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 12: Towards a Culturally Informed Economics?

William A. Jackson


Orthodox economics has followed core doctrines that exclude cultural thought. This cultural vacuum was a by-product of the desire to imitate natural sciences, rather than a deliberate disavowal of culture. Most economists were busy with increasingly specialised research and felt no need to ponder the doubts raised by cultural critics – cultural thought was nullified by being ignored. Economics has not been nakedly anti-cultural, but the gist of its theories and methods has been to debar culture. Once orthodoxy defined itself around neoclassical theory, the separation from culture became institutionalised. Heterodox economists did bring culture into economics but, as their heterodox status attests, made little impression on the mainstream. The more cultural the heterodox ideas, the more likely they were to be put aside as unscientific or non-economic. Barriers to culture have been stronger in orthodox economics than in social sciences as a whole. While other disciplines have had their own soul searching about methodology, none has gone as far as neoclassical economics in ruling out cultural methods. The revival of cultural thought since the 1960s has been neglected by orthodox economists who, absorbed in specialised theories, were oblivious to larger intellectual trends. Some have touted an economic imperialism that aims to export neoclassical theory into other social sciences (Tullock, 1972; Becker, 1976; Hirshleifer, 1985; Radnitzky and Bernholz, 1987; Lazear, 2000). Their attitudes show scant awareness of cultural critiques of economics or the broader panorama of social theory, cultural theory and political economy (Harcourt, 1982; Burkitt and Spiers, 1983; Nicolaides, 1988;...

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