Cultural Emergence Reaffirmed: A Rejoinder to Hodgson

By Jennings, Ann; Waller, William | Journal of Economic Issues, December 1996 | Go to article overview

Cultural Emergence Reaffirmed: A Rejoinder to Hodgson


Jennings, Ann, Waller, William, Journal of Economic Issues


It is refreshing to receive a reply to our work in print, however Geoffrey Hodgson's present response seems disproportional to our original argument. Hodgson's recent work [Economics and Evolution 1993; later unattributed page numbers refer to that volume] on the use of biological metaphors in economics was not the central focus of our essay. We were concerned with differences, due to self-reflexivity, in the ontology of natural and social processes, some risks inherent in making such distinctions, and a few implications for the concept of culture. Cultural evolution in relation to theories of biological evolution was discussed over little more than one page in the essay; clearly we did not intend to offer a thorough analysis of Hodgson's work in that space. Nor do our disagreements with Hodgson detract from our overall appreciation of his efforts to date.

Our differences with Hodgson on the use of biological metaphors in social theory may reflect differences in our larger research agendas; different problems can imply quite different practices and engagement with concepts. Our agenda centers on historical and cultural explanations for the social privileging of markets in the modern West; patterns of invidious distinction that have accompanied these processes; and social schemes of value and belief (including economics) that help reinforce such differentials [see Jennings 1992; Jennings and Waller 1994]. Whether our agenda will prove compatible with Hodgson's more microstructural emphasis on the selection of habits and routines - social "gene analogues" - is unclear, but we second Hodgson's call for pluralism in economic thought.

As Hodgson states, he proposes no "model" of economic evolution. He still needs some vision of how to employ biological metaphors in economics, however, simply to avoid getting lost among the countless trees he describes in the forests of evolutionary biology. His own terms "view" [p. 246], "approach" [p. 266], or "preliminary theoretical framework" [p. 216] describe his efforts to "encourage the employment of analogies with the appropriate biological theory with more care and precision." But he continues, "such an outcome can only assist a more rigorous approach to evolutionary theory and modelling in economic science" [pp. 50-1].

Hodgson's dislike of the term "model" seems to reflect the present incompleteness of his vision of how to use biological metaphors in eventual social modelling. Lacking direct access to his authorial intent, we and other readers must infer some of the missing elements to interpret his vision. Our interpretations of Hodgson's work may well differ somewhat from his intent; we thus present the grounds for our inferences here, along with further remarks on how we think his dispositions differ from our own. There appear to be four main areas of dispute.

Analogies

Hodgson objects to our statement that he insists on analogical likenings between economic and biological evolution; he states that he "incline[s] to the word 'metaphor' rather than 'analogy'." Certainly Hodgson often refers to "the biological metaphor" for economic evolution [e.g., pp. 34, 35, 267]. Yet "analogy" is also prominent in the book, as quoted in the previous section; it is unclear why Hodgson now favors "metaphor" rather than "analogy." He never defines "analogy" and seems to use it interchangeably with "metaphor," sometimes alternating the terms without distinction on the same page [e.g., p. 19] or connecting them (e.g., remarks on Veblen's use of "biological analogies and metaphors" [above]). We, however, understand analogies as extended metaphors; thus Klamer and Leonard [1994, 35]: "Analogy is an expanded metaphor; . . . [a] sustained and systematically elaborated metaphor." We find this definition a good description of how Hodgson examines "the biological metaphor" in Economics and Evolution.

Or, consider Cohen's [1994, 57] view that "the usage [of analogy] found in the biological sciences. …

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