Exchange, Action, and Social Structure: Elements of Economic Sociology

By Milan Zafirovski | Go to book overview

Chapter 8
Economic Exchange in
Comparative Social Systems

SOCIAL PROCESSES IN THE RISE OF CAPITALISM

Historically, the emergence and subsequent development of the modern economy or capitalism was largely determined by social, especially institutional, factors. This was classically demonstrated by Weber, who provided the fullest picture of these institutional requirements (Collins 1997) for the emergence of capitalist exchange.1 Specifically, what Weber (1927: 275–76) called general presuppositions and prerequisites of modern capitalism include: appropriation of the physical means of production by the entrepreneur (private property), rational capital accounting, freedom of the market, rational technology, calculable law, including bureaucratic administration), free labor, the commercialization of economic life (including speculation), and a rational economic ethic. In this connection, some contemporary sociologists (Collins 1997) influenced by Weber subsume all of these variables under the following three: markets for products and factors, entrepreneurial control of these factors, and an economic ethic. On the other hand, the key obstacle to modern capitalism was what Weber (1976: 36–37) called economic traditionalism. For in economic traditionalism or pre-capitalism, material interests can be linked to maintaining traditions (Weber 1927:355).

This picture indicates that the ethic of ascetic Protestantism was not the only institutional or sociocultural precondition for the emergence of capitalism, but one among a variety of such factors, though a critical one. At this juncture, the question arises as to whether the impact of Protestantism and religion in general on capitalism has been largely spiritual through its religious ethic, as Weber assumed, or material through its religious econ

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