Jens Beckert's research while affiliated with Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies and other places

Publications (129)

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This chapter examines the role of imagination in enabling economic actors to make sense of the world and decide how to act and the part played by metaphorical thinking and analytical imagination within the discipline of economics. It starts from the assumption that modern capitalism is a quintessentially creative and imaginative system, characteriz...
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Research indicates that positions of very high private wealth can often be maintained by families over many generations. This article puts front and center the institutions, mechanisms and practices through which families at the very top of the wealth distribution protect and enlarge their wealth. Opportunity hoarding is based on legal institutions...
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The default assumption of standard economics is to treat preferences as exogenously ‘given’, consistent with one another, ‘revealed’ by past choices, and context independent. There has been increased interest recently (within behavioural economics) in the impact of inconsistent or irrational preferences and (more broadly) in dynamic and endogenous...
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What do organizations do, and why? An important but only selectively scrutinized aspect of the doings of organizations consists in their creation of imaginaries of economic futures. Under conditions of uncertainty, it is through ‘imagined futures’ that organizations motivate and find the rationale for their decisions, coordinate activities, manage...
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Kapitalistische Dynamik wird auch von Vorstellungen zukünftiger Zustände der Welt vorangetrieben (Beckert 2018). In diesem Kapitel trage ich unter Zugrundelegung der pragmatistischen Handlungstheorie zum Verständnis des Einflusses des historischen Kontextes auf jeweilige Zukunftsnarrative bei. Dabei geht es mir nicht vornehmlich um die Frage, wie E...
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A small but growing share of sociological research recognizes the importance of perceptions of the future for explaining social outcomes. This article, taking a sociology of knowledge perspective, provides a systematic study of sociological scholarship dealing empirically with perceptions of the future. It is based on a qualitatively driven mixed m...
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In a capitalist system, consumers, investors, and corporations orient their activities toward a future that contains opportunities and risks. How do actors assess the future if this future is open and uncertain? This chapter demonstrates how fictional expectations drive modern economies. Collectively held images of how the future will unfold are cr...
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Dynamic capitalist economies are characterised by relentless innovation and novelty and hence exhibit an indeterminacy that cannot be reduced to measurable risk. How then do economic actors form expectations and decide how to act despite this uncertainty? This pa­per focuses on the role played by imaginaries, narratives, and calculative technologie...
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This article explores price formation in markets where quality cannot be based on intrinsic characteristics of the good exchanged. In such markets, quality uncertainty is not an information problem as described by Akerlof in the market for lemons model. Instead, defining quality is a problem of contingent assessments that are arrived at intersubjec...
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The distinction between input-oriented legitimacy and output-oriented legitimacy (Scharpf, Fritz W, 1997. Economic Integration, Democracy and the Welfare State. Journal of European Public Policy, 4, 18–36) has been one of the most influential distinctions in political science. In this article I introduce a third arrangement supporting the legitimac...
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This study examines the social contexts of gambling and analyzes social motivations for playing the lottery. We test three sociological approaches simultaneously: network effects, consumption theory, and strain theory. The data used (SOEP-IS, N = 5868 individuals) has several advantages beyond being a large-scale representative sample of the German...
Book
Uncertain Futures considers how economic actors visualize the future and decide how to act in conditions of radical uncertainty. It starts from the premise that since dynamic capitalist economies are characterized by relentless innovation and novelty, they exhibit an indeterminacy that cannot be reduced to measurable risk. The organizing question t...
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Expectations play a crucial role in capitalist economies. Where do the expectations on which actors base their decisions come from? The paper approaches this question by discussing seven social factors that shape expectations: Institutions, social position, social networks, calculative tools, cultural structures, reflexivity, and protention. Follow...
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Trotz des erheblichen Einflusses der Vermögensvererbung auf die generationsübergreifende Fortschreibung sozialer Ungleichheit spricht sich sowohl in Deutschland als auch in Österreich eine Mehrheit der Bevölkerung gegen die Erbschaftssteuer aus. In diesem Beitrag untersuchen wir, wie Gegner und Befürworter der Steuer ihre jeweilige Position begründ...
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Digital Economy - Dave Elder-Vass, Profit and Gift in the Digital Economy (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2016) - Volume 58 Issue 3 - Jens Beckert
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Este artigo procura contribuir com a explicação sobre o incansável dinamismo do capitalismo que temos observado desde a Revolução Industrial. Ao tomar decisões, atores criam expectativas sobre seus resultados. Como o futuro é aberto, atores têm de confrontar a incerteza sobre o resultado de suas ações. Quais são as expectativas possíveis em condiçõ...
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The richest 1 percent in the United States is a largely unexplored group, despite its ever-increasing share of the national wealth. The Forbes roster of the richest Americans has often been used to demonstrate the fading of nineteenth-century hereditary fortunes. Based on full panel data from the annual American Forbes 400 ranking (1982–2013), this...
Chapter
Für das physische Überleben der Menschen müssen in allen Gesellschaften Güter erstellt und Leistungen erbracht werden. Sobald die Herstellung von Gütern arbeitsteilig erfolgt, bedarf es Mechanismen der Verteilung der Güter zwischen den Gesellschaftsmitgliedern.
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This article seeks to contribute to the explanation of the restless dynamism of capitalism that we have observed since the Industrial Revolution. When making decisions actors form expectations about outcomes. Since the future is open, actors are confronted with the uncertainty of the outcomes of their decisions. What can expectations be under condi...
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Der Kommentar diskutiert den Artikel „Zum Umgang mit Zukunft in Organisationen – eine praxistheoretische Perspektive“ von Koch, Krämer, Reckwitz und Wenzel.
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Despite the significant impact of inheritance on perpetuating social inequality from one generation to the next, a majority of Germans and Austrians are opposed to an inheritance tax. In order to understand the structure of the discourse on this issue, we investigate how opponents and proponents of an inheritance tax justify their respective po...
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In markets for goods that are valued for their aesthetic qualities, the ascription of value appears to be an uncertain social process. The wine market is an extraordinary example, as most persons are not able to differentiate between wines based on objective sensory characteristics. Therefore, we theorize valuation according to Bourdieu?s field the...
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The social science literature proposes two competing explanatory frameworks for the existence and longevity of super-fortunes: superstar or winner-take-all mechanisms, suggesting an increased dominance of new self-made billionaires; and mechanisms focusing on inherited advantages, suggesting an enduring importance of old family fortunes. Using pane...
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Unter welchen Voraussetzungen entstehen neue Märkte? Diese Frage wird in der wirtschaftssoziologischen Forschung in erster Linie mit dem Verweis auf technologische Innovationen, Preisveränderungen und politische Regulierung beantwortet. Wir zeigen am Beispiel der historischen Entwicklung der Totenfürsorge in Deutschland seit dem 17. Jahrhundert, da...
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Understanding the valuation of goods in markets has become one of the key topics in economic sociology in recent years. Especially in markets for goods that are valued for their aesthetic qualities, the ascription of value appears to be a complex social process because product quality is highly uncertain. The wine market is an extraordinary example...
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Illegal markets differ from legal markets in many respects. Although illegal markets have economic significance and are of theoretical importance, they have been largely ignored by economic sociology. In this article we propose a categorization for illegal markets and highlight reasons why certain markets are outlawed. We perform a comprehensive re...
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Why do the poor spend more on lottery tickets than their wealthier and better educated peers? While social scientists generally agree that there is an inverse relationship between socio-economic position and patterns of lottery play, there is debate on what factors cause lottery gambling. Using survey data from a nationwide probability sample, we t...
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Political economy and economic sociology have developed in relative isolation from each other. While political economy focuses largely on macro phenomena, economic sociology focuses on the embeddedness of economic action. The article argues that economic sociology can provide a microfoundation for political economy beyond rational actor theory and...
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Starting from the assumption that decision situations in economic contexts are characterized by fundamental uncertainty, this article argues that the decision-making of intentionally rational actors is anchored in fictions. “Fictionality” in economic action is the inhabitation in the mind of an imagined future state of the world and the beliefs in...
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How do prices for contemporary art come into being? Buyers of contemporary art face a problem of fundamental uncertainty, because what passes as quality is difficult to determine, and buyers can hardly estimate how a specific piece of art will perform as an investment. Since a market for contemporary art presupposes the possibility of at least limi...
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Illegal markets differ from legal markets in many respects. Although illegal markets have economic significance and are of theoretical importance, they have been largely ignored by economic sociology. In this article we propose a categorization for illegal markets and highlight reasons why certain markets are outlawed. We perform a comprehensive re...
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This is a detailed reply to Kurtuluş Gemici’s article, in this issue of Theory and Society, “Uncertainty, the problem of order, and markets: a critique of Beckert, Theory and Society, May 2009.”
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Auch die Wirtschaft moderner Gesellschaften folgt nicht einfach einer ökonomischen Eigengesetzlichkeit, sondern konstituiert sich aus ihrer Einbettung in ein Gefüge sittlicher Werte, Institutionen, Interessen und sozialer Macht. Von welcher theoretischen Grundlage aus lässt sich die Sittlichkeit der Wirtschaft beschreiben? Der Artikel zeigt in krit...
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How do judgment devices influence price formation? We investigate this question through a study of the German wine market. The German wine market is characterized by the simultaneous existence of two classification systems: the official classification system referring to the quality in the glass, and the concept of terroir, introduced by a private...
Article
How do judgment devices influence price formation? We investigate this question through a study of the German wine market. The German wine market is characterized by the simultaneous existence of two classification systems: the official classification system referring to the quality in the glass, and the concept of terroir, introduced by a private...
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The article provides an overview of the state of the art of sociological research on price formation. The dominant trait of the sociological approach to prices is to understand price formation not as the outcome of individual preferences but as the result of the social and political forces operating within the market field. The article proceeds fro...
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The question "How much is it?" is often posed. We hear it when we buy something in the supermarket, but the businessman who wants to know the cost of having his bank help him to close a deal might pose the same question. "How much is it" often comes in the context of another question: "How much is it worth?" These are different questions, but they...
Book
How do we place value on goods-and, importantly, why? Valuation and pricing are core issues in the market economy, but understanding of these concepts and their interrelation is weak. In response, The Worth of Goods takes a sociological approach to the perennial but timely question of what makes a product valuable. Structured in three parts, it fir...
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Starting from the assumption that decision situations in economic contexts are characterized by fundamental uncertainty, the paper argues that the decision-making of intentionally rational actors is anchored in fictions. 'Fictionality' in economic action is the inhabitation in the mind of an imagined future state of the world and the beliefs in cau...
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Auch die Wirtschaft moderner Gesellschaften folgt nicht einfach einer ökonomischen Eigengesetzlichkeit, sondern konstituiert sich aus ihrer Einbettung in ein Gefüge sittlicher Werte, Interessen und sozialer Macht. Von welcher theoretischen Grundlage lässt sich die Sittlichkeit der Wirtschaft beschreiben? In dem Artikel zeige ich in kritischer Ausei...
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This postscript discusses the contributions to the special issue of HSR in the light of recent interdisciplinary studies on markets and market societies. It picks out the problem of legitimacy, the importance of events in the formation of markets and the configuration of fields, the role of disorder in the evolution of markets and the relation of m...
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Sociological approaches to the economy identify three types of social structures relevant for the explanation of economic outcomes: social networks, institutions, and cognitive frames. This article contributes to the development of a framework which aims at an integrated perspective on the social structuring of markets and their dynamics. Based on...
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Under the influence of groundbreaking work by John Meyer and Brian Rowen, as well as Paul DiMaggio and Walter Powell, over the last 30 years research in the new sociological institutionalism has focused on processes of isomorphism. I argue that this is a one-sided focus that leaves out many insights from other institutional and macrosociological ap...
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What do we value? For markets to operate and for economies to grow, producers must attract purchasers to the products they offer. In advanced capitalist economies, market saturation and decline of demand are constant threats to markets. But how do we understand why actors desire the things whose value they reveal in the purchase? In this article I...
Chapter
Uncertainty with regard to the outcomes of decisions is one of the chief characteristics of market economies. In this plenary session three speakers explored the role of economic uncertainty for economy and society from different perspectives. The plenary session aimed at insights into the complex character of economic uncertainty and its role in c...
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On the basis of a telephone survey conducted on a random sample of the German residential population, we examine the distribution effects state lotteries have on Germany's social structure. Lotteries are highly taxed economic transactions, whose proceeds make up a considerable share of public fiscal revenues. Our analysis shows that lotteries are a...
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Zusammenfassung Der Artikel thematisiert das Verhältnis von Gesellschaftstheorie und Wirtschaftssoziologie anhand von zwei Thesen. Zunächst wird im ersten Teil argumentiert, dass gesellschaftlicher Wandel in kapitalistischen Gesellschaften seinen Ausgangspunkt wesentlich in der Dynamik der Wirtschaft hat und dem Wirtschaftssystem daher ein Primat f...
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In this article I develop a proposal for the theoretical vantage point of the sociology of markets, focusing on the problem of the social order of markets. The initial premise is that markets are highly demanding arenas of social interaction, which can only operate if three inevitable coordination problems are resolved. I define these coordination...
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This article discusses the relation between social theory and economic sociology based on two theses. In the first part I argue that social change in capitalist societies has its starting point primarily in the dynamics of the economy. Consequently, the economic system predominates in explanations of societal development. At the same time economic...
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Zu ihrer Legitimierung muss wirtschaftssoziologische Forschung erklären können, worin die Spezifik eines soziologischen Ansatzes der Analyse wirtschaftlicher Strukturen und Prozesse besteht (Beckert 1996). Warum bedarf es der soziologischen Beschäftigung mit dem Feld der Wirtschaft, gibt es doch mit den Wirtschaftswissenschaften eine ausdifferenzie...
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Schon in Diskussionen zu Fragen sozialer Gerechtigkeit im neunzehnten Jahrhundert werden das Erbrecht und die Besteuerung von Erbschaften als Mittel zur Korrektur der Ungleichverteilung von Vermögen gesehen (Beckert 2004: 199ff.). Insbesondere die Erbschaftssteuer soll nicht nur zum Steueraufkommen des Staates allgemein beitragen, sondern wurde häu...
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Klassiker wie Emile Durkheim, Georg Simmel und Max Weber beschäftigten sich in den Anfängen der Soziologie vor allem mit den gesellschaftlichen Wandlungsprozessen im Zuge der Entfaltung des modernen Kapitalismus. Insofern war die Soziologie ganz selbstverständlich Wirtschaftssoziologie. Die Zentralstellung des Äkonomischen in der Gesellschaft ließ...
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What is economic sociology? The question of the identity of this sociological field of inquiry has been the subject of numerous theoretical contributions. In this paper we take a different approach by investigating the field of economic sociology empirically. Using a content analysis of six leading German and American sociology journals since the 1...
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There are some social issues whose significance for society nobody would seriously question but which nevertheless receive only scarce attention in sociological research. One of these is the bequest of private wealth from one generation to the next. It is currently estimated that about 550 billion dollars are transferred annually in the United Stat...
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The paper presents some of the ideas underlying the current research program of the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies (MPIfG). It begins with a discussion of how the institute's programmatic orientation has evolved since it was founded in 1984. Programmatic change over the years involved (1) recognition of a secular decline in the cap...
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Auf Basis bevölkerungsrepräsentativer Daten untersuchen wir sozialstrukturelle Umverteilungseffekte des staatlichen Lotteriespiels in Deutschland. Lotterien sind hoch besteuerte wirtschaftliche Transaktionen, deren Einnahmen zugleich einen signifikanten Anteil am öffentlichen Haushaltsbudget darstellen. Unsere Analyse zeigt, dass Lotterien eine For...
Chapter
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Für das physische Überleben der Menschen müssen in allen Gesellschaften Güter erstellt und Leistungen erbracht werden. Sobald die Herstellung von Gütern arbeitsteilig erfolgt, bedarf es Mechanismen der Verteilung der Güter zwischen den Gesellschaftsmitgliedern. Die zu beantwortende Frage lautet: Wer hat unter welchen Voraussetzungen Zugang zu welch...
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This year, 2008, is the twentieth anniversary of the first appearance of Amitai Etzioni's The Moral Dimension: Towards a New Economics (New York: The Free Press, 1988). The book was a major foundational text behind the inauguration of SASE, the Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics, from which Socio-Economic Review originated. The editors...
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Abstract According to Max Weber and modern economic theory, rational calculation of economic decisions is one important basis of modern, rational capitalism. Rational calculation, however, presupposes that actors know the relevant decision parameters and are not confronted with fundamental uncertainity. But rational calculation encounters limits si...
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Unter welchen Gesichtspunkten Akteure Gütern einen Wert beimessen und diese nachfragen, ist ein zentrales Forschungsfeld der Wirtschaftssoziologie. Die Nachfrage auf Lotteriemärkten ist dafür ein besonders interessanter Untersuchungsgegenstand, da Lotterielose eine Paradoxie auszeichnet: Die stochastische Gewinnerwartung eines Lotterieloses liegt u...
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This article investigates discourses on inheritance law and legal development in France, Germany, and the United States since the revolutions of the late eighteenth century. I argue that in each of the three countries a different set of normative and functional issues relating to the bequest of property has dominated and expressed itself in nationa...
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The regulation of the transfer of property mortis causa has been a major concern of social reformers since the Enlightenment. Today, by contrast, the issue of the bequest of wealth from generation to generation stirs hardly any political controversy. Since the mid-twentieth century the topic has lost much of its earlier significance in public debat...
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Introduction: Over the last 25 years, economic sociology has developed into one of the fastest growing fields of sociology and became an important subfield of sociological scholarship (Smelser and Swedberg 2005; Beckert and Zafirovski 2006). This does not mean that sociologists during the postwar era did not study economic phenomena, but they did s...
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Aus dem Vorwort: Mit dem im Frühjahr 2006 veranstalteten Kolloquium „Moralische Voraussetzungen und Grenzen wirtschaftlichen Handelns“ begann das Max-Planck-Institut für Gesellschaftsforschung eine neue Veranstaltungsreihe. Mit dem unregelmäßig stattfindenden „Kolloquium“ wollen wir ein Forum zur Diskussion allgemeiner gesellschaftspolitischer und...
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The economy and economics are important fields in Talcott Parsons's work. Parsons's contributions on this subject were, however, mostly critically received in the new economic sociology. In this article, main points of criticism of Parsons's economic sociology will be discussed and the question asked whether the importance of Parsons's works in eco...
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While the issue of corporate social responsibility has been studied in the social sciences for many years, it has become more critical as financial markets' influence on companies has grown. Pressure on corporations to increase shareholder value seems to leave no room for firms to make decisions that do not lead directly to profit maximization. The...
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This paper addresses the question of what role morally oriented behavior plays in the efficiency of market outcomes. This issue is as controversial in economics as it is in sociology. To get a better understanding of the problems and opportunities involved in morally oriented behavior in markets, I develop a typology that distinguishes four differe...
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The concept of trust has recently been rediscovered, especially in the fields of economic sociology and organization theory. Nevertheless, the actual functioning of trust in markets has only been understood incompletely up to now. As this paper argues, one reason for this is that conceptualizations of trust have focused primarily on the decision-ma...
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Zusammenfassungen Wie lässt sich erklären, dass die Besteuerung von Erbschaften so vehementen politischen Widerstand hervorruft? In dem Artikel wird die These verfolgt, dass weder ökonomischfunktionalistische Erklärungen noch der „Interessengruppenansatz“ befriedigende Antworten auf diese Frage geben. Vielmehr zeigt sich, dass Erbschaften und ihre...
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How are prices established in the market for contemporary art? Buyers in this market are confronted with fundamental uncertainty since “quality” is only difficult to determine and the development of prices is non-predictable. Since the emergence of a market for contemporary art presupposes at least the possibility for intentional rational decision-...
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How are prices established in the market for contemporary art? Buyers in this market are confronted with fundamental uncertainty since "quality" is only difficult to determine and the development of prices is non-predictable. Since the emergence of a market for contemporary art presupposes at least the possibility for intentional rational decision-...

Citations

... We agree that there are important links to be made between CNT and the sociology of expectations; both in the central role of emotion and in the importance of treating future expectations, and the narratives that underlie them, as fictional acts of imagination. This idea of "fictional expectations" (in contrast to the idea of "rational expectations" in neo-classical economic theory) has been central to the work of Beckert (2016), whose commentary we now turn to. 4 | NARRATIVES, POWER, AND THE AGENCY OF CALCULATIVE DEVICES Beckert (2022), who has blazed a trail in sociology demanding attention to "imaginaries" opens his commentary with a rejection of the universal applicability of rational calculation of optimal solutions, a common assumption in economics but a dangerous assumption in most high-impact real-world decision-making contexts. He suggests that "normative theories of optimizing reach their limits when radical uncertainty is taken seriously" (p. ...
... We suggest that these strategies aim to increase the agency of business families in determining their transgenerational futures, including influencing their environments to achieve this goal. Sociologists have already observed that these wealth preservation strategies go beyond wealth management and relate to proactive legitimation of durable wealth reproduction across generations, including influencing institutions such as inheritance law and tax treatments of charitable foundations (Beckert, 2022). In Chapter 19 in this handbook, Kuusela suggests "the possible roles of members of wealthy families themselves play in our such processes deserve further scrutiny as a recent focus in research on the professionals has resulted in a situation where the agency of the wealthy has been empirically marginalized and also untheorized". ...
... We consider historical approaches particularly relevant for understanding situations of uncertainty. When fields change (Beckert, 2010), actors often draw on history, sensemaking and narratives of the past (Beckert & Bronk, 2019). If actors draw on experiences, perceptions, and history, historical research might provide useful information about possible factors of, for example, location or nationality choice that would be difficult to identify with abstract scenarios, including actors' motives and values and firm-specific considerations and valuations. ...
... Following Foster-Fishman, Nowell, and Yang (2007), we distinguish between "first-order" systems change as incremental improvements within existing modes of practice, and "second-order" systems change, which focuses on strategies to bring about a paradigm shift in terms of the framing of an issue. Discursive institutionalist approaches have shown how entrepreneurs construct and tell stories of "imagined futures" (see Beckert, 2021;Thompson & Byrne, 2022) to counter uncertainty and persuade others to support their cause. Relatedly, where scholars have attempted to theorize the systems change potential of social entrepreneurship there has been a focus on the framing tactics used to attract popular support to build a "movement for change" (Zahra, Gedajlovic, Neubaum, & Shulman, 2009). ...
... As an explicit theme, anticipation has traditionally not been at the centre of attention in sociological research and theorising. In recent years, however, there has been an uptake of interest in variations on the topic (Beckert & Suckert, 2021). For the purposes of the present article, the sociological research relevant to anticipation may be fruitfully divided along two axes. ...
... In cultural markets, like the one for wine, fashion or art, objective quality standards are difficult to determine. Market intermediaries shape the perceived quality of cultural products (Beckert, 2020;Bourdieu, 1993). For the market of contemporary art, recent research revealed that artist credentialing by different art-market subgroups influences art prices (Serwart, 2022). ...
... The relationship between standards and values needs our attention, because we know that standards infuse value chains with valueladen qualities (Ponte & Gibbon, 2005), shape businesses and markets globally (Djelic & Quack, 2018) and are part of today's moral economy (Busch, 2000). Standards are thus strongly intertwined with values in economic contexts (e.g., production, trade, sales, consumption) -and this goes far beyond economic value (Beckert & Aspers, 2011). ...
... Nessa mesma linha, Beckert (2007) aponta duas deficiências no uso da imersão social na NSE. A primeira refere-se ao termo embeddedness que foi restringido por Mark Granovetter para a investigação de estruturas de redes sociais. ...
... Untersuchungen von wirtschaftlichen Phänomenen und Handlungen haben unter dem Label ‚neue Wirtschaftssoziologie' stark an Relevanz gewonnen (Beamish 2007;Swedberg 1997). Der Markt und dessen Wandel gelten als eines der zentralsten Untersuchungsbereiche der neueren Wirtschaftssoziologie, weshalb zunehmend auch von marktsoziologischen Untersuchungen die Rede ist (Aspers und Beckert 2008;Beckert et al. 2007 (Beckert et al. 2007;Swedberg 1994). Um zu präzisieren, was eine soziale Struktur ist und wie diese wirkt, wird vor allem auf das Konzept der Einbettung (embeddedness) zurückgegriffen. ...
... Collier and Lakoff (2021), for instance, provide a revelatory genealogy of the discourse of emergency and preparedness in the American context, and how it came to be materialized in concrete political initiatives. This line of research resonates with the approaches entailing a strong critical drive and discussion of various forms of legitimacy reproduction in neoliberalism that entail imaginaries of the future and regimes of hope (Beckert 2020). Alternatively, it may intertwine with what some authors deem "sociology of failure" (Yazell 2020), or simply failure as an element of the "sociological imagination" of distinctive possibilities, such as "migratory" or "climate futures" potentials (see Paterson 2016). ...