Economy & Society

SOC 121 Economy & Society

Mon/Wed/Fri 10:00-10:50am Pepper Canyon Hall 121

Juan Pablo Pardo-Guerra

What can sociology say about the economy? And how does this matter to everyday life? Throughout the 10 weeks of Economy & Society we will explore these questions by examining three substantive themes concerning how the economy is made, imagined, and reproduced. In particular, we will explore how inequalities, markets, and organizations create the thing we collectively understand as “the economy”. Our discussions will be driven by sociological theory, as much as by first-hand engagement with original empirical materials that you will collect and analyze throughout the course.

SOC 121 also has a clear public orientation. The economy is a central aspect of contemporary societies, so critical and highly intelligent discussions about its past, present and future are part of the work of any budding sociologists—or, indeed, any concerned citizen. As a student, you will learn about some of the central concepts that help us to understand how the economy works; you will also be taught some practical ways of measuring, intervening, and challenging the organization of economic action; but more importantly, you will have to communicate why the economy matters to a wider audience by producing a theoretically-informed, empirically-original video documentary. Imagine this as an opportunity to change someone’s worldview through the precision of sociological concepts and the emotional power of narrative. This course is about learning by doing, to then communicate what you know.


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 (6 minute) video documentary in week 10. The documentary’s theme must be defined by week 3.

  1. Data collection exercises (10%, group, 2 highest grades out of 3)

Throughout the course, you will have to collect and process data within your group that is relevant for your documentary. This may involve designing and applying surveys, collecting archival materials, dealing with interviews, or even forms of participant/ethnographic observation.


Session 1. What is social about the economy? (09/26)

Swedberg, R. (2007). Principles of economic sociology. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press. (Chapter 1)

Session 2. The economy as a historical artifact (09/28)

Polanyi, M (1944) The Great Transformation Boston: Beacon Books (fragments)

Session 3. The economy as an invention (09/30)

Callon, M. (1998). The laws of the markets. Oxford ; Malden, MA, Blackwell Publishers. (Introduction)

Unit 1 – Inequality

Week 2. Working for inequality

Session 1. Why does inequality matter? (10/03)

Jencks, C. (2002) “Does Inequality Matter?” Daedalus 131(1).

Session 2. Labor, bought and sold (10/05)

Steinfeld, R. (1991) The Invention of Free Labor: The Employment Relation in English and American Law and Culture 1350-1870, UNC Press. (Introduction)

Session 3. The value of work (10/07)

Marx, K. (2006). Capital, Penguin (Fragments)

Week 3. Class, tastes, and inequality

(Data collection exercise due 10/12)

Session 1. Tasteful reproduction (10/10)

Becker, G and Stigler, J (1977) “De Gustibus Non Est Disputandum” American Economic Review 67(2)

Bourdieu, P (2010) Distinction London: Routledge (p. 93-164)

Rivera, L. (2012) “Hiring as Cultural Matching: The Case of Elite Professional Service Firms” American Sociological Review, 77(6)

Session 2. Class is sticky (10/12)

Bourdieu, P (2010) Distinction London: Routledge (p. 468-486)

Laurison, D. and Friedman, S. (In press) “The Class Pay Gap in Higher Professional and Managerial Occupations”, American Sociological Review,

Session 3. The genders and races of inequality (10/14)

Dwyer, R “The Care Economy? Gender, Economic Restructuring, and Job Polarization in the U.S. Labor Market” American Sociological Review 2013, 78(3).

Ridgeway, C. (1997), “Interaction and the Conservation of Gender Inequality: Considering Employment”, American Sociological Review, 62(2).

Week 4. Making inequality

Session 1. Mechanized difference (10/17)

Bessen, J. (2016) “Computers Don’t Kill Jobs but Do Increase Inequality”, Harvard Business Review, Available at:

Braverman, H (1955) “Automation: Promise and Menace”, Available at:

Kristal, T. (2013) “The Capitalist Machine: Computerization, Workers’ Power, and the Decline in Labor’s Share within U.S. Industries”, American Sociological Review, 78(3).

MacKenzie, D and Wajcman, J (2003) The Social Shaping of Technology Open University Press. (Chapters 3, 4 & 14)

Session 2. The motors of Wall Street (10/19)

Krippner, G. (2005) “The financialization of the American economy”, Socio-Economic Review, 3(2).

Volscho, T and Kelly, N. (2012) “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, 77(5)

Tomaskovic-Devey, D and Lin, K (2011), “Income Dynamics, Economic Rents, and the Financialization of the U.S. Economy”, American Sociological Review, 76(4)

Session 3 [Practical]. What is a documentary? (10/21)

Unit 2 – Markets

Week 5. Making markets

(Data collection exercise due week 10/24)

Session 1. Markets as moral orders, economies as ethical struggles (10/24)

Fourcade, M. and Healy, K. (2007), “Moral Views of Market Society”, Annual Review of Sociology, 33

Weber, M The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism London: Routledge

Somers, M and Block, F (2005) “From Poverty to Perversity: Ideas, Markets, and Institutions over 200 Years of Welfare Debate” American Sociological Review 70(2)

Session 2. Markets, till death do us part (10/26)

Zelizer, V (1978) “Human Values and the Market: The Case of Life Insurance and Death in 19th-Century America” American Journal of Sociology 84(3)

Quinn, S. (2008) “The Transformation of Morals in Markets: Death, Benefits, and the Exchange of Life Insurance Policies” American Journal of Sociology, 114(3).

Session 3: Think marketplaces, not markets (10/28)

Carruthers, B. and Wendy Nelson Espeland, W. (1991) “Accounting for Rationality: Double-Entry Bookkeeping and the Rhetoric of Economic Rationality” American Journal of Sociology 97(1): 31-69

MacKenzie, D. A. (2006). An engine, not a camera : how financial models shape markets. Cambridge, Mass., MIT Press. (Introduction)

Week 6. Embedded markets, organized competition

Session 1: The embeddedness of economic action (10/31)

Granovetter, M. (1985). “Economic Action and Social Structure: The Problem of Embeddedness.” The American Journal of Sociology 91(3): 481-510.

Session 2: Tied to the network (11/02)

Podolny, J and Baron, J (1997) “Resources and relationships: social networks and mobility in the workplace” American Sociological Review 62(5)

Baker, W (1990) “Market networks and corporate behavior” American Journal of Sociology 96(3)

Session 3: Competition as anticipated action (11/04)

Fligstein, N. (2001). The architecture of markets : an economic sociology of twenty-first century capitalist societies. Princeton, N.J., Princeton University Press.

Powell, W and DiMaggio, “The Iron Cage Revisited: Institutional Isomorphism and Collective Rationality in Organizational Fields” American Sociological Review 48(2)

Week 7. Some (sociological) methods for studying the economy

(Data collection exercise due 11/07)

Session 1 [Methods]: Doing history (11/07)

Abbott, A (1991) “History and Sociology: the Lost Synthesis” Social Science History 15(2)

Calhoun, C (2003) “Why Historical Sociology?” in Delanty, G and Engin Isin Handbook of Historical Sociology. London: Sage

Session 2 [Methods]: Measuring capital and tracing networks (11/09)

Session 3: Veterans Day (11/11)

Lin, N (1999) “Building a Network Theory of Social Capital” Connections 22(1)

Unit 3 – Organizations

Week 8. Organizations in the economy

Session 1: The organization as myth and emulation 11/14)

Meyer, J, and Rowan, B. (1977). “Institutionalized Organizations: Formal Structure as Myth and Ceremony.” American Journal of Sociology 83

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

Session 2: Organizations, commensuration, and sense-making (11/16)

Meyer, Marshall W. and Vipin Gupta. 1994. “The Performance Paradox.” Research in Organizational Behavior 16.

Espeland, W and Sauder, M (2007). “Rankings and Reactivity: How Public Measures Recreate Social Worlds.” American Journal of Sociology 113(1).

Session 3: Organizations as expectations and culture (11/18)

Barley, S. R. (1986). “Technology as an occasion for structuring: Evidence from observations of CT scanners and the social order of radiology departments” Administrative Science Quarterly 31(1)

Week 9. Rehearsal

Session 1: From theory to argument to storyline (11/21)

Session 2: Open discussion on how to structure your video documentary (11/23)

Session 3: Thanksgiving Holiday (11/25)

Week 10. The future of the economy

Session 1: Student presentations (11/28)

Session 2: Student presentations (11/30)

Session 3: Wrap up (12/02)

Week 11. Final project due 12/07 at 5:00 pm, by email.