Economic sociology is the study of the social causes and social effects of various economic phenomena. This is distinguishable from the field of socioeconomics, which focuses on the social impact of very specific economic changes, such as the closing of a factory, market manipulation, or new policies that impact the economy of a very specific locale or population. The field of economic sociology can be broadly divided into a classical period and a contemporary period.
Sociology came of age in the late nineteenth century, at the same time as capitalism and modernity were taking root. The classical period was concerned particularly with modernity and its phenomenological progeny, such as rationalization, secularization, urbanization, and social stratification. Thus, many classical sociologists, from Émile Durkheim to Georg Simmel, include economic analyses in their texts. Max Weber's book The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism is the archetypical representation of the works of economic sociology's classical period . Published in 1905, Weber argues that capitalism flourished in northern Europe because of a preexisting religious ethic that encouraged dedication and hard work in the course of proving oneself worthy of salvation. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism is representative of classical economic sociology in that it uses sociological data on religion to explain the economic phenomenon of northern Europe's embrace of capitalism.
The Protestant Work Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism
This picture shows the cover to the 1934 edition of Max Weber's The Protestant Work Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.
Contemporary economic sociology emphasizes the social consequences of economic exchanges, the social meanings they involve, and the social interactions that they facilitate or obstruct. Influential figures in modern economic sociology include Fred L. Block, James S. Coleman, Mark Granovetter, Harrison White, Paul DiMaggio, Joel M. Podolny, Richard Swedberg, and Viviana Zelizer in the United States, as well as Luc Boltanski, Laurent Thévenot, or Jens Beckert in Europe, among many others. In some cases, contemporary economic sociology borrows mathematical tools and economic theories such as utility maximization and game theory. Some economic sociologists provide a social explanation to questions traditionally addressed by economists. However, other contemporary economic sociologists have forged different research programs based on new questions and new methods.