How interest and social relations impact the economy

November 06, 2003

ITHACA, N.Y. -- Social relations, culture, politics, law and gender influence economic decisions. Studying the roles that these factors play in economic phenomena is called economic sociology.

To provide a general introduction to this relatively new and rapidly growing field, Richard Swedberg, a Cornell University professor of sociology and vice director of Cornell's Center for the Study of Economy and Society, has published an introductory text, Principles of Economic Sociology (Princeton University Press, 2003, 366 pages).

"My goals in writing this book are not only to present the field's major concepts, ideas and findings, but also to introduce a new perspective into economic sociology," says Swedberg, the author of Max Weber and the Idea of Economic Sociology and several other books on related topics. "Economic sociology shouldn't be concerned only with the impact of social relations on economic actions, but also needs to take interest into account. And that interest must not be reduced, as economists tend to do, to self-interest. Interest is a driving force in human life, and it takes many different forms, such as emotional, political and ideal. In other words, we need to identify people's interests in their economic decisions and then study the social forces that affect these interests and the consequences of these forces," Swedberg says.

The book includes a review of classical and contemporary economic sociology and then looks at how the economy is organized and how the dynamics of different types of economic organizations are influenced by the structures, interests and social interactions of modern firms. It discusses theories about markets, which are viewed as social structures, and it reviews how interests play a role in the analysis of markets and markets throughout history. The book also discusses the economic sociology of politics and focuses on the role of the law, culture and gender in current economic sociology. The final chapter discusses often-ignored topics, such as reflexivity in economic sociology, the advantages and disadvantages with using the concept of interest in economic sociology and the role of economic sociology as a policy science.
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