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Political Economy as Theory of Society

  • Ivano CardinaleEmail author
  • Roberto Scazzieri
Chapter

Abstract

This chapter argues that political economy must consider the variety of objectives within the polity as well as the internal structure of the constraints to their pursuit that are imposed by the material sphere. The chapter starts by tracing the divide between traditions focussing on means-ends reasoning and those investigating the structures of division of labour. The former theorize action but do not have a theory of the internal structure of constraints posed by the material sphere, whereas the latter focus on economic structures but do not have an explicit theory of action. This divide is to some extent exemplified by the distinction between the ‘materialist’ and the ‘scarcity’ views of political economy (Cannan versus Robbins). The chapter argues that, despite the different priority accorded to economic phenomena and the different requirements being considered (the viability requirement for the ‘materialist’ view and the efficiency requirement for the ‘scarcity’ view), both views are concerned with conditions for the effective arrangement of human activities to fulfil individual or collective requirements. In this sense, the two views point to complementary aspects of political economy as the study of structurally constrained social action of the means-aims type. The chapter concludes by outlining a view of political economy that brings together the attention for means-ends reasoning and for the structure of material constraints.

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© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Goldsmiths, University of LondonLondonUK
  2. 2.Department of EconomicsUniversity of BolognaBolognaItaly
  3. 3.National Lincei AcademyRomeItaly
  4. 4.Clare Hall and Gonville and Caius CollegeCambridgeUK

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