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  • Print publication year: 2012
  • Online publication date: May 2013

6 - The Physical World of Thorstein Veblen: Washington Island and Other Intimate Spaces

from Part One - Norwegian Origins and Personal Life


Veblenists from Mars

It would seem that one's life experience refracts his or her perceptions and thoughts and that the physical spaces we inhabit influence our sense of who we are and what ultimately matters. Yet in the case of Norwegian-American political economist Thorstein Veblen this existential aspect of his seminal contributions to social science has for the most part been misconstrued or discounted altogether. In its most familiar version, Veblen has been portrayed as the marginal man from Mars whose cultural alienation as the product of the American immigrant frontier moved him to become an alienated critic of the prevailing socio-economic order. Joseph Dorfman bears primary responsibility for this misreading of Veblen's spatial groundings but others have contributed to the distortions as well. Happily, considerable effort has been made in recent years to address this shortcoming in our understanding of Veblen's life and work. Stephen Edgell provides an excellent corrective in his concisely written 2001 volume, Veblen in Perspective, while Elizabeth Watkins Jorgensen and Henry Irving Jorgensen likewise have contributed useful new material for a rethinking of past assumptions about Veblen the man. We, too, have added our own grains of revisionist sand.

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