SOAS University of London

China, the west and the future of global capitalism

14 August 2013

The future of the global economic system depends on the West’s relations with China. A hundred years ago Max Weber, famous as a founder of modern Western social and political science, wrote a classic study of cultural factors that hindered the rise of Western style capitalism in non-Western contexts.

Social scientists from China and around the world gather at SOAS, University of London , on 5-6 September for the conference 'Max Weber and China: Culture, Law and Capitalism'  to re-examine his thesis and ask how far his pioneering social scientific methods can illuminate the very different conditions of economic growth of today.

A series of keynote addresses by world renowned Weber experts engage Weber’s theories from four different perspectives. Su Guoxun, the foremost Chinese expert on Weber, from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and Harbin University of Technology, points out some of the misconceptions that led Weber to misinterpret certain elements of Chinese culture and seeks to develop more refined method of inter-civilizational analysis.  

Internationally recognised Weber expert, Wolfgang Schluchter from Heidelberg University shows how Weber used Confucianism as a test for developing a typology and sociology of religions and attempted thus to provide a more nuanced contextualization of western and non-western thought and religions. He warns against the mis-application of Weber's method today.  University of Washington sociologist, Gary Hamilton’s presentation acknowledges the limitations of Weber’s categories for analyzing China; however, instead of completely dismissing Weber’s methods, he seeks to develop them further into a useful set of concepts capable of better defining some sense of Chinese ‘exceptionalism’.  Likewise, Boston University’s Stephen Kalberg argues for the continued relevance of Weber’s systemic approach to the comparative analysis of civilizations.  Each keynote address offers a critical reappraisal of Weberian theory and its contemporary relevance.

Twelve formal panels comprised of over thirty China and Weber scholars from SOAS, North America, Europe and Asia test the boundaries of Weberian analysis from the perspective of diverse academic fields such as comparative law, sociology, anthropology, history, religious studies, and economics. Through discussion, critique, and reflection the participants ascertain the potential for expanding or refining Weber concepts, methods, and conclusions.

The closing session will be an Open Forum on 'The Future of Capitalism' with invited speakers: Ann Lee, New York University, former Wall Street financier, author of What the US can Learn from China; Martin Jacques, former editor of Marxism Today, author of When China Rules the World; Professor Stephen Chan, SOAS, Editor of The Morality of China in Africa: The Middle Kingdom and the Dark Continent; and Professor Scott Lash, Goldsmiths, author of the forthcoming China Constructing Capitalism: Economic Life and Urban Change.

Max Weber pic

Max Weber and China: Culture, Law and Capitalism
5-6 September 2013
at SOAS, University of London

Organised by SOAS Centre of Chinese Studies, Weber Study Group, the British Sociological Association (BSA), Journal of Max Weber Studies and CCPN Global