A New Handbook of Political Science

By Robert E. Goodin; Hans-Dieter Klingemann | Go to book overview

Chapter 29 Political Economy: Sociological Perspectives

Claus Offe

THE relationship between the academic disciplines of political economy and sociology is not settled. Mutual challenges abound, including misunderstandings and many complaints and polemics about economic "imperialism" in the social sciences. Identifying intellectually legitimate patterns of demarcation and division of labor are issues at the center of an ongoing debate ( Olson 1969; Barry 1970; Oberschall and Leifer 1986), sometimes framed in terms of homo economicus versus homo sociologicus as the two sets of guiding assumptions of the two disciplines. The outlines of a synthesis are not visible on the horizon and certainly cannot be attempted here. Nor can the fading away of one of the two competing paradigms be predicted with any confidence. Sociologists have absorbed a great deal from political economists in terms of their approaches and conceptual tools, sometimes to the point of explicitly changing camps (as in much of the school of "analytical Marxism").1 Others within the internally highly diversified discipline of sociology have tried to trump efficiency-centered economic approaches with new protoparadigms, particularly in the subdisciplines most contested between the two: the sociology of organizations, economic sociology, political sociology, the study of inequalities and the sociological theory of institutions ( March and Olsen 1989; Selznick 1992; Offe 1996).

The term "political economy" covers a great variety of social scientific approaches. The intellectual ambitions of political economists (together with those active in the related subfields of social choice, public choice, rational choice and institutional or constitutional economics) is often

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1
Compare: Roemer 1986; 1988; Wright 1985; Lash and Urry 1984.

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