Economic sociology is the sociological analysis of economic phenomena. As Dobbin (2004) points out, economic modernization can be seen as a series of societal projects. There was the project of developing intercontinental trades routes--e.g. Europe's East India trading companies and colonizing monarchs. There was the project of building large-scale factories with wage labor forces nearby--e.g. early industrialists in Massachusetts and Manchester. There was also the project of divorcing the economy from society and polity (Polanyi 1944)--e.g. by 18th century capitalists, politicians, philosophers, and social observers. One manifestation of the intellectual side of the project of splitting economy from society was the division of economics and sociology into distinct disciplines. Even though, prior to this the dividing line between economics and sociology was very difficult to draw (Marx, Weber, Durkheim). As a result of this intellectual division of labor, economists developed highly abstract and formalized models of the economy based on individual self-interest and rationality, while neglecting the historical details and social foundations of economic systems. Sociologists, however, developed empirical case studies that typically showed that the economy was not a distinct realm with its own logic, it was in fact enmeshed in social life. Contemporary economic sociology attempts to bring economy and society back together. The starting point is to understand the social processes, day-to-day practices, and social mechanisms underlying economic markets.
In general, the sociological analysis of economic phenomena focuses on 4 social mechanisms: institutions, networks, power, and cognition. For example, how do organizational culture and organizational relationships affect the functioning of real economic markets. From the inception, the founders of the discipline--Simmel, Marx, Weber, and Durkheim--focused on understanding how markets and the practices of individuals in those markets are influenced by society, culture, and politics. For example, classical sociology gave insight into how behavior in economic markets is affected by class position, religious practices, relations to authority, legal consciousness, and social relations.
As the discipline has evolved, the sub-discipline of economic sociology has become increasingly aware of the need for systematic analyses of the social dimensions of economic institutions and practices. Contemporary scholars such as White, Granovetter, DiMaggio, Powell, Bourdieu, Nee, Fligstein, Smelser, Swedberg, Zelizer, and Dobbin have all advanced the insights of classical sociology and contributed to the overall project to show how economic life and markets are dependent on, and embedded within, social and cultural foundations.
Karl Marx argued that economic forces were absolutely central to society and deeply influenced its social structures. The founding figures of sociology, such as Max Weber, similarly regarded economic processes as fundamental to the structure of society. George Simmel, particularly in his book Philosophy of Money, was important in the early development of economic sociology, as was Emile Durkheim through Division of Labor. Other important early contributions to economic sociology were made by people who are more usually thought of as economists, e.g. Thorstein Veblen and Joseph Schumpeter.
Karl Polanyi, in his book The Great Transformation, was the first theorist to come up with the idea of the "embeddedness", meaning that the economy is embedded in social institutions, which is vital so that the market does not destroy other aspects of human life. Marxist and other left-wing economic thought has focused on the social implications of consumerism and economic development within the system of economic relations that produce them.
Current economic sociology focuses particularly on the social consequences of economic exchanges, the social meanings they involve and the social interactions they facilitate or obstruct. Influential figures in modern economic sociology include Mark Granovetter, Harrison White, Paul DiMaggio, Victor Nee, Frank Dobbin, Joel M. Podolny, Richard Swedberg, or Viviana Zelizer in the United States and Luc Boltanski, Laurent Thévenot, or Jens Beckert in Europe. To this may be added Amitai Etzioni, who has popularized the idea of socio-economics, and Chuck Sabel and Wolfgang Streeck, who work in the tradition of political economy/sociology.
The focus on mathematical analysis and utility maximization during the 20th century has led some to see economics as a discipline moving away from its roots in the social sciences. Many critiques of economics or economic policy begin from the accusation that abstract modeling is missing some key social phenomenon that needs to be addressed. In reply, many mainstream economists point out that such cultural and social arguments often seem to favor the interests of local monopolists and the already powerful.
Economic sociology is an attempt by sociologists to redefine in sociological terms questions traditionally addressed by economists. It is also an answer to attempts by economists--such as Gary Becker--to bring economic approaches to the analysis of social situations that are not obviously related to production or trade.
Economic Sociology Links
| ASA Economic Sociology Section||View Website|
| List of Economic Sociology Links||View Website|
| Wayne Baker: Economic Sociology Section Under Formation in the United States||View Website|
| Robert Gibbons: What is Economic Sociology and Should Any Economists Care?||View Website|
| MIT Harvard Economic Sociology Seminar||View Website|
| Center for the Study of Economy & Society (CSES)||View Website|
| Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies (MPIfG)||View Website|
| Center on Organizational Innovation (CIO)||View Website|
| Center for the Study of Social Organization (CSSO)||View Website|
| Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences (CASBS) ||View Website|