The Old New Economic Sociology

There’s an old joke about psychology that a graduate student in clinical psych friend of mine once told me. Well, it’s more of a humorous definition of the disciplines than a joke. This friend would say, “Psychology is the study of 19 year-old female college undergraduates.” Since most psych research used subjects from the research pools of undergraduate psychology students, most psychological findings were tested and re-tested on basically the same group – college aged, educated, mostly female, etc. Oops.

The new economic sociology of the 1980s had a little bit of the same flavor. Specifically, if someone asked me what the new econ soc was, I might humorously say, “Economic Sociology is the study of the boards of directors of Fortune 500 Firms.” Ok, not so funny.

And also, seemingly untrue these days. After three days of an excellent ASA, and after listening to one or two dozen econ soc papers, it feels like we’ve really moved beyond the Fortune 500 in the US. One paper even went so far as to use the S&P 1500! But seriously, it’s nice to see how much of the field has moved beyond looking at the world of the biggest US firms. Maybe my view of the old new economic sociology is a bit biased (maybe I read one too many interlock papers during prelims or something), but the new new economic sociology* is pretty great, and delightfully international, historical, multi-method and multi-level.

* I really hope no one ever publishes a real paper that dichotomizes the field into the “old new” and “new new” economic sociology.

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