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Cultures Merging: A Historical and Economic Critique of Culture (The Princeton Economic History of the Western World) Hardcover – March 26, 2006

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Neither cultures nor their economies can be fully understood independent of each other, yet specialists in both fields persist in trying; Jones, a celebrated economic historian, examines how culture influences economics, and vice versa, in detailed but occasionally dry prose. The "merging" of the title refers to what happens when, for example, U.S. soap operas are exported, with rapturous reception, to Brazil. Jones sites studies that show that "transmitting 'soaps' was more powerful than a family program was likely to have been," leading to a cultural and economic trend towards American-style soap-opera lifestyles: bigger income and smaller families. Meanwhile, the rising profile of economically attractive fast food restaurants in East Asia has led to cultural changes "by importing an unfamiliar conception of manners ... East Asians are socialized to queue, keep the lavatories clean, and give up ... spitting in public. Westerners off the farm once had to learn these things too." While lay readers might wish for more of these clear-cut examples, students and economists will find the book thorough and thought-provoking.
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"Jones's scholarship is enormous, and the book is full of fascinating facts. . . . He writes clearly with an absence of jargon, which makes the book accessible to a wide audience. Economists could certainly benefit from the way it opens up a wider set of perspectives. And . . . there is more than enough interesting material to make the book worthwhile for the more general reader."--Paul Ormerod, Times Higher Education Supplement

"Jones' book is important because it links our economic past and future with our ideas about culture."--Mark Trahant, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

"An accessible, illuminating, and inspiring book."--Avner Greif, EH.net

"Eric Jones is intelligent, literate, and eclectic. His comments range over many fields besides economic history, and he writes in a sprightly manner. The book is fun to read, and it engages one of the big issues of economic history: the role of culture in economic affairs."--Peter Temin, Economic History Review

"Eric L. Jones has written an interesting and well-argued critique of two positions that he believes are well entrenched in the economic history literature. The first, which he terms 'cultural nullity', is widely held by economists and assigns no or at best a trivial role to culture in explaining economic outcomes. Second, Jones criticizes those (often historians) who think of a 'cultural fixity', in which an unchanging culture dominates every other aspect of life. . . . Jones marshals an impressive and at times amusing range of illustrations of the fluidity of cultures."--Harold James, International History Review

"Cultures Merging is a remarkable historical tour de force presenting a wealth of argument to indicate the role of economic forces in the modification of culture and vice versa."--Arthur Webb, Journal of Cultural Economics

"Jones . . . makes a compelling argument for the special place of literature in understanding these dialectics of poverty."--John Marsh, The Minnesota Review

"Jones writes in a vivid, attractive manner, expressing sometimes trenchant arguments on specific topics. . . . His book has a syncretic and eclectic feel, and conveys a sense of its author as someone who, having established his standing in his previous, more focused work, now revels in his ability to survey that of another generation or two of scholars, and to tell his readers which leads to follow and which to consider useless."--Gianfranco Poggi, Sociologica

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Product Details

  • Series: The Princeton Economic History of the Western World
  • Hardcover: 328 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (March 26, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691117373
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691117379
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,642,188 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
What are we to make of the title "Cultures Merging"? Does it imply a trend towards homogenization? Or is it less a blending and more a colorful agglomeration of ideas and attitudes, differing in the details but nonetheless united in matters of economics and the pursuit of prosperity?

"Cultures Merging" addresses the relevance and influence of culture on economic development, advocating a middle road between the extremes of "cultural fixity", in which culture is primary, and "cultural nullity", in which culture has no place or does not matter. But these terms themselves, as Prof. Jones shows, while useful for setting boundaries, fail as self-consistent ideas, for in arguing one position, one must necessarily consider the other or risk becoming irrelevant to the real world. The very notion of "culture", in fact, presupposes biases used in the very decision making processes that economists are fond of analyzing. Thus one cannot hope to approach a complete study of the influence of culture upon economics without also looking at beliefs, customs, social mores, and cultural values. In the spirit of the catholic and liquid nature of his subject, Jones draws liberally upon economics, anthropology, sociology, historical examples, and personal anecdotes to illustrate the many ways that culture influences economics and to what extent one may properly attribute the advancement of the latter to the former.

In the end, Jones's message seems to be a hopeful one, arguing that culture may be used to advance economic development in a way that avoids cultural imperialism from without but also advances the culture--in terms of individual rights and freedoms--from within.
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Format: Hardcover
This book is slightly esoteric and fails to keep in line with its thesis primariliy do to the authors on exuberance for a topic he seems so well acquianted with. In the current debates over globalization, and both the neo-left and neo-right resorting to base generalizations about the human cultural experience, much to the service of demegougery. The author contends that culture is not an absolute and provides an awesome rebuttal to the cultural relatvisim that has plagued Universities in the West since the Boasian school of anthropology became accepted at Orthodoxy. The author is not completely opposed to the idea of culture however he believed that culture can be placed into a rational calculus and must be if economist are going to be able to address problems of global development. Though the book apppears cold iin its debunking of such an academic sacred cow, the authors sympathy for the human experience and its potential emerges throughout the work. I think it would be useful to people of all ideological persuasions, ranging form classical Marxist to Neo Liberals and in between. Even if you are apathetic, read this seminal work that may one day be regarded as a classic. You won't have many regrets.
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Format: Kindle Edition
The role of culture in explaining economic behavior is an important topic. The author is an economist, but he writes as a sociologist. This means that there are interesting insights in the book, but also that the author is all over the place and not very systematic in his analysis. I can possibly recommend this book to people that have a lot of time on their hands. But do not expect this book to provide any big picture arguments.

Points of view are often put forward by the author with crutches. So and so said a particular thing and then a reference. There is often no supporting argumentation or assessment of differing views in the book. The author fails to understand the difference between an effect and an important effect. At one point he claims that humanity chooses technically inferior solutions. He provides one obscure reference as support. The reader left in limbo land. Is this obscure reference representative of most researchers'viewpoint? Is the obscure reference's conclusion referring to most technical solutions or just to the fact that sometimes inferior technical solutions are chosen? The author implicitly proceeds with the first interpretation. Is that true? Well, you need to find the reference and read it in full to find out. This is plainly an unacceptable way of writing.

I am giving the book a very generous three stars.
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Format: Hardcover
I picked this up after reading Harrison, The Central Liberal Truth. (See 9 April 2012.) While Harrison is primarily a practitioner who migrated to the ivy tower, Jones is an economic historian who has consulted for the World Bank. As the sub-title suggests, “A historical and economic critique of culture” he takes a rather different view to Harrison. While Harrison argues on thin evidence that politics can provide cultural solutions to economic challenges, Jones argues on dense historical and economic evidence that history and economic reality create culture, but culture returns the favour. As Pawson writes, causal chains in reality are dense, intertwined, and loop back on each other. Of course, I’m simplifying both arguments, but I find Jones more compelling than Harrison. I think the key distinction is between culture (values, attitudes and beliefs) and institutions (ways of organizing social behaviour). Culture influences institutions, and institutions shape economic activity. Economic activity brings change, and creates shocks to culture and institutions, which both change. The book is in two parts: cultural analysis, and cultural commentary, but the interaction of culture, institutions, and economies is evident in every chapter.
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