Theory and Society

, Volume 42, Issue 2, pp 121–159 | Cite as

From social control to financial economics: the linked ecologies of economics and business in twentieth century America

  • Marion FourcadeEmail author
  • Rakesh Khurana


This article draws on historical material to examine the co-evolution of economic science and business education over the course of the twentieth century, showing that fields evolve not only through internal struggles but also through struggles taking place in adjacent fields. More specifically, we argue that the scientific strategies of business schools played an essential—if largely invisible and poorly understood—role in major transformations in the organization and substantive direction of social-scientific knowledge, and specifically economic knowledge, in twentieth century America. We use the Wharton School as an illustration of the earliest trends and dilemmas (ca. 1900–1930), when business schools found themselves caught between their business connections and their striving for moral legitimacy in higher education. Next, we look at the creation of the Carnegie Tech Graduate School of Industrial Administration after World War II. This episode illustrates the increasingly successful claims of social scientists, backed by philanthropic foundations, on business education and the growing appeal of “scientific” approaches to decision-making and management. Finally, we argue that the rise of the Graduate School of Business at the University of Chicago from the 1960s onwards (and its closely related cousin at the University of Rochester) marks the decisive ascendancy of economics, and particularly financial economics, in business education over the other behavioral disciplines. We document the key role of these institutions in diffusing “Chicago-style” economic approaches—offering support for deregulatory policies and popularizing narrowly financial understandings of the firm—that sociologists have described as characteristic of the modern neo liberal regime.


Professions Disciplines Foundations Universities Institutionalism Management 



This article was originally prepared for the “Knowledge in Practice” conference organized by Charles Camic, Neil Gross, and Michèle Lamont for the Russell Sage Foundation in December 2008. Versions were also presented at the Center for the History of Political Economy at Duke University, the Ecole Normale Supérieure de Cachan, the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University, the Sloan School of Management at the Massachussetts Institute of Technology, the School of Education at Stanford University, the Warwick Business School, the Center for European Studies at Harvard University, the Geary Institute at University College (Dublin), Sociology departments at Princeton University and the Central European University, and the 2009 conferences of the American Sociological Association and the Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics. We gratefully acknowledge, without implicating, detailed comments on this article from Charles Camic, Craufurd Goodwin, Neil Gross, Heather Haveman, Michèle Lamont, Philip Mirowski, David Reinecke and the editors and reviewers of Theory and Society.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Sciences-Po, Max Planck Sciences Po Center on Coping with Instability in Market Societies (MaxPo)Paris Cédex 07France
  2. 2.University of CaliforniaBerkeleyUSA
  3. 3.Harvard Business SchoolBostonUSA

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