Interview with Guillemette de Larquier on her new position as full professor:
“… we would like to show how EC can complement the labor market segmentation theory”
Katharina Pernkopf (Vienna) & Lisa Knoll (Hamburg & Halle)
Question: The first months are important days in a new position. How have you experienced this time?
GdL: After 30 years at the University of Paris 10 – Nanterre (my studies included), I arrived at the University of Lille 1 on September 1, 2017, more precisely at the Faculty of Economics and Social Sciences, and I am attached to the research lab Clersé (Centre lillois d’études et de recherches sociologiques et économiques). I occupy the position of professor of econometrics applied to labor economics. I see three main missions in this new position: training econometricians who are not necessarily destined to be academics, joining a small team of scholars (led by Héloïse Petit) who privilege applied qualitative and quantitative studies in labor issues and contributing to the development of institutional theories in economics. At Clersé, several researchers (Florence Jany-Catrice and Nicolas Postel for example) are developing works that mobilize conventions and several PhD theses with a conventionalist dimension have been supported or are in progress. I feel very welcome, having the opportunity to present my work in seminars and workshops. On the teaching side, I wait to discover Lille’s first-year students in the next semester. I will be in charge of a large introductory lecture room on microeconomics.
I arrive at an important moment for my new colleagues, the fusion of the three universities of Lille which will be effective in 2018. This fusion, inevitably a « critical » moment, reveals different points of view on the place of the economy among the other disciplines. You should know that the Faculty brings together the departments of economics and sociology and Clersé has the distinction of being a CNRS laboratory registered in sociology and economics. This balance, quite exceptional in France, can be praised or criticized … I am among those who appreciate this balance and I hope to contribute to new synergies between the two disciplines.
Question: Please tell us a little bit about your educational and academic background. What have been the most important influences, inspirations, and key moments?
GdL: I did all my studies at the University of Paris 10 – Nanterre. I started my studies with an undergraduate degree in applied mathematics for social sciences, then I specialized in modeling applied to economics and management, with a good training in econometrics. I started a thesis in economics with Olivier Favereau who submitted me a thesis topic he thought promising: the theory of job matching to explain the labor market dynamics. And he was right!
I took a strong interest in the « conventional » models of job matching in microeconomics (Boyan Jovanovic, Dale Mortensen, Alvin Roth) and macroeconomics (Christopher Pissarides) and it was only between my 2nd and 3rd year of PHD that I introduced a « conventionalist » dimension in my work. Olivier Favereau was not a prescriptive director of my thesis but, in a small sentence, he instilled a doubt in my mind. He told me that he had heard Jean-Daniel Reynaud saying something very right during a seminar: « A worker is not matched to a job but to a firm, a team of work ». If we take this evidence seriously, it’s destructive. With rare exceptions, in the matching models, there is a market for workers and jobs that are independent of each other. There is no room for any firm in these elegant theoretical constructions. It is therefore by wanting to introduce the firm into the matching dynamics that I had to move on to something else. François Eymard-Duvernay had just arrived at the University of Paris 10 – Nanterre and I found convincing his work on the plurality of conventions of goods quality and models of firms. In this line, I deduced a plurality of matches in firms and a plurality of matching processes in the labor market. That was my first step in EC.
Then, I was recruited as a lecturer at the University of Paris 10 – Nanterre. In the early 2000s, there was in Nanterre an “incubator” of young researchers, the 2nd generation of “conventionalists” as Olivier Favereau said. We were a dynamic group of lecturers and doctoral students around Philippe Batifoulier who directed the collective book « Théorie des conventions » published in 2001. The work was structured around the dual filiation of John Keynes and David Lewis. I worked on game theory chapters in Lewis’ filiation. The concept of « bad convention » came out of it, which was unexpectedly successful. It is in the same team spirit that in 2016 five of us (Philippe Batifoulier, Franck Bessis, Ariane Ghirardello, Delphine Remillon and me) published the “Dictionnaire des conventions” in honor of Olivier Favereau who gathered the contributions of 75 researchers.
In 2007, I had the good fortune to join for five years the Centre d’Etudes de l’Emploi (which was deeply marked by François Eymard-Duvernay and Laurent Thévenot in the 1980s and 1990s – I invite you to read the article written by Thomas Amossé about the CEE; see Amossé 2016). In this center, I developed all of my empirical work on labor market intermediaries and firms’ recruitment practices with Christian Bessy, Emmanuelle Marchal, Carole Tuchszirer and Géraldine Rieucau. These collaborations have particularly nourished my reflections on the quality conventions and the investments in forms underlying the functioning of the labor market, as I explained in my « habilitation à diriger les recherches » (HDR thesis. state doctorate) supported in 2016.
Question: To what extent will your research agenda be inspired by EC?
GdL: In my research applied to the labor market, EC brings me – above all – a theory of action where actors make their decisions based on two-level conventions: the level of behavior and the level of representations. I do not really describe the content of the conventions and I don’t study their evolution. EC thus brings me a paradigm on the rationality of the actors. First, their rationality is procedural: they follow rules, some of them being conventions of behavior. Secondly, their rationality is interpretative: the rules are supplemented by conventions at the representation level, which gives a shared meaning to the follow-up of the rules. Tertio, their rationality is argumentative: for example, to justify that the follow-up of such rule in such a situation is appropriate. The actors have an ability to judge what is and is not worthwhile, considering that arguments in terms of individual interest or subjective well-being may not be admissible in order to justify a public action (in the sense of visible by others) such as a promotion decision in an organization or the non-recruitment of a person recommended by an employee.
Question: Please give us a short overview with regard to your previous, current and future research projects that build on EC concepts.
GdL: My starting question is the quality of the matches between workers and jobs. Interactions in the labor market are subject to uncertainty because it is impossible to ascertain the quality of a match before experiencing it. In line with the approach of François Eymard-Duvernay and Emmanuelle Marchal (1997), I regard hiring as an uncertain situation, in which recruiters have to “qualify” labor and workers who do not have worth per se. The ways recruiters define, interpret and assess applicants’ qualities rely on a “labor quality convention”: they imply conventional judgments of what makes a “good candidate”. Consequently, as Emmanuelle Marchal and I showed with a French nation-wide employer survey (Larquier/Marchal 2016), the applicants’ worth depends on the choice of recruitment and assessment methods, on the way of using them, and on the type of actors involved in the process. Typically, the hiring process is a “trial”, as defined by Luc Boltanski and Eve Chiapello (1999), that is to say a social arrangement organizing the test of people’s abilities resulting in their ranking. In fact, the hiring process needs to be a legitimate trial because it justifies the distribution of social goods (jobs) to people according to their ranking. As Christian Imdorf (2017) wrote, the selected candidates have to be “credible and legitimate in the eyes of others”: employees, hierarchy, customers, business and public partners. Recruiters and employers have to explain themselves to ensure coordination and cooperation inside and outside the firm.
As long as hiring practices seem to be efficient in the coordination (they avoid serious hiring failures from recruiters’ interpretation) and legitimate (there is no strong critics about their organization and their outcome), recruiters have no reason to change their way of value applicants. Finally, given these conditions – no failure of efficiency and of legitimacy –, recruiters in firms have the “power of valuation” (according to the innovative concept introduced by François Eymard-Duvernay, 2012): in the labor markets, actors accept that employers can decide who are valuable and who are not. Their labor quality conventions are diffused in the labor market and the applicants have to adjust themselves to these quality conventions. How? It is the function of recruitment channels. It is the issue of my present work with Géraldine Rieucau.
The labor market – in other words, the uncertainty outside the firm – is shaped by the recruitment channels that the firm uses. Here the concept designed by Laurent Thévenot is very useful: the investments in forms. By using a given channel, employers and workers base their decisions and actions on the investments in forms embedded in that channel. They delimit and stabilize the outlines of labor markets and they shape the information about the applicant’s qualities and employer’s requirements. The objective is to coordinate the representations of the labor market and to make possible the formation of matches between firms and workers. And, given the power of valuation of the firms, investments in forms embedded in channels are expected to be coherent with the employers’ labor quality conventions. Finally, my conventionalist approach amends the traditional opposition between external and internal labor markets highlighted by Peter Doeringer and Michael Piore (1971). I consider that external and internal labor markets’ dynamics are linked by the way firms judge the quality of labor and by the way channels convey firms’ valuations.
Question: In terms of your research agenda, what will be the focus of your future work?
GdL: My constant subject is the evaluation of work quality by firms. The recruitment is the exemplary moment for addressing this issue and I will not abandon it. In addition, recruitment is neither quite in the market nor quite in the firm but at the hinge of both. So, by analyzing the recruitment and the conventions that are revealed during the recruitment outcomes, we improve the understanding both of the labor market as a place of matching and of the firms as places of workforce management. My research then will continue in both directions: on the one hand, the analysis of market channels used not only by firms but also by job seekers and, on the other hand, the analysis of the training policies in firms, another crucial moment for valuing work (in the strong sense) by firms. With Géraldine Rieucau, we would like to show how EC can complement the labor market segmentation theory. Investments in forms in external labor markets (ie, channels and intermediaries) and conventions in force in internal labor markets imply that certain qualities are recognized for certain jobs and workers and exclude others; that produces, maintains and strengthens segments of the labor market that are distinguished from one another by the qualification and management of workers and jobs. For example, the category of « unskilled » is not a natural data; in the « unskilled » segment, the qualities that matter are not stabilized by investments in forms made by academic, professional or labor market-specific institutions; as a result, the dynamics of this segment rely on other types of formats to qualify workers and jobs and this segment is likely to be much more embedded in the social structure; it is therefore a mistake to say that the « unskilled » segment corresponds to the most « competitive » segment (I am actually referring to a very fine remark by Jérôme Gautié commenting on Géraldine Rieucau’s HDR thesis).
In short, in my research agenda, there are a number of relatively classical projects in applied labor economics (recruitment channels, professional integration of youth, firm training policies, mobility of trained employees); but each time, I introduce this nagging question specific to EC: how is the work quality recognized? It is not an objective fact; it is neither totally subjective, inscribed in the evaluator’s preferences; it is a convention, intersubjective, each one considering that it is shared with others, and this with good reasons since it is stabilized by different investments in forms.
Question: Where do you see the strengths of EC and its opportunities? Any weaknesses and threats you can detect? What do you expect to be the most important issues, research questions and conceptual puzzles you or other EC scholars should address?
GdL: The EC is not a chapel with strict dogmas; on the contrary, there are many ways to be conventionalist! It is a strength of the EC, but also the cause of its weaknesses. Some researchers use the Economies of Worth of Luc Boltanski and Laurent Thévenot to identify justifications in the discourses; others consider conventions less demanding in terms of justification, their legitimacy being much more local; others may not speak of conventions at all, but adhere to the hypothesis of interpretative and argumentative rationality of the actors. As a result, the consistency and visibility of EC are not so clear. There is no handbook but a myriad of books and articles. When a student asks me what to read for an introduction to EC, I can unfortunately not give a single reference (unless reading German: the book of Rainer Diaz-Bone (2015) being the only reference handbook that I know); it is necessary to make the effort to read several references (for example the ones listed in the References tab of the blog) and discover the various facets of EC. So, learning about EC is not easy, but despite this, I see that many young researchers are integrating a conventionalist dimension into their work. Their field studies lead them to adopt EC, because they observe the conventions and the justifications in situation.
Moreover, from the point of view of the other institutionalist currents in economics, we can at the same time acknowledge to EC a certain capacity to spread the strong points of its program (the widening of the actors’ cognitive and ethical capacities and the meso-analysis of markets and organizations) and blame EC for an apparent lack of analysis of conflicts and of the capitalist system. In response to this reproach, not completely unfounded but not completely deserved either, we organize in Lille, with Richard Sobel, two studies days in June 2018 on the contributions of EC to the understanding of the mutations of contemporary capitalism.
Question: Can you provide any advice for young scholars who want to work with EC and find their way in academia?
GdL: In general, I advise young researchers to always keep an empirical dimension in their work. This gives more strength to the theory that is applied, especially when this theory is not the conventional one taught at university!
Question: Why does EC matter in France and beyond?
GdL: EC matters if you are looking for a paradigm in social sciences explaining the plurality of forms of coordination and the normative attachment of the actors to each of these forms. It is true in France and beyond!
Amossé T. 2016. The Centre d’Etudes de l’Emploi (1970-2015): Statistics – on the cusp of social sciences and the state. Historical Social Research, 41(2), p. 72-95.
Batifoulier P. (ed.). 2001. Théorie des conventions. Paris: Economica.
Batifoulier P., Bessis F., Ghirardello A., Larquier G. de, Remillon D. (eds.). 2016. Dictionnaire des conventions – Autour des travaux d’Olivier Favereau. Villeneuve-d’Ascq: Presses Universitaires du Septentrion.
Boltanski L., Chiapello E., 1999, Le nouvel esprit du capitalisme. Paris: Gallimard.
Boltanski L., Thévenot L. 1991. De la Justification. Les économies de la grandeur. Paris: Gallimard.
Diaz-Bone R. 2015. Die « Economie des conventions » – Grundlagen und Entwicklungen der neuen französischen Wirtschaftssoziologie. Wiesbaden: Springer VS.
Doeringer P., Piore M. 1971. Internal Labor Markets and Manpower Analysis. Lexington: D.C. Heath.
Eymard-Duvernay F., Marchal E. 1997. Façons de recruter: le jugement des compétences sur le marché du travail. Paris: Métailié.
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Imdorf C. 2017. Understanding discrimination in hiring apprentices: how training companies use ethnicity to avoid organisational trouble. Journal of Vocational Education & Training 69(3), p. 405-423.
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Larquier G. de. 2016. Une approche conventionnaliste du marché du travail fondée sur le recrutement des entreprises. Habilitation à diriger des recherches. Université Paris 10 – Nanterre.
Larquier G. de, Marchal E. 2016. Does the Formalisation of Practices Enhance Equal Hiring Opportunities? An Analysis of a French Nation-Wide Employer Survey. Socio-Economic Review 14(3), p. 567-589.
Mortensen D.T. 1988. Matching: finding a partner for life or otherwise. American Journal of Sociology, 94, Supplement, p. S215-S240.
Pissarides C. 1990. Equilibrium unemployment theory. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.
Rieucau G. 2017. Canaux d’information et recherche d’emploi : une approche institutionnaliste. Habilitation à diriger les recherches, University of Paris 8.
Roth A.E., Sotomayor M. 1990. Two-Sided Matching: A Study in Game-Theoretic Modeling and Analysis. Econometric Society Monographs 18, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Thévenot L. 1984. Rules and implement: investment in forms. Social Science Information 23(1), p. 1-45.