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.

 

Biography

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).

Theory

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

References

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.

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)

https://www.springer.com/gp/book/9783658257255

 

“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”

 

The elusive “good” : how performance measures shape the US child support enforcement program, by Ana Carolina Macatangay

PhD thesis. University of St. Andrews.

https://research-repository.st-andrews.ac.uk/handle/10023/17890

ABSTRACT

“Performance measures do not just capture an organization’s ‘good performance’; they intervene in the valuation and construction of what counts as ‘good’ so it can be valued, enacted, and measured. This is the central theme of this thesis. Using a performativity lens, and drawing on valuation studies and the sociology of quantification, this research investigates the framing processes and mechanisms by which the federal performance measures, through a network of actors and devices, enable a U.S. child support enforcement agency to enact the ‘good performance’ that can be measured. Using ethnographic and case study methods, the study examines how actors and devices, through a framing process, qualify and negotiate the boundaries of their interactions to produce the ‘good performance’ that can be counted and measured. The boundaries they establish, however, produce overflows that potentially threaten the production of the qualified and quantified ‘good’. Such overflows emerge due to unexpected events, different versions of ‘good’, and conflicting frames of valuation of what counts as ‘good’. Based on the findings, the study offers a taxonomy of performative framing to explain how measures stimulate the organizing work of an agency so the ‘good performance’ can be organized, articulated, produced, and validated. It also offers a taxonomy of counter-performation to describe the uncertainties, multiplicities, and rivalries that the measured ‘good performance’ generates.”

EXCERPT

“Individuals, organizations, and societies use categories to make sense of and interact with the world. Categories (e.g. car types by engine size or hotel quality by star rating), which have been ‘collectively crafted, sustained, and enforced’ (Fourcade, 2016: 176), often are held as fact and used for determining how things are similar and, by implication, different from others that have been excluded from a ‘category’. They enable the ordering of things based on a general principle of worth (Boltanski &Thévenot, 2006) and guide or format people’s choices and actions. They are used to assess, compare, or assign values (e.g. price or scores) to things, and to interpret the social and physical world. When things or entities are qualified into some type of ‘thing’, their qualities are reduced to a finite number that will unify them, establish their ‘equivalence’ (Desrosières, 1998), and turn them into realizable and recognizable categories (Diaz-Bone & Didier, 2016). The qualities that make the ‘thing’ (e.g. engine size for car type) become the parameter for sorting and grouping entities into a category to which other entities could be assigned through a process of encoding. As Desrosières (1998) explained, coding signifies a ‘reduction’, a ‘sacrifice’, as other qualities have been disregarded. But by doing this, entities could easily be coded to discrete categories and compared to others based on their selectively compressed qualities (Espeland & Lom, 2015) that had been articulated through the coding’s evaluative form. By making entities and their selective qualities visible, they become measurable ‘objects of reference’ (Centemeri, 2012) for interpretation, coordination and action, supported by huge ‘investments in conventional forms’ (Thévenot, 2015) – such as the use of indicators, statistics, ratings, etc. – to formalize the categories and classifications of information. It may be said therefore that while qualification defines categories, quantification formalizes them. The very forms that help name or construct them also reveal them; and by revealing them, they are made ‘real’ (Desrosières, 1998; Fourcade, 2016).” (p. 44)

Supervisors: Philip Roscoe and Shona Russell

Download link: https://research-repository.st-andrews.ac.uk/bitstream/handle/10023/17890/AnaMacatangayPhDThesis.pdf?sequence=3&isAllowed=y

The quality-turn in coffee, an option for producers, but to what extent?

Interview with Stefano Ponte

Xiomara F. Quiñones Ruiz (University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, BOKU Vienna)

Stefano Ponte is a leading researcher and professor at the Centre for Business and Development Studies (CBDS) at Copenhagen Business School. He is primarily interested in transnational economic and environmental governance, with focus on overlaps and tensions between private authority and public regulation. He is particularly interested in how sustainability labels, certifications and codes of conduct shape power relations in global value chains, and in how different forms of partnerships affect sustainability outcomes.

Quiñones Ruiz: Could you share with us your main researGrabsch interests and/or fields of study and how you embarked (got connected) to the convention theory?

Stefano Ponte

Ponte: My research interests coalesce around the topic of governing economic life – through markets, regulation and hybrid forms of governance. My primary interest lies in transnational economic and environmental governance, with focus on overlaps and tensions between private governance and public regulation. My research, fieldwork, teaching and policy work is informed by international political economy approaches, global value chain analysis and convention theory.

I analyze governance dynamics and economic and environmental upgrading trajectories in global value chains — especially in developing countries and in Africa. I am particularly interested in how sustainability standards, labels and certifications shape agro-food value chains, and in how different forms of partnerships affect sustainability outcomes. I am also involved in projects critically examining the role of celebrities and branding in these processes, new forms of corporate social and environmental responsibility, and cause-related marketing.

I started being interested in convention theory when I attended a workshop in Copenhagen on global value chains and the filière approaches in mid-1999. I had just moved to Denmark to join a research project on value chains in the agro-food sector in Africa, which was coordinated by Peter Gibbon. It was the first workshop of the programme and the group had decided to discuss a series of relevant theoretical readings. Benoit Daviron of CIRAD was part of that project and he had suggested reading a recent publication by John Wilkinson in the Review of International Political Economy, discussing convention economics and regulation theory, plus some Francophone literature on the filière approach, economics of convention (Eymard-Duvernay’s work in particular) and pragmatic sociology (especially Thévenot and Boltanski’s opus magna: Boltanski and Thévenot 2006). This first engagement eventually led to my long-lasting relationship with Daviron and Gibbon (2005) and the publication of two co-authored monographs in 2005 on the role of quality conventions in governing value chains in general, and in the coffee sector in particular. Benoit Daviron also facilitated my first personal contacts with key French figures in the field of regulation theory and pragmatic sociology – Gilles Allaire, Robert Boyer and Laurent Thévenot in particular – with whom I have interacted and collaborated regularly over the years.

Quiñones Ruiz: Indeed, you have made a great and inspiring contribution related to the understanding of the coffee paradoxes, namely, your co-authored masterpiece The Coffee Paradox (e.g. coffee crises in producing countries (i.e. very low prices paid to producers), coffee boom in main consuming countries usually based in the North; producer countries mainly selling material quality while actors in consuming countries sell symbolic and in-service quality). Since the publication of the Coffee Paradox, what are the developments observed to reduce or to cope with the coffee paradoxes?

Ponte: A lot has happened since the publication of the Coffee Paradox (Daviron and Ponte 2005). The industry has gone through two phases since about 2008 – one of diversification followed by one of reconsolidation. The latter has been marked by a new wave of restructuring of coffee roasters that has reverberated across the entire industry. During the first period (around 2008 – 2012), in response to a general economic slowdown, the diversified multinationals that had previously held great market power sold or spun off their coffee portfolios amidst the global recession and a general slow-down in the sector. During the second period, from 2010 to 2014, the explosive growth of the specialty sector allowed companies such as Starbucks and Keurig Green Mountain, as well as smaller boutique roasters, to increase their market shares. This trend provided some hope that the balance of power along the value chain could be somewhat re-equilibrated to the advantage of producers, at least those operating in the specialty sector (often larger farms and more organized cooperatives).

However, as the economy recovered from 2012 onwards, and the new consumer segment of “millennials” acquired more spending potential, the coffee market – and in particular its specialty segment – was recognized as strategic long-term investment opportunity for private equity firms such as JAB Holding. This initiated a major re-consolidation movement. Nestlé, after years of relatively unchallenged market leadership, suddenly had to face a serious contender for global dominance in JAB Holding. This battle for market dominance also reverberated across the industry, causing other roasters to strengthen their own portfolios. It further led to greatly increased downward price pressure on green coffee, and all upstream actors, in particular growers and traders, had to work with slimmer margins.

Large traditional roasters have made massive investments in recapturing at least part of the high-margin specialty market, and in the process have brought their large market power to bear on it. Nestlé, for example, has aggressively developed its high-end single-serve capsule Nespresso line, while Starbucks has now grown to become the sixth largest roaster globally. Other major roaster groups have been acquiring specialty roasters at a high speed: JDE, for example, acquired Peet’s Coffee in 2012; its holding company (JAB) took over Keurig Green Mountain coffee in 2015. As they aim to scale up their performance in this lucrative sector, roasters frequently adopt top-down sourcing management schemes that negate the aspirational equal-footed relations and quality conventions pursued in relationship coffees. For instance, the sustainability verification systems used by Starbucks and Nespresso allow them to obtain precious information on suppliers’ cost structures as well, thus strengthening roasters’ bargaining power and ability to extract value in higher-margin markets.

In other words, the potential held by specialty coffee, indications of geographic origin, sustainability certifications and direct trade to tilt the balance of power in the coffee value chain towards producers has been tamed. This is casting doubts on whether specialization in differentiated coffees allows for sustained shifts in the socio-spatial distribution of value and risk. In sum, we find new dependency relationships emerging, which are closely linked to Northern-dominated quality conventions.

At the same time, and despite the widespread dismantling of coffee institutions, several important countries have bolstered their institutional power by supporting their coffee value chains through enforceable (Colombia, Costa Rica, Cote d’Ivoire) or suggested (Brazil) minimum prices for export contracts. Some countries still operate export auctions (Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia) and regulate export quality and/or require licenses for exporters. Several other support mechanisms are being applied, such as price stabilization funds, disease prevention support and producer income assistance, support for the development of geographic indications, and programs targeting climate change adaptation and improvements in quality and sustainability. These steps thus have helped to curtail some of the power otherwise exercised by large-scale traders and roasters through public intervention. This slow renaissance of institutional involvement and power in the coffee value chain culminated in the 2017 World Coffee Producers’ Forum, convened by the Colombian Federation of Coffee Producers, which openly discussed the inadequacy of current market-based price discovery mechanisms in generating prices that cover producers’ production costs, and called for an investigation of price and cost trends – along with the determination of a sustainable minimum price. Industry insiders see these steps as possible precursors to renewed attempts to align producing country strategies, especially as production is getting increasingly concentrated in three origins (Colombia, Brazil, and Vietnam).

In sum, although recent changes in the coffee Global Value Chains (GVC) toward a more heterogeneous and stratified product portfolio may have lent some power to producing country actors, particularly when proposing new specialty coffees, the overwhelming tendency in current re-consolidation efforts is one where large disparities in bargaining power persist – translating also into buyers being able to impose increasingly stringent terms onto their suppliers (in some cases, roasters’ payment terms to traders increased from 30 to 180 days). The simultaneous but partial renaissance of producing-country institutional power, and through unilateral and incipient multilateral means (e.g. the World Coffee Producers’ Forum), constitutes an important effort for addressing unequal exchange. However, as the experience of the International Coffee Agreement has shown, such efforts frequently face collective action, free-rider, and rent-seeking problems. [I owe many of these insights to Janina Grabs, postdoctoral researcher at the University of Münster – see also Grabs and Ponte, 2019 ]

Quiñones Ruiz: In the EC, conventions are understood as interpretative frames on how to handle institutions (e.g. rules, practices) in situations of coordination. Could you tell us how EC has been beneficial to your research work so far, especially in the coffee sector?

Ponte: EC was absolutely essential in my research for understanding how negotiations over quality along the coffee value chains shaped power relations, the governance of the value chain and associated distributional outcomes. This showed that critiques of EC focusing on its purported lack of attention for power relations were misplaced. I found EC extremely useful in addressing key issues in international political economy. Engaging with EC, first through quality conventions and the work of Eymard-Duvernay, and later more broadly in relation to the pragmatic sociology of Thévenot, allowed me to examined power relations along value chains in a much more nuanced way than in mainstream political economy approaches. This was the case not only in relation to my work on the coffee industry, but also in other empirical settings (e.g. wine, seafood and other agro-food products). Theoretically, it has been the very base for my current work with Mark Dallas and Timothy Sturgeon that seeks to provide a typology of power in global value chains which can be used to unpack not only bargaining relations or institutional settings, but also what we call “demonstrative” and “constitutive” power. These two forms of power are closely related to some of the insights of EC. Finally, my recent book Business, Power and Sustainability in a World of Global Value Chains (2019, Zed Books) builds upon these foundations.

Quiñones Ruiz: Would you say, that a country such as Colombia, where the coffee sector is heavily regulated in terms of quality control, origin, minimum prices (i.e. by developing own quality standards, geographical indications, trademarks, Juan Valdez coffee shops outside Colombia, garantía de compra, etc …), combines several conventions, for instance domestic but also market and industrial conventions? Could you elaborate on this? And even with these conventions put in place why the situation of producers does not improve? One of the possible explanations is that producers still sell mainly green coffee (material quality)?

Ponte: Well, Colombia has actually done a lot more than other countries to create and control value domestically / for farmers and their institutions. The Juan Valdez coffee shop chain is one example, and efforts to defend and manage the “Café de Colombia” denomination have been quite important. However, there has been much less effort done to develop more local and specific indications of geographic origin – actually Peru and Guatemala, for example, have been more advanced than Colombia. But even with these in mind, the fact that the coffee industry has gone through a period of re-consolidation with mainstream roasters buying formerly-known as specialty or “independent” roasters is not a good sign. In the period before the current one (see above), with increasing fragmentation we did see both increases in international market prices and in returns to farmers (but usually those who are more advanced and/or are part of more sophisticated cooperatives).

Quiñones Ruiz: Sometimes I feel a bit disappointed by the fact that the green convention is disregarded by important coffee stakeholders with explanations concerning low productivity, lower incomes, “if producers do not get well-paid, they would not take care of the environment”, etc. However, without soil, water, natural resources; changing climate conditions, producers would not be able to produce coffee and consumers would hardly find a cup of coffee …. What is your opinion on this?

Ponte: Climate change is a real threat, and roasters are indeed very worried about future sources of coffee, especially Colombian-type Arabicas. At the same time, though, they continue to squeeze margins and increase payment terms to international traders (now up to 180 days for some!). So on one hand they know they need to pay better prices, but on the other they continue to take short-term profit maximization approach, which will create further problems down the road. This is really a conundrum, as these roasters at the same time engage in all these “development projects” that are framed as “Corporate Social Responsibility” or “helping farmers” but are really investments in minimizing strategic origin supply risk.

Quiñones Ruiz: Additionally, to what extent should our desire to consume quality coffee (mild washed Arabica) only be the result of a washed production method?

Ponte: I do not see much potential in other places (meaning outside of Ethiopia) or beyond very small niches. Properly washed Arabica is still the top processing method. Drinking straight Ethiopian naturals requires quite an adjustment of taste, and very often they are best mixed with washed Arabicas in high-end espresso blends (instead of Robusta)

Quiñones Ruiz: In addition to the three quality types as clearly illustrated in The Coffee Paradox, that is, material, symbolic and in-person service, a) do you think that a new type of quality can be included, namely, a kind of origin/social quality describing the roasting of green coffee at origin by producers (e.g. themselves with own/collective brands or by contracting the services of local roasters)? or b) this does not make any sense?, or c) should it be added to the already symbolic category?

Ponte: Another very good set of questions! I have been reluctant to engage in adding a new category of quality convention (green) in the past, despite many others having actually made an argument for it (including Bruno Latour). I think that what has been happening in the past few years, and especially with the setting of the Sustainable Development Goals, made me change my mind. I am now thinking that environmental issues have their own special place, not only as a sub-category of “symbolic” quality, but rather as a category on their own, as they being in hybrid physical/symbolic elements at play.

Quiñones Ruiz: Now, I pose these questions because for the proposed symbolic quality it is assumed that this happens in the North (main consuming countries). Despite the relatively recent booming of local markets for specialty coffee in the producing countries, it is well-known the little know-how and lack of facilities and machineries/technology to roast at origin. (By the way, we in the South do not truly drink coffee, only recently this trend has started!) I have asked some third-wave roasters about buying roasted coffee at origin, the usual answers are: the quality is not good/I am roaster of specialty coffee/at origin, they do not know how to roast/producers should “specialize” in producing good [material] quality.

Ponte: I think that the trend of coffee consumption in the Global South is strong and very important, not only in producing countries, but also in emerging markets such as China. In these two segments, the strategies for value addition will probably be quite different. In producing countries, it will probably involve a better approach to roasting and consumption experience, which has been there in Brazil and Ethiopia all along, but not so much in other locations. In non-producer emerging economies, there will be a bifurcated approach I think: low-end cheap coffee (mainly Robusta) and very-high end consumption patterns that may reflect the Chinese craze for top-top quality (e.g. in the wine sector). I think delivering material quality remains important, but symbolic and indeed green content will become increasingly central for value addition and capture.

Quiñones Ruiz:  A way to “cultivate” consumers (at origin and abroad) might be by proposing a kind of origin/social quality that goes beyond taste – or cupping as one of the coordination devices for quality –, but proposing a way (alternative) to trigger a fair value distribution and acknowledgment (i.e. of the hard work done represented in a product), not only based on export but also in local markets? Here again your argument concerning the massive investments and capital flows of the big fishes in the coffee industry, right?

Ponte: Cupping at origin is still very important, and the Cup of Excellence competitions have shown that it can pay off handsomely for those producers and cooperatives who have invested in this learning trajectory. But it will have still to be accompanied by major strides in adding symbolic/green content at origin and promote/control it throughout the value chain.

 

References

Boydell, H. (2018). Rethinking The C Price: Should We Change How We Price Coffee? Perfect Daily Grind News. October 24, 2018. East Sussex: Perfect Daily Grind Ltd. Retrieved on 24.04.2019 from https://www.perfectdailygrind.com/2018/10/rethinking-the-c-price-should-we-change-how-we-price-coffee/

Boltanski, L, and Thévenot, L. (2006). On Justification. Economies of Worth. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Brown, N. (2019a). Coffee Producers Demand Immediate Action Amidst Price Crisis. Retrieved on 28.03.2019 from https://dailycoffeenews.com/2019/04/22/spp-global-denounces-coffee-prices-calls-for-living-income/?utm_source=Roast+Magazine+%26+Daily+Coffee+News&utm_campaign=28a12c0851-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_6_19_2018_7_26_COPY_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_8f24fab631-28a12c0851-68958361

Brown, N. (2019b). SPP Global Denounces Coffee Prices, Calls for Living Income. Retrieved on 24.04.2019 from https://dailycoffeenews.com/2019/04/22/spp-global-denounces-coffee-prices-calls-for-living-income/?utm_source=Roast+Magazine+%26+Daily+Coffee+News&utm_campaign=28a12c0851-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_6_19_2018_7_26_COPY_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_8f24fab631-28a12c0851-68958361

Daviron, B. and Ponte, S. (2005). The Coffee Paradox: Global Markets, Commodity Trade and the Elusive Promise of Development. London, New York: Zed Books.

Diaz-Bone, R. and Salais, R. (2011). Economics of Convention and the History of Economies. Towards a Transdisciplinary Approach in Economic History. Historical Social Research, 36, 4, 7–39.
Retrieved 8 June 2019 from https://www.ssoar.info/ssoar/handle/document/36326

Dietz, T., Auffenberg, J., Andrea Estrella Chong, A. E., Grabs, J. and   Kilian, B. (2018). The Voluntary Coffee Standard Index (VOCSI). Developing a Composite Index to Assess and Compare the Strength of Mainstream Voluntary Sustainability Standards in the Global Coffee Industry. Ecological Economics, 150, 72–87.

Grabs, J. and Ponte, S. (2019). The evolution of power in the global coffee value chain and production network. Journal of Economic Geography online first, 1-26.

Holland, E., Kjeldsen, C. and Kerndrup, S. (2016). Coordinating quality practices in Direct Trade coffee. Journal of Cultural Economy, 9, 2, 186–196.

Ponte, S. (2016). Convention theory in the Anglophone agro-food literature: Past, present and future. Journal of Rural Studies, 44, 12–23.

Ponte, S. and Cheyns, E. (2013). Voluntary standards, expert knowledge and the governance of sustainability networks. Global Networks, 13, 4, 459–477.f

Ponte, S. and Gibbon, P. (2005). Quality standards, conventions and the governance of global value chains. Economy and Society, 34, 1, 1–31.

Reinecke, J., Manning, S., and von Hagen, O. (2012). The emergence of a standards market: multiplicity of sustainability standards in the global coffee industry. Organization Studies, 33 (5–6), 791–814.

Schouten, G. and Bitzer, V. (2015). The emergence of Southern standards in agricultural value chains. Ecological Economics, 120, 175–184.

10th Sociology of Conventions Workshop “Conventions@Work”

Katharina Zangerle (University of Innsbruck) & Bianca Schönherr (University of Innsbruck)

University of Innsbruck, Austria 26-27 April 2019.

In the evening of 25 April, a proper dinner constitutes the unofficial start – as it is occasionally the case with fruitful encounters – of the workshop. For the second time, the EC family gathers in Innsbruck, after prior workshops in Basel, Vienna, Lucerne, Hamburg and Reutlingen.

The next day, the host and an expert of this year’s workshop topic, Julia Brandl (University of Innsbruck), introduced into “Conventions@Work”, and warmly welcomed all Economie des conventions (EC) long-time representants, veteran performers and newcomers as well as the keynote speaker Emmanuelle Marchal (Sciences Po, Paris), well known for her intense sociological engagement with labor markets and recruitment practices. Besides her, Guillemette de Larquier (University of Lille) allowed to learn first-hand from central representatives of EC about current developments in labor market research. This year’s general focus indeed was – as the title indicates – on labor markets and personal policy work, for example understanding sources of inequalities in the labor markets by looking at recruiting practices. Also, our dear sponsor French Focus (of the University of Innsbruck) got a word in this opening session. Useful side note for researcher in financial need with a link to France: the French Focus financially supports academic exchange between academics from France and Innsbruck https://www.uibk.ac.at/frankreichschwerpunkt/index.html.de

Variety in regard to disciplines (e.g., Sociologist, Economists, Historians), origin (e.g., France, Switzerland, Germany and Austria), empirical interests (e.g., from migration, health, the digital, social policy, science, farming, to intellectual property regulations and information security…), but connected through the common theoretical perspective, characterized the audience composed of about 35 scientists. Besides, it was the workshops format, which allowed the presenters adequate time (45 minutes) to make clear their arguments and respond to the assigned discussants’ and audiences’ responses of different sorts, that triggered the discussion. The following overview serves to communicate current developments in the community, but makes no account to be complete. If some of the following issues awake your interest and if you want to learn more about it, consider to personally contact the authors (they are all quite friendly). This opportunity should also serve to honor Qamar Ali’s organizational efforts behind the event!

Overview:

On the first morning, discussions were based on four presentations:

  • In the first session, Bernadette Bullinger (IE Business School Madrid) presented her work about mediating employment opportunities for migrants. Together with her co-authors Anna Schneider and Jean-Pascal Gond she thereby encounters the phenomenon of “Placing the Displaced”.
  • Eva Nadai (FHNW Olten, Switzerland) talked in the second session about the encounter of “High Tech, Low Skills” by investigating quality conventions for unskilled workers in an upskilled economy.
  • After the first coffee break, Esther Berner (Helmut-Schmidt-University / University of Federal Armed Forces Hamburg) centers in her work “Between Violence and Love, the Public and the Intimate. The “Citizen in Uniform” in the Perspective of the Sociology of Engagement” from a historical perspective the changing role of military officer.
  • Katharina Zangerle (University of Innsbruck) applies together with the co-authors Konstantin Hondros and Sigrid Quack, the EC to prominent court trials where actors litigate Intellectual Property claims in the music and pharmaceutical industry.
Julia Brandl
  • After lunch in the canteen of the University of Innsbruck, Rainer Diaz-Bone (University of Lucerne), Kenneth Horvath (University of Lucerne), Lisa Knoll (University of Hamburg), Guillemette de Larquier (University ofLille) and Julia Brandl (University of Innsbruck), long standing representants of EC, discussed on the panel “Big Data, Methods, Value Chains – Conventionalists’ Perspectives on Research Practices”.
Guillemette de Larquier, Kenneth Horvath, Lisa Knoll, Rainer Diaz-Bone, Julia Brandl
  • Finally, Emmanuelle Marchal (Sciences Po, Paris) gave her keynote about “Hiring Practices as (De)valorization”. Based on the sociology of markets, she critically encounters recruiting processes and practically asks for example: How can we know what skills are necessary for a job and how to evaluate those skills? What does a recruiter do, when she reads a CV? What game is played at personal meetings between recruiter and job applicant? BTW: The keynote referred to her book Les Embarras des Recruteurs. Enquête sur le Marché du Travail (English: The Recruiters’ Embarrassment. A Labour Market Survey/Deutsch: Die Verlegenheit der Personalvermittler. Eine Arbeitsmarktuntersuchung, Paris, EHESS, 2015, ISBN: 9782713224911).
Emmanuelle Marchal
  • Even though “work” was central in every sense, conventionalists also know when it’s time to celebrate. At the end of the day Christian Imdorf (University of Hannover) and Regula Leemann (FHNW Basel-Muttenz) announced the publication of their upcoming book together with Gonon Philipp on “Bildung und Konventionen” (English: “Education and conventions”) available at Springer Verlag: https://www.springer.com/us/book/9783658233006 in the new book series “Soziologie der Konventionen” (https://www.springer.com/series/15571?detailsPage=titles). Therefore champagne was cheerfully raised, accentuated by honoring words from Rainer Diaz-Bone. Congratulation again!

After an intensive first day, the group enjoyed a dinner in Innsbruck’s old town.

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  • The second day began with the presentation of Lisa Knoll (University of Hamburg), where she introduced her current paper with Eve Chiapello on “The Welfare Conventions Approach” illustrated by social impact bonds.
  • Markus Schermer from the University of Innsbruck engages, against the backdrop of changing roles of and expectations towards farming, with conventions in agriculture and food production, thereby showing how farmers (re)organize and qualify their work.
  • Karolin Kappler and Uwe Vormbusch (both from FernUniversität Hagen) presented Orders of Justification in the Field of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and framed them as ‘Spaces of Negotiation’ in the Making.
  • Dominik Zellhofer from the Vienna University of Economic and Business presented an excerpt of a dissertation project on information security policies in organizations and focused on building a framework based on the sociology of conventions.

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  • After a light lunch, a session and discussion on “Methods and Research Question Spaces” followed with input from Kenneth Horvath (University of Lucerne) and Regula Leemann (FHNW) on “Reality Test” in EC-Its Theoretical AND Empirical Dimensions.
  • Valeska Cappel (University of Lucerne), Karolin Kappler (FernUniversität Hagen) and Sarah Lenz (University of Basel) engage in the last session with an increasingly prominent topic: “EC in the Field of Digital Health and Artificial Intelligence (AI)”, by investigating how the complex, ambiguous and contradictory moral infrastructure of late modern societies is mirrored and eventually transformed by AI.

——

The event was shaped by the active participation of all its attendees. Hence, special thanks to the chairs – Dominik Zellhofer (Friday) and Bernadette Bullinger (Saturday) – as well as the discussants Guillemette de Larquier, Heike Jacobsen, Arjan Kozica and Qamar Ali, Rainer Diaz-Bone, Esther Berner, Nina Pohler and Christian Imdorf who contributed to their colleagues’ scientific development.

Closing words from Julia Brandl and an outlook constituted the formal end of the two-day workshop.

Short reminder: WU Vienna invites to the 11th SoC Meeting (preliminary dates 16-17 April 2020). The central topic will be “Capitalism without Spirit? Conventions in the Age of Digital Transformation”

“That is why we consider hiring activities as valorization and devalorization processes.”

Interview with Emmanuelle Marchal

Anna Schneider & Qamar Ali (University of Innsbruck, Austria)

Emmanuelle Marchal is a CNRS Research Professor at the Centre de Sociologie des Organisations, (Center for the Sociology of Organizations) in Paris. Her research focuses mainly on the sociology of labor market and the sociology of valuation. She has carried out many qualitative and quantitative surveys on the functioning of labor market, emphasizing the role of devices, intermediaries, trust, recruitment channels, hiring and screening processes.

Schneider/Ali: Please tell us how EC has been beneficial to your research work so far?

Marchal: To answer your question, it is important to know that I was in contact with the founders of Economics of convention School (in short EC) even before the publication of the founding work of 1989. I was a researcher at the CEE (Centre d’études de l’emploi) when François Eymard-Duvernay took over as director of the Centre and brought Laurent Thévenot in as scientific director. (CEE has recently been integrated into the CNAM.) As a result, I have been “imbued” with the theses of EC, as they have developed. I was able to benefit not only from the reading of the work done on job classifications, companies, public policy intermediaries, and The economies of worth, but also from the daily discussions to which they gave rise. Beyond this first circle of conventionalists, I was also able to benefit from the contacts they were developing with the GSPM (Groupe de sociologie politique et morale) founded by Luc Boltanski, and with the CSI (Centre de sociologie de l’innovation) where Bruno Latour and Michel Callon were developing their own theses. It was all very exciting.

Emmanuelle Marchal

I started working with François Eymard-Duvernay at the beginning of the 1990s, by carrying out a survey on the introduction of New Public Management, in a social housing management organization (in French Office HLM). We were particularly interested in the impact of how changing management styles affects the perceived value of people. Many public servants, previously highly rated, were devalued overnight. Hiring methods were completely revised, abandoning competitions and knowledge tests in favor of private agencies and graphology. This was accompanied by a complete revamp of the organization chart and job titles, as well as an introduction of new methods to evaluate staff and activities. What was evident from our observations, was that the outcome of the individual’s performance evaluation could be very different depending on the conventions valued and chosen by the organization’s managers to evaluate them. This is what we called “skill conventions” (in French, conventions de competence) in the book we published together in 1996, following inquiries done in recruitment agencies. This book marks the beginning of a long collaboration with François Eymard-Duvernay and with the economics PhD students he supervised later in Nanterre University. We developed a typology of “Ways of Hiring” (Façons de recruter is the title of the book), to highlight that each of them carries its own specific interpretation of competency. In some situations, skills are planned: they are seen as pre-established and measurable, independently of the context of its use. On the contrary, they can be negotiated during the hiring process between actors in such a way they are treated as the result of a process. The second continuum goes from cases where skills are considered as embedded in collectives (organizations, networks, workplaces) to cases where they are individualized, as if they were carried by the applicant alone. Depending on the ways of recruiting and screening methods used, the stage of the process and the type of actors involved (when there are several), different conventions are mobilized. As a result, different applicants are valued, selected or excluded. That is why we consider hiring activities as valorization / devalorization processes.

I developed this point in my last book (Les embarras des recruteurs), where I summarize the work I have been doing for 25 years. Starting from the classic distinction between remote coordination, which is highly equipped, and proximity coordination, which more often takes place face-to-face, I highlight the dysfunctions of the labor market in France. I show how recruitment and selection methods can contribute to penalizing some people, and how they maintain long-term unemployment and exclusion.

Schneider/Ali: Give us a brief overview of your research journey in recruitment, work in organizations, and labor markets so far.

Marchal: As a sociologist, I value empirical investigations. So I have tried to enter into numerous collaborations and to use all forms of methods of inquiry (observations, interviews, textual and statistical data analysis). My very first investigation was based on in-depth observations of professional consultants’ activities in private agencies. I was fortunate to be able to follow them in their daily work, including attending interviews with job candidates. This position gave me exposure to the uncertainties they were facing. At the same time, I worked with a colleague from INSEE (The National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies) on the French LFS (labor force survey), to show how recruitment channels were distributed, according to the population who had found employment. I was able to work there again later with Géraldine Rieucau, in comparing results from French and Spain. It must be said that this was the only statistical source available on the topic in the mid-90’s. Thereafter, we became interested in job advertisements and undertook historical and comparative analyses (in France, Great Britain, Spain) to give an account of how the formulated requirements and the language used varied according to these labor markets. Following that, we initiated a major survey, for which I designed the questionnaire. This OFER survey was conducted by the Ministry of Employment in 2005 and 2016 among 8 600 establishments. It makes it possible to trace very precisely the last recruitment method, and shows the great variety of research methods and evaluation of job offers and skills. I worked with Christian Bessy on recruitment channels and with Guillemette de Larquier on the impact of hiring methods on the selection of candidate profiles. I am currently exploring the results by focusing on how “non-qualified” staff (low skilled workers) are recruited. How do you select candidates whose qualifications are not recognized? What is valued in this particular market?

Previously, I have also participated in the evaluation of public recruitment policies, by conducting surveys at Pôle emploi (The French public employment service), among private and public market intermediaries and large companies. As a result, I contributed to the evaluation of the relevance of the potential introduction of the compulsory anonymous Resume and of a particular recruitment method which requires the candidate to simulate the tasks involved in the role (MRS in French). I was also interested in and conducted research on the historical evolution of methods and the introduction of personality analyses in recruitment, via graphology and tests, as well as their criticism. Three years ago, I started a new project on recruitment fairs with Delphine Remillon and Géraldine Rieucau: At a time when most companies are focusing on the all-digital world, what is at stake in these brief face-to-face interviews?

Schneider/Ali: Please tell us what particular aspects of EC you are currently referring to in your ongoing research projects.

Marchal: At the moment, I am conducting an exploration of grievances related to cases of hiring discrimination, and filed through the Rights’ Defender. The question of discrimination has already been addressed from a conventionalist perspective, by Ariane Ghirardello, through her PhD. In the cases treated by the Rights’ Defender’s lawyers, I explore the elements that claimants use to support the presumption of discrimination, and that employers use to defend themselves. In an ideal situation, it should be possible to decide: yes or no, did the employer use a discriminatory criteria to reject a candidate? If not, he must be able to provide the justification of his choice. But there is a lot of uncertainties around the definition of discriminatory facts. What is at issue is the identification of the pivotal factor of the recruitment decision which often involves many actors and many tools. Sometimes, candidates are not unknowns, because they have previously been employed by the same employer; Disagreements over the “worth” of workers (applicants) are frequently at stake; The assessments differ not only between the claimants and respondents in the same situation, but also from one step of the hiring process to another. Judgments may be rightly based on the candidate’s personality or motivation, placing the lawyer in a delicate position to determine whether his rejection appears legitimate or not. The complaints can often go far beyond the issue of discrimination, in addressing the fairness within the hiring process.

Schneider/Ali: What future issues should/could EC scholars address? Which do you think are the most pressing questions related to labor markets EC scholars should address?

Marchal: It seems important to me to follow the evolution of the labor market by highlighting the different ways in which job providers and job-seekers manage the coordination and valuation of themselves on the markets. A good way to do this, is to focus on devices that enable the evaluation and matching of market actors in the market. Most of the time, these tools are designed by employers and market intermediaries (and not by job seekers). What does this “valorization power” (Eymard-Duvernay) produce? This question arises both when entering organizations and when moving internally within them. What are the conventions embodied in the evaluation tools used in any one particular company?

The use of the Internet to recruit may permanently lead to favoring very general and transversal matching tools, with the aim of circulating the workforce over large areas. This is the trend of the public employment service in France, which favors standard and universal markers for recording and classifying job offers and applications. This choice leads to devaluing the markers embedded in local markets and professional markets that would allow many candidates and employers to meet up: locally known schools or companies are not recognized by the standardized tools that devalue them. This fuels recruitment difficulties and long-term unemployment. On the other hand, the role of intermediaries specialized in sectors of activity, trades and localities could be studied further to highlight their contribution. The same is true of networks that not only circulate information, as Granovetter pointed out, but also trust. As economic sociology shows us, no market works without trust devices, “personal devices” or” impersonal devices” (Karpik) or without “investment in forms” (Thévenot).

Another example is the algorithms that some start-ups are proposing to use to recruit. What assumptions and what knowledge are incorporated into these devices? I think the idea is always to predict competence, just like what the psychotechnicians dreamed of doing at the beginning of the 20th century. If an individual succeeds in a job, there are hundreds of data about him or her (tastes, hobbies, personality, network and background) that can be recorded and processed. Would an individual with a similar profile succeed in the same job? The tool is innovative, but the approach is not. Cognitive sciences, ergonomists and the psychodynamics of work have shown to what extent skills are situated, collective, distributed and evolutionary. There are many ways to accomplish a task and it is important to remember that competency judgments are not intended to reveal or measure skills, but to agree on what makes the workers and activities valuable. A lot can be learnt by looking into how other scientific disciplines approach our own research topics. That said, we should take a closer look at the assumptions embedded in the invention of algorithms. The rise of behavioral sciences in public tools and polices is worrying, from this point of view.

Schneider/Ali: In relation to this, and with regards to your multiple use of both qualitative and quantitative methods, how would you describe your methodological stance towards investigating social phenomena from an EC perspective?

Marchal: I don’t think that there is any specific “EC method”, but you are right to underline that adopting an EC perspective has methodological incidences. How to account for the actors’ reflexivity, concerns and constraints? How to take into account the tensions generated by the possibility of referring to several orders of worth and justice? Personally, I subscribe to the principles of the pragmatic sociology developed by Luc Boltanski. I have also been very influenced by the work of interactionists, ethnomethodologists and by the reading of Alfred Schütz. Finding the right distance to the field and to the actors, implies to respect their critical capacities without trying to impose our own point of view. The difficulty is also to account jointly for what stabilizes the social world and what transforms it, as Nicolas Dodier explains well. Observing the activities of actors who are at the crossroads of several worlds is often a good entry point into the field. This is the case, for example, of market intermediaries, of actors who are at the borders of organizations and develop relationships with clients or users, of spokespersons for social movements or State inspectors. This is the case for all those who find themselves at the crossroads of often contradictory requirements, whose activities are easily exposed to criticism. This is also the case of actors who have more distance to what they are doing, because they have to implement an innovation or to face an organizational change, because they have just been hired or have been displaced, because their routine activities are interrupted by something. All of them have interesting things to tell us about what is happening in the social world.

Using quantitative methods is more complicated, because we cannot ignore the work done by Alain Desrosières and by Laurent Thévenot on the history of statistics and nomenclatures, on the choices made when codifying and classifying data. We know that any statistical data incorporates conventions. They incorporate ways of presenting reality that have led to the exclusion of other versions of the world as explained by Espeland and Stevens. It is tempting to leave it there and to focus only on the analysis of their construction: how do individuals go about quantifying what is qualitative? But we also know that quantitative data has more credibility than any qualitative data, especially with decision-makers.

Like all actors, we must make compromises. This is what we tried to do by using the text data processing software created by Francis Chateauraynaud (Prospero). The objective was to quantify the content of the advertisements, without sacrificing the importance of the wording chosen by employers to write their job offers. The vocabulary of job titles, for example, changes over time and is formulated on several registers that should not be eliminated during operations of quantification. Some statistical methods are specially designed to smooth the transition between qualitative and quantitative data, by mastering the intermediate steps. It is the case of the multiple correspondance analysis (MCA) used with Guillemette de Larquier to explore the OFER Survey. We propose an inductive typology of screening process used in hiring. The method enables us to measure the distribution of the four screening processes identified and to measure their impact on equal opportunities.

Schneider/Ali: Regarding your interest in the recruiting of “non-qualified” staff: how can an EC perspective explain the “revaluation” of immigrants’ skills. In other words, how can the EC explain why physicians or engineers end up working as taxi drivers in their host country? Which “skill conventions” are at work here?

Marchal: It is difficult for me to answer this question on immigrant workers because I have not done any specific work on this population. I tend to think that the problems are different in between highly qualified people, like the engineers or physicians you mentioned, and unskilled labor. In the first case, it is the (non)recognition of diplomas by the host institutions which is at stake. For the latter Annalisa Lendaro and Christian Imdorf use the EC framework to show how intermediaries maintain the segregation of immigrant women by assigning them to the domestic labor industry. Immigrant women and mothers appear as cheap labor, having built-in female and traditional skills, which are not recognized as having a market value.

As for me, from what I can see in the OFER survey, is that more than half of recruiters do not recognize the value of unskilled workers diploma. And they do this deliberately whether they are immigrants or not. Being a woman is an asset to be hired as a home helper but represents a handicap to work in the construction sector. You must be young to work in the hotel trade, restaurant industry or in commerce, whereas very few older workers would be hired. The latter are confined to cleaning jobs where there is also a high proportion of migrants. Gender, age and origin work are used as matching signals. But, because they are also discriminatory criteria they are neither displayed nor remunerated. That is why we can talk about “non-qualified” staff in the literal sense: its qualities are not valued nor recognized.

Schneider/Ali: To what extent do you think the theoretical perspectives within EC are useful in facilitating a smooth functioning and progress of society/societal institutions?

Marchal: The conventionalist approach emphasizes the need for agreement to coordinate, and the existence of alternatives: there are several “polities” (in French cités), several registers of action and valuation among which it is possible to choose. The driving force of such a society and what allows it to progress, are the controversies driven by the critical capacities of the actors. They reject unfair situations and attempt to make compromises between competing conventions. Of course, this is a utopian vision of social relations and the way institutions work. To be convinced, it is enough to take up the critical reactions that were made after the publication of the book De la justification: what place is given to power relations in such a society? De la critique, published by Luc Boltanski in 2009 (engl. 2011), aims to correct the situation by insisting on the mechanisms of oppression. Personally, I think that the pragmatic sociology of EC allows us to formulate good questions by looking at the conditions under which a company, a market, an activity (such as recruitment), could operate in an equitable way. Do institutions give real critical capacities to employees, consumers, applicants? Are these capacities well distributed among the layers of society? Does everyone have enough capabilities (using Amartya Sen’s vocabulary) to make choices? Through these questions, it is the place of democracy and liberalism that is being asked. This involves highly political choices …

References

Bessy, C., and Marchal, E., 2009. Le rôle des réseaux et du marché dans les recrutements: enquête auprès des entreprises. Revue française de Socio-économie, n°3, p.121-146

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

Boltanski, L and Thévenot, L. 2006, On justification. Economies of Worth (Translated by Catherin Porter). Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Boltanski, L., 2009, De la critique. Précis de sociologie de l’émancipation. Paris: Gallimard.

Boltanski, L., 2011, On Critique : a sociology of Emancipation., London: Polity Press.

Chateauraynaud, F. 2003, Prospéro : Une technologie littéraire pour les sciences humaines, Paris: EHESS.

Desrosières, A. and Thévenot, L., 1988, Les catégories socioprofessionnelles.  Paris: La Découverte.

Dodier, N., 1993. Les appuis conventionnels de l’action. Eléments de pragmatique sociologique, Réseaux Communication, Technologie, Société, n°62, pp. 63-85

Eymard-Duvernay, F. 2006. Pouvoir d’évaluation de la qualité du travail et décisions d’emploi. In Petit, Héloise and Thévenot, Nadine (eds.), Les nouvelles frontières du travail subordonné: Approche pluridisciplinaire (pp. 71-86). Paris: La Découverte.

Eymard-Duvernay, F. and Marchal, E., 1997, Façons de recruter. Le jugement des compétences sur le marché du travail. Paris: Métailié.

Ghirardello, A., 2005. De l’évaluation des compétences à la discrimination : une analyse conventionnaliste des pratiques de recrutement. Revue de Gestion des Ressources Humaines, n°56, pp. 36-48.

Granovetter, M., 1974. Getting a job: A study of contacts and careers, Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Karpik, L., 2010. Valuing the unique. The economics of singularities. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Larquier, G. de and Marchal, E. 2016. Does the Formalization of Practices Enhance Equal Hiring Opportunities? An Analysis of a French National Wide Employer Survey. Socio-Economic Review, p. 1-23.

Lendaro, A. and Imdorf, C. 2012. The use of ethnicity in recruiting domestic labour: A case study of French placement agencies in the care sector. Employee Relations, Vol. 34 Issue: 6, pp. 613-627.

Marchal, E. 2015. Les embarras des recruteurs. Enquêtes sur le marché du travail, Paris: EHESS.

Marchal, E. 2013. Uncertainties Regarding Applicant Quality. The Anonymous Resume Put to the Test. In Beckert, Jens and Musselin, Christine (Ed.), Constructing Quality. The classification of Goods in Markets (pp. 103-125). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Marchal, E., Mellet, K. and Rieucau, G. 2007. Job board toolkits. Internet matchmaking and changes in job advertisements. Human Relations, n°60, pp. 1091-1113.

Schütz, A., 1987. Le chercheur et le quotidien. Phénoménologie des Sciences sociales, Méridiens Klincksieck.

Thévenot, L. 1984. Rules and implements. Investment in forms. Social Science Information, 23, pp. 1-45.

Economics of convention and Science and Technology Studies: Some notes on the annual meeting of the Gesellschaft für Wissenschafts- und Technikforschung in Berlin

Karolin Kappler (FernUniversität Hagen)

On 15/16 November 2018, the annual meeting of the German Gesellschaft für Wissenschafts- und Technikforschung e.V. (Association of Science and Technology Research – GWTF) took place at the TU Berlin.

During the two days, about 40-50 participants discussed research on the topic “Verhalten und Vorhersage. Die techno‐sozialen Zukünfte algorithmischer Bewertungssysteme” (Behavior and prediction. The techno-social futures of algorithmic valuation systems) organized in thematic blocks on smart cities, predictive policing, the fluidity of algorithmic valuation, behavioral prediction and control, ascriptive inequality in machine learning and theoretical perspectives.

In the block on theoretical perspectives, Karolin Eva Kappler from the FernUniversität in Hagen presented the Economy of Conventions as a theoretical approach to explore socio-technical assemblages. Underlining the concepts of investments in forms, the statistical chain and intermediaries, she illustrated her presentation with empirical examples from genetic diagnostics and genetically induced training plans for athletes.

Gesa Lindemann and Katharina Block discussed different social theories to tackle predictive systems. On this behalf, they insisted on the important difference between property and possession and criticized that most of theoretical approaches – among them the EC – ignore that aspect.

In the session on predictive policing, Selma Lamprecht from the Weizenbaum-Institut in Berlin presented different theoretical perspectives to look at “predictive policing for all”. Apart from the ANT and the analysis of discourses and dispositives, she discussed the EC in order to explore not only practices regarding the development and design of such technologies, but also the disposition of people and end-users to adopt such a system of predictive policing.

In many interesting discussions during the conference, the EC was clearly considered to be a rather unknown theoretical approach in the field of science and technology studies, but its analytical value in identifying the plurality and conflictivity of orders of worth and conventions was highlighted and referred to during the whole conference.

Further, the development and the design of technology “for the good of the people” was discussed as an emergent field of research in many disciplines, such as in informatics, engineering and science and technology studies. In this context, the EC could evolve towards a major theoretical reference in this interdisciplinary field of research.

Program (as pdf) 2018-programm-GWTF

Sagelsdorff, Rebekka (2018): Soziale Ungleichheit in der flexibilisierten Berufsbildung. Erweiterte Kompetenzanforderungen und milieuspezifische Passungsverhältnisse in Lehrbetriebsverbünden.

Opladen: Barbara Budrich.

«Der Schweizer Arbeitsmarkt ist seit den 1990er-Jahren von tief greifenden Umbrüchen betroffen. Dabei haben sich nicht nur die Organisation von Unternehmen und Arbeit, sondern auch die Qualitätskriterien wirtschaftlichen Handelns und die Qualifikationsanforderungen an Arbeitnehmende grundlegend verändert. Die durch Dezentralisierung, Flexibilisierung und Projektifizierung charakterisierbare Reorganisation von Arbeit stellt das in der Schweiz etablierte System der dualen Berufsbildung vor große Herausforderungen. […] Lehrbetriebsverbünde, auch Ausbildungsverbünde genannt, entstanden in den späten 1990er-Jahren als Reaktion auf diese Herausforderungen. Am Gegenstand von Lehrbetriebsverbünden untersuche ich zunächst auf organisatorischer Ebene, wie sich die Dezentralisierung und Flexibilisierung der beruflichen Grundbildung in Lehrbetriebsverbünden konkret manifestiert und inwiefern die Neuformation der Berufslehre mit erhöhten Anforderungen an Flexibilität und Selbstorganisation einhergeht. In einem zweiten Schritt wird auf  der individuellen Ebene der Lernenden analysiert, wie diese erweiterten Kompetenzanforderungen durch die Lernenden selbst erlebt werden und inwiefern sich in unterschiedlichen Erfahrungen soziale Muster von Ungleichheit abzeichnen. Diese beiden thematischen Schwerpunkte werden anhand verschiedener theoretischer Ansätze untersucht. Für die Analyse der organisatorischen Ebene orientiere ich mich […] an der Soziologie der Konventionen von Thévenot und Boltanski (1999; 2007) sowie Boltanski und Chiapello (2006). Die  Kombination dieser Ansätze bietet einen geeigneten Rahmen, um die Komplexität von Lehrbetriebsverbünden aus organisationssoziologischer Perspektive zu untersuchen und für jeden der untersuchten Lehrbetriebsverbünde ein differenziertes Verständnis der jeweiligen institutionellen Logik, der konkreten Organisation der Ausbildung sowie deren Implikationen für die Lernenden zu entwickeln.» (p. 13/15)

 

Jury

– Dr. Regula Julia Leemann, Pädagogische Hochschule der Fachhochschule Nordwestschweiz
(PH FHNW), Basel
– Prof. Dr. Christian Imdorf (University of Basel)
– Prof. Dr. Ueli Mäder (University of Basel)

Link to download the PDF document

Robert Salais, Dr. h.c. – Lecture “Products: Objects and/or Things”

Robert Salais talks on coming challenges to EC on the occasion of being named honorary doctorate by the University of Lucerne

Kenneth Horvath (University of Lucerne) and Guy Schwegler (University of Lucerne)

On 8 November 2018, Robert Salais received an honorary doctorate degree from the University of Lucerne, among others for his groundbreaking interdisciplinary engagement linked to the formation of Économie des conventions. In his laudatory speech, Rainer Diaz-Bone emphasized Salais’ central position for the development of new French pragmatism, an approach that, as Diaz-Bone nicely summarized, offers “many solutions to many problems”—and opens many new perspectives for social sciences.

Rainer Diaz-Bone, Robert Salais, Bruno Staffelbach (Rector)

On the occasion of the academic celebration, Robert Salais held an evening lecture in which he provided insights into his current studies of the relation between nature and conventions, with a focus on the convention-based creation of objects and things. An object, in this understanding, is created via an equivalence principle, making both a classification and comparison possible. A thing, on the other hand, is based on a specific identification and addresses something in all its particularities. Such a differentiation, Salais went on, is well established in philosophy. In the social sciences, however, most writers tend to use both terms indiscriminately—even within the same paragraph. For Salais, the conceptual differentiation between objects and things is essential, but the same entity could become an object or a thing depending of the types of conventions used by actors. Hence the conceptual distinction should not be used as an ontological opposition in the social sciences, the use of entities is dependent on two different types of conventions—one type already widely covered by EC research practices as well as one to be added to EC’s analytical repertoire.

After introducing central axioms of EC, Salais continued to elaborate the distinction between thing and object using the example of forest management in France. On the one hand, through the standardized planting of trees and through the possibilities of advance woodcutting machines, the forest can be turned into an object. The planting techniques and machines enable to establish relations of equivalence for trees. This corresponds with a rapid investment of capital and a specific temporality for a tree, determined e.g. by the duration of production cycles. This first way of handling products as objects is based on the first type of conventions in a classic EC sense: coordination based upon situations’ commonality. On the other hand, there is the work of lumberjacks who assess trees and decide which one to cut one by one. Within randomly growing forests, the lumberjacks handle trees as things. As a result, the self-sustaining regulation of nature is used as capital, where there is no standardized idea of time for the production cycle. Treating products as things is then based on a second type of conventions: a trans-identification, that is always based upon the particularity of a situation.

Salais further explained the consequences of the distinction between products as objects or as things. Handled as objects, products become subordinated to subjects. Through this subordination, the particularities of the things are being denied, the products as a consequence only exists as the object. At the end of a life cycle of a product, however, its existence as a thing becomes apparent again. Old computer and other electronic devices, for example, result in specific forms of waist that very often were not considered in their production as objects in the first place. Salais went on to explain why products should be treated as things—especially in relation to environmental issues. Unexpected or even perverse effects of environmental regulations become apparent. Those effects, he claimed, are a result a consequence of a conventional logic of products as objects. Furthermore, these effects are also a consequence of regulatory policies following a top-down logic. For Salais, however, the starting point for regulations should be a different one. Central for him is the coordination of actors. Starting there would allow for an openness to things. The goal is to have things taking part in the deliberation itself. Ultimately, Salais closed his lecture, such an assemblage to influence production would correspond with the German etymology of thing: Ding, as a gathering for decisions.

“It became obvious to me very quickly that economics of convention is a particularly fruitful theoretical approach for analyzing the health sector”

Interview with Philippe Batifoulier, director of the laboratory CEPN at Paris 13 and co-editor of the “Dictionnaire des conventions”.

Anna Gonon (FHNW Olten, Switzerland) & Valeska Cappel (University of Lucerne, Switzerland)

Cappel/Gonon: You are the director of the Laboratoire CEPN in the University Paris 13. What are the focus areas of this Laboratory and how would you describe your position and activities there?

Batifoulier: Since November 2015, I have headed the Paris Nord Center for Economics [CEPN, UMR CNRS 7234], a bi-disciplinary economics and management laboratory. This research laboratory has 160 members, including 70 professors and associate professors and 80 PhD students. As director, I represent the laboratory in all management and administration acts and manage the scientific policy.

Philippe Batifoulier

The CEPN is a reference laboratory of the study of capitalisms and the institutions that regulate them or are at the origin of crisis. The dynamics of capitalisms are analyzed through the structural analysis of contemporary economies as well as the diversity of management modes of organizations and corporate governance. One of the most important characteristics of the CEPN is its pluralism. The CEPN relies on large array of theoretical approaches: post-Keynesian, regulationist, Marxist, economics of convention, critical management studies etc. CEPN researchers use different methods that range from the tools of political economy and socio-economics to quantitative economics (micro and macro econometrics). One of the essential consequences of this pluralism – of both: paradigms and methods – is the valorization of transdisciplinary approaches. The original research conducted by the CEPN uses history, psychology, law or sociology to broaden the scope of the analysis. Because of its unusual positioning, the CEPN is a focal point of pluralism. The CEPN helps to keep heterodox approaches alive and encourages scientific controversy. Without the CEPN, the diversity of economic thought would be weakened. For this reason, CEPN appears as a privileged contact for French and international projects with a strong heterodox dimension. Due to this attractive positioning, the CEPN aims at responding to social demands on many subjects. It constitutes a civic-conscious research structure with an outstanding capacity to foster public debate.

Cappel/Gonon: You have mentioned economics of convention as one of the theoretical approaches at CEPN. Could you tell us a little bit about your academic background and how you started to work with economics of convention?

Batifoulier: I hold a master in econometrics and a postgraduate degree in Mathematical Economics and Applied Economics at the University of Paris 10 – Nanterre. In 1987, I began a thesis on statistical theory using Shannon’s information theory and log-linear modelling to exploit a large health database in order to analyze the reforms in the health sector. I was dissatisfied with the lack of theoretical underpinnings of my work and in search of an adequate economic paradigm. With Olivier Favereau’s arrival in Nanterre, I turned to the economics of convention. I met this new approach with the publication of the special issue of the “Revue économique” in March 1989. I defended my thesis under the direction of Olivier Favereau in 1991 and was recruited as associate professor at the University of Saint Quentin en Yvelines and then at the University of Paris 10 – Nanterre.

The specificity of my work is to propose an institutionalist approach applied to health economics. It became obvious to me very quickly that economics of convention is a particularly fruitful theoretical approach for analyzing the health sector. I think mainstream economics cannot deal with the health sector because the standard assumptions about rationality and market coordination are very disconnected from what a patient or a doctor really is. The health sector is an ideal topic for heterodox economics. Healthcare and social policy are strongly normative issues and economic analysis cannot ignore it. Because economic health policies are precisely one of those domains in which coordination, value judgments and normative considerations cannot be separated, the concept of convention is well indicated to understand the specificities of the health sector. To be convinced of this, we only need to note that one of the main objectives of the economics of convention is to endogenize values within coordination and to take the ethical resources of individuals seriously. Now, the health sector is precisely one of those domains in which values and the concept of ethics (medical, in this case) are omnipresent. The conceptual work on the concept of convention has provided matter for reflection in a domain that has often been criticized for being too applied and insufficiently grounded on theoretical foundations. In return, the conventionalist approach provides a pragmatic application to the theoretical analysis of a sector that is important in terms of both the resources engaged (notably financial) and the social and political stakes involved.

Cappel/Gonon: Could you tell us a little bit more about the specific EC concepts that were fruitful in your analysis of the health sector and maybe also describe an example of application?

Batifoulier: I use EC in two different ways. To deal with coordination, I mobilize the notion of interpretative rationality. To speak about regulation and to criticize the neoliberal policies, I rely on the notion of a common world instead of extrinsic incentives.

First, I tried to capture the coordinating capacity of medical ethics. The coordination between a doctor and a patient or between physicians depends on values in order to comprehend the interaction. This interpretation relies on a collective representation of references as EC shows, in other words a way of judging the situation and of judging oneself and the other party in that situation. So, for example, when a patient consults a physician, he knows that the doctor’s behavior is governed by deontological rules. To be applied, these rules must have a “hic et nunc” interpretation, considering both the collective formed by the patient and doctor and a wider collective consisting of the whole healthcare system; the whole allowing to evaluate the quality of the service provided (the length of the consultation or the level of fees, in particular). This understanding is not only cognitive but also evaluative, with the form of evaluation determining the importance of what the agent considers. Therefore, this interpretation won`t be the same on every occasion or in every place. That’s why we have to consider the plurality of possible representations and the impossibility of reducing medical ethics to a universal and invariable conception of ethical behavior. Ethics is neither immutable nor mechanical; it is very context sensitive.

Secondly, I mobilized EC to review the neoliberal economic policy in healthcare which considers that institutions are understood to be only incentives. I expanded this analysis on health insurance. By considering that health insurance is a problem because it leads to unnecessary consumption owing to the fact that it is by and large free, its existence is not under discussion, only its harmfulness. The consequences of this economic policy are immediate: we must reduce a person’s health cover and resort to healthcare that is more expensive. Making the patient pay is a fashioned strategy that is founded on mainstream theory in which the patient has no depth. He or she does not make judgments, only calculates. This completely self-interested individual does not fit in with a network of social relationships capable of directing his or her behavior, putting the brakes on his or her opportunism. This mainstream economic theory is a political and social creation without society. Consequently, it is the vision of social welfare and healthcare that is misrepresented. In this economics-orientated point of view, national insurance must be concerned with the calculation of individual risk, discarding the aim of a shared world.

Cappel/Gonon: You use EC to criticize neoliberal healthcare policy. How do you think could an EC-inspired healthcare policy look like?

Batifoulier: EC can inform healthcare policy on at least 3 points:

First, EC invites to consider the plurality of professional values and get out of the dichotomy in which mainstream wants to lock and close the debate: the physician’s behavior cannot be generalized to the figure of the homo œconomicus. Professional commitment and the well-being of their patients are more a physician objective than self-interest is. Professional values govern the behavior of the doctor in diagnosing and treating the patient. We have to look at the plurality of professional values: liberal values as Hippocratic values. The values debate is one of EC’s messages. Liberal values have been historically controlled by the welfare state. Today, they are valued by neoliberalism (for example, many practitioners charge fees in excess), which leads to many inequalities of access to healthcare.

Second, in the neoliberal world, the hospital is now a laboratory of competition and has become very “inhospitable”, for the patient as for the employees. With EC, one can question the quality of care in the hospital: not to reduce it to an unambiguous definition and without prior deliberation. The standardization of care and the setting the medical work in protocol puts forward an “industrial” quality and deteriorated a “domestic” quality (by increasing the distance to healthcare) and a “civic” quality (by sacrificing the culture of public utilities). It is thus incorrect to say that the Hospital reform has improved the quality of care. It has developed some qualities, but has deteriorated others.

Thirdly, an aspect where EC can be mobilized is democracy in health. The question of the legitimacy of health decision-making is deeply related to the patient’s place in it. But he often seems to be ruled out of decisions. In terms of funding, the expenses that are very well reimbursed (or well supported) are not necessarily those that are medically justified. We should also draw the lessons of the development of private insurance, very unequal and inefficient, and recognize that we better control the expenditure by solidarity than by the market. There are many examples where the balance of power is not favorable to the patient. EC highlights people’s reflexivity and the type of collectivity to which we belong. This calls for the insurrection of the patient who has to reinvest in the different spaces of democracy to assert the right to participate in decisions that concern him or her in the first place and build the institutions that meet the most basic needs.

Cappel/Gonon: You are co-editor of the “Dictionnaire des conventions: autour des travaux d’Olivier Favereau“ published in 2016 (Presses Universitaires du Septentrion). In this “non-standard” dictionary, as you call it, scholars from different fields take Olivier Favereau’s work as their point of departure to explain EC concepts. Could you tell us a little bit more why this is a “non-standard” dictionary?

Batifoulier: The ”Dictionnaire des conventions” coordinated by Franck Bessis, Guillemette de Larquier, Ariane Ghirardello, Delphine Remillon and myself is a book in honor of Olivier Favereau. The form “dictionary” has imposed itself on us because a lot of scholars from different disciplines (75 authors from the younger generation to the older ones) wished to participate in this tribute. This is a “non-standard dictionary” because the book does not claim to explain all the concepts of EC but proposes a review of many contemporary debates in the social sciences starting from a conventionalist reading, that is, a non-standard point of view. The entries share a common spirit, highly critical of the mainstream economics.

Cappel/Gonon: How do you see the future of EC as an approach? Where will or should it be applied? What are its strengths, are there any weaknesses?

Batifoulier: Beyond the quality of the authors, this dictionary is, in some way, illustrative of the way of functioning of EC, which relies much on working collectives. The existence of collective works, which evolves with the different generations, is typical of the EC. Communities of work in the field of EC settle down with young scholars on topics as diverse as ecology, health, enterprise and the labor market, law and lawyers, social and solidarity economy, etc. The latest works focuses more on economic issues without neglecting the socioeconomic foundation of EC to not abandon the economics to the mainstream. The context in which EC evolves is also crucial in this trajectory. In France as elsewhere, a partial concept of economics, the neo-classical or mainstream approach, has become the established orthodoxy and monopolizes the legitimacy of economic analysis. The rejection of pluralism leads to the gradual disappearance of non-standard schools of thought. Resistance is brought by the Association française d’économie politique (AFEP), a professional association with the aim of defending and illustrating pluralism in economics since 2009. Because all AFEP members shared the same analysis and concerns, the elimination of pluralism has led the various heterodox approaches to seek more what brings them together than what oppose them. So, EC will be interested in topics that were initially introduced by other approaches (regulation theory, Marxist approach). Capitalism and its evolution is now an important issue of EC studies. In the same time, the traditional themes of EC (values, rationality, representations) are now resources for others. This climate is very stimulating for future research.

Cappel/Gonon: At last, what would you recommend for young scholars who are interested to work with EC?

Batifoulier: I think the current period is particularly challenging to commit to this research program. EC is carried by new generations (second and third generations) that do not only relay the initial project but also pilot it in different directions. The progression of the program, from generation to generation is strength. A young scholar easily finds his place. The economics of convention is supported by several major research laboratories, in France as elsewhere giving more opportunities. In short, go for it.

Session “Agro-food branches, food markets, and global value chains – between local tradition and global value chains: Production, distribution and consume of food as sociological research objects”

[Agro-food Branchen, Nahrungsmittelmärkte und Global Value Chain – Zwischen lokaler Tradition und globalen Wertschöpfungsketten: Produktion, Distribution und Konsum von Lebensmitteln als Gegenstand der Soziologie] at the 39th sociology congress of the German Sociological Association at University of Göttingen, 28 September 2018

Rainer Diaz-Bone (University of Lucerne)

At the five day congress of sociology (24-28 September), a session took place presenting convention theory applied in the analysis of food, food markets, food production, food consumption and value issues around food. The session was organized by Lisa Suckert (Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies, Cologne) and Rainer Diaz-Bone (University of Lucerne). The organizers introduced into the session and sketched the tradition of economics of convention (EC) as an important and long lasting approach in these field of social research. Also, the phenomenon of food was identified as offering a kind of “crossroads” to different research fields as economic sociology, cultural sociology, life style analysis etc. But also the whole question of value and quality was related to food issues in EC for some decades now (see the contributions in Allaire/Daviron 2017 and the review article of Ponte 2016). The session then had three lectures.

Linda Hering and Nina Baur (both Technical University of Berlin) presented their research project “Standards for freshness in Germany and Thailand – a historical inspired comparison of pattern of consumption and production” [Frischestandards in Deutschland und Thailand. Ein historisch angeleiteter Vergleich von Konsum- und Produktionsmustern].

Linda Hering

This Berlin group explores the ways how food was offered to consumers at sales points in Berlin and Bangkok, focusing on presentation, situational embeddedness and (concepts of) freshness. The research reconstructed the quality convention, intermediairies and objects involved. Linda Hering and Nina Baur emphasized the important role of the local gatekeepers and technical innovations for the establishement of concepts for food freshness.

Lisa Suckert relied on her PhD-project “Discursive construction of ecological product quality – the discovery of the region as quality dimension for organic milk” [Die diskursive Konstruktion ökologischer Produktqualität – Die Entdeckung der Region als Qualitätsmerkmal für Bio-Milch] to present discursive networks and national developments of value chains for milk in Germany (see Suckert 2015). She started her lecture with the problem of the uncertainty of product quality and identified the different strategies of regional milk producers (diaries) to develop marketing strategies based on discursive concepts of “region”.

Lisa Suckert

But the different diaries base their discursive strategies on different discursive foundations to mobilize a knowledge concept of “quality”. The study combined field theoretical elements with EC to grasp the market position of diaries also.

Xiomara Quinones Ruiz (University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna) gave a talk about her ongoing research on coffee value chains, starting from Colombian coffee production. Her lecture “Interacting and evolving quality conventions: An institutional Analysis of international Coffee Value Chains”

Xiamara Quinonez-Ruiz

In Colombia first developments of fairtrade or organic coffee, and the protection of the coffee origin through geographical indications could be identified by Xiamara Quinonez-Ruiz. But she also found cultural impediments in Colombia, where people where accustomed to new ways of producing coffee and new tastes of differently produced coffees. The project identifies the transformation/reorganization of dominant quality conventions of quality chains, the involved intermediaries and technologies.

The session demonstrated the emergence of a field of conventionalist aggro-food studies in the German speaking countries and was also a start for a planned book project (in the new Springer VS series “sociology of conventions” https://www.springer.com/series/15571).

 

References

Allaire, Gilles/Daviron, Benoit (eds.) (2017): Transformations et transitions dans l’agriculture et l’agro-alimentaire. Versailles: QUAE.

Ponte, Stefano (2016): Convention theory in the Anglophone agro-food literature. Past, present and future. Journal of Rural Studies 44(4), pp. 12-23.

Suckert, Lisa (2015): Die Dynamik ökologischer Märkte. Eine feldanalytische Betrachtung des Marktes für Bio-Molkereiprodukte. Konstanz: UVK.

The Institutional Evolution of Social Insurance in China: A Sociological Study of Law Mobilization, by Xi Shen

Thèse de doctorat de l’Université Paris-Saclay
Préparée à École normale supérieure Paris-Saclay, IDHES – Institutions et Dynamiques Historiques de l’Économie et de la Société. Ecole normale supérieure Paris-Saclay
École doctorale n°578 sciences de l’homme et de la société (SHS)Spécialité de doctorat: Sociologie

Thèse présentée et soutenue à Shanghai, le 25 juin 2018

Composition du Jury :
Monsieur Gilles GUIHEUX Rapporteur
Professeur, Université Paris Diderot (CESSMA)
Monsieur Xuesong HE Rapporteur
Professeur, East China University of Science and Technology (School of Social and
Public Administration)
Monsieur Wenhong ZHANG Président
Professeur, Shanghai University (School of Sociology and Political Science)
Monsieur Jérôme DEAUVIEAU Examinateur
Professeur, ENS (Département de Sciences Sociales)
Monsieur Claude DIDRY Directeur de thèse
Directeur de Recherche, ENS (Centre Maurice Halbwachs)
Monsieur Jun WEN Co-Directeur de thèse
Professeur, East China Normal University (School of Social Development

 

ABSTRACT

La réforme économique en Chine a été largement appréhendée comme un processus dans lequel le paternaliste danwei a été remplacé par le contrat de travail, un concept plutôt libéral. A cet égard, le déclin de bien-être à caractère socialiste et la montée d’assurance sociale sont considérés comme un phénomène de marche, les récents législations sociales sont discutés dans le cadre polanyien de double-mouvement qui invoque la dichotomie entre état et marche. Cette étude vise à offrir une perspective alternative en repensant l’évolution de la transformation moderne du travail en Chine d’une manière institutionnelle. Nous montrons que la structure de l’emploi héritée de danwei était au cœur des lois du travail de la Chine en temps de réforme. La protection de l’emploi reste pertinente tandis que l’afflux de main-d’œuvre informelle en provenance des zones rurales a explosé dans les secteurs privés urbains. Eux, ils sont devenus de plus en plus des outsiders du marché du travail qui sont vulnérables quant à leur condition précaire. Cette configuration institutionnelle correspond à une structure hiérarchique dans laquelle le “insider” se distingue clairement du ‘outsider’ en termes de stabilité de l’emploi et de bien-être social. Malgré les récentes législations qui visent à rendre l’assurance sociale plus inclusive, notre étude de terrain sur la résolution des conflits du travail dans l’arbitrage et le tribunal a montré que la capacité de mobiliser la loi peut différer en termes de préoccupation personnelle sur le marché du travail. L’approche de capabilité et la sociologie du droit nous permettent de développer un cadre analytique nuancé permettant d’identifier la raison sous-jacente pour laquelle les individus adoptent différentes stratégies tout en contestant la loi abstraite dans une situation concrète. Notre étude conclut que la législation du travail ne sont pas nécessairement des réactions intentionnelles à la dynamique du marché mais plutôt, en tant que forme essentielle de convention sociale, a initié le cadre dans lequel les parties coordonnent leurs activités économiques.

 

Downlaod link:

https://tel.archives-ouvertes.fr/tel-01841479

SGBF / SGL (Swiss Society of Educational Research/ Swiss Society of Teacher Training) Annual Congress in Zurich 2018

The “Économie des Conventions” in Education Research

Lea Zehnder & Philipp Gonon (University of Zurich)

From 27 to 29 June 2018, the annual congress of the Swiss Society for Educational Research and the Swiss Society for Teacher Training took place at the University of Zurich, hosted by the Institute of Education. Two paper presentations, which depicted the rise and development of different types of baccalaureate schemes with weaker and stronger links to vocational education and training in Switzerland referred to conventions as unfolded in the “Justification”- Book of Boltanski and Thévenot (translated in German 2007). Furthermore, the key-note speech, held by Elisabeth Chatel, highlighted the struggle over the aims of economic and social topics as a subject in French high schools (lycées).

Regula Julia Leemann and Sandra Hafner from the School of Teacher Education Department of the University of Applied Sciences Basel (Switzerland) presented their work, which focused on positioning and profiling the upper-secondary specialized school (Fachmittelschule). The upper-secondary specialized school is a very young type of school in the Swiss educational system that imparts general education and provides its graduates access to Colleges of Professional Education and Training (Höhere Fachschulen), Universities of Applied Sciences (Fachhochschulen) or Universities of Teacher Education (Pädagogische Hochschulen). Analyzing the genesis of this new type of school they presented three historical situations in detail. Back in the beginning of the 1970ies and during ten years, the main intention was to sum up the Helvetic Mosaic of 30 school types into one standard-model that focuses general interest (civic convention). They identified a tension between regional variation and national convergence. The standardization refers to the industrial convention and also to the civic convention. Back in the 1990ies a claim for more cantonal autonomy raised, in particular regarding admission to schools of education. Respecting regional tradition refers particularly more to domestic convention and in the logic of supply-demand to the market convention. Thus, the main arguments fit quite well to these different worlds of worth. The present structure is characterized by a plasticity that integrates plural rationalities, logics of action, and orders of worth.

Regula Leemann and Sandra Hafner listening to the presentation of Moritz Rosenmund (image: Manon Criblez)

Research on the linking of general education and vocational education was the focus of Lea Zehnder, University of Zurich (Switzerland). She presented her work on the Federal Vocational Baccalaureate (eidgenössische Berufsmaturität) that was introduced in the Swiss educational system in the early 1990ies. The certificate enables graduates to enter the world of work directly or to transfer to specific academic programs at Universities of Applied Sciences (Fachhochschulen). Statistical data show disparate amounts of issuing this certificate in the cantons of Switzerland. Considering only vocational education tracks, French speaking cantons issue more certificates than German speaking cantons. Three case studies, focusing the process of attributing worth and quality to this certificate in the cantons of Zurich, Geneva, and Neuchâtel, gave a detailed insight into different understandings of the public educational mandate. Actors in the canton of Zurich emphasize an industry-related and performance-based interpretation of the Federal Vocational Baccalaureate and mobilize industrial and market conventions. While Actors in the French speaking cantons Geneva and Neuchâtel attach more importance to a collective claim that this Vocational Baccalaureate should simplify access to tertiary education (mobilizing civic convention).

Elisabeth Chatel holding her keynote speech at University of Zurich (image: Manon Criblez)

Within her keynote speech, Elisabeth Chatel from IDHES, Ecole Normale Supérieure Saclay, Paris (France) focused on curriculum development: “the economic and social sciences in French high schools (lycées) from 1966 to the present day”. Her historical reconstruction of the introduction of SES (Science of Economy and Social Sciences) in the 1960s in France depicted a remarkable change from the central aim of schooling to develop a critical personality, who is learning and reflecting social and economic knowledge towards a propaedeutic teaching for the study of economics at university. Whereas originally researchers in the spirit of the “Annales”-School designed a curriculum which stressed the topical and historically grown phenomena of our days the reform of 2011 driven by economic experts and prominent economic leaders replaced this approach by a methodological and instrumental oriented syllabus. Interestingly the teachers refuse this “official” new approach and still stick to a more pedagogical and critical access to this subject. Elisabeth Chatel referred to the new spirit of capitalism, and the hereby included conventions like industry, network and market, which were and are the orders of worth the different actors refer to.

All in all, the EC-approach was present and delivered a powerful framework in explaining developments in the education system which drifts towards a more neo-liberal model.

Philipp Gonon (co-organizer of the congress), Elisabeth Chatel, and Regula Leemann enjoying the panoramic view over the city of Zurich from Polyterrasse, Federal Institute of Technology and Zurich University (image: Philipp Gonon)

Upcoming publication (2018)

Imdorf, Christian, Leemann, Regula Julia & Gonon, Philipp (Eds.). Bildung und Konventionen. Die “Économie des Conventions” in der Bildungsforschung. Wiesbaden: Springer VS.

Workshop „Praktiken, Konventionen, Multinormativität. Historische Perspektiven“, Munich 21/22 June 2018

Rainer Diaz-Bone (Lucerne)

Thomas Duve (director at the Max Planck Institute for European Legal History, Frankfurt) and Marian Füssel (fellow at Historisches Kolleg, Munich) organized a workshop „Praktiken, Konventionen, Multinormativität. Historische Perspektiven“ which took place 21/22 June 2018 at Historisches Kolleg Munich. Marian Füssel presented the approach of practice theory, Thomas Duve introduced the notion of multinormativity and Rainer Diaz-Bone introduced economics of conventions. It was inspiring to realize that all three concepts could be easily related to ongoing research in the field especially of legal history, focusing on pluralism of legal reasoning, emphasizing the importance of social practices, materiality, objects and opening new research perspectives.

Round about a dozen scholars from history, legal history, law science, sociology and psychology were invited to present ongoing research and relate it to the three concepts of practices, conventions and multinormativity. (See Program Multinormativity)

From left to right: T. Duve, A. Brendecke, D. Erben, S. Rüther, T. Neu, H. Sonkajärvi, G. Bender, C. Behrmann, D. Damler, M. Füssel, A. Collin, R. Diaz-Bone

Stronger applications of EC were presented by Tim Neu (Bochum), who argued about the methodological advantages, using convention theory in the analysis of the emergence of a regional constitution (landständische Verfassung) in Hessen in the 17th and 18th century. Also Hanna Sönkarjärvi (Rio de Janeiro) applied convention theory in her study of the practices of commercial justice in the 19th century in Brazil. Participants critically evaluated convention theory as an approach in the field of legal history. It was interesting to attend to other research presentations in the intersection(s) of history, law science and legal history. The atmosphere at the Munich Kolleg was supporting this intense exchange.

9th Workshop Sociology of Conventions: Pluralities of Conventions

Sandra Hafner (School of Teacher Education Basel, Northwestern Switzerland)

On 14 and 15 June 2018, the workshop ‘Sociology of Conventions’ took place in Hamburg for the second time. This ninth edition was hosted by Esther Berner and her team from the chair of Educational Science at the Helmut-Schmidt University of the German Federal Armed Forces. Esther welcomed us warmly at the officers’ mess and introduced into this year’s workshop topic, “Pluralities of Conventions”. It was inspired by the observation, that since the original publication of On Justification by Boltanski & Thévenot in 1991, the areas of application of Convention Theory have multiplied. Hence, this year’s workshop specifically evolved around issues of the double complexity of orders of worth and regimes of engagement, the status of coordination principles with and without semantic content – especially in times of digitalization, and the possible emergence of a new bio(s)-convention. Tackling new and open questions right at the core of Convention Theory, the workshop group was very happy to welcome Laurent Thévenot as a keynote speaker and much valued contributor to all workshop discussions.

Esther Berner opened the workshop with the first sketch of a preliminary research plan about the qualification of the officer in Western Germany after World War II. As nowadays the German Armed Forces are under increased pressure to legitimate themselves as representatives of military forces in a democratic state, she strives to investigate pragmatic situations of negotiation in the highly conflicted field of the military. She assumed that in this highly equipped (e.g. clothing, badges, architecture, language) field, competent actors construct qualities in a discursive manner with reference to the material equipment as well as cognitive forms and classifications, which leads to a specific type of subjectification for the German soldier. Conceptualizing this constellation as a specific dispositive of education, training and leadership, Esther envisaged conducting a dispositive analysis by complementing a Foucauldian with a conventionalist perspective.

Esther Berner introducing the workshop group to the location

Nina Pohler (Humboldt University of Berlin) and Sam van Elk (King’s College London) presented findings about how management consultants handle the conflicting regimes of familiar engagement (creating local solutions, engaging in on-site networks, being ‘insiders’) and planned action (being ‘outside’ standardizers, perception as experts) in their everyday work. They identified five key practices how management consultants deal with the conflicting regimes of engagement: narrowing regime differences, rebalancing of regimes, creating & deploying mediating forms, precipitating blurred visions, and attacking conventional-particular links. In the discussion, questions about the distinction between conventions and regimes of engagements emerged, as well as how possible symptoms of the constant struggle to handle the conflicting regimes could look like.

After the coffee break, the first two Method and Research Question Spaces of the workshop took place. Katharina Pernkopf and Dominik Zellhofer (Vienna University of Economics and Business) raised questions about the interplay of EC concepts and how to capture them empirically, particularly grasping regimes of engagements in interview situations. They shared their considerations on the ‘how to’ of the interview itself (scene setting, interview partners, research bias) as well as identifying and reconstructing regimes of engagement on the basis of interview data.

The presented interview excerpts triggered a discussion about the interview itself as an appropriate tool to shed light on regimes of engagement, considering the format itself as a complex situation of double coordination. Hence, a more ethnographic research strategy was proposed, and questions about the status of language and discourse in different regimes emerged.

Dominik Zellhofer and Katharina Pernkopf

In her Method and Research Question Space, Anna Gonon (University of Applied Sciences Northwestern Switzerland) presented an ongoing research project about the employability of unskilled workers, which was initiated by Eva Nadai. She discussed employability as the result of evaluation of workers’ abilities by employers and intermediaries and raised the question whether it is possible to uncover and conceptualize workers’ skills that are not valued and remain hidden in the construction of employability. Although this question remained open, the discussion pointed to the EC framework as suitable for questions on how to frame ‘skills’, how skills are constructed through a situation, and how these situations match workers. Among the many interesting contributions in the discussion, the idea of different ‘power(s) of valorization’ emerged as a promising concept

The participants enjoying lunch at the officer’s refectory

After a hearty meal at the officer’s refectory, Sandra Hafner (School of Teacher Education Northwestern Switzerland) presented some preliminary results of her current PhD project about the valorization of two different school types on upper secondary level, that lead into teacher education studies at tertiary level. Looking a few decades back, one of the two educational tracks showed to be rather ‘unwanted’ in the political debate, but surprisingly, nevertheless was institutionalized. Sandra applied a conventionalist perspective on teacher education governance and showed that due to educational federalism, a plurality of historically relevant conventions had to be respected. Their integration into a materialized compromise in the form of regulations allowed the second pathway to get institutionalized in spite of being target to major critique.

Raffaella Esposito (School of Teacher Education Northwestern Switzerland) put up for discussion an issue that she struggled with during the analysis of empirical data from her PhD project. In that data, she found that different actors mutually critiqued each other on the basis of the same convention – the domestic order of worth. To be able to proceed in her analysis, she proposed a further differentiation of the domestic convention in the field of education, consisting of a school-based and a company-based dimension of the domestic convention. Her inspiring and demonstrative talk triggered a lively discussion, which led to the broad agreement that it might be worth it to have a closer look at compromises between different conventions and regimes of engagement in this case.

Raffaella Esposito illustrating the challenge with her empirical data

After another coffee break, Karolin Kappler (University of Hagen) and Valeska Cappel (University of Lucerne) opened the first Roundtable of the workshop, which was concerned with the issue of power in political economy of health and social insurance. As a result of their ongoing research on self-tracking via health apps, its effects on everyday practices and its role in social insurance, they shared their considerations from a conventionalist perspective. As former research on self-tracking had been mainly focused on the Foucauldian technologies of the self, health apps could also be seen as form of critique eroding power of dominant constellations by questioning its legitimacy. Further, it was discussed if the emergence of health apps and self-tracking could lead to a new bio(s)-convention, whose common good could be named as ”self-care”. Likewise, this development could also imply new characteristics for classifications through health apps, where questions of form-investments as standards with no semantic foundation, issues of scope in a digitalized world, and related practices by actors and algorithms would have to be tackled.

The first day ended with a very inspiring lecture of Laurent Thévenot (Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales EHESS, Paris), which was open to public and attracted quite a few students and professors from the Helmut-Schmidt University and members of the general public. In his presentation titled Making the World Calculable and Valuable. The Power of Plural Conventions, Thévenot argued that in the example of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), the political debate between disputing citizens engaging in favor of plural conceptions of the common good has been replaced by the individual consumers’ choice between certified market goods. To analyze the processes in question, he suggested a dual approach to the dynamics of a) personalities and b) communities. Whereas different regimes of engagement are perceived as components of a composite and conflicting personality and stabilize a dynamic personal identity, grammars of commonality characterize different ways of maintaining a composite community. According to Thévenot, these two analytical tools offer a dual view of the dynamics of complex personal identities and composite conflicting communities, which is needed to account for the current modes of governing selves and communities and the debate about the so-called neoliberal governance.

After this very intensive first day, everyone enjoyed a hearty dinner at the restaurant Zum Alten Lotsenhaus at the Harbor of Hamburg.

The workshop participants waiting for a well-deserved dinner

The second day began with Anna Schneider (University of Innsbruck) presenting her current research on employee’s evaluation of job quality in the tourism and hospitality sector, based on the empirical problem of the ”leisure time/ leisure work paradox” – who is actually willing to work at places where others pass their holidays. In contrast to existing models that perceive job attributes and qualities as inherently given, Anna and colleagues argue that employees are not only subject to valorization by market organizations, but themselves evaluate jobs drawing on different conventions.

Anna Schneider explaining the “leisure time / leisure work paradox”

Based on a conjoint based experiment and cluster analysis, they found that features of the civic, domestic and the green convention seem most important from the employee’s perspective. After discussing the possible impact of such findings for the field of tourism, the workshop participants shared their view about operationalizing EC concepts in quantitative research, methodological challenges of Convention Theory, and further analytical approaches that could be promising for EC research.

In the second Roundtable of the workshop, Rainer Diaz-Bone, Lisa Knoll, Katharina Pernkopf and Laurent Thévenot shared their view on the issue of plurality from a conventionalist perspective.

Roundtable II: Laurent Thévenot, Katharina Pernkopf, Lisa Knoll, Rainer Diaz-Bone

Rainer Diaz-Bone (University of Lucerne) emphasized that from a conventionalist perspective, pluralism is to be understood as a co-existing reality of different worlds and ontologies rather than a single principle dominating a certain area of society (e.g. market convention in the market). He highlighted that a real pluralist perspective would necessarily have to take a closer look at combinations, constellations and different articulations of various conventions, where one principle could be shown as hegemonic but nevertheless be linked and intertwined with others. Further, he argued that in the context of plurality, there are also different kinds of coordination logics to consider – such with semantic and moral content like the orders of worth, but also other structuring and coordinating principles like standards without distinct semantics. Lisa Knoll (University of Hamburg) linked these considerations to the previous discussion about digitalization, and how the phenomenon of techniques and algorithms leave Convention Theory with a problem – that there are standards and classifications which detract from evaluation and critique. Regarding the rise of digitalization, the pluralism of conventions and standards, the presented research about self-tracking and the possible emergence of a new ”bio(s)-convention”, she also asked about the need to reconsider the eugenic body of thought as a part of the conventionalist framework again. Katharina Pernkopf noted that not only the theoretical framework of Convention Theory, but also the research community itself is becoming increasingly pluralist in the way EC concepts are used and tailored to one’s own research interest. From her perspective, this pluralism of concepts and areas of application on one hand are fruitful and liberating, on the other hand could hinder bringing across arguments to other research communities. Therefore, a more clear and structured (and for once more structuralist than pragmatist) overview over the different complexities and linkages between EC concepts could be worth striving for, integrating pluralities of conventions, regimes, grammars and the respective principles of critique and coordination. Answering to Lisa’s thoughts on eugenics, Laurent Thévenot explained that it originally was excluded from the orders of worth because of its contradiction to the principle of a common humanity. Nevertheless, the eugenic body of thought is still existing, and from a conventionalist and therefore pluralist perspective it is worth it to keep an eye on kinds of valuation that escape the common humanity based grammar. Further, he also shared his thoughts on power in the face of plural conventions, regimes and grammars. He argued that as soon as coordination takes place, there is some form of power involved – especially when the semantic content of the coordination principle is not obvious. The following discussion ended with the general agreement, that it would be interesting to have a closer look on ”empty signifiers” in the sense of coordination principles and/or standards without obvious semantic content and how they are de-semantisized in coordination situations.

After the round table, Qamar Ali (University of Innsbruck) presented his current research, in which he applies the conventionalist approach to explain how individual actors exert power in public negotiations and to what extent they were successful. After going through classical power paradigms, he shared his considerations on how Convention Theory could complement current approaches to power analysis. Drawing on data from negotiations on developing a teachers housing society in a Pakistani University, he showed how actors endowed with critical capacities were able to ‘open their eyes’ in a coordination situation. He illustrated how the situation was defined by a multitude of conventions, regimes of engagement, actors and objects, and how power as well as critique were reinforced due to this situations’ specific equipment.

Quamar Ali on power from a conventionalist perspective

In the parallel Method and Research Question Space, Guy Schwegler (University of Lucerne) presented a first draft and current state of his PhD project on extended performativity within music. After an introduction into the change happening within music from a bourgeois, to a modern and now a post-modern era, Schwegler went on to introduce the performative effects of social theory happening in music. As a result of this effects, Schwegler claimed, a new field of expertise for social science and music emerged where social theory is not only used, but also advanced. Artists and music critics lead this new field, whereas academic knowledge on social process for and in music is more and more left behind. So far, the PhD project mostly is informed by ideas of Actor Network Theory – like Callon’s performative effects –, while possible roles for EC were discussed after the presentation. Another major point introduced by Laurent Thévenot in the discussion was whether or not this new field is building up expertise and whether and how academic knowledge can still differ from that expertise.

Guy Schwegler receiving advice from Laurent Thévenot

After lunch, the workshop group again split up into two parallel sessions. Kenneth Horvath and Rainer Diaz-Bone (University of Lucerne) presented Hilary Putnam’s concept of ”epistemic values” and discussed its relevance for Convention Theory. This concept’s goal is to analyze values underlying social science’s methodology. The values determine for example how research in itself should work and be done – independently of qualitative or quantitative approaches –, what results should be or what a good research questions is. Horvath and Diaz-Bone’s goal was to show the value-laden construction of empirical data through epistemic values and how these values are a starting point for all research. Furthermore, the idea is to look into conventions as a base for these values. This project, they claimed, is a necessary effect of pragmatist thinking. Following Putnam and his 2002 The Collapse Of The Fact Value Dichotomy they were trying to show a continuity between facts and values — and not a separation of the two. Their own empirical application of the concept will focus on law and judges’ decisions in courts. The discussion that followed the presentation mostly revolved around the clarification of what these epistemic values are and where they are visible although hardly discussed in general.

Matthias Alke (Humboldt University Berlin) and Doris Graß (German Institute for Adult Education Bonn) presented their current research on educational profiles in adult education. After an introduction to the research topic and research questions, they distributed excerpts from interviews with educational mangers from adult education centers. The group was invited to share thoughts about how to interpret the data with the aim of reconstructing the relevant conventions used to justify and organize educational work. After a first silent reading, a lively discussion about the data, possible interpretations and methodological challenges in EC research emerged. As the day before, the issue of how to conduct and analyze interviews from a conventionalist perspective showed to be a sticking point.

Doris Graß commenting on considerations concerning the analysis of her empirical data

Lisa Knoll (University of Hamburg) then provided the last talk of the workshop, sharing her theoretical considerations about the necessity to analyze sustainable markets from the perspective of the state. Caused by the multiple ways of constructing differences between state and market, welfare economists’ conceptual struggles could be resolved by applying a conventionalist view. Due to its pluralist approach, Convention Theory overcomes the state-versus-market divide and is able to grasp disputes and compromises between different conventional forms. Lisa presented an analytical grid displaying four logics of sustainable markets, and showed how the state is relevant in all four models – but in a different manner and with different relevance. Her inspiring talk was followed by a discussion about the consequences of her conceptualization and how this could imply different forms of agency. As one of the recurring themes of this workshops, the role and impact of digitalization in the different logics of relation between market and state was brought up again and provided an adequate close of the workshop.

Lisa Knoll on logics of sustainable markets

The next workshop Sociology of Conventions will take place on 25./26. April 2019 at the University of Innsbruck organized by Julia Brandl, Anna Schneider and Qamar Ali.

Laurent Thévenot at Hamburg beach looking at the Hamburg Harbor