Beyond the Market: The Social Foundations of Economic Efficiency

By Jens Beckert; Barbara Harshav | Go to book overview

FOUR
NIKLAS LUHMANN: THE ECONOMY AS
AN AUTOPOIETIC SYSTEM

Thinking economically means the ability to
translate into the language of price.

Niklas Luhmann

IN the debate over the works of Émile Durkheim and Talcott Parsons in the field of economic sociology, it was clear that, in the context to explain the development of stable social structures of order, both authors deal with questions of cooperation, which can be connected with the problems of economic theory discussed in chapter 1. For Durkheim, the paramount issues involved not questions of the efficiency of economic structures but rather considerations about overcoming the contemporary socioeconomic crises and the demand for a just social order. For Parsons, too, the starting question on a metatheoretical level was inherent in the problem of explaining social order, but the works in economic sociology of the 1950s try to show that the social embedding of economic structures is also a necessary prerequisite for the efficient fulfillment of adaptive functions. Both authors refer to the significance of socially obligatory norms or a system of values, and the significance of social structures— even though it was not well developed—is emphasized by Durkheim. The theoretical tradition represented by Durkheim and Parsons shows the significance of the institutional stabilization of interaction and social structures for overcoming the action dilemma so clearly underlined in game theory. Moreover, the concept of interpenetration in Parsons provides a theoretical understanding of why action in economic contexts can never be completely detached from the rationality of other social areas and why economic institutions are influenced by the functional needs of other subsystems. The conception that concentrated on examining boundary interchanges helps to understand why the economy is not to be conceptualized as an autonomous and separate sphere of action, as in orthodox economic theory, but is always to be examined in the context of reproducing the social order as the embedding of economic action represented in the concept of interpenetration allows a positive answer to the question of the possibility of introducing values and socially shared norms into situations of economic action, which can also be a prerequisite for cooperation.

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