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Introduction In this paper I want to develop a critique of certain approaches to markets and firm behavior in economics and economic sociology There are two main targets of the critique The first concerns some common approaches to markets and the nature of firms in relation to them Here the diverse range of uses of the term market in contemporary lay and academic discourse are argued to cause confusion Also problematic in both mainstream and institutional economics is the tendency to treat market exchange as the atomic structure of all economic processes and as the default form of economic coordination so that any other forms of organization are either marginalised or treated as problematic exceptions The second target of critique concerns literature on the socially embedded character of economic processes on the nature of networks and the role of trust While largely endorsing the importance attached to these in recent literature I argue that their treatment has suffered frequ ently from being idealist both in the sense of underestimating material aspects of economic life and in presenting an overly benign view which underestimates the instrumentality of economic relations In the third section I venture some observations on knowledge and economic systems and their implications for forms of competition Finally I conclude with a reminder of the political significance of explanations of markets and competition 1 The multiple meanings of market1 If we are to discuss market relations and competition we need to be clear on what the former involve However the variety of uses of the term market that it is important to distinguish them if we are not to talk at cross purposes As Maureen Mackintosh observes these are rarely distinguished so that people regularly slide unknowingly between quite different uses of the term sometimes within one sentence while imagining that they are talking about the same thing Mackintosh 1990 see also White 1993 These conceptual slides are a feature of both lay and
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