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Culture agency and power: theoretical reflections on informal economic networks and political process

By Kate Meagher


In an increasingly liberalized global environment, the regulatory framework of the state is being challenged from below by popular livelihood and social service initiatives, and from above by transnational trading networks, commodity chains and transnational organized crime. Informal or 'non-state' forms of organization have come to play an increasingly central role in contemporary economic and political change. As regulatory arrangements transcend the framework of the state, the dynamics of governance have become increasingly difficult to conceptualize, or even to trace empirically. Efforts to theorize these fluid organizational processes have become associated with the rise of the network concept. This article considers the extent to which 'networks' offer a suitable concept for the theorization of informal processes of economic regulation and institutional change. It challenges both essentialist and sceptical attitudes to networks through an examination of the positive and negative effects of network governance in contemporary societies in a range of regional contexts. The analysis focuses on three broad principles of non-state organization - culture, agency and power - and their role in shaping processes of economic and political governance. It will be shown that the effective theorization of informal regulatory processes requires attention to the spcific interaction of culture, agency and power in particular social contexts. Emphasizing a grounded theory approac, this article draws on cutting-edge network research from East Asia, Eastern Europe, Africa and Western societies to develop theoretical tools for the comparative study of non-state governance and its impact on wider processes of institutional change

Topics: H Social Sciences (General), HC Economic History and Conditions, JA Political science (General)
Publisher: Danish Institute for International Studies
Year: 2009
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Provided by: LSE Research Online
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