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Capitalism as a system of contingent expectations: Toward a sociological microfoundation of political economy


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  • Beckert, Jens


Political economy and economic sociology have developed in relative isolation from each other. While political economy focuses largely on macrophenomena, economic sociology focuses on the level of social interaction in the economy. The paper argues that economic sociology can provide a microfoundation of political economy beyond rational actor theory and behavioral economics. Based on a discussion of what I call the four Cs of capitalism (credit, commodification, creativity, and competition), I argue that macroeconomic outcomes depend on the contingent expectations actors have in decision situations. Expectations are based on the indeterminate and therefore contingent interpretation of the situations actors face. This shifts attention to the management of expectations as a crucial element of economic activity and to the institutional, political, and cultural foundations of expectations. The dynamics of capitalist development are precarious because they hinge on the creation of expectations conducive to economic growth. -- Politische Ökonomie und Wirtschaftssoziologie haben sich relativ isoliert voneinander entwickelt. Während die Politische Ökonomie vornehmlich Makrophänomene untersucht, konzentriert sich die Wirtschaftssoziologie zumeist auf die Ebene der sozialen Interaktion in der Wirtschaft. Der Beitrag zeigt, dass die Wirtschaftssoziologie Grundlagen für eine Mikrofundierung der Politischen Ökonomie jenseits der Theorie rationalen Handelns und behavioristischer Theorien bietet. Ausgehend von der Diskussion vier zentraler Elemente kapitalistischer Ökonomie, die ich als the four Cs of capitalism bezeichne (credit, commodification, creativity, and competition), zeige ich, dass makroökonomische Resultate auf den kontingenten Erwartungen der Akteure in der Handlungssituation beruhen. Erwartungen gründen auf den unbestimmten und daher kontingenten Interpretationen der Handlungssituation, mit der die Akteure konfrontiert sind. Dies lenkt die Aufmerksamkeit auf das Erwartungsmanagement als zentrales Element wirtschaftlichen Handelns und zu den institutionellen, politischen und kulturellen Grundlagen von Erwartungen. Die Dynamik kapitalistischer Entwicklung ist immer prekär, weil sie von der Schaffung von Erwartungen abhängt, die Wachstum befördern.

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Paper provided by Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies in its series MPIfG Discussion Paper with number 12/4.

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Date of creation: 2012
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Handle: RePEc:zbw:mpifgd:124

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  1. Streeck, Wolfgang (Ed.) & Beckert, Jens (Ed.), 2007. "Moralische Voraussetzungen und Grenzen wirtschaftlichen Handelns," MPIfG Working Paper 07/6, Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies.
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