1st Edition

An Economic Sociology of Law Reimagined Beyond Embeddedness

By Clare Williams Copyright 2023
    206 Pages 19 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    206 Pages 19 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    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 www.taylorfrancis.com, have been made available under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-No Derivatives 4.0 license.


    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



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