Economists and Societies: Discipline and Profession in the United States, Britain, and France, 1890s to 1990s

Economists and Societies: Discipline and Profession in the United States, Britain, and France, 1890s to 1990s

by Marion Fourcade
     
 

"Economists and Societies is an eye-opener for economists. A study of the sociological reasons why economists do what they do, it shows that economics in the United States, Britain, and France has very different orientations. Fourcade demonstrates irrefutably that economists are as much influenced by where they are located as by their supposed adherence to

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Overview

"Economists and Societies is an eye-opener for economists. A study of the sociological reasons why economists do what they do, it shows that economics in the United States, Britain, and France has very different orientations. Fourcade demonstrates irrefutably that economists are as much influenced by where they are located as by their supposed adherence to 'scientific method.' This is a revolutionary book."—George A. Akerlof, Nobel Prize-winning economist

"A masterpiece. Fourcade shows a deep understanding of the institutional differences between Britain, France, and the United States, and demonstrates how they have produced differences in the forms that professional economics has taken. She explores uncharted territory and sketches a novel theory of how economics took such different courses in these three countries. This is a remarkable, stunning book."—Frank Dobbin, Harvard University

"This book is a remarkable study of how, in an age when economics has become an international discipline, cultural differences between three societies have influenced the way the discipline has developed. It would be hard to read this wide-ranging book and not learn much about how economics developed in the twentieth century."—Roger E. Backhouse, author of The Ordinary Business of Life

"A wide-ranging historical survey of the origins, institutionalization, and transformation of the discipline and profession of economics. Fourcade poses the very important question as to why we do not have a single 'market' for economic ideas in the world. Few books succeed so well at showing the great number of historical and institutional contingencies that shape the production and consumption of scientific knowledge."—Mauro F. Guilln, coauthor of Building a Global Bank

"Why does modern economics look the way it does? An economist would say it was a reflection of the generic economy. Fourcade instead asserts that it has everything to do with the institutional structures of its national incubators. Her indispensable book elevates the story of economics to a new level of sophistication."—Philip Mirowski, author of Machine Dreams

"Many economists and other scholars still believe economics to be homogenous, and Fourcade dispels this wrong belief. Economists and Societies contributes to the literature on professions and scientific knowledge by demonstrating the importance of various structural and institutional arrangements in determining the nature of scientific knowledge."—Yuval Yonay, University of Haifa

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Editorial Reviews

Comparative Labor Law & Policy Journal
In-depth and well-informed comparative analyses of cross-country differences in the practice and conceptualization of economics are few in number; hence, Fourcade's book is a welcome and valuable addition to the literature. Certainly it is an impressive product for a young scholar.
— Bruce E. Kaufman
Marginal Revolution
[O]ne of my favorite history of economic thought books, period. It skips textual exegesis and looks at what the economics profession actually did. . . . Definitely recommended.
— Tyler Cowen
Choice
Fourcade has produced a remarkable book. . . . Her 52-page bibliography should be evidence enough of the remarkable effort that went into this book.
— M. Perelman
American Journal of Sociology
[T]his excellent book is a major contribution to the literatures on the professions, sociology of knowledge, economic and political sociology, and comparative political economy insofar as it offers a penetrating look into the relationship between ideas and institutions.
— Andrew Roberts
Business History Review
Fourcade's detailed argumentation, and her use of a clear and direct language far removed from what economists like to trivialize as 'sociologisms,' makes this work an important one for both economists and historians of economics. Historians of the social sciences, and of science more generally, will find this work to be invaluable in their own attempts to contextualize post-World War II scientific practice. I note, finally, the excellent typography and production values exhibited in this work. Princeton University Press has done very well by both the author and the reader.
— E. Roy Weintraub
Sociologica
This book looks like a creative synthesis of much of the best sociology currently available in the States. . . . It is also an invitation to fellow sociologists to further this line of inquiry looking once again at their discipline and profession with the same scholarship, empirical evidence, and intellectual sophistication.
— Marco Santoro
Economic History Review
[A] splendid volume which breaks new ground methodologically and is a major contribution to the history and sociology of western economics.
— Roger Middleton
Constitutional Political Economy
One cannot but be impressed with the richness of the material it covers and the deep immersion of the author in the secondary literature. . . . Her case for the significance of national cultures in economics is more than a valuable complement to the Americanization narrative; it invites us to look closer at the historical conditions that made possible the process that this narrative is supposed to describe.
— Philippe Fontaine
Marginal Revolution - Tyler Cowen
[O]ne of my favorite history of economic thought books, period. It skips textual exegesis and looks at what the economics profession actually did. . . . Definitely recommended.
Choice - M. Perelman
Fourcade has produced a remarkable book. . . . Her 52-page bibliography should be evidence enough of the remarkable effort that went into this book.
Comparative Labor Law & Policy Journal - Bruce E. Kaufman
In-depth and well-informed comparative analyses of cross-country differences in the practice and conceptualization of economics are few in number; hence, Fourcade's book is a welcome and valuable addition to the literature. Certainly it is an impressive product for a young scholar.
American Journal of Sociology - Andrew Roberts
[T]his excellent book is a major contribution to the literatures on the professions, sociology of knowledge, economic and political sociology, and comparative political economy insofar as it offers a penetrating look into the relationship between ideas and institutions.
Business History Review - E. Roy Weintraub
Fourcade's detailed argumentation, and her use of a clear and direct language far removed from what economists like to trivialize as 'sociologisms,' makes this work an important one for both economists and historians of economics. Historians of the social sciences, and of science more generally, will find this work to be invaluable in their own attempts to contextualize post-World War II scientific practice. I note, finally, the excellent typography and production values exhibited in this work. Princeton University Press has done very well by both the author and the reader.
Sociologica - Marco Santoro
This book looks like a creative synthesis of much of the best sociology currently available in the States. . . . It is also an invitation to fellow sociologists to further this line of inquiry looking once again at their discipline and profession with the same scholarship, empirical evidence, and intellectual sophistication.
Economic History Review - Roger Middleton
[A] splendid volume which breaks new ground methodologically and is a major contribution to the history and sociology of western economics.
Constitutional Political Economy - Philippe Fontaine
One cannot but be impressed with the richness of the material it covers and the deep immersion of the author in the secondary literature. . . . Her case for the significance of national cultures in economics is more than a valuable complement to the Americanization narrative; it invites us to look closer at the historical conditions that made possible the process that this narrative is supposed to describe.
Journal of Economic Methodology - D. Wade Hands
[T]his is a masterful book. Fourcade exhibits an extraordinary understanding of the relevant material—it is an extraordinary achievement. Personally, I would say that Fourcade exhibits a much better understanding of the technical aspects of modern economic theory than most of the sociology-based research on the economics profession. . . . She also writes with a simple clarity that will allow the book to be appreciated by a wide range of readers.
From the Publisher
Winner of the 2011 Ludwik Fleck Prize, Society for the Social Studies of Science

Winner of the 2011 Distinguished Scholarly Publication Award, American Sociological Association

Winner of the 2010 Mary Douglas Prize for Best Book, Sociology of Culture Section of the American Sociological Association

Honorable Mention for the 2010 Robert K. Merton Book Award for Best Book in the Science, Knowledge and Technology (SKAT) section category by the American Sociological Association

One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 2009

Honorable Mention for the 2010 Barrington Moore Award for Best Book in the Comparative and Historical Sociology Section of the American Sociological Association

[O]ne of my favorite history of economic thought books, period. It skips textual exegesis and looks at what the economics profession actually did. . . . Definitely recommended."—Tyler Cowen, Marginal Revolution

"Fourcade has produced a remarkable book. . . . Her 52-page bibliography should be evidence enough of the remarkable effort that went into this book."—M. Perelman, Choice

"In-depth and well-informed comparative analyses of cross-country differences in the practice and conceptualization of economics are few in number; hence, Fourcade's book is a welcome and valuable addition to the literature. Certainly it is an impressive product for a young scholar."—Bruce E. Kaufman, Comparative Labor Law & Policy Journal

"[T]his excellent book is a major contribution to the literatures on the professions, sociology of knowledge, economic and political sociology, and comparative political economy insofar as it offers a penetrating look into the relationship between ideas and institutions."—Andrew Roberts, American Journal of Sociology

"Fourcade's detailed argumentation, and her use of a clear and direct language far removed from what economists like to trivialize as 'sociologisms,' makes this work an important one for both economists and historians of economics. Historians of the social sciences, and of science more generally, will find this work to be invaluable in their own attempts to contextualize post-World War II scientific practice. I note, finally, the excellent typography and production values exhibited in this work. Princeton University Press has done very well by both the author and the reader."—E. Roy Weintraub, Business History Review

"This book looks like a creative synthesis of much of the best sociology currently available in the States. . . . It is also an invitation to fellow sociologists to further this line of inquiry looking once again at their discipline and profession with the same scholarship, empirical evidence, and intellectual sophistication."—Marco Santoro, Sociologica

"[A] splendid volume which breaks new ground methodologically and is a major contribution to the history and sociology of western economics."—Roger Middleton, Economic History Review

"One cannot but be impressed with the richness of the material it covers and the deep immersion of the author in the secondary literature. . . . Her case for the significance of national cultures in economics is more than a valuable complement to the Americanization narrative; it invites us to look closer at the historical conditions that made possible the process that this narrative is supposed to describe."—Philippe Fontaine, Constitutional Political Economy

"[T]his is a masterful book. Fourcade exhibits an extraordinary understanding of the relevant material—it is an extraordinary achievement. Personally, I would say that Fourcade exhibits a much better understanding of the technical aspects of modern economic theory than most of the sociology-based research on the economics profession. . . . She also writes with a simple clarity that will allow the book to be appreciated by a wide range of readers."—D. Wade Hands, Journal of Economic Methodology

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780691117607
Publisher:
Princeton University Press
Publication date:
03/09/2009
Series:
Princeton Studies in Cultural Sociology Series
Pages:
416
Product dimensions:
6.20(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.30(d)

Meet the Author

Marion Fourcade is associate professor of sociology at the University of California, Berkeley.

Read an Excerpt

Economists and Societies

Discipline and Profession in the United States, Britain, and France, 1890s to 1990s
By Marion Fourcade

PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS

Copyright © 2009 Princeton University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-691-11760-7


Chapter One

Institutional Logics in Comparative Perspective

As suggested in the introduction, the long-term development of economics exhibits several interrelated trends that cut across national boundaries: economics attained autonomy as a discipline; it became more formal in its presentation; it expanded its influence into both the administrative and the corporate domains; and it partly converged in scientific form and method. These trends, however, evolved unevenly in the United States, Britain, and France: marketization has been much less pronounced in France than in America, for instance. Furthermore, we may trace similar trends back to different institutional mechanisms and groups of actors. The reason, this book contends, has to do with what I called earlier the definition and exercise of public power and its concrete articulation in the educational, administrative and economic domains, which shapes the practical worlds that people who claim expertise and knowledge about the economy inhabit. To understand how national contexts shaped the trajectory of economics, then, we must understand, through institutional analysis, how different social systems constitute certain types of actors as legitimate-whether the PhD-holding professional in the United States, the genteel scholar in the United Kingdom, or the public administrator in France. We must then show how these taken-for-granted social types imply particular modes of economic knowledge production.

The present chapter broadly defines the cultural-institutional boundaries within which these practical worlds emerged in the three countries. Before dealing with the subject of economics proper, I devote the next pages to describing the fairly stable differences in polity organization among the three nations that have persisted above and beyond any longitudinal transformations. My purpose in this endeavor is to give some depth to the notion of national "context" and to identify the variations that are relevant from a comparative point of view-the distinctive configurations in political, economic, and academic organization that took shape in each country and unfolded over time. Following Spillman (2004), the expository logic in this chapter will be interpretive (trying to penetrate the categories that are relevant in each social system) and "colligatory" rather than merely causal: the purpose is to "[colligate] the various happenings concerned under a single appropriation" (Walsh cited in Spillman 2004, 225) by drawing attention to the common ideas that underlie particular historical processes. In this particular case, however, the joining together of various patterns into a colligatory concept will be located at the national rather than at the temporal level.

Federal Constitutionalism in America

Tocqueville ([1835] 2000) and even more Lipset (1963a) argued that a nation's moment of political emergence shapes its "habits of heart," or what we often call its "culture." American society, they argued, was forged by the flight from religious oppression, the experience of the frontier, and Puritanism; these historical experiences were also institutionalized through narratives Americans told themselves about themselves. In these accounts, Americans also developed a strong dislike of privileges and centralized power and became jealously protective of citizens' rights. They also cultivated a particular version of egalitarianism understood not as redistributive justice but as "equality of opportunity." The founders of the American Republic designed institutions, mainly legal ones, that sought to guarantee the "sovereignty of the people" against the assertion of central power in its various forms. The American constitutional system, which was designed to restrain federal authority by protecting the autonomy of individual states and to restrain state and federal governments' powers in order to protect individuals from unwanted interference in their affairs, translated these ideas into a series of institutional devices to safeguard the principle of community self-rule. In the political domain, this decentralized and individualistic logic has produced a political and administrative system where power is spread among federal, state, and local authorities, as well as among the different branches of government. The cultural legitimacy of this form of political organization is mainly articulated in terms of service to the interests of the public (or society) rather than the service of the state. In the economic domain, it encouraged the development of institutions that bar the government from direct economic activity except to bolster market processes against "illegitimate" (understood as "unfair") behavior by corporate actors (including unions). Finally, in the academic domain, the same decentralized logic prevailed, leading to the creation of a competitive higher education field populated by private establishments, as well as public ones with considerable institutional autonomy. The end result of this process was the entrenchment of a strong disciplinary system at the heart of American universities and a stratification of knowledge that is tightly linked to competition for students, funds, and ideas.

The "Rational State" in America

One common view among commentators on American political history is that the most important explanation for the character of the modern U.S. political structure is the absence of a feudal past. In his classic 1955 assessment, Hartz argued that contrary to European countries, where modern state structures emerged out of social conflict among competing power holders, American political culture was forged through the experience of self-government-that is, without the organizing and authoritative pressure of a central power. The advent of democracy in local communities, which Tocqueville ([1835] 2000) immortalized in his description of the New England township, preceded the growth of a true national state. As a result, the federal governing structure, which emerged after the Revolution, continued to preserve the local autonomy of political subunits such as municipalities and states. Until the Civil War and its aftermath, nation-building in the United States was largely a bottom-up process-in sharp contrast with France, where the state asserted its authority by crushing regional powers, or with England, where the monarchy brokered a deal with the landed aristocracy in order to maintain its existence.

As in Britain, American public life tends to confer high public standing to individuals. The British version of individualism, however, is also combined with a strong class system topped by a sovereign and a social elite (or establishment), which traditionally occupies a leading role in politics and administration. By contrast, American individualism is more explicitly rooted in the common person and what Tocqueville called the "equality of conditions." It emphasizes self-reliance, initiative, and personal work ethic and celebrates individual success over any other type of achievement. Hence the American reverence for the "self-made man" contrasts quite sharply with the British respect for the "gentleman," whose distinction of status, but also education and manners, gives him moral authority and also responsibility vis-à-vis the rest of society.

A political consequence of this reification of individual actorhood is that the development of central government authority in America has always been subject to suspicion, if not outright hostility. Consequently, Americans were particularly careful to design administrative and political institutions that guaranteed the dispersion of political authority among the many branches of government and also enabled social interests to permeate state structures and participate in the conduct of government. In fact, such characteristics of the American political structure have persisted in spite of and above the massive expansion of the federal government's capacities during Reconstruction and then in the twentieth century.

The United States, like Britain, was thus slow to develop a professionalized civil service. Public officialdom in America was traditionally dominated by party patronage. Tocqueville noted during his travels that its quality was poor ([1835] 2000, 223-24). This contrasted markedly with the more formalized rules for entering government service in continental Europe and the quasi-aristocratic status conferred by that function. Hence, while France and Prussia already had well-institutionalized public bureaucracies in the seventeenth century, the modern boundaries of the American public bureaucracy were forged much later, during the Progressive period. Factionalism, incoherence, and instability characterized public service throughout the nineteenth century, at a time when the American government was rapidly expanding its capacities. Thus when bureaucratic reform was introduced in the 1880s, its main achievement was, to use Skowronek's (1982) expression, to "patch up" a state on the brink of unmanageability.

The basic structure of the civil service emerged between the creation of the merit system by the Pendleton Act in 1883 and the formalization of the role structure by the Personnel Classification Act in 1923. The first reform established the principle of special examinations as a basis for access to lower-level civil service positions, and that of merit evaluations as a basis for promotion, but it laid down no career lines or tenure rules. The U.S. civil service thus did not emerge as a specialized profession or elite corps (as in continental Europe); neither did it ever imply long-term and rather predictable career trajectories (as in Britain). Rather, the administrative structure was organized around "positions" identified with certain skills. Individuals applied to these positions on the basis of their training and specialization, rather than their seniority or belonging to a particular class of administrators. As such, the structure remained potentially open to outsiders at every level, provided they possessed the required qualifications. The second reform, in 1923, confirmed this orientation by formalizing job classifications and hierarchies.

The upshot of these two reform bills was a twofold modification of the so-called spoils system. First, the provisions that sought to isolate the regular civil service from politics resulted in its de facto close association with executive (rather than legislative) authority. Second, whereas civil service reform succeeded in cutting lower bureaucratic positions off from political influences, patronage continued to operate at the top, especially in positions involving direct oversight of policy making. In the 1920s and 1930s, about one-third of civil service positions-including the vast majority of senior administrative offices-remained patronage positions. By the early 1980s, politically controlled appointments still represented about 10 percent of all senior executive service positions. As Chandler puts it, "When the President leaves office, so do approximately 200,000 senior bureaucrats" (2000, 206).

Born in a democratically mobilized polity, the American administrative system has remained less independent of political forces than its counterparts in Europe, many of which evolved out of autocratic political structures. No distinct body of administrative law protects the state bureaucracy in the United States (this is also the case in the United Kingdom). Public administration in America is also far less elitist than in what Tocqueville called the "aristocratic societies" of the Old World. The training of public officials is only loosely specialized. In a situation where "the line between the inside and the outside of government is extremely difficult to draw," public policy diplomas are not exclusively associated with public careers but serve as entry tickets into a much larger set of occupations.

Both in law and in practice, public administration in the United States thus does not represent a separate order conferring special social standing. Rather, it relies on skills that are already recognized as the province of a particular profession that typically originates outside the public realm. Silberman, for instance, notes that the American public service is "oriented toward the utilization of individual skills, without much regard to whether they were acquired outside or inside the organization." This situation means that occupational identification among civil servants tends to be more firmly rooted in their respective professions than in their public status.

Markets as the Law

The American political distrust of centralized political power has a natural corollary in the celebration of the market. First, in comparative terms, the United States is probably the Western country where the free-enterprise system (meant literally) rules most naturally-witness, for instance, the remarkable ease with which private endeavors of any kind (corporations, associations, churches) can acquire legal corporate status. Second, Americans see competition and freedom of enterprise as more than just the ingredients of good institutional design; these concepts have real moral force being inextricably linked to a vision of the good society that goes back to the early days of the American Republic. As Theodore Lowi puts it, the commitment to economic laissez-faire has historically "made a happy fit with the native American fear of political power" (1969, 5). It is also legitimated by a Puritan tradition that valorizes individual effort and personal initiative. Finally, the failure of socialism in the United States meant that Americans could look to no practical example of an alternative to capitalism in their historical experience.

Yet as many scholars have shown, the early industrial development of the United States was shaped in important ways by quasi-public corporations, which were formed by local and state governments eager to encourage economic growth in their region. This pattern was especially common in the infrastructure and transportation sectors (e.g., with turnpikes, canals, and, albeit to a lesser extent, railroads), where a quasi-developmentalist paradigm prevailed for a good part of the nineteenth century. By the 1840s and 1850s, however, attacks on these public agencies (often based on corruption charges) had led most American governments to retreat from economic activism and to privatize most public corporations, giving way to the pattern that still characterizes much of the country's industrial structure. In this policy reversal, emergent private firms, especially large ones, received considerable privileges in order to fulfill their role as "engines of growth":

No other country in the modern world ever granted such princely favors to private business to foster the rapid growth of industry as did the United States in the nineteenth century. Witness the general land policy, grants to railroad and bounties to other private enterprises, special favors in taxation, corporate privileges conferring public rights and functions upon banks and other undertakings, and the most general and generous eleemosynary tariff ever known. This complex system of public favors to private industry was in full force by 1870 before there was any considerable body of economic doctrine developed on our soil. (Fetter 1925, 18, emphasis mine)

At the same time, though, the advantageous conditions enjoyed by businesses raised fears of a concentration of power in the hands of market place winners. Under public pressure, late nineteenth-century governments passed laws and established regulatory institutions designed to enforce price competition, prevent "unfair" trade practices, and oversee various sectors of the economy. As Dobbin (1994) and others have shown, the creation of the first regulatory agency in 1887 and the Sherman Antitrust Act in 1891 created the institutional conditions for what might be called the "rule of markets" in America. The Sherman Act, says Letwin,

is a peculiarly American institution, emerging from a legal tradition which, though not unique in the United States, is one of the great foundations of American civilization, and expressing a policy that has nowhere been followed so long and consistently as in the United States. If not the most powerful instrument of economic policy in the United States, the Sherman Act is the most characteristic. (1965, 3)

(Continues...)



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