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Richards, B. (1989). Visions of freedom: The subject in market relations. Free Associations, 1Q(16):31-42.

(1989). Free Associations, 1Q(16):31-42

Visions of freedom: The subject in market relations

Barry Richards

In this article, I would like to conduct an exercise in ‘interdiscursive exploration’, by offering some reflections on the unconscious significance of some theories of the market. Theories of the market both posit conceptions of the subject in market relations and are themselves, like all theories, expressions of particular subjectivities. I shall be suggesting that a post-Kleinian1 psychoanalytic discourse of greed, narcissism, dependency and guilt can be usefully employed to examine the subject posited in and speaking through discourses of the public sphere such as social theory and economic policy. I focus here on pro-market theories and ideologies, and argue that their rational critique of collectivized planning is often overlain or overwhelmed by phantasy. I should say that elsewhere (Richards, 1988) I have examined socialist critiques of the market in a similar way, and that the psychoanalytic study of ideas does not sail under any one preconstituted political flag.

I shall mention two reasons for pursuing this inquiry. One stems from the centrality in our common-sense and intellectual cultures of notions of the market. A simplified, naturalized vision of the market is the bedrock of many everyday understandings of social life and of individuality, while the concept of the market economy and of the abstract agent within it has for two centuries or more underpinned much mainstream thought in the social sciences and in social and moral philosophy.2

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