Economic reasoning and interaction in socially extended market institutions


An important part of what it means for agents to be situated in the everyday world of human affairs includes their engagement with economic practices. In this paper, we employ the concept of cognitive institutions in order to provide an enactive and interactive interpretation of market and economic reasoning. We challenge traditional views that understand markets in terms of market structures or as processors of distributed information. The alternative conception builds upon the notion of the market as a “scaffolding institution.” Introducing the concept of market as a “socially extended” cognitive institution we go beyond the notion of scaffolding to provide an enactive view of economic reasoning that understands the market participant in terms of social interactive processes and relational autonomy. Markets are more than inert devices for information processing; they can be viewed as “highly scaffolded,” where strong constraints and incentives predictably direct agents’ behavior. Building on this idea we argue that markets emerge from (a) the economic interaction of both supply and demand sides, in continual and mutual interplay, and (b) more basic social interactions. Consumer behavior in the marketplace is complex, not only contributing to determine the market price, but also extending the consumer’s cognitive processes to reliably attain a correct evaluation of the good. Moreover, this economic reasoning is socially situated and not something done in isolation from other consumers. From a socially situated, interactive point of view buying or not buying a good is something that enacts the market. This shifts the status of markets from external institutions that merely causally affect participants’ cognitive processes to social institutions that constitutively extend these cognitive processes. On this view the constraints imposed by social interactions, as well as the possibilities enabled by such interactions, are such that economic reasoning is never just an individual process carried out by an autonomous individual, classically understood. In this regard, understanding the concept of relational autonomy allows us to see how economic reasoning is always embodied, embedded in, and scaffolded by intersubjective interactions, and how such interactions make the market what it is.

Publication Title

Frontiers in Psychology