sociology of intellectual property?

I’ve been reading up on intellectual property of late.  Here are some sources worth perusing and reading (some of them can be downloaded for free), along with some interviews and clips.

Interestingly, there isn’t meaningfully any kind of sociology of intellectual property, that I am aware of (feel free to correct me).  Though several of the above scholars do call for increased dialogue between law and the social sciences (e.g., Julie Cohen), though this seems to be a relatively nascent area.

There is of course the “social construction” argument (e.g., that authorship or ownership is a myth)—a favorite argument of mine (e.g., see Beethoven and the Construction of Genius)—or the ubiquitous and tired references to “networks” (help!), but it seems that there is much opportunity in this space.


Written by teppo

March 2, 2012 at 5:43 pm

12 Responses

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  1. More history than sociology, but also see Kernfeld’s Pop Music Piracy and Sanjek+Sanjek’s American Popular Music Business in the 20th Century.



    March 2, 2012 at 5:54 pm

  2. Hmmm. Hmmm. There’s always this:


    Longo Tormadeen

    March 2, 2012 at 6:05 pm

  3. some thing that cannot be wished away .. is Cut copy a boon or a bane? IF cut copy and paste features were unavailable, then one has to printout, retype ( and hopefully re written) . It would be far more easier to give credit where it is due.



    March 2, 2012 at 6:14 pm

  4. An institutional account of the adoption of and resistance to patenting by life scientists:

    Murray, Fiona. 2010. “The Oncomouse That Roared: Hybrid Exchange Strategies as a Source of Distinction at the Boundary of Overlapping Institutions.” American Journal of Sociology 116(2):341-388.


    Daniel Fehder

    March 2, 2012 at 8:27 pm

  5. Very interesting IP stuff going on related to law, culture, and the humanities – Rosemary Coombes’s work is great in this area.



    March 2, 2012 at 8:37 pm

  6. Teppo, small typo: the Boldrin-Levine book is titled _Against Intellectual Monopoly_. You may be thinking of Stephan Kinsella’s influential article, “Against Intellectual Property”:


    Peter Klein

    March 2, 2012 at 8:50 pm

  7. Gabriel and Michaela: Thanks for the references so far – I’ll read those.

    Longo: yes, most of the above books are against intellectual property (well, in some form), except the Merges book (definitely worth reading).

    Peter: thanks, I changed that.



    March 2, 2012 at 8:55 pm

  8. I’d like to (humbly) suggest that sociology can play a very important role in our understanding of the emergence and expansion of intellectual property as a socio-legal institution. There are good legal histories of intellectual property (e.g. Lyman Ray Patterson’s “Copyright in Historical Perspective” (1968) and Brad Sherman & Lionel Bently, “The Making of Intellectual Property Law” (1999)). Mark Rose has drawn on Michel Foucoult’s “What is an Author?” in analyzing the emergence of copyright in Eighteenth Century England (in “Authors and Owners,” a 1993 book). But sociologists, it seems to me, have a rich body of theory upon which to draw in explaining the emergence and social effects of this (relatively new) institution. However, I also humbly suggest that, in order to do this, sociologists will need to think more about the role that formal legal doctrine plays in social institutions. One problem, it seems to me, is the divide between “sociology of law” and sociological theory (including organizational theory). Most sociologists of law focus on particular institutions of public law (e.g. criminal law or civil rights law). Institutional sociological theory, on the other hand, often seems (to me) to ignore law altogether, to lump it together with other “social constructs,” to treat it as an undifferentiated species of norms, or as a “rationalized technology” of state power. None of these perspectives really seems to allow formal legal doctrine to exercise an independent causal role. (Important exceptions to this statement may be found in Arthur Stinchcombe’s work and in John Meyer – see Chapter 15 of “World Society” (2010)). I am currently working on a dissertation that attempts to grapple with the emergence and expansion of intellectual property by focusing centrally on the role of legal doctrine and its causal contribution to institutional social structures. I have articulated a thesis about the causal effects of legal doctrine on closed social relationship structures and “proprietary social embodiment” that I am labeling “semantic legal ordering”. This semantic legal ordering perspective draws heavily on Max Weber’s sociology of property and his sociology of law; it focuses on the role of authoritative interpreters of written legal traditions in contributing a language that shapes ontological and deontological understandings of the social world. I recently published an article that draws on my dissertation work and focuses (briefly) on the emergence of intellectual property in England; this appears in the journal Max Weber Studies (Volume 11.1). I would eagerly welcome feedback from any participants in this blog discussion who might have time to read the article and correspond.


    Laura R. Ford

    March 4, 2012 at 3:38 pm

  9. I would also like to mention that Richard Swedberg has called for greater sociological attention to the role of law in the economy, including in relation to intellectual property. See, e.g., “Principles of Economic Sociology” (2003), Chapter VIII; Max Weber’s Contribution to the Economic Sociology of Law (2006 Annual Review of Law and Social Science, starting at page 61); The Case for an Economic Sociology of Law (2003 Theory and Society).


    Laura R. Ford

    March 4, 2012 at 5:05 pm

  10. Laura: Good points and thanks for the references. (I’ve read the Swedberg pieces you cite, as well as some of the Weber you cite.)



    March 4, 2012 at 5:16 pm

  11. Hello,
    Thanks for sharing such useful ideas with everyone. I have got an overall idea and it will definitely help others to gain some knowledge about the business. I would like to read more of your writings in the upcoming future…!
    All the best for your business…



    March 5, 2012 at 8:39 am

  12. […] sociology of intellectual property? « […]


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