Theodor Adorno on the division between economics and sociology

Introduction to sociology AdornoIn May-July 1968, Theodor W. Adorno, an eminent philosopher, sociologist and one of the founders of the Frankfurt School of Critical Theory, gave his last lecture series which were published in 2000 as Introduction to Sociology. In these accessible and lucid seventeen talks (different from his regular writing style), Adorno traced the history of sociology, defended the Frankfurt School against criticism from positivist sociologists, and posed sociology as an over-arching discipline that impinges on all aspects of social life.
The following excerpt is from the 16th lecture in which Adorno discusses the disciplinary separation between economics and sociology, despite their essential interrelatedness and reciprocal influence. Adorno’s critical account of mainstream economics as well as sociology reflects the state of both disciplines (especially in the US) in the 1960s. It will take about 15-20 years till ‘new’ economic sociology will start its triumphal scholarly march in the 1980s and additional 15-20 years till economics will gradually begin to realize its inward intellectual poverty in the shadow of the 2008 financial crisis.
Anyway, Adorno’s insights are as relevant and important today as forty years ago.

The strict moats dug between the differentiated scientific disciplines cause the intrinsic interest of these disciplines to disappear; and this interest cannot be restored by retrospective cooperation or integration—for example, by mutually explaining findings or discovering formal agreements between structures identified, say, by sociology and economics. This is simply because something secondary, assembled after the event from factors (as they’re called), is made to appear as what is decisive and concrete; and the purpose of science, ultimately—as the positivists in particular ought to admit—is to engage with social concreteness, and not to gratify itself with schematic classifications. […]
My thesis is quite simply that the strict division between economics and sociology, the consequence of which is unquestionably to dismiss the Marxian theory ante portas, causes the decisive social interests of both disciplines to disappear; and that precisely through this separation they both fail to assert their real interests, what really matters in them[…]

The economic relationships between people, though ostensibly of a purely economic, calculable nature, are in reality nothing but congealed interpersonal relationships. Sociology, on the other hand, in concerning itself only with relationships between people without paying too much attention to their objectified economic form, acts as if everything really depended on these interpersonal relationships or even on the opportunities open to social actions, and not on those mechanisms. What is lost in the gap between them—and this gap is to be understood not topologically, but as something really missing from the thought of both disciplines—is exactly that which was once referred to by the term ‘political economy’.”  (Adorno 2000: 141-142; emphasizes are mine)

See here the whole lecture (open access), given on 9 July 1968, in which before tackling the subject matter, Adorno struggling with the air conditioner.

Adorno, Theodor W. 2000Introduction to Sociology, edited by Christoph Godde and translated by Edmund Jephcott. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

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