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Does it need a new theory? “Framework of Rules” analysis and new understandings of ancient economies

International Social Science Journal (Chinese Edition)

No.3, 2021


Does it need a new theory? “Framework of Rules” analysis and new understandings of ancient economies



Sven Günther


In the past two decades, “ancient economy” as a field has overcome the century-old dispute between (Neo-)Primitivists (Primitivisten) and Modernists (Modernisten), because both has some shortages in interpretations of existing historical materials. Among new approaches (such as quantitative analyses of archaeological matetials and comparisons between premodern societies), New Institutional Economics (NIE) seems to become a new integrating tool and theory for analysis of the economies. Indeed, NIE puts “homo non iam rationalis” in various concrete or abstract institutions guiding human economic decisions. Even in the new “orthodox” theory, however, it is still difficult to analyze properly the literature or historical materials concerning economic activities and problems. The author suggests a new method by borrowing Goffman’s framework analysis, i.e., a writer would identify, reflect and create some frameworks of rules, then show designed readers certain economic notions through their works, and even try to influence and change readers’ frameworks in the way. A paragraph (Dig. 50.11.2) in Digesta shows clearly how such frameworks were constructed on three different levels, adjusted in response to particular needs in readers’ times, and even had changed thoroughly the real intention of the original document as the authoritative basis for adjudications.