Spring 2020 
SOCG 264
Economic Sociology Graduate Seminar
Prof. Akos Rona-Tas
W 9:00a-11:50a

Office Hours:

W 12:00- 2:00

Or by appointment

SSB 414

SSB 488

Via Zoom

e-mail: aronatas@ucsd.edu

Economic sociology has been one of the most dynamic fields of the discipline since the mid 1980s. As it has developed in a conversation with economics, the field has created some of the most interesting cross-discipline traffic in ideas.  This course gives an overview of the field but it is impossible to cover everything in ten weeks. Important issues will be touched upon only lightly with the hope that students can make up later what is missing here.

         For the first time, our graduate seminar will be held on line. I am developing a new format to take advantage of available technology while not abandoning the social and communal format of the traditional graduate seminar. This syllabus and the reading list is up on Canvas (but I will also post it on Perusall).


All graduate seminars are essentially reading communities. My role is to introduce you to and guide you through the basic literature and ideas of economic sociology, an exciting, rich and vibrant field. To achieve this, we will be using Perusall, an app that allows us to read texts together. The way this works is that I will put up all the Common Readings you find on the syllabus onto Perusall with my comments and questions. (All are also available through E-RESERVES or through our electronic subscriptions. Remember you need to use the UCSD VPN for access.) You read the articles/chapters, and answer the questions, pose your own questions and make your own comments in Perusall. These annotations will be shared with the entire class.

I would like you to take a look at the first reading and try out Perusall.

Go to https://perusall.com/ .

You will need the following code: RONA-TAS-CV4ZA.

Find SOCG 265 Economic Sociology Graduate Seminar and sign up.

At this point, you will find a single text: Introducing Economic Sociology by Smelser and Swedberg from their Handbook of Economic Sociology, 2nd Edition. Please read the text, read my annotations, make yours, get used to Perusall before April 1.  The second reading (Aspers, Dodd and Anderberg) will also be up soon followed by the others.

Work flow -- reading, commentary, discussion and memos:

Some of our seminar will be asynchronous. Instead of doing all our interactions at the seminar, we will do some of it on line, spread throughout the week. This will be our work flow.

You to read and comment on the Common Readings by Sunday 11 pm (PST) each week. By Sunday night, everyone will have done the reading, commented on the text, responded to my questions. After Sunday, you can start discussing the others’ comments. You are also welcome to comment on my comments too. So until Sunday, it is the text, you and me. After Sunday, it is open discussion with all of us.  A big chunk of our discussions will be in the form of written comments on line.

By Tuesday 8 pm (PST), you will submit your short weekly memo. The memo is a short reflection on each of the Common Readings. You will also have to pick one text from the Commentary, Examples and Further Readings section. (Note: those are not all on line.) You need to add your reflections on that piece and submit your memo through Canvas. The reflections should be a paragraph of two for each piece, but you are welcome to write more. Much of what you will do is collect your comments and make some coherent point about each text. The memos will be distributed to the entire class. 

The first week is just practice and you need only to reflect on the two Common Readings. The submission deadline is April 3, Thursday 8 pm.

The memo is about 1-2 pages and includes reflections on the Common Readings plus one of the Commentary, Examples and Further Readings. You can suggest a replacement for the latter but you have to clear it with me in advance. The point of all this is to have an annotated bibliography and to build towards your seminar paper and – if you choose Economic Sociology as one of your fields – towards your field exam.

Our live seminar

Every Wednesday 9 am (PST) we will assemble via Zoom. (Some of you may be in a different time zone, so we will discuss whether we want to stick with this time.) Our first meeting is April 1. At the seminar, we will continue in person our discussion that we started on line with our written comments. Because some of our conversations will have taken place throughout the week, our Zoom meeting on Wednesdays may not run the entire 3 hours. We will see how this works.

Each week, there will be one of you who will lead the discussion with me. You will have to sign up on April 1. Each week, in the first part of the seminar we will discuss the Common Readings. In the second half, each of you will talk about the additional reading you did.

Office Hours and Contact:

I hold office hours on Zoom or Skype. I want to talk to each of you one on one by the end of the 2nd week about your paper. I want you to write a paper that both draws on the literature in this seminar and is useful for your own research and/or progress in the program.  You will have to see me two more times, once by the end of your 5th and the end of your 9th week on the progress of your paper.  Of course, you are welcome to see me by Zoom/Skype appointment as often as you like or to send me email.


The readings can be found

on the web (try Google Scholar or JSTOR) or through links provided,


in the library unless someone borrowed it already

on Amazon or some other book store

All Common Reading will be available electronically for free.

An asterisk (*) next to an item means that the item is a book or a book chapter that you have to procure for yourself.




1.                  Introduction


Common Reading:

Smelser, Neil J. and Richard Swedberg. 2005. Introducing Economic Sociology. In. Smelser and Swedberg eds, The Handbook of Economic Sociology, 2nd Edition. Pp. 3-25. Princeton: Princeton University Press E-RESERVES

Aspers, Patrik and Nigel Dodd. 2015. Introduction, Re-Imagining Economic Sociology.Pp.1-32. Oxdford: Oxford University Press E-RESERVES

Commentary, Examples, and Further Readings:

*Swedberg, Richard. 1990. Economics and Sociology: Redefining Their Boundaries: Conversations with Economists and Sociologists. Princeton University Press (This is a fun book to read. You get to know some of the main players in economics and economic sociology and they talk about their ideas in a colloquial language and contextualize them within their biography.)

*Swedberg, Richard. 2003. Principles of Economic Sociology. Princeton University Press

Swedberg, Richard. 1991. Major Traditions of Economic Sociology. Annual Review of Sociology, 17:251-276. (A good historical overview.)



2.               (Some of) The Classics


Here we are taking a very cursory historical look at the development of economic thought. You will read selections from Adam Smith, Karl Marx and Max Weber. It is important to understand that sociology and economics did not diverge until the late 19th century. Even in 1905, when the American Sociological Association was launched, most of its founders were members of the already existing American Economic Association, and there was a proposal to make ASA a section of the AEA. The beginnings of the great intellectual divide between the two disciplines can be traced to a debate between the Austrian Carl Menger and the German Gustav von Schmoller, and their famous Methodenstreit (method dispute) in the 1880s. Menger represented the deductive, analytic and psychological while Schmoller the inductive, synthetic and historical/institutional approach. Much of Max Weber’s work was an effort to find a balance between the two. Economics grew out of Menger’s approach.


Common Reading :

Smith, Wealth of Nations, Book 1 Chapters 1,2, 7, 10 (on line http://www.bibliomania.com/2/1/65/112/frameset.html )

Marx, Karl, Grundrisse: The Foundations of the Critique of Political Economy. The following 3 chapters:


The General Relation of Production to Distribution, Exchange,


The Method of Political Economy.

On line http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1859/critique-pol-economy/appx1.htm

Weber, Max, Economy and Society.  Chapter II. Social Categories of Economic Action. E-RESERVES



Louzek, Marek. 2011. The Battle of Methods in Economics: The Classical Methodenstreit Menger vs. Schmoller. The American Journal of Economics and Sociology, Vol. 70, No. 2, pp. 439-463


Commentary, Examples, and Further Readings :

Collins, Randall. 1980. Webers Last Theory of Capitalism. American Sociological Review, 45/6: 925-942. 

*Elster, Jon. 1986. Making Sense of Marx. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press. Especially chapters 2,3,4. (If you believe as Marx did, that Marxism is a not just a political but also a scientific project, this is one of the best guides of what is left of Marx after a century.)

*Menger, Carl. 1963. Problems of economics and sociology. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, (Menger, Weber’s contemporary, was the leader of the Austrian School of economics and was the protagonist of the Methodenstreit (Battle of the Methods) where analytical, deductive economics split from historical, institutional economics represented there by Gustav von Schmoller of the Historical School).

*Simmel, Georg. The Philosophy of Money. (Webers contemporary, Simmels is the classic sociological treatment of money.)

*Sombart, Werner. The Jews and Modern Capitalism. (Sombart now unfairly forgotten, was one of the most famous scholars of his time. Today few people know about Sombarts alternative to Weber’s famous thesis on the Protestant ethic.)

*Swedberg, Richard. 1998. Max Weber and the Idea of Economic Sociology. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

*Tribe, Keith. 1995. Strategies of Economic Order. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (Chapter 4 gives an overview of the Methodenstreit and Weber.)


3. Economics, Rational Choice


The discipline of economics has been the most successful discipline in the social sciences and it has created an enormous amount of valuable knowledge about the economy. By the 1980s, when economic sociology reappeared, economists had a fairly uniform view of the world and rational choice theory was its central and unquestioned foundation. Much of economic theory depends on this assumption that people are rational actors. RCT was so successful, that it began to make inroads into sociology and other social disciplines. New economic sociology, therefore, first had to grapple with RCT. While new economic sociology built several powerful arguments against the rationality assumption, in the end RCT was brought down by not economic sociologists, but a handful of experimental cognitive and social psychologists.


Common Reading :

Friedman, Milton. 1953. "Methodology of Positive Economics." In Essays in Positive Economics. University of Chicago Press E-RESERVES

Becker, Gary. 1986. "The Economic Approach to Human Behavior." In Rational Choice, edited by Jon Elster. New York: New York University Press E-RESERVES

Hirsch, Paul, Stuart Michaels, and Ray Friedman. 1987. "'Dirty Hands versus Clean Models.'" Theory and Society 16:317-336 (A summary of the difference between the dirty hands sociology and the clean model economics.)  

Thaler, Richard. 2000. “From Homo Economicus to Homo Sapiens.” Journal of Economic Perspectives 14:133-141.


Commentary, Examples, and Further Readings

Becker, Gary. 1993. “Nobel Lecture: The Economic Way of Looking at Behavior.” Journal of Political Economy 101(3): 385-409.

*Bernstein, Michael. 2004. Perilous Progress. Economists and the Public Purpose in Twentieth-Century America. Princeton University Press (The best history of the economics profession.)

*Blaug, Mark. 1982. The methodology of economics, or, How economists explain. New York : Cambridge University Press. (I recommend this as a good, non-technical methods book.)

*Camerer, Colin F., George Lowenstein and Matthew Rabin eds. 2004. Advances in Behavioral Economics. Princeton University Press/Russell Sage (A collection of important articles in behavioral economics all questioning the rationality assumption in mainstream economics.)

*Hausman, Daniel M. 1992. The inexact and separate science of economics. Cambridge ; New York : Cambridge University Press.  (An overview of theoretical economics as of the mid-1980s in clear prose.)

Hirschman, Albert. 1985. “Against Parsimony: Three Easy Ways of Complicating Some Categories of Economic Discourse.” Economics and Philosophy 1: 7-21. (Hirschman was a brilliant economist with a strong sociological sensibility.)

Kahneman, Daniel. 1994. “New Challenges to the Rationality Assumption.” Journal of Institutional and Theoretical Economics 150: 18-36.

Manski, Charles F. 2000. “Economic Analysis of Social Interactions.” Journal of Economic Perspectives 14 (3): 115–36.

*McCloskey, Donald (Deirdre) N. 1985. The Rhetoric of Economics. Madison, Wis.: University of Wisconsin Press. (A highly readable book about how economists persuade.)

*Mirowski, Philip. 2002. Machine Dreams. Economics Becomes a Cyborg Science. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (A piece of intellectual history emphasizing the theoretical tensions in economics.)

Nagel, Ernest. 1963. Assumptions in Economic Theory, American Economic Review, 53/2:211-219 (A philosopher weighs in against Friedmans programmatic essay.) 

*Robbins, Lionel. 1932/1984. An Essay on the Nature and Significance of Economic Science. New York University Press: New York. (Robbins, working in the pre-mathematical era of economic theorizing, lays out the basic ideas behind the then just emerging science. An abbreviated version is in Hausman ed. Philosophy of Economics, Cambridge University Press)

*Samuelson, Paul A. and William D. Nordhaus. 1998. Economics. 16th Edition. Boston: Irwin/McGraw Hill. (Probably the most influential undergraduate textbook ever that cemented economics as a coherent discipline. Samuelson received the Nobel Prize in 1970, in its second year.)

*Samuelson, Paul and William Barnett eds. 2006. Inside the Economist’s Mind: Conversations with Eminent Economists. Wiley and Sons (A collection of interviews, good stories, an entertaining read.)

Sen, Amartya. 1977. “Rational Fools: A Critique of the Behavioral Foundations of Economic Theory.” Philosophy and Public Affairs 6: 317-44. (Sen, a Nobel Prize winning economist, was an early critic of the rational actor model.)

Simon, Herbert and Paul A. Samuelson, Problems of Methodology, Discussion, American Economic Review, 53/2:229-236 (Two, later-to-be Nobelists critique  the other later-to-be Nobelist. Simon was a polymath, and one of the fathers of artificial intelligence).


4. Uncertainty, Risk, Trust


Economic models are clean and elegant as long as we can assume that people have full information or that they can have probability estimates about things they don’t fully know. One of the fundamental insights of economic sociology is that in most cases, economic actors must deal with uncertainty that cannot be cognitively reduced to calculable risk. Much of social structure and culture exist to deal with this problem.


Common Reading:

Beckert, Jens. 1996. What is sociological about economic sociology? Uncertainty and the embeddedness of economic action.  Theory and Society, 25 (6), 803-40.

Guseva, Alya and Akos Rona-Tas. 2001. Uncertainty, risk and trust: Russian and American credit card markets compared.  American Sociological Review, 66 (5), 623-646.

Biggart, Nicole W. 2001. Banking on Each Other: The Situational Logic of Rotating Savings and Credit Associations. Advances in Qualitative Organization Research, 3  http://weber.ucsd.edu/~aronatas/conference/Banking_on_each_other.pdf

Greif, Avner, 1989. Reputation and Coalitions in Medieval Trade: Evidence on the Maghribi Traders. The Journal of Economic History, 49/4: 857-882.


Commentary, Examples, and Further Readings:

Akerlof, George A. 1970. The market for "lemons": Quality, uncertainty and the market mechanism.  Quarterly Journal of Economics, 84 (3), 488-500.  (Nobel Prize winning article that started information economics. It is non-technical.)

Bartely, Tim and Marc Schneberg. 2002. Rationality and Institutional Contingency: The varying Politics of Economic Regulation in the Fire Insurance Industry. Sociological Perspectives, 45/1:47-80.

*Beckert, Jens. 2016. Imagined futures: fictional expectations and capitalist dynamics. Harvard University Press.

*DiMaggio, Paul. 2003. Endogenizing "Animal Spirits": Toward a Sociology of Collective Response to Uncertainty and Risk. Chapter 4 in Mauro F. Guillen et al. eds. The New Economic Sociology. Developments in an Emerging Field. Russell Sage Foundation: New York (An excellent review article.)

Herbert A. Simon. 1986. Rationality in Psychology and Economics. The Journal of Business, 59/4:S209-S224. (Simon criticizes the questionable behavioral assumptions of economics.)

*Kahneman, Daniel, Paul Slovic, and Amos Tversky eds. 1982. Judgment Under Uncertainty. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (Criticism of the basic decision-making model used by economists from experimental cognitive psychology.)

*Knight, Frank H. 1957[1921]. Risk, Uncertainty and Profit. New York: Kelley & Millman. (A classic. Knight, one of the fathers of the Chicago School of Economics, in lucid prose tackles some of the thorniest theoretical questions that the discipline swept under the rug for decades.) Available on line at http://www.econlib.org/library/Knight/knRUP.html

*Pixley, Jocelyn. 2004. Emotions in Finance. Distrust and Uncertainty in Global Markets. (Introduces the sociology of emotions to studying how people, like those in finance, deal with uncertainty.)

*Sabel, Charles .1992. Studied trust: building new forms of cooperation in a volatile economy. Pp. 215-50 in F. Pyke and W. Sengenberger (eds), Industrial Districts and Local Economic Regeneration, Geneva: International Institute for Labour Studies. (Sabel is elaborating on their famous argument about post-Fordism with Michael Piore [The Second Industrial Divide].)


5. Embeddedness and Networks and Social Capital


One of the central concepts of economic sociology, along with uncertainty, is embeddedness. This ugly word is from the Hungarian economic anthropologist, Karl Polanyi. The basic idea is that economic action is always part of a wider social context that cannot be reduced to simple instrumental, economic calculations of individuals. Granovetter brought the term into the forefront of new economic sociology but gave it a theoretical makeover by tying it to social networks.


Common Reading:

Polanyi, Karl. 1957/1992. The Economy as Instituted Process. Pp. 29-52 in Granovetter and Swedberg eds. The Sociology of Economic Life. Boulder, CO: Westview E-RESERVES

Granovetter, Mark. 1985. Economic Action and Social Structure: The Problem of Embeddedness. American Journal of Sociology,  91:481-510  

Krippner, Greta. 2001. The Elusive Market: Embeddedness and the Paradigm for Economic Sociology. Theory and Society, 30/6:775-810

Bourdieu, Pierre. The Forms of Capital. Pp. 280-291 in  Nicole Woolsey Biggart ed. Readings in Economic Sociology. Oxford: Blackwell. (A theoretical classic that had a tremendous impact on empirical research since the 1980s.) E-RESERVES

Powell, Walter W. and Laurel Smith-Doerr. 2005. Networks and Economic Life. Pp. 379-402 in Smelser and Swedberg eds. The Handbook of Economic Sociology, 2nd edition. Princeton University Press: Princeton E-RESERVES

Burt, Ronald S. 2003. The Social Capital of Structural Holes. Chapter 7 in Mauro F. Guillen et al. eds. The New Economic Sociology. Developments in an Emerging Field. Russell Sage Foundation: New York E-RESERVES


Commentary, Examples, and Further Readings

*Barabasi, Albert-Laszlo. 2003. Linked. (A Hungarian physicist gives an entertaining and often very sociological introduction to networks.)

*Block, Fred and Margaret Somers. 1984. Beyond the Economistic Fallacy. Pp. 47-84 in Theda Skocpol ed. Vision and Method in Historical Sociology. (Somers and Block have worked hard to establish Polanyi as a central theorist in economic and political sociology.)

*Burt, Ronald S. 1992. Structural Holes. The Social Structure of Competition. Harvard University Press (An example of how you can take a very simple idea about power and generate a lot of interesting insights.)

DiMaggio, Paul and Hugh Louch. 1998. Socially Embedded Consumer Transactions: For What Kinds of Purchases Do People Most Often Use Networks?" American Sociological Review, 63 (October:619-637) (Straightforward elegant piece on when is economic transaction embedded.)

Granovetter, Mark. 1973. The Strength of Weak Ties. The American Journal of Sociology, 78:1360-80. (This is a fun piece, explains why superficial acquaintances can be more helpful than trusted friends.)   

*Mauss, Marcel. 1924/1990. The Gift. The Form and Reason for Exchange in Archaic Societies. London: Routledge. (A famous book on exchange in Melanesia, Polynesia and North America by Durkheims nephew.) 

*Polanyi, Karl. 1944. The Great Transformation.  (A classic that develops the argument of embeddedness in the context of 19th century European history.)

*Polanyi, Karl. 1947. “Our Obsolete Market Mentality." Pp. 59-77 in Primitive, Archaic, and Modern Economies.

Portes, Alejandro. 1998. Social Capital: Its Origins and Applications in Modern Sociology. Annual Review of Sociology, 24:1-24.  (An overview that also exposes the downsides of social capital.)

*Putnam, Robert D. 2001. Bowling Alone. (A classic piece on social capital and how and why we have less of it now than before.)

*Rauch, James and Alessandra Casella eds. 2001. Networks and Markets. New York: Russell Sage, Chapter 6. (One of the early example of economists embracing networks.)   

Uzzi, Brian. 1996. The Sources and Consequences of Embeddedness for the Economic Performance of Organizations - The Network Effect. American Sociological Review, V61(N4):674-698 (An empirical test of the embeddedness thesis. Notice that the observed behavior would not be rational under standard economic theory.)


6.  Social Construction of Markets and Performativity of Economics


Markets are also central concepts in economics. Just like rationality, markets are often treated as natural phenomena. Economic sociology takes the position that markets are socially constructed. They don’t exist in the wild, but are the result of great efforts that often fail. Some of the actors responsible for the creation of markets are the economists themselves. Performativity is an explanation why economists’ theories have been so successful in describing markets.


Common Reading:

Rona-Tas, Akos and Alya Guseva. 2014. Plastic Money. Constructing Markets for Credit Cards in Eight Postcommunist Countries. Chapters 1-4, 8. Palo Alto: Stanford University Press. E-RESERVES

Callon, Michel. 1998. Introduction. In M. Callon ed. The Laws of the Markets. Oxford: Blackwell. E-RESERVES

MacKenzie, Donald. 2007. Is Economics Performative? Options Theory and the Construction of Derivatives Markets. Chapter 3 in MacKenzie, Muniesa and Siu eds. Do Economists Make Markets? Princeton University Press E-RESERVES

Frank, Robert H., Thomas Gilovich, and Dennis T. Regan. 1993. Does Studying Economics Inhibit Cooperation? Journal of Economic Perspectives, 6/2:159-171


Commentary, Examples, and Further Readings

Frank, Robert H., Thomas Gilovich, and Dennis T. Regan. 1993. Does Economics Make Bad Citizens? Journal of Economic Perspectives, 10/1: 187-192 (This is the response to Yezer et al.) 

Ferraro, Fabrizio, Jeffrey Pfeffer, Robert Sutton. 2005. “Economics Language and Assumptions: How Theories Can Become Self-Fulfilling,” Academy of Management Review 30: 8-24

*Garcia-Parpet, Marie-France. 2007. The Social Construction of a Perfect Market: The Strawberry Auction at Fontaines-en-Sologne. Chapter 2 in MacKenzie, Muniesa and Siu eds. Do Economists Make Markets? Princeton University Press (An ethnography of market creation.)

*MacKenzie, Donald. An Engine, Not a Camera: How Financial Models Shape Markets (This is a classic. It describes how economists created the financial markets, writing its rules while pretending to discover them.)

Miller, Daniel. 2002. Turning Callon the Right Way Up. Economy and Society, 31/2:218-233 (A critique of Callon.) 

*Mirowski, Philip and Edward Nik-Khah. 2007. Markets Made Flesh: Performativity, and a Problem in Science Studies Augmented with Consideration of the FCC Auctions. Chapter 7 in MacKenzie, Muniesa and Siu eds. Do Economists Make Markets? Princeton University Press (A skeptical look at performativity.) E-RESERVES

Yezer, Anthony M., Robert S. Goldfarb, Paul J. Poppen. 1996. Does Studying Economics Discourage Cooperation? Watch What We Do, Not What we Say or How We Play. Journal of Economic Perspectives, 10/1:177-186 (This is a defense of economics against Frank et al.) 


This is an excellent BBC documentary on the Black-Scholes formula.



7. Markets and Morals 


One of the great promises of markets is that they can bypass cultural and normative differences. After all, capitalism made it possible to trade with people we don’t know at all. The success of neoliberalism was that it seemed to be able to obviate moral disagreements, bypass intractable conflicts of norms and build a society on simple, uncontroversial and universal values of material improvement. Yet, economic sociology shows that markets depend on moral norms both in terms of what can and what cannot be a commodity, and how people should be treated in interactions.


Common Reading:

Fourcade, Marion and Kieran Healy. 2007. Moral Views of Market Society." Annual Review of Sociology. 33:285-311.

Almeling, Rene. 2007. Selling Genes, Selling Gender: Egg Agencies, Sperm Banks, and the Medical Market in Genetic Material." American Sociological Review 72(3):319-40.

Bandelj, Nina. 2012. Relational Work and Economic Sociology." Politics & Society 40(2):175-201.

Rossman, Gabriel. 2014. Obfuscatory Relational Work and Disreputable Exchange." Sociological Theory 32(1):43-63.

Sarah Quinn. 2008. The Transformation of Morals and Markets. Death, Benefits, and the Exchange of Life Insurance Policies. American Journal of Sociology 114 (3): 738–80.


Commentary, Examples, and Further Readings


*Abend, Gabriel. 2014. The Moral Background: An Inquiry into the History of Business Ethics.

*Abolafia, Mitchel Y. 1996. Making Markets. Opportunism and Restraint on Wall Street. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press. (An ethnography of bonds, stocks and futures traders. )

*Anteby, Michel. 2013. Manufacturing Morals: The Values of Silence in Business School Education. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Livne, Roi. 2014. Economies of Dying: The Moralization of Economic Scarcity in U.S. Hospice Care. American Sociological Review 79(5): 888-911.

Mears, Ashley. 2015. Working for Free in the VIP: Relational Work and the Production of Consent." American Sociological Review 80(6):1099-1122.

*Posner, Richard A. 1992. “Chapter 5: Sex and Rationality” Pp. 111-145 in Sex and Reason. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Roth, Alvin E. 2007. Repugnance as a Constraint on Markets. Journal of Economic Perspectives 21(3): 37-58

*Sandel, Michael. 2012. What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.

*Zelizer, Viviana. 2017 [1979]. Morals and Markets: The Development of Life Insurance in the United States. Columbia University Press (A historical analysis of how did profiteering from human death became accepted as life insurance.)

*Zelizer, Viviana. 2005. The Purchase of Intimacy. Princeton: Princeton University Press.



8. Culture and Worth


Cultural beliefs play a central role in markets. It is not just what can and cannot be traded and how to treat others that are guided by cultural beliefs, but every action must be imbued with worth. How we attach value to things and establish what they are worth is rooted deeply in cultural beliefs and practices.


Common Reading:

DiMaggio, Paul. 1994. Culture and Economy. Pp. 27-57 in Swedberg and Smelser eds. The Handbook of Economic Sociology. Princeton: Princeton University Press E-RESERVES

Velthuis, Olav. 2003. Symbolic Meanings of Prices: Constructing the Value of Contemporary Art in Amsterdam and New York Galleries. Theory and Society, 32/2:181-215

Zelizer, Viviana. 1989. Social Meaning of Money: "Special Monies." The American Journal of Sociology, 95/2:342-377

Fourcade, Marion.2011. Cents and Sensibility: Economic Valuation and the Nature of "Nature." The American Journal of Sociology


Commentary, Examples, and Further Readings


*Beckert, Jens, and Patrik Aspers, eds. 2011. The worth of goods: Valuation and pricing in the economy. Oxford University Press

*Biernacki, Richard. 1995. The Fabrication of Labor: Germany and Britain, 1640-1914. Berekeley: California University Press (An outstanding book on the different notions of labor and value in the two countries. It also provides a lucid theoretical discussion on cultural analysis.)

Greif, Avner. 1994. Cultural Beliefs and the Organization of Society. A historical and Theoretical Reflection on Collectivist and Individualist Societies. The Journal of Political Economy. 102/5:912-950. (When economists hear culture -and are not reaching for their guns - they reach for Greif.)

*Hirschman, Albert O. 1977. The Passions and the Interests: Political Arguments for Capitalism before Its Triumph. Princeton: Princeton University Press. (How did the deadly sin of avarice became respectable self-interest. An intellectual history.)

*Karpik, Lucien. 2010. The economics of singularities. Princeton University Press, Princeton.

*Lampland, Martha. 2016. The Value of Labor. Chicago: Chicago University Press. (An excellent historical ethnography on how labor can be priced outside the markets.)

Pardo-Guerra, Juan Pablo. 2011. “How Much for the Michelangelo? Valuation, Commoditization and Finitism in the Secondary Art Market.” Cultural Sociology 5 (2): 207-223

*Watson, James L. ed. 1997. Golden Arches East. Stanford CA: Stanford University Press (How the standardized products and practices of McDonalds transform in different cultural contexts.)



9. Social Inequalities and Economy


The economy is probably the most powerful engine of social inequalities. There are many mechanisms that generate inequalities. Here we will focus on processes that are self-reinforcing and generate ever-increasing differences between rich and poor.


Common Reading:

Piketty, Thomas. 2015. Putting Distribution Back at the Center of Economics: Reflections on Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Journal of Economic Perspectives 29(1):67–88

*Frank, Robert H. and Philip J. Cook. 1996. The Winner-Take-All Society: Why the Few at the Top Get So Much More Than the Rest of Us.

Arthur, W. Brian. 1990. "Positive Feedbacks in the Economy." Scientific American 262/2:92-99

Godechot, Olivier. 2017. Inequality: A Piketty et al. Moment in the Social Sciences. Economic Sociology: The European Electronic Newsletter. 19/1




Commentary, Examples, and Further Readings

DiMaggio, Paul and Filiz Garip. (2012). Network effects and social inequality. Annual Review of Sociology, 38, 93-118.

DiPrete, Thomas and Gregory Eirich. 2006. Cumulative Advantage as a Mechanism for Inequality: A Review of Theoretical and Empirical Developments. Annual Review of Sociology, pp.271-97.

*Piketty, Thomas. 2014. Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press


10. Economic Sociology Automation and the New Data Economy


The economic world is changing rapidly. Technology plays an important role in this fast transformation. Automation and the development of communication and information technologies are changing the way the economy operates. This last class will try to assess some of these changes. 


Common Reading:

*Zuboff, Shoshana. 2019. The age of surveillance capitalism: The fight for a human future at the new frontier of power. New York: Profile Books

*Brynjolfsson, Erik and Andrew McAfee. 2011. Race against the machine. Lexington, MA: Digital Frontier Press.

Rona-Tas, Akos. 2017. The Off-Label Use of Consumer Credit Ratings. Historical Social Research. 42(1): 52-76.


Commentary, Examples, and Further Readings

Burrell, Jenna. 2016. How the Machine Thinks. Understanding Opacity in Machine Learning Algorithms. Big Data and Society 1-12.

Fourcade, Marion and Kieran Healy. 2017. Seeing Like a Market. Socio-Economic Review 15(1): 9-29.

*Guseva, Alya and Akos Rona-Tas. 2017 “Money Talks, Plastic Money Tattles: The New Sociability of Money.” Pp. 201-214 in Nina Bandelj, Frederick F. Wherry, and Viviana Zelizer, eds. Money Talks: Explaining How Money Really Works. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Irani, Lilly. "Difference and dependence among digital workers: The case of Amazon Mechanical Turk." South Atlantic Quarterly 114.1 (2015): 225-234.

*Kearns, Michael, and Aaron Roth. 2019. The Ethical Algorithm: The Science of Socially Aware Algorithm Design. Oxford University Press

Keats, Danielle, Citron and Frank Pasquale. 2014. The Scored Society: Due Process for Automated Predictions. Washington Law Review 89: 1-33.

MacKenzie, Donald. 2014. A Sociology of Algorithms. High-Frequency Trading and the Shaping of Markets. Working Paper.

*Pasquale, Frank. 2015. The Black Box Society. The Secret Algorithms that Control Money and Information. Harvard University Press.

Sadowski, Jathan. 2019. When data is capital. Datafication, accumulation and extraction. Big Data and Society

*Webb, Amy. 2019. The big nine: How the tech titans and their thinking machines could warp humanity. Hachette UK


General Resources:


Aspers, Patrik and Nigel Dodd eds. 2015. Re-Imagining Economic Sociology. Oxdford: Oxford University Press

Beckert, Jens and Milan Zafirovski eds. 2006. International Encyclopedia of Economic Sociology. London: Routledge

Biggart, Nicole Woolsey ed. 2002. Readings in Economic Sociology. Oxford, Blackwell

Brinton, Mary C. and Victor Nee eds. 1998. The New Institutionalism in Sociology. New York: Russell Sage

Carruthers, Bruce G. and Sarah L. Babb. 2000. Economy/Society. Markets, Meanings, and Social Structure. Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press

Dobbin, Frank ed. 2004. The New Economic Sociology. A Reader. Princeton: Princeton University Press

Granovetter, Mark and Richard Swedberg eds. 2001. The Sociology of Economic Life. Boulder CO: Westview Press

Guillen, Mauro F., Randall Collins, Paula England, and Marshall Meyer eds. 2002. The New Economic Sociology. Developments in an Emerging Field. New York, Russel Sage.

Nee, Victor and Richard Swedberg eds. 2005. The Economic Sociology of Capitalism. Princeton: Princeton University Press,

Smelser Neil J. and Richard Swedberg eds. 2005. The Handbook of Economic Sociology. Second Edition. Princeton: Princeton University Press,

Swedberg, Richard ed. 1993. Explorations in Economic Sociology. New York: Russell Sage

Swedberg, Richard, 1990. Economics and Sociology. Interviews with Gary S. Becker, James S. Coleman et al.  Princeton: Princeton University Press


Electronic Resources:

Economic Sociology European Electronic Newsletter


 ASA Economic Sociology Section Newsletter


Newsletter of the Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics (SASE)




I also recommend the three part BBC documentary The Trap by Adam Curtis. It is a bit old but covers some of the history of the ideas prominent in economic sociology, and although its focus is more political than economic, it re-embeds economics into its social and historical context. It is available in low resolution on the web.

Here is Part 1


(You can get the other two by Searching for Adam Curtis on the site)