Academic journal article The American Journal of Economics and Sociology

Max Weber and the Idea of Economic Sociology

Academic journal article The American Journal of Economics and Sociology

Max Weber and the Idea of Economic Sociology

Article excerpt

Richard Swedberg, Princeton University Press, 1998. ISBN 0 691 02949 0. Index.

This is a superb monograph that ranges the entire body of Weber's scholarly writings. Swedberg paints a satisfying picture of what else was going on in the German-speaking world when Weber was actively exploring new insights about the origins of capitalism. Each part of Weber's work was written with an image of a larger and more complete set of questions in mind. Swedberg takes us back in time so we can appreciate Weber's broader visions and interests. Weber's arguments are not just summarized (in good text-book fashion) but, rather, their significance and broader web of implications is deftly laid out for further investigation. With care and expert precision, the nature and significance of the Weber arguments are made clear and accessible. The text contains many important notes in which the secondary literature is discussed so that the interested reader is directed to complementary discussions of these same issues.

Unlike many recent attempts to provide a viable platform for an economic sociology, Weber tried to unite "interest driven behavior and social behavior" (p. 4). Swedberg's book chronicles that effort. For Weber, individual behavior was social insofar as "its subjective meaning [took] account of the behavior of others" (p. 5). Weber's search at the end of the 19th century for a replacement term for "political economy" - an effort that occupied the attention of many other economists of the day - took him to the door of "social economics." Swedberg offers a most complete account of the emergence of terms like "Sozialoekonomik" and "Wirtschaftssoziologie" and compared and contrasted their respective meanings with the current "network theory" approach.

Network theorists such as Professor Mark Granovetter emphasize how economic relationships are embedded within a wider framework of social meanings and social relationships that economists wilfully ignore (pp. 165-170). Network theorists offer their approach as an alternative to the interest-driven behavior studied by economics. Swedberg's considered conclusion - the same as Max Weber's - is worth repeating: "[the] idea that one must unite an interest-driven analysis with a social one is as important today as it was at the beginning of the twentieth century" (p. …

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