Douglass C. North, an economist often studied by undergraduate students of “Institutional Economics”, introduces into economic theory the effects of “institutions”, which are ways of perceiving and behaving that result from “mental models” and socio-economic history (social customs and myths, contracts between organizations). North criticizes “neoclassical” theory that only talks about “scarcity and hence competition” as an “institution-free theory” and offers his theory as a corrective that describes the “imperfect markets” in the real world where “constraints” structure all economic exchange. In an economic system with institutions, agents may appear that manipulate the system to their own advantage, or which have a “stake in the existing conditions” of an inefficient status quo, thereby resulting in overall paths of less-than-ideal efficiency.

What North shows in his approach is how the social and political spheres are linked inevitably with the economic sphere. This gives us an interesting way to approach the gender relations governing a society. The attack on Malala Yousafzai in Swat Valley became an international media event, accompanied with the perfunctory condemnation of the Taliban social order. But, from the perspective of the local¬†Taliban sympathizers, the Taliban movement in the northern areas of Pakistan is an “anti-imperialist” resistance against a system that marginalized and deprived them. In her social theory, the Moroccan feminist Mernissi has portrayed the traditional Muslim social order in terms of a public-private divide, where women are identified with the private sphere and their encroachment in the public sphere is seen as threatening to the social order, creating fitna, or “social disorder” (1987: 31). It is a forced observance of this social order that the Taliban adhere to. This enforcement can be seen as part of the Taliban’s attempt to create an anti-Western spirit that is embodied not just in the political struggle of the men but also in their society’s economic behavior.

At the intersection of these two spheres of the “political” and the “social” where public and private mingle, we find not only ideology, but also business interests.¬† Read the rest of this entry »

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