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Stabilizing American Society: Kenneth Boulding and the Integration of the Social Sciences, 1943–1980

  • Philippe Fontaine (a1)

For more than thirty years after World War II, the unconventional economist Kenneth E. Boulding (1910–1993) was a fervent advocate of the integration of the social sciences. Building on common general principles from various fields, notably economics, political science, and sociology, Boulding claimed that an integrated social science in which mental images were recognized as the main determinant of human behavior would allow for a better understanding of society. Boulding's approach culminated in the social triangle, a view of society as comprised of three main social organizers – exchange, threat, and love – combined in varying proportions. According to this view, the problems of American society were caused by an unbalanced combination of these three organizers. The goal of integrated social scientific knowledge was therefore to help policy makers achieve the “right” proportions of exchange, threat, and love that would lead to social stabilization. Though he was hopeful that cross-disciplinary exchanges would overcome the shortcomings of too narrow specialization, Boulding found that rather than being the locus of a peaceful and mutually beneficial exchange, disciplinary boundaries were often the occasion of conflict and miscommunication.

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