The Western cultural consensus based on the ideas of free markets and individualism has led many social scientists to consider poverty as a personal experience, a deprivation of material things, and a failure of just distribution. Mary Douglas and Steven Ney find this dominant tradition of social thought about poverty and well-being to be full of contradictions. They argue that the root cause is the impoverished idea of the human person inherited through two centuries of intellectual history, and that two principles, the idea of the solipsist self and the idea of objectivity, cause most of the contradictions.
Douglas and Ney state that Economic Man, from its semitechnical niche in eighteenth-century economic theory, has taken over the realms of psychology, consumption, public assistance, political science, and philosophy. They say that by distorting the statistical data presented for policy analysis, the ideas of the solipsist self and objectivity indeed often protect a political bias. The authors propose to correct this by revising the current model of the person. Taking cultural bias into account and giving full play to political dissent, they restore the "persons" who have been missing from the social science debates.
Drawing from anthropology, economics, political science, and sociology, the authors set forth a fundamental critique of the social sciences. Their book will find a wide audience among social scientists and will also interest anyone engaged in current discussions of poverty.
This book is a copublication with the Russell Sage Foundation.
Mary Douglas is retired as a Professor at University College of London. Among her many published works is Risk and Culture, coauthored with Aaron Wildavsky (California, 1982). Steven Ney is a researcher at the Institute for Technology and Society in Vienna and recently coauthored a chapter in the anthology Human Choice and Global Change, due out in 1998.
"This book has all the brilliance, novel and unanticipated connections among ideas, thoughtfulness, and stylistic grace and daring that one always associates with the work of Mary Douglas."—Neil Smelser, author of Problematics of Sociology