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Richard Swedberg

PhD 1978, Boston College
Curriculum Vitae

Areas of Interest: Economic Sociology, Theorizing in Social Science, Classical Sociological Theories

(607) 255-4325
Personal Site

3284 Uris Hall
Cornell University
Ithaca, NY 14853-7601


My education is in law as well as in sociology; and my two main areas of research are economic sociology and social theory. From early on I have been fascinated by social theory; and today I especially work on theorizing — what theorizing is and how it can be taught to students through practical exercises. My main work on this topic is The Art of Social Theory (2014). I am also interested in social mechanisms, as evidenced by a co-edited volume (together with Peter Hedström), Social Mechanisms (1987). I have also written on many of the classics, including Weber, Simmel and Tocqueville.

In the early 1980s I became interested in economic sociology, and I have had the pleasure to see this field grow from next to nothing into one of the major subfields in sociology. One goal in my work in economic sociology has been to get the field accepted and set it on a firm theoretical footing. I have tried to accomplish this in various ways — by organizing conferences in economic sociology, putting together anthologies on this topic, a reader, a handbook, and so on. Along the road I have also made specific studies, one e.g. of Schumpeter and another of Weber.

The study of Schumpeter is formally a biography, but addresses in reality the issue of the relationship of economic theory to economic sociology. The study of Weber attempts to lay a theoretical foundation for economic sociology by suggesting that economic sociology should not only look at social relations (as sociologists tend to do), but also at interests (as economists tend to do). I also emphasize the role that meaning or culture plays in economic sociology, and that Weber tried to develop what we may call an interpretive economic sociology.

I have also worked on some other topics in economic sociology, such as capitalism (with Victor Nee), the role of hope in the economy (with Hiro Miyazaki), and the role of materiality in economic sociology (with Trevor Pinch). As of today I mainly work on the financial crisis, in the United States as well as in Europe.

Besides social theory and economic sociology, I have also written on some other topics — such as the role of civic courage; (with Wendelin Reich) George Simmel’s metaphors; Rodin’s statue The Burghers of Calais; and (with Trevor Pinch), Wittgenstein’s visit to Ithaca in 1949. All of these articles can be found on my webpage.

Recent Courses

SOC 3750
SOC 3950
SOC 5010
SOC 6550

Classical Theory
Advanced Economic Sociology
Basic Problems in Sociology I
How to Theorize in Social Science

Books and Articles