Margaret Somers, Professor of Sociology and History, is a social theorist and comparative historical sociologist specializing in economic, political, and cultural historical sociology. She works under the guidance of Karl Polanyi’s intellectual and moral legacy and seeks to express Polanyi’s commitments in her writing. Her recent book, Genealogies of Citizenship: Markets, Statelessness, and the Right to have Rights (Cambridge 2008), was awarded the 2009 Giovanni Sartori Award for Qualitative Methods by the American Political Science Association, which honors Giovanni Sartori's work on qualitative methods and concept formation, as well as on problems of context for concepts in new spatial and temporal settings. The book, much of which was funded by a 2006-07 National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship and written while a Research Fellow at NYU’s International Center for Advanced Studies, focuses on how decades of market fundamentalism have transformed increasing numbers of rights-bearing citizens into socially excluded internally stateless persons. With Hurricane Katrina’s racial apartheid as a demonstration case, Somers alerts us that the growing moral authority of the market is distorting the meaning of citizenship from noncontractual shared fate to conditional privilege, making rights, inclusion and moral worth dependent on contractual market value.
Her current book-in-progress (co-authored with Fred Block), Free-Market Utopianism: From Market fundamentalism to Karl Polanyi and the Reality of the Social (Harvard 2011), is an intellectual archeology of Polanyi’s thought. The book aims to generate a repertoire of concepts and theoretical insights that can help explain the current financial meltdown as well as add up to a usable social theory. She is also completing a book on “The Making of Citizenship Rights,” a work of comparative historical sociology with a focus on English legal history. Both of these projects are supported by a 2009-10 Research Fellowship at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, Stanford University, as well as by the University of Michigan Department of Sociology and College of Literature, Science and the Arts. Somers has been awarded fellowships from the European University Institute, UM’s Institute for the Humanities, ASA Fund for Advancement of the Discipline, Yale University, and the German Marshall Fund of the United States. Somers has been awarded a 2010-2011 Fellowship at the Eisenberg Institute for Historical Affairs, UM. She will be conducting research into economic theory and its historical epistemologies; the history of market-driven governance; citizenship and human rights; poverty and politics.