Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Economic Sociology

The Boston Globe has a nice article on Economic Sociology. I think the time is such that we can ignore a lot of the disciplinary boundaries in the social sciences. Sociology, economics and anthropology (and cultural studies, human geography and so on ad nauseam) are, to an extent, looking at the same things from different angles. It seems rather foolish for sociologists to ignore the insights of economists because they work under different assumptions. I suspect a lot of the antipathy among sociologists towards economics is ideological. It seems practically compulsory to be lefter-than-thou in sociological circles and people in general seem to misinterpret economics as the study of $$how-to-make-money$$.

From the article:

While economists continue to probe into social life, a growing academic subfield known as economic sociology is doing just the opposite--bringing tools and concepts from sociology to bear on the economy. We cannot understand how people earn, spend, and invest their money, economic sociologists argue, unless we understand social relations. If, as economists contend, incentives and choice are everywhere, so are social conventions and personal connections.

''The economy is social. It's a set of social relations. The economy is as social as a family or religion," says Viviana A. Zelizer, a Princeton University sociologist who studies how cultural attitudes and consumption patterns influence each other.

A leading figure in economic sociology, Zelizer is sharply critical of the dichotomy she calls ''hostile worlds," which juxtaposes ''a world of rationality, efficiency, and impersonality, on one side" with ''a world of self-expression, cultural richness, and intimacy on the other--with contact between the two worlds inevitably corrupting both of them." Real human beings, she argues, don't divide their rational and emotional, or personal and commercial, lives that way.


''Most people are trying to maximize economic goals and social goals at the same time. It's not like on Monday they try to maximize their wealth and on Wednesday they try to maximize their social status. It's all mixed up together," says Granovetter.

''We need theories that will actually give us some closure on how people do all these things together," he says. ''I think that's the big challenge in social science for the 21st century--to understand how those things all fit together."

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