Economic sociology

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A diagram of actors facilitating economic exchange and their relations.
A diagram of actors facilitating economic exchange and their relations

Economic sociology is the study of the social cause and effect of various economic phenomena. The field can be broadly divided into a classical period and a contemporary one, known as "new economic sociology".

The classical period was concerned particularly with modernity and its constituent aspects, including rationalisation, secularisation, urbanisation, and social stratification. As sociology arose primarily as a reaction to capitalist modernity, economics played a role in much classic sociological inquiry. The specific term "economic sociology" was first coined by William Stanley Jevons in 1879, later to be used in the works of Émile Durkheim, Max Weber and Georg Simmel between 1890 and 1920.[1] Weber's work regarding the relationship between economics and religion and the cultural "disenchantment" of the modern West is perhaps most representative of the approach set forth in the classic period of economic sociology.

Contemporary economic sociology may include studies of all modern social aspects of economic phenomena; economic sociology may thus be considered a field in the intersection of economics and sociology. Frequent areas of inquiry in contemporary economic sociology include the social consequences of economic exchanges, the social meanings they involve and the social interactions they facilitate or obstruct.[2]


Economic sociology arose as a new approach to the analysis of economic phenomena; emphasizing particularly the role of economic structures and institutions that play upon society, and the influence a society holds over the nature of economic structures and institutions. The relationship between capitalism and modernity is a salient issue, perhaps best demonstrated in Weber's The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1905) and Simmel's The Philosophy of Money (1900). Economic sociology may be said to have begun with Tocqueville's Democracy in America (1835–40) and The Old Regime and the Revolution (1856).[1] Marx's historical materialism would attempt to demonstrate how economic forces influence the structure of society on a fundamental level. Émile Durkheim's The Division of Labour in Society was published in 1922, whilst Max Weber's Economy and Society was released in the same year.


Contemporary 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 Fred L. Block, James S. Coleman, Paula England, Mark Granovetter, Harrison White, Paul DiMaggio, Joel M. Podolny, Lynette Spillman, Richard Swedberg and Viviana Zelizer in the United States, as well as Carlo Trigilia,[3] Donald Angus MacKenzie, Laurent Thévenot and Jens Beckert in Europe. To this may be added Amitai Etzioni, who has developed the idea of socioeconomics,[4] and Chuck Sabel, Wolfgang Streeck and Michael Mousseau who work in the tradition of political economy/sociology.

The focus on mathematical analysis and utility maximisation 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 modelling is missing some key social phenomenon that needs to be addressed.

Economic sociology is an attempt by sociologists to redefine in sociological terms questions traditionally addressed by economists. It is thus also an answer to attempts by economists (such as Gary Becker) to bring economic approaches – in particular utility maximisation and game theory – to the analysis of social situations that are not obviously related to production or trade. Karl Polanyi, in his book The Great Transformation, was the first theorist to propose the idea of "embeddedness", meaning that the economy is "embedded" in social institutions which are vital so that the market does not destroy other aspects of human life. The concept of "embeddedness" serves sociologists who study technological developments. Mark Granovetter and Patrick McGuire mapped the social networks which determined the economics of the electrical industry in the United States.[5] Ronen Shamir analyzed how electrification in Mandatory Palestine facilitated the creation of an ethnic-based dual-economy.[6] Polanyi's form of market skepticism, however, has been criticized for intensifying rather than limiting the economization of society.[7]

New economic sociology[edit]

A contemporary period of economic sociology, often known as new economic sociology, was consolidated by the 1985 work of Mark Granovetter titled "Economic Action and Social Structure: The Problem of Embeddedness".[8] These works elaborated the concept of embeddedness, which states that economic relations between individuals or firms take place within existing social relations (and are thus structured by these relations as well as the greater social structures of which those relations are a part). Social network analysis has been the primary methodology for studying this phenomenon. Granovetter's theory of the strength of weak ties and Ronald Burt's concept of structural holes are two best known theoretical contributions of this field.

Marxist sociology[edit]

Modern Marxist thought has focused on the social implications of capitalism (or "commodity fetishism") and economic development within the system of economic relations that produce them. Important theorists include Georg Lukács, Theodor Adorno, Max Horkheimer, Walter Benjamin, Guy Debord, Louis Althusser, Nicos Poulantzas, Ralph Miliband, Jürgen Habermas, Raymond Williams, Fredric Jameson, Antonio Negri, and Stuart Hall.


Economic sociology is sometimes synonymous with socioeconomics. Socioeconomics deals with the analytical, political and moral questions arising at the intersection between economy and society from a broad interdisciplinary perspective with links beyond sociology to political economy, moral philosophy, institutional economics and history.

Academic associations[edit]

The Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics (SASE) is an international academic association whose members are involved in social studies of economy and economic processes.[9] The Socio-Economic Review was established as the official journal of SASE in 2003.[10] The journal aims to encourage work on the relationship between society, economy, institutions and markets, moral commitments and the rational pursuit of self-interest. Most articles focus on economic action in its social and historical context, drawing from sociology, political science, economics and the management and policy sciences. According to the Journal Citation Reports, the journal has a 2015 impact factor of 1.926, ranking it 56th out of 344 journals in the category "Economics", 21st out of 163 journals in the category "Political Science" and 19th out of 142 journals in the category "Sociology".[11]

The American Sociological Association's Economic Sociology section became a permanent Section in January 2001. According to its website, it has about 800 members.[12]

Another group of scholars in this area works as Research Committee in Economy and Society (RC02) within the International Sociological Association.[13]

Economic Sociology and Political Economy (ES/PE), founded in 2011, is an online scholarly society that gathers researchers interested in economic sociology and related topics.[14][15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Swedberg, Richard (2003). "The Classics in Economic Sociology" (PDF). Principles of Economic Sociology. Princeton University Press. pp. 1–31. ISBN 978-1400829378.
  2. ^ Swedberg, Richard (1990). "Description and chapter-preview links". Economics and Sociology: Redefining Their Boundaries: Conversations with Economists and Sociologists. Princeton University Press. pp. v–vi. ISBN 978-0-691-00376-4.
  3. ^ Gilding, Michael (September 2005). "The New Economic Sociology and Its Relevance to Australia". Journal of Sociology. 41 (3): 309–325. doi:10.1177/1440783305057080. S2CID 145713342.
  4. ^ Etzioni, Amitai (1988). The Moral Dimension: Toward a New Economics. Free Press. ISBN 978-0029099018.
  5. ^ Granovetter, Mark; McGuire, Patrick (1998). "The Making of an Industry: Electricity in the United States". In Callon, Michel (ed.). The Laws of the Markets. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell. pp. 147–173. ISBN 978-0631206088.
  6. ^ Shamir, Ronen (2013). Current Flow: The Electrification of Palestine. Stanford: Stanford University Press. ISBN 9780804788687.
  7. ^ Roth (2012). "Leaving commonplaces on the commonplace. Cornerstones of a polyphonic market theory". Journal for Critical Organization Inquiry. 10 (3): 43–52. SSRN 2192754.
  8. ^ Granovetter, Mark (November 1985). "Economic Action and Social Structure: The Problem of Embeddedness". The American Journal of Sociology. 91 (3): 481–510. doi:10.1086/228311. JSTOR 2780199. S2CID 17242802.
  9. ^ "The Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics". SASE. Retrieved 2013-12-30.
  10. ^ "Socio-Economic Review". Oxford University Press. Archived from the original on 2005-06-17. Retrieved 2014-06-05.
  11. ^ "Journals Ranked by Impact: Economics, Political Science and Public Administration". 2015 Journal Citation Reports. Web of Science (Social Sciences ed.). Thomson Reuters. 2016.
  12. ^ "Section membership". American Sociological Association. Retrieved 2017-04-07.
  13. ^ Jose I. Reguera (2013-12-19). "ISA - Research Committee on Economy and Society RC02". Retrieved 2017-04-07.
  14. ^ ""Economic Sociology and Political Economy community", Accounts - the Newsletter of the American Sociological Association's Economic Sociology section, 15(2): 17–20, 2014" (PDF).
  15. ^ "Komlik, Oleg. 2014. "The Global Community of Economic Sociology and Political Economy." The European Economic Sociology Newsletter 16 (1): 37–38" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2019-08-01. Retrieved 2017-04-07.


  • Gary S. Becker and Kevin M. Murphy. 2001. Social Economics: Market Behavior in a Social Environment, Harvard University Press. Description Archived 2009-07-03 at the Wayback Machine and TOC. Archived 2009-07-07 at the Wayback Machine
  • Peter Hedström and Charlotta Stern. 2008. "rational choice and sociology," The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics, 2nd Edition. Abstract.
  • Albert Benschop. 1996/2011. Naar een nieuwe economische sociologie [1] University of Amsterdam.
  • Guillén, Mauro F., Randall Collins, Paula England, and Marshall Meyer (eds.), New Economic Sociology: The Developments in an Emerging Field. New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2002.
  • Portes, Alejandro. 2010. Economic Sociology: A Systematic Inquiry. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
  • Smelser, Neil J. 1963. The Sociology of Economic Life. Englewood Cliffs, N.J., Prentice-Hall.
  • Smelser, Neil J., and Richard Swedberg. 2010. "Introducing Economic Sociology," pp. 3–25, in Neil J. Smelser and Richard Swedberg (eds.), The Handbook of Economic Sociology, Second Edition. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
  • Smelser, Neil J. and Richard Swedberg (eds.). 2010. The Handbook of Economic Sociology, Second Edition. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
  • Stinchcombe, Arthur L. 1983. Economic Sociology. New York: Academic Press.
  • Richard Swedberg. 1990. Economics and Sociology: Redefining Their Boundaries: Conversations with Economists and Sociologists. Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-00376-9, ISBN 978-0-691-00376-4 Description and chapter-preview links, pp. v-vi.
  • Richard Swedberg. 2007. Principles of Economic Sociology. Princeton. Description and ch. 1 extract. Archived 2010-02-13 at the Wayback Machine Scroll down to chapter-preview links.
  • Richard Swedberg. 2008. "Economic sociology" The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics, 2nd Edition. Abstract.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]