Regulating Transitions from School to Work

An Institutional Ethnography of Activation Work in Action

Stephan Dahmen (2021)

PhD thesis. Bielefeld: Transcript. Open access.

About this book. How are activation programs for the young unemployed implemented? How do street-level bureaucrats deal with competing rationalities and demands for action? Transition policies increasingly aim at promoting self-regulation and constructing employable subjects. Stephan Dahmen explores the practical regulation of biographical transitions in activation programs for the young unemployed by focusing on the interactive accomplishment of activation work. The study reveals how the critical tensions of activation policies are continually re-interpreted and adapted to local contingencies and describes the various organisational technologies used for creating employable subjects.

Extract: “4.1.6. From Institutional Logics to Competing Orders of Worth:
The Sociology of Conventions
Despite the strong drive of the institutional logics literature to develop a theoretical framework that integrates at the same time supraorganizational logics and human agency, most research conducted within the institutional logics framework remains on the level of sectors, organizational fields or specific subpopulations of organizations. The current work highlights the need for analyzing the role of competing logics and rationalities at the frontline level of organizations of welfare state, and more particularly, the ways in which human agents ignore, comply, resist and or compromise different institutional logics. For doing so a third theoretical approach to the analysis of organizations will be presented, which allows better integration of the situated and localized arrangement of compromises between different institutional logics. In addition, several authors point to continuities and similarities between a conception of ”institutional logics” and the approach to be presented within the next pages, that is the ”economy of conventions”, particularly when it comes to the analysis of organizations (Thornton/Occasio 2008: 102; Cloutier/Langley 2012; Jagd 2012) and professional practices. This framework of the “economy of conventions” is usually described as ”French pragmatic sociology” (Jagd 2012, Bénatouïl 1999) and is strongly connected with the scholarship of Luc Boltanski, Laurent Thévenot, Francois Eymard-Duvernay and others. While the economy of conventions has its roots in economic sociology and is initially born from a diagnosis of problems associated with the application of the theoretical frame of neoclassical economics to economic actions that cannot be restricted to pure competitive markets (Dupuy/Eymard-Duvernay/Favereau/Orléan/ Salais/Thévenot 1989), it has evolved to an overarching school of thought in French sociology. Initially, the approach highlighted the role of conventions as a non-economic form of coordination that is ignored by neoclassical economics trough reducing a market exchange relationship between two persons to the form of a contract (ibid.: 141). Subsequently, conventionalists extended their analysis to the qualification of labor through the application of laws, rules norms and conventions (Salais/Thévenot 1986), the study of different forms of evaluation in recruitment decisions (Eymard-Duvernay 2008) or non-market criteria as quality conventions in production firms (Eymard-Duvernay 1994) and different world of production (Storper/Salais 1997). As an overarching school of thought, the ”economy of conventions” attempted to combine three aspects that have been dissociated in the disciplines of economics and sociology: “the characterization of the agent and his/her reasons for acting, the modalities of coordination of actions, and the role of values and common goods” (Eymard-Duvernay/Favreau/Orléan/Salais/Thévenot 2003).” (p. 133)

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