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Economic sociology studies both the social effects and the social causes of various economic phenomena. The field can be broadly divided into a classical period and a contemporary one. The classical period was concerned particularly with modernity and its constituent aspects (rationalisation, secularisation, urbanisation, social stratification, and so on). As sociology arose primarily as a reaction to capitalist modernity, economics plays a role in much classic sociological enquiry. 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 iconic of the approach set forth in the classic period of economic sociology.

The contemporary period of economic sociology, also known as new economic sociology, was consolidated by the 1985 work of Mark Granovetter titled "Economic Action and Social Structure: The Problem of Embeddedness". This work 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.

Classical economic sociology

Economic sociology arose as a new approach to the analysis of economic phenomena; emphasising particularly the role economic structures and institutions 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).[2] 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.

New economic sociology

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, Mark Granovetter, Harrison White, Paul DiMaggio, Joel M. Podolny, Richard Swedberg and Viviana Zelizer in the United States, as well as Luc Boltanski, Laurent Thévenot, or Jens Beckert in Europe. To this may be added Amitai Etzioni, who has popularised the idea of socioeconomics, 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 come up with the idea of the "embeddedness", meaning that the economy is "embedded" in social institutions which is vital so that the market does not destroy other aspects of human life.

Marxist sociology

Main article: Marxist sociology

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.


Main article: Socioeconomics

Economic sociology is sometimes synonymous with socioeconomics. In most cases, however, socioeconomists focus on the social impact of very specific economic changes, such as the closing of a factory, market manipulation, new natural gas regulation, and so on.

Economic sociology of US immigration

Immigration to the United States During the twentieth century, the trend of the immigration groups was to settle in urban areas. There was much cluster in the ethnic neighborhoods with the Chinatowns, Little Italys, and other areas becoming features of larger cities. The high level of competition for jobs allowed employers to impose very long work days for low pay creating unhealthy working conditions. In spite of these conditions, the economy was booming.

The sociological debate today focuses on new immigrants' ability to find employment and to achieve economic self-sufficiency.

Side One – George Borjas came out with an essay in 1994 titled "The Economics of Immigration". Borjas goes on to say that since the 1980s, the United States has attracted "lower-quality" immigrants with less education and few marketable job skills. Borjas' estimates show that as high as 21 percent of immigrant households participate in social assistance programs consisting of food stamps, Medicaid, etc. Because recent immigrants may have trouble finding jobs in the short term, the economic assimilation can be slow.

Side two – This side takes the opposite approach, claiming that recent immigration has either a positive effect and if not, no effect or influence on the economy. There are economists and policy analysts to back this up as well. One of them is the economist Julian Simon. Simon argues that immigrants benefit the U.S. economy by joining the labor force and paying into the federal revenue system for their whole lives. By the time they receive their long-term benefits of such things as Social Security, their children will be covering these costs by working and paying into the tax system themselves.

See also

  • Political sociology
  • Behavioral economics
  • Cultural economics
  • Economic anthropology
  • Economic imperialism (economics)
  • Institutionalism
  • Institutional economics
  • Macroeconomics
  • Political economy



  • Gary S. Becker and Kevin M. Murphy (2001). Social Economics: Market Behavior in a Social Environment, Harvard University Press. Description and TOC.
  • Peter Hedström and Charlotta Stern (2008). "rational choice and sociology," The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics, 2nd Edition. Abstract.
  • Richard Swedberg (1990). Economics and Sociology: Redefining Their Boundaries: Conversations with Economists and Sociologists. Princeton University Press. ISBN 0691003769, ISBN 9780691003764 Description and chapter-preview links, pp. v-vi.
  • _____ (2007). Principles of Economic Sociology. Princeton. Description and ch. 1 extract. Scroll down to chapter-preview links.
  • _____ (2008). "economic sociology," The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics, 2nd Edition. Abstract.


  • The American Journal of Economics and Sociology - Website