Monday, 19 September 2016

We need to move on from existing theories of the economy

Image result for adam smith
Adam Smith. Image source: Wikimedia Commons
[This was originally published a few days ago as a guest post on Dan Little's excellent blog Understanding Society following his review of my book Profit and Gift in the Digital Economy.]

Let me begin by thanking Dan Little for his very perceptive review. As he rightly says, my book is more ambitious than the title might suggest, proposing that we should see our economy not simply as a capitalist market system but as a collection of “many distinct but interconnected practices”. Neither the traditional economist’s focus on firms in markets nor the Marxist political economist’s focus on exploitation of wage labour by capital is a viable way of understanding the real economy, and the book takes some steps towards an alternative view. 

Friday, 29 July 2016

Profit and Gift in the Digital Economy: extract from chapter 10

This text, from the closing pages of the book, calls for a different kind of economy: an evolving diverse economy with more space for gift and alternative forms, and much less for the more oppressive forms of capitalism. If they are successful, books like this one form part of a spiral in which political arguments and political movements influence each other and develop iteratively.

Monday, 25 July 2016

Profit and Gift in the Digital Economy: extract from chapter 5

My second extract from Profit and Gift in the Digital Economy discusses the concept of a complex of appropriative practices. It contrasts various applications of the concept with Marxist approaches to capitalism as a mode of production (which are criticised more directly in chapter 3):

The most significant economic forms are not defined by single appropriative practices. Rather, they are interacting complexes of them. Thus, for example, the pursuit of capital accumulation by the employment of wage labour to produce commodities, which I shall call canonical capitalism (due to its role in Marx’s system) is a complex that combines at least three practices: capital accumulation, wage labour and commodity production. 
Canonical capitalism. Source: Wikimedia Commons (Rcragun)

Friday, 3 June 2016

Profit and Gift in the Digital Economy: extract from chapter 1

Over three billion times a day, someone types a search term into Google and within a few seconds receives a list of search results on their screen (Internet Live Stats, 2014). This service, delivered entirely free to the user, has become a cornerstone of the work and knowledge practices of a substantial portion of humanity.[1] But the Google Search business model – like many others in the digital economy – confounds and undermines some of our best established ways of thinking about the economy.

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Causality, method and imagination

Increasingly, critical realist scholars have been discussing the implications of realist theories of causality for the research methods we use in the social sciences. The usual view - which I will agree with - is that realism is compatible with a wide range of different research methods. But that doesn't mean that the question of how to approach realist research is simply solved by picking whichever existing methods fit with our research interests. In this post (based on a talk I gave at Kings College London recently) I will suggest that for realists there is a gap between conventional methods and the explanatory task, and then speculate a little on how we might fill that gap in practice.

Friday, 29 January 2016

Realism and practice theory

As a realist who uses the concept of practices (not least in my forthcoming book, Profit and Gift in the Digital Economy), I've occasionally been surprised by hostility to the concept from some other critical realists.Here I'd like to defend the concept, while putting some caveats around how realists should use it.

Let's start with a simple definition of practices: a practice is an tendency for multiple social actors to act in a similar way. Blogging and tweeting, for example, are practices, but there are also a huge number of others. Note the word similar: practices are never executed identically in any two cases. In at least some respects, my blogging is different from anyone else's blogging, and my blogging is different every time I do it. But there are identifiable similarities between different cases of blogging that enable us to call blogging a practice.
Image source: