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Article précédent Pages 171 - 187

New Inquiries about the Design Knowledge

Wojciech W. Gasparski, Tufan Orel (eds), 2014, Designology: Studies on Planning for Action, Praxiology Series, New Jersey, Transaction Publishers, 201p.


The initial idea concerning the title of this book goes back to several years ago. The co-editors of this volume, suggested independently – W.W. Gasparski in 1981 and T. Orel in 1989 – Designology as the name for a unified science of design. Fortunately the similarity of the concept was discovered by one of them who contacted the other and that is how the whole project started. On this project the editors remind us that the status of the Design Knowledge was one of the major debates in the academic milieu over the past thirty or forty years. On one side, this debate took place in the evolving epistemic landscape of science. The design thinkers who wanted to relate their discipline to the “official” science had to struggle to find standards which the scientific method has not yet achieved itself. Whereas design as a human activity had to find concrete and sustainable solutions with a minimum cost in terms of resources, energy, information or money, to satisfy basic human needs. Hence, on the other side, bearing in mind this practical criterion most of the scholars tried to place the debate on “Design Knowledge” in its more native domain which is technology. Yet neither of these solutions were satisfactory since the ‘unusual characteristics’ of design knowledge contained already these cognitive and practical ingredients in its essence”. Then it seemed, remark the editors, that the challenge to unify the natural or home-grown design knowledge would be quite legitimate.


The essays that contain this book are written by thirteen contributors – representing nine different countries – and are arranged in a Architectonic Structure. The first part of the book – entitled Designological Ideas – contains abstract and theoretical approaches to design knowledge, whereas the last part – Domains of Application – is consecrated to more concrete issues like Architecture, Software and Social Design. In the middle part – Design as Human Action – we encounter research on basic design activities and their relation with design knowledge.


The opening essay by Wojciech W. Gasparski which is called “Designology: Towards a Unified Science on Design Revisited”, gives the keynote to the thematic of the book: the idea of Designology is to encourage a “tendency” for “the gradual unification of various currents of design studies into a unified discipline”. Gasparski accentuates mostly the “epistemological” aspects of design knowledge whereas Tufan Orel in his essay “On the Science of Design or ‘Designology’ Revisited” considers Designology as an idea on the organizing of design knowledge. Hitherto, (throughout history), design knowledge was first “spontaneous” then it became more “inventive”. Now the urgent task of designology “is coordination and adjustment of the intellectual productions which have developed up to now in separate ways”. Eduardo Côrte-Real tackles the thematic of the book from a historical perspective in his essay untitled “Francisco d’Hollanda’s “Sciencia do Desegno”; Early Modern Designology”, Although the term “design” was already used in 15th century by Cennini, Hollanda remains one of the its precursors. Because he is the theorist of Disegno at a time when almost nothing had been printed on the matter. On the whole Côrte-Real shows – with a very rich documentation – how the Art versus Science debate on design was taking place in the Portuguese Renaissance around the ideas of writer, humanist painter and architect Hollanda (1518-1584). In their essay entitled “Designology and Technology”, Michel Faucheux and Joëlle Forest wish to reveal how design contributes to innovative process with the help of a original knowledge that the authors call “creative rationality”. Two strong intellectual support sources can be included in this notion: one is from the Greek idea of “metis” (for nosing things out, sagacity, adaptability of mind, guile, resourcefulness, etc.) and the other one from the idea of “ingenium” that the Italian philosopher Vico (1668–1744), popularized against Cartesian rationality. The conclusion of the essay is focused on the following idea: according to the authors designology and technology fall into a more general category which is the science of processes. In his essay called: “Reflexive Conceptions on Design”. Tarkko Oksala’s proposes to review the most important concepts and notions of the Design discipline. Since the design discipline has not yet a fixed, a consensual terminology (system of notions) nor a nomenclature (labelling the objects of its study), we can even go further and say: not even a simple ontology (the primitives of the design domain), Oksala’s essay brings a new insight to the design discipline. He regroups the design terms into three main chunks. The first chunk “A” is related to temporality: its categories are: past, present and future. The categories of the second one “B” are concerned with, essence, (in which take place the concepts like process and planning), aesthetics and significance. And finally, the categories of “C” are related to the problems of structure, function and behaviour and he relates “Designology” with behavioural studies of design.


In the Second Part of the book, consecrated to design in action: especially the relation of design activities with design knowledge. In the opening lines of his essay called “New tasks and Functions of Technological Designing”, Ladislav Tondl reminds us of his past professional experience in Czechoslovakia back in 1968 (large scale technical projects with the application of information science, information systems and computer graphics) but also the insight that he gained into what he calls “the dual face of technology”. Ladislav Tondl proposes some fundamental ideas for the future organization of design teams and personnel. He regroups these propositions around four key issues which are: (i) thinking and decision making in alternatives, (ii) interdisciplinarity, (iii) technological timing, (iv) values and value laden attitudes. In his case studies of the industrial designers strategies as presented in his paper “Strategic Thinking in Design Practice”, Nigel Cross proposes to tackle some of the recurrent characteristics of inventiveness in the design profession. For this he chooses three success stories of three well-known designers. Gordon Murray, (Formula One racing car design), Kenneth Grange (sewing machine design) and Victor Scheinman (bicycle luggage carrier design). N. Cross approaches design knowledge from the point of view of the individual designer but he finds at the same time some constants of the universal episteme of the industrial designers. Hence, he draws attention to the fact that theoreticians such as French, Pahl and Beitz have already stressed the values of ‘first principles’ (for Murray, this first principle is “physical forces”, for Grange it is “form follows the function”, as for Scheinman it is the “structural principle of triangulation”) whilst Schön has identified the importance of ‘problem framing’ (criterion that Cross discovers in the design of Grange and Scheinman since they knew how to reconcile the commercial goals of the client with their own first principles). And Cross discovers the recommendation of Jones (system approach) in the work of Murray: constraint of the racing (FISA) regulations.


In the essay called “Argumentative Planning and Policy-making Discourse with Argument Evaluation”, Thorbjoern Mann invites us to reflect and “participate” in some of the recent developments of Rittel’s argumentative method i.e. design and planning activities considered as a process of raising questions which, if they became controversial, were called issues, calling for answers or, in the case of design or planning proposals: arguments (the ‘pros and cons’) that will have to be debated and resolved to arrive at a reasoned decision. However, the method that was born in the strict domain of “design Methods” of the 60’s could have a larger range envisaged as a method for social issues or even for international use. Hence the author shows its significant contribution on the LinkedIn “Systems Thinking World” network that tried to articulate a response to UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon’s call for “revolutionary thinking and action to ensure an economic model for survival” at the 2011 World Economic Forum in Davos. In his essay entitled “The Impact of Information Technologies in Architecture Design”, Tom Maver sketches a very dense historical evolution of the architecture with CAAD in UK. He puts four decades of research and application on CAAD in perspective with the main professional issues of architecture sector as it appeared right after the Second World War. In the 60’s architects found themselves busy correcting the errors of fast constructions after the world war. The theme which was popular at that time was the “post occupancy appraisal”. The 70’s brought new possibilities to Architecture with the Virtual prototype, which was hitherto common in Industrial design (prototyping) but not in architecture. In the 80’s and 90’s, the main interest in Architecture was in the models of energy behaviour in the buildings. This also opened the way for computer models of light and sound. But realistic colour imaging and animation also permitted the modelling of entire cities. With the help of this historical study Maver expects more efforts from the profession in future: i.e. a better evaluation of efficacy; relation of design decisions and cost/performance consequences; design options should help the formation of subjective and objective value judgments; students should be continuously learning from the architecture of cyberspace.


At the Third Part of the book, three different “substances” of designs are treated: architecture, software design and social design. In the preface of her essay entitled “Is Architecture Design A Science?”, Sevil Sar?y?ld?z reminds us of some definitions concerning science, architecture and especially concerning the types of knowledge used in architecture discipline. But specially, with the help of case studies, S. Sar?y?ld?z allows us to penetrate into the modern universe of the design tools of the architect. She also treats some abstract proprieties (esthetical criteria) of architectural design which go beyond formal geometric reasoning. Sevil Sar?y?ld?z’s essay (which is also comprehensively illustrated with computer drawings and photos of architectural works) concludes on the positive aspect architectural design. All in all, designers’ knowledge – that she considers rather closer to technology – can be used to correct the wrongs of modern technological culture. Jack Brzezinski’s paper, “Modelling Software Systems” is dedicated to the state of art of software design, especially to the design of dynamic systems which can be found embedded in intelligent products such as autonomous cars, drones and robotic technologies. What is so specific to these dynamic systems is that it is very hard to predict all the states of these systems at a certain time. This unpredictability requires an “open design”. To keep the system running in spite of its incompleteness, we need so-called “on-line design methods” which can repair or heal the system while it is in full activity. And finally, Ioannes B. Kapelouzos’s paper, called “The Design of Jurisprudence on Environmental Protection and Sustainability by the Hellenic Supreme Administrative Court and its Relation to the Classical Greek Value System”, is an example of a social design. The method of this study is system analysis and system design – or what the author calls “systemic thought and methodology in Law and in judicial decision-making” – and its application is on jurisprudence concerning environmental issues. This method was applied to law by The Hellenic Council of State (The Supreme Administrative Court) and it is largely inspired by the classical philosophy (ethics and ontology) of Greece.


The reader may also find useful an interesting study on the meaning of design related to “planning” and “action” in the Introduction of this book.


Tufan OREL

The building of a “good society”. Towards an “open” economics


In the context of an enduring economic crisis where social, environmental and political issues are globalized, considering the future of economics and studying the ways of building a good or better society should be the main foci of scholars. However, these topics are not (or not enough) at the core of the current scientific agenda, mostly centred on “normal science”, in the sense of Kuhn (1962). Heterodox thinkers of the 19th and 20th centuries however provided clues on the methods and questions to be asked to consider economics as a whole system of thought and to be able to understand and perhaps modify the various facets of the economic reality. This article builds on the review of three books by authors offering such alternative economic views: John Kenneth Galbraith, written by James Ronald Stanfield and Jacqueline Bloom Stanfield and published in the series “Great thinkers in economics” of Palgrave Macmillan in 2011; Alternatives Perspectives of a Good Society, edited by John Marangos and published in the series “Perspectives from Social Economics” of Palgrave Macmillan in 2012 and Interdisciplinary Economics. Kenneth E. Boulding’s Engagement in the Sciences, edited by Wilfred Dolfsma and Stefan Kesting in 2013 and part of the series “Routledge Studies in the History of Economics” of Routledge.


The book of J. R. Stanfield and J. B. Stanfield (2011) is a “portrait of the life and work of a great intellectual and heterodox political economist” (Preface, p. x). It is organized in 8 chapters which examine chronologically the main contributions and subjects studied by John Kenneth Galbraith (1908-2006) along his “multiple” life (where economics and politics were always combined). The book edited by J. Marangos presents “alternative views on societies, methodologies and policies and assessment of the current and future elements of society” (Marangos, 2012, pp. 1-2) with the aim to reach a “good” or a “better” society. It includes 10 chapters which are the result of a joint session of AFEE (Association for Evolutionary Economics) and ASE (Association for Social Economics) at the 2010 ASSA (Allied Social Science Association) meeting in Atlanta. The book edited by W. Dolfsma and S. Kesting comes back to the works of Kenneth E. Boulding (1910-1993) with the aim “to address interdisciplinary research in the social sciences in general and in economics in particular” (Dolfma, Kesting, 2013, p. 4). It gathers, in 14 parts, key texts written by K. E. Boulding on the various topics he studied (systems theory, unity of social sciences, economics and morality, communication/persuasion, power theory, evolutionary economics, institutions/institutional economics, ecological economics, cultural economics, grants economics, conflict resolution & peace, teaching, the future of economics). Each part is also illustrated with poems and drawings of this eclectic intellectual and his key texts are discussed by several authors.


The common point of these three books and of the many authors involved – despite their differences and divergences – lies in the emphasis they put on change. And more particularly on changes that would be needed in the real economy and first and foremost in the thinking of economics to build a new or a better society that would benefit the largest part of humans. This, of course, implies the need to meditate on the flaws of the current economic system of acting and thinking.


The presentation and discussion of these three books [1][1] The richness of the material included in these three... is organized in three parts. The first part defines the outlines of what a good society is, according to the different perspectives proposed in the three books. The second part puts forward the current but also more long-standing barriers to the building of a good society and the possible steps towards its building. In the conclusive part, we come back to one of the major contributions of these three books which is to give the readers incentives to promote an open-minded way of thinking about the future of economics.

What does a “good society” mean?


For all the authors of this volume, the conception of a good or a better society is firmly based on the criticism of mainstream economics, that is to say on the neoclassical conception of what a good society represents.


As recalled by Marangos and Astroulakis (2012, p. 83), a good society according to mainstream economics, is perceived as “the end state of development”, which is determined by the amount of saving that leads to investment and to the growth of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), by the increase of material consumption in terms of economic well-being and by the maximization of individual utility. In a nutshell, according to the authors, mainstream economics perceives the good society as the Western affluent society, which as such, is colored by economic imperialism.


This willingness to demonstrate that higher income and consumption are not the ultimate goals of societies is of course shared by more reformist economists, even if they do not comply with the Marxist conception of imperialism. In all his intellectual life, and more specifically in one of his most important book The Affluent Society (1956), J. K. Galbraith aimed to challenge the “creed that made increased production the ultimate test of social achievement” (Stanfield, Stanfield, 2011, p. 96). This focus on production and higher income were for him the result of a “conventional wisdom”, that is “a framework for interpreting observed events within the canon of traditional thought” (ibid). It originated in a context of scarcity and produced “a tradition of despair” which did not anymore correspond to the economic and social context of the 20th century.


On this grounds, the three books offer alternative views about the “nature and prospects for a good (or better) institutional ordering of our society” (Mutari, 2012, p. 191) [2][2] If E. Mutari refers to the chapters included in J..... It is worth noting that whereas the authors examined in this review do not all share the same theoretical system of thinking and the same political vision, all consider that change or evolution characterize the economic system. As a consequence, a good society would not be the “best” or “perfect” society, due to the contradictions that result from any change process or from the imperfection of reforms. They also have in common the idea according to which a democratic process is central in building a shared vision of what a future society should be. Their main point of divergence regards their willingness – or not – to maintain the capitalist foundations of the economic system.


According to Marx and Engels, as explained by A. Campbell (2012), the building of a better society is an unending process, resolving some present contradiction and creating new ones. A good or a better society – relative to the present – would be a post-capitalist one, which goal would be “that humanity be allowed and socially supported in authentic self-development” (p. 13).


The idea of creating a collective shared vision is central in the ethical thinking about economics. For K. E. Boulding, as recalled by W. Waller, “human betterment, the improvement in well-being broadly defined to include care and maintenance of the biosphere in which human beings exist, was a constant theme in Boulding’s scholarly career” (Waller, 2013, p. 262). To change the image of the future [3][3] It is worth noting with Waller, that “Boulding abandons..., Boulding puts his faith in the power of message and communication in the alteration of the image. Communication and integrative power contribute to the construction of an individual’s image that allows groups of people to work together for the common good as they collectively perceive it. Precisely, J. Marangos and N. Atroulakis (2012) propose an ethical framework for a good society that also shares this idea of a collective creation of a shared vision of the future. They recall that development ethics is a relatively new discipline represented by direct forerunners such as Gandhi, Myrdal or Lebret in the 19th and 20th century, even if its origin can be traced to Ancient Greek philosophy (Aristotle). These authors argue that beyond prosperity, namely economic growth, there are other elements that determine the concept of good life and good society and there is not a unique manner of perceiving a good society. As a consequence for development ethicists, a good society is a self-oriented procedure that each society or nation should evaluate under the prism that everyone needs life sustaining goods, freedom and dignity.


For J. K. Galbraith, a good society would be a society where the shortcomings of the affluent society would be corrected. More precisely, as stated by Stanfield and Stanfield (2011, p. 104), “Galbraith’s ‘ultimate purpose’ was to clear the way for recognition of the opportunities that would emerge were the more-is-better mentality put aside, allowing democratic capitalist societies to put their enormous power to saner and more humane use”. The drawbacks of the affluent society are linked to the obdurate concern for economic growth, which blurs the ‘dependence effect’ observed in the process of want creation (we shall come back on this later). One of the most damaging consequences of this ideology of growth is according to Galbraith the “social imbalance” between public and private sector output. According to the author, “the preoccupation with expanding production and the process of consumer want creation that sustains it tend to generate relative penury in the public sector” (Stanfield, Stanfield, 2011, p. 106). Another linked consequence is that the questions of inequality and economic insecurity had been neglected by economics or subsumed under the overriding objective of raising production.


While not central in the œuvre of Galbraith, The Good Society (1996) stands as “a missive to the socially concerned” that sums “the principles and judgments that guided the lengthy life of a paragon of progressive modern liberalism” (Stanfield, Stanfield, 2011, p. 188). According to Galbraith, a good society, while characterized by a necessary strong and stable economic growth, should be based on “universal inclusion” and not on inequality and discrimination. In such a society, the market economy should be structured by a political – legal and ethical framework and sustained by education. In this ‘amendatory and not revolutionary’ [4][4] This is the way Galbraith defined Post Keynesian economics... vision, policy reform is needed to accommodate to the constant evolution of the industrial society.


Quite similarly, N. Karagiannis and Z. Madj-Sadjadi define a good society as “a sustainable society with a high level of development and low levels of inequalities and social ills” (Karagiannis, Madjd-Sadjadi, 2012, p. 148). Such a vision of a good society leads to a discussion about the pivotal role of governments in its building. And, according to the Feminist perspective, the debate on the nature of a good society should also include gender, and more particularly the process whereby households convert formal production into consumable goods and services to provide the needs of societies (see Shönpflug, 2012 and Duggan and Hopkins, 2012).

Barriers and possible steps towards the building of a good society


The barriers to the building of a good society may be found in the foundations and/or on the behaviors of actors within the economic system.


For Marxist economists, the barriers to the building of a good or better society are to be found in the very foundations of the economic system: the private property of production means and the inclusion of all social function and of all natural, physical and intellectual resource in the capitalist accumulation process. Studying the place of finance in capitalism D. P. Sotiropoulos, J. Milios and S. Lapatsioras (2012) for example go against the current ideas according to which financialization is the result of excessive behaviours that lead to the growth of the financial sphere and to its separation from the real one. Rather, they put forward finance as a ‘technology of power’ which organizes capitalist power relations. They thus show how money and finance were absorbed in the capitalist accumulation institutional framework. However as Marx explained, the economic and social system contains its own contradictions which necessarily lead to its questioning. In the view of Marx and Engels, the conception of a good or better society necessitates the negation of the barriers to the development of the human potential posed by capitalism (A. Campbell, 2012, p. 20). This needs the transformation of institutions but also of humans.


For Galbraith and for social liberal economists, the barriers to the building of a good society are more to be found in behaviours than in the foundations of the economic system. The power exercised by the large corporation was extensively studied by Galbraith in one of his most famous book The New Industrial State (1967). Galbraith recognized the usefulness of the large corporation to ensure investments required by the technological progress of the 20th century and to face the growing uncertainty of markets, which explained the growing power of the technostructure. But he not only emphasized the internal impacts of such power (the power exercised by the managers over the shareholders in the governance of big companies) but also the external power of such an organization which notably leads to the “revised sequence”, referring to the great corporations’ influence on consumer and political culture.


The creation of wants relies on a demonstration effect (where wants rely or depend upon what ones sees others consuming). For Galbraith, as for Boulding, tastes are not given [5][5] Boulding notably criticized the “Immaculate Conception..., but are more ensuing from “processes by which cultures are created and by which preferences are learned” (Boulding, 1968, in Dolfsma and Kesting, 2013, p. 114). For Galbraith, this emphasis on growth and consumption as well as the process of want creation all relied upon strong “vested interests”, a growth lobby made of “business executives and technical professionals who ran the social machinery of production, wealthy people who had accumulated purchasing power, politicians whose platforms and constituencies were based on government fostering of growth, and academic economists whose central ideas were concerned with scarcity and growth all had varying degrees of vested interests in the continuing obsession with expanding production” (Stanfield, Standield, 2011, p. 100).


To overcome the barriers, the visions of the studied economists diverge with some considering that the whole system has to change and those who advocate that the behaviours, and thus the system, may be corrected, through the emergence of countervailing powers.


As recalled by A. Campbell (2012), Marx and Engels opposed the sort of detailed prescription for a better society that they attack in the work of Saint Simon or Fourier. They prefer to give indications regarding the characteristics of what would be a good society. A. Campbell lists 13 of these characteristics of a socialist economy mainly found or deduced from the Critique of the Gotha Programme. Among them, we find a collective society, a democratic decision making, a common ownership of the means of production, only the means of consumption can be individually owned, absence of money and of production of value, absence of exchange of products among producers, no capitalist markets, a same wage for all individuals, the exchange of equivalents. Also, the transition towards communism would need a change in the nature of work (compared to the socialist period and notably with the elimination of the distinction between work and non work) and of the concepts of right and justice with the adoption of a principle of rights based on needs. In the aim of building a society where democratic decision making is widely spread out to as many social domains as possible, D. P. Sotiropoulos, J. Milios and S. Lapatsioras (2012) put forward the necessary revival of social movements, associated with the production by radical thinking of a critique to the dominant ideology of the ruling classes. This could contribute to analyze finance and money as collective goods and import this idea to the social movements in order to promote political actions leading to the restriction of the logic of capitalism. This would be an important step to the building of a good society.


To face the shortcomings of our society and the growing power of some actors (like the large corporation), Galbraith stressed the role of the state which is to act as a countervailing power through regulations, education and information. “Countervailing power” was his term for constraint on the exercise of power that emerged from the opposite side of market. Notwithstanding the fact that countervailing power could emerge from the demand side of the market, “the state is the only social entity that conceivably could exercise sufficient countervailing power to the great corporation oligarchy to achieve reform of the governance regime” (Stanfield, Stanfield, 2011, p. 153.). For K. E. Boulding, countervailing powers could be “remedies for the pathologies of persuasion”, where persuasion is an attempt to change the mind of another favourably to the first: “There are undoubtedly countervailing powers to pathologies of persuasion. We see this, for instance, in the tremendous development of citizen initiatives, the development of the environmental movement, the consumer movement, innumerable private organizations to check on the sins both of corporate business and of government” (Boulding, 1989, in Dolfsma, Kesting, 2013, p. 182). Boulding also considered that information technology, generating an enormous spread of person-to-person communication could also provide a countervailing power.


For A. De Ruyter, A. Singh, T. Warnecke and A. Zammit (2012), governments have indeed a pivotal role in the building of a good society. Their paper draws upon the debate around labour standards and examines the evolution of work, in the era of the Washington consensus, particularly in less-developed countries. They show how this consensus based on liberalization, privatization and deregulation intensified the push for labour flexibility and the extension of vulnerable employment, mostly informal. As a consequence core labour standards (the ones’ of the international labour organization) are not sufficient and difficult to implement in the informal sector and should be supplemented with noncore standards implemented by governments with the aim of facilitating the growth of waged, decent employment. They highlight the pivotal role of government which should act as an “employer of last resort” and can create the legislative and macro-economic framework necessary to facilitate the extension of decent work, promote gender equity, and thereby enable the shift to a good society.


Even more strongly, according to N. Karagiannis and Z. Madjd-Sadjadi (2012), the recent shift to “less state” does not work: “The state is not only central to economic and social development as a partner, catalyst and facilitator but perhaps the most important institution of a good society” (Karagiannis, Madjd-Sadjadi, p. 151). Reassessing the developmental state argument through the example of various countries, the authors argue that to promote a good society, a modern developmental state should be implemented. This implies strong policy instruments that will enable the States to plan and finance their strategic goals such as job creation, higher mass living standards, R&D, competency, environmental protection.


Whatever their position, all the studied authors invite the reader to reassess the way economics is considered, studied and taught. One of the main contributions of all the authors is thus to pave the way towards an “open” economics. We could define an open economics as a discipline (namely economics) which promotes a dialogue and a cooperation with other disciplines (notably history, sociology, environmental sciences, and so forth) in order to be able to study an economic problem in its concrete reality and not only according to hypotheses rigidly defined by a theoretical corpus.

Towards an open economics


In the aim of building a good or a better society, all the authors reviewed here did not stay entangled in the boundaries of their narrow disciplines but tried to include new questions, new methods and new answers and to find new path towards the creation of a good or a better society. Whatever research topic, which are recalled or given as examples below, they all provide stimulus to think and conduct research differently (from mainstream economics), in a more integrative than exclusive way.


S. Pressman (2012) shows for example the inadequacies of the standard neoclassical methodology and policy prescription to study and to face current economic and social problems. He takes the example of obesity and describes its recent rise in the US. The “fat tax”, ensuing from the mainstream analysis is meant to counter any externalities that result from people’s preferences to eat sweet and fatty foods and become obese but it is notably contradicted by the willingness of many American people to lose weight. According to the author, the problem of obesity would be better understood in replacing it (in an evolutionary psychology perspective) with the long history of human race (the tastes for sweet and fatty foods developed for reasons of survival) and within the strategy of large food companies which largely contributed to the human addiction to this kind of food. This analysis highlights the difficulties for economics to give clear explanations of current problems and to propose adequate policies to face them. This is for example the case with the global crisis of 2008. According to R. Boyer (2012), the inability of the discipline to anticipate the crisis but also to explain it ex post is particularly due to its fractionation in quasi-autonomous sub-disciplines which, taken as a whole, may prove to be contradictory: “It is one of the explanations of the current state of ‘economics’: the anomie of the division of labour within it has destroyed as much the coherence of the discipline as its capacity to account for the major transformations of contemporary economies” (our translation, Boyer, 2012, p. 165).


In the three books discussed in this review, the authors also put forward the importance of methodology and of opening research to other disciplines. To illustrate the role of methodology for research in the thinking of how to create a better economic system, L. S. Duggan and B. E. Hopkins (2012) concentrate on the field of Comparative Economy Systems, which aim is to examine and compare “the workings of different sets of economic institutions and the ways in which institutions may be combined to achieve various goals, such as growth, efficiency and equity” (Duggan, Hopkins, 2012, p. 58) and which was historically applied to all economic systems. They explain the evolution of research methodology in this field, from case study to models in the recent period, and point out the absence of gender analysis in both methodologies. They advocate for the creation of a Comparative Gendered Economic Systems which would improve the analysis of economic systems as well as the debate about the nature of a good economic system, since it would bring a richer understanding of the gendering of institutions and economic systems. According to the authors, three necessary steps have to be achieved: the first one involves replacing the traditional CES emphasis on state versus private ownership with a focus on how economic structures impact men and women differently. A second step would be to focus the analysis on households (which can be considered as institutions) and to assign such analysis a higher priority than firms and labour markets. And a third one would be to emphasize equity as the primary outcome used to evaluate any economic system. Interdisciplinarity is also a way to better understand the shortcomings of our society notably discrimination and inequalities, which are studied by K. Schönpflug (2012) through the care paradox that is embedded in an arrangement of gendered separate spheres. The author puts forward the necessity, in order to build a good society to undo gender and other cultural norms on symbolic, institutional and personal levels. She also advocates interdisciplinary research including a feminist perspective.


Interdisciplinary Research was indeed the main claim of K. E. Boulding. In his General systems theory, he considered that “the more science breaks into sub-groups, and the less communication is possible among the disciplines, however, the greater chance there is that the total growth of knowledge is being slowed down by the loss of relevant communications” (K. E. Boulding, 1956, in Dolfsma and Kesting, 2013, p. 22). He thus advocated the importance of interdisciplinary research. His transdisciplinary general systems theory means that “all domains of life are interconnected through sets of relationships that exhibit common patterns and properties that can be addressed across the different sciences” (Davis, 1989, in Dolfsma and Kesting, 2013, p. 155). Moreover, he considered economics, as well as all social sciences as value laden, which means that “no sciences of any kind can be divorced from ethical considerations” (Boulding, 1968, p. 114). Economics cannot only be represented by the system of exchange, but is connected to two other systems (in Boulding’s terminology): the threat/fear system and integrative/love system. This, according to him, makes economics a “moral science”.


In the same perspective, development ethics, as defined by J. Marangos and N. Astroulakis, is interdisciplinary. It “bridges the social sciences, philosophy and humanities, taking under consideration the economic, political cultural, institutional, ideological and ethical aspects of individuals and societies” (Marangos, Astouliakis, 2012, p. 80). To meet the main ethical goals “life-sustenance, esteem and freedom” that should be the ones of a good society, three main strategies are proposed by development ethics: Abundance of goods (or enough goods that lead to the satisfaction of the biological needs), Universal solidarity in societies and among individuals and Participation of all people in decision making.


Perhaps more important than interdisciplinary research, for J. K. Galbraith, is the need for – or a come-back to – a true “political economy”. According to him, (1991, pp. 44-45, quoted by Stanfield, Stanfield, 2011, p. 24), “no clear line separates economics from political interest… I do not wish to see economics indifferent to larger political and social concerns. Economics, as I have urged, should not be a soulless abstraction; it is in the service of the larger social good”.


Being an open-minded intellectual also means trying to open innovative paths, which necessitate both to build “on the shoulder of giants” but also to take account of the limits of their analysis and/or prescriptions. Whereas the ‘conventional wisdom’ considers that any radical attempt to change the society ends in unescapable failures, the current globalized economic, social and political problems likewise demonstrate day by day the limits of reformist perspectives. This means that something new has to be thought, taught and tried: thanks to the reading of these three books, minds and doors can now be open.




  • BOULDING, K. E. (1956), General Systems Theory. The Skeleton of Science, in Dolfsma, W., Kesting, S. (eds), 2013, 21-32.
  • BOULDING, K. E. (1968), Economics as a Moral Science, Dolfsma, W., Kesting, S. (eds), 2013, 113-125.
  • BOULDING, K. E. (1989), The Pathologies of Persuasion, in Dolfsma W., Kesting S. (eds), 2013, 171-183.
  • BOULDING, K. E. (1997), The Image, Ann Arbor, MI, University of Michigan Press.
  • BOYER, R. (2012), La discipline économique des années 1930 à nos jours, D’un espoir prométhéen à une dramatique révision, Le Débat, 169, 148-166.
  • CAMPBELL, A. (2012), Marx and Engel’s Vision of Building a Good Society, in Marangos (ed.), 9-31.
  • COURVISANOS, J. (2012), Crisis, Crises and Innovation: Path to Sustainable Development. A Kaleckian - Schumpeterian Synthesis, Cheltenham, Edward Elagar.
  • DAVIS, J. B. (1989), Kenneth Boulding as a Moral Scientist, in Dolfsma W., Kesting S. (eds), 2013, 153-166.
  • DE RUYTER, A., SINGH, A., WARNECKE, T., ZAMMIT, A. (2012), Labor Standards, Gender and Decent Work in Newly Industrialized Countries: Promoting the Good Society, in Marangos (ed.), 121-146.
  • DOLFSMA, W., KESTING, S. (eds) (2013), Interdisciplinary Economics. Kenneth E. Boulding’s Engagement in the Sciences, Routledge studies in the history of economics, New-York, Routledge.
  • DUGGAN L. S, HOPKINS B. E. (2012), Does the Field of Comparative Economic Systems (CES) Care about the Good Society? A Feminist Angle on the Need for Institutional Analysis in CES, in Marangos (ed.), 57-77.
  • KUHN, T. S. (1962), The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Chicago, University of Chicago Press.
  • GALBRAITH, J. K. (1958), The Affluent Society, Boston, Houghton Mifflin.
  • GALBRAITH, J. K. (1967), The New Industrial State, Boston, Houghton Miffin.
  • GALBRAITH, J. K. (1996), The Good Society, Boston, Houghton Mifflin.
  • GALBRAITH, J. K. (1991), Economics in the Century Ahead, Economic Journal, 101, 41-6.
  • KARAGIANNIS, N., MADJD-SADJADI, Z. (2012), A Socially Sensitive Developmental State: Hey Economic and Politico-Institutional Aspects, in Marangos (ed.), 147-169.
  • LAPERCHE, B., LEVRATTO, N., UZUNIDIS, D. (eds) (2012), Crisis, Innovation and Sustainable Development. The Ecological Opportunity, Science, Innovation, Technology and Entrepreneurship, Cheltenham, Edward Elgar.
  • LAPERCHE, B., UZUNIDIS, D. (eds) (2005), John Kenneth Galbraith and the Future of Economics, London, Palgrave Macmillan.
  • LAPERCHE, B., GALBRAITH, J. K., UZUNIDIS, D. (eds) (2006), Innovation, Evolution and Economic Change. New Ideas in the Tradition of Galbraith, New Directions in Modern Economics, Cheltenham, Edward Elgar.
  • MARANGOS, J., ASTROULAKIS, N. (2012), The Development Ethics Perspective of a Good Society, in Marangos (ed.), 79-98.
  • MARANGOS, J. (ed) (2012), Alternative Perspectives of a Good Society, Perspective from Social Economics, New-York, Palgrave Macmillan.
  • MUTARI, E. (2012), Questions for a Good Society: Concluding Remarks, in Marangos (ed.), 191-195.
  • PRESSMAN, S. (2012), Obesity, Evolutionary, Psychology and the Good Society, in Marangos (ed.), 171-189.
  • SCHÖNPFLUG, K. (2012), Gendered Work in a ‘Good Society’ – A Paradox to Care About, in Marangos (ed.), 33-56.
  • SOTIROPOULOS, D. P., MILIOS, J., LAPATSIORAS, S. (2012), Demistifying Finance: How to Understand Financialization and Think Strategies for a Good Society, in Marangos (ed.), 99-119.
  • STANFIELD, J. R., STANFIELD, J. B. (2011), John Kenneth Galbraith, Great Thinkers in Economics, London and New York, Palgrave Macmillan.
  • WALLER, W. (2013), Kenneth Boulding on Power, in Dolfsma, W., Kesting, S. (eds) (2013), 258-268.



The richness of the material included in these three books is not completely included in this review, since we tried to extract the main contributions towards the building of a good society and granted the limitations imposed by contemporary edition (which reflects the accepted norms of our society). Notwithstanding these facts, important elements regarding for example the military sector or the environmental problems (dealt with in particular by Galbraith and Boulding) are not scrutinized here despite their important role in the building, or in the barriers to the building of a good society. This should be an incentive for further readings, within these books and others like: Laperche, Uzunidis, 2005; Laperche, Galbraith, Uzunidis, 2006, Laperche, Levratto and Uzunidis, 2012, and Courvisanos, 2012).


If E. Mutari refers to the chapters included in J. Marangos’ book, I consider it also corresponds to the other authors included in this review.


It is worth noting with Waller, that “Boulding abandons the notion of a preference function as is used in Paretian welfare economics and replaces it with what he calls ‘the image’” (Boulding, 1997, originally 1956). “Boulding describes the image as an individual’s worldview created by a combination of that individual’s subjective knowledge of the world, their sense of location in space and time, and their embeddedness in a web of human relations and the emotions that result from those relations” (Waller, 2013, in Dolfsma, Kesting, p. 262).


This is the way Galbraith defined Post Keynesian economics in the introduction of the first issue of the Journal of Post Keynesian Economics, quoted by Stanfield and Stanfield, p. 31.


Boulding notably criticized the “Immaculate Conception of the Indifference Curve”! (Boulding, 1968, in Dolfsma and Kesting, 2013, p. 114).

Plan de l'article

  1. New Inquiries about the Design Knowledge
    1. Wojciech W. Gasparski, Tufan Orel (eds), 2014, Designology: Studies on Planning for Action, Praxiology Series, New Jersey, Transaction Publishers, 201p.
  2. The building of a “good society”. Towards an “open” economics
    1. What does a “good society” mean?
    2. Barriers and possible steps towards the building of a good society
    3. Towards an open economics

Pour citer cet article

« Trends and comments », Journal of Innovation Economics & Management, 3/2014 (n°15), p. 171-187.

DOI : 10.3917/jie.015.0171

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