Crooked Timber has a seminar on Steve Teles’ Rise of the Conservative Legal Movement. We covered it last year: read the back and forth between Teles and I here. Here’s my contribution to the Crooked Timber seminar:
Steven Teles’ The Rise of the Conservative Legal Movement (RCLM) is an important book. It is one of the few studies to thoroughly address the institutionalization of conservative politics. It’s also a well motivated account. Using ideas from contemporary sociology, Teles frames the conservative legal movements as an example of resource mobilization. Winning elections isn’t enough to implement conservative policy. One must create conservative networks and organizations that can be used to fight and win court battles.
In this response to RCLM, I’d like to argue that conservative legal movement is a failed movement. We have come to view the period from the 1970s to the 2006 Congressional election as an unqualified victory for the American right. Republicans put three of their own in the White House and gained control of the House of Representatives. The 9/11 era allowed a conservative White House to restructure the Federal government and expand its powers.
We’ll start with Krippner’s Capitalizing on Crisis on May 15. But for you anxious bookworms, there have been a number of provocative book forums already:
- John Levi Martin – Social Structures
- Sudhir Venkatesh – Off the Books
- Steven Teles – The Rise of the Conservative Legal Movement
- Tim Harford – The Logic of Life (cross posted at Marginal Revolution)
- Donald MacKenzie – An Engine, Not a Camera
And don’t forget all the book spotlights. Check it out!
I attended a really interesting conference this weekend that brought together some leading economic sociologists and organizational scholars to talk about the financial crisis. Research in the Sociology of Organizations will publish the conference’s papers. You can download early drafts of the papers here.
The authors were asked to think about what sociological theory has to say about the causes of the financial crisis and to speculate about potential solutions. The conference was mainly focused on the former question, although towards the end discussion drifted to policy. The papers were very diverse, but one idea came up in several papers. The idea was that the crisis was a kind of normal accident that was made possible by the organizational structure of the financial system. As Charles Perrow theorized, accidents can be thought of as the product of organizational systems that are highly complex and tightly coupled. Decision-makers have a hard time figuring out how the system works as a whole due to its complexity, but when one part of the system breaks down, for whatever reason, the entire system is vulnerable to collapse due to the interdependence of the different parts. The idea comes out most strongly in the papers by Schneiberg and Bartley and Palmer and Maher.
The conference created a lot of lively discussion about the need to make economic sociology more relevant to policy. Although no single policy solution emerged, it was one of the best conversations I’ve ever been a part of in which economic sociologists strive to make their research relevant and not just theoretically interesting. So it was a good step forward. Still, I wondered what policy experts and regulators would say to the commentary. As Jerry Davis remarked in his concluding comments, “markets on trial” felt a bit like a kangaroo court. No financial economists or fed officials attended. Of course, I don’t think that the ideas need to be validated by an economist to make them good, but if economic sociology is ever going to make a move into the realm of regulation and policymaking, that interaction needs to take place.
The other part of this equation is the political mobilization it would take to make the policy solutions of economic sociologists politically viable. One only needs to look to law and economics to see an example of how academics mobilized their ideas as part of a political coalition to institutionalize a particular set of policy solutions. As we talked about in a series of posts last year, Steven Teles’s fascinating book about the rise of the conservative legal movement illustrates how this coalition formed and influenced regulatory processes. Making major transformations like some of the scholars propose requires having access to mobilizing resources and a political will that economic sociologists haven’t had in the past. The workshop was a great opportunity to get something like that started.
Here are the books we’ve covered this year:
- Neil Gross: Richard Rorty, The Making of an American Philosopher
- Tina Fetner: How the Religious Right Shaped lesbian and gay activism
- Steve Teles: Rise of the Conservative Legal Movement
- Michael Lindsay: Faith in the Halls of Power
- Isaac Martin: The Permanent Tax Revolt
- Fred Wherry: Global Markets and Local Crafts
- Matthew Frederick: 101 Things I Learned in Architecture School
- Richard Scott: Institutions and Organizations (new edition)
- Christopher Alexander: Notes on the Synthesis of Form
- Tim Harford: The Logic of Life
- Randall Collins: Violence: A Micro-sociological Theory
Post your own nominations for great recent social science writing – or not so recent! Authors, don’t hesitate to plug your own stuff.
On Monday, I asked a few questions about The Rise of the Conservative Legal Movement. Teles responds here. Next week, I’ll add some more questions. Feel free to ask more in the comments, or write your own and link here:
First of all, I want to thank Fabio for hosting this forum on my book. Although I’m a political scientist, my book draws on a lot of sociological theory, and my hope was that it would be of interest to sociologists interested in social movements, political organizations, and the sociology of knowledge. In fact, I think it has at least as much to offer sociologists as folks in my home discipline.
Ok, so let’s get right into it. Fabio asks a number of questions about law and economics. One thing that is important to note, and that I try to emphasize in the book, is that L&E is peculiar in that, especially in its early days, it was both an ideology and a methodology. That is, L&E practitioners had a critique of the generally pro-interventionist slant of most existing legal scholarship—especially in private law areas and anti-trust—but they also were attacking the way that legal scholarship was done, focusing mainly on interpreting existing case law. So if we want to ask if L&E was successful, we need to think of it as having these two elements simultaneously.