Sociology Economic Sociology
by
Frederick Wherry, Nicholas Occhiuto
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 February 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756384-0015

Introduction

Economic sociology is the study of the relationship between society and the market. The field incorporates insights from economics, behavioral psychology, economic anthropology, and cultural anthropology. Structural and cultural approaches largely characterize the studies conducted in the field, with the former associated with networks, institutions, and social organization; the latter, rituals, symbols, cognitive frameworks, and narratives. Economic sociologists study how social networks and relationships affect economic actions, such as the provision of loans, the acquisition of a job, and the successful construction of deals. Empirical studies examine how prices are set, why some pricing schemes that do not seem rational are instead understandable and predictable, and how markets are incorporated into social life, and vice versa.

Handbooks and Collections

There is one encyclopedia and one handbook on economic sociology that provide the widest coverage of the field. Beckert and Zafirovski 2005 is notable for the number of European scholars it includes while Smelser and Swedberg 2005 largely relies on works by scholars in the United States. The other collections (such as Dobbin 2004 and Granovetter and Swedberg 2001) are squarely within the field of economic sociology, offering overviews by topical areas. DiMaggio and Powell 1991 provides institutional analysis of organizations and is used by both economic sociologists and sociologists of organizations, and it offers a strong Weberian flavor for why organizations take the forms that they do. Zelizer 2010 brings in the sometimes-neglected topics of gender, intimacy, culture, and households, while Portes 2010 examines national development, informal economies, culture, class, and immigration as central to the field of economic sociology. Swedberg 2005 offers an intellectual history of the key thinkers in the field.

  • Beckert, Jens, and Milan Zafirovski, eds. 2005. International encyclopedia of economic sociology. London: Routledge.

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    This encyclopedia is written for a general audience. It includes topics studied by economic sociologists as well as economic phenomena studied by social scientists who may or may not consider themselves to be economic sociologists. More than 160 social scientists have contributed to the 250 entries in this encyclopedia. Each entry includes basic concepts and key debates.

  • DiMaggio, Paul, and Walter W. Powell, eds. 1991. The new institutionalism in organizational analysis. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

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    DiMaggio and Powell offer a collection with case studies ranging across a variety of organizational forms. They note the conditions under which organizations resemble one another, identifying three forms of isomorphism (mimetic, coercive, and normative). This volume is considered a core contribution on institutional analysis.

  • Dobbin, Frank, ed. 2004. The new economic sociology. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.

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    Dobbin’s introduction to this collection (of twenty-one chapters from about twenty-seven authors) differentiates four approaches to economic sociology. Institutions refer to codified conventions and routines; networks, the roles people play and the location of those roles; power, the capacity to make others see problems and solutions in the way one wishes; and cognition, the way individuals “see” the world.

  • Granovetter, Mark, and Richard Swedberg, eds. 2001. The sociology of economic life. 2d ed. Boulder, CO: Westview.

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    The volume includes an introduction by the editors about the history of economic sociology as a field and its core theoretical concepts. The volume includes foundational readings, a section on the sociology of markets, a section on firms and industries, and another on comparative and historical approaches to studying markets and the economy.

  • Portes, Alejandro. 2010. Economic sociology: A systematic inquiry. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.

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    Portes integrates a variety of topics using a common framework. The topics covered include social capital, culture and economic development, institutions, social class, ethnic entrepreneurship, and transnational immigration. Portes’s inquiry focuses on middle range theories, explanations of the mechanisms making markets and economic action possible, and the use of strategic research materials that clearly render otherwise murky social processes.

  • Smelser, Neil J., and Richard Swedberg, eds. 2005. The handbook of economic sociology. 2d ed. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.

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    The handbook is the most comprehensive collection of readings on economic sociology. It opens with the general concerns in the field. Part 2 reviews economic systems, institutions, and sociological approaches to economic behavior. Part 3 includes studies of the state and economy, law and the economy and education, religion, gender, ethnic economies, and the environment.

  • Swedberg, Richard. 2005. The principles of economic sociology. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.

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    The opening chapters focus on Weber, Durkheim, and Simmel as well as De Tocqueville and Bourdieu (discussed less frequently in other volumes). The book then reviews how economic organization varies and with what consequences, how sociologists study firms and markets, how politics, culture, and gender matter in markets, and how interests need to be more thoroughly theorized.

  • Zelizer, Viviana. 2010. Economic lives: How culture shapes the economy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.

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    This comprehensive book systematically establishes the Zelizer view on the economy and economic processes. The volume begins with valuation in life insurance and then moves to the social meaning of money, the intermingling of money and intimacy, caring relations, circuits of commerce, and relational work. The volume gathers the widely dispersed writings into one place with clarifying summaries.

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