In This Review

The Handbook of Economic Sociology
The Handbook of Economic Sociology
Edited by Neil J. Smelser and Richard Swedberg
Princeton University Press, 1994, 804 pp.

Contemporary neoclassical economics has risen as an imposing structure amid the rubble of the other social sciences, with its practitioners sallying forth to conquer new provinces from family life (Gary Becker) to politics (James Buchanan and the rational choice school). A spirited counterattack has been mounted in recent years by sociologists and occasional economists who, in the tradition of Max Weber, have noted that economic exchange is embedded in larger social structures -- the family, culture, religion, ethnic community, networks, and the like -- and cannot be explained apart from them. While this critique of neoclassical economics has not been as visible as that of, say, the Japan revisionists, it is more serious and sustained. This excellent volume is a compilation of some of the best writing in this field over the past decade, including basic works like Oliver Williamson's transaction cost theory of the firm, and a helpful comparison of economic sociology to mainstream economics by the book's editors. Major sections cover the sociology of economic institutions, from markets and firms through the informal economy and business networks, with individual chapters on topics like economics and gender, environment, religion, and ethnicity.