Research Program

Economic sociology is a subfield of sociology studying the conditions, processes and consequences of economic action. While the approach emphasized the differences to economics in the past, in recent years the boundaries have become more fluid. On the one hand, research in behavioral economics has increasingly become interested in traditional topics of economic sociology, such as the values, norms, social networks and institutions underlying economic transactions. On the other hand, some streams in economic sociology take up the principle of rationality and study models by an own experimental tradition developed in the area of social exchange theory. The currently dominating paradigm in the subfield, New Economic Sociology, emphasizes the concept of embeddedness of economic action in social, cultural, institutional, and historical contexts.

In the Department of Economic Sociology at the University of Vienna, we aim to build bridges between New Economic Sociology and economics, in particular Behavioral Economics and Labor Economics, using Polanyi’s distinction of reciprocity, market exchange, and redistribution as an analytical framework. The principle of reciprocity refers to a symmetric relationship structure, which is often realized in families or small peer groups, but also characteristic for relations between and within economic agents such as enterprises or states. Agents do not maximize their individual short-term interest, but seek longer-term, mutually profitable cooperation. The principle of market exchange does not presuppose a social relationship structure but also functions in anonymity. The only precondition is the existence of the institutional frame of a market in which Adam Smith’s ‘invisible hand’ generates societal welfare through individuals’ (egoistic) utility maximization. Finally, the organization and hierarchically enforced redistribution of pure market outcomes conditional on the real world deviations of the ideal market model is a central task of the state. This perspective also encompasses research in organizational sociology in the Department, which focuses in particular on employment conditions in associations and in the public sector.

The emphasis of research in the Department varies over time within this triad of modes of economic integration. Research in the Department predominantly employs experimental and quantitative methods of labor, organizational, and economic sociology. Qualitative and comparative studies complement our fields of expertise. Currently, three main topics guide research in the Department:

1.       Life course transitions and employment histories in the context of economic and demographic change
Our current research in this field focuses on youth unemployment in Europe. In this area, which links the integration modes market exchange and redistribution, we study the intergenerational transmission of work values, attitudes to economic self-sufficiency and entrepreneurship. Based on original data from own surveys, we analyze the social determinants of youth unemployment as well as their mid- and long-term consequences. Further research addresses changing conditions of labor market integration through the life course (demographic change, ageing societies, flexibilization / feminization of labor markets).

2.       Solidarity and redistribution in small groups, networks, and markets
The core of this field, combining the integration modes reciprocity and redistribution, encompasses questions on the generation of collective decisions in committees and networks, the interplay of power and justice conceptions, as well as trust and communication in markets. In laboratory experiments, we particularly address processes of collective decision making: Which structures foster and obstruct strategic behavior, on the one hand, and deliberative processes, on the other hand?

3.       Diversity and gender relations in organizations
Heterogeneity of employees in organizations is often unrepresentative of societal heterogeneity. For example, women in trade unions are not equally successful in attaining leadership positions or ethnic minorities are under- or overrepresented in different branches. Why do we observe market failure in the allocation of applicants and positions, what is the role of reciprocity in occupational careers, and which measures do organizations choose to increase diversity?