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Nobel Laureate Praises Penn’s Integration of Knowledge Across Disciplines

October 16, 2009

Oliver Williamson, winner of the 2009 Nobel Prize in Economics and a former professor of economics and of law at the University of Pennsylvania, cited Penn’s emphasis on integrating knowledge across disciplines as a key contributor to his work, during a news conference about the prize.  As a young scholar at Penn, he said, “I related immediately to the idea that the social sciences should communicate with one another, and that there are boundaries that we ought to be prepared to cross.”

Williamson, professor emeritus of business, economics, and law at the University of California at Berkeley, was honored for his contributions to the field of economic governance.  He was a member of Penn’s faculty from 1965 to 1983. During that time, he published his seminal work, “Markets and Hierarchies: Analysis and Antitrust Implications” (1975). While at Penn, Williamson chaired the University’s Department of Economics and directed its Center for the Study of Organizational Innovation. He also held a dual-appointment in the Law School, where he taught courses on law and economics, antitrust economics and economic organizations.

Williamson is a leading scholar of transaction cost economics, which combines economics, organization theory, and law, with sociology and social psychology, to study the governance of contractual relations. His work analyzes when and why parties conduct transactions inside the boundaries of the firm versus negotiate in the marketplace. He argues that markets and firms should be seen as alternative governance structures that differ in how they resolve conflicts of interest.