Titlepage boek Économie et sociologie

Économie et sociologie --- How sociology fills in a lacuna

Publication: Presses universitaires de France (2004, Parijs)

First insertion on Heterodoxe Gazet Sam de Wolff: 5 may 2014

E.A. Bakkum is a blogger for the Sociaal Consultatiekantoor. He loves to reflect on the labour movement.

When a century ago the interest for the Historical School waned, it seemed as if the marginalist revolution of the neoclassical paradigm had decided the fate in her advantage. All economists gathered around this single dominant doctrine. However, in reality the situation is more complex. For, the activities of the Historical School have been taken over by the science of sociology, which precisely during this period proved its reason of existence. Besides the economists with their abstract models and mathematical formulas, sociologists such as Weber, Simmel and Durkheim make a name for themselves. They place the economic actions within a social frame.

Now, a century later, the sociologists François Cusin and Daniel Benamouzig in their book Économie et sociologie make an inventory of the knowledge, that has been gathered by the sociology, and from this present the specifically economic insights. The result is impressive: the reader can consult 496 pages which describe the development of capitalism. Nothing seems to escape the attention of the authors: the organization of production, the innovation, the actions of the state, and even the globalization.

Économie et sociologie shows, that in common economics there is a scientific lacuna, which can be filled by sociology. Sociology has less than economics the pretension to be an exact science. On the contrary, it likes to moderate, and to incite people to reflect and to reject unsound ideological phrases. This is definitely a benefit, that deepens the understanding, and that prevents policies from degenerating into rigid and ineffective doctrines. The authors deserve praise for their well written and clear work. Perhaps there are better books - especially in France the economic sociology is a popular subject, which elicits many publications -, but Économie et sociologie is certainly superior to the also reviewed book Paradoxen van modernisering.

A summary of the contents may show something of the wealth of ideas. It is often stated that the economy develops in an autonomous manner. Cusin and Benamouzig doubt that, and they want to study the social encapsulation of the economy. They start their study with a survey of the insights, that emerge from the anthropology. Here the gift (in the French language the don) plays an important role1. This is not a free exchange, but a system of rights and duties. And it turns out that the material greed of the homo economicus is not automatically present in all cultures. The morals and the traditional values still dominate in the social perception2.

Next the authors describe the division of labour. According to Adam Smith individuals have certain moral inclinations, such as bartering and sympathy. The French sociologist Emile Durkheim even states that morals are decisive. The division of labour is accompanied by the individualization of society. Individuals are forced to adapt in a conscious manner. Karl Polanyi elaborates on the theory of Durkheim, and the text also summarizes his findings. On the other hand, Talcott Parsons prefers to focus on the differentiation, and applies Darwinist concepts. A successor of Parsons is Niklas Luhmann.

The next chapter concerns the social structure. Do classes exist, or have they fused into one big mass? It is obvious that the authors use references to Karl Marx in their discussion of this theme. They believe that Max Weber and Georg Simmel elaborate on the theory of Marx. They state that the classes slowly dissolve in society as a whole. In an egalitarian society the competition increases, and thus the needs. The consumption becomes essential for the expression of the own identity and uniqueness. The chapter ends with the views of Ralph Dahrendorf and Alain Touraine.

The chapter about the increasing importance of rational actions is essential. Both Weber and Simmel consider this as the unique hallmark of modernization. In this respect, the appreciation of Weber for Calvinism has become famous. Apparently capitalism has an ethical origin. Simmel pays much attention to money, which in his view makes relations more business-like. The new ideas create Talorism and Fordism.

The position of the market is a point of controversy between economists and sociologists. According to the economists the markets are a natural phenomenon, and the place where traders conclude their contracts. On the other hand the sociologists state that markets are always constructed by society. They have rules and conventions, and therefore they are a part of the institutions. Thus markets resemble organizations. They consist of all kinds of networks, which together are stabilized by institutional structures. The book analyzes the consumer market, the labour market and the capital market.

The next chapter describes the historical development of the industry and commerce during early capitalism. It is curiuos that the development exhibits a long cycle. Namely, during several centuries the size of the enterprises continues to increase. In some branches this even results in monopolies. This is the period, that witnesses the unstoppable rise of the class of managers3. The changed structures of the enterprises obviously lead to different ways of operation. More recently, with the advance of globalization, the enterprises have preferred to downscale. Again they contract out many activities to ancillary suppliers, so that they become more flexible. A part of the personnel is engaged in precarious conditions. This chapter contains fascinating insights from the organization theory.

Those who are interested in economic growth will appreciate the many instructive facts in the chapter about innovation. The theory of Joseph Schumpeter is explained in detail. An intriguing question concerns the ability of the big industries to innovate. In any case the defense research has yielded much knowledge, which can be applied elsewhere. Many studies focus on the manner, in which innovations spread. Sometimes the society is not yet ready, and rejects the find.

Next the role of the state is again studied, both as the minimal state, the planning state, the compromising state, and the Keynesian state. During the nineteenth century the advantages of state intervention in the economy are acknowledged. Each type of state policy has its own rationality. Immediately after the Second Worldwar the enthusiasm for economic planning is huge, although it is rarely coercive. Later this is extended with spatial planning. Since 1970 the active state loses its legitimacy, and the operation of markets is preferred. This chapter ends with reflections on the future role of the state.

In the final chapter the authors have the ambition to explain the globalization in a sociological-scientific manner. The theme is controversial. The classical paradigm of economics states that trade is an international phenomenon. On the other hand, the Historical School points out the importance of national peculiarities. In any case, it becomes clear that international politics plays a decisive role, including wars and colonialism. Anthony Giddens has confidence in modernizations, which are partly forced by the process of globalization.

In the conclusion the authors summarize the preceding text, in a bird's view. They again refer to the interaction between the state and the market. In the epilogue they divide the science of economical sociology into three time phases, namely the classics, the modernists, and the contemporaries (les contemporains). It is interesting to again observe this compact presentation and comparison of currents. It brings the sterile economic models to life, and in some cases unmasks their lack of reality. When reflection succeeds in clearing misunderstandings, then that is worth something.

  1. It is not a coincidence, that precisely the gift is the subject of many jokes. For instance, a man helps a Scot (Scots may read Dutchman here) in carrying his suitcases. Next the Scot says: "Here, for a decent cup of coffee", and gives the man something. A lump of sugar. Or: a Scot gives his girl-friend a ring with an inlaid juwel. She asks: "How beautiful! Is that a real diamond?" He replies: "I hope so. If not, then someone has tricked me out of €10". Or: a woman hopes to get an automatic dishwasher from her spouse. But he gives a water-tight watch. Or: a man says to the shop-keeper: "Please do not remove the price ticket. It is a gift". Or: the hostess asks: "What may I offer you? Beer? Wine? A nip? Coffee?" The guest refuses politely: "Don't bother, the beer, wine and nip are more than sufficient". Or: a Scot gives a peanut to his girl-friend. She asks: "Can I get another one?" He replies: "Why? I assure you that they really all taste the same". Or: by accident, two Scots again meet after 25 years. The joy of the meeting is great. They enter a bar, and one of them says: "Remember? It is your turn for a round". Or: bring two Scots together in a bar, and they die of thirst. This makes one ponder, although the reader himself is undoubtedly wittier than this. (back)
  2. Theun de Vries writes in his volume Wiarda (p.125): Markets! Capital is made, gold is dug, monetary standard, banks, credits, profitability, endless welfare -! The farmer does not know it, he does not see, what happens with the world. Money? That is silver for horses, lands, juwels, a status piece. He as a contempt for banks and the stock exchange, he passes them. But nevertheless the exchanges and banks decide, whether the farmers will be poor or rich. And everybody believes the stock exchange, the monopolies and the welfare. The universities preach liberalism, evolution and free trade. The progress advances, the right of the fittest, it hurries on along the smooth metal branches of the railways across all continents. The private initiative replaces the bible. (back)
  3. Arie Pleysier describes in De speelweide the new type of manager (p.307): Wim is no longer the chairman of the Youth Organization, but he presides over the board of the foundation "Sun and Freedom", which manages the camps of the workers' youth. But even without this function he would have remained the father of the youth movement. He naturally has more grave concerns: the labour movement placed him in a number of important positions. They are important enough to forget the workers' youth or at least to see it as a part of the large whole. The opposite has occurred: the experience of the efforts in the youth organization became the basis for all activities of Wim, in a wider context. Nobody, who knows him, doubts this. He who speaks at countless meetings, who performed in market halls and tramway depots for tens of thousands of people, he has remained loyal to the interpersonal formation, for him this is still the basis for all other activities. (back)