“Social Research Colloquium” features three lectures relying on EC

“Kolloquium Sozialforschung” at the University of Lucerne, Switzerland (Autumn 2020)

Miriam Kutt (University of Lucerne)

Rainer Diaz-Bone and Kenneth Horvath organized another biweekly colloquium at the University of Lucerne, focusing on methodological issues of social science in a broad sense. This past autumn, the range of presentations covered subjects such as modernizing a survey series on social security (Jacques Robert, University of Lucerne/ MILAK at the ETH Zurich), (music-) video analysis in the perspective of Audio Visual Grounded Theory Methodology (Marc Dietrich, Magdeburg-Stendal University of Applied Sciences), or recipes for researching software design and use (Juliane Jarke/ Irina Zakharova, University of Bremen/ ifib). Furthermore, the program of this colloquium featured three scholars in the field of convention theory (EC). Alan Canonica (Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts) presented his PHD project on conventions mobilized in employment integration of disabled people (see https://conventions.hypotheses.org/11454). Tamar Sharon (Radboud University Nijmegen) introduced her research project on the Googlization of health and discussed Boltanski and Thévenot’s orders of worth as part of a framework to identify evolving risks. Last but not least, Guy Schwegler (University of Lucerne) brought up to discussion a method to survey actor’s critical competence within his PHD project on performativity.
These three lectures relying on EC and their subsequent discussions are summarized in this post.

Alan Canonica:
«Konventionen der Arbeitsintegration von Menschen mit Behinderung zwischen Arbeitgeber und Invalidenversicherung (1945-2008)» [Conventions in Employment Integration of Disabled People between Employers and Disability Insurance (1945-2008)]
Alan Canonica presented the potential of convention theory for historical studies by means of his PHD project on employment integration of disabled people in Switzerland from 1945 to 2008 (Canonica 2020). He used the concept of the orders of justification to trace the emergence, development and changes of institutional arrangements of integration in the course of the investigation period. The focus was laid on negotiation processes between employers and public disability insurance.

The analytical concept Canonica outlined, considers the mobilization of conventions in integration debates as discursive practices, so that conventions constitute a discourse analytical matrix. To define ‘situations’ of analysis, he split up the investigation period into four eras corresponding to the reforms of the disability insurance and economic transitions.
With some examples of his findings, Canonica pointed out how the logics of argumentation differ between employers and disability insurance but also between different eras. And as final point of his presentation, he noted the challenges of adequately interpreting the sense of actor’s actions with regard to the historical context and he nevertheless named EC a valuable instrument for understanding the evaluation of disabled people and the traceability of historical change. Accordingly, the discussion evolved about strategies how to analyze historical documents from an EC perspective and how to detect validly historical eras.

Tamar Sharon: «Orders of worth and spheres of justice: From dual to multiple sphere ontologies in the Googlization of health»
The current research project run by Tamar Sharon and her team aims at identifying the risks of the market transgressions by tech giants into the sphere of health and medicine, which Sharon terms the “Googlization” of health. According to her, for a critique of the intersection of digital capitalism and digital health and thus the moral contamination of health care through market values, previous critical literature’s framings such as the ‘Hostile Worlds Doctrine’ (Zelizer 2011) is limited. That is, because it contrasts a rather amoral market sphere to a firmer moral sphere containing all other areas of life.

Since these large tech companies justify their entrance into the domain of health and medicine appealing to values from other, non-market spheres, Sharon moves her analytical framing of the Googlization of health beyond the dual sphere ontology of the Hostile Worlds Doctrine drawing on Boltanski and Thévenot’s (2006) orders of worth. Its multiple sphere ontology allows a greater moral complexity and a plurality of conceptions of common goods which are at stake beyond obvious ones like data privacy or autonomy.
However, as per Sharon, Boltanski and Thévenot’s orders of worth framework, which is a descriptive one, has a kind of normative deficit. She addresses this by bringing in Michael Walzer’s theory of justice, which claims that inequalities within spheres should not be carried into other spheres. Together, these two approaches can contribute to a new ontology of multiple spheres that would be much more adequate for identifying risks of the Googlization of health, and moreover perhaps of the digitalization of society in general.
The following discussion raised the question about Sharon’s usage of “market”, as in EC the order of market is not the same as real markets in everyday life that are mainly organized by the industrial order in a compromise with others. From Sharon’s critical perspective the splitting of the real market into the two logics of market and industrial order is helpful to grasp not only the financial power of tech companies but also their technical expertise as the currency which allows them to enter into other sectors. Another point in the discussion was that the values mobilized in the statements of representatives of these tech companies might perhaps be mere marketing propaganda and therefore cannot be taken for granted for what motivation they have to enter the health sector. A strategy of Sharon here is to introduce herself as a scientific instead of a critical researcher. And as Boltanski and Thévenot with their critique on moral philosophy want to take actors seriously, Sharon tries not to fall into false consciousness of knowing better than the interviewees what these actually want to do. She is convinced that some of these actors really believe that they are doing good to the world and not just want to make money. This methodological problem led the discussion to the question to what extent Thévenot’s regimes of engagement could be fruitful to analyze risky practices of health datafication beyond the level of justifications in the health discourse.

Guy Schwegler: «Ergebnispräsentation im Rahmen qualitativer Interviews – zwischen partizipativer Validierung und experimenteller Datenerhebung» [Presentation of Results as Part of Qualitative Interviews – between Participatory Validation and Experimental Data Gathering]
The subject of Guy Schwegler’s PHD project are the performative processes of cultural and social theories in the music sector. Referring to Michel Callon’s conception of “performativity” in the economic field and to convention theorists’ notion of critique he reflects the empirical performance of theoretical concepts as blueprints for actor’s procedures.

In this colloquium, Schwegler’s presentation was concerned with developing a method for on the one hand validating his findings and at the same time capturing the critical competences of his interview partners. In addition to numerous documents and field notes he has conducted several interviews with musicians and music producers referencing on social theories to examine how performative effects of theoretical concepts result in musical products that are described, produced or designed in a new way.
As Schwegler put it, when starting his empirical inquiry, he considered the persons he interviewed to have a critical insight into theoretical concepts (and into the effect on their musical products) equivalent to social scientists. But in the course of data collection he found it hard to make the interview partners speak about the way they use theories in their procedures. Therefore, as a final step of his empirical inquiry, Schwegler intends to confront the interviewees with the provisional results of his analysis. The aim of creating a critical negotiation with them is to improve his findings not only by a participatory validation, but yet by experimentally exploring so far unseen manifest and latent facets of performativity.
In the discussion that followed there was the question of how Schwegler precisely plans to make the interviewees reflect their procedures producing music in order to understand how they deal with theoretical concepts. Schwegler’s proposal was to ask them if another theoretical content might have resulted in different musical products. The participants input here was, that, in the cultural field, actors might have a totally different epistemological conception of the worth of social theories than social scientists. Thus, to explain why musicians actually use theories in their work one needs to reveal if it is really the content they are interested in or if it rather indicates a kind of crisis in the cultural field that forces musicians to search for new ways of producing music. A further remark in the discussion was the challenge of researching performativity and meanwhile taking performative effects of this very research into account.


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

Canonica, Alain. 2020. Beeinträchtigte Arbeitskraft. Konventionen der beruflichen Eingliederung zwischen Invalidenversicherung und Arbeitgeber (1945–2008). Zürich: Chronos (open access, https://www.chronos-verlag.ch/public-download/2631)

Walzer, Michael. 1983. Spheres of Justice: A Defense of Pluralism and Equality. New York: Basic Books.

Zelizer, Viviana. 2011. Economic Lives: How Culture Shapes the Economy. Princeton: Princeton University Press.