Economics, Culture and Social Theory
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Economics, Culture and Social Theory

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.
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Chapter 6: Common Themes

William A. Jackson


The cultural critique of economics has lasted for two hundred years without ever being organised programmatically; given the diversity of cultural thought, no single set of principles can encompass it. Cultural criticism never went by fixed principles and defended a pluralism that ruled out dogmatic prescriptions about method. One can, nevertheless, discern common themes that were widely articulated. The present chapter summarises these themes and assesses their consequences for the economics/ culture divide. 6.1 THE MAIN ARGUMENTS Cultural critics of economics have made many arguments. The style, manner and language of the criticism are by no means uniform, and the preferred alternatives to orthodoxy do not converge on any specific ideal. Rather than purveying another theoretical system, cultural critics pointed to how human behaviour and social relations differ from their portrayal by orthodox economics. The most important arguments are considered below. Culture as a Process In its origins, cultural thought referred to a process of cultivation, whereby individuals acquire their beliefs, values and personal capacities from their social surroundings. A cultural method implies that all people grow up within a social environment and do not have a fixed, unchanging character from birth. Theorising should examine the institutional and cultural context; any notion of natural economic behaviour should be rejected. If people do have distinctive economic behaviour, then the economist should be asking how and why this came about. Relativities Cultural methods avoid timeless and universal theorising. Diverse economic arrangements should not be forced into a predetermined model that oversimplifies them...

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