Materially Social Blog

Profit and Gift in the Digital Economy: extract from chapter 1

This post reproduces text from the opening pages of my 2016 book Profit and Gift in the Digital Economy. The central original contribution of this book is to propose a new framework that enables us both to see and to analyse a vast range of diverse economic forms, and to illustrate that framework by applying it to cases in the contemporary digital economy.

Causality, method and imagination

Increasingly, critical realist scholars have been discussing the implications of realist theories of causality for the research methods we use in the social sciences. The usual view – which I will agree with – is that realism is compatible with a wide range of different research methods. But I will suggest that for realists there is a gap between conventional methods and the explanatory task, and then speculate a little on how we might fill that gap in practice.

Realism and practice theory

As a realist who uses the concept of practices (not least in my book, Profit and Gift in the Digital Economy), I’ve occasionally been surprised by hostility to the concept from some other critical realists.Here I’d like to defend the concept, while putting some caveats around how realists should use it.

Christmas gift theory

‘Tis the season to think about the things that people do at Christmas – or at least some people in certain cultures. Let me take you on a whistlestop tour of some ideas from economics, anthropology and sociology that might cast some light on the practice of giving gifts that is so central to contemporary celebrations at this time of year.

Is critical realism a modal realism?

One of Roy Bhaskar’s central ontological claims is that in addition to the actual – the things and events that occur in the material universe – our ontology must also recognise a domain of the real, which includes the actual, but extends beyond it. In his first book, A Realist Theory of Science, he argued that the non-actual includes real causal powers, a very strong argument that I explained towards the end of my last blog post. However, if we accept this argument this opens up rather a large question: what else could be real but not actual?

Materialism and critical realism

In the first couple of substantive posts on this blog I pinned my colours firmly to a materialist perspective on the social sciences. But what does this ‘materialism’ actually mean?

Does Google give gifts?

Google’s business hybridises a novel form of giving with a novel form of advertising in one of many economic forms that simply do not fit with the old understandings of the economy: forms that we can make more sense of as complexes of interacting economic practices.

Why ‘Materially Social’? Part Two

One of my original aims in studying social ontology was to work out how the social could depend on the material. That would help to give us a non-dualist way of seeing the world, with no mysterious split between the material and the social.