The economic field
Ever since Max Weber, it has been argued that economics is more than a functional or mathematical system (e.g., Weber 1978; Polanyi 1944; Granovetter 1985; Fukuyama 1995; Bourdieu 2000b).1 The flow of goods, services and means of payment is linked to human action, which in turn is inseparable from culture, society and meaning. In addition, these factors form a different configuration in every empirical instance. Although this argument has mainly been accepted in theoretical discussions, empirical research on economics rarely goes beyond the interpretation of statistics. This is especially true for Laos, despite a substantial and high-quality anthropological literature on the peasant economy in Southeast Asia (e.g., Hanks 1972; Scott 1976). I argue that only a closer scrutiny of sociocultural conditions offers an adequate basis for an understanding of the Lao economy. These conditions can be analysed as the dialectical interaction of structure and culture in the economic field.