Though it may at first seem farfetched to compare the behavior of deliberately rational actors in contemporary capitalist economies with the behavior of tribal community members, Durkheim’s analysis offers unique insight into the emergence and dynamics of expectations held in the capitalist economy. These expectations are also shaped by collective beliefs formed through communicative practices, albeit in a very different context.
Discourses among expert communities and beliefs held by laypeople are crucially important to the formation of the imagined futures formed within the capitalist economy. Such discourses, and the imaginaries prevailing at any given point in time, are framed by powerful actors such as firms, politicians, experts, and the media. The discourses likewise take place in the context of cultural and institutional frames, which actors use to interpret the economic world, and which inform their expectations. These frames include economic theories and institutions as well as beliefs in concepts such as calculability, the goal of economic growth, or the solution of problems through technological progress.
In Imagined Communities, Benedict Anderson (1983) explains how maps or shipping schedules in newspapers helped people imagine their nations. This also applies to how actors imagine their economic futures. While the expectations formed from within these cognitive frames are oriented toward the future, the frames themselves are strongly influenced by the past, in the form of the distribution of resources, historically shaped cultural norms, social networks, and the use of historical information.