Patrik Aspers on the New Economic Sociology

Patrik Aspers has taken the time to speak with us in advance of his featured talk at the Bringing The New Economic Sociology Back Into the Sociological Analysis Workshop in Warsaw next May.

SASE: What is new about the New Economic Sociology?

Patrik Aspers: Perhaps the most important issue is that, by now, New Economic Sociology, is no longer really “new”. When I say this I mean something positive. The field, called New Economic Sociology, is established, not only in the US, but also in many European countries like France and Germany. I see the fields as fairly strong, and ideally much of our effort and energy, which in the past was used to form the field in a partly inward looking way, could be directed at analyzing the global economy, with all its facets. There is certainly no shortage of topics! I see some tendencies of researchers addressing central institutions like money, banks, markets, and capitalism, with the ambition of putting whatever studied in a broader context. Ideally this work draws on single papers and studies, to say something more general that makes sense of the “whole”, if you see what I mean.


SASE: What are some of the differences that you see between the field in America and the field in Europe?

PA: The most striking thing is that academics are very similar; though we, as in your question, tend to focus on differences! Regarding structural differences, I would like to mention that in the US in particular, and to some extent in the UK, it seems harder to build research groups. In many European countries larger research groups are “normal science”. Though US economic sociology is well organized, due to the ASA and the many ties that the system requires and creates between researchers, much research is still the accomplishment of individual researchers.  The funding in Europe, for example the ERC grants, makes it possible to create good and attractive economic sociology milieus. What I do not see is organized collaboration of research centers on Economic sociology in Europe. To rectify this situation, I have recently taken the initiative to start linking research centers with one another. More steps can and should be made to draw on the existing resources in Europe.


SASE: In Etienne Ollion and Andrew Abbott’s article in a recent issue of The European Journal of Sociology, the authors write that many scholars (citing Gingras 2014) see little connection between intellectual vitality and foreign dissemination.  Do you agree?

PA: If science was a standard of truth, nothing but inherent wisdom in texts would matter for dissemination. Any sociologist knows better. Status matters. But the main point here is not to think in terms of either or; one should, I propose, look at several dimensions at the same time. Let me give a an example of a scholar who does this when analyzing artistic careers, trajectories that are not very different from those of our own academic trade of biased distribution of citations, namely Pierre Michel Menger. In his book The Economics of Creativity (2009 in French, 2014 in English) he addresses uncertainty about artistic career outcomes. Menger argues, in brief, that we should look at the artist (read academic), the work, the ties of the artist and the way the onlookers receive it. So even if there is a connection between “intellectual vitality and foreign dissemination” there is much more to it.


Editor’s note: while there is much to think about here, you would be well served to read a longer interview with Patrik in the Journal of Economic Sociology as well as Jan Sparsam’s article “Understanding the ‘Economic’ in New Economic Sociology” in the latest issue of economic sociology_the european electronic newsletter.

For more on the workshop on Bringing The New Economic Sociology Back Into the Sociological Analysis, see the call for papers here.