As theories of bounded rationality have argued persistently, actors often simply do not have the information or the computational capacity to make optimizing choices. Under conditions of uncertainty, the parameters and probabilities that would make it possible to choose the optimal course of action are unknowable. Ever since Frank Knight ( 2006) introduced the distinction between risk and uncertainty, uncertainty has been an important concept in mainstream economics, as well a crucial point of reference for dissenting voices in economics and in economic sociology.
Starting from the assumption that it is possible to calculate optimal choices, mainstream economics has directed all its efforts into creating a theory that does away with uncertainty—in Knight’s sense of the term—by reducing it to calculable risk (Beckert 2002, Hodgson 2011). By contrast, heterodox approaches and economic sociologists have asserted that introducing uncertainty has much greater implications than standard economics has acknowledged, arguing that uncertainty can be a vantage point for a renewed understanding of economic phenomena.
This book uses these observations on the limits of rational actor theory in situations characterized by uncertainty as the starting point for a theory of capitalist dynamics. If actors are oriented toward the future and outcomes are uncertain, then how can expectations be defined? What are expectations under conditions of uncertainty? That is the central question to which this book seeks an answer.