Jens Beckert (born 21 July 1967, in Frankfurt am Main) is a German sociologist with a strong interest in economic sociology. The author of books on inherited wealth and the social foundations of economic efficiency, he focuses on the role of the economy in society – especially based on studies of markets – as well as organizational sociology, the sociology of inheritance, and sociological theory. He is director at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies (MPIfG) in Cologne, Germany, and a member of the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities.
Beckert earned his MA in sociology at the New School for Social Research in New York City in 1991 and his MBA at Free University of Berlin in 1993. He earned his doctorate with a dissertation in the field of economic sociology in 1996 at Free University of Berlin and his habilitation at the same university with a book on the sociology of inheritance in 2003.
An associate professorship in sociology at International University Bremen (2002–2003) and a professorship in sociology at the University of Göttingen (2003–2005) preceded Beckert’s appointment at age 37 as director at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies (MPIfG), which conducts basic research on the governance of modern societies. Beckert has had visiting fellowships at Princeton University, Harvard University, the European University Institute in Florence, the Center for the Sociology of Organizations (CSO) in Paris, and the Paris Institute for Advanced Study. He gave a Mario Einaudi Lecture at the Center for International Studies at Cornell University in 2007.
He is director at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies (MPIfG) in Cologne. In addition, Beckert is a member of the Faculty of Management, Economics and Social Sciences at the University of Cologne. He is a faculty member and chair of the International Max Planck Research School on the Social and Political Constitution of the Economy, a doctoral program run jointly by the MPIfG and the Faculty of Management at the University of Cologne. He is a member of the Joint Council of the Max Planck Sciences Po Center on Coping with Instability in Market Societies at Sciences Po Paris, which investigates how individuals, organizations, and nation-states cope with new forms of economic and social instability in Western societies and is a unique innovation in Franco-German collaboration in the social sciences reflecting the Max Planck Society's aim to put its operations on an international footing. Beckert is an editor of the European Journal of Sociology and a member of the editorial board of Socio-Economic Review. He was council member of the Economic Sociology Section of the American Sociological Association (ASA).
Jens Beckert’s current work at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies reflects a research program he has developed with his codirector Wolfgang Streeck which “proposes to invest in a theory of social action as the most promising approach to a deeper understanding and an improved theorization of the economy as a socially and politically constituted system of action.”
“Any economy is socially and politically constructed. The way it is socially embedded reflects both prevailing systems of meaning and the results of political ‘market struggles’ over social regulation. Investigating institutional regulation of the economy requires studying how economies are constituted as social orders within societies.”
In his research cluster on the “Sociology of Markets,” Beckert focuses on “markets as the core institution of capitalist economies,” seeking “to understand the functioning of markets from a distinctively sociological perspective.” Analyzing markets “from a Weberian viewpoint as arenas of social struggle in which actors confront each other under conditions of competition,” he explores the “social, cultural, and political underpinnings for the development of the order of markets.”
“The problem of uncertainty market actors face when making decisions” is a key issue in Beckert’s research, which examines “the coordination problems market participants must cope with” – the problems of value, competition, and cooperation. “Uncertainty also provides a theoretical opening to explain the embeddedness of economic action.”