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 MPIfG Press Release | December 29, 2017



Jens Beckert Wins Leibniz Prize


Press Release | Interview | Selected Publications in English



Christel Schommertz
Media and Public Relations
Phone +49 221 2767-130

Prof. Dr.
Jens Beckert

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Max Planck Institute for
the Study of Societies
Paulstr. 3 | 50676 Cologne


MPIfG Press Release | December 29, 2017

Jens Beckert is one of the eleven recipients of the 2018 Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize, the most prestigious research award in Germany. He is being honored for his work in reinvigorating the social sciences with an interdisciplinary perspective, especially in the intersection of sociology and economics – two disciplines that have long developed on largely separate paths. Conferred by the German Research Foundation (DFG), the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize provides each recipient with up to 2.5 million euros in research funding.
Jens Beckert, director at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies in Cologne, is one of the leading European scholars in the field of the New Economic Sociology. His work focuses on how economic processes and decisions are embedded in social contexts – a dimension often overlooked in contemporary economic theory. Beckert, 50, is only the second sociologist to win the Leibniz Prize in its 33-year history.
The role of the economy, and particularly markets, in society is Jens Beckert's primary current research interest. He aims to understand, for example, how and why we place value on goods. What factors contribute to deciding what a good is worth? His empirical studies on this theme have examined the markets for art, the lottery, and wine. Beckert also has a long-standing interest in organizational sociology and the sociology of inheritance.
His ambitious research program at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies has a strong theoretical vein. Building on recent strands of economic sociology in the United States, Jens Beckert and his colleagues at the Institute have developed new ways of exploring how economic actors handle fundamental uncertainty. How do actors make decisions when they cannot know what the best option will be? The group's research models are often inspired by the school of American pragmatism.
Economic sociology's job, in Beckert's view, is to develop theoretical concepts and investigate economic processes empirically using sociology's toolkit. "Economic action is a type of social action," he says. "We can only understand actors' economic decisions in light of their social and political context."
In his latest book, "Imagined Futures: Fictional Expectations and Capitalist Dynamics" (Harvard University Press 2016), Beckert analyzes how uncertainty about the future influences economic action. He adds a new chapter to the theory of capitalism by offering an innovative way of understanding capitalist dynamics. He examines actors' fictional expectations of future states of the world and their narratives about the future. Using approaches from sociology and literary theory, he shows that these expectations profoundly impact money, investments, innovation, and consumption, either driving modern economies forward or plunging them into crisis when the imagined futures fail to materialize. He makes it very clear that understanding the role of real uncertainty and fictional expectations is essential for understanding the nature of capitalism.
Jens Beckert has been Director at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies in Cologne and Professor of Sociology at the University of Cologne since 2005. Born in Frankfurt am Main, he got a master's degree in sociology from the New School for Social Research in New York in 1991, an MBA (Diplom-Kaufmann) from the Free University of Berlin (FU) in 1993, and a doctorate from FU Berlin in 1996. Before receiving his habilitation from FU Berlin in 2003, he was a junior faculty member and a DFG research fellow there, and he spent two years in the United States as a Visiting Research Fellow at Princeton and a John F. Kennedy Memorial Fellow at Harvard. He became an Associate Professor of Sociology at the International University Bremen in 2002 and was Professor of Sociology at Göttingen University from 2003 to 2005.
DFG Press Release | 14. December 2017


Beyond Embeddedness: Economic Sociology as a Historical Theory of Society.
Studia Socjologiczne 226(3), 239-256, 2017


Selected Publications in English

(see the German press release for a selection that includes more publications in German)
Imagined Futures: Fictional Expectations and Capitalist Dynamics. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2016

The Architecture of Illegal Markets: Towards an Economic Sociology of Illegality in the Economy (co-edited with Matías Dewey). Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017
The Worth of Goods: Valuation and Pricing in the Economy (co-edited with Patrick Aspers). Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011
Inherited Wealth (translated by Thomas Dunlap). Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008
International Encyclopedia of Economic Sociology (co-edited with Milan Zafirovski). London: Routledge, 2006


Articles and Papers
Wine as a Cultural Product: Symbolic Capital and Price Formation in the Wine Field (co-authored with Jörg Rössel and Patrick Schenk). Sociological Perspectives 60, 1, 206–222 (2017)
The Enduring Importance of Family Wealth: Evidence from the Forbes 400, 1982 to 2013 (co-authored with Philipp Korom and Mark Lutter). Social Science Research 65, 75–95 (2017)
Imagined Futures: Fictional Expectations in the Economy. Theory and Society 42, 3, 219–240 (2013)
The Price of Art (co-authored with Jörg Rössel). European Societies 15, 2, 178–195 (2013)
Capitalism as a System of Expectations: Toward a Sociological Microfoundation of Political Economy. Politics & Society 41, 3, 323-350 (2013)
Where Do Prices Come From? Sociological Approaches to Price Formation. Socio-Economic Review 9, 4, 757–786 (2011)
The Social Order of Markets. In: Theory and Society 38, 245–269 (2009)




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