Archives de l’auteur : diazbone

The 11th EC / Sociology of Conventions Workshop (virtual)

Report by Mario Steinberg (Basel)

For the first time in a virtual format, the annual EC workshop took place from 06-07 May 2021. This year the event was organized by Regula Julia Leemann (FHNW Basel-Muttenz) and her team. The 11th EC / Sociology of Conventions Workshop was held under the working title « Quantification and Conventions ». However, contributions not explicitly related to the conference theme were also welcome.

Thursday 06 May 2021

After a welcome to the participants by the organizer, Lisa Knoll (University of Paderborn) introduced Eve Chiapello (École des hautes études en sciences sociales, Paris/Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin) for her keynote speech.

Eve Chiapello’s keynote was entitled « Impact and the fight against financialized conventions of quantification ». She presented a convention-based interpretation of the financialization of economy. With an analytical focus on the concept of « impact », Eve Chiapello showed how financial decisions come about, what role different actors (such as financial investors) play, and how the concept of « impact » can be framed in terms of conventionalist theory.

After Eve Chiapello’s keynote and a short coffee break, the program moved to the first slot in the plenary, « Quantification, digitization and convention research studies ». Regula Leemann, Sandra Hafner and Raffaella Simona Esposito (FHNW Basel-Muttenz) gave a speech about « Quantification and conventions in the governance of educational transitions (in Switzerland) ». They introduced into the topic of their ongoing SNSF-project and presented first conceptual questions on the relevance of numbers in governing transitions: What is the role of quantification in these processes of governance? In which situations numbers are important? Which instruments and technologies are applied? What forms of strategies and policies are enabled by quantification? What are the effects of quantification? Regarding convention theory they pointed to important theoretical concepts and methodological approaches as e.g. the statistical panopticism, statistical chains and the convention-based foundations of indicators.

After a short break, the program moved on to the next slot, « Show and Tell ». Valeska Cappel (University of Lucerne) and Carolin Kappler (FernUniversität Hagen) presented their current publication project « Gesundheit – Konventionen – Digitalisierung », which will be published by Springer VS, Book Series Soziologie der Konventionen (Eds. Rainer Diaz-Bone & Lisa Knoll). The publication has the significance of opening up a field of research for convention theorists that has hardly been transferred in German-language research on the sociology of convention: the field of health research. Valesca Capell and Karolin Kappler deliver a volume that connects the sociology of conventions and the plurality of conventions with digital transformation processes, which can be considered a novelty so far.

In the continued slot « Quantification, Digitization and convention research Studies », Kenneth Horvath (University of Lucerne) and Mario Steinberg (PH FHNW/University of Basel) first presented their planned research project « The politics and pedagogies of algorithmic sorting in education ». In their presentation, the authors trace the role that conventions play in the implementation of artificial intelligence and digitization, especially regarding the question of what impact the so-called technological transformation will have on concrete school practices.

In the last slot of the first day, « Comments and Reflection« , Rainer Diaz Bone (University of Lucerne) spoke about quantification from a conventionalist perspective. He gave an overview of fundamental principles of EC when considering quantification. Fundamental to understanding quantification processes is the EC’s view that measurements themselves are convention-related. Consequently, quantification as a black box can only be understood if not only the consequences, benefits and effects of quantification are considered, but also their origin and distribution. In addition, measurements create new realities. Only because measurements are based on conventions, they become a social practice and are tested, justified and challenged in collective actions. The plurality of data worlds allows for different ways of taking measurements – but (from a neopragmatist point of view) no measurement can claim universal validity. At the end of his talk Rainer Diaz-Bone presented the concept of analytical axes for the convention-based analysis of quantification-processes as a heuristic for the analysis of quantification processes (see screenshot below).

The first day of the conference ended with a virtual apéro at the meeting-platform wonder me. Here, the participants had the opportunity to exchange ideas about specific topics of the conference and about topics beyond the conference itself.

Friday 7 May 2021

Friday started with parallel sessions. In the session « Education Research Studies », Philipp Gonon (University of Zürich), Lorenzo Bonoli (Eidgenössisches Hochschulinstitut für Weiterbildung), Jackie Vorpe (Eidgenössisches Hochschulinstitut für Weiterbildung) and Lena Freidorfer-Kabashi (University of Zürich) started with their presentation on regional differences in the justification of Swiss VET education. Colleagues ask how and why regional differences in Switzerland’s VET system are possible. They identify different education regimes in dual VET that can explain cantonal differences. Following Eric Verdier, they describe a neo-comparativist regime for the canton of Zurich, a hybrid of market and academic regimes for the canton of Ticino and a universal regime for the canton of Geneva.

After a short coffee break, Leonie Bisang (University of Lucerne/FHNW Olten) talked about her dissertation project on the reproduction of social inequalities in the tertiary education market. In her lecture, she also wanted to find out how the sociology of conventions can help to understand social inequalities in the swiss university landscape in her dissertation project.

Afterwards, Matthias Alke (HU Berlin) presented on the formation and historical change of job profiles in public adult education. The focus of Matthias Alke’s lecture was the public discourse on adult education and questions of its professionalization. Professional action in adult education as a young phenomenon, Matthias Alke explains from the perspective of the EC how job advertisements (understood as formal investments) describe conventionally formed requirements for quality, activity and occupation.

In the parallel session « Labor Market Intermediaries /HR Practices / PHD Presentations » Julia Brandl (University of Innsbruck) reported on the role of the labor market in shaping wage expectations – using the example of job advertisements. The research project she presented asks to what extent mandatory salary information in job advertisements can reduce gender-specific, different salary expectations. From a conventional sociological perspective, job advertisements can be seen as mediators between employers and job seekers. Job advertisements as such not only present information, but also have a transformative influence on the recipients.

Dominik Zellhofer (Vienna University of Economics and Business) presented his paper based on his dissertation entitled « The people problem of information security: A CISO’s quest for compromise ». In his lecture, he asks how actors in organizations negotiate policies and how technology information security policies are influenced by them. To answer these questions, he draws on the concept of form investment, which comes from EC. Empirically, he takes look at key figures like the CISO (Chief Information Security Officer).

Afterwards Eva Nadai (HSA FHNW) spoke about the role of labor market intermediaries from a conventionalist perspective. She described forms of recruitment of the low-employed from a conventional sociological perspective with a focus on intermediaries. Her presentation focuses on labor market intermediaries as human actors, organizations and dispositives, the evaluation of the quality of labor, and the significance of form investment from an EC perspective.

After the lunch break, the parallel sessions « Methodology » and « Health – Mental Distress Research Study /Paper Presentation » started. In the first sessions (Methodology), Simon Schrör (University of Lucerne/Weizenbaum Institut Berlin) gave a talk on methodological implications of artifacts in pragmatist research. Simon Schrör’s lecture is about making artefacts fearful for the pragmatic analysis of situations in the Sociology of Conventions and also proposing them as an independent epistemological unit. According to this, artefacts represent an extension of the empirical view, which, however, does not dissolve the reference to the object. Using the example of changes in the Deign furniture industry, he shows how the artefact-based identification of situations is made empirical.

Later on, in the same session, Simon Weingärtner (HSU Hamburg) presented on « On the Micro- and Macro-Politics of Work and Employment ». His lecture takes as its starting point whether the effects of the current COVID-19 situation will lead to a situation similar to what Polanyi described as the « Great Transformation » in 1944. Guided by the theoretical focus of boundary work, he investigates the transformation of political fields. In order to derive the historical change, he concludes his lecture by presenting a heuristic of employment regimes and socio-political change, which ranges from the mid-20th century (mass production) through the late 20th century (collaborative production) to the end of the 21st century (platformization).

Meanwhile in the parallel session (Health – Mental Distress Research Study /Paper Presentation) Miriam Kutt (University of Lucerne) spoke about the conflict potential of damaged identities and the connection between practices of silence and conflict avoidance and stigmatization of mental illness. Her presentation was entitled « Das Konfliktkapital beschädigter Identitäten – Praktiken des Schweigens und der Konfliktvermeidung im Zusammenhang mit der Stigmatisierung psychischer Krankheiten » [« The Conflict Capital of Damaged Identities – Practices of Silence and Conflict Avoidance in the Context of Mental Illness Stigma. »]. She focused on the extent to which social structural conditions in situations of stigmatization and discrimination lead those affected to remain silent and avoid conflict. She also asked how these conditions need to be changed so that those affected can be normative, stand up for themselves and their peers, and thus engage for the common good. From the perspective of the sociology of conventions, she works with regime theory and the concept of conflict avoidance « closing ones eyes », following Thévenot.

Anna Gonon (FHNW Olten) then reports in her presentation, entitled « Integration as justification work: a conventionalist perspective on the occupational reintegration of employees with mental distress » on recent findings of her doctoral project in which she investigates the processes of interpretation and the logic of justification of mentally ill employees in companies. She takes a particular look at collective processes of interpretation and justification. From the perspective of the sociology of conventions, Anna Gonon looks at justifications as problems of action in integration work. The aim of her lecture was therefore to show the principles of the assessment of reintegration and the decision on continued employment from an EC perspective.

A coffee break later, the last program item of the conference « Show and Tell » began. Here, authors presented current publications around the sociology of conventions. Arne Böker (University of Halle-Wittenberg) started off by presenting his completed dissertation project « Über die Rechtfertigung von Begabtenförderung. Eine Diskursanalyse am Beispiel der Studienstiftung des deutschen Volkes » [On Justification of gifted education programs. A discourse analysis using the example of the German Academic Scholarship Foundation]. From the perspective of historical educational research, he examined how the Studienstiftung des deutschen Volkes [German Academic Scholarship Foundation] defined the criteria for the selection of its scholarship holders in terms of selection, promotion and social composition. Based on this, he empirically reconstructed the central used conventions, their stability and instability over time, as well as their relationship to problematizations and audits of the foundation itself.

In the following, Esther Berner (HSU Hamburg) reported on her research on the historical transformation of conventions in the shoe industry using the example of Bally and Bata in the period 1870-1940 (published in Journal of Vocational Education & Training, online). Esther Berner examines two large shoe companies in Switzerland, Bally and Bata, with regard to the constructions and changes of shoe quality in production worlds from a historical perspective. She particularly focuses on quality conventions (e.g. individuals, techniques, information) in her analysis. By examining the change in manufacturing processes and the qualification of employees, she is able to show the change, criticism and conflict of conventions in a period from 1870 to 1940.

The last contribution of the event was made by Julia Brandl (University of Innsbruck) and Arjan Kozica (University of Applied Science Reutlingen). They presented their forthcoming book, which will be published in the series Soziologie der Konventionen. The book will be published with the title « Betriebliche Personalpolitik. Eine konventionensoziologische Perspektive » [Workplace Human Resource Policies. A Sociology of Conventions Perspective.] In their work the authors apply the sociology of conventions-approach to human resource policies in economic companies. Julia Brandl reports (also on behalf of the excused Arjan Kozica) on their planned publication. It is aimed at students of economics and at practitioners of company personnel work and the structuring of company employment relationships. In doing so, they make the sociology of conventions fruitful for an understanding of business personnel policy. To this end, the book aims to establish practical links to the practice of business administration throughout, highlighting the significance of EC for company personnel policy as an alternative to established theories such as the Rational choice theory or social psychology.

At the end of the conference, all participants gathered again and looked ahead to the upcoming EC workshop which Christian Imdorf (Leibniz University of Hannover) will organize at Hannover. In summary we all look back on an instructive workshop, with new and exciting insights into current research on the sociology of conventions.

Many thanks to Regula Julia Leemann and her team for the organization of the 11th Sociology of Conventions Workshop!!!

“Social Research Colloquium” features three lectures relying on EC

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

Miriam Kutt (University of Lucerne)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Canonica, Alain. 2020. Beeinträchtigte Arbeitskraft. Konventionen der beruflichen Eingliederung zwischen Invalidenversicherung und Arbeitgeber (1945–2008). Zürich: Chronos (open access,

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

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

Convention Theory as “a Fruitful Opportunity” for Researching Arts and Culture

Interview with Daniel Urrutiaguer

by Guy Schwegler (University of Lucerne)

Daniel Urrutiaguer is professor for performing arts studies at the Sorbonne Nouvelle University in Paris. Through the lens of conventions theory, his research is concerned with the socioeconomics of the theatre sector: its aesthetic, social, and monetary value; the relationship between the artistic organizations, the public, and companies; the evolution of cultural policies; as well as the links between artistic creations and the construction of identity. These various interests he combined in his seminal work on the “worlds” of theatre (2014) and in numerous other publications.

With his interest in theatre, Urrutiaguer is one the more rare cases of convention theory researchers interested in the artistic and cultural sector. Guy Schwegler asked him a few questions about such an approach to the arts and culture in general, and how Urrutiaguer got into contact with convention theory in the first place.

Guy Schwegler: When, why and how did convention theory become important for you?

Daniel Urrutiaguer: When I was a teacher in economics and sociology in a high secondary school (Lycée), my request for an educational leave for a master in economics was accepted at the beginning of the 1990s. The main motive was to get an opportunity to become a professional actor and I chose the courses with the least number of teaching hours. So I decided to undergo a master 2 in labor economics at the University of Paris 10. Initially, I planned to do research on the evolution of work organisation in car factories. By accident, I discovered the existence of convention theory and some economists’ interest in cultural economics. I was fascinated when I saw an early morning slot for Françoise Benhamou’s seminar in cultural economics on the door of an elevator. I also chose to take part in Olivier Favereau and Laurent Thévenot’s course on convention theory, just out of curiosity. The content of their programme and Favereau’s pedagogical skills impressed me. I was particularly interested by the perspective’s consideration of coordination problems through the tensions between different logics of action and valuation.

As I failed a test for becoming a professional actor after two years, I decided to do a PhD instead. I wanted to apply convention theory in the theatre sector and I asked Olivier Favereau to be my supervisor. He proposed to work on Harrison White’s model of sustainable market profiles (White 2005) and its conventional interpretation as quality orders. At the same time, my aim was to build a database for an econometric model. There, I wanted to test the influence of different quality judgements on the attendance of nationally approved theatre institutions, especially the main newspaper critics’ judgement and the directors’ institutional reputation. Building my database required months of full-time work.

My econometrical work contrasting the influence of critics’ judgements and directors’ institutional reputation got an international recognition through a publication in the Journal of Cultural Economics (2002). Favereau, Eymard-Duvernay, and Biencourt have proposed a rather qualitative association between White’s sustainable market profiles and the domestic, market, and industrial quality conventions (Favereau et al. 2002). I tried to use my econometrical estimations for the computation of the elasticities of the satisfaction and cost functions according to the volume and the perceived quality. The computations were rather unclearly complicating the model and there was a kind of distortion by switching from sustainable market profiles to non-profit highly subsidized organisations.

I did not try to go further in this quantitative application of the conventional framework to White’s market profiles. Nevertheless, the different logics of action and valuation in the economics of worth were a more relevant theoretical framework for my field of research. Even though I did not refer explicitly to convention theory in the published academic papers and the national survey on the territories and resources of performing arts companies in France (Urrutiaguer et al. 2012), it has been an undergoing framework to put into perspective some observed features.

GS: How would you describe your specific convention theory inspired approach in Les Mondes du Theatre (2014)?

DU: I switched my main theoretical framework towards Boltanski’s approach in pragmatic sociology of critique. To obtain the “Habilitation à diriger les recherches,” I worked on an essay for understanding the causes of disenchantment with cultural policies in two different theatre worlds: the mainstream public world and an emerging alternative world, favouring the links between artistic activities and sustainable development. Following Boltanski’s recommendation, I added the private theatre world for the book publication.

Whereas Howard Becker is more focusing on the conventions as patterns of behaviour in the art worlds he analyses (Becker 2011), I am more sensitive to the conventions as patterns of judgment which direct the distribution of states of worths. I tried to specify the political and moral grammar which characterizes these three theatre worlds. What are the common principle of justice for equity, the states of worths and the tests for their access, the definition of nature? Each theatre world is characterized by a compromise between justification orders of conventions.

The world of private theatre is directed by the principle of the private production of artistic entertainment. The logic of artistic inspiration for cheerful innovativeness and the market logic to capture attendants’ willingness to pay intersect in this world with the network logic to reduce risk-taking. Half of the French Supporting Fund for Private Theatres (ASTP) is financed by a tax on box office revenues and the remaining half by public subsidies. The ASTP dependency on subsidies, the increasing competition, and the financial concentration of big Parisian theatres are destabilizing this world.

The world of public theatre is historically lead by a parallel public support to artistic excellency and to cultural democratization for broadening the social composition of the attendance at highbrow and delicate plays. The states of worths are opposing the high value of artistic humanism and the low value of social and cultural liveliness. A quantitative evaluation of the production results (rather than qualitative approaches), the increasing market power of theatrical institutions, the systemic pressure to decrease programmers’ risk-taking, and the development of market relationships with attendance are destabilizing this world. Here, the market and industrial logics are more heavily intersecting the civic logic of action and evaluation.

The world of cultural sustainable development is based on economic cooperation and the preservation of cultural diversity in a respective area. Culture is considered as a fourth pillar of sustainable development. The high value valorises the combination of aesthetical, technical, and pedagogic competencies for driving an emancipatory intercultural dialogue, whereas the low value depreciates hermetic artworks. Local cultural pluralism characterises this scale of worth. Economic solidarity is confronted with the competition for increasing or consolidating artistic reputation whereas taking into account cultural diversity can justify a market approach for the segmentation of artistic production. Furthermore, the research of intercultural dialogue has to deal with cultural and social conflicts.

GS: If you had to highlight one thing, what would be the specific advantage of researching theatre production and the worlds of theatre this way, i.e. three different worlds and their respective political and moral grammar?

DU: I think the framework of political and moral grammar (Boltanski and Thévenot 2006) gives a fruitful opportunity to understand the orders of quality according to the main scale of judgment on shows’ relevance. Each world of theatre is oriented by a central logic of action and valuation which orientates a collective sense of justice, and it is questioned by other logics that influence patterns of behaviour. Furthermore, the analysis has to take into account the compromise between the logic of artistic inspiration and the logic of networks with other scales of judgment on states of worth in each world of theatre.

GS: When thinking beyond the worlds of theater, what could be an advantage of a sociology of the arts and culture that uses convention theory?

DU: Using convention theory offers perspectives for analyzing individual patterns of behavior through coordination problems in the artistic value chain. By giving attention to public debates and the justifications that stakeholders give for their standpoints and actions, we may approach the practical ways in which specific actions are evaluated.

The pragmatic sociology of critique highlights the devices of artistic coordination with regards to cultural establishments, public authorities, non-artistic partners, attendance, and local populations. It is interesting to work on the material, cognitive, and moral support that the actors of a world can recognize and use in their joint actions as well as their quality judgements

GS: What could be the emphasis of such a sociology of convention of the arts and culture?

DU: Such a sociology of the arts and culture can emphasize the valuation and justifications that the artists and their stakeholders formulate for their specific actions. To focus on the evaluation scales of the aesthetical, social, and political values of artworks, and the pedagogic relevance of artistic educative actions, gives an opportunity to study the ways of transforming judgements on quality into monetary value in the networks of production and diffusion. As compared to Bourdieu’s sociology of critique, for example, which focus on material and symbolic power, the added value is to recognize the importance of moral stances that interfuse artistic life.

To combine a moral framework and the plurality of political orders of worth is a relevant approach to analyse the complexity of the coordination through the study of situations. Artistic inspiration oriented toward originality and networking capacity are transversal logics to the different worlds of art. In all cultural sectors and to some degree, artistic teams have to compose with every order of worth in mind: the orders of fame and market, which orientate attendants’ willingness to pay and affect programmer’s willingness to program; the civic logic according to the dominant political interpretation of a general interest; the industrial order oriented toward efficiency and standardization; and the domestic order rooted in personal ties.

GS: What could be ignored or could be a “weak” spot when researching this societal area with convention theory?

DU: Convention theory is well fitted to understand the causes of difficulties and disputes in coordination problems through the combination of different logics of action and valuation, and the contradictions humans are faced with. It can be extended to the analyses of engagement regimes as Thévenot and Boltanski did for other cases of human coordination, which do not require references to common goods (Thévenot 2006). Nevertheless, this general framework can be less well equipped to analyze the causes of protagonists’ conflicts over income sharing and the group dynamics in tensions. Convention theory has to take into account a systemic analysis of the dominant order associated to the setting of the different worlds of art.

Social scientists also have to be careful with modelling effects in their surveys. Whereas a conventionalist objective is to go beyond the limits of essentialist theories, a more or less mechanical application of the orders of worth to actors’ chain of actions may substantiate people’s minds. The main negative effect is therefore to transform the convention theory framework into a normative grid of rationalities—as it has been the case in some business management research.

GS: What could be ways to amend these two “weak” spots? So, what frameworks would you recommend to complement the analyses of causes of protagonists’ conflicts (or others) when researching artists or cultural producers? And how can one make sure to avoid a mechanical application of the orders of worth when researching the arts?

DU: The relevance of convention theory is to focus on justification for understanding how people try to refer to common orders of worth, so that they could agree in their quality judgements and a distribution of states of worth based on equity in productive efforts. To analyze conflicts in income sharing, for example, one needs to take into account the interconnectedness of individual evaluation and classification systems. People evaluate works of art through aesthetical, ethical, technical, or social criteria, which are related to their education and their past experiences. Therefore, classification systems shape people’s grids of cultural references and orientate their taste judgments. As classification systems are embedded in social institutions, the dominant relations in artistic legitimacy play a role in the conversion of aesthetical value into monetary value in the circuits of production and diffusion.

Avoiding a mechanical application of the orders of worth requires an attention in the sense of a grounded theory: the objective is to identify the discourses and the objects that the actors are referring in their coordination process and their scale of judgement. The analysis of professional literature and the conduct of interviews have to be aware of the plurality of justifications without any modelled presumption on the behavior of actors in professional situations.

GS: Next to business management, scholars from various fields have used convention theory to analyze the production of food, job market, finance, public statistics and classification, or more recently, health, education, and climate change. Artistic practices and the production of culture, however, do not seem be part of these prevalent and re-occurring subjects yet. Would you assess the situation in a similar way? Or if not, may this be due to the fact that most of this research has been done in France/published in French, therefore making it just a blind spot for non-French speaking convention theory researchers?

DU: We have to take into account most economists’ limited interest for culture, particularly for performing arts for which box office revenues are much lower than in other cultural industries. When it comes to the stakes of the economy, theatre is regarded as a marginal activity. Therefore, only some more passionate researchers in economics, or sociology and aesthetics, are concerned with the composition of the actors’ logics of action and valuation in the worlds of performing arts. Moreover, cultural economics are also faced with the dominance of mainstream quantitative approaches. More sophisticated econometric results are supposed to be guarantees for scientific quality—and the publication of academic papers is not always fitted for convention theory. Even though there are few researchers in the performing arts sector—such as Bérénice Hamidi-Kim (2013) or Rachel Brahy (2019)—, convention theory and the literature produced under this perspective offers interesting materials and a semiotic perspective to analyse the defaults of coordination through the disputes on the higher common principles of justice in the different worlds of art. And of course, the lack of English translation of the French papers and books which apply convention theory to performing arts does not help spreading this research approach.


Becker, Howard Saul. 2011. Art worlds. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Boltanski, Luc, Laurent Thévenot. 2006. On justification. The economics of worth. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Boltanski, Luc, Arnaud Esquerre. 2020. Enrichment. A critique of commodities. Hoboken: Wiley.

Brahy, Rachel. 2019. S’engager dans un atelier-théâtre. À la recherche du sens de l’expérience. Mons: Éditions du Cerisier.

Favereau, Olivier, Olivier Biencourt, François Eymard-Duvernay. 2002. Where do markets come from? From (quality) conventions! In: Favereau, Olivier, Emmanuel Lazega (eds.), Conventions and structures in economic organizations. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, pp. 213-252.

Hamidi-Kim, Bérénice. 2013. Les cités du théâtre politique en France depuis 1989. Montpellier: L’entretemps.

Thévenot, Laurent. 2006. L’action au pluriel. Sociologie des régimes d’engagement. Paris: La Découverte.

Urrutiaguer, Daniel. 2002. Quality judgements and demand for French public theatre. Journal of Cultural Economics 26, pp. 185–202.

Urrutiaguer, Daniel. 2011. Theatre. In Ruth Towse (ed.), An handbook of cultural economics. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, pp. 420-424.

Urrutiaguer, Daniel. 2014. Les mondes du théâtre: désenchantement politique et économie des conventions. Paris : L’Harmattan.

Urrutiaguer, Daniel. 2016. Théâtre. Quelles articulations entre conventions et mondes ?, in Philippe Batifoulier et al. (eds.), Dictionnaire des conventions. Autour des travaux d’Olivier Favereau. Lille: Presses Universitaires du Septentrion, pp. 279-283.

Urrutiaguer, Daniel, Philippe Henry, Cyril Duchêne, and Guillaume Boudy. 2012. Territoires et ressources des compagnies en France. Culture Etudes 2012-1.

White, Harrison C. 2005. Markets from networks. Socioeconomic models of production. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Quantification is not only a way to describe the world but also a tool of power able to transform it!

Interview with Emmanuel Didier

Walter Bartl (University of Halle)

Emmanuel Didier is a full professor (directeur de recherche CNRS) at the Centre Maurice Halbwachs (École Normale Supérieure, Paris) and a member of the Center for the Study of Invention and Social Process (Goldsmiths University of London). He taught at the University of Chicago and at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) and now teaches at Ecole Normale Supérieure and Ecole Nationale de la Statistique et de l’Administration Economique (ENSAE), both in Paris and Ecole Polytechnique in Paris-Saclay. He is a member of the French National Advisory Council on Ethics.

Originally trained as a statistician, Emmanuel Didier very soon specialized in the study of statistics as a tool of government. His first book – revised and updated for the recent English edition – entitled America by the Numbers. Quantification, Democracy and the Birth of National Statistics, bore on the relationship between the invention of random sampling in the US and State interventionism and State planning during the New Deal. His second book, written with Isabelle Bruno, is on Benchmarking. The book shows how management by number, imported in government from private companies, changed the meaning and practice of the French State. His third book, Statactivisme, is an edited volume (with Isabelle Bruno and Julien Prévieux), dedicated to analyze ways in which ordinary people use statistics to enhance their power against institutions. Furthermore, he edited the last book of the late Alain Desrosières, entitled Prouver et gouverner, une analyse politique des statistiques publiques, who deceased before he had a chance to finish it. Recently he has been working on a project on big data in the domain of health and especially in genomics.

WB: How did you get in touch with the economics or sociology of convention?

ED: Well, it depends what you call economics or sociology of convention. When I was a student at ENSAE (Ecole Nationale de la Statistique et de l’Administration Economique) to become a statistician – this was in the first half of the 1990s – I happened to read Luc Boltanski’s book Les Cadres (Boltanski 1982; engl. Boltanski 1987). I became literally enthusiastic for the book. As a socio-history of a social category, I immediately saw that it was a way to think reflexively about statistics. I remember that I was particularly struck by the experiments of social psychologist Eleanor Rosch about the category of dogs, described in the book, showing that some examples of dogs were more typical to the category than others. And I remember that I was also completely convinced by the way the author (Luc Boltanski) was totally reflexive and paid attention to the consequences of his own findings for the very text he was writing. I wrote a letter to Luc – at that time, letters were handwritten – telling him about my enthusiasm and asking if I could work with him. And he said yes! I worked under his supervision on the notion of “social exclusion”. I showed that the originality of the notion is, that, contrary to “the poor” or “the destitute”, it is not a social category, it invites to action but without clearly delineating the individuals that should benefit from it (Didier 1996). Meanwhile, he introduced me first to Alain Desrosières and then to Bruno Latour, who the year after became my PhD supervisor.
At the CSI (Center for the Sociology of Innovation), I learned that something called “economics of convention” existed. I remember: we invited François Eymard-Duvernay and Laurent Thévenot – who are at the core of the economics of convention – to the monthly seminar. But I never felt that I belonged to the group; it was not even clear to me that it was a group. These economists were friendly to us, and vice versa, but I had the feeling that we had diverging agendas. We were not explicating the differences and similarities between us; I did not care whether a group of “conventionalists” was existing, even though I was often interested in their writings. It was simply a biographical matter that I did not get really involved with them. At that time the more heated debate (to me) was evolving between the sociology “of critique” (Groupe de Sociologie Politique et Morale (GSPM) which is the group formed within École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS) by Boltanski, Thévenot, Desrosières and others after their separation from Pierre Bourdieu’s approach) and the Actor Network Theory (at CSI – the Group of Bruno Latour, Michel Callon and others). To put it in a nutshell, the question is, whether a sociologist can presuppose a totally flat world without any transcendental level (Actor Network Theory) or whether they need to presuppose a two levels world to give room to an exteriority of normativity (GSPM) (cf. Latour 2009).

WB: Alain Desrosières was a crucial figure in the formation of sociology of quantification. What was his role in the development of your interest in quantification processes?

ED: Alain had several specificities. First, he was not working in academia but at the INSEE (Institut National de la Statistique et des Études Économiques) and was a part time professor at the ENSAE. Therefore, he remained all his life a civil servant as much as a researcher. For me, as a student, I saw his position and, I was to discover very quickly his work too, as a little unusual, a little unexpected, very original. Besides, this position gave him direct access to core questions concerning the production of statistics and its relation to the government. He remained all his life, actually, the only one to care authentically about statistics from a reflexive point of view. I mean the whole Parisian flock was aware of the fascinating sociological questions statistics raised, but fairly soon they relied on him, personally, to produce actual studies and reference papers to be cited on this point.  Third, his position gave him a kind of exteriority within the academic field that allowed him to be, at the same time, an insider and an outsider. It must be said that this social exteriority was also bearing on a vast and profound knowledge of the literature. He knew about the squabbles between the different subgroups living in the ecology of the Left Bank, but he could remain outside of them. He often reinterpreted them from the viewpoint of statistics in a way that wound up being a synthesis of the different positions. Finally, Alain was also extremely generous intellectually. He was always very happy to introduce you to a paper you’d missed, to a colleague that could help you out of a difficulty; he read intermediate versions of your texts and never took you down, on the contrary, he gave important and wise inputs. I guess these points influenced me in trying to follow his path.

WB: Recently, Desrosières was honored by the INSEE, where he worked all his professional life, by naming a library after him. There is a video on that on the Internet (see How might his reflexive spirit be able to survive in a public institution that is increasingly confronted with a neoliberal environment and tight budgets?

ED: I love the video, your readers should take a moment watching it! It gives many different, yet coherent, viewpoints on the importance of Alain, and gives a hint on his relationships to representatives of the conventionalist movement. I also love the fact that the library was baptized after him. I would like to insist on the point that Gael de Peretti, an INSEE administrator, encouraged strongly this nomination and is also the kingpin of the biannual « Alain Desrosières’ prize » for the best scholarly essay in the socio-history of quantification. I think, those talking in the video, those who directed it, and Gael’s initiatives are examples of the answer to your question: friends of Alain will make his spirit survive, especially if we find institutions such as a library to solidify the group. This being said, I would like to add that a reflexive spirit on quantification is especially necessary in a world in which arguments about the budget or economic liberalism become so prominent. Actually, I tend to think that this spirit will develop in any case because people need to find degrees of freedom to live their life. It happens that the Social Studies of Quantification are lucky enough to have an inspiring predecessor such as Alain, and it will be useful.

WB: Which aspect of the economics or sociology of convention do you consider problematic or critical with regard to its further development?

ED: Given my previous response, this question is a bit hard to answer. But still, I would like to say something about sociology in general. Society is constantly evolving. There are forces that make it change, sometimes fast, sometimes slowly, but it changes. The problem of sociology is to keep up with these transformations. It has essentially to constantly reinvent itself, so that its methods and findings fit to the transformations it aims at capturing. Some conventionalist works contribute to this necessary creativity of the discipline. But sometimes sociology falls for dogmatism. Particularly for pedagogic reasons, or to establish positions of power (both of which, I must say, are not to be neglected neither), it establishes rules and procedures that must allegedly be followed. Dogmatism is the end of sociology because it is the end of creativity. I hope that no conventionalist has fallen into this trap.

WB: What makes the second generation of scholars in the conventionalist tradition unique?

ED: The first economists of convention organized a conference where they could all sit down together. And their communications fit into one single edited volume (Salais and Thévenot 1986). What is very striking today is the number of people who might be seen as conventionalists and the diversity of the topics, methods, problems that they are tackling, within very different disciplines and countries. I doubt it would be possible to gather all these people in one single room. Rainer Diaz-Bone’s “EC-news-letter” which comes I think at least once in a week, presents at least three or four publications each time. It is really impressive. The first generation of conventionalists did succeed in following God’s order of the Genesis (1:28): “Be fruitful and multiply ”.

WB: The “Social Studies of Quantification”, as you termed the currently emerging interdisciplinary field, draws on a variety of scientific disciplines. Are there any common theoretical assumptions in “Quantification Studies” or are the assumptions held rather specific to certain approaches to the subject?

ED: I don’t know whether there are any theoretical assumptions unifying Social Studies of Quantification. Maybe there is this very general argument, which we all agree to, that quantification is not only a way to describe the world but also a tool of power able to transform it. But I think of Quantification Studies as a group of researchers, each following their own path and engaging with the works of others. Even “quantification” is not strictly defined. Some include data and “big data”, some don’t. Some include lay practices of counting, others don’t. Thus, I think the group of scholars interested in it resembles rather a “flock”, using the concept taken from ethology, than a theoretically established research program. To use another ethological concept, I recently heard about something called “Fish aggregating devices” (FAD). These usually consist of buoys or floats tethered to the ocean floor with concrete blocks. Fish are fascinated with floating objects. They use them to mark locations for mating activities. They gather in considerable numbers around objects such as drifting flotsam, rafts, jellyfish and floating seaweed. The objects appear to provide a visual stimulus in an optical void, and offer refuge for juvenile fish from predators. The gathering of juvenile fish, in turn, attracts larger predator fish (see Even though FADs are used now with the awful aim of industrially fishing countless quantities of fish, I’d like to see Social Studies of Quantification as a non-fishing FAD, something that helps researchers gather, discuss, exchange simply because they are attracted by the whole device and the sociality that corresponds to it.

WB: The sociology of quantification has been developed to a considerable degree with regard to the (historical) production of official statistics. Nowadays, public and private life seems to be increasingly permeated by numbers that are collected and analyzed by private tech companies. The conventions of quantification in these companies are generally not in the public eye. What does that mean for the sociology of quantification?

ED: The answer is in the question. I agree with your diagnosis: public and private life is more and more permeated by private numbers. Numbers, even public numbers, are produced with a series of new techniques, originally from the private sector. It’s interesting to see for example the success of an expression such as “data mining”, coming from the big private tech, whereas public statisticians used to simply say “data analysis”. The power that laid with the government, and that the former generation of sociologists of quantification wanted to analyze and criticize, lays now for a large part with private companies and operates very differently. So yes, obviously, I think that research focusing on tech companies, and especially on the intersections of tech companies and government, is extremely interesting. This is particularly striking in medicine and health where public health and private interests have intersected constantly for a very long time.
For example, the debates about a “Stop Covid” app is very interesting – an app that would detect infected people passing by your phone. Public health systems in most countries wanted to develop their own app to make sure that they would control the data. But Google and Apple just announced (September 2020) that they will install automatically an app in the operating system of our phones. So, they just bypassed public health systems! And now they have the data!
One of the difficulties raised by the big tech companies is that their economic model rests on free service or open source development for the users. Their private services look a lot like the ones public authorities might provide. They seem to be for free! But the data is not used the same way, and moreover, there is a long history of the social control of state power. The control of giant private companies’ power yet needs to be developed. Social studies of quantification could really help in this.

WB: What are the challenges and opportunities of Big Data for official statistics?

ED: William Davies wrote an interesting piece on the topic in the Guardian in 2017. It was entitled “How statistics lost their power – and why we should fear what comes next” (Davies 2017). His main point was that the world has accelerated a lot recently and that the nation-state borders correspond less and less to the reality of the economy, but remain fundamental for statistics. Thus, statistics produce information on entities that are not significant anymore and hence lose their authority. On the contrary, Big Data is able to capture the mood of populations (through “likes” or Google queries), which a new genre of experts know how to put to use. However, they are more into math and physics than the good old statisticians, who are closer to sociology and economics. Especially, Davies warns, they enable populist uses of the information – as it has been the case with Cambridge Analytica.
But official statisticians are not helpless. For example, technically, they are developing very interesting techniques to produce reliable information through many channels at the same time – offline as well as online questionnaires – sufficiently robust to be aggregated in one single survey. It’s called “multimodal data production”. More generally, Walter J. Radermacher, a former head of Eurostat, just published a very good book in which he synthesizes all the innovations made by public statistics bureaus in relation to Big Data (Radermacher 2020). In particular, he argues that public statisticians are very good at producing reliable data and thus in fighting against “fake news” – whereas the “data scientists” working on “big data” are not always on top in this respect.

WB: The COVID-19 pandemic shows once again the importance of reliable (official) statistics. At the same time, there is a lot of insecurity attached to these numbers – for very different reasons. What can the sociology of quantification contribute to the common good in such a crucial situation?

ED: The COVID-19 pandemic has indeed been also a pandemic of numbers. It was amazing to see the amount of numbers that we, as the public, were fed every day: numbers of infected persons, numbers of hospitalized persons, numbers of death, numbers of recoveries, etc. – all this in our own country and compared to others. Sociology of quantification did intervene in the media at the time. First it described the strength and limitations of the different methods used to produce these numbers. Especially it pinpointed methodological differences between countries that complicated the comparison. It underlined the social constraints that explain the different methodologies adopted by several public systems.
The best example concerns the number of deaths. It is a long and complicated process to establish the cause of a death – especially in the case of the Coronavirus which goes very often with comorbidities. A doctor has to see the body and be able to establish a cause of death. And it is also a long process to aggregate all the cases of death. Each country has its own method, depending on the history of the public health information system. The result is that international comparison is not always straightforward. Especially it is not clear what to do with the death of old people living in nursing homes. Sociology of quantification is particularly well equipped to explain all these subtleties to the public.
Another use of our discipline is to analyze the effects of the data on several publics. How does it affect the public if it is barraged with numbers? What does it do to the government to rely so heavily on data? I was involved in a collective paper finally publish in Nature about the ethical aspects for statisticians, to see their models at the heart of public policies. We highlighted how predictions need to be transparent and humble to invite insight, not blame (Saltelli et al. 2020).
Finally, social studies of quantification can help open up the range of things that should be counted. It was striking at the beginning of the lockdown how much we were fed only and uniquely with public health figures measuring how the country was hit by and resisted the virus. Yet, at the same time, we heard stories here and there about how hard it was for poor families to stay put in their small homes in the banlieux, stories of domestic violence, artist friends who told us that the containment policies were making them go broke, etc. But there was absolutely no figure (at least in France) to aggregate all the drawbacks of the lockdown.  Statactivism, is the activist side of social studies of quantification (Bruno et al. 2014b; Bruno et al. 2014a). It is a political resource, imagining: “The problems, which we encounter could be quantified and it would help our cause.” In the case of the lock down, people suffering from the situation finally reclaim other numbers (Didier 2020c).

WB: The economics or sociology of convention has been developed mainly in France with important efforts of internationalization having been made more recently by translating crucial works into other languages. For example your book on Statistics in the United States has recently been translated into English (Didier 2020a). Which places of academic work outside of France do you consider promising for the future development of the conventionalist approach?

ED: What’s an interesting group? I think it is a small group of people knowing each other, if possible being even close to one another, and thinking about questions that appear in their own vicinity, and that have not been answered yet, but which they are able to relate to very general questions of interest to a wide variety of scholars. That’s exactly how sociology of quantification, economics of convention, and actor network theory appeared in Paris. Lately I have been invited by you guys, people in Halle, a former GDR university, a very peculiar context, but at the same time with some interesting international ties. Your interdisciplinary discussions on “Schlüsselindikatoren” [key indicators] as a very powerful governing tool were very exciting (cf. Bartl et al. 2019), and your work has already begun to bear its first fruits.[1] The other group I met recently was in Rio de Janeiro. It’s a small and super active group of people all working on quantification, with an activist perspective, fiercely opposing Bolsonaro’s populism, demanding justice for the favelas and a better control of the police forces. We featured them in a special issue of Statistique et société. The very peculiar situation in which they find themselves, plus their energy, freshness, and shrewdness is producing very interesting and original results.

WB: You are the editor in chief of Statistique et Société, the French leading journal in the Social Studies of Quantification. How do you define your role as an editor there?

ED: Well, the first task, and probably the most time consuming one, is simply to make sure that the three issues per year are indeed published in time. More generally we, as an editorial board consisting of seven persons, try to make visible some interesting work and to give it a platform. In a sense, the journal is part of the Fish Aggregating Device. It aims at attracting the interest of people working on quantification and that of other people that are interested in topics that we focus on. For example, our next two issues will be on the Yellow Jackets in France and on the numbers of the pandemic. In both cases, we want to show that these two highly mediatized events, on which we tend to think that we have heard everything, can in fact be understood in a very fresh and yet very significant way if we focus on the numbers that they have co-produced. For example, to understand the Yellow Jackets it is crucial to understand that they have produced their own numbers about themselves. It let them dream of refusing any human representative – because they hoped these numbers could represent them. This appeared to be crucial in the development of the movement, yet very few people made the point. With the pandemic, it’s the same, quantification plays a crucial role in its development because the policies established to control it rely heavily on numbers, models, maps. But still, the “political” role played by the experts producing and processing these numbers (and I don’t say it in a critical tone: I am glad they were here to fight the disease!) has not been analyzed enough. We’ve already said a word about it above. So I would like to make the point that social studies of quantification are interesting for a public as wide as possible. Quantities are now everywhere, they always have political effects, and thus everyone should be authorized to understand and maybe participate in these decisions. This is the objective of Statistique et société.

WB: Which academic project are you working on currently and what are your plans for the next year?

ED: I would like, first, to have opportunities to discuss more the concept of “quantitative marbling”, which was the topic of my Amo Lecture at your university last year (Didier 2019, 2020b). Then, the “Decodeurs” of Le Monde (the newspaper’s fact checkers) sent me the dataset of all the questions they received from their readers during the pandemics. They stretch from very practical questions “How far from home can I take a walk?” to more general ones “Is the virus an artificial production?”. I would like to find time to analyze these data. This would take place in a larger work I have been engaged in for several years, which is on the transformations of truth in a time of digital information and disinformation – for the general public as well as for scientists.

WB: Sounds riveting! I am very much looking forward to the first results. Emmanuel, many thanks for your thoughts and your time.


Bartl, Walter; Papilloud, Christian; Terracher-Lipinski, Audrey (2019): Governing by numbers: Key indicators and the politics of expectations. An introduction. In Historical Social Research 44 (2, Special Issue), 7-43. DOI: 10.12759/hsr.44.2019.2.7-43.

Boltanski, Luc (1982): Les cadres. La formation d’un groupe social. Paris: Éditions de Minuit.

Boltanski, Luc (1987): The making of a class. Cadres in French society. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Bruno, Isabelle; Didier, Emmanuel; Prévieux, Julien (eds.) (2014a): Statactivisme: comment lutter avec des nombres. Paris: Zones.

Bruno, Isabelle; Didier, Emmanuel; Vitale, Tommaso (2014b): Statactivism. Forms of action between disclosure and affirmation. In Partecipazione e Conflitto 4 (2), pp. 198–220.

Davies, William (2017): How statistics lost their power – and why we should fear what comes next. In The Guardian, 1/19/2017. Available online at

Didier, Emmanuel (1996): De l’«exclusion» à l’exclusion. In Politix. Revue des sciences sociales du politique 34, pp. 5–27. DOI: 10.3406/polix.1996.1029.

Didier, Emmanuel (2019): Quantitative marbling: New conceptual tools for the socio-history of quantification (Anton Wilhelm Amo Lectures, 7 [Video]). Available online at

Didier, Emmanuel (2020a): America by the numbers. Quantification, democracy, and the birth of national statistics. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Didier, Emmanuel (2020b): Quantitative marbling: New conceptual tools for the socio-history of quantification. Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg. Halle (Saale) (Anton Wilhelm Amo Lectures, 7).

Didier, Emmanuel (2020c): Politique du nombre de morts. In AOC media – Analyse Opinion Critique (blog), 4/15/2020. Available online at

Latour, Bruno (2009): Dialogue sur deux systèmes de sociologie. In Marc Breviglieri, Claudette Lafaye, Danny Trom (eds.): Compétences critiques et sens de la justice: colloque de Cerisy. Paris: Economica, 359-390.

Radermacher, Walter J. (2020): Official statistics 4.0. Verified facts for people in the 21st century. Cham: Springer.

Salais, Robert; Thévenot, Laurent (eds.) (1986): Le travail: marchés, règles, conventions [table-ronde, 22-23 novembre 1984]. Centre national de la recherche scientifique, Institut national de la statistique et des études économiques. Paris: INSEE Économica.

Saltelli, Andrea; Bammer, Gabriele; Bruno, Isabelle; Charters, Erica; Di Fiore, Monica; Didier, Emmanuel et al. (2020): Five ways to ensure that models serve society: a manifesto. In Nature 582 (7813), pp. 482–484. DOI: 10.1038/d41586-020-01812-9.

[1] Petra Dobner, Dirk Hanschel: The use of SDG-indicators for water-related aims as an instrument of domestic political and legal disputes (DFG project 432912052). Christian Papilloud: Translation in Nanomedicine. « Qualitative indicators » of medical innovation research in the European Union (DFG project 432916842). Richard Rottenburg, Alena Thiel: How Democracies Know: Identification technologies and quantitative analyses of development in Ghana (DFG project 432915420).

« Why Convention Theory? »

Report by Taizo Yamamoto (Osaka Sangyo University, Japan)

On May 23, a session entitled « Why Convention Theory? » ( was held at the 24th Conference of Japan Society for Evolutionary Economics, JAFEE (at Tohoku University, Sendai, Japan. ). The conference was scheduled for March, but was postponed due to COVID-19 pandemic and held online.

Convention Theory or Economics of Convention (EC), which is one of the French institutionalist approaches, was introduced to Japan after the 2000s by translated books and articles. In 2012, Olivier Favereau (University of Paris Nanterre, France), in 2015, Christian Bessy (École normale supérieure Paris-Saclay, France), and in 2018, Guillemette de Larquier (University of Lille, France) visited Japan and gave lectures. However, while the second generation and their students have developed EC, the recent movements have not been systematically introduced to Japan. Also, the advantages of the developed theory have been not clearly shown to Japanese evolutionary and institutional economists. Therefore, this session was organized to notice the recent development of EC and answer to the question why we dare to learn and to apply EC. The session consisted of the following three presentations:

  • Masafumi Yokemoto (Osaka City University, Japan)
    Quality Tests in an Alternative Food Network: A Case Study of Organic Farming by Minamata Disease Patients and Their Supporters
  • Kota Kitagawa (Kansai University) and Mihoko Morisaki (Osaka City University, Japan): Wagashi Crafting as a Service: A Place of Materials in the Immaterialization of Capitalism from the Perspective of Convention Theory
  • Rainer Diaz-Bone (University of Lucerne, Switzerland): Convention Theory and Big Data
  • Moderator: Yuji Harada (Setsunan University, Japan)

Masafumi Yokemoto’s presented a case study of organic farming in Minamata supported by urban consumers. Minamata is well-known as the site of devastating health damage (Minamata Disease) caused by a chemical company’s (Chisso) methylmercury emissions. The linkage of producers and consumers can be seen as an example of alternative food networks (AFNs), which provide foods having characteristics differing from mass-distribution products by linking producers and consumers.

As such, the “quality” of goods is an important point, and in that respect AFN researchers have consulted convention theory. Certification systems enabled businesses to incorporate new types of worth (the environment and food safety) into the process of capital accumulation. On the other hand a strategy of AFN is to switch away from focusing on product qualities those are proved by means of a certification system, and instead use the criterion of “relationships” among producers and with consumers. In the case of Minamata, such relationships are especially important. Also, his analysis traces the emergence of cité of green in Japan.

Kota Kitagawa and Mihoko Morisaki’s presented a case study of new developments in wagashi confectionery industry of Japan as an example of the immaterialization of capitalism. In order to consider immaterialization as a way of creation or transformation of an arrangement, Kitagawa and Morisaki employed convention theory to analyze a valuation world by focusing on humans, things, discourses and their relationships. The typical case for wagashi-crafting as a service (as a performance), in the novel movement in the wagashi segment, was analyzed in the context of forming a « collection » for economic « enrichment » (cf. Luc Boltanski and Arnaud Esquerre, 2020: Enrichment).

Evaluating service as performance has been constructed by mobilizing not only the intangibles (new valuation criteria with the popularization of SNS, photogenic collection in SNS, and the unique skill and spirit of the performer) but also the tangibles (various equipment; the wagashi and its delicate shades; resonance between the performer and the audiences). From the perspective of the plurality of cités, beneficiaries of services need to be embedded with the cité of inspiration in the novel valuation world.

Rainer Diaz-Bone’s presentation was, first, a clear commentary on EC, and second, a critical review of the digital economy in the age of “big data” from the perspective of EC. Conventions are logics of coordination, interpretation and evaluation.

Conventions offer a link to a common good, therefore conventions are also the basis for the social construction and evaluation of quality. Here we reaffirm the importance of Alain Desrosières’s work. Data is not a mirror of pre-given facts. Categorization and quantification are the result of different steps of convention-based practices. When measurement is based on adequate conventions, data can be regarded as useful for collective actions.

Big data is seen as an innovation in economy today. But from the perspective of EC, big data also troubles economies, because many data generating infrastructures are private property and are not used to pursue a common good but to exploit data information asymmetry. The conventions for these data production and measurement are invisible. EC’s claim on big data is to bring the public back in and to implement public ownership into the data infrastructures or develop new public data infrastructures.

In this session, discussions on the floor were actively held, and it was a good opportunity for Japanese researchers to learn more about the significance of Convention Theory.

Two EC related lectures in the “Social Research Colloquium”

“Kolloquium Sozialforschung” at the University of Lucerne, Switzerland (Autumn 2019)

Guy Schwegler (University of Lucerne)

During the autumn semester 2019, the bi-weekly colloquium at the University of Lucerne took place, which was organized by Rainer Diaz-Bone and Kenneth Horvath. The format features speakers from both academia as well as private and public research institutions to deal with the methodological challenges of social science in a broad way. The various presentations given this past autumn dealt with subjects such as bibliometric reviews (Isabel Steinhardt, University of Kassel), large data sets and maps (Timo Ohnmacht, Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts), or the question of representativeness in surveys (Stephanie Steinmetz, University of Lausanne). Furthermore, two researchers were also part of this semester’s program that relied heavily on convention theory (EC). For the very first presentation of the colloquium, Valeska Cappel (University of Lucerne) presented her PHD project’s perspective on the think-aloud-method. And for the very last one of the semester, Simon Schrör (Weizenbaum Institute Berlin) focused on the furniture industry. For his newly started PHD, he examines the role of conventions in the digital transformation of this industry.

These two latter presentations and their subsequent discussions will be summarized in this blog post.

Valeska Cappel:
“Die Think-Aloud-Methode: lautes Denken zur Erfassung impliziter kognitiver Wissensvorgänge” [Using the Think-Aloud Method to Grasp Implicit Cognitive Knowledge-Processes]

Valeska Cappel

In her PHD project, Valeska Cappel focuses on the digital classifications of health within software applications on smartphones (i.e. apps). She has been presenting her project in numerous forums already (see here for some reports on her presentation on this very blog). For her most recent presentation on the subject, she focused on a very specific part of her empirical work, namely the possible application of the think-aloud-method.

As Cappel put it, her project has three aims when it comes to health classifications in apps. First, there is a (more historical and general) side to the establishment of these digital classifications that she looks into. Here, she hopes to identify the equivalences and form-investments present. Second, she also will look at tensions, conflicts and non-intended consequences that result from the implementations of the classifications within and through the helath apps. Third, Cappel wants to examine closely the actual handling of the apps within specific situations, where users interact with the objects, the software and therefore the classifications. Although her three goals co-constitute each other and are somehow inseparable, she approaches each part with a different methodological emphasis. For her third aim—the handling of the apps within situations—Cappel sees the think-aloud-method fit to capture data about the cognitive processes the users bring forward in interaction with the apps.

After these introductory remarks, Cappel went on to introduce the method and different approaches to it. These approaches of the think-aloud-technique range from an “introspective” and immediate verbalization of the participants during process over to “retro-“ or post-process verbalizations, that can happen either just after a respective action or in a delayed manner. For Cappel, all of these approaches to the method promise ways to approach the peculiarities of people dealing with classifications in situations. The more immediate verbalizations, for example, seem to relate better to the ideas present in the regimes of engagement concept while the delayed approach seems more fit for justifications. The main challenge of the method, however, lies in the fact that its basic assumption lead to a psychological explanation of the underlying processes all too fast. A path to use the method in the context of EC concepts, in relation to the ideas of technologies of the self by Foucault, or with the symbolic interactionism in mind, as Cappel intends to, does not present itself easily.

The challenge was also at the heart of the discussion that followed the presentation. Here, however, participants stressed that a similar tension as in the method also lies in Cappel’s very subject, i.e. the knowledge category “health”. The idea of “cognition” with and through the category as a psychological process is connected to the sociological issue of the “handling” of the category. Various approaches to this tension then were discussed. One proposed solution was the idea to re-focus the method on the situation as only accessed by the talking participant (instead of focusing on the thinking participant). Another proposal was to apply the method in sessions with couples (and therefore two participants) or to create some sort of “crisis” experiments, and not just observe daily routines.

Simon Schrör:
“Digital-basierte Konventionen und Designmöbel. Transformation einer Industrie” [Digital based conventions and Design Furniture. Transformations of an Industry]

Simon Schrör

Simon Schrör only recently started with his PhD project that focuses on the digital transformation of the furniture industry and its related implications for modes of productions, justifications, and the likes. In Lucerne, he began his presentation with a little introduction of the Weizenbaum Institute, a joint venture project of Berlin’s universities that focuses on the digital transformation of the society, where Schrör is engaged as researcher. As part of one of the twenty research groups of the interdisciplinary institution, he especially focuses on the new governance forms and norms that result from digitalization.

After this introduction of the institute and its focus, Schrör went on to present design furniture and the changes that present themselves with the digitalization of this field. For him, the furniture objects resemble an interesting case for the digital changes. Consequences in legal, technical, as well as social norms and regulation here find their way into a specific and material object—the ways to coordinate in the digital realm are present in the furniture. Taking a step back further, Schrör then went on to present the wider societal change since 70ties as described by Andreas Reckwitz with the term late-modernity (“Spätmoderne”, see Reckwitz 2017/2020) again as mirrored in the design furniture field. Here, the former idea of design as a process inherent to mass production has been flipped on its head and the changes resulted in a questionable new role of the once standardized furniture. Now, design furniture are presented as luxury objects and a form of singularity. At the same time, however, they are being copied and cheaply manufactured by a mass market with instant and global availability.

To grasp these changes in a more systematic way, Schrör presented the concepts of the four commodity structures respectively forms of valorization that Boltanski and Esquerre introduced in Enrichment (“les formes de mise en valeur”, 2017/2020). With these four characteristics alongside the quality conventions, he went on to describe the differentiated practices to produce furniture present in the industry today. According to Schrör, furniture producers can be grouped with regard to three licensing regimes, each with respective (but non-exclusive) characteristics of goods and valorization. First, a license-based furniture production focuses on luxurious “design” furniture. Here, especially the collection form (“forme collection”) is present while a justification follows the convention of inspiration. Although emblematic of the current societal situation (singularities, enrichment), the licensed-based regime is especially challenged by processes of digitalization—and by the second type of furniture manufacturers. In this second regime type, companies have become specialized in an unlicensed production of the former regime’s products, e.g. “copying” the design products. Here, the digitalization enabled the companies to access the global distribution chains of Amazon and the likes that guarantee a certain amount of safety due to globalization (and lack of regulation). And, of course, this resulted into more and more difficulties for the license-based companies to track down their “copy-cat” counterparts. The companies under the unlicensed regime operate with the standard as well as the trend form (“forme standard/tendance”) for their goods, and justify their actions with the grammar of the civic regime. The second regime type seems to be profiting from the changes made possible through digitalization in an unapologetic manner. The third way of producing furniture, on the other hand, resemble a genuine “post-digital solution”. This regime is based on the Open Source idea, where licenses are available publicly on various online channels. These licenses then are forwarded to local producers (again, via specific channels or “platforms”). Here again the standard form becomes present, with promises to an asset form (“forme actif”), while a domestic justification organizes the production.

For Schrör, the approach of value setting in Enrichment as well as the EC in general enables the researcher to look at processes like the ones happening in digitalization from a more structural viewpoint while at the same time never losing sight of actual practices—and their possible contradictory effects (see also Boltanski and Esquerre 2017:495ff). As a first empirical idea, Schrör presented a possible chain of production that he’d like to follow and where the respective conventions should be identified. According to Schrör, an artefact analysis becomes central in following this chain of production.

During the discussion that followed his presentation, the participants of this last colloquium of the semester talked about three distinctive issues. First, the idea of following the design furniture as artefacts was discussed. Schrör presented the fabrication process in an ideal type model. Participants then pointed out that the situations of “production”—and their respective qualities and justification—shouldn’t be pre-fixed, but rather emerge in empirical work. What the actual “furniture” as an artefact is then should be questioned within various situations. The second subject discussed was the issue of digitalization. In a similar manner as with the first issue of the production process and its “artefacts,” participants pointed out that digitalization as a process also need to be specified empirically: in what function and form does the digital manifest itself, and what are the problems actors try to solve with these novelties? As a third discussion point, some weaknesses of convention theory were addressed. On the one hand, the commodity structures introduced by Boltanski and Esquerre seems to be focusing primarily on actual goods and their consumptions. Non-productive industries, the service sector and their respective “goods,” however, are not yet easily placed within the framework. On the other hand, it was pointed out, that the exact identification of a certain convention or justification in a systematic way has never been laid out—and remains a challenge both in Schrör’s project as well as in EC research in general.


Boltanski, Luc and Arnaud Esquerre (2017) Enrichissement. Une critique de la marchandise. Paris: Gallimard.
Boltanski, Luc and Arnaud Esquerre (2020, forthcoming) Enrichment. A Critique of Commodities. Cambridge, UK; Medford, MA: Polity.
Reckwitz, Andreas (2017) Die Gesellschaft Der Singularitäten: Zum Strukturwandel Der Moderne. Berlin: Suhrkamp.
Reckwitz, Andreas (2020, forthcoming) Society of Singularities. Cambridge, UK; Medford, MA: Polity.

Capital Communautaire et Travail des Joueurs dans l’Industrie du Jeu Vidéo. [Communitarian capital: Organizing players’ labor in the video game industry].

Mathieu Cocq (2019)

PhD thesis


“La thèse porte sur le travail des joueurs dans l’industrie du jeu vidéo. S’appuyant sur des études de cas et un matériau empirique varié (enquêtes de terrain, entretiens, observation participante et non-participante, analyse de vidéo, données fournies par des entreprises du secteur), la thèse développe l’idée selon laquelle la rentabilité du secteur est liée à une forme particulière de capital intangible : le capital communautaire. La thèse décrit la manière dont le secteur est passé d’une industrie de produit à une industrie de service, qui met la relation entretenue entre l’entreprise et les joueurs et entre les joueurs eux-mêmes au coeur des stratégies de profit des firmes. La notion de communauté, omniprésente dans l’ensemble de l’enquête, est largement discutée. En nous appuyant sur les travaux autour du digital labor, et le retour de la question de l’exploitation par l’économie des conventions, l’hypothèse est formulée d’une mise au travail des joueurs. Puisque les différentes interactions des joueurs sont centrales dans la profitabilité des firmes, il nous semble qu’il faut intégrer ces actes comme faisant partie du processus de production de valeur. Nous observons ensuite à partir d’un travail de terrain de long-cours ces dispositifs de mise au travail au sein d’une entreprise leader du secteur. Enfin, à travers l’analyse du streaming sur la plateforme Twitch, nous montrons comment certains joueurs peuvent se professionnaliser et obtenir un revenu (parfois élevé), en gérant eux-aussi leur propre « communauté ». Le cadre d’analyse que nous proposons dépasse le seul cas du jeu vidéo, et nous espérons qu’il sera heuristique pour rendre compte des mutations que le numérique engendre, tant du côté du travail que du capital.”


“This thesis frames players’ activities in the gaming industry as labor. Based on various qualitative date (field studies, observation, case studies, video analysis, sectoral data), the thesis proposes that firms profitability in the gaming industry is based on the constitution and exploitation of a specific form of intangible capital coined as communitarian capital. The shift from a product to a service industry is described, putting the relationship between the firm and its users and between users themselves at the forefront of firms profit. The concept of community is heavily discussed. Using a framework based on the digital labor theory as well as economics of conventions, the hypothesis of players’ labor is formulated. Because players’ interactions is so crucial to understanding contemporary business models in the gaming industry, the thesis integrates theses interactions as part of the value production process. The devices used by firms to extract value from players are thoroughly investigated during a long-term field study in a leading French firm of the sector. The thesis concludes by analyzing the case of the Twitch platform, on which some players professionalize and gain revenues by constituting and managing their own communities. The communitarian capital framework this thesis proposes can be applied beyond the case of the gaming industry, and aims at understanding mutations linked to the digital economy, both concerning labor and capital.”

Christian Bessy, Directeur de Recherche, ENS Paris Saclay

Presented 02 December 2019.

Composition du Jury :
M. Antonio Casilli, Maître de Conférences HDR, Telecom Paris, Institut Polytechnique de Paris
Mme. Florence Jany-Catrice, Professeure, Université de Lille
Thierry Rayna, Professeur, Ecole Polytechnique
Mme. Maud Simonet, Directrice de Recherche, Université Paris Nanterre
Thomas Vendryes, Maître de Conférences, ENS Paris Saclay

Download: Cocq thesis 2019

Fehlermeldungen und Elitenversagen am Beispiel des Öffentlichen Verkehrs.

[Error messages and elite failures using the example of public transport.]

In: Diagonal no 40, pp. 221-243

Jörg Potthast


“Dem Aufruf, Kritik als eine gewöhnliche Praxisform zu betrachten (Boltanski/Thévenot 2007), scheint diese Annahme sogar diametral entgegengesetzt. Wenn die Soziologie der Kritik postuliert, dass alle Mitglieder einer Gesellschaft über kritische Kompetenzen verfügen (Boltanski/Thévenot 2007), dann kündigt die Frage nach einer elitären kritischen Praxis Widerspruch an. Wird Kritik in Anlehnung an dieses Forschungsprogramm als ein sozialer Prozess verstanden, ist dieser Widerspruch allerdings weniger schroff. Ob und wie Fehlermeldungen greifen und darüber eine kritische Dynamik in Gang setzen, gilt es dann, mit den Mitteln einer pragmatischen Soziologie, zum Gegenstand situierter Analysen zu machen. Entgegen ihrer gewohnten Ausrichtung, aber in Anlehnung an ihren pragmatischen Zugang lautet der Auftrag für die Soziologie der Kritik also, im Fall von Infrastrukturen, das Elitäre (und nicht das Gewöhnliche) in kritischen Operationen zu entdecken und zu bedenken. Im Bemühen, eine prozessuale Perspektive auf Kritik zu etablieren, hat sich die Soziologie der Kritik wiederholt auf Hirschman berufen (Boltanski et al. 1984, S. 6; Boltanski/Chiapello 2004, S. 15, 42) und ihn zwischenzeitlich auch zu ihrem wichtigsten Vorläufer erkoren (Boltanski/Chiapello 2004). Die bei Hirschman angelegte Frage nach einer elitären Praxis der Kritik hat das besagte Forschungsprogramm dagegen nicht gestellt. Gerade weil ökonomische Expertise mitsamt ihren Empfehlungen für Exit seit den frühen Arbeiten Hirschmans weiter an Durchschlagskraft gewonnen haben (Orléan 2015), ist es jedoch höchste Zeit, dass sich Voice – gegebenenfalls auch nach elitäremMuster – neu erfindet, erprobt und beweist.Was ist Infrastrukturkritik? In welchem Sinn dürfen und müssen Fehlermeldungen, die auf Missstände im ÖV aufmerksam machen, elitär sein?” (p. 223)


« This assumption even seems diametrically opposed to the call to regard critique as an ordinary form of practice (Boltanski/Thévenot 2007). If the sociology of critique postulates that all members of a society have critical competences (Boltanski/Thévenot 2007), then the question of an elitist critical practice announces contradiction. However, if criticism is understood as a social process in accordance with this research program, this contradiction is less harsh. Whether and how error messages take effect and set a critical dynamic in motion is then a question of using the means of a pragmatic sociology to make them the subject of situated analyses. Contrary to its usual orientation, but on the basis of its pragmatic approach, the mission of the sociology of critique is thus, in the case of infrastructures, to discover and consider the elitist (and not the ordinary) in critical operations. In an effort to establish a processual perspective on critique, the sociology of critique has repeatedly referred to Hirschman (Boltanski et al. 1984, p. 6; Boltanski/Chiapello 2004, p. 15, 42) and, in the meantime, also chosen as its most important precursor (Boltanski/Chiapello 2004). Hirschman’s question about an elitist practice of criticism, on the other hand, was not posed by the research programme in question. Precisely because economic expertise and its recommendations for exit have gained further momentum since Hirschman’s early works (Orléan 2015), it is high time, however, for Voice to reinvent itself, test itself, and prove itself – possibly according to an elitist pattern. What is infrastructure criticism? In what sense may and must error messages that draw attention to shortcomings in public transport be elitist? » (p. 223)


The subjective world of home care workers in dementia: an “order of worth” analysis

Justine Schneider, Kristian Pollock, Samantha Wilkinson, Lucy Perry-Young, Cheryl Travers, and Nicola Turner (2019)

In: Home Health Care Services Quarterly 38(2), pp. 96-109


Publication Cover


« The perspective of domiciliary workers is needed to recruit a high-quality workforce and meet growing demand. An English ethnographic study yielded extensive insights. To structure analysis of the study data, we apply a method developed by political theorists Boltanski and Thévenot that identifies key variables in different values systems. This “orders of worth” framework is used to map out the distinctive features of the subjective world of home carers. The results can be drawn on to formulate recruitment and retention policies, to design reward strategies or to ensure that training and education opportunities engage effectively with the workforce. »

Qualidade lupulada. O significado de artisanal na rede cervejeira gaúcha. [Hopped quality. The meaning of artisanal in the brewery network gaucho]

Bruna Gewehr (2019)

PhD thesis. Porto Alegre: Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul.



“In the last ten years, the number of breweries registered under the Brazilian Ministry of Agriculture has multiplied more than eight times. This phenomenon is a reflection of a brewing boom that has taken hold of the whole the country, which has intensified since 2010. It has awakened a handcrafted brewing movement, encouraging enterprises from the home production of the drink, to courses, fairs and specialized confraternities revolving around beer. Besides that, it has provided a rediscovery of the malt liquor through the so-called beer culture. This scenario is a cut within a broad panorama in contemporary food trends that suffers the effects of a quality turn, which consists in a growing interest for foods that satisfy not only nutritional aspects, but also a set of sociocultural attributes. From this shift, many alternative initiatives have been observed as a deviation from the standard agri-food system, with practices such as local consumption and production, and fair trade being evident characteristics. However, although the movement provides legitimacy for the term hand crafted, there is no regulation for handcrafted products in Brazil as a general rule. In this sense, this research had the objective of analyzing the brewery network in the capital of the state of Rio Grande do Sul, and the municipalities that make up the Craft Brewery Route in the State of Rio Grande do Sul, seeking to understand the meaning of handcrafted quality for the players in the productive sphere. The qualitative methodology of this research it divides in two parts. The first one is composed of content analysis of specialized media and mapping of the handcrafted brewery network of Rio Grande do Sul using the Actor Network Theory. The second methodology consists of technical visits and semi-structured scripted interviews. Eleven interviews in total were conducted in the city of Porto Alegre and Nova Petrópolis. The analyzes were performed through Nvivo software. The research data indicated that there are practices that undergo a « handcraft ethic » inside the craft brewery network in Rio Grande do Sul. In the light of the alternative food networks approach, these practices lead to trusted relationships and consumption of local produce, even though the ingredients used by these craft breweries Sul are mostly imported. The process as a whole is differentiated when compared to a mass brewery, as it ends up depending more on the human factor during manufacturing. Also, receipts and product selection are more varied than in mass production industries. Despite this, the equipment is not central in the definition of artisanal quality, it is a social construction among the actors of the network. There was no consensus regarding the scale of production, but it was observed that in large-scale productions it is difficult to maintain the collaborative practices of the network. Therefore, talking about craft brewing quality means a set of practices developed by artisanal breweries that converge on brewing know-how, people with brewer’s capital and alternative practices in brewing. In other words, it is the entirety between process, people and place.

Keywords: Beer, Craft, Quality, Network.



In this chapter, we intend to discuss in more depth the construction of quality in the gaucho artisanal brewery network. It is intended to base these reflections on the theory of conventions, mobilizing concepts that relate to the themes and approaches seen until then. In view of this, it is intended to present the artisan production process, from artifacts to knowing how to do. Afterwards, we discuss the relationship and differences between the mainstream production process – mass production – and the artisanal process, as well as the discourses linked to both, drawing a parallel between them. Based on this scenario, it is also sought to discuss the intersection between the local and the artisanal, as well as the relationships that are formed in this intercrossing, mainly through the so-called brewery culture. Finally, it is intended to discuss the social framework that values the artisanal quality built in the artisanal brewery network.


The social construction of quality found in convention theory arose from innovative contributions to the debate around the modes of coordination in markets involving rules, objects and interactions between people (EYMARD-DUVERNAY, 2002). The main authors Luc Boltanski, Laurent Thévenot, François Eymard-Duvernay, among others, organized from the publication of the special issue of Revue Économique (1989), in France, launched the conventionalist program: économie des conventions, or economics of conventions (EC). The innovative aspect of the theory was to address quality as an important element in market analysis, which, according to the EC, is a value socially shared and defined by virtue of different notions of « justice » and « common good ». Therefore, quality is related to products as well as justice for humans (NIEDERLE, 2011). Conventionalist criticism of the classical economy is based on the premise that it considers goods as homogeneous. Whereas, for the economy of the conventions, beyond the heterogeneity of goods, there is also asymmetry in the distribution of information about them. This asymmetry contributes both to the heterogeneity of goods and to the construction of quality. In addition, the conventional authors pay attention to the fact that in the process of qualification of products, each actor involved perceives the information received differently. That is, each person, or each network, receives information in a different way, as well as perceives it, also, in a different way. Thus, each network builds its own definition of quality based on this heterogeneous flow of information and interpretations, which makes the purchasing decision making process somewhat complex, as it consists of a plurality of mechanisms of choice (NIEDERLE, 2013, 2011). This understanding is strongly in contrast to the economic neoclassical argument of self-sufficiency of the good. In fact, in this approach, the qualification of products is precisely the result of the evaluative set of process, place and people or organizations that subscribe it what goes against the orthodox belief that quality is clearly measured by price – the market mechanism that incorporates all the necessary information (NIEDERLE, 2013; WILKINSON, 1999). Thus, according to the CE, to understand the qualification process, attention should be paid to the internal resources of a complex institutional arrangement recognizing the reflexive capacity of the actors, who are constantly evaluating the structures and elements and creating new mechanisms to modify them. In this perspective, as an « agreement » between the actors on a value framework about a good is built, there is a unified form of calculation, i.e., there is the construction of quality, and an interpretative formula to measure it, and this, in turn, would imply dispensing with coding mechanisms such as seals and certificates (NIEDERLE, 2011).” (pp. 91-92)


PhD jury

Profa. Dra. Tainá Bacellar Zaneti – Orientadora

Profa. Dra. Fabiana Thomé da Cruz

Profa. Dra. Janaína Deane de Abreu Sá Diniz

Dra. Mariana Oliveira Ramos

Place and date of defense: Porto Alegre, 26 de abril de 2019.


From economics to social sciences: conventions and pragmatism are inevitable

Interview with Elisabeth Chatel

Andrea Szukala (University of Muenster)

Elisabeth Chatel

Elisabeth Chatel is an associated researcher at IDHES, Institutions et Dynamiques historiques de l’Economie et des sociétés, at the École Normale Supérieure de Paris-Saclay (ENS). She led a « Groupe d’études en didactique des Sciences économiques et sociales » at the Institut National de Recherche pédagogique from 1988 to 2000. In 1996 she defended her doctoral thesis at Paris X University, prepared under the supervision of Robert Salais and published in 2001 under the title « Comment évaluer l’Education ? », Lausanne, Delachaux et Niestlé. In 2005 she defended her habilitation (postdoctoral) qualification at University Paris 8 under the supervision of Elisabeth Bautier.  She published in various fields:  heterodox economics, didactics and history of education, such as:
– Zwischen Expertenökonomie und Politischer Ökonomie: der Wirtschaftsunterricht an der französischen Gymnasien auf dem Prüfstand. In: Imdorf, C./Leemann, J. R./Gonon, P. (eds.). Bildung und Konventionen. Die „Economie des conventions“ in der Bildungsforschung. Wiesbaden: Springer VS, 2019, p. 231-254.
– Pour une histoire et une sociologie de l’enseignement de l’économie,   L’enseignement de l’économie : conflits, débats, controverses », Numéro spécial Education et sociétés, 35/2015/1, p.5-21.
 – Du professorat commercial au professorat économique à l’ENSET de 1948 à 1974 », in Lebot F./Albe V./Bodé G./Brucy G./Chatel E., ENS de Cachan, le siècle d’une grande école des sciences et techniques, PUR, 2013, p. 179-195.
– with Dorothée Rivaud-Danset, « L’économie de conventions : une lecture critique à partir de la philosophie de John Dewey », 2006, Revue de philosophie économique, Recherches et débats en économie, philosophie et sciences sociales, n°13, 2006/1, p. 49-75.
– with Robert Salais and Thierry Kirat, Les dispositifs de l’action publique : institutions, économie et politique, L’Harmattan, 2005.
– L’action éducative et la logique de la situation ; fondements théoriques d’une approche pragmatique des faits d’enseignement. Revue française de pédagogie, N°141, Octobre-novembre-décembre 2002, p. 37-46.

Szukala: Could you tell us about your first contact with the approach of economics of convention/sociology of conventions? What was the decisive intellectual « click » for your conceptual thinking?

Chatel: The contact with the approach of economics of convention (EC) has been decisive in my intellectual trajectory. To put it briefly, it has given me hope for the future of an economic thinking, to which I can either contribute or at least adhere. But, in the end, this thought, which I will describe as pluralist and pragmatist, has above all substantiated my works in the social sciences and not economics.
But before talking about sociology of conventions and pragmatism, I would like to clarify the matters in the economics of convention that have given perspective to this hope that a  renewal of political economy would be possible. When I encountered this trend, or rather this emerging economic thinking in the early 1990s, it was promoted by a group of intellectuals, some of whom came from disciplines like mathematics and physics from French engineering colleges before undertaking economic studies. Several had worked at INSEE (the French national institute for statistics and economic research) and they approached economics from a critical point of view.
Their theorization was not complete. Their criticism seemed particularly interesting because it focused on the foundations of the dominant economic theory, especially on the principle of rationality. They proposed, in a non-dogmatic way, to make their personal questions bear fruit by trying to adopt a less unrealistic approach than is the standard approach to economic action. As a result, they reintroduced a social dimension into the consideration of economic behaviors and contextualized them. They wanted to consider the uncertainty constantly present in economic action, an uncertainty which is not always reducible to probabilities, nor always readable through computational processes.
The word « convention » served to focus a core of shared conceptualizations of their critical concerns. Some colleagues elaborated a fine understanding of the production of statistics and classifications from a historical perspective. The work of Alain Desrosières allowed us to show the « conventions » in the classifications necessary for quantification and to allow a critical look at how the measurement of social facts contributes to « building » reality. Others, such as Olivier Favereau, François Eymard-Duvernay and Robert Salais, were more concerned with the diverse forms of organization of work, enterprise, production, and therefore products, beyond the horizon, to which economy is often reduced, the various modes of market regulation.
In this works, the conventions concerned both the modes of measurement and the forms of conduct of the productive activity, from the beginning to the end of its processes. The question of value and prices was put back on the agenda by questioning the plurality of « worlds of production », the forms of work and the quality of products. The question of value, as it is approached in economic theory, has also been renewed thanks to the conventionalist approach, notably the work of André Orléan (2011). Afterwards, new generations of researchers have taken up the torch of the plurality of « conventions » (of quality, of work, etc.) and are joining other heterodox currents as well as the new economic sociology.

Szukala: How would you describe the role of EC in current sociology of education and/or curriculum studies?

Chatel: The approach of economics of convention is about economic facts. Education, therefore, is not directly in its field of concern, especially if one considers education without reducing it to the acquisition of productive skills, but, more broadly, as the transmission of values and culture from one generation to another. However, especially since the work of Gary Becker in the early 1960s, economists have expanded their field by considering education and training as a « human capital », as an investment deemed potentially profitable. Theories of economic growth, especially those of « endogenous growth », reflect this conceptualization focused on the acquisition of productive skills. In the field of the economics of education this allowed to ask new questions about the effectiveness of education. In « How to evaluate education? » (Chatel 2001) I tried to show the limits of how these theories conceive education and attempt to measure its effectiveness.
I want to pick up the thread that led me from economics of convention to a pragmatic sociology of the curriculum. Seeking to build on the economics of convention to elaborate a critique of the economic measure in education (in « How to evaluate education?”), I borrowed from the work of Robert Salais (Storper and Salais 1997) the concept of « worlds of production » to think about the specificity of the « production of education ». In this analysis, I imagined a modelling of the educational activity, in particular the forms that are carried out in school classes as interactions between teachers and pupils in confrontation with cultural artefacts. This allowed me to report on a very rich empirical material about what is happening in high school classes, collected at the NPRI in the 1990s. I have constructed different « modes of coordination » of educational action as it takes place in high school classes in France. Using these « models » I have been able to show a certain variety of modes of what is actually taught on the same item of a school program (in economics). The teachings differ according to the « worlds of education » constructed by distinguishing different ways of conceiving the knowledge of the discipline in relation to classroom knowledge. It depends on intellectual orientations and the level of the teacher’s mastery of the knowledge and the ways in which teachers conceive students’ ability to cope with the uncertainty in the classroom (students’ characteristics and the professional experience of the teachers are involved here). I then wanted to question the ambition to « measure », because the « product of education » is neither homogeneous nor linear.
Accepting the intrinsic diversity of ways to « produce education » leads us to argue for evaluative bodies that motivate education professionals to frequently debate their ways of appreciating student outcomes, rather than pretending to use a cardinal measure that erases different conceptions of educational value and thus bypasses the necessary debates about what is being evaluated.The aim was to restore the imperative of evaluating education appreciating its intrinsic value(s) rather than seeing it as a cardinal measure of skills.
In France, other researchers had already substantiated their work in the sociology of education by the conventionalist approach. Jean-Louis Derouet, with his team at the National Institute for Pedagogical Research NPRI (Derouet 2019), draws on the research of Boltanski and Thévenot’s « On justification. Economies of worth » (2006) to show how justice issues at school can jointly raise several orders of justice (see the interview with Derouet This way of analysing innate conflicts and contradictions of schools allows to get a better picture of what happens there by rendering a greater complexity. This facilitates an approximate description of what school actors do to keep an order alive, and under which circumstances they adjust to new principles in periods of uncertainty. To understand the uncertainties after the disenchantment with the egalitarian and meritocratic ideals that accompanied the development of what has been called « school massification » in France, Derouet (1992) wanted to expand the conceptual framework about justice at school considering « plural legitimate principles » of justice. This approach, inspired by a political philosophy of the school, has brought valuable elements to the understanding of the evolutions in the modes of decentralized management of schools. It allows Derouet (2019) to affirm that « the sociology of conventions is the science of the science of the actors ».

Szukala: I know that you are currently reflecting about the critique of Boltanski. What fascinates you and how would you think his critique may contribute to the development of economic and sociological theory?

Chatel: Well, let’s return to the curriculum issues that have been the subject of my recent work. The question of curriculum is an important domain of the sociology of education. To be fair, it is necessary that the knowledge that is taught in schools, and which, therefore, serves to educate the youth, can be considered legitimate. But how the contours of this knowledge are determined and how its legitimacies are elaborated, is a core question asked by the sociology of the curriculum. This question has been mine in recent years.
I approached it at the crossroads of didactics, curriculum sociology and the history of school subjects. The sociology of the curriculum is the discipline encompassing the question of the social determination of the curriculum. So, it is a big question implying numerous political issues. But, at the same time, the didactics’ perspective seemed very necessary to me, because the essential underlying mechanisms of the knowledge taught in class is based on didactics. It is embedded in the singular relationship between a class and a teacher providing knowledge to be transmitted in a specific field. But didactics tend to define more precisely how the knowledge that is taught and learned is determined, also with the intention of sustainably improving the teaching processes and teacher training. I benefitted from a collaboration with a group of SES teachers [sciences économiques et sociales] at the National Institute for Pedagogical Research, with whom we conducted didactic research between 1988 and 2000. On this occasion, I studied the school curriculum of SES in France: its formation, its evolution. I did it at the level of the « formal » curriculum, e.g. regarding the texts prescribing the teaching, but also at the level of the real curriculum, which supposes to be interested in the actors, the teachers and the pupils and their daily exchanges. We conducted conversational analyses as well as educational situation analyses (Chatel 1998, 2002).
At the same time, I analysed the controversial public debates about the content of economic education in French high schools referring to the interactionist sociology of the curriculum (and by analogy with other cases). However, I was not satisfied with the standard explanation that social groups only defend their proper interests, which is especially represented in the work of Cooper (1997). These interpretations are not at all interested in the didactics and in the pedagogical content of the teaching profession. They do not sufficiently take into consideration the professional ethics’ dimension that permeates teachers’ positions on their teaching. As for the critical works of structuralist and Marxist inspiration, such as Basil Bernstein’s, they did not allow me to work at the research level that I had adopted: the classroom. In fact, I was working on the teaching of one discipline and not on the organisation of a secondary curriculum. Moreover, I was concerned with the transformations of knowledge that actually occur in the classroom because of the purpose of teaching.
In Champy’s sociology of professions I found some elements that allowed me to better assert the ethical dimension present in the teaching work and to see teaching as a profession « with sensible practices » because of the constant uncertainty a teacher confronts in practice (Champy 2009). Nevertheless, as regards the teaching of the economy, a subject with a very important political content, I wanted to better understand what was being played out at the didactic and at the curricular level because of the specific characteristics of economic and social knowledge as well as the political content and the role in the public debate. I had to combine a macro-social approach with this very local work of description and understanding of classroom interactions. The history of the vicissitudes, the controversies relating to the outlines of the economic education of high schools in France also pushed me to it. The theoretical framework constructed by Luc Boltanski has offered me insights, because it suggests articulating the levels of micro analysis and the macro-social level. So I used this approach to interpret both the emergence of conventions and/or values because of the teaching experience in the classroom; and secondly the controversies at the level of curriculum that require disputes, public debates, justifications relating to the contours of school curricula to methods of teaching and evaluation in economics. These recurrent controversies showed that professors did not hesitate to oppose program changes that would put them at odds with their conception of the content that conveys civic, critical and social emancipation (Chatel 2019).
In his 2011 book, Luc Boltanski explains how he sees the role of critique in the evolution of institutions. Contrary to the critical sociology built around Pierre Bourdieu, he does not want to consider that the phenomena of domination would transform actors into highly submissive agents, dominated by the symbolic violence that is done to them. He sees them capable of confronting problematic situations which are open to a certain plurality of interpretations, forged by the multiple affiliations of the actors. Boltanski maintains that there is no alignment of beliefs on an axis that would be that of the dominant ideology. On the contrary, he thinks that the actors still have a possible grip on reality; they act in the event of disputes based on their knowledge of the situation and their sense of justice. They can try to acknowledge a new protest in the public space by joining a collective, denounce what seems to them inaccurate or unfair and sometimes they succeed in bringing out new “worths”. I perceive a social criticism that can be rooted in everyone’s social experience, in both a pragmatic and a critical sense.

Szukala: How do you feel about left outs and left overs of EC and what do you think will be the most promising future developments in EC-research?

Chatel: To close my remarks, I wish to insist on what appears to me as the specific and valuable contribution of the conventionalist approach, whether in economics or sociology. There was a time when the term « convention » did not seem relevant to me to define the specific contribution of this school of thinking. Above all, I thought that the economics of conventions was a method of research focused on the uncertainty of economic action, which was especially considering the depth of the courses of action, their « pragmatic » dimension (Chatel and Danset 2006).
Today, my work does not belong to the field of economic discipline but concerns education in the broad domain of social sciences. The notion “convention” seems to me to bear precisely the pragmatic concern, that of the present moment of an action. Now it is important to maintain in our research the perspective on the present moment of action in that it is partly drawn in the past and that it directs the future. The present of the action allows us to reintroduce in our analyses the potential inventiveness of the courses of action. The conventionalist analysis proposes tools to identify the enigma of the courses of actions with several, « conventions » or « conventional supports of the action » resulting from past actions, adjust, adapt, or fail to do so in the actual courses of events because an action always conveys a future expectation and therefore a potential unknown. Equally, trying to understand the emergence of new practices, new conventions, new legitimacy, new values, requires the study of the « present ». The conventional supports of the action analysed by Dodier (1993, 2019) are of all kinds: internal as dispositions inscribed in people, external as texts, objects, rules, devices that the past has deposited outside the actors; they mobilize them or not according to the situations, the aims, the future expectations etc. The sociology of conventions is not only a way of introducing the plurality of principles of coordination of action or justification by external support already there, it is also a way of thinking about institutional change and developments in articulating them with the present moment of action.
Consequently, this school offers a methodology, which tries to articulate the analyses at different levels of the social. Certainly, the analysed actions follow singular people and not collectives, but considering the pragmatic constraints of their action, the analyses comprise rules, norms, values, socio-technical objects, devices, classifications, which support conventional actions that are, as we have seen, deposits of earlier acts. The question of aggregation becomes a question to be studied for itself and not only a priori position of the analyst.


Boltanski, L. (2011): On critique. A sociology of emancipation. London: Polity Press.

Boltanski, L./Thevenot, L. (2006): On justification. Economies of worth. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Chatel, E./Richet, A. (1995): Dialogues en classe et savoirs enseignés. Spirale 16, pp. 203-222.

Chatel, E. (2002): L’action éducative et la logique de la situation. Revue française de pédagogie 141, pp. 37-46.

Chatel, E. (2001): Comment évaluer l’éducation. Neuchâtel: Delachaux et Niestlé.

Chatel, E./Danset, D. (2006): L’Economie des conventions: une lecture critique à partir de la philosophie de John Dewey. Revue de philosophie économique, pp. 49-75.

Chatel, E. (2019): Zwischen Expertenökonomie und Politischer Ökonomie: der Wirtschaftsunterricht an den französischen Gymnasien auf dem Prüfstand. In: Imdorf, C./Leemann, R./Gonon, P. (eds.), Bildung und Konventionen. Wiesbaden: Springer VS, pp. 231-254.

Champy, F. (2009): Sociologie des professions. Paris: PUF.

Cooper, B. (1997): Comment expliquer les transformations des matières scolaires? In: Forquin, J.-C. (ed.): Les sociologues de l’Education américains et britanniques. Brusseles: De Boeck INRP, p. 66-75.

Derouet, J.-L. (1992): Ecole et justice. Paris: Metailié.

Derouet, J.-L. (2019):  Die Soziologie der Konventionen im Bereich der Bildung. In: Imdorf, C./Leemann, R./Gonon, P. (eds.), Bildung und Konventionen. Wiesbaden: Springer VS, pp. 47-90

Dodier, N. (1992): Les appuis conventionnels de l’action. Eléments de la pragmatique sociologique. Réseaux 11/62, pp. 63-85.

Orléan, A. (2014): The empire of value. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Storper, M./Salais, R. (1997): Worlds of production. The action frameworks of the economy. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Conference in honor of Robert Salais

19-20 September at the Ecole Normale Supérieure Paris-Saclay (Cachan)

Christian Bessy (ENS Paris-Saclay), Claude Didry (Centre Maurice Halbwachs, ENS Paris) & Rainer Diaz-Bone (University of Lucerne)

These conference days (organized by Christian Bessy and Claude Didry), which resembled about thirty contributors, paid tribute to Robert Salais’ work and his activity in organizing and leading interdisciplinary research in the social sciences. Trained as an economist and statistician at INSEE (the National French Institute for Statistics and Economic Analysis), he created and directed the IEPE (Institutions, Employment and Economic Policy) from 1986 to 1996, then the IDHE (Institutions and Historical Dynamics of the Economy) from 1997 to 2007 in collaboration with historians.

These days allowed us to review the intellectual project of this laboratory that has since become IDHES. This project was initially part of the French approach of economics of convention (“économie des conventions”), which emphasizes the plurality of forms of coordination. The analysis of labor activity is at the heart of the surveys in order to take into account the possible production worlds on which an economy can base its development. Hence, the importance of international comparison in Robert Salais’ work and the European research projects he has directed to describe the specificity of national socio-historical trajectories.

Four research themes were selected and were the subject of contributions from members invited to participate:

– Work, employment and unemployment

– The production worlds

– The European question and the capability approach

– Quantification and democracy

The general introduction of these days resituated Robert Salais’ research program in the institutional environment of the time and its progressive mutation. Pierre-Paul Zalio (director of ENS Paris-Saclay) and Michel Margairaz (University of Paris 1) reported Robert Salais’s engagement at the laboratory IDHE and at ENS Paris-Saclay. Rainer Diaz-Bone (University of Lucerne) presented the progress of the internationalization of the conventionalist movement, from the pioneering research by Salais, Thévenot, Favereau, Orléan and Eymard-Duvernay to important development in the “sociology of convention” in Germany today, and an increasing international interest for this research movement.

Pierre-Paul Zalio, Christian Bessy and Claude Didry

Directly after the opening session, Robert Salais was awarded by the director of ENS Paris-Saclay with the medal of the ENS.

Pierre-Paul Zalio and Robert Salais

The next session reported on meetings with researchers from different backgrounds. Moments of discussion with the audience enriched the discussions around the research (organization) issues raised. All participants were unanimous in recognizing the originality of Robert Salais’ intellectual journey, which began with macroeconomic work on the « Philips curve » (link between inflation and unemployment) and continued with the fluctuation of participation rates and unemployment registration, leading him to a reflection on the statistics, with an emphasis on the statistical categories, used in the research, a reflection nourished by the experience of the employment survey and by the participation in the research group (with Alain Desrosières and Laurent Thévenot) around the operations of categorization of the economic and social world which have at the same time a cognitive, pragmatic and political dimension. The writing of The Invention of Unemployment (1986, with Bénédicte Reynaud and Nicolas Bavarez) is from this point of view a model of multidisciplinarity between economics, sociology, history and law.

Bénédicte Reynaud

Bénédicte Reynaud proposed a development of this approach built in the French context, to the history of unemployment in Britain. A double historical perspective was introduced by Jacky Fayolle, with a look at the history of Robert Salais who moved from a strong political commitment in the French left wing Government of the first half of the 1980s, to a historical research program crossing economic history and inquiries on innovation and restructuring in the group IEPE (Institutions, Employment and Economic Policies) Robert Salais founded in 1986. This research program leads to the consideration of a plurality of labour and unemployment conventions, the analysis of which was subsequently further developed in Les mondes de production. This book, co-authored with Michael Storper (1993, English translation published 1997 as Worlds of production), was based on the intersection of an analysis of the flexibility of productive organizations and an analysis of the different ways of producing and building markets. It was from the creation of in-depth company monographs that Robert Salais worked more fully with historians, which at the time was not at all obvious, as Michel Margairaz recalled, with whom they founded IDHE (also with the help of Michel Woronoff, later IDHE was renamed to IDHES: “and Societies”). By working on the modes of constitution and appropriation of productive knowledge, it has also aroused the interest of innovation economists, as Pascal Petit, economists also interested in the economic question of reducing uncertainty in the coordination of activities, pointed out.

It is this question of coordination that will be of wider interest to the economics of the convention of which he is co-founder with François Eymard-Duvernay, Olivier Favereau, Laurent Thévenot, André Orléan, and Jean-Pierre Dupuy (see the special issue of the journal Revue économique in 1989). By placing at the center of the analysis the plurality of coordination regimes, this current will make it possible to articulate an approach based on production methods or « quality conventions » with that based on the analysis of arguments mobilized in disputes, in particular in working environments and in the general upsurges they cause, raising questions of justice and State intervention. As Robert Salais pointed out in the debates, and in the face of a macro-structural posture that would tend to locate the production worlds, each world has a global dimension and presupposes a form of State intervention.

Jean de Munck and Frédéric Marty

Frédéric Marty recalled his doctoral experience with Robert Salais, and showed how Salais’ conventions of the State was a way to open the understanding of economic policies which cannot be reduced to the tension between interventionism and laisser-faire. Beyond the duality of the convention of the exterior State and the convention of the absent State, he suggested proximity between the convention of situated State and German ordoliberalism. Hence, also Salais’ interest in pluralistic theories of justice, such as the one developed by Amartya Sen and based on the notions of capabilities and knowledge bases. Noel Whiteside and Simon Deakin witnessed how their commitment in historical comparisons between Britain and France, on the issue of labor market, unemployment, labor law and economic theories, in the 1990s opened a period of European programs in the 2000s. The mobilization of Amartya Sen’s Capability Approach was seen as a way to deepen Salais’ State conventions, in the analysis of European social policies. Bénédicte Zimmermann developed the idea of “capabilizing organisations” such as public bodies or private firms which could enhance people’s capability.

Various contributions have made it possible to review the definition of statistical indicators in the context of European social policies. Many contributors also highlighted the collective work that Robert Salais has promoted in the various entities he has led, first within the Employment and Employment Division of INSEE (of which he was Director in 1973 and 1980), in particular around the Labor Force Survey, its design and exploitation, then the Research Unit of INSEE, IEPE and IDHE. He had his own way of getting economists, statisticians, sociologists, historians and lawyers to converse. Joëlle Affichard presented the line of work on the European Union’s strategy to implement a governance by numbers (as the open method of coordination) and the critique on labor politics to the harmonization of indicators. Laurent Thévenot’s address (he is also one of the founders of economics of convention) sketched the collective work on quantification at INSEE and the special atmosphere, Robert Salais and his collaborators established at INSEE in the era of the late 1960ies and the 1970ies.

Simon Deakin

As Simon Deakin (Professor of Law at University of Cambridge) mentioned, it has given us a better understanding of how law could constitute a mode of coordination because of the social meanings underlying it and the conventions it codifies and, more generally, to take law as a normative language that can come up against the qualification of certain things.

Jean de Munck (University of Louvain) also underlined the importance of this conception of law, which does not, however, go so far as to allow for further reflection in terms of legal pluralism. But the Salais method is also a way of collectively reading the texts of the great authors without ideological bias and gradually building a common score within the laboratory in order to train the youngest.

The days ended with a round table during which Olivier Favereau, as Robert Salais one of the of the founders of economics of convention, showed how Robert Salais’ work, after having opened convention theory to the conception of the State, can lead to a conception of the company, which has no legal definition, as a practice managed by a convention, following the model of state conventions.

Olivier Favereau

Alongside the Fordist company and the agency relationship chain company, one could consider a « situated company » participating in the co-production of a common between capital and labor, in the same way as the German practice of codetermination which was repressed in the 1980s. To a theory of the co-determined company, Valérie Boussard (university of Paris 10) added the idea of inventing a new accounting system less under the influence of finance and the manipulation of the accounts it generates.

Robert Salais concluded the days by taking up the idea of renewing the theory of the company with a form of co-determination with « nature » or a « parliament of things », by integrating environmental quality at all stages of product production and distribution.

Robert Salais

This continues the need to extend a culture of debate and deliberation in the development of indicators of well-being, as recalled by Florence Jany-Catrice (University of Lille), but in communication with nature.

Marie-Geneviève Michal-Salais and Robert Salais






The two days of the conference gathered companions, colleagues and former students of Robert Salais. All in all, more than 60 participants from France, UK, Germany, Japan, Belgium and Switzerland attended the conference, which covered events and research of more than 40 years initiated by Robert Salais. The conference made aware that the approach of economics of convention managed to reintegrate the analysis of economic institutions, labor participation, social justice, quantification, law and politics.

The conference program was completed by social gathering and a concert (with the band of Clément Salais, the son of Robert Salais, which was playing the bass.)

Download program of the conference

Lokale Konventionen in der Vermittlung von Gegenwartskunst

Hallemann, Svea (2019)

Eine Studie zu Wirtschaftspraktiken unter Berücksichtigung des
eigenlogischen Forschungsansatzes

PhD, Technische Universität Berlin 04. July 2019


„Die Dissertation verknüpft das Konzept der „Eigenlogik der Städte“ mit dem der „Soziologie der Konventionen“, um aufzuzeigen, ob und wie ökonomische Handlungsabläufe über lokale Konventionen sinnhaft organisiert werden. Während das erstgenannte die Stadt als Untersuchungsgegenstand und Wissensobjekt konzeptualisiert, werden bei der Theorie der Economies des conventions (EC) die lokal vorherrschenden Konventionen thematisiert. Dieser theoretische Ansatz verortet sich im Bereich der neuen Wirtschaftssoziologie und thematisiert u. a. die „Notwendigkeit von Konventionen zur Überbrückung von Unsicherheit im wirtschaftlichen Handeln (…)“ […]. Ausgangspunkt ist hier die Annahme, dass Rationalität als interpretativ gerahmt wird und daher auf Märkten das Ziel und die Mittel der Zielerreichung kollektiv, interaktiv und gestaltend ausgehandelt werden. Ähnlich wie die EC legt auch der Ansatz der Eigenlogik der Städte „die Existenz lokaler Wertigkeitsordnungen nahe“ […]. Die Kombination beider Ansätze wurde für die Analyse des DFG-Teilprojekts „Lokale Konventionen des Friseurwesens“ […] erprobt und hat sich als fruchtbar erwiesen. Aus der Kombination der beiden theoretischen Ansätze ergeben sich zwei zentrale Fragestellungen: Werden über lokale Konventionen ökonomische Handlungsabläufe organisiert und lassen sich diese (sofern auffindbar) in lokalspezifische Eigenlogiken zusammenfassen? Sind die gefundenen städtischen Eigenschaften im Galeriewesen kompatibel bzw. vergleichbar mit denen des DFG-Teilprojekts bezüglich des Friseurwesens. »  (p. 3)


„The dissertation combines the concept of the « inherent logic of cities » with that of the « sociology of conventions » in order to show whether and how economic courses of action are organised meaningfully via local conventions. While the former conceptualizes the city as an object of investigation and knowledge, the theory of economics of convention (EC) focuses on the locally prevailing conventions. This theoretical approach is located in the field of the new economic sociology and deals, among other things, with the « necessity of conventions for bridging uncertainty in economic action (…) » […]. The starting point here is the assumption that rationality is framed as interpretative and that the goal and means of achieving it are therefore negotiated collectively, interactively and creatively on markets. Similar to the EC, the approach of the cities’ own logic also suggests « the existence of local value systems » […]. The combination of both approaches was tested for the analysis of the DFG subproject « Local Conventions of Hairdressing » […] and has proved fruitful. The combination of the two theoretical approaches raises two central questions: Are economic courses of action organised via local conventions and can these (if they can be found) be summarised in local specific logics? Are the urban characteristics found in the gallery system compatible or comparable with those found in the DFG subproject regarding hairdressing? (p. 3)

Promotionsausschuss (jury):
Vorsitzende: Prof. Dr. Martina Löw
Gutachterin: Prof. Dr. Nina Baur
Gutachter: Prof. Dr. Elmar Kulke

Download link:

No price without value: Towards a theory of value and price

Dave Elder-Vass (2019)

Cambridge Journal of Economics. Volume 43, Issue 6, pp. 1485–1498

Abstract. « The relationship between value and price, a central focus of classical political economy, has fallen into the shadows of neglect in contemporary economics. This paper builds on a critical realist framework and findings from the economics of conventions and the sociology of valuation to develop a theory of value that returns to the relation between value and price. It argues that value is best understood as a view of the price that something ought to exchange at, and that these views are shaped normatively by a host of lay theories of value and the groups and organisations that advance them. Through their effects on our assessments of value, these theories also influence the determination of prices. Although prices in open systems are determined by many interacting factors, lay theories of value play a crucial role in the process.

Keywords: Conventions, Lay theories of value, Price, Value, Valuation

Link to the review

The Contested Moralities of Markets

Simone Schiller-Merkens & Philip Balsiger (eds.)(2019)
Research in the Sociology of Organizations, Vol. 63.
Bingley: Emerald Publishing Limited

Philip Balsiger & Simone Schiller-Merkens: Moral struggles in and around markets (chap. 1), pp. 3-26.

“Moral struggles in and around markets abound in contemporary societies where markets have become the dominant form of economic coordination. Reviewing research on morality and markets across disciplinary boundaries, this introductory essay suggests that a moral turn can currently be observed in scholarship, and draws a direct connection to recent developments in the sociology of morality. The authors introduce the chapters in the present volume “The Contested Moralities of Markets.” In doing so, the authors distinguish three types of moral struggles in and around markets: struggles around morally contested markets where the exchange of certain goods on markets is contested; struggles within organizations that are related to an organization’s embeddedness in complex institutional environments with competing logics and orders of worth; and moral struggles in markets where moral justifications are mobilized by a variety of field members who act as moral entrepreneurs in their striving for moralizing the economy. Finally, the authors highlight three properties of moral struggles in contemporary markets: They (1) arise over different objects, (2) constitute political struggles, and (3) are related to two broader social processes: market moralization and market expansion. The introduction concludes by discussing some of the theoretical approaches that allow particular insights into struggles over morality in markets. Collectively, the contributions in this volume advance our current understanding of the contested moralities of markets by highlighting the sources, processes, and outcomes of moral struggles in and around markets, both through tracing the creation, reproduction, and change of underlying moral orders and through reflecting the status and power differentials, alliances, and political strategies as well as the general cultural, social, and political contexts in which the struggles unfold.”


Nadai, Eva/Canonica, Alan: The Moralization of Labor: Establishing the Social Responsibility of Employers for Disabled Workers (chap. 5), pp. 87-106.


« As a “fictitious commodity” (Polanyi), that cannot be separated from the human being who is its owner, labor has a special moral significance. However, this moral quality is not a given but must be asserted in struggles over the value of labor. With the example of disabled workers in Switzerland, this chapter examines the moralization of labor as a means to revalue a category of workers who range far down the labor queue. Moralization mediates the tension between the normative societal goal of inclusion for disabled people and the freedom of employers to select the most “productive” workers. Drawing on the theoretical approach of the Economics of Convention the chapter analyzes the valuation frames proposed by economic and welfare state actors in political debates over the establishment of the Swiss disability insurance and the role of employers regarding occupational integration. A core concept used in negotiations of the value of disabled labor in the public arena and within individual businesses is the “social responsibility” of employers. Historically, employers’ associations successfully promoted the liberal principle of voluntary responsibility to prevent state interference in the labor market. In contrast, disability insurance argues predominantly within the market and the industrial convention to “sell” its clientele in the context of employer campaigns and case-related interactions with employers. Only recently, both sides started to reframe the employment of disabled people as a win–win affair, which would reconcile economic self-interest and the common good. »


Sarah Lenz and Sighard Neckel (2019): Moral self-commitment and economic expansion (chap. 7), pp. 127-148.


« German ethical banks have experienced a significant increase in customers, deposits, and lending. They aim to establish a fairer banking system. But the simultaneous pursuit of social, ecological, and economic goals leaves them vulnerable to conflicting orders of worth. The authors examine the normative foundations that ethical bank employees refer to when they describe their everyday practices and identify the specific problems that arise from negotiating between moral principles and economic demands to provide insights into the impacts, constraints, and paradoxes of normatively oriented business practices. Drawing on the theoretical framework of the sociology of critique, the authors assume that moral categories, social processes of interpretation, and justification are an essential part of markets. Ethical banking is characterized by the need to meet both market-limiting and market-expanding requirements, and this particularly becomes contentious when dealing with economic growth. By analyzing ethical banks’ freely accessible documents, the authors first outline the institutional guidelines. In a second step, the authors analyze 27 qualitative interviews with employees of ethical banks to gain insights into everyday lending practices and action-guiding normative orientations. The goal of this chapter is to examine the tensions that may arise from applying normative guidelines under the condition of increasing economic requirements and to disclose the way that ethical banks negotiate between mechanisms of expansion and limitation. The analysis of this chapter points out a paradox of ethical banking: due to the banks’ economic expansion, investments corresponding to their ethical commitments tend to become a luxury they cannot afford. »