How Economics Forgot History: The Problem of Specificity in Social Science

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In arguably his most important book to date, Hodgson calls into question the tendency of economic method to try and explain all economic phenomena by using the same catch-all theories and dealing in universal truths. He argues that you need different theories to analyze different economic phenomena and systems and that historical context must be taken into account.

Hodgson argues that the German Historical School was key in laying the foundations for the work of the pioneer institutional economists, who themselves are gaining currency today; and that the growing interest in this school of thought is contributing to a more complete understanding of socio-economic theory.

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Editorial Reviews

A central problem in social science, according to Hodgson (business studies, U. of Hertfordshire, UK), is the problem of historical specificity. Succinctly, the problem arises because differences between different systems could be so important that the theories and concepts used to analyze them must also be substantially different. Criticizing the over-general postulates of mainstream economics, he relates the intellectual history of the German historical school of economics and describes their efforts to deal with the problem of historical specificity, focusing particularly on Karl Marx, Carl Menger, and Alfred Marshal. The eventual intellectual neglect of the problem is also described along with the parallel rise of a "barren universality." Finally, the Hodgson moves away from the narrative to suggest ways in which the problem of historical specificity can be brought back into the study of economics and to promote some of his own theoretical moves towards understanding the problem. The book is distributed by Taylor & Francis. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780415257169
  • Publisher: Taylor & Francis
  • Publication date: 10/28/2001
  • Series: Economics as Social Theory Series
  • Pages: 446
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Geoffrey M. Hodgson is a Research Professor in Business Studies at the University of Hertfordshire. He has published widely in the academic journals and his previous books include Economics and Utopia (Routledge, 1999)

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Table of Contents

List of illustrations
Pt. I Introduction 1
1 The limitations of general theory 3
2 The problem of historical specificity 21
Pt. II The nineteenth century: the German historical school and its impact 41
3 Karl Marx and the specificity of the capitalist system 43
4 The older historical school in Germany 56
5 The historical school in the British Isles 65
6 The methodological failure of the older historical school 75
7 Out of Austria: Carl Menger and the Methodenstreit 79
8 Alfred Marshall and the British Methodendiskurs 95
9 The responses of the younger historical school in Germany 113
Pt. III The twentieth century: from American institutionalism to the end of history 135
10 Thorstein Veblen and the foundations of Institutionalism 137
11 Early American institutionalism and the problem of historical specificity 152
12 The theoretical manifesto of John Commons 166
13 Talcott Parsons and the ascent of ahistorical sociology 178
14 Death and counter-revolution at the London School of Economics 204
15 John Maynard Keynes and his declaration of a General Theory 215
16 The triumph of barren universality 232
17 Institution blindness and the end of history 248
Pt. IV The millennium: the second coming of history? 271
18 Are there universals in social and economic theory? 273
19 Property, culture, habits and institutions 287
20 Exchange and production: property and firms 310
21 A note on social formations and levels of abstraction 322
22 An evolutionary perspective on the historical problem 330
23 Invention is helpless without tradition 346
Bibliography 356
Index 403
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