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The Global Dispatch

Economic Sociology in Argentina

by Ariel Wilkis & Daniel Fridman

In Argentina, economic sociology became a recognized sub-discipline in the 1990s. While the economy has always been important in local sociology, earlier generations of sociologists largely subordinated their analyses of economic objects to broader topics like development, poverty, political participation, or democracy. Many of them worked within the strong Latin American Marxist tradition or were close to dependency theory –one of the original theoretical innovations produced in Latin America to understand the relationship between economic, social, and political systems.

The intellectual development of Argentine sociology in general was marked by the repression and consequent dispersion of intellectuals during the 1976 dictatorship, which led to a decimated generation of social scientists. Only since 1983 Argentine sociology was rebuilt by scholars who had remained in exile, underground, or under unfavorable conditions for intellectual production (Benzecry and Heredia 2017). After the return of democracy in 1983 and throughout the 1990s, most sociological research on economic issues focused on understanding the transformations of business elites and social structures as a consequence of the military dictatorship. These researchers were influenced by political economists at the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences (FLACSO) as well as by sociologists concerned with the links between business and the state, particularly during the consolidation of democracy and the pro-market reforms of the 1990s.

Since the 2000s, a “new economic sociology” grew with the expansion of local MA and PhD programs, more public funding available for the social sciences, and increased graduate training of PhDs abroad, especially in the U.S. and France (Blanco and Wilkis 2018). As a result of these changes, new institutional spaces, thematic agendas, publications, and international networks opened up for the development of economic sociology in Argentina.

There are currently two main lines of research and training. First, and continuing with the earlier tradition, the relations between business elites, economic policy-making, and the state and its consequences for development and democracy. This research focuses particularly on how business groups pursue advantages for capitalist accumulation based on the institutional and political conditions (and weaknesses) of the Argentine state. This line of research also focuses on analyzing the social and political profile of business elites. Second, a new generation of research topics demonstrates the influence of doctoral training abroad and its synthesis with local concerns. Among others, these topics are the performativity of economics, the social construction of specific markets, the social uses and meanings of money, the financial practices of low and middle income sectors, monetary and financial institutions, economic expertise, illegal markets, consumption, economic subjectivities, and valuation studies. The two lines of research reflect a new generation of sociologists concerned with detailed empirical work that is less reductionist that earlier sociological traditions in Argentina and that seeks to produce cumulative theoretical innovations (Benzecry and Heredia 2017).

These topics do not reflect a mere import of themes from the US or Europe but expresses specific Argentine concerns and intellectual styles. For example, disciplines and sub-disciplines are not as rigidly divided as they are in the U.S., so there is a constant thematic and conceptual dialogue between economic sociology, economic policy, political economy, economic anthropology and other fields (under the banner of “social studies of the economy”). There is also integration between conceptual innovations coming from American and European sociology and longstanding Argentine scholarly traditions. To give some examples, the sociology of money has developed in dialogue with traditional themes such as marginality and poverty; the analysis of financial institutions is entangled with the sociology of protest and collective action; and work on consumption and household credit has not been detached from local ethnographic research traditions in low-income neighborhoods. 

As a lot else in Argentina, much of this development has been unequal, with Buenos Aires benefitting from its central position. In the past two decades, new publicly funded universities and research centers were created in the capital city and its outskirts. One of the institutional poles of economic sociology is the IDAES institute at the National University of San Martin (UNSAM), which since the late 1990s offers a Master's degree in economic sociology and since 2006 holds the Centro de Estudios Sociales de Economía (CESE) which organizes an annual conference. Another university in the outskirts of Buenos Aires, the National University of General Sarmiento (UNGS) has also contributed to this development, through graduate and undergraduate training in economic sociology as well as individual and collective projects on consumption and inequality. Many of the researchers now working at these universities and research centers in Buenos Aires were originally trained at the University of Buenos Aires (UBA), the largest and oldest sociology program in the country. Several courses there include themes in economic sociology, particularly on historical and contemporary economic processes in Argentina.

Local academic journals also took note of these developments. In 2008, two special issues of the journals Apuntes de Investigación and Crítica en Desarrollo were devoted to economic sociology. These issues offered the first Spanish translations of influential authors like Viviana Zelizer, Florence Weber, and Michel Callon, adding to translations of important articles published in local journals and other Spanish speaking countries. In those years, The Social Meaning of Money and The Purchase of Intimacy by Viviana Zelizer (who was born in Argentina but whose work hadn’t been translated before) were published in Spanish and distributed throughout Latin America by Fondo de Cultura Económica.

An important feature of the new generation of economic sociologists is the level of collaboration and exchange with international networks. Many Argentines who got PhDs abroad returned to Argentina while others stayed (in the U.S., France, Germany) but remained in touch and doing work on Argentina (as a case in point, the authors of this piece are one based in Buenos Aires and one based in Austin, Texas). Sociologists in other Latin American countries like Chile and Brazil built similar networks that are more generational than national, so there is a growing “Latin American economic sociology” with its own identity but yet integrated with theoretical and empirical innovations outside the region. Thanks partly to the collective blog Estudios de la Economía, Latin American economic sociologists (as well as anthropologists, management scholars, science and technology scholars, and so on) are connected and constantly exchanging ideas, new work, and new readings as well as collaborating in research and conference organization (Nelms, 2014).

All in all, there are a few identifiable trends. Economic sociology in Argentina is in a moment of consolidation, marked by a renovation of research topics and a close scholarly exchange with other countries. The economy and economic policy continue to be central for sociologists in and of Argentina, even for those who do not use the label ‘economic sociology.’ The financial circumstances of Argentina make the economy a topic of constant discussion in the media and the public sphere. As a result of this and the aforementioned developments, economic sociology is also being increasingly recognized as a distinct contribution in these public discussions in the media.

Cited Works

Benzecry, Claudio E. and Mariana Heredia. 2017. “Sociology in Argentina.” Contemporary Sociology 46(1):10–17.

Blanco, Alejandro and Wilkis, Ariel. 2018. “The Internationalization of Sociology in Argentina, 1985-2015: Geographies and Trends.” In Johan Heilbron, Gustavo Sorá and Thibaud Boncourt (eds.) The Social and Human Sciences in a Global Perspective, London: Palgrave. (forthcoming)

Nelms, Taylor (2014), Estudios de la Economía: An Interview with José Ossandón. Accounts. ASA Economic Sociology Newsletter, 13(2): 13–16.


Economic Sociology in France

15 October 2017
by Isabelle Beulaygue, University of Miami & Frédéric Godart, INSEAD

As pointed out by Philippe Steiner in a 2007 review of economic sociology (“sociologie économique”) in France¹, what sets the country of Durkheim apart from other national traditions are 1) a strong and old interest in the topic 2) the participation of economists along with sociologists and sometimes historians in the field.

Between the two World Wars, economic sociology was a topic of great interest among prominent French sociologists (for example Maurice Halbwachs), but this interest weakened until the 1980s. It was then revived by a French peculiarity—the existence of “sciences économiques et sociales (SES)” (social and economic sciences) as one of the three major tracks in French high school along with the scientific and literary tracks. This created an institutional need for professors who could teach both sociology and economics to high school students. The keen interest in American “New Economic Sociology” (notably as spearheaded by Harrison White and Mark Granovetter) stems from this institutional presence of the discipline (or rather of two disciplines, sociology and economics, forced to cohabitate in educational curriculums).

Another aspect of French economic sociology is that it features and continues to produce a substantial body of research in French—the official language of research and education. There is thus a very active community in French economic sociology that is also tightly knit with other francophone countries. Since 2002, the Association Française de Sociologie (French Sociological Association) has one of its divisions dedicated to economic sociology (RT12)—“RT” stands for “réseau thématique,” or “thematic network.” It may seem strange that it took so much time for this division to be created, but many topics that are of interest to economic sociologists (for example labor) were covered by other “réseaux thématiques.”

French economic sociologists publish in a variety of well-known French outlets, such as l'Année sociologique (founded by Durkheim in 1898), the Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales (founded in 1975 by Pierre Bourdieu) or the Revue Française de Sociologie (founded in 1960 by Jean Stoetzel). But there is one journal that is dedicated to the activities of the perimeter of the réseau thématique: the Revue française de socio-économie (the French Socio-Economic Review) that was created in 2008. In addition, because of globalization and the global domination of the English language, many French sociologists also publish in English-language academic journals.

No review on the state of Economic Sociology in France would be complete without mentioning Pierre Bourdieu’s work. Bourdieu analyzed the interplay of class, socioeconomic position, and laid out the foundations of concepts cultural capital, social capital, and habitus. To this day, Bourdieu and his concept of social capital remain substantial influence in American Economic Sociology and has inspired theoreticians such as Putnam, Coleman, and Portes

Sociologists and economists who are interested in economic sociology in France are hosted by various institutions, from Universities to "Grandes Écoles" (i.e. the French élite higher education institutions) and business schools. The French national research body—the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS)—has a research group dedicated to economic sociology: the Groupement de Recherche (GDR) Economie & Sociologie (literally Economics and Sociology Research Group). Specifically, this GDR recognizes the influence of American economic sociology (citing Richard Swedberg—who is Swedish, but based in the US—and Mark Granovetter as its main influences). They highlight the need to have sociologists and economists work together and identify “neoliberal economics” as their intellectual opponent.

¹http://ses.ens-lyon.fr/articles/pourquoi-la-sociologie-economique-est-elle-si-developpee-en-france--25393 (accessed on 12 October 2017).

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