granovetter book forum – part 2: what economic sociology is all about

We’ve been discussion Mark Granovetter’s new Society and Economy: Framework and Practices. It’s a book that a lot of us in economic sociology/organization theory have been looking forward to – a synthetic treatment of the scholarly field hashed out by Granovetter and his followers. In this post, I’ll focus on what I liked the most. The next post, I’ll lay out some critiques.

First, this will clearly become the “go-to” book in economic sociology. If you trained in this area, or a related area (like organizational behavior), you know that we sorely need a book like this. Sure, there are a fair number of anthologies of economic sociology, but not a single book that lays it out.

I don’t think there is anyone more suited to writing such as book than Mark Granovetter. He’s probably the most highly regarded economic sociologist and his work is wide reaching. Most importantly, he operates in the mainstream of American sociology. He’s not a fancy model builder, nor an importer of obscure European social theory. He asks fairly intuitive questions about how economic processes depend on rules and norms.

He’s also the person to write this book because his main theoretical article, 1985’s “Economic Action and Social Structure,” is the best explanation of how sociologists ought to approach economic behavior. He rejects the “over-socialized” view of (some) sociologists, who think that choice is meaningless. He also rejects the “under-socialized” view of (many) economists, who think that morals and values are not important. The 1985 article succinctly (if densely) argues that economic action is “inside” social relations, in the sense that larger structures provide opportunities and create incentives.

This leads me to my next point – the big strength of Society and Economy is in Chapters 1 and 2. In very direct language, Granovetter argues against the view that social relations are an thing that is incidental in economic action. Rather, social relations shape and enable action. The “economic” and the “social” are always happening together and they affect other. Then, in chapter 2, Granovetter offers a more general presentation of economic sociology as a field – it is how “mental constructs” (power, authority) are present in the economy and are affected by the economy. Perhaps these two chapters can be read as an argument against the view found among many economists that the “social” is essentially an error term in economic analysis.

Another chapter that I enjoyed reading is chapter 5, on the economy and social institutions. In modern sociology, we often use the framework created by Stinchcombe, DiMaggio and Powell, Scott, and Meyer and Rowan to articulate what we mean by institutions. Granovetter approaches it in a sort of different way. Rather making the focus of analysis the axis of organization and environment, Granovetter adopts the “institution” as durable ways of doing things at the national level. This is a bit closer to how many economists would see it, such as Douglas North or, today, Daron  Acemoglu. Then,  Granovetter delves a bit into institutional logics when he needs to get more detail oriented in the text. Not the way one would do it if trained in the canon of neo-institutionalism, but certainly a valuable way to think about institutions, as manifestations of national cultures.

Later this week, some critiques and more about the future of economic sociology.

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Written by fabiorojas

May 30, 2017 at 12:16 am

3 Responses

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  1. Dr Fabio –

    More than 30 years ago I wrote a Economics term paper on this topic, arguing that an ‘institution’ is not bricks and mortar, but a process. I suffered from a few handicaps. First, we had not yet automated all of our economic and social relationships from investment to seeking sex, so I had no tangible model. Second, my mentor had been Kenneth Boulding. Mainly, I had no idea what I was talking about. Rather, I knew the ‘what’ part, but not ‘how’ to talk about it.

    It was thus small surprise to learn in my work in SE Asia that, for hordes of young entrepreneurs, starting a business has nothing to do with opening a company or even creating a product. It’s simply an app. The real work is not in the design or the coding. It’s in running around setting up business relationships you can automate, with no risk to anyone. The perfect method for societies where people live with their parents until they marry, don’t know how to sell anything, but are masters at navigating hierarchical relationships.

    I’ll send this around. Thanks!


    Liked by 1 person

    Donald Frazier

    May 30, 2017 at 12:55 am

  2. Thanks for the note!



    May 30, 2017 at 6:09 pm

  3. […] What I like […]


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