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Performativity, Performance and Politics: Towards an Evolutionary Taxonomy of Economic Systems

Herrmann-Pillath, Carsten

Journal of Contextual Economics – Schmollers Jahrbuch, Vol. 136 (2016), Iss. 3: pp. 257–284

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Max Weber Center for Advanced Cultural and Social Studies, University of Erfurt, PO Box 900221, 99105 Erfurt, Germany.


Most taxonomies of economic systems are dualistic, such as distinguishing between ‘plan’ and ‘market.’ Following Amartya Sen, I argue that these approaches fall into the trap of ‘transcendental institutionalism.’ As an alternative, the paper develops principles of evolutionary taxonomy that closely mirror the standards applied in biological taxonomy. Taxonomical types are approached as trajectories of change demarcated in space and time, and which are ordered in terms of historical sequences and origins. In human institutions, a special phenomenon is the interaction between ideas and institutions, which implies that interpretive activities have to be considered as important forces of evolution. Based on these considerations, I develop a conception of ‘institutional trait’ as the basic unit of taxonomic analysis. I illustrate these principles by means of a short case study on China, taking the example of land property rights in South China as an institutional trait.

JEL Codes: B41, B52, P26, P51