Beyond the Market: The Social Foundations of Economic Efficiency

By Jens Beckert; Barbara Harshav | Go to book overview

THREE
TALCOTT PARSONS: THE ECONOMY
AS A SUBSYSTEM OF SOCIETY

An economy cannot be “purely economic”
because it is a social system.

Talcott Parsons

TALCOTT Parsons can be considered the last sociological theorist whose work is formed by the debate with economics. Parsons’s theory shares the central significance of the economy with both

Durkheim and Weber. If the two meanings of the economy as a social field and the discipline of economics are distinguished, the development from Durkheim through Weber to Parsons shows that socioeconomic problems tend to lose importance and that there is a stronger emphasis on the institutional and methodological debate with economics. In the chapter on Durkheim, it was noted that the development of his work had to be understood against the background of the crisis of social integration of French society. For Durkheim, the methodological debate with the individualist concept of order in economics also played a significant role, but he was not concerned with an epistemological critique per se but rather with formulating a practical role of the social sciences for overcoming the crisis of French society. The emphasis shifts with Weber’s methodological writings. Although his early study of Die Verhältnisse der Landarbeiter im ostelbischen Deutschland (1892), an important socioeconomic problem and thus an aspect of the “social question,” was in the foreground, the debates with the Austrian School and the development of the typology of action have the function of contributing to the clarification of the epistemological status of sociology. Programmatically and in Weber’s sociohistorical studies, the socioeconomic aspect remained in the center, but it concerned the understanding of socioeconomic relations and not a directly practical contribution of sociology to contemporary social problems.

The reference function of economics for the development of Parsons’s theory is based unequivocally in the theoretical interest of determining the relationship of sociology and economics (Parsons 1977). Parsons’s biography can help explain why he was personally sensitive to the socioeconomic problems of the time, and this could have been a reason for Parsons’s turn to institutional economics and sociology as a student at

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