SOC121 Economy and Society Winter 2007

WLH 2111

MWF 11:00-11:50

Akos Rona-Tas

Office Hours:

M-W 12:00-1:00 or by appointment

488 SSB

phone: 858-534-4699



Economics provides us with a valuable, powerful but highly stylized understanding of our material lives. It maintains that society is a collection of independent individuals each acting in a rational manner to pursue his or her own self-interests. This fiction is encapsulated in the idea of the market where selfish individuals are in constant competition with each other. This vision is deeply soaked into our everyday understanding of the world of money, business, work and consumption.

This course offers a different perspective on economic action. It will emphasize that when we work, buy, sell or calculate, we still act within the social context around us. We do not act alone but often in concert with other people, we rarely calculate but often act on impulse, on trust or out of habit, we do not arrive at our goals independently but negotiate them with others, our motivation is not always selfish but often considerate of others. We also must make sense of our environment and our own wishes and here we often act as a product of our own culture.


There is a class project for this course. You will have to write a research paper based on interviewing four individuals about their labor-market experiences. The interview will have two parts: you will conduct a guided but unstructured interview with your respondents, and you will also fill out a short job history questionnaire for them. You have to complete your interviews by Feb 23. You will write your paper based on your case studies incorporating the conceptual material covered in class. This paper is due in two installments. Your first draft is due on March 7 and your final paper is due on the last day of the final exam. Papers should be typed or printed, and the final paper should run between 10-15 double spaced pages.  Click here to get  more detailed guidelines.

There will be also two exams on the readings and the lectures.

Late work (but not the final paper) is accepted for half credit for a week passed the due date. After that, it is not credited.


 The readings are on electronic reserve.

 For each reading there are a couple of questions that are designed to guide you through. The two exams will be a random selection among these questions. Click on each reading to find the questions. 


First exam 15%

Second exam 15%

Interviewing 10%

First Draft 10%

Final Paper 40%

Class participation: 10%




Introduction to the Economic Approach

Jan  8 Introduction to the Course


Jan  10 The Economic Approach I

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


Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations, Ch. 1,2,10

Jan 12 The Economic Approach II

Friedman, Milton. 1953. "Methodology of Positive Economics." In Essays in Positive Economics. University of Chicago Press  <>


Blaug, Mark. 1982. The methodology of economics, or, How economists explain. New York : Cambridge University Press.

Hausman, Daniel M. 1992. The inexact and separate science of economics. Cambridge ; New York : Cambridge University Press.

Samuelson, Paul A. and William D. Nordhaus. 1998. Economics. 16th Edition. Boston: Irwin/McGraw Hill.

Jan 15  Martin Luther King Holiday

Basic Conceptual Tools


<>Jan 17 Rationality

Elster, Jon. 1990. When Rationality Fails. Pp. 19-47 in The Limits of Rationality, edited by Karen Schweers Cook and Margaret Levi. Chicago: Chicago University Press

Brennan, Geoffrey. 1990. What Rationality Might Fail to Do? Pp.47-59 in The Limits of Rationality, edited by

Karen Schweers Cook and Margaret Levi. Chicago: Chicago University Press  <>


Elster, Jon. 1979. Ulysses and the Sirens : studies in rationality and irrationality. New York : Cambridge University Press.

Simon, Herbert A. 1986. Rationality in Psychology and Economics. Journal of Business 59/4

Dawes, Robyn. 1988. Rational Choice in an Uncertain World. San Diego: Hartcourt Brace Jovanovich.

Green, Donald P. and Ian Shapiro. 1994. Pathologies of rational choice theory : a critique of applications in political science. New Haven : Yale University Press.


Jan 19 Interest I.

Hirschman, Albert. 1992. The Concept of Interest: From Euphemism to Tautology. Pp. 35-55 in Rival Views of Market Society. Cambridge: Harvard University Press


Weber, Max. 1991(1902). The Protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism. Translated by Talcott Parsons, introduction by Anthony Giddens. Hammersmith, London, UK : Harper Collins Academic

Hirschman, Albert O. 1977. The Passions and the Interests: Political Arguments for Capitalism before Its Triumph. Princeton: Princeton University Press


Jan 22 Interest II.

Elster, Jon. 1988. Selfishness and Altruism. Pp. 44-53 in Beyond Self-Interest, edited by Jane J. Mansbridge. Chicago: University of Chicago Press


Simon, Herbert A. 1999. Altruism and Economics. American Economic Review 83/2


Jan  24 Interest III. 

Hardin, Garrett. 1968. "The Tragedy of the Commons." Science 162


Sen, Amartya. 1977. Rational Fools: A Critique of the Behavioral Foundations of Economic Theory. Philosophy and Public Affairs 6:317-44


Jan 26 Selfishness and Economics

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


Elster, Jon. 1985. "Sadder but Wiser? Rationality and the Emotions." Social Science Information


Jan 29  Embeddedness I.

 Granovetter, Mark. 1985/1992. Economic Action and Social Structure: The Problem of Embeddedness. AJS 1985


Polanyi, Karl. 1957/1992. The Economy as Instituted Process. Pp. 29-52 in The Sociology of Economic Life


Jan 31 Embeddedness II.

 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)


 Uzzi, Brian. 1996. The Sources and Consequences of Embeddedness for the Economic Performance of Organizations - The Network Effect. American Sociological Review, AUG, V61(N4):674-698.

Feb 2 First examination

Feb 5 Social Capital I

Granovetter, Mark. 1973. The Strength of Weak Ties. American Journal of Sociology, 78:1360-80 


Burt, Ronald S. 1992. Structural Holes. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press. 

Here is a link to a site that shows many examples of how complicated networks can be visualized. Once you get to the site just click on the pictures.

Feb 7 Social Capital II

  Portes, Alejandro. 1998. Social Capital: Its Origins and Applications in Modern Sociology. Annual Review of Sociology, 24:1-24


Feb 9  History and Path Dependence

 David, Paul A. 1986. Understanding the Economics of QWERTY: The Necessity of History. Pp. 30-49 in Economic History and the Modern Economist, edited by William N. Parker. New York: Basil Blackwell


Arthur, Brian. 1994. "Positive Feedbacks in the Economy." In Increasing Returns and Path Dependence in the Economy. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press

McGuire, Patrick, Mark Granovetter and Michael Schwartz. 1993. Thomas Edison and the Social Construction of the Early Electricity Industry. Pp.213-246 in Explorations in Economic Sociology

Feb 12  Path Dependence

 Rona-Tas, Akos. 1998. Social Capital and Path Dependence. Sociology of the Post-communist Economic Transformation. East European Politics and Societies. Winter, 1998 V12(N1):107-131.



Feb 14 Labor Markets I

Granovetter, Mark. 1992. A Sociological and Economic Approach to Labor Market Analysis. In The Sociology of Economic Life.

Discussion of the class project

                                    HERE IS A LINK TO THE QUESTIONNAIRE FOR THE PROJECT


Feb 16  Labor Markets II.

Tilly, Chris and Charles Tilly, Capitalist Work and Labor Markets. Pp.283-312 in Neil J. Smelser and Richard Swedberg eds., The Handbook of Economic Sociology

Feb 19 President's Day

Feb 21  Labor Markets III.

 Levinson, Richard M. 1982. "Sex Discrimination and Employment Practices: An Experiment with Unconventional Job Inquiries." In Women and Work, R. Kahn-Hut , A Kaplan Daniels and R. Colvard eds. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Feb 23 Discussion



Feb 26 Organizations I. 

Simon, Herbert A. 1991. Organizations and Markets. The Journal of Economic Perspectives 5/2

Dalton, Melville. 1959/1992. Men Who Manage. Pp.315-344. in The Sociology of Economic Life

Feb 28 Organizations II.

Hamilton, Gary G. and Nicole Woolsey Biggart. 1988/1992. Market, Culture, and Authority: A Comparative Analysis of Management and Organization in the Far East. Pp.181-221 in The Sociology of Economic Life

March 2 Organizations III.

Paul J. DiMaggio and Walter W. Powell. 1983. The Iron Cage Revisited. Institutional Isomorphism and Collective Rationality in Organizational Fields.  American Sociological Review 48/2

Meyer, John W. and Brian Rowan. 1977. Institutionalized Organizations: Formal Structure as Myth and Ceremony. American Journal of Sociology, 83/2


March 5  Second Midterm Examination

March 7 Culture I

Richard Thaler. 1999. Mental Accounting Matters. Journal of Behavioral Decision Making 12

DiMaggio, Paul. 1990. Cultural Aspects of Economic Action and Organization. Pp.113-136 in Roger Friedland and A.F. Robertson, Beyond the Marketplace. Rethinking Economy and Society, Aldine de Gruyter, New York


 March 9 Culture II

Zelizer, Viviana. 1978/1992. Human Values and the Market: The Case of Life Insurance and Death in 19th Century America. Pp. 285-304 in The Sociology of Economic Life

Leidner, Robin. 1993/1998. Over the Counter. Pp. 282-294 in Amy S. Wharton, Working in America.

March 12 Culture III

Zelizer, Viviana. Culture and Consumption in Handbook of Economic Sociology

March 14  Overview

Hirsch, Paul, Stuart Michaels, and Ray Friedman. 1987. "'Dirty Hands versus Clean Models.'" Theory and Society 16:317-336


March 16