Economics, Literature and Scepticism

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I am a PhD student in Economics. I am originally from South Africa and plan to return there after my PhD. I completed my M. Comm in Economics and my MA In Creative Writing (Poetry) at the University of Cape Town, where I worked as a lecturer before starting my PhD.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Little's 'Understanding Society'

Posted by Simon Halliday | Wednesday, September 16, 2009 | Category: , | Society is a blog I recently began to read. I have been impressed with the author, Daniel Little, and his command of a several subjects within the social sciences. Little touches on topics that relate predominantly to philosophy (political, philosophy of science), and to sociology, anthropology, and economics. Little blogs the ideas he plans to discuss in a new book that he is writing, which I assume will be called Understanding Society.  I thought I'd comment on some of his posts by way of introduction to the blog.

In Wealth Inequality, Little touches on the challenges of inequalities in wealth (not just in income), i.e. property, assets, etc, that pervade US society and most contemporary capitalist economies. He provides additional related posts that on Poverty, Growth and Sustainability and on Social Mobility. In his discussion on social mobility he highlights the myth that Americans in the US believe of the US being the most mobile society, which is empirically false. In the US, a parent's socio-economic status, is a strong predictor of a child's socio-economic status, which, for those who believe in some kind of material equality can be problematic.  Little also assesses Popper's discussions of falsifiability and historicism in his post Revisiting Popper, another illuminating contribution in which he highlights the problem of tackling the condition of 'falsifiability' in the social sciences where so much varies, and little can be properly controlled. this post, Little discusses the notion of corporations as analysed by Charles Perrow in his book Organizing America: Wealth, Power, and the Origins of Corporate Capitalism. Why is this apt? Well, the supreme court in the US is trying to grapple with whether corporations should have free speech (in the same way that people do), and thus whether they should have unlimited ability to promote their speech as people do. I hope they resolve that corporations do not have free speech, but more on that another time. I found Little's discussion useful and enlightening. Here, Little discusses Michael Polanyi's notion of 'tacit knowledge'. I have not yet read Polanyi, though his brother, Karl Polanyi, has been on my reading list for some time - I might have to give both brothers a chance now. Nevertheless, Little's post intersects well with two books I've been reading: Friedrich Hayek's The Fatal Conceit and Matthew Crawford's Shop Class as Soul Craft. Though Polanyi affiliated himself differently to Hayek (and would have affiliated himself differently to Crawford I suspect), his notion of tacit knowledge, which Little recounts and teaches well, is crucial to understand the operation of everyday business: people learn how to do things without`knowing' what they know. It's a kind of knowing 'how' rather than a knowing 'what'. More specifically, Little wants to interrogate (or wants others to get off their bums and interrogate) the extent to which social knowledge is tacit, is experienced, or somehow embodied (I assume). To what extent do individuals fail or succeed when expressing tacit social knowledge? For example, some think me tactless, when I think myself honest and in continuous pursuit of truth, am I simply failing in my understanding of tacit social knowledge?

Anyway, I have found the blog edifying and I have enjoyed the posts, though they often require more time to read and think about than your average blog.  I find that I disagree with the author, but I'd like to surround myself with clear thinkers who think differently to me in order to understand better my position. 

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