Semi-Daily Journal Archive

The Blogspot archive of the weblog of J. Bradford DeLong, Professor of Economics and Chair of the PEIS major at U.C. Berkeley, a Research Associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research, and former Deputy Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Treasury.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Madmen in the Attic...

Here Mark Thoma watches Tony Giddens in the Guardian discourse on conditions for a "revival of sociology." I listen for a while, and then I want to sidle quietly away before I am noticed:

Economist's View: Did Economics Crowd Out Sociology?: A call to arms, by Anthony Giddens, Commentary, The Guardian:

All you sociologists out there! All you ex-students of sociology! All of you (if there are such people) who are simply interested in sociology and its future! I'd like to hear from you. We live in a world of extraordinary change, in everyday life, family relationships, politics, communications and in global society. We are witnessing, among other things, a return of the gods, as religion re-emerges as a major force in our societies, locally and on a worldwide level.... [W]hy isn't sociology again right at the forefront of intellectual life and public debate?...

I would suggest two main ones. First, sociology's star was dimmed by the rise of market-based philosophies from the early 1980s onwards. As a phase of government, market fundamentalism lasted some twenty years - roughly the period covered by the Reagan and Thatcher governments.... If markets settle most aspects of social life, including social justice, the scope of social factors - the prime province of sociology - is correspondingly reduced. The economic, as it were, predominates heavily over the social.

A second reason I would single out is the impotence many people feel in the face of the future. There are no longer utopian projects that would supply a source of direction.... [S]ociological thinking... was regularly stimulated by an engagement with those who wanted to change the world for the better. ...

What is the remedy...? Market fundamentalism is disappearing from the scene. The stage is set for a return to the social. After all, even the IMF these days gives social and political factors a significant place in development processes - and Mrs Thatcher is long gone....

The answer for me is a return to the style of thinking that originally drove the sociological enterprise. A little bit more utopian thinking might help too... We need more positive ideals in the world... that link to realistic possibilities of change...

I would be less alarmed by Tony Giddens if I were sure that he knew that of the two Bretton Woods institutions it is the IMF--the "Fund"--that is focused on international capital flows, reserves, and exchange rates; and that it is the IBRD--the "World Bank"--that is focused on development processes.

I would be less frightened of Tony Giddens if I believed he took the extraordinary reach and power of market exchange in our world to be something important and interesting to analyze, rather than something regrettable that we mention as little as possible now that Mrs. T. no longer lives in Downing Street, and that we deal with by boxing it up into obsolete Marxist categories.

And I might even be comfortable with Tony Giddens's having access to metal and not just plastic knives if there was less visible nostalgia for the days when so many sociologists were stooges in search of a... well, that's not fair. But let us roll the videotape, and remember just what the "utopian thinking" of the 1970s that Giddens sees as a source of energy for sociology really was--from The Capitalist World Economy that I was assigned in my junior year:

Immanuel Wallerstein, "Modernization: Requiescat in Pace": [Modernization theory] was unquestionably a worthy parable... manipulated by the masters of the world.... [T]he time has come to put away childish things... look reality in the face. We do not live in a modernizing world but in a capitalist world.... The problem for oppressed strata is not how to communicate within this world but how to overthrow it....

[O]nce capitalism was consolidated as a system and there was no turnback... the proletarianization of labor and the commercialization of land.... It will in fact only be with a socialist world-system that we will realize true freedom (including the free flow of the factors of production). This is indeed what lies behind Marx's phrase about moving from the 'realm of necessity into the realm of freedom'.

I do not intend here to preach a faith. Those who wish will believe. And those who do not will struggle against it. I wish rather to suggest an agenda of intellectual work for those who are seeking to understand the world-systemic transition from capitalism to socialism in which we are living, and thereby to contribute to it....

This then brings me to the fourth system based on a socialist mode of production, our future world government. We are living in the transition to it, which will continue for some time to come. But how are we relating to it? As rational militants contributing to it or as clever obstructors of it (whether of the malicious or cynical variety)?...

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