An economic turn: Galbraith and classical sociology

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While the late 19th-century analytic context in which classical sociology emerged was constituted in substantial part by a discourse of political economy, the subsequent development of the discipline has been characterized by a growing analytic distance between sociology and economics. With increasing specialization in the field of knowledge in the course of the 20th century there was a neglect of social institutions in orthodox economic analysis and a parallel relative neglect of economic phenomena within sociological analysis. The latter condition has been exacerbated by the ‘cultural turn’ in social thought that took place towards the close of the century, ironically a period marked by the growing prominence of economic matters in social and political life. This paper presents an argument for a return to the analytic concern with economic life that lies at the heart of classical sociology, for an ‘economic turn’ in contemporary sociological thought. This is achieved through a discussion of the work of J.K. Galbraith on economics and the transformation of capitalism; private affluence and public provision; and the consequences of a culture of contentment, work that suggests an affinity with the analytic preoccupations of the classical sociologists. The paper demonstrates the sociological relevance of the social and institutional analyses of J.K. Galbraith.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)47-66
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Classical Sociology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2003


  • capitalism
  • cultural turn
  • economics
  • fiscal sociology
  • Galbraith


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