The Symbolic Economics Approach to the Humanities and Humanitarian Practices
A little over half a century ago the study of history was given a powerful boost when the Annales school engaged in studying the economies of past eras. On the basis of archive data a start was made at that time on recreating, piece by piece, a picture of material exchange in order to investigate the distribution of wealth, the growth of institutions and the structure of markets. The result was a more complete understanding of the moving forces of history. Today’s priority is quantitative measurement of non-material processes. Without this our understanding of many phenomena is guesswork, and we can only shrug vaguely when asked for precise forecasting of choices society will face. Until recently attempts to calculate anything in the arts got nowhere because we lacked any halfway usable instruments of measurement, but now internet technologies enable us to tear aside the curtain concealing the quantitative parameters of symbolic exchange. There is nothing to keep us from moving from talk to action apart from a firmly rooted conviction that this is beyond our capacity. If thinking in the humanities moves in this direction it can look forward to a new upward spiral of development: if it does not, it faces stagnation.
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