“Is Self Interest Enough? A Sociology of Market Society”. Professor Jack Barbalet

Prof. Jack Barbalet is currently Foundation Professor of Sociology at the University of Western Sydney.  This talk, on the notion of self interest in sociology, was his Inaugural Professorial Lecture on taking up this position here.  His work on the sociology of emotions has been particularly influential in my own work.

He was previously Professor of Sociology and Head of Department at the University of Leicester in England and has held positions in sociology at the Australian National University, in political science at the University of Adelaide, and economics at the University of Papua New Guinea. In 2007 he was Scholar-in-Residence at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies, in Cologne, Germany. Jack has researched and published widely in sociological theory, political sociology, economic sociology and the sociology of emotions. His publications include Emotion, Social Theory, and Social Structure: A Macrosociological Approach (Cambridge University Press 2001), Emotions and Sociology (Blackwell 2002) and Weber, Passion and Profits:”The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism” in Context (Cambridge University Press 2008). Jack is presently writing a book, descriptively called The Constitution of Markets, to be published by Oxford University Press.

The abstract for the talk linked here is below:

The concept of self interest has been core to European understandings of individual motivation and behaviour at least since the seventeenth century. It remains today central for homo economicus and integral to the notion of rational action. While sociology as a discipline has in many ways developed through critical engagement with this and associated ideas, the incompleteness of its resolution of concern with them indicates the resilience of self interest in both popular and academic discussion. It is not enough to point to evidence of selfless or other-interested behaviour because they are readily assimilated into accounts premised on self interest. Other-interestedness can be regarded as a qualifying trait of self interest or as an external constraint on it, leaving the basic structure of self interest intact. Neither is it sufficient to point to the social structural and interactional preconditions of self interest. Such accounts step over rather than provide an alternative to those premised on self interest: indeed, they tend to leave the question of action itself in doubt. In this lecture a quite different approach to self interest will be taken, that summarizes Jack Barbalet’s recent and current research, which examines insufficiently articulated assumptions concerning personal identity in the nature of “self” as well as inadequately understood aspects of “interested” action. The approach offered here encourages an appreciation of the complexity of the concept and experience of self and identity and the temporality of action in which orientation to future outcomes is germane. Additionally, it will be shown that the goals of action or the preferences of the actor are not necessarily know prior to an action but emerge through it. The resulting transformation of the concept of self interest is foundation to a sociology of markets and economy.

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