More on Sociologists

25 July 2006 at 11:58 pm 3 comments

| 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.

Entry filed under: - Klein -, Classical Liberalism.

Theories of Religion Classical Liberal Sociology

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Tina  |  26 July 2006 at 3:57 pm

    I think the truth is not as black and white, and I would strongly oppose the view that economics driven by rationale and pragmatism wheras sociologists are utopian dreamers. I am a sociologist and do not lean left, me and many colleages I respect very much are in far distance from utopian thinking, much more, than many economists I have encountered …

    Given the complexity of sociological thought – the schools of thought, the areas of research, quantitative and qualitative methodology, changing trends of thinking – there are many different sociologies, and society needs just that because we allow the complexity in search for good analyses and appropriate answers to challenges. A sociotechnical approach to organizations and, more general, to complex phenomena like it seemed appropriate in the 1970s would have (almost) no chance in sociology, today, but you will find some remains of that type of thinking in management.

    I am strongly convinced that economists and sociologists will learn much more the other discipline than we ever did before with an interdisciplinary discussion on markets, the “laws” of the markets, social foundations of markets and cultural dimension of markets.

    p.s. via “sozlog” you get to a manuscript of Prof. Dr. Stefan Hradil, giving a lecture on the question “Braucht unsere Gesellschaft die Soziologie?” (“Does our society need sociology?”, published in German) on the Homepage of Alumni Comments are most welcome on “sozlog”.

  • 2. Peter Klein  |  27 July 2006 at 9:28 am

    I certainly agree with Tina that economists and sociologists have a lot to learn from each other. We hope this blog provides a forum for respectful and mutually beneficial exchange. (Of course, the creators of O&M are economists, so we have to poke a little fun at our colleagues from the other side of campus!)

    I sometimes wonder, however, about the limits to such complementarities. What economists take as explanandum (e.g., culture), sociologists take as explanans, and vice versa. In what ways can these different modes of analysis best complement each other?

  • 3. Tina  |  28 July 2006 at 6:03 pm

    Of course, I cannot offer a solution to the question you asked except the call for discourse, more discourse, still more discourse … I’ll think about explanans and explanandum and the potential for disciplinary complementaries of economics and sociology. I remember a saying – I think it was internet designer David Siegel – that the problem itself can turn out to be part of the solution :-)

    Talking about sociologists’ political affiliation, I learn much about a sociologist if I ask him or her on markets orjust start talking about markets. Sociologists leaning left will – at least, in most cases – start talking about markets in terms of “how can you limit the market mechanism”. But some will start talking about markets in terms of how many questions we still have on the market (in general) and the diverse empirical markets in spite of all the research that exists …

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