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These book publications by scholars affiliated with CSES have made substantial contributions to the study of Economy & Society.

CSES Sponsored Books

Victor Nee and Sonja Opper

Capitalism from Below: Markets and Institutional Change in China

(Harvard University Press, Spring 2011)

More than 630 million Chinese have escaped poverty since the 1980s, reducing the fraction remaining from 82 to 10 percent of the population. This astonishing decline in poverty, the largest in history, coincided with the rapid growth of a private enterprise economy. Yet private enterprise in China emerged in spite of impediments set up by the Chinese government. How did private enterprise overcome these initial obstacles to become the engine of China’s economic miracle? Where did capitalism come from?

Studying over 700 manufacturing firms in the Yangzi region, Victor Nee and Sonja Opper argue that China’s private enterprise economy bubbled up from below. Through trial and error, entrepreneurs devised institutional innovations that enabled them to decouple from the established economic order to start up and grow small, private manufacturing firms. Barriers to entry motivated them to build their own networks of suppliers and distributors, and to develop competitive advantage in self-organized industrial clusters. Close-knit groups of like-minded people participated in the emergence of private enterprise by offering financing and establishing reliable business norms.

Edited by Rafael Wittek, Tom A.B. Snijders, and Victor Nee

The Handbook of Rational Choice Social Research

(Stanford University Press, Summer 2013)

The Handbook of Rational Choice Social Research offers the first comprehensive overview of how the rational choice paradigm can inform empirical research within the social sciences. This landmark collection highlights successful empirical applications across a broad array of disciplines, including sociology, political science, economics, history, and psychology. Taking on issues ranging from financial markets and terrorism to immigration, race relations, and emotions, and a huge variety of other phenomena, rational choice proves a useful tool for theory- driven social research. Each chapter uses a rational choice framework to elaborate on testable hypotheses and then apply this to empirical research, including experimental research, survey studies, ethnographies, and historical investigations. Useful to students and scholars across the social sciences, this handbook will reinvigorate discussions about the utility and versatility of the rational choice approach, its key assumptions, and tools.

James March

The Ambiguities of Experience

(Cornell University Press, 2010)

In The Ambiguities of Experience, James G. March asks a deceptively simple question: What is, or should be, the role of experience in creating intelligence, particularly in organizations? Folk wisdom both trumpets the significance of experience and warns of its inadequacies. On one hand, experience is described as the best teacher. On the other hand, experience is described as the teacher of fools, of those unable or unwilling to learn from accumulated knowledge or the teaching of experts. The disagreement between those folk aphorisms reflects profound questions about the human pursuit of intelligence through learning from experience that have long confronted philosophers and social scientists. This book considers the unexpected problems organizations (and the individuals in them) face when they rely on experience to adapt, improve, and survive.

David Strang

Learning by Example: Imitation and Innovation at a Global Bank

(Princeton University Press, 2010)

In business, as in other aspects of life, we learn and grow from the examples set by others. Imitation can lead to innovation. But in order to grow innovatively, how do businesses decide what firms to imitate? And how do they choose what practices to follow? Learning by Example takes an unprecedented look at the benchmarking initiative of a major financial institution. David Strang closely follows twenty-one teams of managers sent out to observe the practices of other companies in order to develop recommendations for change in their own organization.

Through extensive interviews, surveys, and archival materials, Strang reveals that benchmarking promotes a distinctive managerial regime with potential benefits and pitfalls. He explores the organizations treated as models of best practice, the networks that surround a bank and form its reference group, the ways managers craft calls for change, and the programs implemented in the wake of vicarious learning. Strang finds that imitation does not occur through mindless conformity. Instead, managers act creatively, combining what they see in external site visits with their bank’s strategic objectives, interpreted in light of their understanding of rational and progressive management.

Learning by Example opens the black box of interorganizational diffusion to show how managers interpret, advocate, and implement innovations

Victor Nee and Richard Swedberg

On Capitalism

(Stanford University Press, 2007)

Capitalism dominates economies all over the world and is a key force in the process of globalization. What makes it such a uniquely dynamic social and economic force, however, is open to debate. The essays in this book take up this issue, offering theories on both what encourages and what blocks capitalism.

In On Capitalism leading economists, sociologists, and political scientists develop ideas and insights into the dynamic of capitalism as a global economic order. Unlike studies that focus only on localized descriptions of what has made capitalism function in a specific place, these essays examine the general mechanisms that account for dynamic or rational capitalism. As each chapter shows, the mechanisms motivating and facilitating today’s global capitalism are not rooted in the materialist domain of incremental capital accumulation, but in the realm of ideas and institutional structures. Taken as a whole, these essays offer a rich account of the interconnectedness of the economic, political, and religious institutions of modern capitalism.

Richard Swedberg

New Developments in Economic Sociology

(Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing Ltd., 2005)

Economic sociology has gone through an explosive development, both in the United States and in Europe, in recent years. These new developments are well represented in this work. Forty-two articles, dating from 1989 to 2003, by key economic sociologists, such as P. Aspers, P. Bourdieu, B. Carruthers, F. Dobbin, N. Fligstein, M. Granovetter, K. Knorr Cetina, D. McKenzie, H. White, V. Zelizer, have been included as well as studies by members of a new and rising generation.

The topics that are covered include several classical ones, which modern economic sociologists have worked on for a long time, such as firms, markets, networks and the economics/sociology interface. During the last few years several studies have also appeared which deal with new areas, such as finance, law and economics, and entrepreneurship. The reader will finally also be able to follow recent advances in the understanding of the classics in economic sociology, including Weber, Schumpeter and Polanyi. The result is a colourful and unorthodox two volume collection which will be of interest to scholars and researchers alike.

Victor Nee and Richard Swedberg

The Economic Sociology of Capitalism

(Princeton University Press, 2005)

This book represents a major step forward in the use of economic sociology to illuminate the nature and workings of capitalism amid the far-reaching changes of the contemporary era of global capitalism. For the past twenty years economic sociologists have focused on mesa-level phenomena of networks, but they have done relatively little to analyze capitalism as an overall system or to show how such phenomena emerge from and shape the dynamics of capitalism. The Economic Sociology of Capitalism seeks to change this, by presenting both big-picture analyses of capitalism and more focused pieces on institutions crucial to capitalism.

The book, which includes sixteen chapters by leading scholars in economic sociology, is organized around three broad themes. The first section addresses core issues and problems in the new study of capitalism; the second considers a variety of topics concerning America, the leading capitalist economy of the world; and the third focuses attention on the question of convergence stemming from the global transformation of capitalism and the challenge of explaining institutional change.

Neil Smelser and Richard Swedberg

Handboook of Economic Sociology, 2nd edition

(Princeton University Press, 2005)

The Handbook of Economic Sociology, Second Edition is the most comprehensive and up-to-date treatment of economic sociology available. The first edition, copublished in 1994 by Princeton University Press and the Russell Sage Foundation as a synthesis of the burgeoning field of economic sociology, soon established itself as the definitive presentation of the field, and has been widely read, reviewed, and adopted. Since then, the field of economic sociology has continued to grow by leaps and bounds and to move into new theoretical and empirical territory.

The second edition, while being as all-embracing in its coverage as the first edition, represents a wholesale revamping. Neil Smelser and Richard Swedberg have kept the main overall framework intact, but nearly two-thirds of the chapters are new or have new authors. As in the first edition, they bring together leading sociologists as well as representatives of other social sciences. But the thirty chapters of this volume incorporate many substantial thematic changes and new lines of research–for example, more focus on international and global concerns, chapters on institutional analysis, the transition from socialist economies, organization and networks, and the economic sociology of the ancient world. The Handbook of Economic Sociology, Second Edition is the definitive resource on what continues to be one of the leading edges of sociology and one of its most important interdisciplinary adventures. It is a must read for all faculty, graduate students, and undergraduates doing work in the field.

Richard Alba and Victor Nee

Remaking the American Mainstream

(Harvard University Press, 2005)

In this age of multicultural democracy, the idea of assimilation—that the social distance separating immigrants and their children from the mainstream of American society closes over time—seems outdated and, in some forms, even offensive. But as Richard Alba and Victor Nee show in the first systematic treatment of assimilation since the mid-1960s, it continues to shape the immigrant experience, even though the geography of immigration has shifted from Europe to Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Institutional changes, from civil rights legislation to immigration law, have provided a more favorable environment for nonwhite immigrants and their children than in the past.

Assimilation is still driven, in claim, by the decisions of immigrants and the second generation to improve their social and material circumstances in America. But they also show that immigrants, historically and today, have profoundly changed our mainstream society and culture in the process of becoming Americans.

Surveying a variety of domains—language, socioeconomic attachments, residential patterns, and intermarriage—they demonstrate the continuing importance of assimilation in American life. And they predict that it will blur the boundaries among the major, racially defined populations, as nonwhites and Hispanics are increasingly incorporated into the mainstream.

Francis Fukuyama


(Cornell University Press, 2004)

Francis Fukuyama famously predicted “the end of history” with the ascendancy of liberal democracy and global capitalism. The topic of his latest book is, therefore, surprising: the building of new nation-states. The end of history was never an automatic procedure, Fukuyama argues, and the well-governed polity was always its necessary precondition. “Weak or failed states are the source of many of the world’s most serious problems,” he believes. He traces what we know—and more often don’t know–about how to transfer functioning public institutions to developing countries in ways that will leave something of permanent benefit to the citizens of the countries concerned. These are important lessons, especially as the United States wrestles with its responsibilities in Afghanistan, Iraq, and beyond. Fukuyama begins State-Building with an account of the broad importance of “stateness.” He rejects the notion that there can be a science of public administration, and discusses the causes of contemporary state weakness. He ends the book with a discussion of the consequences of weak states for international order, and the grounds on which the international community may legitimately intervene to prop them up.

Richard Swedberg

Principles of Economic Sociology

(Princeton University Press, 2003)

The last fifteen years have witnessed an explosion in the popularity, creativity, and productiveness of economic sociology, an approach that traces its roots back to Max Weber. This important new text offers a comprehensive and up-to-date overview of economic sociology. It also advances the field theoretically by highlighting, in one analysis, the crucial economic roles of both interests and social relations.

Richard Swedberg describes the field’s critical insights into economic life, giving particular attention to the effects of culture on economic phenomena and the ways that economic actions are embedded in social structures. He examines the full range of economic institutions and explicates the relationship of the economy to politics, law, culture, and gender. Swedberg notes that sociologists too often fail to properly emphasize the role that self-interested behavior plays in economic decisions, while economists frequently underestimate the importance of social relations. Thus, he argues that the next major task for economic sociology is to develop a theoretical and empirical understanding of how interests and social relations work in combination to affect economic action. Written by an author whose name is synonymous with economic sociology, this text constitutes a sorely needed advanced synthesis–and a blueprint for the future of this burgeoning field.

Mary C. Brinton and Victor Nee

The New Institutionalism in Sociology

(Stanford University Press, 1998)

Institutions play a pivotal role in structuring economic and social transactions, and understanding the foundations of social norms, networks, and beliefs within institutions is crucial to explaining much of what occurs in modern economies. This volume integrates two increasingly visible streams of research—economic sociology and new institutional economics—to better understand how ties among individuals and groups facilitate economic activity alongside and against the formal rules that regulate economic processes via government and law.


“Economic sociology is a science concerning itself with the interpretive understanding of social economic action and thereby with a causal explanation of its course and consequences.”— Max Weber