2006 Special Invited Issue on Parsons and a Dialogue between Economics and Sociology. (Call for Papers)
More than 20 years after his death, Talcott Parsons is still regarded as the most influential American sociologist. So broad was the scope of his theoretical inquiry, it transcended sociology and crossed into fields of other social sciences, of which economics played a particularly important role in Parsons's intellectual career. We seldom think of Talcott Parsons as an economist. But in fact he was an economist before he became a sociologist. Parsons graduated from Amherst with a B.A. in Economics in 1924 and went on to the London School of Economics and then to Heidelberg. He studied at Heidelberg from 1925 to 1927, when Max Weber's legacy of multidisciplinary research was still present in German academia. Parsons's doctoral thesis in economics was on theories of capitalism in works of Max Weber and Werner Sombart. He continued to write mostly on economic topics for five years. The Structure of Social Action was the first major work by Parsons that can be classified as predominantly sociological--predominan tly, but not entirely, as a large portion of it was devoted to discussion of Alfred Marshall's economic theory. Later at Harvard he conducted joint seminars on rationality with Joseph Schumpeter.
It would not be an exaggeration to say that building a bridge between economics and sociology was one of the major goals of Parsons's intellectual life. Was the bridge built' Did it withstand the test of time? Does it bear much intellectual traffic between the two disciplines? These questions are of great importance for economists and sociologists, as they are still looking for paths to mutual understanding more than 40 years after Parsons's Economy and Society (which he coauthored with Neil Smelser), and all too frequently discovering what looks like an unbridgeable gap separating their methodological and theoretical domains.
Today, a dialogue between sociology and economics acquires especial urgency, as the world, which seemed to have been neatly divided into domains of various social sciences for a large part of the 20th century, looks increasingly like the world of Max Weber, where answers found in separate disciplinary compartments provided a less than adequate picture of reality. Changing economies of the post-Communist world, globalization, and growth of the knowledge economy are among the phenomena that emerge and develop without regard to interdisciplinary boundaries. Once again, a multidisciplinary approach, Weberian in its essence, is needed. …