Cultural Approach

Economic Approaches:

Key assumptions and aspects:

  • Economies are made up of: Socially and culturally embedded individuals 
  • Human beings are: Shaped by culture, norms and meaning-making processes around them
  • Economies change through: Altering understandings and interpretations of economic activities
  • Favoured methods: Qualitative research

The cultural approach is a broad category which is defined by its focus on the importance of culture in how economies work. As such, it pays attention to the meaning people give to things and how these meanings are constructed and influence economic life. The origins of this approach go back to the beginning of the social sciences, with scholars such as Max Weber, Bronislaw Malinowski and Marcel Mauss. It has many forms and names, such as the culturalist approach, cultural economics, anthropological economics, cultural sociology, and constructivist political economy, which each refer to something slightly different. It should however be noted that it does not refer to the economics of the culture industry, which is a topic, not a perspective. One could also argue that a recent development within this broad category is performativity theory, which revolves around the idea that economic ideas do not merely (aim to) describe the world, but actively shape (perform) it. A famous example, mentioned earlier, is the Black–Scholes model, which initially described derivatives markets poorly, but after it changed financial regulations and began to be used by many traders, it came to explain derivatives markets very well (MacKenzie, 2006).


  • Economic Lives: How Culture Shapes the Economy by Viviana Zelizer, from 2010.
  • Constructing the International Economy by Rawi Abdelal, Mark Blyth, & Craig Parsons, from 2010. 
  • The Anthropology of Economy: Community, Market, and Culture by Stephen Gudeman, from 2001.
  • Do Economists Make Markets? On the Performativity of Economics by Donald MacKenzie, Fabian Muniesa & Lucia Siu, from 2007.