Pariah capitalism and the overseas Chinese of Southeast Asia: Problems in the definition of the problem

Allen Chun*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations

Abstract

The phenomenon of pariah capitalism was effectively cast out of the mainstream of sociological attention most eminently through the writings of Max Weber. Perhaps quite rightly so, the pursuit of profit in what he called ‘adventure capitalism’ should not be confused with the ethos of rational calculation peculiar to modern bourgeois capitalism (Weber 1958: 186, 271). Of course, Weber's purpose in emphasizing this point was dual: first of all, to underscore the peculiarity in historical and institutional terms of the lifestyle and ethos intrinsic to modern capitalism and, secondly, to undermine the theoretical foundations of any attempt to explain such ‘capitalism’ literally in terms of its overt economistic behaviour. Thus, in casting out ‘adventure capitalism’ and ‘pariah capitalism’ (e.g. the Jews of Europe, the Chinese of Southeast Asia, sometimes referred to as the ‘Jews of the East’ (cf. Landon 1941: 40), the Indians of South Africa, etc.) as insignificant sociological problems, Weber saw such phenomena not as historically exceptional or sociologically aberrant in themselves but rather simply as issues peripheral to the central theoretical concern of the time, namely the evolution of Western capitalism. To be sure, non-rational modes of capitalistic organization like that seen among the Jews or the Chinese are probably historically as old as the origins of capital itself. However, the embeddedness of the discourse of classical social theory within the context of changing European society unjustifiably excludes the possibility, first of all, that ‘pariah capitalism’ may be understood as a peculiar historical and institutional phenomenon in its own right and, secondly, that this phenomenon can be understood in terms of a broader theoretical model, i.e. as a kind of political economy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)233-256
Number of pages24
JournalEthnic and Racial Studies
Volume12
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Apr 1989

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