Critical Essays on the Political Economy of Neo-Liberalism
Edited by Philip Arestis and Malcolm Sawyer
Chapter 4: From Bourdieu to Becker: economics confronts the social sciences
* Ben Fine 1. INTRODUCTION Interdisciplinary research is prospering as never before. This is even so for economics, which is traditionally the least amenable to collaboration with other disciplines. From within the perspective of its own orthodoxy, economics is scientiﬁc in view of its mathematical formalism in model-building and its heavy reliance upon statistical testing. By contrast, for other disciplines, the methodology, methods and assumptions of economics have generally been perceived as both alien and unacceptable.1 It is time to stand back and take stock of the shifting relationship between economics and the other social sciences. Elsewhere, I have argued that it is potentially experiencing a revolutionary change, with economics colonizing the other disciplines as never before.2 This is most marked in the case of rational choice theory through which the ‘economic approach’ is extended to all areas of life. In other words, social theory is reconstructed, and reduced to, the aggregated behaviour of otherwise isolated optimizing individuals. Such colonization is longstanding and is well represented in the work of Gary Becker. He is strongly associated with human capital theory, the new household economics, the economics of crime, the new political economy, the economics of addiction, and so on.3 What is relatively new, however, is that internal developments within economics have provided new techniques by which it can colonize social theory. In particular, mainstream economics now has models in which it putatively explains the formation of social or economic structures, institutions and customs on the continuing basis of individual optimization....
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