Economic inequality is often equated with income inequality. But income inequality is only one form of inequality, wealth inequality is another. Despite its critical importance to understanding economic inequality, wealth inequality has received less attention until recently. Now, because the distribution of wealth is so concentrated among the few, it is actively studied and constantly debated among legislators, scholars, and citizen groups. The heightened focus on wealth inequality has also generated many questions: What is the most accurate definition of wealth inequality? What methodologies and data best measure the concentration of wealth? What causes wealth inequality and what are its effects? Should governments tax the wealthiest? But, there is a deeper question that is fundamental to understanding wealth inequality and its perpetuation: Why do societies accept wealth inequality rather than avert its continuation? In this chapter, this essential question is addressed alongside related questions about wealth inequality.
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Sebastian Weingartner, Patrick Schenk and Jörg Rössel
When deciding to purchase a particular car, for instance, most consumers will consider the price and technical equipment of various alternatives. But apart from this, consumers might also reflect on their design and/or eco-compatibility. Put differently, consumption decisions are not only a function of economic or functional value, but also of aesthetic and ethical considerations. They are influenced by evaluations as to which products are beautiful and good, or ugly and bad. While sociology has paid increasing attention to the aesthetic and ethical underpinnings of consumption and lifestyles in recent decades, for the most part, research has either dealt with their formal-aesthetic or the ethical-moral aspects, without much cross-fertilization. In this chapter, we argue, in contrast, that lifestyles are structured by both aesthetic and ethical orientations. The impact and overlap of each of these two orientations, however, is likely to vary between different domains of consumption. Therefore, we theoretically analyze the connections between ethical and aesthetic orientations, consumption, and lifestyles. We locate the debate on aesthetics and ethics in the two classical sociological accounts of consumption, put forward by Max Weber and Pierre Bourdieu. Further, we discuss recent empirical findings on the aesthetic and ethical underpinnings of consumption and lifestyles. Finally, we provide a quantitative analysis of the relative importance of aesthetic and ethical orientations for a broad range of consumption behaviors, including cultural consumption, media consumption, food, sports, and housing. We find that the majority of these behaviors are collectively shaped by aesthetic and ethical orientations, although aesthetic orientations are the dominant structuring factor of consumption.
The angle of vision provided by an evolutionary perspective, much needed in economic sociology, poses three important theoretical problems. First how has entrepreneurship, especially that involved in creative construction, changed across time? The answer is towards much more complex arrangements. Second, how has the evolution of society resulted in the generation of faster rates of creative formation? The key idea is the better integration of diversity at the levels of the individual, the organization, and the region. And finally, what are the new forms of creative destruction in society. The loss of jobs, of medium routine, the breakup of the family, and the decline of whole rural areas, as well as rust-belt cities, has led to the loss of civil society (as measured by trust) and doubts about democracy.
Geoffrey M. Hodgson
Spanning several academic disciplines, the study of economic institutions is now prominent in the social sciences. But partly because of this multi-disciplinarity, there are disputes over the definitions and understanding of key terms, as well as the deployment of different methods. This chapter examines some of the most important terms, including institution and rule. It also considers possible explanations of rule-following and of the adequacy of the rational choice approach. Particular types of economic institutions, such as firms, markets, property, money and the state are also discussed. A penultimate section reviews work that has established the importance of institutions in economic development. A final section addresses the future of institutional research.
The chapter provides an introduction to A Modern Guide to Economic Sociology. The volume offers a modern guide to the basic ideas, principles and results of economic sociology and its elements and implications in economics. The volume includes contributions from both modern economic sociologists and sociologically-minded economists working in this and related fields. The introduction argues and demonstrates that the concepts, premises and stages of economic sociology correspond and converge with its elements or implications in economics. It proposes that the fundamentals of economic sociology are generally compatible with its variations in economics. It infers that there is a correspondence and compatibility between economic sociology and its elements in economics in a shared set of core concepts and principles and a common sequence of phases of development. This includes primarily the concept of a social economy, including institutional, political and cultural, constitution and determination, i.e., embeddedness, of economic actors and actions. It provides instances from the various stages of development of economic sociology and its elements in economics. It concludes that economic sociology primarily makes sociology and economics closely related and allied social sciences.
This chapter reconsiders the rise and fall of the concept of Homo Economicus in economics especially from the perspective of and in view of its implications for economic sociology. It first examines the rise and dominance of Homo Economicus in classical political economy and neoclassical economics. Then it analyzes the fall or decline and abandonment of Homo Economicus beginning in parts of neoclassical economics and continuing in much of contemporary economics. In addition, it suggests the reasons for the rise and especially fall of Homo Economicus in the development of economics. The chapter places the rise and fall of Homo Economicus in the context of rising and falling theories, concepts and ideas within economics, sociology and other social science. It intends to contribute toward better understanding the evolution of a crucial concept and assumption of conventional economics and its implications for economic sociology as well as, its apparent opposite the contemporary economic approach to human behavior and rational choice theory, including its version in sociology.
Linzi Berkowitz and Harland Prechel
The relationship between law, regulation and the economy has a longstanding history in sociology beginning with the classical theorists. Despite this, their interaction was largely left unstudied by economic sociologists until the late twentieth century. We find that a substantial amount of literature in this area of economic sociology falls within two thematic areas. Much of the literature gives priority to cultural analysis to understand organizational and institutional reactions to external regulation. Other literature focuses on regulation in the neoliberal era with many arguing that despite neoliberal ideology of deregulation, globalization requires more or different forms of regulation. Although some economic sociologists suggest that the “new economic sociology” incorporates politics, we find that insufficient attention is given to social actors, power hierarchies, and how transformation of political-legal arrangements in the neoliberal era benefit corporations and the wealthy.
Thomas J. Burns, Tom W. Boyd and Carrie M. Leslie
Building upon prior work in the social sciences and philosophy, and more specifically in cultural and economic sociology, we examine the embeddedness of economic processes within modern culture. Over the course of much of the most recent century, social observers have articulated modernization processes that would come to fruition across a wide array of cultural processes, including artistic expression and cultural norms. We identify five distinct aspects of the modernization process, the cultural and institutional modalities most closely associated with them, and the economic systems that they are most likely to support. We then identify social and environmental problems most closely associated with each, and address questions of how possible it would be for the advent of a sustainable value system, sufficiently overarching in scope to balance the weight of the dominance of a late modern economic system that can at the same time maintain a diverse global culture. What would such a value system involve? More generally, what social beliefs and practices undergird the peaceful practice of ecological, economic and cultural balance, and what institutional practices would be necessary for such a system to succeed? In developing a metatheoretical framework for addressing these issues, we articulate five ideal-typical hermeneutic circles, or networks of meaning, situated relative to the trajectory of modernity, and look at the larger social and institutional processes with which they interact.
Edited by Milan Zafirovski
Patrick Sachweh and Till Hilmar
This chapter argues that the ‘moral economy’ concept can contribute to our understanding of the relation between morality and economy in economic sociology. The benefits of the concept are twofold: First, it allows scholars to conceptualize the relationship between morality and economic action not only on the level of single markets, as is common in economic sociology, but also with regard to the larger institutional architecture of capitalist societies. Second, while many economic sociology studies tend to focus on the role of morality for the functioning of markets, the moral economy perspective allows for the consideration of the potentially conflictual relationship between morality and economy. We discuss exemplary studies from the moral economy perspective in four substantive areas - transitions to capitalism, welfare regimes and the moral economy of (re)distribution, commodification and taboo markets, and collective agency - in order to flesh out these ideas.