AccessMyLibrary provides FREE access to millions of articles from top publications available through your library.
This paper assesses the relationship between socio-economics and communitarianism, both of which have emerged in recent years as notable alternatives to existing theoretical paradigms in the social sciences. Remarkably, despite the growing attention these movements have received, a careful examination of the similarities and differences between them has not been the subject of much study.(1) The discussion below will proceed by tracing the development of socio-economics and communitarianism over the past few years, both as intellectual paradigms and as organizational entities, comparing and contrasting their central theoretical perspectives, and offering some speculation about their future prospects.
A Brief Recent History of Socio-Economics and Communitarianism
Socio-economics and communitarianism have generated more than a little confusion and misunderstanding at the most basic level of what the terms themselves denote. The two have sometimes - even often - been confused with one another or have been treated as a single phenomenon, with the names "socio-economics" and "communitarianism" used more or less interchangeably to describe a uniform set of theoretical perspectives, normative positions, and policy prescriptions. The perception that socio-economics and communitarianism are one and the same is seriously misleading in several respects. A detailed account of how and why this is so is worth exploring in some detail, and I will return to this matter shortly. As a prelude to this discussion I will present a brief review of recent history of socio-economics and communitarianism to shed light on how the present state of confusion has come to exist.
What is Socio-Economics?
Both socio-economics and communitarianism are closely associated with the scholarly work and organizational leadership of Amitai Etzioni. Appropriation of the generic term "socio-economics" to designate a particular theoretical orientation originates in Etzioni's work from the 1980s, which culminated in publication of The Moral Dimension (Etzioni, 1988).(2) As developed by Etzioni, "socio-economics" presents an alternative to the mono-utility conception of behavior that forms the core of the neoclassical paradigm. Socio-economics recognizes the fusion of individually-based and communally-based forces as determinants of human behavior, particularly in the economic realm where neoclassical orthodoxy treats as essentially irrelevant behavior that is not rational, calculated, and self-interested. In laying down the foundations of socio-economics, Etzioni reasserts a position he articulated two decades earlier in The Active Society (Etzioni, 1968), emphasizing the need to understand human behavior in terms of both the individual and the social group, and recognition that there is little to be gained except the false security of theoretical parsimony in the atomistic assumptions of individualism. In a strong restatement of Martin Buber's "I" and "Thou," Etzioni underscores the fusion of the individual and the collectivity by representing them as by single term, the I & We. This symbology reflects both an inescapable bond and an underlying tension: the I represents the individual acting in his or her own self-interest; the We stands for the obligations and restraints imposed by the collectivity. Etzioni characterizes the socio-economic conception of behavior as "moderately deontological," in that it views moral commitments as causes. This position stands in marked contrast to the neoclassical preoccupation with self-interest as the sole determinant of behavior, which Etzioni rejects as an "undersocialized conception of man" (cf. Wrong, 1961). Self-interest, or the pleasure principle, has its place as a factor shaping human behavior, but this place is alongside the moral forces that bind the individual to the community. At one level, then, socio-economics offers a restatement of the general problem of social order, and Etzioni succinctly sums up the socio-economic position as: "The I's need a We to be" (Etzioni, 1988).
It was not long after publication of The Moral Dimension that the nomenclature of "socio-economics" was adopted by a scholarly organization. The Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics (SASE) was founded in March 1989 at a conference held at the Harvard Business School. In addition to founding SASE, Etzioni served as its first president. A "brief platform" of socio-economics published by SASE in 1990 states the following:
Socio-economics assumes that economics is embedded in society, polity and culture, and is not a self-contained system. It assumes that individual choices are shaped by values, emotions, social bonds, and judgements - rather than by a precise calculation of self-interest (Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics, 1990).
Building upon this platform, SASE's goals are:
* to advance an encompassing understanding of economic behavior across a broad range of academic disciplines;
* to support intellectual exploration and policy implications of economic behavior within encompassing context of psychological, societal, institutional, historical, philosophical, and ethical factors; and
* to balance inductive and deductive approaches to the study of economic behavior at both micro- and macro- levels of analysis (Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics, 1995).
Since its founding six years ago, SASE has grown into an international, interdisciplinary organization with members in over fifty countries, spread out over every continent except Antarctica and representing the academic disciplines of economics, sociology, political science, management, psychology, law, history, philosophy, and anthropology.
Building on a debate among philosophers and political theorists in the early 1980s, Etzioni spearheaded the emergence of the contemporary communitarian movement in the early 1990s.(3) The Responsive Community, a journal devoted to communitarianism, appeared in early 1991. Aimed at both an academic and general audience, The Responsive Community is subtitled "Rights and Responsibilities." The journal's purpose is:
. . . to provide the community with a voice...to counter those who see nothing amiss with a world in which "Me-ism" prevails in the body social, runaway greed derails the economy, and interest groups dominate the polity; a moral voice to respond to those who would have a society run like a marketplace, and who see the vying of self-interests as the only foundation for civility and service (Etzioni, 1991).
Etzioni went on to found the Communitarian Network in 1993. The Communitarian Network describes itself as:
. . . a grassroots movement of concerned individuals and groups who believe that individual rights presume strong responsibilities, and that the key to strengthening our moral, social, and political environment is to shore up the basic institutions of family, school, and neighborhood (Communitarian Network, 1993).
In The Spirit of Community (Etzioni, 1993), Etzioni provides both a manifesto of the communitarian movement and an in-depth statement of the direction that his longstanding concern with social change and normative integration has taken in recent years. At the heart of Etzioni's communitarianism is a profound concern about changes that are taking place in contemporary modern society: the decay of the sense of community that binds individuals together, guides and supports their sense of moral integrity, and provides a stable foundation to support institutions of the larger society. As Etzioni sees it, the principal culprit in the deterioration of community is the elevation of individual rights to absurd heights while simultaneously ignoring the social responsibilities that go hand in hand with rights. Etzioni reserves particularly sharp criticism for "Radical Individualists, such as libertarians and the American Civil Liberties Union" (Etzioni, 1993) whom he sees as fostering a lopsided concern with rights that undermine the capacity of communities to provide for the collective well-being of its members.
In The Spirit of Community, Etzioni also identifies a second threat coming from the opposite end of the political spectrum, in the form of moral authoritarianism. Moral authoritarians, epitomized by the "religious right" in the United States, seek to impose their own narrow visions of moral order on the rest of society. From the communitarian standpoint, moral authoritarians suffer from too strong a sense of community, emphasizing only responsibilities to conform to a particular set of norms, with a concomitant lack of concern for individual rights.
In launching the communitarian social movement and serving as a leading theoretician of communitarianism, Etzioni is attempting nothing less than a redefinition of the terms of contemporary social thinking, which (a) engages the moral agenda of the political right but eschews its reactionary stance and authoritarian prescriptions; (b) addresses libertarian concerns for the freedom and rights of individuals but eschews their single-minded insistence on individual rights above all else; and (c) seeks to further traditional goals of the political left in favor of a more responsive and humane society but does not overlook individuals' responsibility for the consequences of their actions.
Similarities between Socio-Economics and Communitarianism
The apparent similarities between socio-economics and …