Home > Uncategorized > We cannot understand social theories (like economics) outside the historical context.

We cannot understand social theories (like economics) outside the historical context.

from Assad Zaman

Based on ideas derived from my study of the methodology of Polanyi’s Great Transformation, I have come to the conclusion that history and social theories are entangled — they co-evolve in time. We cannot understand social theories (like economics) outside the historical context, just as we cannot understand history without understanding the social theories in use by different groups to try to interpret events in ways that would lead to policy actions in their favor. It is only in context of the struggle of groups with competing interests to impose favorable interpretations upon historical events that we can understand the emergence of theories like comparative advantage. We cannot understand them from the standard “scientific” point-of-view based on the binary of True/False. This dominant mode of understanding will leave us forever confused as to why theories so dramatically at variance with facts can come to dominate, and be widely taught and believed by people who are, by all appearances, perfectly intelligent.

  1. patrick newman
    April 25, 2017 at 11:45 am

    We have had two centuries of economics wearing the clothes of science but living as ideology serving the interests of the dominant political and commercial classes and institutions.

    • April 25, 2017 at 4:13 pm

      I agree. My view is that the Neoclassical orthodoxy is an ideological cover for corporate capitalism and has been so for more than 150 years, dating from the publication of William Stanley Jevons’ A General Mathematical Theory of Political Economy (1862). The corporate cover really kicked in big time in the reactionary response to Henry George by John Bates Clark at the end of the 19th century.

      • April 26, 2017 at 9:18 pm

        Well, Econoclast, I’d go back to Bentham who knew that the usefulness of a ‘good’ :: the benefits it provided to its users :: was very different from the ‘pleasure/satisfaction’ they received, but who said, for purposes of using mathematics, let the latter be presumed to be so linked to the former that we can ignore that the latter :: pleasure/satisfaction :: is NOT a proxy for the former.

  2. Jadhav parmeshwar
    April 25, 2017 at 2:29 pm

    Marxism is the method of inquiry in society science .not only method but also interpretation of data in social science,

  3. April 26, 2017 at 3:07 am

    One of my most popular lectures (45 minutes) is on “The Methodology of Polanyi’s Great Transformation”

  4. April 26, 2017 at 9:36 am

    In my view, and the view of most sociologists and anthropologists the situation is more complex than just entanglement. History is filled with alternatives and options. Go this way or that. Believe this or that. Hurt or help. Greater or smaller. It’s not social theories vs. history. History encompasses the theories, the societies, everything in human relationships. Historians and Anthropologists study how and why this continuous stream is broken up, how and why seams are put in that create family life, business life, economic life, war, etc. Humans create these different parts of life. Even the parts that study the parts. It angers me that economists assume they can remove themselves from the stream. And then they write and defend some really silly stuff.

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