The Elgar Companion to Social Economics
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The Elgar Companion to Social Economics

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.
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Chapter 2: Institutions, Culture and Values

Anne Mayhew


Anne Mayhew ‘Institutions’, ‘culture’ and ‘values’ have, for more than a century, been key components of the discourse of the social sciences and of social economics. However, what is more interesting than continuity of usage are the great differences in the meaning and importance of the terms within a changing set of sub-discourses. These differences and their evolution will be the focus of this chapter. Across all of the scholarly discussions that I will describe below there is, and has been, a general understanding that institutions are social norms or patterns of action (behavior) and associated emic (which is to say native as opposed to analytical) understandings that vary across time and space.1 It is also generally agreed that cultures are conglomerations of institutions that are shared by a group of people. Values are aspects of cultures and of institutional patterns. From roughly 1870 to 1940, as the social sciences took their modern and academically organized form, institutions, cultures and values were defined primarily by methods of study. Working definitions were sufficient given wide consensus about what it was right and important to do as social scientists. In the decades from 1940 until the end of the twentieth century, as this consensus disintegrated, more attention was given to formal definition of the key terms. Given a lack of disciplinary confidence in method, it seemed more important to say what it was that was being studied. In the first decade of the twenty-first...

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