I never fail to meet a conservation practicioner who has not reported what an eye-openner it was to read Jared Diamond's book Guns, Germs, and Steel:...moreI never fail to meet a conservation practicioner who has not reported what an eye-openner it was to read Jared Diamond's book Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. Diamond has popularized a whole area of Anthropology that has a long research tradition going back to at least Julian Steward in the 1950s. It is unfortunate that very few conservation minded folks are aware, much less well versed, in the cultural materialist research strategy. A large portion of Diamond's notions had previously been explored, if not developed, in cultural materialist (CM) and cultural ecology literature.
While I believe Harris' book Cultural Materialism is a must read, a good place to begin reading about the cultural materialist research strategy is Harris' 1977 book Cannibals and Kings: The Origins of Culture. Copies of the book are available on the web for as little as $5.
Some practicioners of world systems research such as Christopher Chase-Dunn and Tom Abel have incorporated cultural materialist research and theories into their work. The result is a robust and coherently organized body of explanatory ideas that link history to a well rounded foundation of sociocultural elements that populate the human condition.
Cultural Materialism, published in 1979, was Marvin Harris's first full-length presentation of the CM theory. Harris developed and modified his ideas over the folowing two decades. I highly recommend this book to undergraduate and graduate students in the social sciences and to anyone who wishes to understand how causality might be operating in the world. The book is readily available used or in a new softcover edition that contains an newly written introduction by Orna and Allen Johnson.
A book for those students and researchers who really want to get serious about understanding the social sciences and their relevance to the pressing i...moreA book for those students and researchers who really want to get serious about understanding the social sciences and their relevance to the pressing issues of the day. A must read to untangle the confusion that is the social sciences.
From the Publisher: "The best known, most often cited history of anthropological theory is now available in paperback. First published in 1968, Harris's book has been cited in over 1,000 works and is one of the key documents explaining cultural materialism. This updated edition includes the complete 1968 text plus a new introduction by the author, which discusses the impact of the book and highlights some of the major trends in anthropological theory since its original publication. RAT, as it is affectionately known to three decades of graduate students, comprehensively traces the history of anthropology and anthropological theory, culminating in a strong argument for the use of a scientific, behaviorally-based, etic approach to the understanding of human culture known as cultural materialism."
Laudan is a must read for those trying to untangle the knot that is the relativism-science debate. Laudan's books are not easy reading, but they are e...moreLaudan is a must read for those trying to untangle the knot that is the relativism-science debate. Laudan's books are not easy reading, but they are essential for understanding the nonsensical claims, endlessly made, that all knowledge is of equal truth value and no more then a one person's story.
I recommend starting with Laudan's final philosophy of science book before he moved on to law -- Beyond Positivism and Relativism which is available electronically at -- Google Books.
From the book jacket: "This wonderfully clear book and provocative book is a feast for all who care about the current challenge to knowledge. Laudan, more than anyone else, is a true master at clarifying and debunking the increasingly popular relativism, and we can all be grateful to have these essays together in one place." - Deborah G. Mayo Virginia Polytechnic Institute
Natural science and social science and how they are considered different: The example of Philip Mirowski's book More Heat Than Light.
I've been re-rea...moreNatural science and social science and how they are considered different: The example of Philip Mirowski's book More Heat Than Light.
I've been re-reading Non-Natural Social Science: Reflecting on the Enterprise of More Heat than Light - Annual Supplement to Volume 25 History of Political Economy (Edited by Neil de Marchi. Duke University Press). The book is a collection of papers from a conference that grappled with issues raised by Philip Mirowski's book More Heat than Light: Economics as Social Physics, Physics as Nature's Economics (Historical Perspectives on Modern Economics).
In his book, Mirowski' explored the appropriation by founding neoclassical economists (Jevon, Walrus, et el) of field theory from physicists to construct the original theoretic economic model of people and markets i.e. utility, the theory of one price, etc. Mirowski explored much more than history, he weighed in on the substantial theoretical (metaphorical) and mathematical issues at stake, particularly as they divide between the natural and social sciences.
Mirowski charges that neoclassical economists went wrong in three ways:
1. Integrability: The founding economists loved the dynamics of the physicists which involved the math of differentiation (the calculus). Yet, calculations of differentiation must be able to integrate backwards (to be true?). As I understand it, economists can take a market and differentiate the utility preferences or take individual preference and differentiate a market. But they can't integrate back from individual utility to derive market conditions. All of this is over my pay grade but, the math of summing individual utility preferences can't add up to the math of market conditions. In the end, the founders of neoclassical economics settled in to a static analysis and it has not seriously left the static approach since.
2. Secondly, Mirowski argues that the conservation principle, assumed in all physical phenomena, was never maintained by the economists. Economists, however, believe they maintained conservation when newly created money is balanced by a corresponding debt. The math, economics, and physics here is too hard to comprehend but I appreciate the issue and it appears there is substance to the charge.
3. And finally, Mirowski's offers the problem of invariance and its applicability to natural and human social phenomena. Mirowski and many others argue that invariance principles, while the foundation of physics (Hamiltonians?), are generally not applicable to human social phenomena. I disagree with this assertion but appreciate the point.
My direction here is not towards the issues of economics and physics or their underlying math and subject matter. Rather, Mirowski's book (and a huge literature since) was an opening salvo in economics over the nature of social phenomena and the limits of natural science grounded theory to understand social phenomena. Mirowski began his book in 1981 and it reflected the growing upheaval in the philosophy of science beginning in the 1960s and 70s with the rise of the relativistic thinking. Those thinkers (Kuhn, Feyeband, et el) were offered a large opening when in the 1950s the logical positivists philosophical program (which was began in the 1920s) threw in the towel and abandoned their work as a failure. They admitted that knowledge can not be formally operationalized as true through a logical and empirical language.
Ultimately, the whole enterprise of science and its philosophical basis, seems to be buffeted and shaped by junctures in mathematics that eventually filter down and then are embraced by the thinkers and practitioners of science. To mention one such thinker, Kurt Gödel's Impossibility Theorem (1920s) demonstrated that even in math, some statements known to be true can not be proved formally - which apparently shook mathematicians up (there is no formal axiomatic system for arithmetic that is both complete and consistent) Or Turing's theorem that "there is no algorithm possible to decide whether a program will terminate." If it was impossible to prove all truths or solve all problems in mathematics how could the logical positivists ever hope to produce a system of truth through a formal language?
So, the cats out of the bag and biology and conservation biology are now themselves buffeted by intellectual waves produced in mathematics and philosophy starting as far back as the 1850s i.e. the geometry of Riemann.(less)
"This book provides a far more clear explanation of the ideas of standard economic theory (neo-classical economics) than...moreFrom a review by Joe McCauley
"This book provides a far more clear explanation of the ideas of standard economic theory (neo-classical economics) than do the standard texts (compare with Samuelson, Mankiw, or Barro, e.g.).
The book explains utility maximization, indifference curves, and the assumptions underlying the standard economic model that is used by the IMF, the World Bank and all major western governments. Keen uses simple language that even the lay person can follow. The text should be standard reading for every student of elementary economics, but even an experienced economist like Alan Greenspan might benefit from the clarity of thought displayed therein.
Macroeconomic theory is covered from the right perspective, from the result of Sonnenshein et el - all which shows the basis in microeconomic theory for the standard macroeconomic model.
Kirman is mentioned but his seminal connection of liquidity demand with uncertainty is not discussed. The work of Radner should have been included, but then Samuelson and Varian do not discuss Radner's contribution either. Chapter 7 presents the correct perspective on general equilibrium theory, with good advice for students of econ 101.
Chapter 8 on Keynes is outstanding, presenting the clearest (and even correct!) textbook discussion of Keynes that I am aware of. Marx's contribution to the basics of capitalism, the recognition of the central role played by the profit motive, is also made apparent in the Keynsian context. [In comparison] The profit motive is ignored completely in Samuelson and the other standard texts, which discuss merely pure barter economies and leave out financial markets altogether. Hicks' interpretation of Keynes' ideas is also correctly presented. All in all, students of economics would be well advised to make Keen's book their main econ text." (less)