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Economic sociology

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Economic sociology is the study of the social cause and effect of various economic phenomena. The field can be broadly divided into a classical period and a contemporary one, known as "New economic sociology".

The classical period was concerned particularly with modernity and its constituent aspects which are rationalisation, secularisation, urbanisation, social stratification, and so on. As sociology arose primarily as a reaction to capitalist modernity, economics played a role in much classic sociological inquiry. 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.

Contemporary economic sociology may include studies of all modern social aspects of economic phenomena; economic sociology may thus be considered a field in the intersection of economics and sociology. Frequent areas of inquiry in contemporary economic sociology include the social consequences of economic exchanges, the social meanings they involve and the social interactions they facilitate or obstruct.[2]

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A social institution that has one of the biggest impacts on society is the economy. And you might think of the economy in terms of numbers – unemployment numbers, GDPs, or whatever the stock market is doing today. But while we often talk about it in numerical terms, the economy is really made of people! It’s the social institution that organizes all production, consumption, and trade of goods in a society. And there are lots of different ways in which stuff can be made, exchanged, and used. Think capitalism, or socialism. These economic systems – and the economic revolutions that created them – shape the way that people live their lives. [Theme Music] Economies can vary a lot from one society to the next, but in any given economy, you can typically see production split into three sectors. The primary sector extracts raw materials from natural environments – so, workers like farmers or miners would fit well here. The secondary sector takes raw materials and transforms them into manufactured goods. So, someone in the primary sector may extract oil from the earth, but someone in the secondary sector refines the petroleum into gasoline. And then the tertiary sector is the part of the economy that involves services rather than goods. You know, doing things, rather than making things. But, this system is actually pretty complicated. Or at least, more sophisticated than the way things used to be for much of human history. So, how did we get from a world where people worked to produce just what they needed for their families, to one with all these sectors that have to work together? To understand that, we need to back up a little – about 12,000 years. The first big economic change was the agrarian revolution. When people first learned how to domesticate plants and animals, it ushered in a new agricultural economy that was much more productive than hunter-gatherer societies were. Farming helped societies build surpluses, which meant not everyone had to spend their time producing food. This, in turn, led to major developments like permanent settlements, trade networks, and population growth. Now, let’s go to the Thought Bubble to discuss the second major economic revolution: the industrial revolution of the 1800s. With the rise of industry came new economic tools, like steam engines, manufacturing, and mass production. Factories popped up, changing how work functioned. Now, instead of working at home, where people worked for their family by making things from start to finish, they began working as wage laborers and becoming more specialized in their skills. Overall productivity went up, standards of living rose, and people had access to a wider variety of goods thanks to mass production – all good things. But every economic revolution comes with economic casualties. The workers in the factories – who were mainly poor women and children – worked in dangerous conditions for low wages. There’s a reason that the industrialists of the 19th century were known as robber barons: with more productivity came greater wealth, but also greater economic inequality. So, in the late 19th century, labor unions began to form. These organizations of workers sought to improve wages and working conditions through collective action, strikes, and negotiations. Inspired by Marxist principles, labor unions are partly to thank for us now having things like minimum wage laws, reasonable working hours, and regulations to protect the safety of workers. Thanks Thought Bubble. So, the industrial revolution was an incredibly big deal, when it came to the changes that it brought to both economies and societies. And there’s a third revolution we should talk about too – one that’s happening right now. But before we get to that, we should pause and explore two competing economic models that sprung up around the time of the industrial revolution, as economic capital became more and more important to the production of goods. Pretty sure you’ve heard of them! And possibly have strong opinions about them! They’re capitalism and socialism. Capitalism is a system in which all natural resources and means of production are privately owned. And it emphasizes profit-seeking and competition as the main drivers of efficiency. If you own a business, you need to out-perform your competitors if you're going to succeed. So you’re incentivized to be more efficient – by improving the quality of your product, and reducing your prices. This is what economist Adam Smith in the 1770s called the “Invisible Hand” of the market. The idea is that if you just leave a capitalist economy alone, consumers will regulate things themselves, by selecting goods and services that provide the best value. But, in practice, an economy doesn’t work very well if it’s left completely on auto-pilot. There are lots of sectors where a hands-off approach can lead to what economists call “market failures,” where an unregulated market ends up allocating goods and services inefficiently. A monopoly, for example, is a kind of market failure. When a company has no competition for customers, it can charge higher prices without worrying about losing customers. That, as economic allocations go, is really inefficient, at least on the consumer end. So, in situations like these, a government might step in and force the company to break up into smaller companies to increase competition. Market failures like this are why most countries, the United States included, are not purely capitalist societies. For example, the US federal and state governments own and operate a number of businesses, like schools, the Postal Service, and the military. Governments also set minimum wages, create workplace safety laws, and provide social support programs like unemployment benefits and food stamps. Government plays an even larger role, however, in socialism. In a socialist system, the means of production are under collective ownership. Socialism rejects capitalism’s private-property and hands-off approaches. Instead, here, property is owned by the government and allocated to all citizens, not just those with the money to afford it. Socialism emphasizes collective goals, expecting everyone to work for the common good, and placing a higher value on meeting everyone’s basic needs than on individual profit. When Karl Marx first wrote about socialism, he viewed it as a stepping stone toward communism, a political and economic system in which all members of a society are socially equal. But of course, in practice, this hasn’t played out in the countries that have modelled their economies on socialism, like Cuba, North Korea, China, and the former USSR. Why? Well, Marx hoped that, as economic differences vanished in communist society, the government would simply wither away and disappear. But, that never happened. If anything, the opposite did. Rather than freeing the proletariat from inequality, the massive power of the government in these states gave enormous wealth, power, and privilege to political elites, retrenching inequalities along political – rather than strictly economic – lines. At the same time, capitalist countries economically out-performed their socialist counterparts, contributing to the unrest that eventually led to the downfall of the USSR. Before the fall of the Soviet Union, the average output in capitalist countries was about $13,500 per person, which was almost three times that in the Soviet countries. But there are downsides to capitalism, too – namely greater income inequality. A study of European capitalist countries and socialist countries in the 1970s found that the income ratio between the top 5% and the bottom 5% in capitalist countries was about 10:1, whereas in socialist countries it was 5:1. We could fill whole episodes about the merits of each economic model – and in fact, we did in Crash Course World History. There are many more questions we could answer about how societies build their economic systems. But in any case, those two models aren’t the end of the story. Because: we’re living in the middle of the economic revolution that followed the industrial revolution. Ours is the time of the information revolution. Technology has reduced the role of human labor, and shifted it from a manufacturing-based economy to one based on service work and the production of ideas rather than goods. And this has had a lot of residual effects on our economy. Computers and other technologies are beginning to replace many jobs, by making it easier to either automate them or send them offshore. And we’ve also seen a decline in union membership. Nowadays, most unions are for public sector jobs, like teachers. So what do jobs in a post-industrial society look like? Well, agricultural jobs, which once were a massive part of the American labor force, have fallen drastically over the last century. While 40% of the labor force was involved in the agricultural sector in 1900, only about 2% of workers today work in farming. Similarly, manufacturing jobs, which were the lifeblood of the US economy for much of the 20th century, have also declined in the last 30 years. So, the US economy began with many workers serving in either the primary and secondary economic sectors, but now, much of the US economy is centered on the tertiary sector, or the service industry. The service industry makes up 85% of jobs in the US, including everything from administrative assistants to nurses to teachers to lawyers to everyone who made this Crash Course video for you. Now, that’s a really big and diverse group. That’s because the tertiary sector – like all the economic sectors we’ve been discussing – is defined mainly by what it produces, rather than what kinds of jobs it includes. So, sociologists have a way of distinguishing between types of jobs, based more on the social status and compensation that come with them: There’s the primary labor market and the secondary labor market. The primary labor market includes jobs that provide lots of benefits to workers, like high incomes, job security, health insurance and retirement packages. These are white collar professions, like doctors or accountants or engineers. Secondary labor market jobs provide fewer benefits and include lower-skilled jobs and lower-level service sector jobs. They tend to pay less, have more unpredictable schedules, and typically don’t offer benefits like health insurance. They also tend to have less job security. So what’s next for capitalism, or socialism? Well, no one knows what the next economic revolution is going to look like. But I can tell you that, nowadays, a key part of both our economic and political landscape is corporations. Corporations are defined as organizations that exist as legal entities and have liabilities that are separate from its members. So, they’re their own things. And more and more these days, corporations are operating across national boundaries, which means that the future of the US economy – and most countries’ economies – will play out on a global scale. Today we discussed how economies can be broken down into the primary, secondary, and tertiary sectors. We discussed the three stages of economic revolution that brought us to the modern post-industrial era. And in the middle there, we talked about two types of economic models: capitalism and socialism. Crash Course Sociology is filmed in the Dr. Cheryl C. Kinney Studio in Missoula, MT, and it’s made with the help of all of these nice people. Our animation team is Thought Cafe and Crash Course is made with Adobe Creative Cloud. If you'd like to keep Crash Course free for everyone, forever, you can support the series at Patreon, a crowdfunding platform that allows you to support the content you love. Thank you to all of our patrons for making Crash Course possible with their continued support.



Economic sociology arose as a new approach to the analysis of economic phenomena; emphasizing 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).[1] 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.


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, Paula England, Mark Granovetter, Harrison White, Paul DiMaggio, Joel M. Podolny, Lynette Spillman, Richard Swedberg and Viviana Zelizer in the United States, as well as Carlo Trigilia,[3] Donald Angus MacKenzie, Laurent Thévenot and Jens Beckert in Europe. To this may be added Amitai Etzioni, who has developed the idea of socioeconomics,[4] 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 are vital so that the market does not destroy other aspects of human life. The concept of "embeddedness" serves sociologists who study technological developments. Mark Granovetter and Patrick McGuire mapped the social networks which determined the economics of the electrical industry in the United States.[5] Ronen Shamir analyzed how electrification in Mandatory Palestine facilitated the creation of an ethnic-based dual-economy.[6] Polanyi's form of market skepticism, however, has been criticized for intensifying rather than limiting the economization of society.[7]

New economic sociology

A contemporary period of economic sociology, often known as new economic sociology, was consolidated by the 1985 work of Mark Granovetter titled "Economic Action and Social Structure: The Problem of Embeddedness".[8] These works 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.

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.[citation needed]


Economic sociology is sometimes synonymous with socioeconomics. Socioeconomics deals with the analytical, political and moral questions arising at the intersection between economy and society from a broad interdisciplinary perspective with links beyond sociology to political economy, moral philosophy, institutional economics and history.[citation needed]

US immigration

At the turn of the 20th century, ethnic whites tended to migrate to urban enclaves on the East Coast and parts of the Midwest. Mexican immigrants settled along South-west border. Chinese immigrants, prior to the Chinese exclusion act, moved and settled along the Pacific states. The regulation of immigrants ebbed and flowed according to economic demands of the labor market and home country's domestic issues. Examples include availability of mine work, railroad building, and steel production or lack of home country's ability to provide adequate career opportunities, food or security.

Working class and low skilled immigrants tended to cluster in the ethnic enclaves such as Chinatowns, Little Italy's and Koreatowns. This was the result of chain migration, US migration policy, and the placement of availability of jobs.[9] After the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, educated and well skilled immigrant populations did not cluster like their blue collared counterparts. This is particularly true of Indian doctors and Filipino nurses. Both groups have a large population in absolute numbers, but are not as culturally visible.[10]

In general immigrants worked for lower wages, and for longer hours, under less-regulated working conditions in dangerous or unhealthy working conditions. Low wages and minimal oversight have widened corporate profits. This is true even for skilled and educated immigrants. Asians on average tend to make more money than Whites. However, when comparing similar high status jobs, Whites still make more. This may explain continued American economic growth since 1965.

In regards to US migration policy, from a structural functionalist point of view, illegal immigration is tacitly approved by the government and businesses despite surges in nativism starting in the 1980s. As the American population declines, the tax base to support social welfare programs such as Medicare and Social Security shrinks as well. Therefore, government welfare programs are dependent on some level to illegal immigrants who pay into the benefits, but will not receive them in their lifetimes. Further, both their legal and illegal children maintain a positive birth to death ratio, with more individuals living in America paying taxes than those dying. Illegal immigrants and their children play a fundamental role in maintaining government revenues. However, with a functionalist interpretation, it is in the government's best interest to keep these populations suppressed. This is where the interest of government and business intersect: If the undocumented workers were to be documented, employers would be forced to increase wages and the states would offer government assistance. With the fear of deportation after a lengthy detainment from the government and cases of harassment, abuse, rape and intimidation by employers, many illegal immigrants remain quiet about their plight. The second generation immigrants typically display reactive ethnic identities in response to the suppression and abuse their parents faced, further straining already strained race relations in America.

Nonetheless, due to the diffused structure of the US government and nativist sentiments, mass incarcerations and deportations are on the uptick in America. This has proven to be disastrous to local economies. In the Postville Raid of 2008, 400 men, women and children were detained by ICE, one third of the town's population. This immediately resulted in the closing of a local food processing plant and immediate decrease in local economic demand. It is estimated that within a radius of twenty miles, 2,800 other jobs were lost – drivers, coffee shop owners and alike – and millions of dollars of lost.[11] The city of Postville asked the Federal government to declare its city as 'disaster zone' given the immediate drop in economic activity. The deportation of undocumented workers had secondary effects for the immigrants' families in their native countries, whose poverty was worsened when the detained individuals could not send remittances. There is a reported case of teenage suicide when the boy had not heard from his father in months.[12]

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

According to George Borjas in an essay titled "The Economics of Immigration" (1994), 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 social welfare programs like food stamps and Medicaid. Additionally, economic assimilation is slow due to immigrant's difficulty in securing adequate employment.

Julian Simon, in addition to other economists and policy analysts, claims that recent immigration has either had a positive or neutral effect on the economy. Simon argues that immigrants and their children add to the labor force, paying into long-term benefits such as Social Security.

Academic associations

The Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics (SASE) is an international academic association whose members are involved in social studies of economy and economic processes.[13] The Socio-Economic Review was established as the official journal of SASE in 2003.[14] The journal aims to encourage work on the relationship between society, economy, institutions and markets, moral commitments and the rational pursuit of self-interest. Most articles focus on economic action in its social and historical context, drawing from sociology, political science, economics and the management and policy sciences. According to the Journal Citation Reports, the journal has a 2015 impact factor of 1.926, ranking it 56th out of 344 journals in the category "Economics", 21st out of 163 journals in the category "Political Science" and 19th out of 142 journals in the category "Sociology".[15]

The American Sociological Association's Economic Sociology section became a permanent Section in January 2001. According to its website, it has about 800 members.[16]

Another group of scholars in this area works as Research Committee in Economy and Society (RC02) within the International Sociological Association.[17]

Economic Sociology and Political Economy (ES/PE), founded in 2011, is an online scholarly society that gathers researchers interested in economic sociology and related topics.[18][19]

See also


  1. ^ a b "Principles of Economic Sociology by Richard Swedberg – An extract". Retrieved 2009-12-02.
  2. ^ Richard Swedberg (1990). Economics and Sociology: Redefining Their Boundaries: Conversations with Economists and Sociologists. Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-00376-9, ISBN 978-0-691-00376-4 Description and chapter-preview links, pp. v-vi.
  3. ^ Gilding, Michael (September 2005). "The New Economic Sociology and Its Relevance to Australia". Journal of Sociology. 41 (3). Retrieved 1 September 2013. – via Questia (subscription required)
  4. ^ Etzioni, Amitai. 1988. The Moral Dimension: Toward a New Economics. Free Press.
  5. ^ Granovetter, Mark, and McGuire, Patrick (1998) “The Making of an Industry: Electricity in the United States.” In: M. Callon (ed.) The Laws of the Markets. Oxford: Blackwell, 147–173.
  6. ^ Shamir, Ronen (2013) Current Flow: The Electrification of Palestine. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
  7. ^ Roth (2012). "Leaving commonplaces on the commonplace. Cornerstones of a polyphonic market theory". Journal for Critical Organization Inquiry. 10 (3): 43–52. SSRN 2192754.
  8. ^ Mark Granovetter The American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 91, No. 3 (Nov., 1985), pp. 481-510
  9. ^ Schaefer, Richard T. (2013). Race and ethnicity in the United States (7th ed.). Boston: Pearson Education. ISBN 0205216331.
  10. ^ Portes, Alejandro; Rumbaut, Rubén G. (2006). Immigrant America : a portrait (3rd ed., rev., expanded, and updated. ed.). Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 0520250419.
  11. ^ Erik Camayd-Freixas (2013). US Immigration Reform and Its Global Impact: Lessons from the Postville Raid. ISBN 0230105858. OL 26175863M.
  12. ^ Camayd-Freixas, Erik (2012). U.S. immigration reform and its transnational impact : a case study of the Postville raid (First ed.). Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 0230105858.
  13. ^ "The Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics". SASE. Retrieved 2013-12-30.
  14. ^ "Socio-Economic Review". Oxford University Press. Retrieved 2014-06-05.
  15. ^ "Journals Ranked by Impact: Economics, Political Science and Public Administration". 2015 Journal Citation Reports. Web of Science (Social Sciences ed.). Thomson Reuters. 2016.
  16. ^ "Section membership". American Sociological Association. Retrieved 2017-04-07.
  17. ^ Jose I. Reguera (2013-12-19). "ISA - Research Committee on Economy and Society RC02". Retrieved 2017-04-07.
  18. ^ ""Economic Sociology and Political Economy community", Accounts - the Newsletter of the American Sociological Association's Economic Sociology section, 15(2): 17-20, 2014" (PDF).
  19. ^ "Komlik, Oleg. 2014. "The Global Community of Economic Sociology and Political Economy." The European Economic Sociology Newsletter 16 (1): 37-38" (PDF).


Further reading

External links

This page was last edited on 12 August 2018, at 23:33
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