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

  • 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.

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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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