Symposium, May 17-18, 2019

“Theorizing and Historicizing: Political Economy, Rights, and Moral Worth”

Symposium for Margaret R. Somers

“Theorizing and Historicizing: Political Economy, Rights,

and Moral Worth”

Symposium for Margaret R. Somers

Professor Emerita Sociology and History

May 17-18, 2019

(for schedule scroll down below)

Ann Arbor, Michigan

Organized by Greta Krippner, UM Sociology and Geoff Eley, UM History

Symposium Program

All Panels and Events meeting in

1014 Tisch Hall, S. State St., University of Michigan

Friday, May 17

4:00-5:30 pm

Introduction and Panel I: The Political Economy of Moral Worth

Moderator: Mark Mizruchi (Sociology, UM)


1. Marion Fourcade (Sociology, UC Berkeley)

2. Roi Livne (Sociology, Michigan)

3. Steven Lukes (Sociology, NYU)

4. Camilo Leslie (Sociology, Tulane, UM PhD 2015)

5:30-5:45 Coffee Break

5:45-6:30 pm Keynote Address: Fred Block

Saturday, May 18

9:00-9:10 am Welcome & Introduction: Greta Krippner

9:15-10:45 am

Panel II: The People and the Law: Working-Class Formation and the Making of Citizenship Rights

Moderator: Dario Gaggio (History, UM)


1. William Novak (Law, UM)

2. Jesús de Felipe-Redondo (History, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid)

3. Craig Calhoun (University Professor, Arizona State University)

4. Ron Suny (History, Michigan)

10:45-11:00 am Coffee Break

11:00 am-12:45 pm

Panel III: Toward a Sociology of Rights

Moderator: Sandra Levitsky (Sociology, UM)


1. Christopher Roberts (Law, Minnesota, UM PhD 2010)

2. Jeff Alexander (Sociology, Yale)

3. Lars Hulgard (Sociology, Roskilde, Denmark)

4. Leo Casey (Albert Shanker Institute)

12:45-1:45 pm Lunch

1:45 pm-3:15 pm

Panel IV: Historical Sociologies of Concept Formation

Moderator: Renee Anspach (Sociology, UM)


1. William Sewell, Jr. (History and Political Science, Chicago)

2. Howard Brick (History, UM)

3. Mabel Berezin (Sociology, Cornell)

4. George Steinmetz (Sociology, UM)

3:15-3:30 Coffee Break

3:30-4:15 pm Keynote Address: Geoff Eley

4:15-5:00 pm Light Refreshments and Adjourn


Margaret Somers is a social theorist, comparative historical and economic sociologist whose research has focused on three substantive areas. The first is the long-term development of—and constant challenges to—socio-economic citizenship, political, legal, and human rights, as well as the preconditions for equal recognition and moral worth among all members of a polity, primarily in the cases of pre-20th-century English history and contemporary American society (concepts include the “right to have rights,” class formation).

The second is an in-depth exploration, elaboration, and interpretation of the work of Karl Polanyi, a leading 20th-century political economist, economic historian and anthropologist, whose work has transformed our contemporary understandings of markets and market societies.

The third is a broad area of theory, methods, and epistemology, which includes a long-term commitment to developing the contours and methodology of a comparative historical sociology, with a focus on the intersection of sociology and history (“the Historic Turn in the Social Sciences,” critique of rational choice theory, theory of causal narrativity, pragmatic and critical realism). It also includes what she has dubbed a “historical sociology of concept formation,” which entails analyzing the complex and skewed relationships between the practical world of social organization and the cognitive maps with which we engage that world--a cultural and historical approach to making sense of the conceptual vocabulary that obliges us to think in certain ways (concepts include: “narrative identity,” “civil society and the public sphere,” “unthinking the metanarrative of Anglo-American citizenship theory,” rethinking “social capital,” etc).

As the research does not fit neatly under any single area in sociology, the scholarly work has been wide-ranging and eclectic, embracing economic sociology and political economy; social and political theory—including normative studies of rights and conceptions of social justice; political sociology and legal studies of democratization; sociology of ideas and knowledge; and methods of historical sociology and theories of knowledge (historical epistemology). Beyond sociology, the research draws from the fields of legal theory and history; political theory and moral philosophy; British and American history; economic anthropology and historical demography.

Despite the plurality of this research program, there is a unifying albeit deeply paradoxical thread to its multiplicity: That people’s life-chances, their access to the institutions, practices, and democratic principles of equity and mutual recognition of moral worth, and their very “right to have rights” are most threatened by those aspects of social life that have taken on the appearance of being most “natural” (e.g. the ‘self-regulating’ market, ‘natural’ rights), while people are best protected by those social institutions that are the product of human artifice, and thus the least natural (e.g. the rules of law, democratic citizenship rights, membership in a political community, and institutionalized human rights). Exploring, testing, and further theorizing this hypothesis is one of the core commitments of Somers’ work.

The Retirement Symposium we have organized for Margaret Somers that reflects the depth and breadth of her research practices and commitments, involving scholars who bridge as widely as possible all her areas of interest, and who have engaged with her work in varying capacities in their own work.