Stockholm university

Richard SwedbergGuest researcher

About me

Professor Emeritus in Sociology

Telephone: +46 (0)8 674 79 89

My research has two foci, economic sociology and social theory. In economic sociology I am primarily interested in entrepreneurship, markets and theoretical ideas. I have made studies of the social structure of markets, financial crises, the development of entrepreneurial theory and, most recently, of Trump’s political ideology. For some of my work in economic sociology, see e.g. (ed. with Neil Smelser), The Handbook of Economic Sociology (2nd. ed 2005), (ed. with Mark Granovetter), The Sociology of Economic Life (3rd ed. 2011) and (ed. with Hirohito Miyazaki) The Economy of Hope (2017).

My second major interest is social theory, with an emphasis on theorizing. In theorizing you look at the processes through which a theory is created, that is, on the attempts to create and use such tools as concepts, categories, abstractions, metaphors and the like. For my general approach to theorizing, see The Art of Social Theory (2014) and (ed.) Theorizing in the Social Sciences.

For separate articles on theorizing (also on economic sociology), see my web page at the Department of Sociology, Cornell University:




A selection from Stockholm University publication database

  • Theory as text or theory as activities?

    2022. Richard Swedberg. Sociologisk forskning 59 (1-2), 5-30


    In this article, which was delivered as a keynote address at the annual meeting of the Swedish Sociological Association on March 16, 2022 in Uppsala, the following argument is made. Two different approaches to theory in sociology are presented and discussed: theory as text and theory as activities. In the former, theory is seen as embodied in a text, and the focus is squarely on its content. Little attempt is made in the text to discuss how the theory was actually developed and how to use it. In theory as activities, in contrast, the main focus is on how to work with a theory in a concrete manner. The basic unit of analysis is here not just the theory, but the theory as part of the research process. Theory, method and facts are all linked together in this process and partly overlap. A number of activities that precede the publication of a theory as well as come after are also explored. The concluding pages contain a discussion of the advantages and disadvantages that come with working with each of the two views of theory.

    Read more about Theory as text or theory as activities?
  • What is a social pattern? Rethinking a central social science term

    2022. Hernan Mondani, Richard Swedberg. Theory and society 51 (4), 543-564


    The main aim of this article is to start a discussion of social pattern, a term that is commonly used in sociology but not specified or defined. The key question can be phrased as follows: Is it possible to transform the notion of social pattern from its current status in sociology as a proto-concept into a fully worked out concept? And if so, how can this be done? To provide material for the discussion we begin by introducing a few different types of patterns that are currently being used (patterns in nature, cultural patterns, statistical patterns, and computationally generated patterns). This is followed by a suggestion for what a strictly sociological concept of social pattern may look like. A useful and theoretically solid concept of social pattern can in our view be constructed by basing it on Weber’s concept of social action. This means that both the behavior of the actors and the meaning these invest their behavior with must be taken into account. The article ends with a brief discussion of how to use the concept of social patterns in an effective way and what may endanger such a use.

    Read more about What is a social pattern? Rethinking a central social science term
  • The Economic Sociologies of Pierre Bourdieu

    2011. Richard Swedberg. Cultural Sociology 5 (1), 67-82


    Instead of trying to locate

    the economic sociology of Bourdieu, I argue that his analysis of the economy was developed over such a long time period, is so rich and goes in so many interesting directions, that we are justified in speaking of Bourdieu’s economic sociologies in the plural. While most sociologists know about Bourdieu’s study Distinction (1986) and its analysis of consumption, there is less awareness of the fact that Bourdieu himself, towards the end of his life, said that he had produced three major studies of economic topics. These are: his work in Algeria on ‘the economy of honour and "good faith"’ (1950s and 1960s); his study of credit (Bourdieu et al., 1963); and his study of the economy of single-family houses (Bourdieu et al., 1999). These three studies are presented and discussed in detail, and so is Bourdieu’s attempt to formulate a general program for ‘economic anthropology’ in his article ‘The Economic Field’ (1997), drawing on such concepts as field, habitus and capital. Some critique has been directed at Bourdieu’s analysis of the economy, and this is also discussed.


    Read more about The Economic Sociologies of Pierre Bourdieu
  • A Note on Civilizations and Economies

    2010. Richard Swedberg. European Journal of Social Theory 13 (1), 15-30


    This article approaches the topic of civilizations and economies through a discussion of two key texts that appeared during the first wave of interest among social scientists for the phenomenon of civilization: ‘Note on the Notion of Civilization’ ([1913] 1998) by Emile Durkheim and Marcel Mauss, and ‘Author’s Introduction’ ([1920a] 1930) by Max Weber. Durkheim and Mauss were of the opinion that civilizations have their own, unique form of existence that is very difficult to understand and theorize. Civilizations, they nonetheless suggest, are marked off by symbolic boundaries and consist of elements that are hard for political authorities to control, including money, commerce, techniques and tools. Max Weber’s most important attempt to struggle with the idea of civilization, can be found in his portrait of Western civilization in ‘Author’s Introduction’. Weber, as is well known, suggests in this writing that Western civilization is characterized by a ‘specific and peculiar rationalism’ — and he devotes a large part of the text to a portrait of modern rational capitalism. This type of capitalism, we conclude, is consequently civilizational in nature. Its emergence, as Weber also shows elsewhere, cannot be explained by referring to some special group or nation. The two works by Weber and Durkheim and Mauss, the article concludes, allow us to better understand civilizations as distinct social-cultural configurations and also to approach their economic dimension. Both works emphasize the fact that one needs to use an interdisciplinary as well as a comparative approach to undertake a civilizational as well as a civilizational-economic analysis.

    Read more about A Note on Civilizations and Economies
  • Die Bedeutung der Weber'schen Kategorien für die Wirtschaftssoziologie

    2010. Richard Swedberg. Wirtschaftssoziologie nach Max Weber, 21-39


    Viele Wirtschaftssoziologen werden der Aussage zustimmen, dass die Weber'schen Kategorien von großer Bedeutung für die gegenwärtige Wirtschaftssoziologie sind. Es ist allgemein bekannt, dass sich sowohl in der Protestantischen Ethik als auch in Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft viele sehr nützliche Begriffe finden. Noch allgemeiner gefasst: Max Weber ist als Begründer der Wirtschaftssoziologie anerkannt und viele seiner Kategorien wie etwa „Geist des Kapitalismus“, „rationaler Kapitalismus“ und „Bürokratie“ gehören längst zum Begriffsinstrumentarium nicht nur der Wirtschaftssoziologie, sondern der Soziologie allgemein.

    Read more about Die Bedeutung der Weber'schen Kategorien für die Wirtschaftssoziologie
  • Schumpeter 2.0

    2010. Richard Swedberg, Thorbjørn Knudsen. The American The Journal of the American Enterprice Institute

    Read more about Schumpeter 2.0
  • The Structure of Confidence and the Collapse of Lehman Brothers

    2010. Richard Swedberg. Markets on Trial, 71-114


    On September 15, 2008, Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy and nearly caused a meltdown of the financial system. This article looks at the situation before Lehman went bankrupt and how this event came to trigger a financial panic during the fall of 2008 and early 2009. Two key ideas inform the analysis. The first is that what triggers financial panics are typically hidden losses. The second is that confidence plays a key role in financial panics and that confidence can be conceptualized as a belief that action can be based on proxy signs, rather than on direct information about the situation itself.

    Read more about The Structure of Confidence and the Collapse of Lehman Brothers
  • Capitalist Entrepreneurship: Making Profit through the Unmaking of Economic Orders

    2009. Richard Swedberg, Thorbjørn Knudsen. Capitalism and Society 4 (2 Art. 3), 1-26


    This is a theoretical paper in which we attempt to present an economic and sociological theory of entrepreneurship. We start from Schumpeter's idea in Theory of Economic Development that the economy can be conceptualized as a combination and innovations as new combinations. Schumpeter also spoke of resistance to entrepreneurship. By linking the ideas of combination and resistance, we are in a position to suggest a theory of capitalist entrepreneurship. An existing combination, we propose, can be understood as a social formation with its own cohesion and resistance – what may be called an economic order. Actors know how to act; and profit is low and even in these orders. Entrepreneurship, in contrast, breaks them up by creating new ways of doing things and, in doing so, produces entrepreneurial profit. This profit inspires imitators until a new order for how to do things has been established; and profit has become low and even once more. Entrepreneurship is defined as the act of creating a new combination that ends one economic order and clears the way for a new one. The implications of this approach for a number of topics related to entrepreneurship are also discussed.

    Read more about Capitalist Entrepreneurship
  • Preface

    2008. Richard Swedberg. A Weberian analysis of business groups and financial markets, vii-ix

    Read more about Preface

Show all publications by Richard Swedberg at Stockholm University