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Who is Fred Block?


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Hi Sociology people, I am from political science; while doing my research on developmental state, I came across the writing of this professor Fred Block from UC Davis. I know very little about sociology and sociologists. Can anyone tell me something about Block?

Is he a huge figure in the field (Wiki says he is 'one of the world's leading' sociologists)?

Which school of thought does he belong to?

Which other names in the field is Block associated with?

I can find scant info from the net. So I want to see if Gradcafe sociologists can help me out.

Thanks a lot!

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Full disclosure: I am not authority on who's who in sociology, nor do I speak for all sociologists. His name rings a bell. From his profile at UCD's website, he's an active political sociologist, but I think 'one of the world's leading sociologists' is a stretch. It's almost impossible to say that about anyone in sociology though because the field is so diffuse (not to mention the idea of being a "leading sociologist" is a little nonsensical).

But based on his books and publication history, he does look influential in economic and political sociology, although perhaps part of the "old school."

The best metric (depending on what you're looking for) to assess a sociologist's credibility is to see where she/he has published. Recent publications listed on his UCD profile page are in 2nd-3rd tier journals, but he's a tenured faculty working in a field that is not super high profile in sociology (political economy), so his motivation for publishing in the top tier journals is diminished, perhaps.

My response is fuzzy, but I suppose it all depends on why you ask. If you ask if he's credible enough to cite, then absolutely yes.

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I would not say that I know all of Fred Block's work, however I know that he is influential in globalization studies and has engaged with a Polanyian approach to understanding the "embeddedness" of liberal markets. Polanyi wrote in the early 20th century cautioning about the potential downsides of dis-embedding the market economy from the broader societal context overall. Block wrote the introduction to the most recent publication of Polanyi's work.

Hope that helps.

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As for schools of though, he's more or less a Marxist, I think.

Sociology is a little different than Political Science. Whereas Poli Sci has four to six clear subfields (American, Comparative Politics, IR, Theory, plus maybe IPE and Methods), sociology probably has more like a dozen to two dozen major subfields. Everyone in Poli Sci needs to know people across subfields (Putnam, Dahl, Mearscheimer, Walt, Wendt, Rawls, etc.), sociology has less of a clear canon. Since Goffman (who was most active in the 50's and 60's) and Merton (who was active through the 70's), there's been a lot less unity in Sociology (really, probably, the introduction of Marxism has a lot to do with this).

Everyone has to know the leading people who research urban poverty: William Julius Wilson, Robert Sampson, Loic Wacquant, Mitch Duneier, Elijah Anderson, Sudhir Venkatesh, minimally, but it's hard to be a "leading sociologist" universally known if you do other things. There are a handful of names from other disciplines which are almost universally known, like Chuck Tilly (historical sociology), Harrison White (networks), Mark Granovetter (networks/work/economic sociology), Andy Abbot (work/methods/historical sociology), Paul DiMaggio/Woody Powell (organizations/lots of things), Viviana Zelizer (economic sociology), Saskia Sassen (urban sociology/globalization), Anthony Giddens (class/theory) and then like the list just goes on and on. Judging from google scholar, Fred Block does stuff on poverty, the state, postindustrialism, so there's just a good chance that no one knows him because no one is familiar with whatever subfield(s) he's working in. But within that subfield, apparently, he's a big deal. Two of his books have more than 600 citations. Like a dozen works have more than 100. That's a sign of importance, and it might just be he's popular within some Marxian critics of globalization, or he's loved by radical geographers more than mainstream sociologists, or that he worked in a way that has become less popular in the last twenty years, but, unmistakably, he was very important to a large group of people at some time. Especially with some less central subfields (gender, medical sociology, sociology of religion, environmental sociology), I could probably post the biggest names working in sociology departments and no one on this board would know them.

Also, as for "only publishing in second or third tier journals", he had an ASR (OP, it's one of our two top journals--the equivalent to APSR) with Margaret Somers in 2005 (it has more than 200 ciations on Google scholar)...it's not like he's entirely a washed up hack or anything, if that's what you're worried about. If you want to know similar names, get on google scholar and see who cites him and also look at the bibliography to his books and see who he cites in multiple works.

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Also, as for "only publishing in second or third tier journals", he had an ASR (OP, it's one of our two top journals--the equivalent to APSR) with Margaret Somers in 2005 (it has more than 200 ciations on Google scholar)...it's not like he's entirely a washed up hack or anything, if that's what you're worried about.

Woops. I missed the 2005 ASR. Strange that he doesn't list it on his faculty bio. In any case, I should clarify for the OP and others not in sociology that a "second tier journal" is anything below basically the top two or three generalist journals in the discipline, so it in no way reflects poor quality scholarship. It usually means the author is targeting a specific audience, rather than the whole discipline. It looks like Block, for instance, is mostly talking to political and economic sociologists, in which case he's published in the journals they're likely to be reading.

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AJS/ASR (sometimes Annual Review) are without doubt the top journals, then Social Forces and maybe Social Problems count as either "the worst top journals" and some people count as "the best regional journals" (as one of my professors said, "The main problem with Social Forces is that no one reads it"--not that it doesn't consistently publish great articles). But whatever, it's a very distant 3rd and 4th either way. Where I'd differ from you is I'd probably separate out the top regional journals and top specialty journals. Regional journals are generalist and usually published by like the Midwest Sociological Association, Eastern Sociological Association, etc (hence "regional"): things like Social Science Research (not actually published by a regional association), Sociological Inquiry, Sociological Review, Sociological Forum, etc. Top specialty journals are often published by the ASA section (though might be published for an interdisciplinary audience, like Theory and Society) and include things like City and Community, Journal of Health and Social Behavior/that other medical one, Sociology of Religion/Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, Sociological Theory, Social Networks, Socio-Economic Review, Demography, etc. I tend to differentiate between the two not because "top specialty journals are better than regionalist journals" (prestige might be about the same), but that they have inherently different audiences. I would say you could have a career as primarily a book writer and then publish articles in top specialty journals, but if you primarily wrote books and published primarily in regional journals, that probably wouldn't be a great sign. But often primarily book people will only publish AJS/ASR articles earlier in their career (Phil Gorski is the most prominent of a couple of examples I'm thinking of--actually maybe this is just a historical sociology thing?) but as they become senior scholars, it's not worth the trouble for them to put their ideas in that particular format.

For one thing, they're a lot more work. I had a seminar with a really senior (ancient) professor in political science, and we were sharing our final papers, and he said to a girl, "Where are you trying to publish this?" She said, "Oh, I don't know... maybe (the four biggest comparative politics journals she can think of)" "Okay, well you always need to have what journal you're writing for in mind. This has about 30 footnotes. To get into (one of the biggest journals in the field), it would need at least 100." I feel like some mainly book writing senior scholars, when writing mainly to their subfield, and are already well known and well respected in their subfield, don't always feel the need to go through the hassle of adding in those other footnotes and formatting things to try for one of the top journals (AJS particularly apparently has a distinct format, or so says a senior professor of mine).

Also senior professors are ridiculous in general. The guy doesn't have an ASR article from 2005 on his website? Absurd, but also just doesn't surprise me. But like four of the articles he cites are in Socio-Economic Review and Theory and Society, which are really swell journals, and I don't know it well, but I think Politics & Society is really well respected, too. Anyway, it seems more like a book writer who mainly is just interested talking to his colleagues in political and economic sociology, rather than amassing more cultural capital. Like Harrison White (he's known for his books, but I'd say he's more articles) has published once in ASR or AJS since 1988 (in 2010, as a third author), but he's published in journals like Sociologica, Poetics, Theory and Society, Sociological Theory, Social Research, Sociological Forum, Theory Culture and Society, Journal of Mathematical Sociology, Complexity, etc. Once you're senior, maybe it's fine to publish in a lot of top specialty journals instead of jumping through hoops for an AJS or an ASR (or you only publish in those when you co-author with a student based on their dissertation research--I feel like I see that a lot).

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My UG adviser is older and said specifically that they're "tired of the games," when I asked to co-author. When you've got people banging down your email asking you to come to their conference and forward contracts signed for your next book, it's difficult to imagine why you would want to jump through R&R hoops for months at a time.

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  • 2 months later...

Hi all - Fred Block is NOT a Marxian, he's Polanyian, which is a different animal.


He was pretty big in economic sociology when it was first revived in the 80's, and is currently very well-respected in the economic sociology subfield. Note that he was the editor of a special edition of Politics & Society on using Viviana Zelizer's notion of "relational work" as a microfoundation for economic sociology in general.


When Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson had a review symposium in Politics & Society on their book "Winner-Take-All Politics," Fred Block, along with Margaret Somers at Michigan, was one of the people invited to respond.


Ask anyone in economic sociology section, and they all know who he is and often have working relationships with him.


Sure, Politics & Society and Socio-Economic Review are not "top-rated" journals if your idea of "top" is only ASR and AJS, but they're top-notch in economic sociology and those 2 journals are probably the top journals for economic sociologists.


Fred Block was also recently published in Studies in Comparative International Development, which is probably the leading sociological journal for the sociology of economic/Third World development.


Michigan Sociology's own Greta Krippner used Fred Block's work, as well as that of James O'Connor and Daniel Bell, in her recent book "Capitalizing on Crisis," published by Harvard Press, and she acknowledges her personal and intellectual debts to Fred Block in the acknowledgements section of said book.


-A former student

Edited by Polanyian
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