A Subfield in Four Articles

As part of our required introductory survey of the logics and methods of social inquiry, graduate students at Michigan spend a week each on a variety of methods (surveys, comparative/historical, field/observational, etc.). This week we are doing “network/relational methods” which translates roughly to economic sociology, the one subfield I’m certified to have an opinion about. I was talking with a more advanced graduate student, also in Econ Soc, about the choice of articles, and what we would pick given 4 articles to introduce economic sociology with a focus on networks to a general group of 2nd year grad students (all of whom read Polanyi as part of their required methods course). We quickly arrived at the same four articles:

  • Granovetter (1973) The Strength of Weak Ties
  • Granovetter (1985) Economic Action and Social Structure: The Problem of Embeddedness
  • Uzzi (1996) The Sources and Consequences of Embeddedness for the Economic Performance of Organizations: The Network Effect
  • Krippner (2001) The Elusive Market: Embeddedness and the Paradigm of Economic Sociology

    It was a fun exercise, and a fun way to think about introducing your subfield to those not versed in it. So, two questions for the audience: One, what do you think of this list for network-y econ soc? Two, what four articles would you use to introduce your subfield and its major debates in a way accessible to someone totally unversed and potentially uninterested in it?


    1. Baker, Wayne. 1984. “The Social Structure of a Securities Market.” AJS.
      Granovetter 1985. “Economic Action”
      Padgett and Ansell. 1993. “Robust Action and the Rise of the Medici.”
      Emirbayer and Goodwin. 1994. “Network Analysis, Culture, and the Problem of Agency”

      Though I might swap out the Baker for White, H. 1981. “Where do Markets Come From?” I would even consider swapping the White for the Granovetter if that weren’t heretical on its face. The Krippner piece (which I like lots) only makes sense if you make the whole field contingent upon Granovetter’s embeddedness.

      That P&A is a tour de force of social science, IMHO.

      • Hm. Makes sense, and would give you a broader intro to econ soc as a whole. We were keying off the networks/econ soc nature of the readings. I think we had in mind an introduction to the problems of the embeddedness concept – what level is the social at? What is the relationship between economic actions and social ___? Greta does a great job of bringing Polanyi back in to critique the thin understanding of the social implied by the whole ’embedded’ vs ‘arms-length’ ties thing.

        The actual assigned readings are really close to yours – Granovetter 1985, Emirbayer and Goodwin 1994, P&A 1993, and then Mizruchi’s article version of his book on corporate political action (I would guess in part because the course has a bit of a bias towards faculty in the department, intentionally).

        Why do you think the Emirbayer and Goodwin piece is so central?

    2. I guess I was thinking about the E&G as the link between networks and culture. Broadly, the replacement of culture with structure is a continual innovation/problem for networks. I think of the E&G as grappling with that.

      The P&A links networks to politics. The Baker links networks to finance/economics. The White was the one that began it all..

    3. Pleykam

       /  November 10, 2009

      This post came just in time. I’m an anthropology grad student looking at markets, and I’ve been realizing that you sociologists have been thinking about these things for a lot longer than we have (Economic anthropology’s been around for a long time, but it only recently met large scale market economies).

      Looking for an introduction I just started digging into Carruthers and Babb’s Markets, Meanings and Social Structures and, while I’ll definitely be using it for an undergrad course I’m teaching about Stuff, I’m looking for a less basic introduction.
      I’m going to check these articles out.

      One question – what would you recommend as an introduction to Polayni for someone reluctant to dive into The Great Transformation cold?

      • The obvious first place to begin with Polanyi is here!
        More seriously, Polanyi has an essay called “Our Obsolete Market Mentality” (chapter 4 of this collection of essays), that revisits some of the most important claims of The Great Transformation in quick and dirty fashion.

        Other good places to look include Granovetter and Swedberg’s reader, The Sociology of Economic Life, and the articles in the Handbook of Economic Sociology, which are almost all written by top people and represent fairly well a lot of what’s going on in the field.

    4. Ben

       /  November 10, 2009

      Hi Dan,

      I would definitely recommend including:

      1. Krippner (or possibly Jens Beckert’s ‘the Great Transformation of Embeddedness’) to balance Granovetter’s very narrow and heavily criticized take on embeddedness.

      2. Emirbayer and Goodwin as it looks at problems with the network approach in general (from an admiring point of view). And from memory it also includes a nice long lit review on a variety of network-based studies, which would be useful.

      As an aside: It’s pretty depressing that you think that ‘“network/relational methods” …translates roughly to economic sociology’). If economic sociology = networks, where does that leave Zelizer, Fukuyama, Fligstein and Bourdieu, just to name a few, not to mention Polanyi, Marx, Weber and Durkheim? These scholars offer so much to our understanding of the relationship between economy and society, yet they are excluded by such a definition. If it was an either/or situation, surely it is the network theory that would have to be jettisoned rather than all the rest?

      I’d give anthrop much more credit, actually. There’s Polanyi, of course, plus the more contemporary people like Geertz, Keith Hart and Gudeman. And think of all of the concepts that Bourdieu developed in his ethnography of the growth of markets in Algeria – the various forms of capital, habitus and so on which have been so fruitful and influential in sociology.

      If you don’t want to read Great Transformation, I would recommend you start with Lives and Livelihood. Or perhaps a secondary work like Stanfield.

      • Ben – To clarify one thing, I don’t think networks = econ soc nor that econ soc = networks. I’m saying that we had one week (two sessions) of a class devoted to network/relational methods and that ended up meaning an introduction to the network side of econ soc. If networks = economic sociology, I wouldn’t be in it! So, don’t read too much into this post’s setup – indeed, one of the reasons for including Krippner’s critique is to show off some of the ways econ soc looks beyond networks, and is critical of some of the things that focusing too narrowly on certain networks can do to your analysis.

    5. Ben

       /  November 10, 2009

      Dan – Phew. Very relieved to hear it. I was wondering how it fitted in with your general take on things.

      BTW, it’s interesting that everyone in your program studies Polanyi. That must be pretty unusual. Is it a new thing?

      • Fairly new. Peggy Somers and Greta Krippner designed the current version of the intro theory course, and Greta currently teaches it. Both are big Polanyi fans. So, right now it’s Liberal theory (Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Adam Smith, Malthus), Marx, Weber, Durkheim, Polanyi, Arendt, Habermas, Foucault Bourdieu. I think it’s about 2-3 thinkers too many for one term, but it does a great job of (among other things) framing the Social Theory as a reaction to liberalism, and then putting Polanyi in that lineage.