SOC 121 Economy & Society

SOCI 121 Economy & Society

Juan Pablo Pardo-Guerra (
Readings, assignments, activities: Canvas
Online tutorials: Wednesdays and Fridays via Zoom

Quite some time ago, when Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg was just 8 years old and Rosanne was the most watched comedy in America, strategist James Carville coined a phrase that cemented Bill Clinton’s success in the 1992 presidential election: “It’s the economy, stupid”. At the time, the United States was coming out of a pronounced economic slump. Rather than blaming the ‘stupid economy’, Clinton’s campaign made it the centerpiece of their political project. As we all know, Clinton won the election and his presidency would see one of the largest economic expansions of recent history.

James Carville was almost right—but he was also very wrong. The economy certainly matters, but it needs something else to exist, to function, and to thrive: concrete social foundations that allow for institutions to grow, innovations to take place, and the rewards of markets to reach everyone equally. It’s not the economy, stupid. It is, and always will be, society.

Economy & Society introduces key approaches to the study of the social foundations of the economy. In this course, we will explore how economic institutions, processes and outcomes are shaped by class, gender, and race. This will involve reading about how contemporary societies construct and make sense of economic processes across a wide range of examples including inequality, labor, finance, credit, innovation, the education, and health.


Understand that the economy and economic processes are not independent from society. By the end of the term, students should be able to find original examples of social structures shaping and defining economic outcomes. 

Critical thinking. We will explore some of the main theories and approaches used by sociologists for studying the economy. By the end of the term, students should be able to use these concepts and explanations to critically analyze how their own economic lives are shaped by broader social structures. Readings, quizzes and assignments will help students become familiarized with these concepts.

Engaged thinking. We will study how economic inequality is produced in contemporary societies. By the end of the term, students should be able to recognize processes, discourses, and institutions that reproduce economic inequality in their lives and their communities. Assignments will support students in refining their analytical, engaged thinking skills.

Writing. Class assignments are designed to help students strengthen their writing skills.


The course does not assume prior knowledge of sociology, economics, or any other social-scientific discipline. Previous exposure to the social sciences, however, is always helpful. The course does assume that individual students will be avid readers, passionate about conducting research, asking questions, discussing topics, and writing analytical essays.

This course is entirely taught online. It requires students to do all the readings and assignments. This course will also involve small-group online discussions (discussion boards) and virtual meetings (tutorials), and I expect students to use these resources to ask questions, talk about the readings and assignments, and clarify concepts.


We will be using the +/- grading scale, to describe levels of performance between a maximum of A+ and a minimum of F. We will use the 100-point scale below.

Grade components

Your final grade is a combination of three components, which are detailed below:

  1. Final project (40%) A 2500 word final project, based on one of five possible prompts to be made public no earlier than week 7.

Late Assignments

Late assignments will be marked 50% off the earned grade.

Final exam

There is no final exam for this course.


N.B. Additional readings will be made available throughout the course.

Readings marked with 2 stars (**) are essential.

Week 1. Principles of economic sociology

**Guillen, Maruo F., Randall Collins, Paula England, and Marshall Meyer, eds. The new economic sociology: Developments in an emerging field. Russell Sage Foundation, 2002.

Short video introducing economic sociology
Short video on art markets, with a practical example
Short video on how markets are formatted and framed through devices

Week 2. Inequality

**Piketty and Saez, “Inequality in the long run”, Science 344(6186) (2014)

Thomas Volscho and Nathan Kelly, “The Rise of the Super: Rich Power Resources, Taxes, Financial Markets, and the Dynamics of the Top 1 Percent, 1949 to 2008”, American Sociological Review (2012)

**Donald Tomaskovic-Devey and Ken-Hou Lin “Income Dynamics, Economic Rents, and the Financialization of the U.S. Economy”, American Sociological Review  (2011)

Short video on inequality
Short video on philanthrocapitalism

Week 3. Economic Intersections: Class: The Economy as Reproduction

Introduction to week 3

Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction Routledge: London (fragments)

**Daniel Laurison and Sam Friedman, “The class gap in higher professional and managerial occupations” American Sociological Review

**Rachel Sherman; ‘A very expensive ordinary life’: consumption, symbolic boundaries and moral legitimacy among New York elites, Socio-Economic Review, 16(2)  (2018)

Short video on conspicuous consumption and leisure
Short video on social class in connection to inequality

Week 4 – Class, Failure, and Resilience

**Lauren Rivera, “Hiring as cultural matching” American Sociological Review

Neil Fligstein, Orestes Hastings and Adam Goldstein, “Keeping up with the Joneses: How Households Fared in the Era of High Income Inequality and the Housing Price Bubble, 1999–2007”, American Sociological Review (2017)

Amy Binder, Daniel Davis and Nick Bloom, “Career Funneling: How Elite Students Learn to Define and Desire ‘‘Prestigious’’ Jobs” Sociology of Education (2016)

Olivier Godechot, “Is finance responsible for the rise in wage inequality in France? Socio-Economic Review (2012)

Jerry Kim, Bruce Kogut, and Jae-Suk Yang “Executive compensation, fat cats, and best athletes” American Sociological Review (2015)

Short video on meritocracy and the role of ‘fit’ in hiring
Who has the capacity to fail? Failure as luxury

Week 5. Economic intersections: Gender

**Michael Bittman, Paula England, Liana Sayer, Nancy Folbre and George Matheson, “When does gender trump money? Bargaining and time in household work”, American Journal of Sociology (2003)

**Sarah Thébaud and Amanda J. Sharkey, “Unequal Hard Times: The Influence of the Great Recession on Gender Bias in Entrepreneurial Financing” Sociological Science

Week 6.  Gender: Economies of Care.

**Rachel Dwyer, “The Care Economy? Gender, Economic Restructuring, and Job Polarization in the U.S. Labor Market” American Sociological Review (2013)

Janette S. Dill, Kim Price-Glynn, Carter Rakovski, “Does the “Glass Escalator” Compensate for the Devaluation of Care Work Occupations? The Careers of Men in Low- and Middle-Skill Health Care Jobs”, Gender & Society (2016)

Week 7. Economic intersections: Race

**David Stark and SS Levine “Ethnic diversity deflates price bubbles” PNAS

Ashlyn Nelson, “Credit scores, race, and residential sorting” Journal of Policy Analysis and Management (2009)

**Brandon Jackson and John Reynolds, “The Price of Opportunity: Race, Student Loan Debt, and College Achievement” Sociological Inquiry (2013)

Liam Downey and Brian Hawkins “Race, income and environmental inequality in the United States” Sociological Perspectives (2008)

Week 8: Racial capitalism

Leong, Nancy. “Racial capitalism.” Harv. L. Rev. 126 (2012): 2151.

Hirschman, Daniel, and Laura Garbes. “Towards an economic sociology of race.” SocArXiv. February 26 (2019).

Ray, Victor. “A theory of racialized organizations.” American Sociological Review 84, no. 1 (2019): 26-53.

Week 9. Wall Street’s world

**Davis, Gerald F., and Suntae Kim. “Financialization of the Economy.” Annual Review of Sociology 41 (2015): 203-221.

Krippner, Greta R. “The financialization of the American economy.” Socio-economic review 3, no. 2 (2005): 173-208.

Van der Zwan, Natascha. “Making sense of financialization.” Socio-economic review 12, no. 1 (2014): 99-129.

Week 10. Designer markets

**Greta Krippner, “Democracy of credit” American Journal of Sociology (2017)

**Marion Fourcade and Kieran Healy, “Seeing like a market” Socio-Economic Review (2016)

Marion Fourcade and Kieran Healy, “Classification situations: Life-chances in the neoliberal era” Accounting, Organizations & Society (2013)