1st Edition

Economics as Social Science Economics imperialism and the challenge of interdisciplinarity

By Roberto Marchionatti, Mario Cedrini Copyright 2017
    220 Pages
    by Routledge

    228 Pages
    by Routledge

    There is a growing consensus in social sciences that there is a need for interdisciplinary research on the complexity of human behavior. At an age of crisis for both the economy and economic theory, economics is called upon to fruitfully cooperate with contiguous social disciplines. The term ‘economics imperialism’ refers to the expansion of economics to territories that lie outside the traditional domain of the discipline. Its critics argue that in starting with the assumption of maximizing behaviour, economics excludes the nuances of rival disciplines and has problems in interpreting real-world phenomena.


    This book focuses on a territory that persists to be largely intractable using the postulates of economics: that of primitive societies. In retracing the origins of economics imperialism back to the birth of the discipline, this volume argues that it offers a reductionist interpretation that is poor in interpretative power. By engaging with the neglected traditions of sociological and anthropological studies, the analysis offers suggestions for a more democratic cooperation between the social sciences.


    Economics as Social Science is of great interest to those who study history of economic thought, political economy and the history of economic anthropology, as well as history of social sciences and economic methodology.


    Acknowledgements viii


    Introduction: origins, evolution and metamorphoses of economics imperialism, or the need for an interdisciplinary research programme on human behaviour

    PART I: At the roots of economics imperialism: classical and neoclassical economics and the issue of primitive societies 

    1 The distant origins of economics imperialism: classical economists and primitive societies

    1.1 Travellers, philosophers and the savages

    1.2 Adam Smith: a conjectural primitive economy, or the model of the "early and rude state of society"

    1.3 In "the realm of necessity": Karl Marx’s theory of pre-capitalist societies

    2 Economics imperialism revealed: neoclassical economists and primitive man

    2.1 Occupy anthropology: Lionel Robbins, Raymond Firth and the formalist school

    2.2 Beyond the formalist approach: Clifford Geertz’s and Richard Posner’s informational approach for peasant and primitive societies

    2.3 Beyond the formalist approach: Jack Hirshleifer’s bioeconomics and the human behavioural ecology of primitive economies

    3 Primitive societies in the interpretation of classical and neoclassical economics: a common model

    PART II: Economics and the challenge of primitive societies: anthropological non-formalist approaches

    4 The primitive system of gift exchange discovered: Marcel Mauss’s Essai sur le don

    4.1 Anthropologists and ‘real’ primitive economies

    4.2 Mauss’s Essai sur le don

    4.3 Mauss’s critique of the homo oeconomicus

    5 The substantivist perspective on the role of the economy in societies: Karl Polanyi’s and Marshall Sahlins’s contributions

    5.1 Karl Polanyi’s substantivism

    5.2 Marshall Sahlins’s neo-substantivism

    5.3 The debate on Stone Age Economics in the 1980s and 1990s

    6 The intelligibility of primitive economic organization: Sahlins, Lévi-Strauss and Clastres on Mauss’s political philosophy

    6.1 Claude Lévi-Strauss and Marshall Sahlins on the primitive social contract

    6.2 Pierre Clastres on the relationship between war and gift exchange in societies "against the state"

    6.3 Primitive economic organization in the light of Mauss’s political philosophy

    PART III: The problem of the ‘other’: economics and unselfish behaviour

    7 Economics on altruism, giving and reciprocity

    7.1 From philanthropy to altruism

    7.2 Richard Titmuss’s The Gift Relationship and economists’ embarrassment

    7.3 Mainstream economics and the gift

    7.4 The economics of reciprocity

    A note on the origins of human cooperation: Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis on primitive societies

    8 A unified framework for behavioural sciences? On Herbert Gintis’s proposal

    8.1 How to remedy the "scandalous" pluralism of social sciences

    8.2 The socio(bio)logy of homo socialis

    PART IV: The theoretical and practical relevance of Mauss’s gift to the development of a non-imperialist economics

    9 The gift in social sciences

    9.1 Jacques Derrida’s philosophy of the impossibility of the (modern) gift

    9.2 Alvin Gouldner’s sociology: the norm of reciprocity and the principle of ‘something for nothing’

    9.3 On Mauss again: anthropology in the 1980s and 1990s

    10 Mauss’s research programme revisited: the Mouvement anti-utilitariste dans les sciences sociales (MAUSS)

    10.1 Utilitarianism and anti-utilitarianism

    10.2 The gift as a new paradigm for social sciences

    11 A new Maussian perspective in economics

    11.1 On complexity and economics

    11.2 Back to the future with Mauss

    Conclusions: the myth of economics imperialism and the possibility of a non-imperialist economics





    Roberto Marchionatti is Professor of Economics at the University of Torino, Italy, where he teaches economics, history of economic theory and economic anthropology.

    Mario Cedrini is Assistant Professor of Economics at the University of Turin, Italy, where he teaches macroeconomics, international economics, history of economic thought and economic anthropology.