sociology destroyed the notion of a market

Jens Beckert and Pierre Francois write:

“Markets are the core institutions of capitalist economies.”

The assertion strikes me as theoretically outdated, and surprising coming from scholars who have been strong participants in making it theoretically outdated. I am referencing sociology’s many-sided attack, since Granovetter’s paper on “embeddedness” in 1985, on the “economistic” notion of a market. As the authors write, markets have been the “most important subject field in economic sociology during the last twenty years.” I don’t disagree with this. But what has been the result of this attention?

Was the result that sociology further legitimized the notion of the market? Or was the result that sociology undermined it and showed that new methods and theoretical understandings are necessary? It was decidedly the latter. Sociologists should give themselves more credit. They (and, of course, events) have so comprehensively mangled the definition of market that the word maintains little value. Sociology should stop pretending otherwise.

Indeed, I find it hard to reconcile this notion that sociologists think of markets as the “core institutions” of capitalism, with the sentence that follows:

“From the sociological perspective, markets are not just an economic mechanism for the allocation of goods but are social institutions inseparably interwoven with the political, social, and cultural environments in which they operate.”

This is more like it. Sociologists in fact spent ample time studying markets over the years, with the result being they have convincingly shown that markets aren’t the core institution of capitalism. Sociologists have shown that, when the traditional qualities of markets do occur, they are derivative of more essential facets in the environment. If markets are “inseperably interwoven with the political, social, and cultural” — and, again, I think sociologists have persuasively shown they are — then markets cease to be as central to capitalism as once thought. Despite their initial assertion, to actually study markets the way Beckert and Francois are asking us to do, requires not studying “the Market,” but the context surrounding the market.

I guess one could say that my concern here is merely semantic, that sociologists study the market, they just do it differently. Fine, I accept that. But the following is still the case: the essential qualities of “capitalist markets” thought to be definitive prior to sociology’s intervention are profoundly not the essential qualities sociologists see structuring economic actors today.

The continued maintenance of the word “market” distorts the revolutionary empirical understandings of economic exchange that sociologists and sociological thinkers have intensely brought forth since 1985 and, really, for more than a century.

When you have shown that markets aren’t “economic mechanisms for the allocation of goods,” you have shown that the notion of a market is derivative and precisely not “core.”

Sociologists are too humble.

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This entry was posted in advanced capitalism, macro-economics, qualitative sociology of economics and politics, sociology, sociology of business, theoretical drivel. Bookmark the permalink.

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