Classic Social Theories of the Economy

Period of duration of course
Course info
Number of course hours
Number of hours of lecturers of reference
Number of hours of supplementary teaching

Type of exam

Oral exam


Optional for the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th year students of the PhD Programme in "Political Science and Sociology"

Optional for the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th year students of the PhD Programme in "Transnational Governance"

Optional for the 4th and 5th year students of the MA Programme in "Political and Social Sciences"


Overview of the course: This course aims to provide an opportunity to reflect on the “classics”’ contributions to the sociological understanding of the economy. The reason why Marx, Weber and Durkheim’s works are considered as classics is that, writing in the XIX-early XX Century, they did not take capitalism as granted and reflected on the ‘big question’ on how such system was possible – unlike more recent economic sociology that has focused on ‘meso’ problems such as institutions and networks. Their ideas were general enough to become ‘paradigms’, within which further scholars worked in different directions. The recent crises – the financial crisis of 2008, the trade wars and resurgence of states’ economic roles, and the current pandemic – have led to a resurgence of such ‘big question’ and a renowned interest in the classics among current economic sociologists. Marx, Weber and Durkheim were also European men from a specific period, and their works have been both challenged and developed over time by authors with different social positions and identities. For this reason, the seminar will look into each of them with two sessions: one devoted to the author, with the opportunity to get back to their original readings, and one devoted to more recent applications and developments by more diverse authors. The final session will discuss the influence and ‘revision’ of classic theories in today’s economic sociology.


Course format: The course will be run as a seminar. In the first half of each session, the instructor will present some contextual elements and raise some points for discussion. In the second half, students will present their own interpretations of the readings and of the debates. The specific format of the discussion will be decided during the first seminar, in consideration of the number of participants and the form of participation (in person or on-line). All students must do the readings and participation in the seminars is compulsory.

Background texts that can help students are:

A Giddens, Capitalism and Modern Social Theory (1971)

P Edwards, R Hodson, M Korczynski (eds), Social Theory at Work (2006) (chapters on Marx, Weber and Durkheim)

K Morrison, Marx, Durkheim, Weber (2006)

D Sayer, Capitalism and modernity: an excursus on Marx and Weber (1991)



Session 1. Karl Marx

(17th January 2023, 10am-1pm)

The first session will look at Marx, and in particular Das Kapital and the Grundrisse.

Required readings

Marx, K. (1867) The Capital Vol 1, Chapter 10 (‘The working day’ – as chapter 8 in earlier versions)


Additional reading (optional)

Wright E O (2018) The Continuing Relevance of the Marxist Tradition for Transcending Capitalism, Triple C, 16, 2

Holloway, J (2019) The Grammar of Capital: Wealth In-Against-and-Beyond Value. In M Vidal et al (eds) The Oxford Handbook of Karl Marx

Giddens A (1971) Capitalism and Modern Social Theory Part 1


Session 2. Extending Marx’s theory: labour process theory, Marxist feminism, racial capitalism

(24th January 2023 10-13)

The second session will look at sociological approaches that extend and Marx’s theory and ground it in sociological research programmes: Labour Process Theory, Marxist-feminist theories of social reproduction, theories of racial capitalism.  


Required readings

P Thompson, P. (2010) The capitalist labour process: Concepts and connections. Capital & Class 34, 1

M Gimenez (2019) Capitalist Social Reproduction: The Contradiction between Production and Social Reproduction under Capitalism. In M Vidal et al (eds) The Oxford Handbook of Karl Marx

J Go (2021). Three Tensions in the Theory of Racial Capitalism. Sociological Theory, 39(1), 38–47


Additional reading (optional)

K Marx, K. (1863) The Capital Vol 1, Chapter 14

Engles, F. (1884) The Origins of the Family

Gandini, A. (2019) Labour process theory and the gig economy, Human Relations 72, 6

Braverman, H. (1974) Labor and Monopoly Capital

Burawoy, M. (1985) Politics of production

Edwards, P. (1986), Conflict at Work

Coulsen, J. and Thompson, P. (2016) Financialization and value: why labour and the labour process still matter, Work, Employment and Society 30, 2

Acker, J. (2004) Gender, capitalism and globalization, Critical Sociology 30, 1

Bolton, S. (2009) Getting to the heart of the emotional labour process: a reply to Brook. Work, Employment and Society, 23, 3

Pollert A. (1996) Gender and Class Revisited; or, the Poverty of `Patriarchy’. Sociology.


Session 3. Durkheim

(31/1/2023 10-13)

The session will look at Durkheim’s Division of Labour in Society and discuss the social sources of integration and collaboration in the economy.


Required readings

Durkheim, E. (1893) The Division of Labour in Society, Vol 1, ch 3 and 7


Additional reading (optional)

Giddens A (1971) Capitalism and Modern Social Theory Part 2

Steiner, P. (2010) Durkheim and the Birth of Economic Sociology.

Pearce, F. and Kemple, T. (2002) The radical Durkheim

Poggi, G. (2000) Durkheim


Session 4. From Durkheim: Corporatism, social capital, trust and social integration

(7/2/2023 10-13)

The session will look a current debates where the direct and indirect influence of Durkheimian ideas is visible and prolific, such as corporatism, the role of trust in the economy, and social integration issues.


Required reading

Biggart N and Beamish T (2003) The Economic Sociology of Conventions: Habit, Custom, Practice, and Routine in Market Order, Annual Review of Sociology 29:1

Streeck, W., & Schmitter, P. (1985). Community, Market, State-and Associations? The Prospective Contribution of Interest Governance to Social Order. European Sociological Review, 1(2)

Portes, A. (1998) Social Capital: Its Origins and Applications in Modern Sociology, Annual Review of Sociology 24:1.


Additional reading (optional)

Segre S. (2004) A Durkheimian Network Theory. Journal of Classical Sociology 4(2)

Korczynski, M. (2000). The political economy of trust. Journal of Management Studies, 37(1)

Thijssen P. (2012) From mechanical to organic solidarity, and back: With Honneth beyond Durkheim. European Journal of Social Theory 15(4)

Kaufman-Osborn TV (1986) Emile Durkheim and the Science of Corporatism. Political Theory. 14(4)

Hearn, F. (1985). Durkheim's Political Sociology: Corporatism, State Autonomy, and Democracy. Social Research, 52(1)

Hirst, P. (2013). Associative democracy: New forms of economic and social governance.


Session 5. Max Weber

(14/2/2023 10-13)

The session will look at Economy and Society, widely regarded as the foundation text of economic sociology.


Required reading

Weber, M. (1922) Economy and Society, Ch 1.


Additional reading (optional)

Swedberg R (1998), Max Weber and the Idea of Economic Sociology

Swedberg R (1999) Max Weber as an Economist and as a Sociologist, The American Journal of Economics and Sociology, 58, 4

Giddens A (1971) Capitalism and Modern Social Theory, Part 3

Bruce R D (2018) The Iron Cage Revisited: Max Weber in the Neoliberal


Camic C. et al (eds) (2005) Max Weber’s Economic Sociology: A  Critical Companion, ch 1, 4 , 5

Poggi G (2006) Weber. A Short Introduction

Zimmerman A (2006) Decolonizing Weber, Postcolonial Studies, 9:1


 Session 6. From Weber: Culture and Prestige in the Economy

(21/2/2023, 10-13)

The session will focus on some sociological controversies rooted in the use of Weberian concepts:the meaning of money; culture and women’s work/welfare state; status, class and populism; bureaucracy.


Required readings

Streeck W (2016) Why the Euro Divides Europe, New Left Review

Portes, A. (2020) A Hundred Years from Weber: Science as Vocation and the Resurgence of National Populism, Sociological Forum (early view)


Additional reading (optional)

Paul du Gay (2008) Max Weber and the Moral Economy of Office, Journal of Cultural Economy, 1:2

Birgit Pfau‐Effinger (2005) Socio‐historical paths of the male breadwinner model – an explanation of cross‐national differences, British Journal of Sociology 55, 3

Adams J. (2005) The Familial State: Ruling Families and Merchant Capitalisme in Early Modern Europe. In Camic C. et al (eds) Max Weber’s Economic Sociology: A  Critical Companion.

Bologh, R. (2009) Max Weber and Masculine Thinking.

Bendix, R. (1974). Inequality and Social Structure: A Comparison of Marx and Weber. American Sociological Review, 39(2)


Session 7. Applying classic social theories today? New vs Old Economic Sociology

(28/2/2023 10-12)

In the last session participants will have the opportunity to propose ways in which they can use or revise classic theories in their research, as well as discuss current debates that refer back to the classics.


Required readings

Streeck W (2016)How Will Capitalism End?

Burawoy, M. (2021). Why is classical theory classical? Theorizing the canon and canonizing Du Bois. Journal of Classical Sociology21(3–4), 245–259.

Educational aims

Familiarity with classic economic sociological works and orientation in current debates about capitalism and the economy.

Bibliographical references

A Giddens, Capitalism and Modern Social Theory (1971)

W Streeck, How Will Capitalism End? (2016)

P Edwards, R Hodson, M Korczynski (eds), Social Theory at Work (2006)

K Morrison, Marx, Durkheim, Weber (2006)

D Sayer, Capitalism and modernity : an excursus on Marx and Weber (1991)

G Bhambra & J Holmwood, Colonialism and social theory (2021)