More on Sociologists
| Peter Klein |
Regarding the political inclinations of economists and sociologists, my colleague David O’Brien remarks:
As I’m sure you know, the ideological roots of economics come out of “liberal” thought, whereas, as you may not know, the ideological roots of sociological thought emerge from the “romantic conservative reaction” to the French Revolution and Enlightenment thought; hence the inclination of sociologists to define the problem of order in terms of “consensus-building” either in the traditional sociology of Durkheim that focuses on values and norms or the Marxian obsession with “control of the means of production”. . . .
To me, the most intriguing aspect of the paradigmatic biases of economics versus sociology is that the economists’ assumptions are much closer to the long-term “informal” as well as “formal” liberal institutional structure of our society; not only in economics, but in political life as well. Thus, it’s not surprising that ordinary folks, as well as policy makers are more likely to listen to economists than sociologists. Of course, as the previous World-Bank President came to realize, it is difficult to solve development problems solely in terms of the neo-classical economic paradigm. It’s interesting, along these lines, that the concept of “social capital” that has been “embedded” in sociological thought since the 19th century, although in different terms, finally was the idea that made the “breakthrough” in bringing sociological thought into the bankers’ discussions of development; i.e., when a sociological idea could be understood within the language of liberal thought as a factor in capital formation.
Of course, there is a lot of silliness in sociology that reinforces the notion that the discipline is far removed from “practical problem solving.” I think that many sociologists often tend to be their own worst enemies by eschewing incremental — i.e., “liberal” policy alternatives — and to focus on utopian dreams.