Review of Austrian Economics, 12: 265–270 (1999)
1999 Kluwer Academic Publishers
(1998) Max Weber and the Idea of Economic Sociology. Princeton:
Princeton University Press, 315 pp., ISBN 0-691-02949-0
Are economics and sociology two incompatible ﬁelds within the social sciences? Most
economists nowadays would probably agree with this. But has this always been, and must
this necessarily be, the case?
A few years ago Joseph Schumpeter was subject to a thorough scrutiny by way of the
pen of Swedish sociologist Richard Swedberg (Swedberg 1991). Now time has come for
another prominent social science character. It is thus most appropriate for this fading cen-
tury to see an elaborate and updated treatment of perhaps its greatest social interpreter,
Max Weber. And it is as appropriate for this to be undertaken by Swedberg who for many
years has nourished a genuine interest in issues found in the borderland between sociology
and economics (cf. Swedberg 1990) which thus are seen as complementary, and not mutu-
ally exclusive, facets within the social sciences.
Given the vastarray of Weber’s work (is he really a historian, an economist, a sociologist,
or all of these, but during different parts of his life?), any serious attempt at understanding,
and coming to grips with his contributions must necessarily be conﬁned. In the present
work Swedberg, following his own major ﬁeld of interest, seizes upon economic sociology.
This implies that not only must the reader, and Swedberg, grasp Weber (which is in itself a
major undertaking), but also the ﬁeld of economic sociology as a separate area of inquiry.
The path chosen by Swedberg is as necessary as it is challenging and rewarding in that he
closely integrates the two.
Understanding what Weber means thus implies penetrating economic sociology and vice
versa, given the preeminent role played by Weber in this realm. That is, the idea of economic
sociology, emerging at the turn of the century, is more or less seen as synonymous to Weber’s
thoughts in the area. It has also greatly inspired the (new) economic sociology coming forth
in our days by way of, for instance, the notion of embeddedness where individual action is
subject to its social context (cf. Granovetter 1985). Even though Weber (as related in some
depth by Swedberg) reaches out far and in several of his works (cf. General Economic
History, a book compiled from shorthand notes of Weber’s teaching in Munich!) sets
out to come to terms with Western capitalism as such, it is his ‘pure’ economic sociology
that seems most fascinating. This view is apparently held also by Swedberg who uses recent
Nobel laureate Amartya Sen as an example of the value of Weber’s attempt to place the
selﬁsh interest-driven individual in her social milieu. Hence economists and sociologists
alike should feel compelled to share the thoughts of Weber as framed by Swedberg.
What then is (Weberian) economic sociology? Any interpretation of that project is nec-
essarily inﬂuenced by the eyes of the beholder. Swedberg is a sociologist who also pays
due respect to economics, which renders him most apt for the task he sets out to take on.
He centers his reasoning on how Weber views the actor in terms of the driving forces she
is subject to and the goal she, by way of her action, aims at. Three types of action are thus
discerned along an eco-socio spectrum. Economic action results as foremost material in-
terests drive a behavior oriented towards utility, whereas its sociological counterpart, social