An Economic Sociology of Law Reimagined : Beyond Embeddedness book cover
1st Edition

An Economic Sociology of Law Reimagined
Beyond Embeddedness

ISBN 9780367761448
Published December 14, 2022 by Routledge
206 Pages 19 B/W Illustrations

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Book Description

This book critically examines the concept of “embeddedness”: the core concept of an economic sociology of law (ESL).

It suggests that our ways of doing, talking, and thinking about law, economy, and society, reproduce and re-entrench mainstream approaches, shaping our thoughts and actions such that we perform according to the model. Taking a deep dive into one example – the concept of embeddedness – this book combines insights from law, sociology, economics, and psychology to show that while we use metaphor to talk about law and economy, our metaphors in turn use us, moulding us into their fictionalized caricatures of homo juridicus and homo economicus. The result is a groundbreaking study into the prioritization throughout society of interests and voices that align with doctrinal understandings of law and neoclassical understandings of economics: approaches that led us into the dilemmas currently facing society. Zooming out from a detailed exploration of embeddedness in economic sociology and ESL literature, the book unpacks the fashionable post-2008 claim that the economy should be re-embedded in society and proposes two conceptual shifts in response. The book draws on personas and vignettes throughout, both to imagine and to realize shifting an ESL beyond embeddedness.

This timely engagement with the emerging field of economic sociology of law will appeal to socio-legal scholars and others with interests in the intersection of law, economics, and sociology.

The Open Access versions of Chapter 1 and Chapter 6, available at, have been made available under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-No Derivatives 4.0 license.

Table of Contents


Acknowledgements and return journeys

Visualizing socio-legal frames, concepts, and methods

1 Doing, talking, and thinking (and why we’re not getting it right)

Crashes, crises, catastrophes

Doing, talking, and thinking

The law and the economy don’t really exist

PS: Nor does society

How metaphors use us

Constructing reality

Introducing homo juridicus and homo economicus

An ongoing conceptual commitment to embeddedness

Introducing an economic sociology of law (ESL): the home of embeddedness

The career of embeddedness in ESL and two conceptual conundrums

Embeddedness in academic literature: drawing parallels and drawing conclusions

Introducing our “guide” personas: Ann, Polly, and Lillian


2 Introducing an economic sociology of law

What is an economic sociology of law (ESL)?

The role of economic sociology of law: responding to disciplinarity

The intellectual heritage of ESL: economic sociology and socio-legal scholarship

Socio-legal heritage

Economic sociology heritage

“Black boxes” and taxonomies

Text; subtext; context

Empirical; conceptual; normative


Instrumental; affective; belief-based; traditional

Micro; meso; macro; meta

Writing the rules of the game: indicators as technologies of governance

ESL is (currently) a pseudo-constructivist lens: boundaries and borderlands


3 Embeddedness: A biography of a concept

Embeddedness: the origins

Talking about embeddedness

Karl Polanyi’s always (or never) embedded market

The “accidental” revival of embeddedness

Critiques of embeddedness

Critiques of macro-level embeddedness

Critiques of micro-level embeddedness

Reconciling macro- and micro-level embeddedness?

Reconciling the implications: cognitive and normative embeddedness

How might we make embeddedness more consistent?

Embedded liberalism

Embedded autonomy

Reconciling the insights?

The embeddedness conundrum is reinvented


4 Embeddedness: The internal inconsistencies

The internal inconsistency of embeddedness: “what are we talking about?”

Block’s interpretation of Polanyian embeddedness

Dale’s interpretation of Polanyian embeddedness

Doughnut Economics versus The Econocracy

Doughnut Economics

The Econocracy

Emblematic of a wider approach

What is embedded? And in what?


5 Embeddedness: The external conceptual incompatibilities

How we tend to think (our default conceptual tools)

How we might think differently (challenging default conceptual tools)

Thinking about embeddedness as a black box

Proposing an alternative ESL lens: beyond embeddedness

Shift 1: from the actor to their interaction

Trust is important in understanding interactions

Shift 2: embeddedness to feedback loops

Understanding feedback loops through performativity

Exploring the performativity of law and economics with a thought experiment

Beyond homo economicus-juridicus?


6 Beyond embeddedness: The next steps

What remains of ESL without its core concept of embeddedness?

Lingering questions about an ESL lens

What, where, or who is “the social”?

But “how much?”: the “sociological fallacy”

Removing the core concept: what is left?

What’s in a name? Linguistic limitations

Clean models or dirty hands?

ESL, politics, and power: can an ESL lens ever be apolitical?

Responding to crashes, crises, catastrophes

Our conceptual commitment to embeddedness continues

Shoehorning concepts into categories: Happy the Elephant, Chucho the Bear, and their friends

Shoehorning concepts into categories: COVID versus the economy?

Rebalancing voices and values: becoming ‘homo sociologicus’?

“Happy” Bhutan

“Sustainable” Oslo

Framing the future? Rebalancing voices and values

Moving beyond embeddedness?


Epilogue: Notes about the characters


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Clare Williams is an ESRC?SeNSS funded Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Kent Law School, University of Kent, UK.