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The Handbook of Political Economy of Communications by Janet Wasko, Graham Murdock, Helena Sousa

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3

Markets in Theory and Markets in Television

Eileen R. Meehan and Paul J. Torre

Contemporary discourse finds many uses for the word “market.” Perhaps the most specific uses are these three: a place where people go to sell or buy goods and services; an actual assemblage of such persons; and the abstract assemblage of such persons whose transactions involve a single commodity. These standard uses of the term “market” highlight the economic nature of markets and the autonomy of those who enter markets. More imaginative uses are also available in contemporary discourse. Bear or bull markets have nothing to do with selling animals. Instead, the terms describe the pace of trading by contrasting supposedly cautious bears to bold bulls. Markets are anthropomorphized when described as ailing, depressed, skittish, sluggish, or exuberant. The political slogan “let the market decide” regarding matters of public policy suggests that markets transcend mere humans and their democratic institutions. These imaginative uses of “market” imbue markets with a life force that has its own innate characteristics, rhythms, and intelligence. This is problematic because it shifts our attention from the economic and political relationships, structures, and supports that actually constitute markets.

In this chapter, we describe those relationships, structures, and supports in both abstract and concrete terms. We begin with Adam Smith’s liberal market model, the first political economic model of a capitalist economy. ...

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