INTRODUCTION Imagine putting some questions to an English-speaking gathering of fairly well-educated people with at least some familiarity with the social sciences. Ask them firstly which of three general complexes of relations-economic, political, and ‘social’—has the strongest part in shaping the daily life of our ‘post-industrial’ or ‘late capitalist’ societies. The answers won’t be too ambiguous. They will say that the economy is, of course (!), the strongest most of the time, then politics, then the ‘social’, whatever that means, and we are not at all sure. Then invite them to consider the more unfamiliar question as to how and in what degree these three complexes of relations define and set limits on each other. After some puzzling the answers may well be that, yes, obviously the economic system sets limits on political and social relations-financial, labour and stock markets together with international trading positions and the strength of the currency all fix national income in a way that sets unyielding limits on political and social relations. And, yes, written or unwritten constitutions and long-established politcal conventions
together with the whole apparatus of the State do have a substantiality that sets legal, administrative, and other limits on the ‘social order’, which our gathering will probably construe as the family, education, welfare and health care systems and perhaps also ‘the class structure’.