A Sociology of Luck

Hosted by the Department of Sociology



Professor Michael Sauder

Professor Michael Sauder

University of Iowa

Professor Michael Sauder will present his recent research as part of our Research Seminar Series.

Sociology has been curiously silent about the concept of luck. The present article argues that this omission is, in fact, an oversight: an explicit and systematic engagement with luck provides a more accurate portrayal of the social world, opens potentially rich veins of empirical and theoretical inquiry, and offers a compelling alternative for challenging dominant meritocratic frames about inequality and the distribution of rewards. This article develops a framework for studying luck, first by proposing a working definition of luck, examining why sociology has ignored luck in the past, and making the case for why it is valuable to include luck in sociology’s conceptual repertoire. The article then demonstrates the fertile research potential of studying luck by identifying a host of research questions and hypotheses pertaining to the social construction of luck, the real effects of luck, and theoretical interventions related to luck. It concludes by highlighting the distinctive contributions sociology can make to the growing interdisciplinary interest in this topic.

Michael Sauder is Professor of Sociology at the University of Iowa. He specializes in the sociology of organizations, theory, culture, and inequality. His recent research has appeared in American Journal of Sociology, American Sociological Review, and Administrative Science Quarterly. Sauder's 2016 book with Wendy Espeland, Engines of Anxiety: Educational Rankings, Reputation, and Accountability (Russell Sage Foundation), is the culmination of an extensive project examining the unintended consequences of accountability measures on the individuals, organizations, and fields that they assess. A current research project proposes a sociological approach to the study of luck and inequality. This work develops a theoretical justification for studying luck and outlines and empirical program for creating a better understanding of both beliefs about luck and the ways in which luck influences life chances.

Sauder is currently a Fellow at the Max Weber Centre for Advanced Cultural and Social Studies in Erfurt, Germany the Chair of the Organizations, Occupations, and Work Section of the American Sociological Association.

View the Lent Term line up for the Research Seminar Series here.