Peter Urmetzer

Associate Professor Emeritus

Other Titles: Sociology Caucus Co-Coordinator, Graduate Coordinator
Office: ART 315

Research Summary

Economic sociology; particularly globalization and free trade; how non-economic factors, such as values and culture, influence economic decision making.

Courses & Teaching

Introduction to sociology; Canadian society; political economy; survey methods.


I have a BA and MA from Carleton University and a PhD from UBC — all degrees are in sociology. I teach intro, survey methods, and Canadian society. My current research examines the sociological dimension of economic behaviour. It is a truism that everybody loves a bargain, but such assessments are much more difficult to make when it comes to social and economic policy decisions. For example, is national health care a bargain? Likewise, do I benefit from the welfare state, bank mergers, free trade, or minimum wage legislation? What is the rational actor going to do when faced with these kinds of decisions? Since information is often in short supply, I argue, people often rely on values, beliefs, and opinions to make their decisions.

My most recent book (together with John Macionis, Nijole V. Benokraitis, and Bruce Ravelli) is an edited volume entitled Seeing Ourselves (Pearson Press). This collection of readings is targeted at undergraduate students and includes readings by classical theorists such as Marx, Weber, and Simmel as well as contemporary readings by both international and Canadian sociologists.

Over the years, my academic interests have consistently leaned towards the distribution of income and wealth, although this sometimes may not be apparent at first blush. Globalization Unplugged (University of Toronto Press) examines the consequences of globalization on Canada and the rest of the world and attempts to assess whether an increase in economic cross border activity necessarily leads to a loss of national sovereignty. From Free Trade to Forced Trade (Penguin Press Canada) directly speaks to some of the concerns that Canadians have about free trade, in particular the WTO. The book explores questions about social inequalities in two different ways: what is the past and future impact of free trade on the economic distribution in Canada, and will free trade help or hinder third world countries (in short, the answers are very little and hinder). Because of the subject matter, or maybe vice versa, my interests go beyond sociology and encompass economics, philosophy, and political science.

My other academic interests include survey methods and research methods in general. To tie this back to some of my substantive work discussed above, a typical question would be What constitutes evidence in the ongoing debate about free trade? The answer is not all that obvious, and arguments for and against free trade often ignore some of the most fundamental tenets of good research.

My motto for doing both research and writing is “Focus, focus, focus”. Through discussions and exercises, I teach students how to properly execute research; as well, I encourage them to express themselves clearly and concisely when documenting the process on paper. Whether the evidence is historical or quantitative, sociological or philosophical is less important than how the evidence relates to the research question.

Two books that I recommend all undergraduates read are The Worldly Philosophers by Robert Heilbroner and Cows, Pigs, Wars and Witches by Marvin Harris.


PhD, University of British Columbia
MA, Carleton University
BA, Carleton University

Selected Publications & Presentations

Globalization Unplugged: Sovereignty and the Canadian State in the Twenty-First Century (Studies in Comparative Political Economy and Public Policy). University of Toronto Press. Second edition, 2005.

From Free Trade to Forced Trade: Canada in the Global Economy. Penguin Canada. First printing edition, 2003.

Seeing Ourselves: Classic, Contemporary, and Cross-Cultural Readings in Sociology. Pearson Canada. Third edition, 2009.



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