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On the web since fall 2000

Journal of Economic Sociology is indexed by Emerging Sources Citation Index (ESCI) from Web of Science™ Core Collection

Funded by the National Research University Higher School of Economics since 2007.

2016. Vol. 17. No. 4

Full text of the journal

Editor’s Foreword (Vadim Radaev)
P. 9–14

New Texts

Elena Berdysheva
Varying Worth of Crimes in the Eyes of Policemen in Russia
P. 15–52

The article demonstrates that crimes that come to the attention of the criminal police have varying worth in the eyes of Russian policemen and, consequently, attract unequal efforts. The worth of crimes is closely related to the criteria for evaluation of police performance. The data derived from 12 in-depth interviews with Russian police officers, nine indepth interviews with senior students of Moscow University of Russian Interior Ministry who are undergoing practice within police departments, and online discussions within the police community show that policemen in Russia made their practical decisions while balancing between multiple orders of worth.
The theoretical framework of data interpretation is represented by symbiosis theories of valuations and the institutional logics approach. Operationalized as a set of cultural rules and expectations defining legitimate grounds for assessing and determining what rational behavior in a given organizational context really is, the concept of institutional logics stresses the interrelations between value-oriented and material dimensions of social action but allows one to stress the hierarchy and constant competition between various orders of worth in an organization. Four institutional logics — state, clan, quasi-market, and professional — are empirically identified. Each of them brings its own order of worth to the police organizational environment.
Crimes in the eyes of the police always have a price — expressed in either “checkmarks,” points of recognition by the boss or colleagues, or money. The data suggest that, despite the hierarchy between the orders of (crimes’) worth within the police system as a whole, in each case, institutional logics and criteria of worth related to them compete with each other. Depending on the characteristics of the criminal case and the situation in the police department at a given moment, the competition between various orders of worth is resolved by policemen in different ways. The results of the study shed light on the functioning of police discretion and help to accentuate the dysfunctional side of police reform in Russia.

New Translations

Mathijs de Vaan, Balázs Vedres, David Stark
Game Changer: The Topology of Creativity
P. 53–99

The authors seek to find a structural basis for the success of collectively executed projects. Here they continue to use previously elaborated concepts of structural folding and creative tension, but they go on to advance their approach by including the cognitive variables in the analysis instead of merely focusing on social structure. In this article, they examine the sociological factors that explain why some creative teams are able to produce game changers— cultural products that stand out as distinctive while also being critically recognized as outstanding. The authors build on work pointing to structural folding— the network property of a cohesive group whose membership overlaps with that of another cohesive group. They hypothesize that the effects of structural folding on game-changing success are especially strong when overlapping groups are cognitively distant. Measuring social distance separately from cognitive distance and distinctiveness independently from critical acclaim, the authors test their hypothesis about structural folding and cognitive diversity by analyzing team reassembly for 12422 video games and the career histories of 139727 video game developers. When combined with cognitive distance, structural folding channels and mobilizes a productive tension of rules, roles, and codes that promotes successful innovation. In addition to serving as pipes and prisms, network ties are also the source of tools and tensions.

Beyond Borders

Samuel Bowles
The Moral Economy: Why Good Incentives Are No Substitutefor Good Citizens (excerpts)
P. 100–128

The Moral Economy is based in part on Castle Lectures given by Prof. Samuel Bowles at Yale University that resulted from his concerns about the cultural effects of markets and incentives over 30 years. In his book, Bowles focuses on a new policy paradigm, which proposes switching from Homo economicus to an approach considering people as they are. According to Bowles, the latter approach makes synergy between incentives and constraints as well as the conjunction of ethical and other-regarding motivations possible. The author argues that only market economies that do not ignore their cultural background and the goodness of people are able to work properly.
The Journal of Economic Sociology has published the first chapter, “The Problem with Homo Economicus,” in which the author tries to convince readers that the principle of Homo economicus is not a good baseline assumption for policy-making and business management for at least two reasons. First, instrumental incentives do not guarantee good government. Second, a policy, which relies on self-interested and amoral humans, creates conditions for the dominancy of this human behavior model in the real world. The author addresses a wide variety of philosophical, political, and economic literature to construct his arguments. The book is very easy to read thanks to the vivid examples and attractive anecdotes it contains.

Debut Studies

Marina Chernysheva
Charity of Small- & Medium-Sized Businessesin a Russian Small Town: An Empirical Analysis
P. 129–163

The paper presents the results of an empirical study on the charity of smalland medium-sized businesses in a small Russian town. The aim of this article is to reveal motivations and barriers for small- and medium-sized businesses to participate in charitable activities. By the charity of a business, we mean a non-systematic provision of financial support to those in need. Different theoretical approaches are applied to explain the motivations for charitable activity in business. Critical theory implies that charity is used as an ideological tool aiming for a positive public image. Theories of solidarity conceptualize charity as a moral obligation to conform to the norms of the community. In the model of patrimonial domination, the authority distributes privileges in exchange for loyalty. This study was conducted in 2015–2016 in a small Russian town; 21 semi-structured interviews were carried out with the owners of small- and medium-sized businesses. In addition, 13 interviews were conducted with recipients of business donations and experts in the field of charity (including leaders of non-profit organizations, schools, local media, and government representatives). The empirical results show that business charity is a result of the relationships between businesses, the local community, and local authorities. The local community sets a stable social order of charity in a small town. However, the most stable and significant charitable donations from businesses are possible only in the system of patrimonial exchanges.

Professional Reviews

Regina Romanova
Firm Performance: How to Define it, What Affects itand How to Deal with Measurement Challenges
P. 164–189

How do some firms achieve superior performance and others fail? Much research has been devoted to this question in management, economic theory, and sociology. Nevertheless, due to the absence of a universal approach for conceptualizing firm success and differences in methodological assumptions, numerous studies have produced divergent findings. This has led to continuous debates on the meaning of market success, performance indicators, and measurement techniques. First, this paper addresses conceptual problems with application of the term “effectiveness” and analyzes the potential and limitations of an alternative construct―“performance.” In addition, we attempt to systematize current theoretical implications in the field of strategic management and sociological theories of organization. We focus on strategic management because performance-related questions are central in this academic discipline. Contrary to their intellectual ancestors in industrial economics, strategists pay closer attention to firm-level internal factors affecting firm performance. This paper examines two concepts central to strategic management: firms’ strategies and resources. We analyze strategic choice theory and contingency theory first, then turn our focus to core notions for a resource-based view—a dominant framework in strategy research. This article also addresses a sociological approach to the interpretation of firms’ high performance. A sociological understanding of the mechanisms behind performance variety concentrates on external factors (environmental effects). Firm survival and successful adaptation practices are studied in network, ecological, and institutional traditions in sociology. Finally, we discuss methodological challenges in performance research that require a combination of theoretical implications from both fields. In order to build an adequate theory about sources of performance variance, one should include micro- and macro-indicators and explore synergetic effects.

New Books

Ivan Pavlutkin
Political Economy of Academic Exchange: How Do Sociologists Become Professors?
Book Review: Sokolov M., Guba K., Zimenkova T., Safonova M., Tchuykina S. (2015) Becoming a Professor: Academic Careers, Markets and Power in Five Countries, Moscow: New Literary Observer, 832 p.
P. 190–200

This review discusses the collective monograph “Becoming a Professor: Academic Careers, Markets and Power in Five Countries” published by New Literary Observer in Moscow. The authors of this voluminous book pursued two goals at the same time. First, they sought to prepare a guidebook on academic careers in France, the USA, Germany, Great Britain, and Russia for young sociologists who are thinking ahead about their professional pathway. Based on various data sources (interviews, secondary data, autoethnography), they present an institutional history of the formation of academic sociology as a profession and describe the main trajectories in the academic biography of sociologists in five countries. Second, they find differences in institutional and extra-institutional mechanisms of recruitment for sociologists and offer a theoretical explanation. They offer the category of “optical systems” as a cultural framework of university organization used by various external and internal agents with different types of resources and motivation. “Optical systems” become an important source of coping with distrust and the fear of being cheated by “noble swindlers, ” since the dynamics of the academic world are forced by the replacement of the suspicions vocabulary. In this review, we give a brief analysis of the chapters, presenting the advantages and weaknesses. This book discusses several important issues: morals and markets in academia; the impact and work of economic incentives; and the strengths and weaknesses of social networks, academic pathways, and political culture. Because of its provocative statements, incriminating comments, and polemic conclusions, this book is worth reading for all those who are involved in the modern system of higher education and science—academics, civil servants, governors, and of course, various experts.


Gleb Novikov
Should Big Topics in Sociology be Studied?
Seminar of Laboratory for Studies in Economic Sociology,September 6, 2016, Moscow, Russia
P. 201–205

The new season of weekly seminars of the Laboratory for Studies in Economic Sociology started on September 6, 2016. The department head and first vice rector of HSE, Vadim Radaev, was a speaker, and his presentation explored links between concrete empirical studies and “broad topics” in sociology. Radaev suggested looking for topics that are not separate from empirical findings and connect many subject areas. A draft research project was considered as an illustrative example. The point was to relate a decrease in alcohol consumption by Millennials (those born in 1982–1999) to larger-scale social shifts and potentially to the withering away of a “Soviet common man” from the position of a dominant social type. Alcohol consumption was chosen as an indicator because of its close relationship to multiple life spheres: healthcare, politics, economy, everyday communication, etc. The paradox is that despite enjoying favorable conditions for drinking, Millennials consume about two times less alcohol than previous generations. By applying a cohort analysis to illuminate this paradox, Vadim Radaev attributed it to massive sociocultural changes in post-Soviet Russia.
The presentation included a lively discussion of both methodical issues and general methodological considerations. The discussion was carried out by laboratory researchers Elena Berdysheva, Dilyara Ibragimova, Anna Kruglova, Olga Kuzina, Andrey Shevchuk, and numerous HSE students.

Supplements (in English)

Gabriel Abend
Interview with Gabriel Abend “The Moral Background Makes the Playof Life Possible” (interviewed by Elena Gudova)
P. 204–215

Gabriel Abend discusses his interest in the sociology of morality and the main ideas of his book The Moral Background: An Inquiry into the History of Business Ethics [Abend 2014]. According to Abend, the business ethics discipline and its growing popularity at business schools deals not only with the tension between making money and being ethical, but with the preconditions which enable moral life: the moral background.
Abend states that studying moralities and moral action in the social sciences is usually viewed through the lens of the first one, behavioral level, and the second one, normative level (moral and immoral behavior and norms, respectively), which, taken together, constitute first-order morality. Abend also points out that the “moral background” should be suggested as the third level, or second-order morality, which underlies and supports first-order morality through six dimensions. These include: the reasons for first-level morality support, the existing concepts repertoire, the subject of the moral evaluation, proper moral methods, the objectiveness of morality, and metaphysical conceptions. Some of these dimensions have a society-level organization, such as the conceptual repertoire for speaking about moralities in different languages, and some dimensions have an individual-level organization, such as the objectivity or relativity of first-order morality.
Abend identifies two types of moral background that he describes as the “Christian Merchant” and the “Standards of Practice”. The “Christian Merchant” type can be characterized as an ethics of being, developing certain features of character and moral objectivism. The “Standards of Practice” is an ethics of doing, which sustains moral relativism and emphasizes moral actions with no particular attention to their motives. The “Standards of Practice” type has found its way into business schools’ curricula as a business ethics discipline that believes morality can be taught by using case studies. This approach, while maintaining the principles of corporate social responsibility, can have negative effects on society and the economy. As long as corporations suggest that ethics pays and act morally only to make a profit, there is a risk that without the payoff, they will stop acting morally. This fact causes questions to surface, not only about corporate social responsibility and ethical behavior in business, but ultimately about values and the place of morality in society at large.

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