Sociologist to speak on the impact of fictional futures on modern economies

Jens BeckertJens Beckert, a sociologist and director of the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies in Cologne, will deliver a public lecture titled "Imagined Futures and Capitalist Dynamics" on Monday, February 27, 2017, from 4:30 to 6:00 p.m. in the Lewis Auditorium in Goldwin Smith Hall.

The talk will be based on his new book, Imagined Futures: Fictional Expectations and Capitalist Dynamics (Harvard University Press, 2016). It is organized by Cornell’s Global Finance Initiative and is part of the Einaudi Center's Distinguished Speaker Series.

In Imagined Futures, Beckert adds a new chapter to the theory of capitalism by demonstrating how fictional expectations drive modern economies – or throw them into crisis when the imagined futures fail to materialize.

He argues that collectively held images of the future are critical even if they prove to be innacurate because they free economic actors from paralyzing doubt, enabling them to commit resources and coordinate decisions. Since they are not confined to empirical reality, fictional expectations are a source of creativity in the economy.

In his talk, Beckert will relate these ideas to the operation of investments, innovation, and consumption.

Beckert studied sociology and business administration at the Freie Universität Berlin and the New School for Social Research in New York. He received his Ph.D. and his habilitation in sociology from the Freie Universität.

His research interests include the role of the economy in society, organizational sociology, sociology of inheritance, and sociological theory. 

Beckert was a visiting fellow at the sociology department of Princeton University, the Center for European Studies at Harvard University, the European University Institute in Florence, and Sciences Po in France. In 2012-2013 he was a resident at the Institut d’études avancées in Paris.

Among his publications are "Capitalism as a System of Expectations: Toward a Sociological Microfoundation of Political Economy" in Politics & Society; Constructing Quality: The Classification of Goods in Markets (edited with Christine Musselin, Oxford University Press, 2013); Inherited Wealth (Princeton University Press, 2008); Beyond the Market: The Social Foundations of Economic Efficiency (Princeton University Press, 2002); and the International Encyclopedia of Economic Sociology (edited with Milan Zafirovski, Routledge, 2006).