Thorstein Veblen

  and  Thorstein Veblen
American economist and sociologist Thorstein Veblen

Thorstein Bunde Veblen (July 30, 1857 - August 3, 1929) was a Norwegian-American economist and sociologist. Educated at Carleton College, Cornell University, Johns Hopkins University and Yale University, his most famous work, The Theory of the Leisure Class (1899) is a satiric look at American society.

He coined the widely used phrases "conspicuous consumption" and "pecuniary emulation".

Thorstein Veblen began his career in the midst of this period of intellectual ferment, and as a young scholar came into direct contact with some of the leading figures of the various movements that were to shape the style and substance of the newly-minted social sciences into the next century and beyond. Veblen saw the need for taking account of cultural variation in his approach; no universal "human nature" could possibly be invoked to explain the variety of norms and behaviors that the new science of anthropology showed to be the rule, rather than the exception. It should be noted that while this perspective may have had currency in the 19th Century (when 'human nature' would be interpreted as 'western human nature') it is no longer a valid view today.

His singular analytical contribution was what came to be known as the "ceremonial / instrumental dichotomy"; Veblen saw that every culture is materially-based and dependent on tools and skills to support the "life process", while at the same time, every culture appeared to have a stratified structure of status ("invidious distinctions") that ran entirely contrary to the imperatives of the "instrumental" (read: "technological") aspects of group life. The "ceremonial" was related to the past, and conformed to and supported the tribal legends; "instrumental" was oriented toward the technological imperative to judge value by the ability to control future consequences. The "Veblenian dichotomy" was a specialized variant of the "instrumental theory of value" due to John Dewey, with whom Veblen was to make contact briefly at The University of Chicago.

The most important works by Veblen include, but are not restricted to, his most famous works ("Theory of the Leisure Class"; "Theory of Business Enterprise"), but his monograph "Imperial Germany and the Industrial Revolution" and the essay entitled "Why Economics is not an Evolutionary Science" have both been influential in shaping the research agenda for following generations of social scientists. "The Theory of the Leisure Class" and "The Theory of Business Enterprise" together constitute an alternative construction on the neoclassical marginalist theories of consumption and production, respectively. Both are clearly founded on the application of the "Veblenian dichotomy" to cultural patterns of behavior, and are therefore implicitly but unavoidably bound to a critical stance; it is not possible to read Veblen with any understanding while failing to grasp that the dichotomy is a valuational principle at its core. The ceremonial patterns of activity are not bound to just any past, but rather to the one that generated a specific set of advantages and prejudices that underly the current structure of rewards and power. Instrumental judgments create benefits according to an entirely separate criterion, and therefore are inherently subversive. This line of analysis was more fully and explicitly developed by Clarence E. Ayres of the University of Texas from the 1920s.

In 1919, Veblen, along with Charles Beard, James Harvey Robinson and John Dewey, helped found the New School for Social Research, which is known today as New School University.

Veblen made his home in Nerstrand, Minnesota. Veblen's ideas inspired Technocracy, Inc.

Abbreviated Bibliography

  • The Instinct of Workmanship and the Irksomeness of Labor, 1898
  • The Theory of the Leisure Class: an economic study of institutions, 1899
  • The Theory of Business Enterprise, 1904
  • The Instinct of Workmanship and the State of the Industrial Arts, 1914
  • Imperial Germany and the Industrial Revolution, 1915
  • An Inquiry into the Nature and Peace and the Terms of Its Perpetuation, 1917
  • The Higher Learning In America: A Memorandum On the Conduct of Universities By Business Men, 1918
  • The vested interests and the state of the industrial arts, 1919
  • The Engineers and the Price System, 1921
  • Absentee Ownership and Business Enterprise in Recent Times, 1923
  • The Laxdaela Saga, 1925

External link

  • Othercanon: Biological Metaphor shift in Economics [5] ( Bunde Veblen

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