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Economic Sociology

Economic sociology constitutes its own distinct subfield in sociology and can be briefly defined as the sociological analysis of economic phenomena. Economic sociology has a rich intellectual tradition and traces its roots to the founding fathers of sociology, especially to Max Weber and his Economy and Society (see Swedberg 1998). It should be noted that not only sociologists but also economists have made important contributions to economic sociology. This is particularly true for today’s economic sociology, which is the result of works not only by sociologists (such as Mark Granovetter and Harrison White) but also by economists (such as Gary Becker and Oliver Williamson).

To define economic sociology as ‘‘the sociological analysis of economic phenomena’’ may seem bland and even tautological. It is therefore important to stress that it entails a definite conception of what topics may be studied by sociologists; that it implies a certain division of labor between economists and sociologists; and that it also has direct consequences for how the relationship between economic theory and sociology is conceived. That this is the case becomes very clear if we contrast this definition with two other ones that are commonly used:

(1) that economic sociology primarily deals with a particular dimension of economic phenomena, namely their social dimension; and

(2) that economic sociology is the study of social structures and organizations in the economy.

That economic sociology deals with economic phenomena in general (our definition) means that it addresses issues not only at the periphery of the economy (such as, say, the influence of religious values on the economy or of ethnicity on entrepreneurship) but also at its core (such as the way markets operate or investment decisions are made). Sociological theory here emerges as either an alternative to economic theory or as a direct challenge to it. To look at the social dimension of economic phenomena (the first alternative definition) means, on the other hand, that sociologists only look at a limited number of economic issues, usually those that are left over once the economists have finished with their analyses. Economists may, for example, decide with the help of standard economic theory what salaries and prices are like in a certain industry, while sociologists, by looking at a factory or a work group as a social system, may then add some additional information. Economic theory is not challenged by this type of economic sociology, since it only deals with those topics for which there is no economic theory. That economic sociology focuses on social structures or on organizations in the economy (the second alternative definition) means that a purely economic analysis may be regarded as economic sociology as long as it deals with certain topics. Why a firm rather than the market is used for a specific type of transaction may, for example, be explained by the fact that transaction costs are higher in this specific case in the market. This type of economic sociology is close to economic theory and basically dispenses with traditional sociology (although not necessarily with rational choice sociology; see, e.g., Coleman 1990).

These three ways of looking at economic sociology all have their followers. The one which emphasizes that the sociological perspective in principle can be applied to all types of economic phenomena is, however, the one that has been used most frequently throughout the history of economic sociology. That this is the case will become clear from the following brief overview of the field. That the two other definitions—economic sociology as the analysis of the social dimension of economic phenomena, and economic sociology as the study of social structures and organizations in the economy—also have their adherents will become obvious as well.

Since the mid-1980s economic sociology has been going through something of a renaissance in the sociological profession, not only in the United States but also in other countries. The advent of what is usually referred to as ‘‘new economic sociology’’ represents one of the most dynamic areas in contemporary sociology. Before the mid- 1980s three separate attempts had been made to create a vigorous economic sociology, and something needs to be said about these. The first attempt was made in the early twentieth century by a group of German scholars of whom Max Weber is the most important. The second attempt was made during the same time period by Emile Durkheim and his followers in France. And the third attempt was made by some American sociologists, such as Talcott Parsons and Neil Smelser, in the 1950s. A few words shall be said about each of these attempts before we discuss the contemporary situation.

Historical Attempts at Economic Sociology

The first significant attempt to create a solid economic sociology was made in Germany during the period 1890–1930 by a group of scholars who were all trained in economics. The three key figures were Max Weber, Werner Sombart, and Joseph Schumpeter. A major reason that economic sociology developed so forcefully in German-speaking academia was probably its strong tradition of historical economics. There was also the fact that toward the end of the nineteenth century Gustav von Schmoller, the leader of the historical school of economics, became embroiled in a bitter academic fight with Carl Menger, one of the founders of marginal utility analysis. By the time Weber and Sombart became active, German economics had been polarized into two camps through the socalled battle of the methods, or the Methodenstreit: one that was overly theoretical and one that was overly historical. The idea of ‘‘economic sociology’’ was conceived by both Sombart and Weber as an attempt to get out of this dead end and to function as a kind of bridge between economic history and economic theory. Economic sociology should be analytical in nature, but historically grounded. While Sombart, however, wanted economic sociology to totally replace economic theory, Weber thought differently. In his mind, a healthy science of economics (Weber used the term Sozialoekonomie, or ‘‘social economics’’) should be broad and simultaneously draw on economic theory, economic history, and economic sociology (Weber 1949). Schumpeter basically shared Weber’s opinion, although economic theory would always rank higher in his mind than in Weber’s. The idea of such a broad-based social economics, however, never caught on.

Weber, Sombart, and Schumpeter all made a series of first-rate contributions to economic sociology. For one thing, all of them produced major studies of capitalism: Weber ([1921-22] 1978) in Economy and Society; Sombart ([1902] 1987) in Der moderne Kapitalismus; and Schumpeter ([1942] 1976) in Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy. Weber emphasized that capitalism was becoming increasingly rationalized; Sombart was particularly interested in looking at the different historical stages of capitalism; and Schumpeter argued that modern capitalism was digging its own grave and was soon to be replaced by socialism. These visions of capitalism still dominate our thinking and are therefore of great interest. And so are many of the shorter studies by Weber, Sombart, and Schumpeter, such as Sombart’s ([1906] 1976) study of why there is no socialism in the United States, Weber’s ([1904–5] 1930) analysis of the relationship between Protestantism and the spirit of capitalism, and Schumpeter’s ([1919] 1954, [1918] 1971) two superb articles on imperialism and the tax state.

A special mention must also be made of Georg Simmel’s ([1907] 1990) The Philosophy of Money. This work contains an ingenious analysis of money that ranges from philosophy to sociology. No general theory of money is developed, but the author takes on a series of interesting topics, including credit, checks, and small change. Simmel should not only be credited with having made a serious attempt to develop a sociological approach of money; he was also the first sociologist to realize what an important role trust plays in economic life.

The only one to make a sustained effort to lay a theoretical foundation for economic sociology, however, was Max Weber. He did this in a chapter of Economy and Society (Weber [1921–22] 1978) entitled ‘‘Sociological Categories of Economic Action.’’ When Weber lectured on this chapter to his students, they found his analysis abstract and dry. He therefore decided to give a lecture course in economic history to supplement his theoretical ideas. This course became what is today known as General Economic History (Weber [1923] 1981), and it should be read together with Economy and Society. In the latter work Weber carefully constructs the various analytical categories that are needed in economic sociology. He starts with ‘‘the concept of economic action’’ and ends with macroeconomic phenomena, such as ‘‘market economies and planned economies.’’ He also defines and discusses such basic concepts as trade, money, and the market—all from a sociological perspective. At various points in his discussion Weber carefully underlines when economic theory and economic sociology differ. It is, for example, imperative for economic sociologists to use the concept of economic power in their analyses, while this plays no role in marginal utility theory. In economic theory it is assumed that consumers are price givers, but economic sociology assumes that they are price takers. In economic theory it is usually assumed that prices are simply the result of demand and supply, while in economic sociology it is necessary to look at the strength of the various social groups in order to understand the unfolding of the ‘‘price struggle.’’ Finally, in economic sociology economic action must in principle be oriented to the behavior of others. Economists exclusively study rational economic action, Weber concludes, while sociologists have a much broader focus.

During about the same time that Weber, Sombart, and Schumpeter were active in Germany, a similar, though independent, effort to create an economic sociology was made in France. The key figures here are Emile Durkheim, Marcel Mauss, and François Simiand. All three felt that since economic theory is not a social theory (in the sense that it does not assign analytical priority to society as opposed to the individual), it should be replaced by a sociological approach to the economy or, more precisely, by economic sociology. In this they echoed Auguste Comte’s critique in the early 1800s of economic theorists for ignoring the fact that the economy is part of society and that, as a consequence, there is no need for a separate economic theory (Swedberg 1987). The two most important studies in the French school of economic sociology are The Division of Labor in Society by Durkheim ([1893] 1964) and The Gift by Marcel Mauss ([1925] 1969) (see also Simiand 1932). The latter work not only covers gift-giving but also contains a series of brilliant remarks on credit, interest, and consumption. In The Division of Labor in Society Durkheim raises the question of how to bring about solidarity in industrial society. His answer, which is further elaborated in other works (see especially Durkheim [1928] 1962, [1950] 1983), is that no society in which the economic element predominates can survive. Economic life has to be restrained by a moral element; without a common morality, all persons would be at war with one another.

Both German and French economic sociology petered out in the 1930s. At around this time European sociology was exhausting itself, while U.S. sociology was in ascendency. Among the multiple subfields that appeared at that time, several are of interest to economic sociology, such as industrial sociology, the sociology of professions, and stratification theory. None of these, however, dealt with core economic problems or with economic theory. Instead there was a firm division of labor in U.S. social science at this time between economists, who only studied economic topics, and sociologists, who only studied social topics. In the 1950s, however, some sociologists decided to challenge this division of labor, and their efforts have become known as the ‘‘economy and society approach,’’ so called both because two works with this title now appeared (Moore 1955; Parsons and Smelser 1956) and because a conscious effort was made to bring closer together two bodies of thought in the social sciences—economics and sociology— that most social scientists felt should be kept separate (see also Polanyi et al. 1957). Talcott Parsons and Neil Smelser (1956) argued, for example, that the economy is part of society or, in their terminology,‘‘the economic sub-system’’ is part of ‘‘the social system.’’ In this sense they assigned a certain priority to society and implicitly to sociology. On the other hand, they also felt that economic theory was essentially correct—even if it needed to be complemented by a sociological approach. This dual position also informs the first textbook as well as the first reader in economic sociology—both produced by Smelser (1963, 1965).

New Economic Sociology

During the late 1960s and the 1970s little of interest happened in economic sociology. Since the mid-1980s, however, there has been a sharp increase of interest in this topic, and a new type of economic sociology has come into being (see Friedland and Robertson 1990; Granovetter 1990; Zukin and DiMaggio 1990). Not only sociologists but also economists have contributed to this development. Since the mid-1970s mainstream economists have become increasingly interested in the role of social structures and organizations in the economy. This has led to a movement usually referred to as ‘‘new institutional economics’’ (e.g., Eggertsson 1990). Sources of inspiration for this new institutionalism include transaction cost economics, agency–principal theory, and game theory. Gary Becker (1976), for example, has convinced many economists that social phenomena can be analyzed with the help of the economist’s tools; Kenneth Arrow has written about the role of organizations in the economy; Thomas Schelling (1960) has used game theory to develop a science of ‘‘interdependent decision’’; and Oliver Williamson (1975) has popularized the concept of transaction costs through his best-selling Markets and Hierarchies (see also Coase 1937; Swedberg 1990). Three Nobel Prizes have also been awarded to economists who in one way or another focus on the social aspects of the economy: R.H. Coase (1991), Gary Becker (1992), and Douglass North (1993). As a result of these and other events, mainstream economists today are interested not only in traditional issues relating to price formation but also in economic institutions and how these change. The last time this happened in the United States was in the early twentieth century, when American institutionalism was born (see, e.g., Commmons 1924; Gruchy 1947; Veblen [1899] 1973). There exists, however, an important difference between the old form of institutionalism and new institutional economics. While Thorstein Veblen and his contemporaries tried to analyze economic institutions with the help of an approach that was very close to that of sociology, Becker and other current theorists claim that the reason economic institutions work the way they do can be analyzed with the help of the economist’s traditional tools (efficiency, rational choice, etc.). This approach has been severely criticized by some sociologists on the grounds that it simplifies and distorts the analysis (e.g., Etzioni 1988; Granovetter 1985).

Since the mid-1980s, as already mentioned, there has been a major revival of economic sociology, and what is usually referred to as ‘‘new economic sociology’’ has come into being. The date of birth of this movement is usually set to 1985, since that year a highly influential article, which was to create much interest in economic sociology, was published. This was Mark Granovetter’s ‘‘Economic Action and Social Structure: The Problem of Embeddedness,’’ published in The American Journal of Sociology. The very same year, it can be added, Granovetter introduced the notion of ‘‘new economic sociology’’ in a brief paper at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association. In his 1985 article on embeddedness, Granovetter sharply attacked the attempts by economists to explain the functioning of social institutions and accused them of simplicity. Just as economists have a tendency to ignore social relations through an ‘‘undersocialized concept of man,’’ Granovetter said, some sociologists view the individual as a reflex of the social structure, and they consequently have an ‘‘oversocialized concept of man.’’ The proper way to proceed, Granovetter suggested, is to tread a middle way between these two opposites, and this can best be done by assuming that individual actions are always ‘‘embedded’’ in social networks.

Granovetter’s article has been followed by a minor avalanche of writings in economic sociology, and there exist good reasons for arguing that new economic sociology today constitutes a minor school of its own. A large number of articles and quite a few monographs have been produced; a couple of introductory readers can be found on the market; and in the mid-1990s a huge Handbook of Economic Sociology was published (Smelser and Swedberg 1994). Other signs that a certain institutionalization of economic sociology has taken place is that a section in economic sociology has been organized at the American Sociological Association, which has also published a volume with course outlines and similar teaching materials (Green and Myhre 1996).

Before saying something about the concrete studies that have been produced since the mid- 1980s, it should be pointed out that new economic sociology is primarily a creation of North American sociologists. In Europe and elsewhere in the world there also exists an interest in economic sociology, but it tends to manifest itself in a less cohesive form than in the United States, and it is not held together through recurring conferences and the like. This is especially true for Europe. Most of the major European sociologists have written on economic topics in some work or another, but this is rarely perceived as an interest in economic sociology (e.g., Boltanski 1987; Bourdieu 1986; Luhmann 1988). There also exist articles and monographs by European sociologists who identify themselves as economic sociologists—but, to repeat, these tend not to be much noticed, since they are not held together by a strong and selfconscious tradition (e.g., Beckert 1997; Dodd 1994; Gislain and Steiner 1995). Finally, quite a bit of economic sociology has also been produced under the auspices of the section on economy and society within the International Sociological Association (e.g., Martinelli and Smelser 1990).

New economic sociology has advanced the understanding of economic phenomena in a number of ways, and it has especially been successful in analyzing the following three topics:

(1) the role that networks play in the economy,

(2) the way that culture and values influence the economy, and

(3) what causes firms to be organized the way they are.

Something will be said about each of these topics, but before doing so it should be noted that some interesting advances have also been made in many other areas, such as consumption, finance, and the role of gender in the economy (e.g., Abolafia 1996; Biggart 1989; Warde 1997). Finally, social capital is a topic that has attracted attention from sociologists as well as from political scientists and economists (e.g., Bourdieu 1986a; Coleman 1988; for an overview, see Woolcock 1998).

Network Analyses

Network analyses are often empirical in nature and sophisticated in their methodology, and this is also true for network studies in economic sociology. This latter type of studies made its first appeareance in the 1970s, something which Granovetter’s well-known Getting a Job (1974) is a reminder of. The same is true for studies of interlocks, that is, studies of the kind of links that emerge when some individual is a member of more than one corporate board. Interlock studies became popular with Marxist sociologists, who felt that they had found a way to document how the ruling class controls corporations (e.g., Mintz and Schwartz 1985). A more subtle version of this argument can be found in Michael Useem’s The Inner Circle (1984), based on interviews with chief executive officers (CEOs), whose main point is that CEOs who are members of several boards have a better overview of the economy, something that enables them to better defend their interests.

The simplistic type of interlock studies have been severely critized, primarily on the grounds that it is unclear what the consequences are of the fact that two or more corporations are connected through interlocks. In one interesting study, it was also argued that if for some reason a link between two corporations was severed, it would have to be reconstituted relatively soon if this type of link indeed is as important as is often claimed. This study showed that only a minority of so-called broken ties were actually re-created (Palmer 1983; see also the discussion in Stearns and Mizruchi 1986). As of today, the opinion of many economic sociologists is that interlock studies can be quite valuable, but only on condition that they are complemented with other material, such as historical studies, interviews, and the like.

A few words must be said about Granovetter’s Getting a Job (1974), since it represents a particularly fine example of what an empirically sophisticated and theoretically interesting study in economic sociology can look like. As Granovetter notes in the second edition of this work from 1995, his study has inspired quite a bit of research since its original publication in the 1970s. The main thrust of the study is to challenge the notion of mainstream economics that social relations can be abstracted from an analysis of how people get jobs. Through network data he had collected in a Boston suburb, Granovetter succeeded in showing that information about openings in the job market travels through social networks, and the more networks you belong to, the more likely you are to find this type of information. Having a few very close and helpful friends is not as effective in terms of getting information as being linked to many different networks (‘‘the strength of weak ties’’). A corollary of this thesis, Granovetter shows, is that people who have had several jobs are more likely to find a new position when they become unemployed than those who have had only one employer.

Since the mid-1980s network studies have become very popular in economic sociology, and a number of advances have been made (see the studies cited in Powell and Smith-Doerr 1994). Several new topics have also been added to the repertoire, including industrial regions and ethnic entrepreneurship. A special mention should be made of Ronald Burt’s Structural Holes (1992), in which competition and entrepreneurship are analyzed from a network perspective. Burt’s study is centered around the argument that when an actor is the one and only link between two networks, he or she is in a good position to exploit this situation (tertius gaudens, or ‘‘the third who benefits,’’ in Simmel’s terminology). Granovetter (1994) has also suggested that the network approach can be used to study so-called business groups, that is, the kind of social formations that are made up of corporations that are bound together in some formal or informal way and that display a certain amount of solidarity. The applicability of the notion of business groups to the Korean chaebol or to the Japanese keiretsu is obvious, but it also appears that business groups exist in most Western countries.

The Influence of Culture and Values

A few economic sociologists have approached the study of the economy from a different perspective and emphasize the way that culture and values influence economic phenomena. The two most prominent contributors to this type of economic sociology are Paul DiMaggio (1994) and Viviana Zelizer (1979, 1985, 1994); the studies they have produced are of two kinds—general theoretical statements and empirical studies of a historical and qualitative character. Zelizer (1988) has sharply critiqued what she sees as an attempt in much of current economic sociology to eliminate values and to reduce everything to networks. Economic sociology, she argues, needs to introduce culture and values into the analysis, while simultaneously paying attention to the social structure.

Zelizer has also produced three empirical studies in which she attempts to show the impact of culture and values on economic phenomena. In the first of these, Zelizer (1979) looks at the development of the life insurance industry in the United States, showing how difficult it was to get people to accept that an individual’s life can be evaluated in purely monetary terms. In her second study, Zelizer (1985) looks at the same development but, so to speak, in reverse—namely, how something that had an economic value at one time in history can turn into something that has a sacred value at another. In the nineteenth century, as she shows, children were often seen as having an economic value, while today they have an exclusively emotional value. In her latest study, Zelizer (1994) looks at money, arguing that people usually distinguish between different types of money. Money— and this is the main point—is not some kind of homogeneous, asocial medium, as economists claim, but is social to its very core. Pin money, for example, differs from the kind of money that is set aside for ordinary expenses; and when money is given away as a gift, an effort is usually made to disguise its nature as money.

Organization Theory

For a number of reasons there exists a clear affinity between organization theory and economic sociology. One reason for this, no doubt, is that sociologists of organization often analyze economic organizations; another is that organization theory was to incorporate much of industrial sociology when this field disappeared in the 1970s. And, finally, roughly during the 1990s, business schools often hired sociologists to teach organization theory. Three schools or perspectives in organization theory have been of much importance to economic sociology: resource dependency, population ecology, and new institutionalism.

The basic idea of resource dependency is that an organization is dependent on resources in its environment to survive. This perspective, as especially Ronald Burt has shown, can be of some help in understanding how the economy works. At the center of Burt’s work on resource dependency is his concept of structural autonomy, or the idea that a corporation has more room to maneuver the fewer competitors it has and the more suppliers and the more customers there are. That a corporation has more power if it is in a monopoly position is clear; from this it follows that suppliers as well as customers are less powerful the more competitors they have. If Corporation A, for example, has only one supplier and one customer, both of these can wield quite a bit of power over Corporation A. Using a huge input–output data set for U.S. industry, Burt has also shown that the idea of structural autonomy has some support in empirical reality; in brief, the more structurally autonomous a corporation is, the more likely it is that profits will increase (Burt 1983).

Population ecology, as opposed to resource dependency, uses as its unit of analysis not the single corporation but whole populations of organizations. That these populations go through fairly distinct phases of growth and decline has been shown through a number of empirical studies, many of which are highly relevant to economic sociology since the organizations being studied are often economic organizations. Population ecology also looks at competition between organizations and the processes through which new organizational forms become accepted. The fact that population ecology typically looks at large populations of organizations means that relatively highpowered statistical methods are used. There is, however, little theoretical renewal going on in population ecology, and unless this changes, this perspective risks being exhausted in a few years.

A considerably higher degree of flexibility and creativity characterizes new institutionalism, or the kind of organization theory that has emerged around the work of John Meyer (e.g., Meyer and Rowan 1977; cf. DiMaggio and Powell 1991). A fundamental thesis in this approach is that rationality is often only a thin veneer and that organizations usually look the way they do for other than rational reasons. There also exist more or less distinct models for what a certain type of organization should look like, and these models are typically diffused through imitation. Since new institutionalism has such a flexible core, it can be used to analyze a variety of topics, in contrast to population ecology, which is considerably more limited in scope.

Two studies that illustrate this flexibility are Neil Fligstein’s The Transformation of Corporate Control (1990) and Frank Dobbin’s Forging Industrial Policy (1994). The former is a study of the huge American corporation since the end of the nineteenth century that challenges several of Alfred Chandler’s theses. According to Fligstein, U.S. corporations have created different concepts of control during different periods of time; by control, he means the general strategy that corporations follow for surviving and making money. While cartels, for example, represented a common strategy around the turn of the century in the United States, they were later replaced by vertical integration, the idea of conglomerates, and other concepts of control. Fligstein also shows not only that the famous multidivisional form was a response to the economic environment, as Chandler claimed, but also that it was diffused through imitation.

Fligstein, as opposed to Chandler, also points out that the state influences the way corporations operate and the way they decide on a certain concept of control. Dobbin makes a similar point in Forging Industrial Policy (1994), but the emphasis in this study is primarily on regulatory or industrial policy cultures. Drawing on empirical material of a historical character from France, England, and the United States in the nineteenth century, Dobbin shows how each of these countries developed different regulatory and industrial policy cultures, and in particular how they treated railroads in different ways. The state, for example, was actively involved in the railroad business in France but played a more passive role in England and the United States. Dobbin argues convincingly that there exists no single best way of doing things in the economy, as mainstream economists seem to think; what may seem natural and rational to do in one country does not seem so in another.

New economic sociology has also made some interesting progress in the analysis of the market. The reason this topic has attracted quite a bit of attention among sociologists is that the theory of the market constitutes the very heart of mainstream economics; and to challenge mainstream economics one first and foremost has to challenge its theory of the market. Of the empirical studies that sociologists have produced, the most innovative may well be Mitchell Abolafia’s Making Markets (1996) (see also Uzzi 1996). Abolafia has investigated three important markets on Wall Street (bonds, stocks, and futures markets) through participant observation; in particular, he has looked at the way that these are regulated. His major conclusion is that markets are social constructions and that regulation is related to ‘‘cycles of opportunism.’’ When the existing regulation of a market is mild, opportunistic actors will take advantage of this fact, which will lead to a tightening of the rules; when regulation has been strong and effective for some time, demands are likely to be raised that milder rules should be introduced.

While most empirical studies of the market have focused on some aspect of the market rather than on its core, there do exist a few theoretical attempts by sociologists to explain the very nature of the market. Two of these are particularly interesting, namely, the analyses of Harrison White (1981) and of Neil Fligstein (1996). White’s argument, which takes its departure in the typical production market with only a handful of actors, can be summarized in the following way: When a few actors produce similar products at similar prices, they may, by watching one another, come to realize that they make up a market and also behave according to this perception. More precisely, it is by watching the terms-of-trade schedule that this process takes place; and as long as the producers feel that they fit into this schedule, the market will continue to exist. By modeling his argument about the terms-of-trade schedule, White is also able to show under which theoretical conditions a market can come into being and when it will unravel.

While only a few attempts have been made to work directly with White’s so-called W(y)-model, its general impact has been large in new economic sociology, especially through White’s argument that a market comes into being when actors orient their behavior to one another in a rolelike manner. The most suggestive of the studies that have been influenced in a general way by the W(y)-model is Fligstein’s theory of markets. Like White, Fligstein uses the typical production market as his point of departure, but the emphasis in his theory is quite different. Market actors, according to Fligstein, fear competition, since this makes it hard to predict what will happen, and they therefore attempt to introduce stability into the market. This can be done in different ways, and for empirical illustration Fligstein draws on his study of the evolution of the huge American corporation (Fligstein 1990). In certain situations, competition can nonetheless be very strong, but this is usually accompanied by attempts to stabilize the market. As examples of this, Fligstein mentions the situation when a new market is coming into being, when a major innovation is introduced into an already existing market, and when some major social disturbance takes place.

Possible Future Directions

If one were to summarize the situation in economic sociology at the end of the twentieth century, it could be said that economic sociology, which played such an important role in the classic works of sociology, has once again come alive. New and provocative studies have been produced, and a steadily growing number of sociologists are becoming interested in economic sociology. If one adds to this that mainstream economists are increasingly realizing the importance of institutions in the economy, it may well be the case that economic sociology will become one of the most interesting fields in sociology during the twentyfirst century.

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This Aricle was Written by
RICHARD SWEDBERG

This Article was Published in
ENCYCLOPEDIA OF SOCIOLOGY
Second Edition
A Book by

EDGAR F BORGATTA
Editor-in-Chief
University of Washington, Seattle

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RHONDA J. V. MONTGOMERY
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University of Kansas, Lawrence

 

 
 
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