23 October 2007

Roberto Unger (Again)

My overlapping interests in pragmatism, political economy and democracy have me reading recent books by Roberto Unger [1] [2] and following his move from the legal academy into government [3]. This book is his latest and it is quite interestig insofar as he rightly insists (i) that no abstract institutional model (e.g., an economic model of 'the' market) has a unique instantiation in practice and (ii) that there exists a "punumbra of possibility" around any particular institutional arrangement from which those who inhabit it might, via political action, move to another more attractive arrangement.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the recommendation. The book sounds very interesting, and I will put on my reading list.

Btw. the essay by Stephen Holmes that you referred to recently ("John Yoo's Tortured Logic") was very, very good.

25 October, 2007 08:54  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...


(1) If you are interested in the details of the economics you might seek out Dani Rodrik's new book (also from Princeton UP); he and Unger taught a course together at Harvard. Rodrik, being a real economist, goes through the technical matters in more detail.

(2) Steve Holmes is extremely smart. He runs a law and security program at NYU Law School. He has collected a bunch of similar essays in a new book The Matador's Cape (Cambridge UP).

25 October, 2007 10:02  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


On Rodrik: Note taken, thanks again. I am not very good at reading technical economics, but I have read an article by Rodrik before which was very readable, and interesting too.

On Holmes: I read his essay on Neo-Con Futurology which I believe is part of the book you metion. He also wrote a briliant review of Sheldon Wolin's book on Tocqueville. I have his Anatomy of Anti-Liberalism book, but have only read a few chapters.

I am trying to piece together a reading list with a friend (on modern capitalisms, broadly speaking), so I very much appreciate your suggestions.

25 October, 2007 18:57  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...


If you are interested, here are a couple of more suggestions.

Charles Lindblom 2001. The Market System (Yale UP)

Russell Muirhead. 2004. Just Work (Harvard UP)

Richard Freeman. 2007 American Works (Russell Sage Fndtn.)

Lawrence Mishel, e. al. 2007. The State of Working America (Cornell UP)

Edward Wolff. 2001. Top Heavy (New Press)

William Keech. 1995. Economic Politics (Cambridge UP)

Amartya Sen. 1998. Development as Freedom (Knopf)

None are particularly technical at all. But all are useful for developing a critical political economy.

Best, Jim

25 October, 2007 20:07  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Thanks a lot for the further suggestions. They are much appreciated.

Btw., and very much off topic, you occassionally reference and recommend Clifford Geertz’s work, in particular his Interpretation of Cultures and Local Knowledge, respectively. One of his essays is on a different reading list of mine, that on the Balinese Cockfight. In relation to that I just read and will recommend to you Adam Kuper’s ”Clifford Geertz: Culture as Religion and as Grand Opera”, chapter 3 in his book Culture: The Anthropologist’s Account, Harvard University Press, 1999.

Kuper’s appraisal of Geertz’s work appears to me (I am not an anthropologist) to be representative of the discipline more generally, in particular as regards the regional scholarship of Southeast Asia studies. It seems to me also to give a fair reading of Geertz’s work. Kuper considers the structure of Geertz’s arguments, the evidence he includes or excludes, as well as the styles Geertz employs in making his arguments. It might be of interest to you.

28 October, 2007 20:11  

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