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From Social Control to Financial Economics: The Linked Ecologies of Economics and Business in Twentieth Century America


Fourcade,  Marion
Max Planck Sciences Po Center on Coping with Instability in Market Societies (MaxPo), Max Planck Society;
University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA;

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Fourcade, M., & Khurana, R. (2013). From Social Control to Financial Economics: The Linked Ecologies of Economics and Business in Twentieth Century America. Theory and Society, 42(2), 121-159. doi:10.1007/s11186-012-9187-3.

This article draws on historical material to examine the co-evolution of economic science and business education over the course of the twentieth century, showing that fields evolve not only through internal struggles but also through struggles taking place in adjacent fields. More specifically, we argue that the scientific strategies of business schools played an essential—if largely invisible and poorly understood—role in major transformations in the organization and substantive direction of social-scientific knowledge, and specifically economic knowledge, in twentieth century America. We use the Wharton School as an illustration of the earliest trends and dilemmas (ca. 1900–1930), when business schools found themselves caught between their business connections and their striving for moral legitimacy in higher education. Next, we look at the creation of the Carnegie Tech Graduate School of Industrial Administration after World War II. This episode illustrates the increasingly successful claims of social scientists, backed by philanthropic foundations, on business education and the growing appeal of “scientific” approaches to decision-making and management. Finally, we argue that the rise of the Graduate School of Business at the University of Chicago from the 1960s onwards (and its closely related cousin at the University of Rochester) marks the decisive ascendancy of economics, and particularly financial economics, in business education over the other behavioral disciplines. We document the key role of these institutions in diffusing “Chicago-style” economic approaches—offering support for deregulatory policies and popularizing narrowly financial understandings of the firm—that sociologists have described as characteristic of the modern neo liberal regime.