Who would have thought Virginia Postrel would have nice things to say about sociologists? But she does. Writing in Sunday's Boston Globe, she notes that "while economists continue to probe into social life" - al la Gary Becker, say, or Steve Levitt of Freakonomics fame - "a growing academic subfield known as economic sociology is doing just the opposite - bringing tools and concepts from sociology to bear on the economy":
''The economy is social. It's a set of social relations. The economy is as social as a family or religion," says Viviana A. Zelizer, a Princeton University sociologist who studies how cultural attitudes and consumption patterns influence each other.
...Real human beings, she argues, don't divide their rational and emotional, or personal and commercial, lives that way. So, contrary to both the simplified models of some economists and the anti-commercial zeal of many social critics, she and other economic sociologists argue that the marketplace and social relations aren't separate spheres. They're completely entangled.
Quite. As just about anyone who has studied the economics of labour markets, complex organisations, markets and institutions would likely acknowledge. Economic sociology is a well organised and quite lively area, though one can't help feeling there is less dialogue between this discipline and the burgeoning institutional economics crowd than there ought.
For recent examples of work check out some of the papers given at the Frontiers of Sociology conference in Stockholm, or at Centre for the Study of Economy and Society events. Also of interest is the Winter 2005 issue of the Journal of Economic Perspectives, which features five papers on the subject, including such luminaries as George Akerlof and Mark Granovetter. The introductory piece by Robert Gibbons at MIT, What Is Economic Sociology and Should Any Economists Care? (PDF), is well worth reading.