Economy & Society (2017)

SOC 121 Economy & Society

PETERSON 104, Tuesdays & Thursdays 3:30 – 4:50

Juan Pablo Pardo-Guerra

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 large economic slump. Rather than blaming the ‘stupid economy’, Clinton’s campaign made it the centerpiece of their political proposal. As we all know, Clinton won 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 thrive, to exist, to function: it needs 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 for understanding the social foundations of the economy. The course explores how central themes of contemporary societies relate to this peculiar, apparently all-pervasive thing called ‘the economy’. These include inequality, labor, finance, credit, innovation, the environment, education, and health.

Sociology is not known for being a predictive science, but in this course we will use recent and classical sociological insights to forecast our personal, familiar, and communal futures. As students of SOC 121, you will be asked to think what the sociological findings we’ll explore in class might mean for your own lives in 2037, 20 years from now. You will share your observations through group presentations, documentaries, and individual essays. Above all, these are opportunities to reflect on how to build a better, more inclusive economy by creating a better, more inclusive society.


The course does not assume prior knowledge of sociology, economics or any other social-scientific discipline (though this, of course, always helps). The course does assume certain individual preferences: you should like to conduct research, ask questions, discuss topics in public, learn how to use new techniques and devices, to read, and to write.

I expect students to turn up to all sessions having read the relevant materials and ready to discuss them. I also expect academic and personal honesty from all students, as is generally expected at UCSD (see for details).


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

  1. Final project (50%, individual)

The final project will require you to do some independent research about some economic issue within UCSD, San Diego, or Southern California. This can be done in conjunction with the production of your group documentary (i.e., you can use the same materials that you used for the documentary in your analysis). The topic of the project will be of your choice but it will have to answer one of five possible questions that will be made available in week 4. The project must be submitted by Wednesday 5:00 pm on Finals Week.

  1. Brief documentary + presentation (40%, group)

You will be asked to produce and present a very short (12 minute) video documentary in week 10. The documentary’s theme must be defined by week 4.

  1. Presentations (10%, group, highest grades out of 2)

Throughout the course, you will have to present with your group during class. This may involve some form of data collection (e.g. designing and applying surveys, collecting archival materials, dealing with interviews, or even forms of participant/ethnographic observation) or additional reading.


Week 0 – Introduction

Basic concepts

Week 1, Class 1 – What does it mean to study the economy from a sociological perspective?

Richard Swedberg. Principles of economic sociology. Princeton University Press. (2007)

Week 1, Class 2 – Intersecting the economy

Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction Routledge: London (fragments)

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)


Week 2, Class 1 – Income and wealth inequality

Lisa Keister, “The one per cent”, Annual Review of Sociology (2014)

Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez, “The evolution of top incomes: a historical and international perspective”, American Economic Review (2006)

Week 2, Class 2 – Sticky classes

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

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

Week 3, Class 1 – Common people

Rachel Sherman, Uneasy street: the anxieties of affluence

Thorstein Veblen, The theory of leisure class 

Week 3, Class 2 – Resilience, but only at the top

 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)

Jacob Rugh and Douglass Massey, “Racial Segregation and the American Foreclosure Crisis”, American Sociological Review (2010)


 Week 4, Class 1 – Striking gold

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)

Week 4, Class 2 – Who cares?

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 5, Class 1 – In finance we trust

Natascha van der Zwan, “Making sense of financialization” Socio-Economic Review (2014)

Inside Job (documentary)

Week5, Class 2 – Working finance

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) 


Week 6, Class 1 – Utopias of credit / dystopias of categorization 

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

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

Week 6, Class 2 – What a difference FICO makes

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

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


Week 7, Class 1 – Nature, economy and society

Steven Brechin, “Karl Polanyi’s environmental sociology: a primer” Environmental Sociology (2017)

Marion Fourcade, “Cents and sensibility: economic valuation and the nature of ‘nature'”, American Journal of Sociology (2011)

James Boyce, “Inequality as a cause of environmental degradation” Ecological Economics (1994)

Week 7, Class 2 – Nature is trying to kill (some of ) us 

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

Rebecca Elliott, “Who Pays for the Next Wave? The American Welfare State and Responsibility for Flood Risk, Politics & Society (2017) 


Week 8, Class 1 

William Sewell, Archibald Haller and Alejandro Portes, “The Educational and Early Occupational Attainment Process” American Sociological Review (1969)

Sigal Alon, “The evolution of class inequality in higher education” American Sociological Review (2009)

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

Week 8, Class 2 – Universities, LLC.

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

Charles Eaton et al “The financialization of US higher education”, Socio-Economic Review (2016)

Wendy Espeland and Michael Sauder, “Rankings and Reactivity: How Public Measures Recreate Social Worlds.” American Journal of Sociology (2007) 


Week 9, Class 1 – CBO Exercise

In this session, we will play with various scenarios of changes to medical coverage in the United States.

Week 9, Class 2 – Health and inequality

Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson, “Income inequality and health: A causal review” Social Science and Medicine (2014)

I. Kawachi and B. Kennedy, “Health and social cohesion: why care about income inequality?” BMJ (1997)

Documentary presentations

Week 10, Classes 1 and 2