Economics, Culture and Social Theory

Economics, Culture and Social Theory

New Horizons in Institutional and Evolutionary Economics series

William A. Jackson

Economics, Culture and Social Theory examines how culture has been neglected in economic theorising and considers how economics could benefit by incorporating ideas from social and cultural theory.

Chapter 5: Theory Divided: Economic, Social and Cultural (1950–Present)

William A. Jackson

Subjects: economics and finance, institutional economics


The period since the 1950s has brought a huge expansion of social sciences within the boundaries established previously. Each discipline has garnered many sub-disciplines, but attempts to cross boundaries have been rare, even when topics have overlapped. Truly interdisciplinary work remains scarce, and social sciences have theorised separately, often duplicating arguments. As before, the desire to copy natural science is unremitting and encourages formal empiricism, quantitative techniques and mathematical theory. The core doctrines of most social sciences have continued to be non-cultural. The second half of the twentieth century did, nevertheless, see a reaction against the positivistic extremes reached in the first half. From the 1960s onwards, dissatisfaction with positivism induced a revival of cultural thought within radical philosophy, the New Left, structuralism, postmodernism and cultural studies. The new ideas were reminiscent of the Counter-Enlightenment and Romanticism, a connection recognised by some authors though not by all. Renewed cultural thought gained many supporters during the late twentieth century and had a bearing on social sciences. While the attention paid to culture helped redress its earlier neglect, the consequences were variable and could not overcome disciplinary divisions. Orthodox economics, true to its neoclassical ethos, had little time for cultural ideas. The post-war period was marked by the conversion of existing theories into mathematical form and the spread of quantitative techniques; both trends were further exercises in natural-science emulation. Unmoved by the resurgent cultural thought, orthodox economics swung in the opposite direction towards mathematics, econometrics and a militant individualism (evident in the...

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