Theory and Society

, Volume 25, Issue 6, pp 803–840 | Cite as

What is sociological about economic sociology? Uncertainty and the embeddedness of economic action

  • Jens Beckert


This article argues that the problem of uncertainty represents the central limitation of efficiency-based approaches to the explanation and prediction of economic outcomes. The problem of uncertainty reintroduces the Hobbesian problem of order into economics and makes it possible to connect questions of economic decision-making with social theory. The emphasis lies not, as in the behavioral theories of the Carnegie School, in the influence of uncertainty on the actual decision process, but in those social “devices” that actors rely on in decision-making, i.e., that structure the situation for the agents. If agents cannot anticipate the benefits of an investment, optimizing decisions become impossible, and the question opens up how intentionally rational actors reach decisions under this condition of uncertainty. This provides a systematic starting point for economic sociology. Studies in economic sociology that argue from different theoretical perspectives point to the significance of uncertainty and goal ambiguity. This contribution reflects theoretically why economic sociology can develop a promising approach by building upon these insights. It becomes understandable why culture, power, institutions, social structures, and cognitive processes are important in modern market economies. But it should be equally emphasized that the maximizing paradigm in economics will not be dethroned without a causal theory of the relationship of intentional rationality and social rigidities.


Economic Action Market Economy Rational Actor Central Limitation Theoretical Perspective 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jens Beckert
    • 1
  1. 1.Free University BerlinBerlinGermany

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