The theory of value and the value of theory: Appeals to practical value by conflicting approaches in economics, 1918-1939

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Abstract

A popular explanation of the success of scientific theories is their contribution to practical needs of "society" in general, or of powerful groups within society. This article challenges this common explanation by showing how the practical contribution itself is socially constructed by competing scientists. The article describes the struggle of neoclassical economists and institutionalists in interwar America and shows how both groups attempted to demonstrate their larger capacity to solve contemporary economic problems. Arguments about the practical value of competing research programs, we maintain, are decided the same way that arguments about the truth value of competing theories are decided: by recruiting powerful and numerous allies and by tying the claims to solid and stable networks. It is suggested that similar trials of strength have taken place in other controversies in economics and other disciplines.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)311-342
Number of pages32
JournalSocial Science Information
Volume36
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Jun 1997

Keywords

  • Actor-network analysis
  • History of economic thought
  • Institutional economics
  • Neoclassical economics
  • Practical value
  • Price theory
  • Science and society
  • Sociology of science
  • Theory of value
  • United States (1918-1939)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences (all)
  • Library and Information Sciences

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