Informations and abstract
Economic sociology is no longer a novelty. Born in the late 19th century and reborn in the 1970s, it has produced a long run of exciting studies and promising leads. As the century turns, it is timely to look beyond our accumulation of important empirical studies and reassess what theoretical agenda a structural economic sociology might pursue, and where this agenda fits with the main concerns of sociology and economics. Though sociology should develop its own agenda and argument, rather than react to neoclassical economic analysis, concepts can be sharpened by clarifying where they stand in relation to those developed by economists. A unified theory should build on what both have accomplished. This article is divided into three parts: in the first, I point out that incentives alone are a fragile base on which to erect explanatory structures. Even this relatively micro-level point moves the initial analytic focus away from individuals, since the crucial explanatory complements to incentives - trust, power, norms and identity - are enacted in horizontal and vertical relations. Only by confining analysis to individuals can one easily sustain a narrow instrumentalist view. In the second part, I move to the second problem, identifying social spaces and institutions or institutional sectors within which people act, and sketching arguments about how such spaces arise, are coupled or decoupled, and how resources flow among them. This second point does not privilege structure over agency, as individuals who find themselves in situations determined by forces beyond their control, and often far beyond their lifespan, may nevertheless turn these situations to advantage and make a deep imprint on future actions and institutions. In the third part, I try to sketch how we might draw together these micro and macro strands how individual actions, conditioned by incentives, trust and cooperation, power and compliance, and norms and identities that affect these states and actions, are shaped by and themselves reshape larger institutional configurations.