Economy/Society: Markets, Meanings, and Social Structure


Bruce G. Carruthers & Sarah L. Babb

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  • Sociology for a New Century

    A Pine Forge Press Series

    Edited by Charles Ragin, Wendy Griswold, and Larry Griffin

    Sociology for a New Century brings the best current scholarship to today's students in a series of short texts authored by leaders of a new generation of social scientists. Each book addresses its subject from a comparative, historical, global perspective, and, in doing so, connects social science to the wider concerns of students seeking to make sense of our dramatically changing world.

    Titles of Related Interest from Pine Forge Press

    An Invitation to Environmental Sociologyby Michael M. Bell

    Global Inequalitiesby York W. Bradshaw and Michael Wallace

    Schools and Societiesby Steven Brint

    Economy/Societyby Bruce Carruthers and Sarah Babb

    How Societies Changeby Daniel Chirot

    Ethnicity and Raceby Stephen Cornell and Doug Hartmann

    The Sociology of Childhoodby William A. Corsaro

    Cultures and Societies in a Changing Worldby Wendy Griswold

    Crime and Disreputeby John Hagan

    Gods in the Global Villageby Lester R. Kurtz

    Waves of Democracyby John Markoff

    Development and Social Changeby Philip McMichael

    Aging, Social Inequality, and Public Policyby Fred C. Pampel

    Constructing Social Researchby Charles C. Ragin

    Women and Men at Workby Barbara Reskin and Irene Pakavic

    Cities in a World Economyby Saskia Sassen

    Gender, Family, and Social Movementsby Suzanne Staggenborg


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    About the Authors

    Bruce G. Carruthers is Associate Professor in the Sociology Department at Northwestern University. He did his undergraduate work at Simon Fraser University in Canada, received a master's degree from Rutgers University, and earned his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in 1991. He has previously written two books, City of Capital: Politics and Markets in the English Financial Revolution (1996) and Rescuing Business: The Making of Corporate Bankruptcy Law in England and the United States (1998), as well as numerous articles. He has been teaching courses in economic sociology to Northwestern undergraduates for the past seven years.

    Sarah L. Babb is Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. She received her B.A. in philosophy from the University of Michigan in 1988 and her Ph.D. in sociology from Northwestern University in 1998. She is the author of several articles in historical and economic sociology, published in journals that include the American Journal of Sociology, American Sociological Review, and Estudios Sociológicos. Her recent work looks at how the economic policies of developing countries are shaped by international pressures and economic ideas, focusing particularly on the case of Mexico. She was the recipient of the American Sociological Association's annual dissertation award for the year 1999.

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    Sociology for a New Century offers the best of current sociological thinking to today's students. The goal of the series is to prepare students, and in the long run, the informed public, for a world that has changed dramatically in the last three decades and one that continues to astonish.

    This goal reflects important changes that have taken place in sociology. The discipline has become broader in orientation, with an ever-growing interest in research that is comparative, historical, or transnational in orientation. Sociologists are less focused on “American” society as the pinnacle of human achievement and more sensitive to global processes and trends. They also have become less insulated from surrounding social forces. In the 1970s and 1980s, sociologists were so obsessed with constructing a science of society that they saw impenetrability as a sign of success. Today, there is a greater effort to connect sociology to the ongoing concerns and experiences of the informed public.

    Each book in this series offers a comparative, historical, transnational, or global perspective in some way, to help broaden students' vision. Students need to be sensitized to diversity in today's world and to the sources of diversity. Knowledge of diversity challenges the limitations of conventional ways of thinking about social life. At the same time, students need to be sensitized to the fact that issues that may seem specifically American (e.g., the women's movement, an aging population bringing a strained social security and health care system, racial conflict, national chauvinism, etc.) are shared by many other countries. Awareness of commonalities undercuts the tendency to view social issues and questions in narrowly American terms and encourages students to seek out the experiences of others for the lesson they offer. Finally, students also need to be sensitized to phenomena that transcend national boundaries, economics, and politics.

    Economy/Society: Markets, Meanings, and Social Structure fulfills the goals of the series by offering an accessible introduction to the various institutional arrangements that govern economic activity. Bruce Carruthers and Sarah Babb show that economic exchanges are deeply embedded in social relationships. Moreover, they demonstrate that an understanding of how the economy is socially constructed offers rich and novel insights into such topics as advertising, consumer behavior, the diffusion of innovations, conflicts at the workplace, social inequality, and the economic development of nations.

    Understanding how economic activities and institutions are shaped by social structures is important because these insights help us to understand the variability and mutability of the economy. Markets, for example, do not appear in mature, viable form at the drop of a hat or on command. Markets develop slowly, if at all, depending on the social infrastructure and culture. In that sense, markets are very much embedded in other social institutions. Consider how difficult the transition to capitalism has been in the former Soviet Union, where the development of markets has been hindered by greed, crime, predation, a lack of faith in contracts, and the absence of a supporting legal system. In contrast, look at how fast electronic markets have developed in the United States as, contrary to the expectations of many, consumers have moved readily to purchase items via or eBay. Confidence, technological know-how, and faith in the reliability and accountability of the enterprises are all essential elements in supporting economic exchange, and these social factors are distributed unevenly across time and space.

    The core topics in this engaging book—markets, networks, the workplace, social stratification, economic development, and globalization—are approached with a keen sociological lens. This lens reveals how these diverse economic phenomena are embedded in society in a myriad of ways, some readily apparent, others much less obtrusively Along the way, the analytical focus reveals how consumption becomes a status competition, how jobs are secured through acquaintances and not close friends, how gender and race shape relations in the workplace, and how international production and trade are challenging the sovereignty of the nation-state. This book displays the authors' vivid sociological imagination—it tackles big issues and real problems with analytical power and lively ideas. Students, scholars, and, yes, even economists will both enjoy and be rewarded for their time spent with Economy/Society.

    Walter W.PowellStanford University


    For helpful readings of particular chapters, we thank Fernando Filguiera, Mauro Guillén, Caleb Southworth, and Mark Weisbrot. We also thank Steve Rutter and Charles Ragin for good overall advice and guidance, although we were not smart enough to listen to all of it. The reviewers for Pine Forge Press—Kevin Delaney, Temple University; Marc Schneiberg, University of Arizona; Mauro Guillén, University of Pennsylvania; and Alfonso Morales, University of Texas, El Paso—gave us many useful ideas. Brian Uzzi was kind enough to share his network diagram of the New York garment industry, and Wendy Westgate guided us smoothly through the production process. Finally, we are grateful to the skillful Lisa Amoroso and Jillaine Tyson for doing the graphs and to Landon Marshall for heroic amounts of photocopying.

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