Exchange, Action, and Social Structure: Elements of Economic Sociology

Exchange, Action, and Social Structure: Elements of Economic Sociology

Exchange, Action, and Social Structure: Elements of Economic Sociology

Exchange, Action, and Social Structure: Elements of Economic Sociology


This unique volume provides a new interpretation and synthesis of network exchange theory in an effort to contribute to a neo-Weberian economic sociology. Arguing against commonly held assumptions about network exchange theory and its interpretation of all social actions as economic exchanges, Zafirovski seeks to explain these processes by employing an interdisciplinary approach and by examining the impact of social and institutional structures on market-economic exchange. The author argues that economic structure, processes, and actions are the outcomes of social action and institutions, not the other way around.

This rehabilitation of economic sociology begins with a reconsideration of the character, scope, and development of the field. The author then grounds his sociological approach to economic exchange in social action and structure before examining the role of social motivations in economic exchange. He then examines the political structuration, the cultural constitution, and the social construction of economic exchange and exchange cycles. The book concludes with a discussion of the character and variation of economic exchange in comparative social systems and the relationships of exchange, economic development, and social variables. This unique and persuasive book is an important contribution to the study of economic sociology and sociological theory.


This work focuses on the effects of social action and social structure on economic exchange. It is a theoretical-empirical analysis of exchange processes, which situates and constitutes them within their social (including institutional, political, and cultural) framework. As such, it represents a contribution to a neo-Weberian economic sociology as an exploration into what Max Weber called the sociological categories of economic action in light of the presence and salience of social influences in the economy. The work particularly contributes to building a neo-Weberian sociology of the market, combining Weber's classical insights with recent theoretical developments and empirical findings in the new economic sociology.

Thereby, the present work performs an essential revision and inversion (“creative destruction”) of current social exchange theory in sociology, and secondarily of pure exchange theory in economics. Modern exchange theory in sociology tends to conceptualize social action as (an extension of) economic exchange by reducing all social relations and processes to marketstyle transactions. In contrast, a neo-Weberian approach conceptualizes market-economic exchange as a particular form of social action. The same can be said of other concrete forms of economic behavior, since these too are types of social action. Rather than reducing social relations to exchange transactions, a neo-Weberian approach identifies and analyzes the social factors of these transactions. The social constitution and construction of exchange transactions constitutes the realm of the sociology of the market (Weber 1968:81).

The neo-Weberian approach originates from the framework of a theoretical-empirical economic sociology, the subject matter of which is the social constitution of economic action generally and of exchange particu-

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