Table of Contents

The Elgar Companion to Social Economics

The Elgar Companion to Social Economics

Elgar original reference

Edited by John B. Davis and Wilfred Dolfsma

As this comprehensive Companion demonstrates, social economics is a dynamic and growing field that emphasizes the key role that values play in the economy and in economic life. Social economics treats the economy and economics as being embedded in the larger web of social and ethical relationships. It also regards economics and ethics as essentially connected, and adds values such as justice, fairness, dignity, well-being, freedom and equality to the standard emphasis on efficiency. The Elgar Companion to Social Economics brings together the leading contributors in the field to elucidate a wide range of recent developments across different subject areas and topics. In so doing the contributors also map the likely trends and directions of future research. This Companion will undoubtedly become a leading reference source and guide to social economics for many years to come.

Chapter 6: The Conception of the Socially Embedded Individual

John B. Davis

Subjects: economics and finance, methodology of economics, public sector economics, social policy and sociology, economics of social policy


John B. Davis Social economics differs in many respects from standard mainstream economics, but one of the most fundamental differences is that it employs a conception of the human individual as socially embedded rather than as atomistic. Indeed, just as the atomistic individual conception is one of the defining characteristics of mainstream economics, so the socially embedded individual conception is one of the defining characteristics of social economics. Broadly speaking, the difference between these two conceptions rests on whether individuals and their behavior are explained ‘externally’ in terms of their social relationships or ‘internally’ in terms of their private tastes and preferences. The former perspective sees social life as intrinsic to our understanding of individuals as social beings; the latter perspective operates with a view of social life restricted to the market interaction of individuals understood as non-social beings. It follows that these two conceptions of the individual also support two different normative visions of individuals and society. The socially embedded individual conception is associated with normative principles that emphasize relationships between people, such as equality, fairness and the (positive) freedom to achieve, whereas the atomistic individual conception is associated with normative principles that emphasize the independence of individuals, such as autonomy, rights and (negative) freedom from social interference. We can characterize the former approach as a social justice view and the latter approach as a liberal society view. Each has strongly contrasting social economic policy recommendations associated with it, particularly with respect to...

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