The development of the sociology of conventions in the context of educational sociology and educational policy in France

Interview with Jean-Louis Derouet

Regula Julia Leemann (Schoof of Education Basel, Switzerland)

Lien vers la version française de l’interview

Jean-Louis Derouet is professor emeritus at the École Normale Supérieure (ENS) in Lyon. In 1991, he defended his habilitation (postdoctoral qualification) at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS), prepared under the supervision of Luc Boltanski and published under the title École et Justice (Paris: Editions Métailié 1992). He led the Groupe d’Études Sociologiques of the Institut National de Recherche Pédagogique (INRP), later the UMR (Unité mixte de recherche) Éducation et Politiques. He founded the Network of Experts in Social Sciences of Education and Training (NESSE). He chairs the research committee (CR07) Education, Training, Socialisation of the International Association of French speaking Sociologists (AISLF). In addition, he is editor-in-chief of Éducation et Sociétés, an international journal for the sociology of education. Recent publications:
– Derouet, Jean-Louis/Mangez Éric/Benadusi, Luciano. 2015 (eds.). Where is the comprehensive project in Europe today? European Educational Research Journal 14 (3-4), pp. 195-205.
– Normand, Romuald/Derouet, Jean-Louis. 2016 (eds.). A European Politics of Education. Perspectives from sociology, policy studies and politics. London, Routledge.
– Derouet, Jean-Louis/Normand, Romuald. 2016. The modernisation of the educational system in France. The New Public Management between affirmation of the state and decentralised governance. In: Helen M. Gunter/Emiliano Grimaldi/David Hall/Roberto Serpieri (eds.), New Public Management and the Reform of Education: European lessons for policy and practice. London: Routledge, pp. 83-95.
– Derouet, Jean-Louis/Savoie, Philipp/Huo, Yioing/Charlier, Jean-Émile. 2017. La formation des élites en Chine et en France (XVIIe-XXIe siècles). Les apports de regards croisés: sociologie, histoire, philosophie politiques. Paris: L’Harmattan.
– Derouet, Jean-Louis. 2019. Die Soziologie der Konventionen im Bereich der Bildung. Wissenschaft, Politik und Gesellschaftskritik in Frankreich am Übergang vom 20. ins 21. Jahrhundert. In: Christian Imdorf, Regula Julia Leemann, Philipp Gonon (eds.). Bildung und Konventionen. Die „Economie des conventions“ in der Bildungsforschung. Wiesbaden: Springer VS, pp. 47-90.



Leemann: Since the 1980s you have taken up the reflections and concepts presented by Boltanski and Thévenot in “On Justification. Economies of worth” (2006) on the foundations of social action in Western societies and fruitfully applied them to questions of pedagogical and educational practices. Could you tell us how you started working with EC [economics of convention / sociology of conventions]? What were your personal references to the authors? What were your first studies, on what topics? What relevance and significance did EC have for the development of your academic career?

Derouet: To answer this question, it is necessary to refer to the situation in France in the early 1980s. Politically, the left wing regained power after more than twenty years of absence. This revival raised many hopes, but also many questions. In the field of education, the aim was to resume the process of setting up the idea of comprehensive school, which was considered the keystone of the democratization program. The 1975 law on the modernization of the education system had imposed a centralized system that led to a paradox: the law was not strictly applied (about half of the principals continued to compose classes with different performance levels) and at the same time teachers, students and families complained that they had lost their references.

To get out of this confusion, some on the left wing proposed to be inspired by the Anglo-Saxon definitions of justice: it was no longer about giving the same thing to everyone, but about giving everyone what they needed. And for that, you had to know them. In order to implement this idea, decentralization was required, giving schools a certain degree of autonomy. These proposals worried another part of the left wing of Jacobin tradition, which feared that this opening on the local level would reintroduce into public education the influence of the notables (bourgeois) and churches that the Third Republic had pushed back.

I joined the INRP (Institut National de Recherche Pédagogique) for a program that accompanied the policy of school autonomy. The aim was to grasp the logics of the actors, which were in conflict; to follow the dynamics of their debates and to analyze the different forms of compromise to which they agreed.

On the theoretical level, the period was marked by a general distance towards structuralism and Marxism, which had dominated previous decades, and the arrival of constructivist and ethnomethodological approaches in France. In the field of the sociology of education, this development also corresponded to the upcoming of a generation that had been trained in the debate between the theory of reproduction and methodological individualism, and that mastered its achievements, but felt the exhaustion of this debate and wanted to do something else.

This generation met at the congress Pour un bilan de la sociologie de l’éducation (1984) in Toulouse, organized in 1983 by Jean-Michel Berthelot. He proposed a program that reflected the contributions of the new sociology of education in Britain by placing them in the French philosophical tradition. In particular, it was a matter of “opening the black boxes”, i.e. of studying in classes and schools in a concrete way the difficulties encountered in implementing the policies of democratization. This program brought together a large number of French-speaking researchers who grouped together as the Research Committee for Education, Training and Socialization of the International Association of French-speaking Sociologists (AISLF), for which I took over responsibility after the premature death of Jean-Michel Berthelot.

It is in this perspective that I got closer to the team of the EHESS that would become in 1984 the Group of the Political and Moral Sociology. Under the supervision of Luc Boltanski, I wrote a PhD thesis on the conceptions of justice in education since the Enlightenment (École et justice [School and justice] (Derouet 1992)). Luc Boltanski was involved, together with Laurent Thévenot, in this anthropology of the ordinary meaning of justice that led to the publication De la justification (Boltanski and Thévenot 1991; engl.  Boltanski and Thévenot 2006). In this context, I identified the construction of a matrix that was based on the tension between an ideal of civic equality and a search for performance that prepares for the social division of labor. This tension has gradually discarded other definitions of the common good in education, in particular a domestic conception that insists on the integration of individuals into their community. Since the 1930s, the slogan of equal opportunity has moved the focus to the side of equity. In the 1980s, the scope of the A Nation at Risk report (1983) considered performance issues, but most of the debate remained within the above-mentioned matrix until the end of the century.

After the publication of École et justice in 1992, I formed a group at the INRP that established a continuum between research at University and groups of teachers in schools. This manner of original observation allowed us to observe the emergence of new compromises. International organizations have proposed to replace the ideal of equality by a perspective of equity that takes into account the specific (living) situations, and then shifting the promise of equal opportunities to equal outcomes at the end of compulsory schooling. The European Community sought to break down inequalities through lifelong learning. These suggestions have been carried out with varying degrees of success, but none of them has changed the education system in its foundations.

The matrix based on the tension between equality and performance was challenged in the late 1990s by the emergence of new social issues related to migration and the development of a new reference of justice, the recognition of differences. Approaches of intersectionality have reformulated the issue of inequalities in terms of discrimination and exclusion. The scope of the debate has broadened and has led the sociology of education to bring the issue of integration back into its mission. These developments were described and analyzed at the congress Repenser la justice [Rethinking justice] (Derouet and Derouet-Besson 2009).


Leemann: Research in social sciences of education in the German-speaking world is oriented on the one hand towards the institutionalist or structuralist tradition of Emile Durkheim and Pierre Bourdieu, and on the other hand, and increasingly as mainstream, towards the individualist decision theory of Raymond Boudon. In your eyes, what are the blanks, the limitations of these approaches? What alternatives does EC offer here? What are its strengths? What can be better investigated, understood and explained with the EC approach?

Derouet: The sociology of conventions-approach clearly stems from the Durkheim-Maussian tradition adopted by Bourdieu in the 1960s. This becomes evident when we look at the trajectories of the people who initiated the movement: Boltanski, Thévenot, Desrosières; all went through Bourdieu’s lab. Boltanski rooted his approach in a program defined in 1972 by Bourdieu in l’Esquisse d’une théorie de la pratique (Bourdieu 1972; engl. Bourdieu 1977). In the article, he contributed to the collective book Travailler avec Bourdieu (2003) [Working with Bourdieu], he explained how their paths subsequently diverged. Bourdieu’s analysis led to the concept of habitus, central in Le sens pratique (1980; engl. Bourdieu 1990), Boltanski opted for a softer approach that takes into account the logic of the actors.

With respect to Boudon’s approach, the sociology of conventions is part of a tradition that refuses to reduce the explanation of social behavior to interests. In the field of education, Boudon explains, for example, the strategic decisions by a cost/benefit calculation: working class families do not necessarily have an interest in engaging for long educational trajectories for their children aged 11 or 12. This approach requires a substantial investment for a distant and uncertain profit. This analysis is correct, but strategic decisions are not made solely on the basis of a calculation of homo economicus. Many other dimensions are involved: the love for the child and the will to give him the means to flourish, the hope of social progress, the dudgeon of parents who have not been able to do the studies they wanted …

The interest of the sociology of conventions is to reintroduce values, political principles, and the sense of justice into sociology and at the same time to highlight the plurality of reference systems. The deployment of different definitions of general interest makes it possible both to frame social debates and to build a new external position for the social sciences. This contribution seems to me very essential in a context that calls for the development of forms of local democracy. Coordination of action cannot be based on the simple application of national directives. It is also based on local engagement by the actors.

This is the purpose of the school projects that were requested from primary schools, lower secondary schools and high schools from 1982 onwards. In a world of plural justification, agreement is unlikely: the natural movement of the debate is to expand. In contrast, it is possible to converge different logics on common objects or devices for the organization of work, the supervision of students, the evaluation of their performance, etc. Such an undertaking requires new competencies from teachers and supervisors. The sociology of conventions contributed to their construction with the European Policy Network on School Leadership (EPNoSL). The autonomy of institutions profoundly changes the tasks of teaching and managing: people in charge must be able to frame the debates, to master the translation procedures between different logics, to bring out convergences … This new definition, political, of their competences implies a new type of training.

Educational policy

Leemann: To what extent did the sociology of education, in particular the sociology of conventions, developed in the context of social tensions and educational policy? To what extent have the theoretical developments and results of the sociology of education influenced educational policy decisions, i.e. have they been taken into account? Can you provide concrete examples?

Derouet: To answer this question, a detour is needed on the relationship between the social sciences of education, politics and opinion in the last fifty years. These have been marked by several crises. The first concerns educational research. It was conceived in the 1960s on an experimentalist model: A pedagogue has an idea; it is tested on a small sample that makes it possible to develop an implementation protocol; then the minister must be convinced to generalize these practices by circular. This was the model on which the INRP was operating. The experience regularly showed the failure of these generalization procedures.

The greatest defeat was, at the beginning of the 1980s, the reception given to Louis Legrand’s report Pour un collège démocratique [For a democratic lower secondary school]. Since 1967, Legrand had been conducting action research on twelve experimental lower secondary schools and proposed to generalize their functioning. These propositions were unanimously rejected by teachers, families, and public opinion: the practices of some militant groups, supported by exceptional means, were not transferable in ordinary situations. It was necessary to move to another model that would trust in the capacities for initiatives of the field, follow the practices of the actors and try to understand their logic before prescribing.

This perspective opened up opportunities for sociological endeavors such as the sociology of conventions, but at the same time, the relationship between the social sciences and society was affected by a crisis of trust. After the Second World War, there was a great trust between the social sciences and the social democracies that were establishing themselves in Europe. This alliance has been concretized, in the field of education, by the promotion of the different forms of the comprehensive school, in France the comprehensive lower secondary school. This reformist position was shattered by the radical criticisms of 1968. It did not withstand the difficulties of implementation; yesterday’s allies tore each other apart. The process of democratic opening, the support for students with difficulties have been accused of having led to a decline of the level of educational performance; criticism of traditional authority has been accused of promoting laxity and indiscipline; cultural relativism has been suspected of having facilitated the rise of Islamism, and so forth.

A new contract gradually emerged at the end of the 20th century that re-established a form of trust, based on accompaniment and support: Validation and synthesis sites make research results available to actors, propose a broadening of international perspectives; an evaluation that allows real-time readjustment of emerging shortcomings … This was the purpose of our work when we set up the first European network of expertise in the field of the sociology of education, NESSE (Network of Experts in Social Sciences for Education and Training). It was not easy to convey to managers the principle of the plurality of logics of actions as they tend to measure everything according to the scale of efficiency and prefer positivist approaches. However, the emergence of new social issues in multi-ethnic and multi-cultural societies has changed the situation: the current slogan of inclusive societies implies an understanding of the different logics that inspire actors.

Current topics of the sociology of conventions in France and abroad

Leemann: You are the editor-in-chief of the journal Éducation et Sociétés. You are always very active in the organization of conferences and symposiums and you publish regularly. What are the main developments in school, in the field of education that you are currently working on with colleagues?

Derouet: I continue to follow the parallel recompositions of conceptions of justice, of programs of education, training, socialization, and forms of public action and this field is evolving very rapidly. I mentioned intersectionality, and how it reformulates issues of justice in terms of discrimination. This is an important field that is opening up: how can we think together about objectives of redistribution and of recognition of differences? How can we rethink redistribution in the context of globalization, i.e. by taking into account the inequalities between the countries of the North and the countries of the South? In the same vein, the slogan of inclusive societies developed by international organizations implies a new program of socialization: how to orient oneself in a world where several discourses of truth are in competition?

This program requires that the question of moral education, which was at the origin of the sociology of education but in a renewed context, be brought back into the profession. Durkheim had thought of it from a national integration perspective. Today, it is a question of defining a new cosmopolitanism. This approach undoubtedly implies an opening on the emerging fields of resistance studies and post-colonial studies. Theories of justice have been thought of in the North even if their principles aim to take into account the interests of all mankind. It may be time to open this reflection on the epistemologies of the South. In particular, they articulate a demand for a curricular justice that implies another relationship with the knowledge or learning practices of traditional societies (Éducation et Sociétés 2017 et 2018).

Following the evolution of references of justice also means following the new definitions of the common good that are emerging. The end of the 20th century saw a questioning of the great division between human being and nature. The Sustainable Development Goals set out by international organizations outline the profile of a homo sustainabilis aware of its responsibilities towards the environment and other living beings. Finally, in the field of education, the sociology of conventions has always been confronted with the relationship between worlds governed by equivalent forms of justice and worlds without equivalent forms: how do children move from a universe governed by violence and love to debates of justice? This issue is revitalized both by the highly visible presence of violence in contemporary societies and by the development of a sociology of emotions. These different perspectives undoubtedly call for a reflection in order to achieve a profound curriculum recomposition.

Jean-Louis Derouet and Regula Julia Leemann


Boltanski, Luc. 2003. Usages faibles, usages forts de l’habitus. In: Pierre Encrevé and Rose-Marie Lagrave (eds,), Travailler avec Bourdieu, pp. 153-164. Paris: Flammarion.

Boltanski, Luc and Laurent Thévenot. 1991. De la justification. Les économies de la grandeur. Paris: Gallimard.

Boltanski, Luc and Laurent Thévenot. 2006. On justification. Economies of worth. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Bourdieu, Pierre. 1972. Esquisse d’une théorie de la pratique, précédé de trois études d’ethnologie kabyle. Paris: Seuil.

Bourdieu, Pierre. 1977. Outline of a theory of practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Bourdieu, Pierre. 1980. Le sens pratique. Paris: Minuit.

Bourdieu, Pierre. 1990. The logic of practice. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Derouet, Jean-Louis. 1992. École et justice. De l’égalité des chances aux compromis locaux? Paris: Métailié.

Derouet, Jean-Louis and Marie-Claude Derouet-Besson (eds.). 2009. Repenser la justice dans le domaine de l’éducation et de la formation. Bern: Peter Lang.

Éducation et Sociétés 40 (2017) / 41 (2018). Vingt ans après: la sociologie de l’éducation et de l’éducation francophone dans un univers globalisé, edited by Sarah Croché and Marie-Claude Derouet-Besson.

Pour un bilan de la sociologie de l’éducation. 1984. Colloque de Toulouse, 16-17 May 1983. University of Toulouse-Le-Mirail. Cahiers du Centre de recherches sociologiques 2.

Modes de normativité et transformations normatives : de quelques cas relatifs aux droits et libertés

Dossier thématique coordonné par Véronique Champeil-Desplats, Jérôme Porta & Laurent Thévenot (2019)

Revue des droits de l’homme, 16, Open online access

Quelques articles du dossier font référence à l’économie des conventions/ Some of the articles in this dossier refer to convention theory.

Véronique Champeil-Desplats, Jérôme Porta & Laurent Thévenot: Introduction: une experience de recherche cooperative et transverse entre droit et sciences sociales (version française). Introduction: a cooperative and transversal research experience between law and the social sciences (English version)

Résumé. Comment appréhender et nommer la diversité des manifestations de ce qui est généralement désigné comme des transferts ou des circulations de normes sociales, économiques ou juridiques ? Comment identifier les mécanismes d’échanges normatifs à l’œuvre ? Quelles formes adoptent les phénomènes de réception et d’appropriation des normes d’un ordre normatif ou d’un mode de normativité à l’autre ? Cette introduction générale revient sur les catégories avec lesquelles les circulations normatives sont habituellement appréhendées par les sciences sociales et juridiques(formel/informel, droit/infra-droit, officiel/officieux) pour proposer un nouveau lexique mettant en valeur la pluralité des modes de normativité et de leurs circulations.

Abstract. How can we analyze and name the diversity of circulations of social, economic or legal norms? How to identify the normative exchange mechanisms? What are the forms of receptions and appropriations of extern norms by each normative order or mode of normativity ? This general introduction returns to the categories from which normative circulations are usually treated in the legal and social sciences (formal/informal, law/infra-law, official/unofficial), to propose a new lexicon highlighting the plurality of modes of normativity and their circulations.

Véronique Champeil-Desplats: Droit, pluralité des modes de normativité et internormativité. Regard juridique (version française) Law, the plurality of modes of normativity and their interactions (English version)

Résumé. Dans le champ juridique, comme dans celui des sciences humaines et sociales se donnant, pour objet l’analyse des phénomènes normatifs, le contexte est depuis plusieurs années au regain des réflexions. Celles-ci sont stimulées par le constat d’une évolution et d’une diversification des expressions tant des modes de normativité que de leurs formes de rencontre et d’interaction. Il s’agit ici de repérer ce qui constituent ces modes et comment se caractérisent leurs rencontres et leurs issues. 

Abstract. The legal field, as well in the human and social sciences, is objet a revival of analyze about normative phenomena. It sis stimulated by the observation of an evolution and diversification of expressions of modes of normativity and their forms of interaction. The aim here is to identify what these modes are and how are characterized their interactions and outcomes.

Laurent Thévenot:  Ce qui engage: la sociologie des justifications, conventions et engagements, à la rencontre de la norme (version française) What engages ? The sociology of justifications, conventions, and engagements, meeting norms (English version)

Résumé. Le mouvement sociologique dont cet article rend compte a favorisé un genre de coopération avec le droit qui rapproche les opérations et catégories fondamentales des deux disciplines. Il remonte à un déplacement conceptuel depuis la notion classique de norme sociale, conduisant à l’analyse de “conventions” qui gouvernent normativement la coordination incertaine des actions. Des “investissements de forme” sont nécessaires à la mise en œuvre de ces conventions. Mis dans un format approprié, l’environnement soutient la convention normative de coordination pour laquelle il est “qualifié”. Une extension ultérieure a réélaboré la notion d’identité personnelle requise pour une coordination avec d’autres selon une normativité collective. Une identité personnelle dynamique est le résultat composite d’une pluralité d’engagements personnels qui se chevauchent, engagements qui ne coordonnent avec d’autres mais avec soi-même. Chacun de ces régimes d’engagement assure un mode de continuité de la personne, d’un moment à l’autre, gagée par une relation avec l’environnement matériel. La normativité qui maintient la coordination avec d’autres repose sur des engagements personnels, ce qui suggère d’élargir la notion de normativité et ses modes. Pénétrant dans le plus personnel de ce qui engage, le cadre d’analyse de la sociologie des conventions et engagements éclaire les transformations de ce qui préoccupe personnellement, jusqu’à la mise en commun et en différend de ces préoccupations, selon différentes grammaires.

Abstract. The sociological trend reported in this article has fostered a kind of cooperation with law scholars that brings together the fundamental operations and categories of the two disciplines. It goes back to a conceptual shift from the usual notion of social norm leading to the analysis of “conventions” that normatively govern the uncertain coordination of actions. Form-giving operations – or “investments in forms” – are needed for the implementation of these conventions. The properly formatted environment is thus a main support for normative convention of coordination as long as it “qualifies” for this normativity. A further extension reworked the notion of personal identity that is required for the coordination with others according to collective normativity. A dynamic personal identity is the composite result of multiple overlapping personal modes of engaging that do not coordinate with others but with oneself. Each of these regimes of engagement ensures a kind of continuity of the person from one moment to the next, backed by the relationship to the engaged material environment. Coordination with others builds on such personal engagements which broaden the notion of normativity and its modes. Approaching the most personal aspects of what engages, the sociology of conventions and engagements sheds light on the transformations of personal concerns, up to modes of public communicating and differing according to different grammars.

Joëlle Affichard: Normes juridiques, concepts statistiques et fonctionnement des tribunaux africains (version française) Legal norms, statistical concepts, and the functioning of african courts (English version)

Résumé. De vastes projets de modernisation de la justice sont promus par les bailleurs de fonds internationaux dans les pays en développement, visant à renforcer l’État de droit et en particulier accroître l’efficacité de la justice. Ces programmes incluent de plus en plus souvent la création de statistiques sur l’activité des tribunaux. L’auteure de l’article a été responsable de plusieurs de ces projets. Elle constate que la normalisation inhérente à l’opération statistique se heurte à des difficultés tenant à des écarts de fonctionnement par rapport aux procédures codifiées. Ces écarts sont analysés comme hybridation entre modes de normativité souvent décrits comme formes traditionnelles et formes modernes de règlement des litiges.

Abstract. Several large-scale projects geared at the modernization of the justice system in developing countries are being promoted by international aid donors. These projects aim to strengthen the rule of law, and in particular to increase the efficiency of justice. They increasingly include the creation of statistics on the courts activities. The author of the article was responsible for several of these projects. She observes that the gaps between the codified procedures and the day-to-day practice stood in the way of the standardization process inherent to statistical analysis operations. These gaps can be analyzed as a hybridization between modes of normativity often described as traditional forms and modern forms of dispute resolution.

Emmanuelle Cheyns & Laurent Thévenot: Le gouvernement par standards de certification consentement et plaintes des communautés affectées (version française) Government by certification standards. The consent and complaints of affected communities (English version)

Résumé. Parmi les instruments normatifs contemporains de régulation, les standards privés et volontaires relèvent d’un véritable mode nouveau de gouvernement en quête de légitimité. A partir du standard RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil), nous analysons le modèle politique normatif sous-jacent aux initiatives dites multi-stakeholders. En s’appuyant sur une composition libérale du commun, ces initiatives remodèlent et transforment des éléments de droits internationaux tels que la notion de consentement des peuples (Free Prior and Informed Consent) que des ONG ont introduite dans le standard. Nous comparons le gouvernement RSPO » au droit national et au fonctionnement d’un Etat quant à ses fonctions légitimes et principes idéaux. Nous comparons en particulier les fonctions de police et de justice et leurs modalités d’expression. Enfin, nous abordons les questions soulevées par le pluralisme des modes de normativité et d’évaluation confrontés dans ce gouvernement. Les préoccupations des parties prenantes reconnues comme les plus vulnérables (“petits planteurs”, “communautés locales”) doivent être transformées (et réduites) pour être recevables dans le standard RSPO et son gouvernement, qu’il s’agisse d’expressions de leur accord pour l’usage de terres par des entreprises privées, de demandes ou de plaintes qu’elles déposent.

Abstract. Among contemporary normative instruments of regulation, private and voluntary standards are a new mode of government in search of legitimacy. By considering the RSPO standard (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil), we analyze the normative political model underlying the so-called “multi-stakeholder” initiatives. Relying on a liberal composition of commonality and difference, these initiatives reshape elements of international human rights such as the notion of people’s consent (Free Prior and Informed Consent) that NGOs introduced in the standard. We compare the “RSPO government” to national law, and the functioning of a state with respect to its legitimate functions and ideal principles, in particular, police and justice functions. Finally, we address the issues raised by the plurality of modes of normativity and evaluation in the RSPO government. The most vulnerable stakeholders’ (“smallholders’”, “local communities’”) concerns have to be reshaped (and reduced) into formats that are accepted by the RSPO standard and government, when expressing their agreement for the use of their lands by corporations, or filing claims or complaints.

Interview of Marcus Colchester, founder of the NGO Forest Peoples Programme, on the ‘Free, Prior and Informed Consent’ of communities by Emmanuelle Cheyns & Laurent Thévenot (English version only)

Abstract. In this interview, Marcus Colchester spells out the dual origin of “Free, Prior and Informed Consent” in the human rights world, and the use of it as a collective right. He highlights the tensions that this use may generate between the human right framework, national laws, and community customary norms. Finally he comments on the benefits and difficulties he met when striving to introduce this collective right into sustainability standards such as the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil standard, because of the pluralism of modes of normativity.

Link to the review

Le post-keynésianisme aujourd’hui. Réflexion sur les origines, questionnements et positionnements du post-keynésianisme à partir de l’ouvrage L’économie post-keynésienne – Histoire, théories et politiques

Jacques Sapir (2019)

Revue de la régulation, 25.

“La classification proposée par Lavoie et Ponsot semble insuffisante ; celle proposée par Olivier Favereau ne saurait convenir, mais elle permet de penser autrement le problème. Il s’agit ici de classer les différents types d’hétérodoxie face à l’idéologie néoclassique, mais aussi à partir de leur positionnement sur des questions épistémologiques tout comme sur des programmes de recherche. On s’inspire, pour la première forme de classification, du travail réalisé par Sheila Dow, en le reformulant. Le premier classement que l’on propose s’organiserait autour de deux axes, tout d’abord l’opposition entre le réalisme (et en particulier le réalisme processuel ou procédural) et l’instrumentalisme, puis l’opposition entre le holisme (et en particulier celui qualifié de holisme subjectiviste) et l’individualisme. Ce repère permet de bien opposer la pensée néoclassique (instrumentaliste et rattachée à l’individualisme méthodologique) et le post-keynésianisme. Il permet de faire figurer d’autres écoles, de la nébuleuse institutionnaliste aux marxistes, en passant par les « régulationnistes » et les « conventionnalistes », tout en pointant les évolutions réciproques. Du cœur néoclassique sont issus les « New Keynesians » dont la recherche de réalisme les conduit à s’éloigner de l’instrumentalisme pur et dur des néoclassiques. Inversement, des régulationnistes sont issus les conventionnalistes qui adhèrent à l’individualisme méthodologique et dont certains peuvent se rapprocher de l’instrumentalisme. De même, le courant néo-institutionnaliste (Williamson en particulier) est apparenté mais distinct des néoclassiques à cause de sa recherche de réalisme.”

Lien vers l’article complet

Living in a World Heritage Site. Ethnography of Houses and Daily Life in the Fez Medina

Manon Istasse (2019)

Cham: Palgrave/Springer.

Excerpt. “Conflicts are not, of course, limited to the heritage realm. They are at the core of the sociology of conventions—or economy of conventions, or theory of conventions—that focuses on discordances and disputes and critical moments. This focus is based on the assumption of a plurality of worlds and of a permanent alignment of human beings with each other in their actions with the aim of reaching temporary agreements (Dodier 1991). Scholars put to the fore the notion of coordination or negotiation; that is, the processes by which harmony and alignment are reached through engagement. During these disputes, human beings justify their actions and sayings by referring to conventions—that is, ‘interpretative frameworks established and used by actors in order to evaluate
actions and their coordination’ (Diaz-Bone and Thévenot 2010: 4, my translation).”

p. 207-208

Link to the book

Elusive Domination and the Fate of Critique in Neo-participative Management: A French Pragmatist Approach

Thibault Daudigeos, Tim Edwards, Stéphane Jaumier, Vincent Pasquier & Hélène Picard (2019)

Organization Studies, Online first.

Abstract. In this theoretical paper we investigate how domination has adapted to the new social settings of a flexible and pluralist economy. Building on French pragmatic sociology, we propose an understanding of organizational domination whereby workers are enabled and encouraged to overtly express critique, yet work is nevertheless effectively obtained from dominated actors. Domination is here mainly understood as a system through which workers are engaged in action despite critiquing that action. We propose the concept of elusive domination as a combination of three mechanisms that undermine critique’s capacity to influence organizational power arrangements. First, ideological plasticity allows elusive domination to disarm critique by depriving it of its argument. Next, a combination of fast-changing rules and sacrosanct conventions prevents critique from settling, and thus deprives it of its object. Finally, emotions displayed in the workplace are filtered. The encouragement of positive and constructive critique coupled with the repression of uncomfortable feelings deprives critique of its source of indignation. The consequences of such developments for current debates on organizational domination are discussed.

Keywords: Boltanski, critique, domination, French pragmatism, neo-participative management, pluralism, self-managed organizations, holacracies

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Innovation und Markt

Rainer Diaz-Bone (2019)

In: Birgit Blättel-Mink, Ingo Schulz-Schaeffer & Arnold Windeler (eds.), Handbuch Innovationsforschung. Wiesbaden: Springer VS, pp. 1-17.

Abstract. Der Beitrag stellt systematisch Beiträge der neuen amerikanischen und neuen französischen Wirtschaftssoziologie zur Analyse des Verhältnisses von Innovation und Märkten dar. Märkte werden hier als soziale Strukturen (wie Felder oder Formationen) verstanden, die sich nicht auf einen einfachen Marktmechanismus reduzieren lassen, sondern intern differenziert sind. Innovation wird als Innovation in Märkten, dann als Veränderung sowie auch als Einführung von Märkten als institutionelle Settings selbst diskutiert.

Excerpt. “Dass Märkte durch eine Pluralität koexistierender Logiken für die Koordination, Interpretation und Bewertung (Valuation) von Qualitäten gekennzeichnet sind, ist der Ausgangspunkt eines weiteren einflussreichen Ansatzes der neuen französischen Wirtschaftssoziologie, der so genannten Économie des conventions, kurz EC. Märkte etablieren sich in dieser Perspektive – ähnlich wie in der Markttheorie von White – als Strukturen, die Qualitätsordnungen darstellen. Anders als in der Theorie von White geht die EC von einer Binnendifferenzierung der Qualitätslogiken in Märkten aus, die sich von einer Qualitätshierarchie unterscheidet. Qualitätskonventionen fundieren die eigentliche Ontologie und Wertigkeit von Sachverhalten wie Produkten. Märkte sind demnach durch nicht ineinander übersetzbare Qualitätskonventionen strukturiert. In der EC gibt es dann auch gleich mehrere einflussreiche Modelle dafür, so dass von Qualitätskonventionen, Rechtfertigungsordnungen oder Produktionswelten die Rede ist. Luc Boltanski und Laurent Thévenot (2007) haben in ihrer Theorie der Rechtfertigungsordnungen die wichtigsten Qualitätskonventionen differenziert, die sich in den meisten Märkten finden: die industrielle Konvention, die Marktkonvention, die handwerkliche Konvention, die Konvention der Bekanntheit, die Konvention der Inspiration und die staatsbürgerliche Konvention. Die meisten Marktsegmente sind empirisch durch Kombinationen dieser Qualitätskonventionen geprägt. Insbesondere die industrielle Konvention, die handwerkliche Konvention und die Marktkonvention sind für viele herkömmliche Märkte die einflussreichsten Qualitätsphilosophien. Zentral ist, dass die EC von einer Pluralität dieser Konventionen ausgeht, die in Situationen nicht alle gleich wirkmächtig sind, aber den Akteurinnen als mögliche Koordinationslogiken zur Verfügung stehen, da sie soziokulturell etabliert sind. Qualitäten werden nicht als gegebene Produkteigenschaften aufgefasst, sondern aus pragmatischer Sicht als Resultate kollektiver Zuschreibungsprozesse, in denen Akteure in Situationen (mit Bezug auf Objekte und Qualitätskonventionen) bestimmte Qualitäten zuschreiben. Qualitäten sind mit Bezug auf Qualitätskonventionen begründbar und rechtfertigbar. Als Innovation kann hier das sich Etablieren von neuen Arten und Weisen der Produktionslogiken verstanden werden, die neben die bereits vorhandenen Produktionsweisen treten, indem sozio-kulturell institutionalisierte Qualitätskonventionen für alternative Herstellungsweisen herangezogen werden.”

p. 8

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Die Frage der Rechtfertigung (am Beispiel der Theokratie). Das Boltanski-Thévenot-Modell und die Soziologie des Geistes.

Peter Gostmann & Jan Winkelhaus (2019)

In: Peter Gostmann & Alexandra Ivanova (eds.), Soziologie des Geistes. Grundlagen und Fallstudien zur Ideengeschichte des 20. Jahrhunderts, Wiesbaden: Springer VS, pp 63-81.

Excerpt. “Wir orientieren uns an Überlegungen Luc Boltanskis und Laurent Thévenots im Zusammenhang ihrer Studie De la justification (1991) zu einem „umfassende[n] Modell“ der Beschreibung des „Verhältnis[ses] von Einigkeit und Uneinigkeit“. Wir beginnen unsere Darstellung, indem wir den systematischen Ort des für Boltanskis und Thévenots Argumentation zentralen Begriffs der Rechtfertigung in der Soziologie des Geistes bestimmen (1.). Auf dieser Grundlage erläutern wir anschließend die Systematik des Modells der Rechtfertigungsordnung, das Boltanski und Thévenot entwickelt haben (2.). Abschließend zeigen wir anhand eines Gedankenexperiments, der Rechtfertigung einer Theokratie, wie das für unsere Zwecke präzisierte Boltanski-Thévenot-Modell in konkrete exegetische Szenarien der Soziologie des Geistes übersetzt werden kann (3.).”

p. 64

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La communauté Bitcoin

André Orléan (2019)

Esprit, juil./août

Introduction. “Selon l’approche institutionnaliste, la monnaie est avant tout un lien social, dont le fondement n’est pas dans l’État, mais dans la communauté de paiement, ce que confirme le bitcoin. Aujourd’hui comme hier, la question monétaire est au cœur de nos interrogations et de nos débats. Il n’y a pas lieu de s’en étonner dans la mesure où la monnaie occupe une place centrale au sein de l’armature institutionnelle qui règle notre vie collective. Cette position privilégiée s’illustre de manière exemplaire lors des grandes ruptures socio-politiques que connaissent périodiquement nos sociétés par le fait que la reconfiguration de la norme monétaire y joue un rôle structurant. Autrement dit, mutation politique et mutation monétaire vont de pair. Elles prennent appui l’une sur l’autre pour se consolider et ­s’imposer.”

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Flucht, Rassismus, Bildung

Kenneth Horvath (2019)

In: Baader M., Freytag T., Wirth D. (eds) Flucht – Bildung – Integration? Bildungspolitische und pädagogische Herausforderungen von Fluchtverhältnissen. Wiesbaden: Springer VS, pp.  63-78

Zusammenfassung. In diesem Beitrag werden Implikationen einer rassismustheoretischen Perspektive für die Auseinandersetzung mit aktuellen Bildungs- und Migration-verhältnissen diskutiert. Rassismus wird als Element diskursiver Formationen definiert, die Ungleichheiten, die entgegen anerkannter Gleichheitspostulate bestehen, naturalisierend erklären und dadurch legitimieren. Ausgehend von einer von Foucault inspirierten Problematisierungsheuristik werden typische Eigenschaften rassistischer Wissensordnungen identifiziert, allen voran die Vielseitigkeit und Adaptivität rassistischer Argumentationsweisen. Auf dieser Grundlage werden vier zentrale Implikationen für die aktuelle Bildungs- und Migrationsforschung besprochen: i) die Notwendigkeit, die strukturelle Verankerung rassistischer Problematisierungen in den institutionellen Formen schulischer Bildung zu berücksichtigen; ii) die Anregung, Formen professionellen pädagogischen Unterscheidens spezielle Aufmerksamkeit zu schenken; iii) der Bedarf an interdisziplinären Zugängen, die verschiedene gesellschaftliche Teilfelder in ihrem Wechselspiel in den Blick nehmen; sowie iv) die Forderung nach neuen Formen eines kritisch-reflexiven Theorie-Praxis-Dialogs.

Excerpt. “Boltanski (2010, S. 60) argumentiert ganz in diesem Sinne, dass Rassismus zwangsläufig zur Begleiterscheinung der Moderne wird: „Eine sich meritokratisch verstehende Gesellschaft entgeht nur schwerlich der Bedrohung durch irgendeine Form von Rassismus oder zumindest von biologisierendem Naturalismus.“ Rassismus ist als Wissensordnung im Verhältnis zum Problem der Deutung und Gestaltung einer von Ungleichheiten durchzogenen, dem Anspruch nach aber egalitären Gesellschaft zu verstehen. Sie ist daher notwendig beides: Teil einer (wenn auch notwendig spannungsreichen, weil eigentlich „illegitimen“) Rechtfertigungsordnung (Boltanski und Thévenot 2007, S. 116 ff.) […]”

(p. 66/67)

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Profit as Social Rent: Embeddedness and Stratification in Markets

Sascha Muennich (2019)

Sociological Theory, 37(2), p. 162-183

Abstract. This article shows how research on the social structure of markets may contribute to the analysis the growing income inequality in contemporary capitalist economies. The author proposes a theoretical link between embeddedness and social stratification by discussing the role of institutions and networks in markets for the distribution of economic profits between firms. The author claims that we must understand profit and free competition as opposites, as economic theory does. In the main part of the article the author illustrates six typical mechanisms of rent extraction from networks or formal and symbolic rules that embed markets. They emerge from material as well as symbolical access to and influence on the orientation of other market actors. Social structures in markets lead to unequal chances for rent extraction, even if actors produce them for coordination rather than for accumulation purposes. This is how market sociology and theory of capitalism can be linked more closely.

Keywords: economic sociology, profit, capitalism, embeddedness, stratification

Excerpt. “[…] since the 1980s, labor flexibility strategies and an increasing reorientation of management activities toward shareholder value within firms have reduced stakeholder influence within large corporations, especially those directly financed through capital markets (Boltanski and Chiapello 2005; Fligstein 2002; Krippner 2012). […] These resources concern not only material things or formal rules but also informal rules, group structures, and symbolic orders that define who is socially entitled to parts of the economic value (Boltanski and Thévenot 2006:32–35). Who may appropriate value without facing resistance from the social environment, as capitalists’ entitlement to labor surplus is often described? […] Boltanski and Thévenot (2006:37) argued that all social conflicts have a symbolic side in which actions are criticized or justified by referring to mutually acknowledged criteria for unequal distributions of value and hierarchies of ‘worthiness’.”

(p. 168/170/176).

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Werten und Verwerten. Konventionen der Beschäftigung von Menschen mit Behinderungen in Wirtschaft und Wohlfahrtstaat

Valuating and exploitating. Conventions of employment of people with disabilities in economy and welfare state.

Eva Nadai, Alan Canonica, Anna Gonon, Fabienne Rotzetter, Martin Lengwiler Wiesbaden: Springer VS (2019)


“Der Wohlfahrtstaat kann die Arbeitsmarktinklusion von Menschen mit Behinderungen fördern, aber  die Entscheidung über die Beschäftigung liegt bei der Wirtschaft. Diese Studie untersucht die Koordination von Arbeitgebern und Invalidenversicherung in der Schweiz und fragt, wie die Wertbestimmung von Arbeitskraft in politischen und betrieblichen Arenen verhandelt wird. Sie rekonstruiert historisch und ethnografisch die Strukturen und widersprüchlichen Rechtfertigungen der beruflichen Eingliederung, die im Konzept der begrenzten freiwilligen sozialen Verantwortung von Arbeitgebern zum Ausdruck kommen.”

[“The welfare state can promote the inclusion of people with disabilities in the labour market, but the decision on employment lies within the economy. This study examines the coordination of employers and disability insurance in Switzerland and asks how the valuation of labour is negotiated in political and business arenas. It reconstructs historically and ethnographically the structures and contradictory justifications of occupational integration that are expressed in the concept of employers’ limited voluntary social responsibility”.]

Fourth book in the series „Soziologie der Konventionen”


Commensuration, compromises and critical capacities: Wage determination in collective firms

Nina Pohler (2019)

Social Science Information, Online first

Abstract. This article analyses pay determination as a process of commensuration as well as a process in which commensuration can fail. The analysis is based on an empirical study of two collective firms in Germany and the United Kingdom and their attempts to self-determine fair pay. Due to the formal equality of members and their democratic decision-making processes, these cases are a specifically interesting context for studying the determination of pay. Through the analysis of a failed attempt at finding a formula for fair pay, as well as a fragile compromise formula, a contribution is made to the literature on commensuration and the construction of compromises. The article also extends this literature by explaining the obstacles to the creation of a compromise that would go beyond the need for a common interest. Callon and Muniesa’s work on calculation is used to clarify the steps that are necessary to move from questions of worth to the assessment of worth and its expression in measures. To introduce the question of legitimacy in evaluation processes, Callon and Muniesa’s framework is supplemented with Boltanski and Thévenot’s work on critical capacities.

Résumé. Cet article analyse la détermination des salaires comme un processus de commensurabilité, mais également comme un processus au cours duquel la commensurabilité pourrait échouer. Cette démarche s’appuie sur une étude empirique réalisée au sein de deux entreprises collectives, en Allemagne et au Royaume-Uni, et sur les tentatives que ces dernières ont faites pour déterminer par elles-mêmes une rémunération juste. En raison de l’égalité formelle entre leurs membres et des processus de décision démocratiques qui définissent leur fonctionnement, ces cas constituent un contexte particulièrement intéressant pour étudier la détermination des salaires. En analysant à la fois une tentative infructueuse de trouver une formule qui permette de déterminer une rémunération juste, et la découverte d’un compromis fragile, cet article vient contribuer à la littérature sur la commensurabilité et la construction du compromis. Il enrichit également cette littérature en éclaircissant ce qui peut faire obstacle à la création d’un compromis qui chercherait à dépasser le besoin d’un intérêt commun. Le travail de Callon et Muniesa sur le calcul y est utilisé afin de clarifier les étapes nécessaires pour passer des questionnements autour de la valeur à son évaluation et à son expression en unités de mesure. Pour introduire la question de la légitimité dans les processus d’évaluation, le cadre théorique établi par Callon et Muniesa est complété par le travail de Boltanski et Thévenot sur les capacités critiques.

Keywords: calculation, commensuration, compromise, critical capacities, evaluation, valuation, wages

Link to the review

Ethical dimensions of quantification

Wendy Espeland & Vincent Yung (2019)

Social Science Information, Online first

Abstract. The ethical dimensions of quantification are seldom analysed. We examine three ethical features that are characteristic of quantification – its capacity to express or mediate power, focus attention, and shape opportunity structures. We do so in the context of three recent examples of new types of quantification : university rankings, the racial classification of Asians in the US, and facial recognition algorithms. Our examples highlight the importance of understanding the varied and complex ways that quantification creates and organizes social relations, and the effect of this on multiple forms of inequality.

Résumé. Les dimensions éthiques de la quantification sont rarement étudiées. Nous analysons ici trois particularités éthiques qui sont caractéristiques de la quantification – sa capacité à donner du pouvoir ou à servir d’intermédiaire à ce dernier, sa capacité à attirer notre attention et enfin sa capacité à façonner des structures d’opportunité. Notre étude s’appuie sur trois exemples récents de nouvelles formes de quantification : les classements des universités, la classification raciale des personnes asiatiques aux États-Unis, et les algorithmes de reconnaissance faciale. Nos exemples soulignent à quel point il est important de comprendre les manières diverses et complexes avec lesquelles la quantification crée et organise les relations sociales, et leur effet sur les formes multiples d’inégalité.

Keywords: algorithms, census, ethics, quantification, rankings

Link to the review

Theorising measures, rankings and metrics

Special issue of Social Science Information (2019), Online first

David Jaclin & Peter Wagner: Measurements and their limits (editorial)

Excerpt. “From the 1980s onwards, though, the interest in understanding how one had arrived at the state the social sciences were in grew. This interest generated a confluence of historical, philosophical and sociological investigations in the practices of the social sciences, many of which with an explicit focus on tools and methods. One would not be wrong in seeing here a spill-over of the work in the social studies of science, with the qualification that the strong focus on dismantling the image of superior and cumulative knowledge, which had characterised the analysis of mathematics or physics, was absent, given that the contextual nature of social-science knowledge was widely recognised anyway. We may single out here some path-breaking works, such as those by Lorraine Daston on objectivity (e.g., Daston, 1992), by Alain Desrosières on the tools of statistics summarised in his impressive The Politics of Large Numbers (1993), Ian Hacking’s The Taming of Chance (1990) or Theodore Porter’s Trust in Numbers (1996).”

Andrea Brighenti: Umwelt-measures. On extensive and intensive measures: Introduction to the special issue “Theorising measures, rankings and metrics”

Abstract. In modern science, we usually associate value with a numerical determination – such as, for instance, the value of the Planck constant. However, once we examine value as a co-original facet of measure, we are led to distinguish – with Spinoza – what we could call the natura naturans of measure from what we understand by measurement as its natura naturata. First, I discuss the tensions and the connections between the extensive side of measures (molis, magnitude) and their intensive side (virtus, worth) to provide a preliminary map for plotting the relations between measures and the social– moral–technical environments where they are performed. The second part of the text presents the articles in this special issue, highlighting how they tackle the social ecology of measures drawing from distinct theoretical lineages.

Résumé. Le regard scientifique moderne tend à associer la notion de ‘grandeur’ à une détermination numérique – telle que, par exemple, ‘la grandeur de la constante de Planck’. Néanmoins, à partir du moment où nous concevons la valeur comme l’une des facettes originelles de la mesure, nous sommes amenés à distinguer – avec Spinoza – ce que nous pouvons appeler la natura naturans de la mesure de sa natura naturata. J’aborde tout d’abord les tensions et connections existant entre le côté extensif des mesures (molis, grandeur) et leur côté intensif (virtus, valeur) afin de donner une cartographie préliminaire nécessaire pour tracer les relations entre les mesures et les environnements sociaux–moraux–techniques où ces dernières sont produites. La deuxième partie du texte présente les articles de ce numéro spécial, soulignant comment chacun aborde l’écologie sociale des mesures à partir de lignées théoriques distinctes.

Keywords: extensive/intensive measurement, magnitude/worth, measures-as-monsters, value-measure environments, unit of measure

Power through empowerment? The managerial discourse on employee empowerment

Mirela Ivanova & Christian von Scheve (2019)

Organization, Online first

Abstract. Informed by the sociology of knowledge approach to discourse, the current study explores how employee empowerment is discursively constructed as a management technique. Combing insights from labour process theory, Foucauldian approaches to governmentality and neo-Weberian interpretations of the ideological basis of capitalism, we develop an empirically informed theoretical framework that accounts for the multifaceted character of employee empowerment. Results show, first, that discourse justifies the necessity of this technique by presenting it as an efficient answer to perceived increases in competitive pressures and an ever-changing economic environment since the beginning of the 1990s. The discourse promotes advanced liberal modes of (self-)governance, which are created and maintained through a complex set of means for the control of labour. Second, although the ideological structure of the empowerment discourse is in accordance with the third spirit of capitalism, as identified by Boltanski and Chiapello, it also introduces changes by removing the neo-manager and granting the empowered employee a central role. Furthermore, our analysis suggests that empowerment is associated with strategies for reducing labour costs, such as de-layering and work intensification.”

Keywords: Capitalism, discourse, empowerment, labour, management

“Boltanski and Chiapello’s (1999) concept of the new spirit of capitalism provides additional valuable insights for the study of employee empowerment as a management technique. Referring to the foundational ideology of capitalism, the concept departs from an orthodox Weberian understanding and treats the spirit of capitalism as ‘a form that can contain different things at different points in the development of the modes of organising firms and processes of extracting capitalist profit’ (Boltanski and Chiapello, 1999: 11). Hence, there is not just one ideology supporting capitalism, but a plurality of possibilities. A ‘spirit of capitalism’ depicts a set of legitimised beliefs that sustain worldviews, action models, and predispositions attuned with this spirit, hence greasing the functioning of the capitalist economy.”

p. 3

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