Theory and Society

, Volume 41, Issue 1, pp 107–118 | Cite as

Uncertainty, the problem of order, and markets: a critique of Beckert, Theory and Society, May 2009

Article

Abstract

Jens Beckert’s 2009 article on the constitution and dynamics of markets is a bold attempt to define a novel research agenda. Deeming uncertainty and coordination essential for the constitution of social action in markets, Beckert proposes a framework centered on the resolution of three coordination problems: valuation, cooperation, and competition. The empirical study of these three coordination problems has the potential to contribute considerably to the sociological analysis of markets. However, the assertion that such a theoretical vantage point can explain the constitution and dynamics of markets is not compelling because it (1) conflates social interaction with social structures, (2) fails to address power relations, institutions, and macro-level structures, and (3) neglects the historically contingent and socially contested nature of markets themselves. The present article shows that these three pitfalls are the result of starting from the problem of order and building upon uncertainty as the basis of action in markets, lending the suggested framework a methodologically individualist bent. Therefore, Beckert’s suggested framework is in danger of mystifying the very power relations, institutions, and macro-level structures that are at the heart of the constitution and dynamics of markets.

Keywords

Power Institutions Social structures Emergence Market dynamics 

Notes

Acknowledgments

The author would like to thank Rene Almeling, Fred Block, Rogers Brubaker, Jonathan M. Isler, Rob Jansen, Gabrielle Raley, Bill Roy, and the Theory and Society Editors for helpful comments on earlier drafts of this article.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyNational University of SingaporeSingaporeSingapore

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