Wilson Center Experts

Sarah Babb

Program on America and the Global Economy

Economics and Globalization
North America
United States
Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, Boston College
Wilson Center Project(s):
"US Politics and the Multilateral Development Banks, 1977-present"
Sep 01, 2005
May 01, 2006

The recurring theme in my work is the origin and political impact of economic ideas. My 1996 article in the American Sociological Review, entitled "A True American System of Finance: Frame Resonance in the U.S. Labor Movement, 1866-1896," analyzed 19th century labor movement rhetoric concerning the problems of the American working class, focusing on conflict between "greenbacker" ideology and experienced reality. Social movement ideologies, I concluded, are analogous to Kuhnian paradigms in being both resistant to disconfirmation and disconfirmable in the long run. My book, Managing Mexico (based on my doctoral dissertation), examines historical, institutional, and ideological shifts in the training of economists in Mexico. Whereas economics in Mexico began in the 1920s as a leftist, interventionist, and statist profession, today it is dominated by academics and government officials trained in the United States. These individuals played a central role in bringing about Mexico's transition to free-market or neoliberal economic policies in the 1980s and 90s, and continue to be a powerful force in the Mexican government today. I am co-author, with Bruce Carruthers, of a textbook on economic sociology entitled Economy/Society: Markets, Meanings, and Social Structure. Economy/Society: Markets, Meanings, and Social Structure. My current interests include the International Monetary Fund and historical changes, fads, and fashions in economic policy reforms prescribed for developing countries.


B.A. (1988) University of Michigan; M.A. (1993) Northwestern University; Ph.D. (1998) Northwestern University




  • Associate Professor, Boston College, 2004-present
  • Assistant Professor, Boston College, 2003-04
  • Assistant Professor, University of Massachusetts at Amherst, 1998-2003


Economic sociology; historical sociology; Mexico; development policy history

Project Summary

How do ideas, political pressures, and real-world events combine to create and transform policy paradigms? I am investigating the evolution of policy prescriptions for developing countries emanating from "Washington" (think tanks, multilateral organizations, and the U.S. government), with a particular emphasis on developments from the late 1970s through the end of the 1990s. My methods for investigating the nature, timing, and underlying causes of these historical trends will include content analysis of official documents, archival research, and interviews with actors involved in these processes.

Major Publications

  • Managing Mexico: Economists from Nationalism to Neoliberalism (Princeton University Press, 2001)
  • "The Rebirth of the Liberal Creed: Paths to Neoliberalism in Four Countries" American Journal of Sociology 108(3): 533-79, with Fourcade-Gourinchas and Marion Babb
  • "The Social Consequences of Structural Adjustment: Recent Evidence and Current Debates" Annual Review of Sociology, forthcoming

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