New Thinking in Political Economy series
Edited by Laura E. Grube and Virgil Henry Storr
Chapter 2: Economists should study culture
The truism is apt: context matters. Consider, for instance, how we understand the meaning of a sentence. Of course, the meanings of the individual words in the sentence matter a great deal. The meanings of the sentences that immediately precede and follow it as well as the broader conversation of which it is a part also matter, as does the speaker and her tone, her dialogical partners, her relationships to her dialogical partners, and the location in which she is speaking. Is she being serious or sarcastic? Is she issuing a command or making a plea or voicing a complaint? When Henry II of England, for instance, asked aloud if someone would ‘rid him’ of ‘this meddlesome priest’—his close friend and Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Becket—we understand both that he likely meant it as a lament and also why his subjects assumed it was a royal edict and carried out Becket’s assassination. It is simply not enough to know the words in a sentence if we wish to understand its meaning. We have to know something about its context.
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