With three years under its belt and rapidly growing attendance, the annual Economic Sociology Conference provides an opportunity for members of our subfield, particularly graduate students on the market, to present their work and reflect on the state of the field. We spoke with past organizers of the conference to learn more about the intellectual history and planned trajectory of this important event.
The first conference, organized by Jason Greenberg in collaboration with Gino Cattani and Delia Baldassarri, took place at New York University in 2013. As Greenberg explains, his motivation for creating the conference was to establish a more robust community of economic sociologists in the New York area:
As a graduate student in economic sociology at MIT, I benefited greatly from the community of scholars working in economic sociology in the Cambridge area (not to mention the classes offered)…When I moved to NYU I realized how valuable the community I experienced in Cambridge was, how much I benefited from it, and, ultimately, how much I missed it. Notwithstanding a cluster of excellent universities and scholars, there simply was no robust community of economic or organizational sociologists in the greater NYC area. Gino [Cattanti] and I discussed organizing a workshop in economic sociology that would help foster and maintain a community of scholars interested in economic sociology in the greater NY area. When Delia Baldassarri joined NYU, I asked her if she would be interested in helping to organize such a workshop. She answered in the affirmative. The rest is history.
Subsequent organizers at Yale in 2014 (Olav Sorenson, Jim Baron, and Marissa King) and MIT in 2015 (Kate Kellogg, Ezra Zuckerman, Emilio J. Castilla, and Roberto Fernandez) shared Greenberg’s goals of promoting greater community among economic sociologists, bringing greater coherence to the subfield, and providing an opportunity for job market candidates to showcase their research. Although the conference’s format has changed over the years, it has always included presentations on the “state of the field” from eminent scholars. The most recent conference featured, among other expert presenters, Devah Pager speaking on employer discrimination, Shelley Correll on gender and organizations, and Mark Mizruchi on the political sociology of corporate action. As Sorenson notes, the organizers felt it particularly important for scholars to take stock of broad fields like economic sociology, in which members publish in a variety of venues and work in a range of institutional settings:
[What I found most useful about the conference was] hearing summaries of what has been happening recently in research areas of interest to me but which are not directly related to the research that I have been doing personally. Because economic and organizational sociology gets published across a wide range of outlets these days — everything from AJS, ASR, and Sociological Science to ASQ and Organization Science to field journals in sociology and management — it’s hard to stay abreast of the field simply by scanning journal tables of contents.
In addition to lending coherence to a larger research agenda, the conference also brings together economic sociologists housed within both sociology and management departments, an important feat in a subfield as frequently fragmented as our own. As Kellogg, Zuckerman, Castilla, and Fernandez explain:
This [conference] is perhaps especially valuable for students (and faculty) who are not in sociology departments. A conference like this, which is hosted by a business school but which includes many participants from sociology departments, helps to reinforce their (our) identity as sociologists. It also promotes awareness of economic sociology among non-sociologists.
The conference offers particularly meaningful benefits for young scholars. Conference attendees are asked to nominate one outstanding economic sociology student from their doctoral program who is on the job market that year to present in a poster session during lunch. This is a favorite aspect of the conference for both organizers and participants. Job market candidates who presented at the poster session noted that the format had many benefits. The poster presentations helped to raise candidates’ profiles within the subfield, allowed them to get feedback on their work at a critical time, and gave them a valuable opportunity to practice and refine their “elevator speeches” in preparation for campus visits.
Thus far, participation has been largely limited to the invited conference presenters, presenters’ doctoral candidates on the job market, and students, affiliates, or graduates of the host institutions. The 2016 event will be held at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. We admire and applaud the work of these economic sociologists, and extend our gratitude to Jason Greenberg, Olav Sorenson, Marissa King, Kate Kellogg, Ezra Zuckerman, Emilio J. Castilla, and Roberto Fernandez for their prompt and insightful responses.