-logic: you have no reasons to disagree and there is no need to change things anyway, if you could at all. The proponents have the impression that the market logic holds beyond contestation. This might be the case because it constitutes a ‘strong discourse’, as Bourdieu calls it:
which is so strong and so hard to fight because it has behind it all the powers of a world of power relations which it helps to make as it is, in particular by orienting the economic choices of those who dominate economic relations and so adding its own – specifically symbolic – force to those power relations. (Bourdieu 1998, 95)
It is hard arguing with market advocates, because they have the economic power at their hands which makes them insensitive to any critique.
The situation is further aggravated because of the many discursive ways in which those in command can employ their economic power to manufacture consent. Thomas Frank’s (2000) analysis of the culture of the market of the 1990s is a case in point. He shows how through a range of cultural inscriptions, a market culture emerged in which the market has come to replace democracy. Advertisements, management literature, business leaders, the reorganization of labor, and journalism for instance have effected an equation of the market with the people, or ‘market populism’ as Frank calls it. The marketplace has become the personification of any notion of representing the people, thus making the institutions of democracy superfluous. The cultural machinery of capitalism has manufactured a consensual faith in the theology of the market.
This machinery of cultural inscription brings us to a third and final feature of the anatomy of the debate over the market within globalization. As we saw, appeals to reason are less successful in a debate without a center. Given that it is an uneven debate between two unequal camps, the locus shifts to what I want to call constitutional writing moments in the discourse. Each and every expression, either pro or con, rewrites the metaphor of markets. There are however, more and less determining moments of writing. Those depicted by Frank and the displacements recorded in them, perhaps shift as easily back or elsewhere as in the prior displacements. More lasting are those inscriptions that become codified by and in institutions. Constitutional documents and policies of organizations such as the WTO, IMF, and Worldbank and their practices form constitutive writings of the global market. Similarly are the inscriptions in the two tables of economics textbooks, repeatedly rehearsed anywhere. Written texts, and especially institutionally embodied writing have at least three consequences for the future life of the market metaphor. First, through forms of constitutional writing, the meanings of the market become irreversible. Of course the meanings of the market can be amended, dismissed, or altered, they can however not be turned back. Constitutional texts inevitably leave their marks. Secondly, the written text permanently excludes or at least marginalizes alternatives. Although the alternatives permanently linger on the side, their legitimacy is permanently contested. Once the constitutional texts have been written, the alternatives experience much more difficulties expressing themselves. Thirdly, the smooth surfaces of constitutional texts suppress underlying contradictions. For instance, the idea of free markets contains a call for government intervention to liberate and regulate these free-markets. This inherent contradiction in the idea of free markets is suppressed when constitutional documents draw up new rules for a global market.
To claim that these writing moments take up a critical part in the struggles over the market metaphor in the debate without a center, does not mean that the debate has become insignificant. These issues will be addressed in the next section.
Conclusion: battling the market metaphor
If I am right in claiming that globalization is the market writ large, the discursive struggle over the market is indeed at the heart of political debate about globalization. Or, as Jameson has it, the discursive struggle about the market is at the heart of any contemporary political debate: “…the rhetoric of the market has been a fundamental and central component of this ideological struggle” (Jameson 1991, 264). I argued that the market as a discursive figure neither constitutes an ideology nor a hegemony in its own right. Instead it figures within a wide variety of discourses as a powerful metaphor that has a number of peculiar characteristics, both ideological and hegemonic in kind. As a metaphor the market has the capacity to unify concerns and to motivate action. In the face of opposition, it rationalizes and legitimizes particular interests. Moreover, the market metaphor has the effect of naturalizing and universalizing social experience in particular ways. As a potentially empty signifier, the market metaphor enables the establishing of hegemonic relations in which particular demands or interests are universalized and others suppressed. The discursive struggle does not remain confined to the superstructural world of words and ideas but is fought through all sorts of social practices. Furthermore, it was argued that conceiving of the market as a discursive entity, as against seeing them as ‘real’ entities, also allows for understanding the often complex and ‘postmodern’ displacements or subversions that the signifier of the market can undergo. The market can become our God and replace the democratic institutions of our nation. In these capacities as ideologeme, vehicle for hegemonic displacement, system of dispersal in discourse, and a literary figure, the market metaphor derives its rhetorical power in the debate. The discursive struggle over the market thus, amounts to a battle over a metaphor.
In a debate without a center, however, appeals to reason have only a limited force and hence all rhetorical means exerted, ranging from military interventions to a satiric play on metaphors shape the outcomes. Such a discursive reinterpretation of political struggles requires the developing of new political strategies. More so, because outright rejection of the market metaphor by opponents from the Left has the ironic effect that it assigned the market metaphor this vital place in the first place or at least fortified the opposition. Moreover, if writing moments are important in the constitution of the metaphor and thus stifle further political argument, there is a need to develop new strategies to stage different voices in political struggles.
Despite the fact that globalization is the market writ large, there is no need to surrender to the fatalistic politics of inevitable market forces. On the contrary. To think of the market as a metaphor nonetheless also creates opportunities that enable new political strategies to weaken the entrenched positions. These strategies either invoke the form or the content in which the market metaphor is employed. As the writing processes of the metaphor play such a vital role in the discursive struggle, anyone with a stake in the struggle should try to ensure a place at the various writing tables. Given my contention that globalization processes are the market written large, every political strategy requires a response to the market metaphor that goes beyond outright rejection. Therefore, any political strategy can in the end only be effective if it takes part in rewriting the metaphor. Ideally one should partake in the constitutive writing moments such as those that take place at the IMF, Worldbank, and WTO, or writing moments at the level of supranational organizations like the EU or Mercusur, or at the various national levels. The constitutive writing moments are however not confined to the tables of these institutions and thus also here one can push for rewriting. One can engage in rewriting the market metaphor of textbooks in economics, or influential texts in marketing and management literature, and those in consultancy. The writing tables where the constitutive writing of the market metaphor occurs are often only accessible by those in power. If one cannot take recourse to a literal rewriting of the metaphor, strategies should focus on subverting existing interpretations. Since the debate does not have a single constitutive center, one can still exert rhetorical pressure by rewriting in the margins. As the analysis of Thomas Frank indicates (2000), the market metaphor was expanded and made more encompassing through all sorts of marginal writing operations. Similar writing operations can be used by those who seek to rewrite the market metaphor in a different way. Resistance to the market is nowadays perhaps more effectively expressed by playing on the logo of Enron than through massive demonstrations at the headquarters of the IMF. In the discursive struggle over the metaphor of the market in the various globalization debates, manipulations of the metaphor are initially more important than direct policies. Calling for policies that seek to remedy the mishaps of the market metaphor are merely a stopgap and often ineffectual, whereas actual adjustments in the market metaphor are in the long run more effective. A market metaphor that does not recognize the issues of women, migration, cultural specificity, or inequality can never be effectively remedied for. Rewrite the market metaphor and the rest might follow.
Besides these formal aspects of rewriting the metaphor, any effective strategies also requires a view as to what it seeks to rewrite in the metaphor. There are at least two structural features of metaphors that might give a clue. Metaphors are inherently incomplete. As metaphors transfer content from one domain of meaning to another they always leave out certain meanings and emphasize others. Despite the seemingly all-encompassing character of the market metaphor, also this metaphor is incomplete if not plainly contradictory. Any market is incomplete in its features. Notwithstanding the rhetoric, even seemingly perfect markets like the stock-, telecom-, or banking services markets are not without their deficiencies as is experienced daily. All these markets suffer from incomplete information, monopolistic behavior, or unequal benefits of endowments that they fail to deliver all market promises. Just as one would agree to do in these markets, one could rewrite the metaphor of markets in general, either by including the missing elements or by elaborating existing features. Nearly always, rigorous application of the market metaphor leads to outright contradictions. The ‘free’ market requires government intervention and anyone who pleads for free markets without the free movement of labor and citizenship across national borders plainly contradicts himself. These features, necessary incompleteness and tendency toward contradiction, serve as crowbars in the hands of those who seek to rewrite the metaphor and to give it a more likeable appearance.
In being a metaphor, the market is always about something else as well. This something else can be esteemed moral values such as sovereignty, freedom, or discipline, but also about less venerated ones, like self-interest, or xenophobia. It is in not in the interest of any political strategy to suppress these questions by reinforcing the market as the villain. Instead I propose to revive the battle over the market metaphor in order to inscribe it with a new, more human spirit.

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