I promised to give this topic up for a bit, but have clearly failed. Donald MacKenzie, the sociologist of technology, has a draft review essay [pdf] about Philip Mirowski’s Machine Dreams on his website. (My own views are here). MacKenzie’s take is interesting—- he focuses on the self-fulfilling (or “performative”) potential of much economic theory, drawing on Michel Callon’s work. MacKenzie suggests that Mirowski’s
abrasive account of the processes forging economic orthodoxy over the past sixty years will annoy his orthodox colleagues, delight economics s dissidents (except the followers of those about whom Mirowski is scathing), educate outsiders whose view of the discipline is often decades out-of-date, and pull the history of economics firmly into the mainstream of the history and social studies of twentieth-century science.
Interestingly (for me), MacKenzie builds to the argument that both self-interest and altruism can’t be understood outside their institutional contexts:
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If egoism and generosity are context-sensitive, we need, when making economic and social policy, to consider its effects on them … Homo oeconomicus, however, is only one way of being human in general, a way that is to be discouraged. Unfortunately, his inverted twin, norm-governed homo sociologicus, is equally a construction. Cooperation, generosity, dedication, trust, a sense of service, orientation to work’s intrinsic satisfactions rather than to its extrinsic monetary rewards—- such things need [to be] fostered in how institutions are designed, rather than marginalized or taken for granted. (17-19).
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