Archives de l’auteur : diazbone

Report on the Colloquium on Social Research at the University of Lucerne, autumn semester 2022

Irina Wais and Patricia Stöckli (University of Lucerne)

On the occasion of the Colloquium on Social Research at the University of Lucerne (Switzerland), which took place in two-hour sessions spread over the fall semester of 2022. The colloquium was organized by Prof. Dr. Rainer Diaz-Bone and Guy Schwegler. Six lectures mainly related to the economics and sociology of conventions (EC/SC) were presented.

Zusammenarbeit zwischen Uni und Hochschule gibt im Parlament zu reden.

 

The first lecture was given by Jürg Huber from the Hochschule Lucerne on «Strategien zur Bewältigung heterogener Textkorpora in einem vertrauten Feld: Beispiele aus einer Diskursanalyse zum schulischen Musikunterricht» [Strategies for coping with heterogeneous text corpora in a familiar field: examples from a discourse analysis on school music teaching]. Followed by two presentations from France by Prof. Dr. Guillemette de Larquier from the University of Lille (CLERSÉ) on “The substance of conventions in economics (of convention)” and Prof. Dr. Philippe Batifoulier from the University of Paris 13 (CEPN= on “Covid crisis, mainstream economics and economics of conventions”. This was followed by a presentation from Germany with Dr. Sarah Lenz from the University of Hamburg on «Moral infrastructures of digital economy. Wie die Tech-Industrie die Klimakrise lösen will» [How the tech industry wants to solve the climate crisis]. The colloquium was concluded with two Swiss presentations. On the one hand, Prof. Dr. Marion Schulze and Prof. Dr. Alain Müller from the University of Basel with the topic «Durch Materialitäten denken» [Thinking through materialities] and on the other hand with Valeska Cappel from our home university Lucerne on «Digitale Gesundheit: Klassifizierung und klassifizieren von Gesundheit mittels Gesundheits-Apps» [Digital health: classifying and categorizing health using health apps.]. The lectures took place partly at the University of Lucerne and partly online via Zoom.

Convention theory wants to answer the question how the world is looked at. Depending on the field, there are different conventions. In the case of industrial convention, for example, there is standardization and efficiency. The discipline originated in France, particularly in economic sociology and socioeconomics. Today, the theory of conventions is applied in various social science research areas. This is made possible by the transdisciplinarity of the approach.

First session

On September 21, 2022 Jürg Huber presented his research on «Strategien zur Bewältigung heterogener Textkorpora in einem vertrauten Feld: Beispiele aus einer Diskursanalyse zum schulischen Musikunterricht». This session presented how the discipline of music education reflects about its strategies of music teachers traing in relation to the schools and in relation to the music education as a science.

Second session

On October 5, 2022, Guillemette de Larquier gave a presentation on the substance of convention in the Economics of Convention. Like convention theory, economics starts from four general features: Conventions serve to coordinate between actors, they involve regularities in behavior, they are arbitrary, and they are responses to uncertainty. For economists, this raises three questions: what kind of uncertainty is involved in coordination? What kind of rationality do individuals use? On what kind of normativity are conventions based?

For the game theory philosopher David Lewis (Convention, 1969), a convention is an arbitrary, self-sustaining solution to a recurrent coordination problem. Following a convention Lewis describes as a social process of equilibrium selection is where a convention acts as a solution. For Lewis, a convention is self-sustaining. Although conventions are neither legal nor contractual, there is no reason for actors to deviate from it when others conform to it. Conventions set priorities, which may be determined by cultural, cognitive, or biological factors, and facilitate coordination when rational considerations are insufficient. In doing so, actors always reason in terms of the past: they adhere to a convention because they have already adhered to it in previous situations and this has always been the best decision. The actors thus make use of a bounded but calculated rationality. Regarding normativity, the question is whether the convention as a solution is a good (efficient) solution. According to H. Peyton Young, conventions can promote economic welfare because conventions reduce transaction costs by coordinating expectations and reducing uncertainty. On the assumption that a convention is good per se, Young advises cautious optimism. We perceive giving a pregnant woman a seat as a “good” convention. Some time ago, however, blacks in the U.S. had to give up their seats to whites. Young points out that conventions are not always for the common good of all. This is because people can also follow “bad” conventions, since the only “normativity” of a convention lies in its self-reinforcement.

According to economist John Maynard Keynes (The general theory of employment, interest, and money, 1936), the financial investment market is characterized by a radical uncertainty problem arising from the future value of an investment. This problem of valuation in a situation of uncertainty is what Keynes calls speculation. Market value would thus be a self-referential mechanism based on what everyone thinks, what others think, what others think, and so on.

To stop this speculative spiral, there are conventions, such as the assumption that the price tomorrow is likely to be what it was today and what it was yesterday. Although this conventional way of valuing the market does not provide a sufficient basis for a calculated mathematical expectation, as long as the parties involved rely on maintaining the convention, it confers a sufficient degree of stability and continuity. Thus, it is more reasonable to discontinue calculations and follow a convention instead.

The (original French) economics and sociology of conventions enriches convention theory with further insights, such as the recognition that there is a plurality of forms of valuation and action. Uncertainty arises from this plurality of existing conventions. Viewing rationality as interpretive, the French economy of convention assumes that actors have a judgmental capacity about what is appropriate and what is not. Luc Boltanski and Laurent Thévenot (On justification, 2006) emphasize that each convention, described as a value order, corresponds to a particular form of coordination and a particular conception of value. Each convention is thus associated with an evaluation of the good functioning of the collective (common good). In this way, a convention that is perceived as “bad” can be criticized and still remain in place because it is not an arbitrary solution, but a convention.

Third session

Prof. Dr. Philipp Batifoulier’s presentation on October 19, 2022, entitled “Covid crisis, mainstream economics and economics of conventions” demonstrated the importance and ubiquity of values in healthcare. For example, every medical profession has a professional ethic based on a “deontological code” that defines the ethical stance to be followed. This is in stark contrast to the notion of mainstream health economics (MHE), which reduces every conceivable behavior to the logic of homo economicus. However, the goal of a physician is not merely his self-interest, but also his professional commitment and the well-being of his patients. MHE, which is primarily concerned with economic and financial dimensions, makes values a question of efficiency – in the sense of “your money or your life”.

To capture the prevailing diversity of values in health care in terms of convention theory, Batifoulier draws on “framework of orders of justification” by Boltanski and Thévenot (2006), which understands orders of value as models of valuation to assign value to people and things. In the field of health care, Batifoulier distinguishes six orders of value: the market order (competition, favorability, value for money), the civic order (welfare, solidarity, public access), the industrial order (efficiency and performance enhancement), the domestic order (proximity, neighborhood, tradition), the opinion fame order (popularity, public recognition, audience), and the inspired order (research, innovation, creativity). What is a good doctor or a good hospital can be justified from this perspective in different ways, depending on the value order chosen. Quality depends on conventions and is based on the values that a particular community holds for the common good of its members.

Using the example of hospital reforms in Western countries, Batifoulier illustrated this plurality of values. While these reforms are based on an industrial quality convention that has justified, among other things, the regrouping of and closure of local hospitals, patients place more value on home-based quality, that is, on high-quality care that is accessible in time and space. Patients even oppose these reforms in the name of industrial quality if it makes access to care more difficult.

Batifoulier’s analysis also focuses specifically on the processes of valorization/devalorization. The power structure and health policy prescribe value orders by defining what is more and what is less valuable – they valorize and devalorize. The dominance of certain conventions/qualities thus reflects prevailing power relations. Actors who possess the “power of valorization” determine which convention/quality is preferred. In the health sector, this power of valorization belongs to politicians and the health bureaucracy, which valorize market quality: Health care must therefore be cost-effective, and a “good” hospital physician should be both a qualified medical professional and a professional who makes money for the hospital.

The COVID-19 crisis makes visible developments and problems that often remained veiled in the ordinary situation. The crisis has reminded us that humans are mortal. Unlike homo economicus, the individual suffers and is often particularly helpless and weakened in the face of illness. A dogmatic position on values, as the MHE does, cannot be used to understand the COVID-19 crisis. The EC/SC, on the other hand, insists on the empirical reality of a plurality of values. This was extremely important in mastering the crisis. If a single mode of coordination (or quality convention) had been assumed, the crisis would have been even greater. Nurses represented different values, and mastering such a crisis also meant appealing to a plurality of values. The COVID-19 crisis is thus also a crisis of collective forms of coordination, interpretation, and evaluation.

In conclusion, Batifoulier emphasized that an analysis of health policy should always be value-based, and the EC/SC provides a helpful framework for this. The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated how critique from a health-preferred perspective, can bring economic activity to a halt. Convention theorists can examine whether health capitalism takes this critique and adapts by emphasizing concern for the self and the healthy body.

Fourth session

On November 2, 2022, Dr. Sarah Lenz presented her research on site, “Moral infrastructures of digital economy. Wie die Tech-Industrie die Klimakrise lösen will”.

In her research, Sarah Lenz links the theory of social worlds and arenas with the economics and sociology of conventions (EC/SC) in order to sociologically grasp the relationship between the transformational dynamics of digitalization and sustainability. Her guiding question is thus: How do societies respond to such challenges?

To begin, Lenz described the legitimation crises of digital and ecological modernization. Both the ecological critique and the call for democratic digitalization have been around since the 1990s; both visions are grounded in perspectives critical of capitalism, deal with issues of inclusion, and are more necessary today than ever. The vision of democratic digitization, for example, has not only failed to materialize, but has even taken an opposite direction. Commercialization, monopolization and surveillance are central elements of the new digital world.

With regard to the present, Lenz emphasized the simultaneity of both crises. The crisis of sustainability and digitalization are interrelated. On the one hand, digital technologies have a major impact on the climate crisis. Besides the high energy consumption, the production of digital technologies, such as the production of smartphones, consumes valuable natural resources (“precious earths”). On the other hand, digital technologies are also seen as having potential for combating the climate crisis, in the form of “environmental monitoring”. This raises the question of whether digital technologies promote or impede the implementation of sustainability goals. Whether digital technologies are considered sustainable is subject not least to the interpretative sovereignty of the IT industry. In this context, Lenz also focuses on forms of power and inequality that result from the interaction of both transformation dynamics.

Methodologically, Lenz is guided by the Grounded Theory situation analysis according to Adele Clarke. The situation to be analyzed, the relationship between digitalization and sustainability, involves individual and collective action and is characterized by radical uncertainty as well as different normative reference points – hence the link to the sociology of conventions. The basic idea is to link the EC/SC approach with the concept of social worlds, with the idea of a sociology in crisis mode. According to Lenz, one challenge that might arise from this is based on the fact that EC/SC focuses more on static states, while Lenz’s research interest is in transformational dynamics.

With the concept of boundary objects, Lenz wants to connect EC/SC with the study of social worlds. This is because boundary objects enable coordination between different worlds. From a pragmatic perspective, Lenz wants to ground EC/SC materially with the help of boundary objects. As boundary objects, Lenz considers models, theories, global standards, or climate networks that mediate the interface of the social world of digitalization and the social world of sustainability.

A key boundary object is the “Action Plan for a sustainable Planet in the digital age”. This Action Plan has three concerns. First, a change in values and norms, such as breaking away from profit orientation. Second, sustainable digitization and third, the promotion of sustainable digital innovations.

Fifth session

On November 23, 2022, Prof. Dr. Marion Schulze and Prof. Dr. Alain Müller gave a lecture on «Durch Materialitäten denken».

Schulze and Müller presented their research individually, but emphasized that they are “materially” interwoven. Both researches are an attempt to reunite social scientific thinking on the question of materialities. Methodologically, they use recursive heuristics to think social scientific thinking from artisanal expertise and practices.

Müller’s research explores the question of realism in the practice of constructing mountain reliefs. Thus, he argues, a successful relief looks confusingly similar to the real mountain, in the sense of a parallel shift between the model and the copy. Theoretically, Müller draws heavily on Bruno Latour.

Müller has also noted the central importance of this reference to reality among the authors and readers of “realistic” Franco-Belgian comics. There is a strong expectation that the drawings faithfully reflect reality. At the same time, the community also accepts a certain degree of creative and artistic representation. Müller wonders what conventions are maintained in the negotiation of this tension in the community.

As an anthropologist of science, Müller’s methodological approach is ethnographic. On the grounds that ethnography emerged under the influence of realist literature and is thus in a realist tradition. Furthermore, ethnography focuses on matter and locally situated practices, which is why this method lends itself to the practice of relief construction. In his fieldwork, Müller visited Hugo Lienhard’s workshop for mountain reliefs and used the method of photo-ethnography. He asked himself what rhetoric Hugo Lienhard used in the process of making reliefs to capture the process from model to likeness.

Müller related that Hugo Lienhard always walks off the mountain to be depicted in advance in order to “feel” and experience it. In the subsequent construction process, however, it is only about the mountain and aesthetic or energetic aspects have to be left out. For Müller, this raises the question of how plural realities are represented as singular realities.

Schulze’s research is to be placed in the field of gender studies. She is interested in “doing weaving,” practices of weaving in the genealogy of feminism. Schulze shows how weaving comes to be used in different feminist practices.

Sixth session

The last talk was given by Valeska Cappel on December 7, 2022, on the topic of digital health, «Digitale Gesundheit: Klassifizierung und klassifizieren von Gesundheit mittels Gesundheits-Apps».

Valeska Cappels’s ongoing research aims to find out to what extent health classifications are changing and how the operationalization of health happens. Compared to the past, today health is dealt with in a preventive way, this change happened through digitalization and the accompanying health apps. The core question of the research is how do the users deal with the concepts of health apps? After all, health can be viewed from different “convention views” and thus approached differently accordingly. The current state of research at the talk we heard was that there are three ideal types of health app users. The balanced, the subjected, and the misappropriated. The balanced have knowledge of health themselves and use the apps to reflect that knowledge. The subjected have their behavior influenced by these apps. The misappropriated used the apps but without a specific goal.

A tribute to Robert Salais’ work

Christian Bessy & Claude Didry (2022)

Report on the round table initiated by Florent Le Bot (IDHES Université d’Evry) at the occasion of presenting and reflecting on the new publication:
Christian Bessy & Claude Didry (eds.) (2022): L’économie est une science réflexive. Chômage, convention et capacité dans l’œuvre de Robert Salais. [Economics is a reflexive science. Unemployment, convention and capacity in the work of Robert Salais]. Villeneuve d’Ascq: Presses Universitaire du Septentrion.
https://www.septentrion.com/fr/livre/?GCOI=27574100797150


23 November 2022
PROGRAM
16H00 Welcome
16H15
Introduction by Florent Le Bot and Valérie Boussard (IDHES Nanterre)
Presentation of the book by Christian Bessy (IDHES ENS Paris-Saclay) and Claude Didry (CMH).
16H35 Robert Salais (thanks, questions to the following speakers, etc.)
16H45 break.
17H00 Presentation of the speakers by Florent Le Bot
Intervention Jean-Louis Fabiani (Central European University).
Speech by Jean-Philippe Robé (Lawyer).
17H40 Robert Salais
18H00- 19H00 Exchange with the audience.
19H00 Cocktail.

REPORT

This round table took place in a very relaxed and friendly atmosphere, without losing sight of the quality of the intellectual exchanges around the collective work coordinated by Christian Bessy and Claude Didry, in homage to the work of Robert Salais.

Valérie Boussard recalled the central role of Robert Salais in the creation of the IDHES (Institutions et Dynamiques Historiques de l’Economie et de la Société) and its interdisciplinary orientation between economics, history, sociology and law. More than a heritage to be protected, Robert’s work constitutes a matrix generating new research issues in order to respond to societal challenges.
Claude Didry then recalled his meeting with Robert Salais in 1990, when he published an article on Durkheim in a dossier of the journal Genèses devoted to “the construction of the social fact”. This meeting was part of what Jean Luciani refers to in the book as the “detour through history”, to return to the institutional dynamics around which the work of Robert Salais and his team developed. Claude Didry retains from this meeting Robert Salais’ ability to read a text, not by underlining its shortcomings, but by adopting a true reading intended to highlight its contributions. This intellectual openness that Robert Salais impelled in economics of convention (EC) was then functioning at full speed, in a CNRS Research Group, where historical, legal and economic seminars crossed. Claude Didry speaks of “a bubbling hive of activity where we thought about many things, reading the philosophical foundations of EC, around Lewis, non-modal logic or Jaakko Hintikka’s theory of “possible worlds”. Didry returns to the structuring of the book in 6 parts (work, employment and unemployment, worlds of production and dynamics of innovation, institutions and conventions, Europe and capacities, quantification and democracy), emphasizing that these parts follow a biographical logic proceeding by “reflexive leaps”, the research nourishing each time a reflexive deepening towards new objects. He also underlines the collective dimension of the scientific investigation and Robert Salais’ involvement in the design of the institutional architecture of the IDHE laboratory, created in 1997 by the CNRS, as recounted in the first part of the book. In other words, in the case of Robert Salais, it is impossible to distinguish the researcher from the organizer of the research.

Christian Bessy returned to Robert Salais’ final text entitled “Ecological crisis and reflexive economy, an opening”. This text allows us to go through all the contributions, because the author responds to each one, certainly in footnotes, but also, seizes the opportunity that the coordinators of the book had thrown him around the concept of reflexive economy:
“A reflexive economy is an economy that first looks behind itself and investigates the damage it inflicts on our world. Thus informed, it then projects itself into the future and pursues its development in a way that reduces its past ecological and human footprint. It places at its center the democratic deliberation between actors on the evaluation of this footprint and on the solutions to be engaged.” (p. 307)
This approach is based on a change of posture towards things that cannot be reduced to simple objects over which we have control. Symmetrically, it would be necessary to take hold of things, “to face them as they are”, with their multiple uncertainties, says Robert Salais, in order to generate this time a “reflexive economy”, in the sense of a learning and a mode of knowledge, allowing to “see, distinguish, know, and name the particularities of each thing in relation to the others” (p. 330). This is in line with the “theory of taking” elaborated with Francis Chateauraynaud.

The contribution of Robert Salais today in this concluding text is not only reduced to a theory of knowledge based on the perceptions of the environment giving more thickness to things. He also returns to the contribution of David Lewis (1969) to the theory of conventions and in particular the distinction between two types of convention contrasting two principles of action:
– to qualify the objects according to a general principle, from crossed anticipations,
– to identify things according to a principle of particularity, based on the engagement of the sensory faculties to know how to act in the situation.
Christian Bessy concludes on the phenomenological conversion of Robert Salais and the necessity to articulate different scales of analysis of the crisis of the sensible in the transformations of capitalism.

Robert Salais warmly greeted the contributors to the book and the participants in the round table, in particular the two discussants, Jean-Louis Fabiani, whom he met at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin (WIKO) in 2007, and Jean-Philippe Robé, with whom he worked with Gabriel Colletis on the Greek crisis in 2015, imagining in particular converting the Greek debt into investment financing. Today, with the ecological transition, the problem is much the same, as it would require reforming the way finance works. In a striking manner, Robert Salais shares his feelings on the book presented in these terms:
“As I read and reread it, I am impressed by the book, even intimidated in some ways, of all the research it contains that has been done and is yet to be done. It’s not really a tribute […]. What would you say if you were like me in front of another self that is there in the book, which you can’t deny looks a little like you? It seems to you moreover less volatile than what you do. It’s very disturbing in a way. It took me a while to adapt to this kind of thing. What comforts me is that this other one is the work product of a collective. Those who are there because they belong to the work of the IDHE, but also others who are there episodically. I join Laurent (Thévenot in his text) in saying that we are faced with a collective that was constituted and built by people who felt the potentialities, the freedoms, of a pivotal period, let’s say those of the 1960s to the 1980s. Each one at his moment, each one in his way, finally assumed to put themselves together, via convergences of which they did not know necessarily, because somewhere it is not intentional”.
This is the best description of the passage from a subjective to an objective mind. He emphasizes that when reading the book, he “feels a kind of internal vitality, a pleasure, almost, I would say, of each and every one. There is a deployment of energy both in time and space that has continued until today and which I hope will continue, but! In a way, we are part of a generation that is a bit of a turning point, that has put some stones on which we can build to go further. This is not true of all the works of this generation. They are possible supports, but young people must seize them because they are the ones who will be confronted with the phenomenon in all its complex reality. I think very modestly that we have begun to lay the foundations for a new understanding of our world, to review, to propose a critique and instruments to see differently. In fact, we have all sensed, each at our own time, that the future that was predicted for us was not so admirable. And in fact, what was being prepared looked an awful lot like a closure of the future, under the apparent evidence of openness, innovation, etc., and so I think that we started to take our responsibilities in front of these choices that were closing us in and that represented denials of reality. Now, as Christian Bessy said, the economy as we know it is completely unsuited to the development of new relationships between humans and nature. We must work together between the different sciences.

Jean-Louis Fabiani took the floor, beginning by thanking the organizers of the round table for inviting him to discuss the book on the work of Robert Salais, taking the point of view of the sociologist of intellectual life: “Robert Salais, an economist for a renewed sociology”. He emphasizes the opportunities, encounters, and conjunctures that give rise to new configurations. He proposes to start from the fruitful relationship between the sociologist Jean-Claude Passeron and the economist Louis-André Gérard-Varet, which led to the famous book Le modèle et l’enquête (1995). In relation to this attempt at dialogue, he positions the economics of conventions, whose manifesto was published in the Revue Economique (March 1989) at practically the same time and which “proposes something more mobile than a paradigm, a sort of configuration, perhaps this is not the best word, around a common object, conventions […]. EC wanted to stop taking into account the fact that it was not a paradigm. The EC wanted to stop taking for granted divisions that present contingent, even arbitrary dimensions, and that we naturalize without thinking about it by putting forward in a way the defense of the disciplinary body and therefore there was in this manifesto, which is a program, a watchword, the claimed necessity to widen the field of economic research to what I call these cultural peripheries: the historical science mentioned above, but also the law central in the operation I think and sometimes neglected by sociologists after Durkheim”. For Jean-Louis Fabiani, what appears central in the trajectory of Robert Salais is the refusal to reject the statistical tools (of economists) on the pretext that the model in which these tools are used is not satisfactory. This very rich book shows that Robert Salais’ works survive the critical and reflexive turn of his activity, beginning with L’Invention du chômage in 1986, which questions, as sociologists have traditionally done since Durkheim, the historical production of social categories. He provides an image of the heroic civil servant that evokes a nostalgia for a period of fertility and camaraderie, a period that contrasts today with a field based on individual performance.
“I would like to return to the notion of “reflexivity”, a notion that I am wary of because it risks being overused and we end up putting all the facilities of autoethnography in this word. The question of reflexivity in the social sciences is vast […]. What is a reflexive return? What do we have in mind when we say that the habitus is pre-reflexive? Is it a skill reserved for the researcher or a universal property of consciousness?”
He refers to the quotation from Robert Salais, mentioned by Christian Bessy, which gives a good illustration of his posture and which leads to a better social diffusion of knowledge production. CE would propose another way of posing the problems of ecological transition that is less prophetic, less Leninist and ultimately more effective. This leads Robert Salais to redefine the conditions of our own social legitimacy, a legitimacy that is in danger because of a technostructure more and more subservient to financial capital.

It is in a more pragmatic vein that Jean-Philippe Robé underlines this financial impasse that “leads us straight to the wall”. He raises the question of how the law, and in particular accounting methods, can change the behavior of large companies (banks and investment funds), which cannot be reduced to small externalities at the margin. What has not been done in the past should now be done quickly. The only solution is to develop carbon sinks. He returns to the question of a reflexive economy:
“I don’t think that an economy as such can be reflexive itself, on the other hand organizations can have a reflexive behavior beyond the search for profit by taking into account other objectives. It is therefore necessary to democratize the enterprise in order to recreate a common good, an intermediary, between the public and the private. It is the ecological quality at all stages of the value chain that must be taken into account and impact the company. For this lawyer, it is important to introduce the replacement cost of environmental capital, the cost of creating the carbon sink, and to change the accounting rules so that these costs are charged to the company.

The discussion resumed on the need for political action in the face of the environmental emergency, given the limits of a response within the framework of neo-liberal capitalism. Guillaume Mercoeur, a doctoral student in sociology, emphasized the original dimensions of Robert Salais’ approach to the analysis of heterodox Anglo-Saxon economics in the field of climate change, and in particular the contributions of Andreas Malm. He refers to his thesis work on trade union involvement in improving working conditions and environmental issues, highlighting different levels of action over which the actors have control.
Robert Salais replied that different contributions in the book deal with reforms leading to the co-determined enterprise (Olivier Favereau), the sustainable enterprise (Jürgen Kädtler) and the enabling enterprise (Bénédicte Zimmerman).

Florent Le Bot, Robert Salais, Jean-Philippe Robé, Christian Bessy and Claude Didry

Economics/Sociology of Conventions: An Interdisciplinary Workshop for Methods and Theory Development (with Special Focus on Education)

Leibniz University Hannover 15th and 16th September 2022

Report by Laverne Iminza Chore (University of Innsbruck)

The Leibniz University Hannover recently hosted the 12th Economics / Sociology of Conventions (EC/SC) workshop for methods and theory development with a particular focus on education. Christian Imdorf, Arne Böker & Christian Schneijderberg jointly organised the event held on the 15th and 16th of September 2022, which received support from the Fritz Thyssen Foundation. The workshop saw scholars from German-speaking countries (Germany, Austria, Switzerland), France, and Sweden come together to advance the EC/SC discourse in the field of education and beyond.

Romuald Normand (University of Strasbourg), whose research spans international comparison of education policies, the European construction of lifelong learning, globalization and transformations of higher education, and actors and policies of innovation in education accepted the invitation for a keynote. In his talk, he proposed to renew the critique of neoliberalism in the field of education and analyzed how EC/SC and European sociologies in education could engage in constructive and reflexive dialogue for this purpose. Romuald Normand showed how the use of EC/SC can offer possibilities for extending the critique of neoliberalism by analyzing plural modes of coordination and evaluation in quality and accountability policies in education systems and the underlying grammar.

The congregated scholars addressed social and educational inequalities, educational governance, skilling, sustainability and change, and the COVID-19 pandemic. The two presentations centered on inequalities included Kenneth Horvath’s (University of Teacher Education, Zürich) work on educational inequalities and Leonie Bisang’s (University of Lucerne) early career project on social inequality. In his presentation “The conundrum of how to test for talent”, Kenneth Horvath posed the critical question of whether French pragmatic sociology offers a novel perspective on racism. His session clarified that talent and merit are impossible to test. He elaborated on why it is challenging to test for talent by pointing out the ambiguities, potentialities, plurality and contextuality that engulf it. Kenneth Horvath’s work proposes that instead of testing for talent, research should concern itself with inquiring about racism. The paper is still in the formative phase, but the potential outcomes for EC/SC and how it influences perceptions on tests is something to anticipate. Leonie Bisang, in her presentation on “Social inequality in the transition from school to university: university or university of applied sciences?” posited that social backgrounds play a significant part in shaping the educational trajectory of young people. She highlighted a possible connection of Pierre Bourdieu’s approach with EC/SC using the example of the transition from upper secondary to tertiary education. From her work, two approaches are conceivable: If one takes situationalism seriously, the question arises regarding situations in which habitus is an active support. If, on the other hand, one considers the habitus as the primary explanatory principle, actors only come into situations through this. It is intriguing how the conceptualization fits the empiric as this early career project unfolds.

The second stream of sessions revolved around the governance of educational transitions with presentations by Raffaella Simona Esposito (University of Teacher Education FHNW) and Regula Julia Leeman & Sandra Hafner (University of Teacher Education FHNW). In her presentation, Raffaella Esposito showed how, in the transition from compulsory to post-compulsory upper secondary education, the supply of and access to vocational middle schools is steered (in an active/passive and direct/indirect way) employing targeted strategies and instruments. Using the example of two cantonal case studies, she showed that both cantons studied restricted these school-based vocational programs, not least because this allows the balance of power between company-based vocational education and training (VET) and school-based VET to be maintained and company-based VET to be reproduced and stabilized as an unquestioned standard within the Swiss VET system. The discussion after this presentation revolved around possible elements of a power analysis guided by conventional theory. Regula Leemann, Sandra Hafner and Raffaella Esposito presented the first results of a study on the importance of key indicators in the political governance of educational transitions and a related traffic light system in a selected canton in Switzerland. Based on documents and interviews, they demonstrated that the construction of the indicators is based on different common goods, providing the responsible actors with a map for orientation and a warning system to cope with uncertainties in governance and enable legitimacy of governance towards the taxpaying public. At the same time, these indicators unfold as standards of normative power typically oriented towards a statistical average of, e.g., the historical development of reference entities like other cantons or Switzerland as a whole. Therefore, key indicators not only support responsible actors in reaching a common good but also restrict their views and way of action as they are narrowed down to the measurable indicator and target, reducing the plurality of modes of engagement to quantifiable outputs. In the discussion, Romuald Normand pointed out that these indicators, which are oriented toward the civic convention, can counter market logics that influences many national education systems. Kenneth Horvath suggested that the limitations and restrictions in the coordination of action by indicators need to be reviewed critically.

A further group of sessions falling under the theme of sustainability and change was led by Sarah Lenz (Hamburg University), and Eltje Gajewski (University of Duisburg-Essen) & Simon Schrör (Weizenbaum-Institute/Humboldt University). In her presentation, Sarah Lenz addressed the question of how the theory of social worlds and arenas – the US-American pragmatist approach – can contribute to the study of conventions. Starting from the emerging discourses about the mutual effects of digitalization and sustainability, she argues that the pragmatistic-interactionist theory of social worlds and arenas is much more concerned about the micro-sociological preconditions in light of heterogeneous perspectives. Analyzing how actors of different interests collide within arenas as zones of conflict, defending, contesting their positions, negotiating, manipulating, or even excluding others, provides direct insight into “power in action” and the emergence of inequalities and new paradoxes. Taking the example of a collaboratively developed “action plan for sustainability in the digital age”, she shows how actors create objects they can all refer to together without denying their positions. Such boundary objects allow – in contrast to how the sociology of conventions would suggest – also “compromises without consensus”. Thus, from the perspective of the sociology of conventions, it is worthwhile to examine such boundary objects and the normative infrastructures they stabilize. Elte Gajewskis and Simon Schrör’s research looks at the ecological reconfiguration of product presentation by empirically investigating drugstore products. They demonstrate how standard products are enriched through varied analytical and narrative forms of presentation with a promise of sustainability. The theoretical argument draws from Luc Boltanski and Arnaud Esquerre’s view of the economics of enrichment. The take-home message from the discussion was that their work appears to be a robust scheme to apply to further empirical research. At the same time, an emphasis on the mechanisms behind the enrichment strategies, especially on meta price, could help develop an in-depth middle-range theory that integrates the presentation and the price-setting of sustainable products. Christian Schneijderberg (University of Kassel) conducted a presentation that addressed accreditation, audit and evaluation regimes in higher education and provided an integrated approach and analytical framework to study them as effective long-term governance means or higher education policy tools. Drawing from Thévenot, he emphasized that when studying organizational procedures, multiple conventions apply during the process, primarily industrial but also domestic, inspired and civic conventions. The complex situation could be analytically divided into several sub-situations in a study on investments in form. For example, organized procedures legitimized by civic action (situation 1, e.g., law-making by parliament about the accreditation of universities), which are adapted in law-applying by legitimate representative bodies of actors (situation 2, e.g., accreditation council, including representatives of the academic profession, students, etc.), which decide on regulations (e.g., accreditation criteria) to guide the work of organizations (situation 3, e.g., accreditation agencies and expert groups (i.e., another collective of actors in the law-application)), etc. After analyzing all sub-situation separately, the “overall” picture of organized procedures could be constituted by comparatively looking at specificities (e.g., differences) and commonalities (e.g., similarities) reflected in the ideal types of conventions/orders of worth. Christian Schneijderberg further elaborated on this with the following commentary: “EC/SC is very much “stuck” on analyzing the micro- and/or macro-levels, including the micro-macro link. The responses to my presentation make it clear that the sociological meso-level – addressing organizational behavior and organized procedures – seemingly needs to become more present in theory and methods development and application”.

Two presentations focused on positioning EC/SC in other established fields, such as HRM and organization studies. In her presentation of a soon-to-be-published book, Julia Brandl (University of Innsbruck) questions why human resource management has yet to catch up with the EC/SC approach. She highlights common themes and questions that both fields touch on and illuminates how labor conventions provide a rich avenue for exploring how employment practices influence employee behavior and enable coordination at the workplace. Julia Brandl relates EC/SC to the pluralist HRM paradigm that acknowledges the coexistence of conventions and how that is a condition for democracy. The presentation culminates with a prescription of how the sociology of conventions may enrich human resource management research. Simon Weingärtner, Monika Hasenbruch and Juan S. Guse (Leibniz University Hannover) also touched on EC/SC and sociology/organization studies. Their paper presentation on “organized justification” gave an insight into their findings on merit-based selection procedures for “gifted” people in different organizations. Building on ethnographic observations, they argued for expanding Boltanski’s and Thévenot’s regime theories of action or “engagement”, which takes into account formal organization as an independent context of justification processes and stresses the role of “compromise objects”. The presentation was remarked on by Lisa Knoll (University of Paderborn), who agreed that the organization phenomenon deserves more attention in EC/SC analyses. Her critique focused on what she perceived as an essentialist notion of organization which she views as incompatible with methodological situationalism. Her comment was followed by a lively discussion about the role of organizations within the EC/SC framework.

In the session “Telemedicine during the Covid-19-pandemic: conventions, competencies, and collaboration – the case of Covid-19-teleconsultations”, Karolin Kappler (FernUniversität in Hagen) presented three scenarios of teleconsultations-uses, which she and the team in Hagen around Stefan Smolnik worked out from interviews with intensive care physicians who used Covid-19-teleconsultations. During the vivid discussion, the attendees emphasized the importance of focusing on the negotiation processes and the upcoming moments of conflicts and negotiation between different stakeholders involved in the acceptance, adoption and use of teleconsultations. Furthermore, for the ongoing research on the implementation of teleconsultations for further indications (such as heart failure or rare diseases), possible research questions and methodological approaches were discussed. This presentation was part of the pandemic and crisis theme that was also dominant in the show-and-tell sessions featuring Karolin Kappler’s “Corona as an Accelerator of Digitization-border-work in times of home-office, home-schooling, and home-everything”, Sarah Lenz’s “Society at Risk-Sociality as Risk. Situational Experience and Coping with Uncertainty during the First Lockdown” and Valeska Cappel’s “Corona-Apps-once familiar data is given a new purpose, regimes turn into conventions”.

When comparing lifelong learning systems across Europe, Swedish vocational education and training has been heralded as representing a universal regime with a strong emphasis on solidarity, egalitarianism and social citizenship. However, the introduction of higher vocational education (HVE, yrkeshögskolan), a post-secondary training form mandated to train people to meet local labor market needs, complicates these composite descriptions. Rebecca Ye (Stockholm University) expounded on the questions about the Swedish VET as representing a universalist, statist and school-based ideal type. Building theoretically on the sociology of conventions, the paper probes the plural worlds of higher vocational education participation beyond simplistic understandings of human capital accumulation or universalistic welfare. Drawing on interviews with trainees and archival material, the project examines forms of justifications evoked by ordinary actors engaged in this training form. The analysis reveals that HVE participants do not enroll merely to “get work” or “get ahead”. Instead, their participation is described as a response to constraints in terms of geographical and social proximity to challenging the difficult circumstances they encounter in the labor market. Or their enrolment is a result of contingency and vacancy chains. Taken together, she suggests that HVE serves as a mode of governing vocational knowledge through operating as a projective institution within reach that offers compromises between a plurality of interests. “From the lively discussion that followed after the presentation of our working paper, comments received from esteemed members of the EC/SC workshop spurred us to consider how we can discuss these findings, and the popularization and transformation of a skilling regime in Sweden, concerning the temporality of welfare conventions. Moreover, there were suggestions for our analysis to go further to identify and locate the common good. As we progress our work, we will also embark on a more in-depth discussion on the implications of projective institutions for the contemporary governance of vocational knowledge and competencies” Rebecca Ye commented.

Early career project presentations at this workshop also included Martin Gehrig’s “Coordination of Action in Curriculum Development”. After his presentation, Martin Gehrig remarked that the feedback was pivotal in highlighting that he still needs to find a way out of the mess of the social negotiation processes in the curriculum project. In his own words: “Against the background of the EC/SC, I now want to tell a story of my own about the project – a story that doesn’t ignore the uncertainties and conflicts and traces the role of conventions and objects in stabilizing it”. Sandro Stübi in his dissertation project presentation “Recognition of prior learning in Switzerland’s collectively organized skill formation system” found the workshop a valuable springboard for idea exchange and advancing one’s questions.

To wrap up what had been a stimulating workshop, Rainer Diaz-Bone and Ken Horvath shared their latest thoughts on how EC/SC could be a foundation for the sociology of social research and for the sociology of quantification, more specifically. In their presentation entitled “On data worlds, social research and convention theory”, they emphasized that measurement, which is key for linking social theory and quantification, is organized by a plurality of conventions and epistemic values in different data worlds. EC/SC could therefore address several issues that have been foreclosed in much social research, spanning from the social problems to which the development of methods provides answers over the application of established methods in different situations to the loss of their acceptability and relevance. This presentation inspired interesting questions and conversations for the future directions of EC/SC and marked a culmination of the workshop.

We are very grateful to the Fritz Thyssen Foundation for the generous support provided for the EC/SC workshop and the Leibniz University Hannover for hosting this year’s edition.

Session on Education and Conventions held at the German Sociological Association’s 2022 conference in Bielefeld (Germany)

Christian Imdorf (Leibniz University Hannover) & Kenneth Horvath (University of Teacher Education Zurich)

At the occasion of the German Sociological Association’s (DGS) bi-annual conference, held in Bielefeld, Germany, 26-30 September 2022, a session on education and conventions has been organised. The session “Bildung und Konventionen: Aktuelle Schwerpunkte, Entwicklungslinien und Herausforderungen im Überblick [Education and Conventions: An overview of current focal points, lines of development and challenges]” was chaired by Christian Imdorf (Leibniz University Hannover) and Kenneth Horvath (University of Teacher Education Zurich). The multifaceted field of French pragmatic sociology offers innovative explanatory and analytical approaches for a number of current processes in education and challenges in the sociology of education such as standardization, quantification and datafication of education, conflicts and controversies over educational quality and equity, or the interplay of science, politics and practice in the establishment and transformation of educational arrangements. The session aimed at discussing the potentials and findings, but also the challenges and desiderata of a “pragmatic” sociology of education and its further development. The following set of questions framed the session: How can convention theory help approach current topics and questions in the sociology of education more convincingly and productively than with “traditional” theoretical offers? How can we employ concepts of pragmatic sociology (such as school worlds, educational regimes, justification orders, tests/examinations, etc.) in order to deal with current research problems? How can understandings of meritocracy and (increasingly ambiguous and uncertain) processes of assessment in educational contexts be analyzed? What methodological challenges and consequences arise for the empirical implementation of such a theory-driven research perspective? How can the relationship between scientific research and educational practice be rethought and reshaped?

In their introduction to the session, Kenneth Horvath and Christian Imdorf outlined the theoretical and methodological characteristics of a pragmatic sociology of education and presented a short overview of the current research landscape. They highlighted the significant already existing research output especially in the field of post-compulsory education sector, more precisely in vocational education and training and in higher education, which, however, has hardly been internationally comparative so far. Further, some first research on school education points to future opportunities for the sociology of conventions to examine questions of inequality and quality (and their transformations) in compulsory education. The session then included four presentations:

Walter Bartl (Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg) in his paper “Räumliche Bildungsungleichheiten durch Zahlen regieren: Information über und Allokation von Schulinfrastruktur [Governing spatial educational inequalities through numbers: Information about and allocation of school infrastructure]” asked what role numbers play in the governance of spatial educational inequalities and why there is only few data in Germany about spatial educational inequalities. Referring to Alain Desrosières’ work on quantification as a process of standardising information he asked how spatial inequality is measured and how school infrastructure governed by indicators is allocated. Bartl pointed to the lack of standardised indicators of spatial educational inequality in research and its quantification by expert judgement. He identified two mechanisms of governing spatial inequality through numbers in Germany, the standardisation of information and the regulation of allocation decisions, as well as four ideal types of a (situational) use of numbers and their problems (discretionary, bureaucratic, epistemic and calculative quantification). The paper concluded that long-term data on spatial inequality is currently lacking because there has not yet been a standardisation of information, but that the “theorising” of spatial inequality and of spatial justice as a concept is developing, as are attempts to measure it in and for spatial planning.

The contribution of Raffaella Simona Esposito (FHNW University of Teacher Education) and her co-authors Sandra Hafner and Regula Julia Leemann titled “Steuerung von Bildungsübergängen im Schweizer Bildungssystem – Komplexe Handlungskoordination innerhalb des bildungspolitischen Zielkorsetts [Managing educational transitions in the Swiss education system — Complex coordination of action within the education policy target]” analysed how the supply and access to vocationally oriented secondary schools in Switzerland is being coordinated in an interplay of education policy, education administration, academia and practice. Despite the education policy goal in Switzerland that 95% of all 25-year-olds shall have a qualification at upper secondary level, little is known about how the necessary educational transitions are managed by the cantons in terms of education policy, i.e. how they are regulated, organised, reformed and legitimised. Referring to the sociology of conventions, the research group has investigated how the actors involved in these processes coordinate their actions, by means of which strategies and instruments they do so, how educational policy objectives with regard to vocationally field-oriented secondary schools are targeted and realised in practice, how justification logics are mobilised by the relevant actors and what tensions, frictions and conflicts arise in the coordination of action. Based on a case study of a German-speaking canton and the analysis of documents and expert interviews Esposito et al. were able to reconstruct a compromise of domestic (individual fitting solution, guidance of young people), inspired (motivation, interests, inclinations, vocation, passion) and industrial (efficient educational transitions, no unnecessary educational loops, few drop-outs) steering logics in the management of educational transitions. In practical terms, an inherently normative ICT-based guidance tool for youths was implemented which serves as an object of compromise (intermediary object) to stabilise, format and handle the steering of educational transitions.

 

The presenters of the session on education and conventions at the DGS congress 2022: Walter Bartl (top left), Raffaella Esposito (top right), Luisa Junghänel and Bettina Ülpenich (bottom left), and Arne Böker (bottom right)

Bettina Ülpenich and Luisa Junghänel Krause (Heinrich-Heine-Univ. Düsseldorf) in their study “Studienabbrüche prognostizieren. Zur Rechtfertigung von Leistungsvorhersagen im Studium [Predicting study dropouts – On the justification of performance predictions in higher education]” accompany a project to develop a local system of performance prediction in higher education studies with a focus on the requirements of a respective performance prediction system. Embedded in the sociology of conventions and based on 35 expert interviews with university staff in computer science and social sciences, the two authors reconstruct performance prediction in higher education as a multidimensional ordering process with two underlying perspectives of how to interpret academic success. From the institution-centred perspective of the university, success translates to the completion of studies in the standard period and followed by entry into a profession (efficient and cost-sensitive regulation of university studies). In contrast, from a student-centred interpretative perspective, academic success can be linked to concepts of self-efficacy and self-determination, the achievement of individual goals and the accomplishment of problem-solving skills in the context of lifelong learning (studying as inspiration and a project). The authors concluded with some thought on the dilemma of the sought-after “Responsible Academic Performance Prediction” tool, which needs to conceive of study drop-out as a hybrid object and integrate a project-shaped convention of studying in the economisation and rationalisation of study processes at universities.

Finally, Arne Böker (Institut für Hochschulforschung Halle-Wittenberg) gave a presentation titled “Bildungsorganisationen unter Druck – Zu Potentialen und Herausforderungen einer pragmatischen Bildungssoziologie der Kritik [Educational Organisations under Pressure – On the Potentials and Challenges of a Pragmatic Sociology of Education Critique]”. Embedded in the (educational) sociology of critique (orders of justification) and the sociology of knowledge, he presented findings of two research projects both focusing on the justification of the promotion of the gifted (Begabtenförderung): The first study reconstructed the change in the justification arrangement of the German Study Foundation (Studienstiftung) which was shifting from a more economic towards a civic justification. Thereby the Study Foundation used a creative approach to produce and interprete social statistics which allowed for telling a successful story of how it contributed to equal opportunities in the education system. The second, ongoing study focuses so-called state preparatory colleges (staatliche Studienkollegs), an institutional path in Germany which prepares international students for higher education (an example of diversification of university access routes and study preparation). As an empirical illustration, Böker presented the debate in North Rhine-Westphalia in the mid-2000s on closing the state-run study preparatory colleges after the educational institution had seen a year-long criticism and change of justification, moving from equal opportunities towards privatisation and educational excellence. Using the example of the justification order of equal opportunities the author showed how student representatives criticised the Studienkolleg, that is how an educational institution geared at promoting the gifted was problematised, criticised and what alternative solution were proposed. On the whole the two studies exemplified both the potentials (e.g. the strength to analyse situations of crisis and insecurity, the plurality of social orders, the interplay between criticism and justification, compromises and their tensions) as well as the challenges of an educational sociology of critique.

All in all, the presentations of this session at the DGS 2022 conference in Bielefeld showed convincingly, first, how a pragmatic sociology of education offers new perspectives on and insights in education and educational processes. Second, the contributions highlighted how educational values are materialised and implemented by different technologies and devices such as educational statistics, self-governance or academic performance prediction tools. The years and decade(s) to come will show whether the sociology of convention will have the power to become a game changer in the sociologies of education, a field which is still somewhat stuck between a ‘holistic’ sociology in the line of Durkheim and Bourdieu and an ‘individualistic’ model of actors and society in the aftermath of Boudon’s theory of rational decision making, at least in the German-speaking world.

Different sessions with reference to French pragmatic sociology held at the Nordic Sociological Associations’ 2022 conference in Reykjavik, Iceland

Christian Imdorf (Leibniz University Hannover)

At the occasion of the Nordic Sociological Associations’ (NSA) bi-annual conference, held in Reykjavik, Iceland, 10-12 August 2022, a session on pragmatic sociology and education as well as a series of sessions on the politics of engagement in the Nordic Welfare State have been organised. The session “Analyzing Realities Trough Conventions – The use of Pragmatic sociology for Understanding Education in the Nordics”, chaired by Christian Imdorf (Leibniz University Hannover), illustrated that education policy, which is generally considered an important instrument for equal opportunities and social mobility as well as a prerequisite for high productivity and employment, is also a significant instrument of social policy to implement some of the core elements of the Nordic welfare model. While convention theory has been applied to educational issues in France since the late 1980, and for some time in the German-speaking countries, it has only more recently received serious scholarly attention in the Nordics. The session therefore brought together ongoing research on post-secondary education in Sweden (folk high schools, higher vocational education, municipal adult education), which serves societal aims at the crossroads of the different priorities of the welfare state, civil society, and labor market demands.

Diana Holmqvist (Linköping University) in her paper showed how the management tool of tendering-based procurements in Sweden implements municipal adult education and forms its value between a welfare service and a market good. The paper which is part of Holmqvists doctoral thesis “Adult Education at Auction – On Tendering-Based Procurement and Valuation in Swedish Municipal Adult Education” illustrated that procurement as an investment in forms does much more than simply ‘manage’ the organisation of education as it shapes the very nature of adult education. Erik Nylander (Linköping University) in his paper, co-authored with Rebecca Ye (Stockholm University), presented justificatory logics of skilling in the plural worlds of higher vocational education, a more recent and rapidly expanding educational segment in Sweden which, in public, is considered an educational policy tool to serve local labor market demands. Building on the sociology of conventions, the authors compared the often very different justifications offered by participants for enrolling in higher vocational education with those in educational program descriptions and how the plural worlds of higher vocational education participation are intertwined and enacted. Henrik Fürst (Stockholm University) and Erik Nylander gave an overview of and some insights into their new book titled “The Value of Art Education – Cultural Engagements at the Swedish Folk High Schools” which looks at the plural worth of education, justificatory regimes and forms of student engagement in arts education programs at folk high schools, a Swedish type of school whic­h has a long-standing and strong association with Nordic culture and civil society. The authors conclude that the pluralistic and heterogeneous educational provision of the art programs at the folk high schools – at times conceived as an economically worthless or contestable educational choice – offers a great vantage point to broaden a plural understanding of arts education and its intersecting and conflicting logics between welfarism, civic ethos, and artistic forms of engagement. Finally, Jan Frode Haugseth and Eli Smeplass (Norwegian University of Science and Technology NTNU) gave an outlook on their book project on social pragmatism in education which aims at an introduction in educational research and practice from a French pragmatic perspective addressed at Norwegian students in the social sciences and in teacher education. The book will be published in Norwegian and structured along several pillars for empircial investigation: Childhood perspectives, school as a research object and as a practical field, vocational education and training in the knowledge society, and theory development.

A series of sessions on the politics of engagement in the Nordic Welfare State organised by Anna Lund (Stockholm University), Veikko Eranti (University of Helsinki) and Eeva Luhtakallio (University of Helsinki) included several papers drawing on new French pragmatism. Jutta Juvenius (University of Helsinki) presented an analysis on changing valuations of housing policies in Finland. With a focus on the moral foundations on present urban policies in Helsinki, Tampere, Espoo and Vantaa, her analysis illustrates a shift from universalistic to more market-oriented housing policies. Jan Frode Haugseth and Eli Smeplass‘ (NTNU) contribution looked at social-media based communication and engagement of youth in Norway, with a special interest in how youths’ affectivities and meanings can be framed by Thévenot’s regimes of engagements. Eeva Luhtakallio and Taina Meriluoto’s (University of Helsinki) applied Boltanski and Thévenot’s theory of justification in their paper on visual social media politics in Finland, more precisely the fame-based logic of greatness. They highlighted that social-media algorithmics value arguments by how widely they are publicly liked and shared and concluded that the availability of social media fosters a shift of a democracy previously grounded in the civic convention towards a democracy of appearances, visibility and recognition. Finally, Maija Jokela (University of Helsinki) in her thesis paper on individualism in an urban neighborhood movement (the Finish Kallio movement) concluded that the sociology of engagement can capture different forms of individualism – individualized expressions in the inspired world as well as individual interests as engagement in a plan –, and the tensions these cultural forms of collective action and individualizations can produce.

All in all, these briefly summarized sessions at the NSA 2022 conference in Reykjavik offered an introduction for the audience to the usefulness of pragmatic sociology for analyzing the plural realities of post-compulsory education in the Nordics as well as the politics of engagement in the Nordic Welfare State through a variety of several completed, ongoing and planned research projects. They illustrate that the sociology of convention is especially suited to study different aspects of Nordic welfare policy and that it has started to spread in the Nordics.

Economics of convention all over

“Kolloquium Sozialforschung” at University of Lucerne

Guy Schwegler (Lucerne)

As in previous years (see here), Rainer Diaz-Bone and Kenneth Horvath presented in the autumn semester 2021 a bi-weekly colloquium at the University of Lucerne. The format discusses current social scientific questions both in research as well as in professional practice. The focus often is on methodological and methodological challenges, innovations, and problems, while covering a broad spectrum of empirical research. In past editions and their various presentations, the theoretical framework of the economics of convention (EC) had represented a reoccurring, but not a central feature. This changed for the colloquiums 2021 edition: All presenters referred to the neo-pragmatist approach in some way and highlighted aspects like methodological situationalism, qualification of people and objects, statistical chains to produce data, reducing uncertainty via conventions, or the actors’ critical competence in situations.

Miriam Kutt: Closing one’s Eyes

Miriam Kutt ready for her presentation

For the colloquium’s first meeting, Miriam Kutt from the University of Lucerne presented methodological considerations from her PHD project. For said project, she has been interested in stigmatizations around mental illnesses and people’s ability to act in relation to a possible stigmatization. With regards to this subject, both the societal consideration of agency and its theoretical conceptualization seem to collapse in an interesting manner.

Kutt explained that that despite substantial efforts in Western societies to de-stigmatize issues like mental illness, the affected people both are experiencing and expecting stigmatization. As a result, affected people often try to avoid any conflicts that might result from a stigma to handle their daily life. Within this societal reality, Kutt’s project wants to grasp the situations that foster or prevent the stigmatized people to act in a situation: When does one mention a mental illness issue in a job interview? When does one call out the refusal of a rental agreement as unjust, because said refusal may motivated by stigma?

As a theoretical framework for her project, Kutt put forward a combination of the EC perspective and Foucauldian discourse theory. The former theoretical perspective helps to clarify the grammars around stigmatization and offers a way to analyze when actors switch from a more public justification via the regime of conventions to more individual regimes like plan, familiarity, or exploration. This perspective therefore helps to grasp both calling out unjust behavior as well as ignoring it, i.e. “closing one’s eyes”.[1] Discourse theory is a way to clarify what and how something becomes say-able and/or do-able. In combination, both help to address the question how a competence and an agency of actors are enabling a certain situation and vice versa.

The project’s research interest represents a challenge from a methodological point: The situations Kutt is interested in—i.e. where people avoid conflicts in relation to their stigma—are hard to come across as a researcher. And an artificial construction of such situations would raise ethical issues. Asking people about the subject (be it in interviews or via a survey), however, would neglect social desirability and that the conflict avoidance could also happen unconsciously. As a possible solution, Kutt presented different ways of using vignettes in group discussions. These vignettes would describe situations around stigmas in daily live. The people present in a group discussion could then be asked to categorize and comment these vignettes as well as to continue telling the stories featured in there (i.e. “what will happen next?”).

Already during the presentation, Kutt could convincingly explain that the idea of the vignettes is the right way to move forward. At the same time, a lot of difficulties arise with this solution as well. These difficulties were then mostly the issues the participants of the colloquium talked about after the presentation. Vignettes and their categorization in group discussions quickly move to fundamental questions about the ontology of a situation, of stigma, of agency, and more. Should these vignettes be open and only about a certain moment or should they feature a larger process? What kind of qualification should be or can be presented in relation to stigma? Should vignettes focus on details and empirical accuracy or should they include more general societal tendencies—or even “fantasy” elements? Ultimately, the discussion after Kutt’s presentations was about ways of construction a situation in a vignette: an artificial consideration of the methodological situationalism.

Eva Nadai: “Unqualified”

For the colloquium’s second presentation, Eva Nadai from the University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland (FHNW) presented the results from a research project. For “Unqualified,” Nadai and her collaborators were interested in the constitution and evaluation of employability of people with absent or only little formal professional “qualification”, like unrecognized educational levels or absent vocational qualification.[2]

In countries like Switzerland and similar Western nations, there has been a continues increase in formal (vocational) education. At the same time, there has been an continues decrease in available jobs without the need for formal professional qualification. The problem, Nadai explained, is that latter even decreased more than the former increased. Especially certain migrant sectors of a population face situations, where their previously acquired professional qualifications are not recognized (or language barriers deem them to be unqualified or…). Next to a high risk for unemployment, “unqualified” people and their possible occupations also face a cultural degradation within the current knowledge society and its dominant ideas of skilled as well as complex jobs.

In Nadai’s research project, “employability” was considered both as an attribution and a potential, therefore presenting a double qualification process in EC’s understanding: On the one hand, qualification is a process of value attribution, and on the other hand, it regarded as the acquisition of competencies. For the project, Nadai and her team conducted semi-structured interviews with three groups of actors, namely companies as the employers, employment agencies as intermediaries, and the “unqualified” workers themselves. There again, the EC wider theoretical framework became obvious and explicit: The companies were thought of as the powerful actors when making the value judgments; for the intermediaries, an active role when mediating workers was considered; and the workers themselves were also conceptualized as active and capable actors with regards to both sides of qualification.

The results Nadai presented during the colloquium followed the three actor groups. The companies can still be considered dominant actors when making the value judgement of the unskilled (i.e. not recognizing certain skills as vocational). A more stunning finding was that they also changed their (infra-)structure to include these workers in the workplace. For the intermediaries, Nadai showed that their judgment of workers was very much depending on context. She highlighted their active role in the sense of a refurbishment of the workers, i.e. working on their CVs, accompanying them to jobs, and other investments. The unqualified workers themselves could then be grouped into three categories or modes: Ambitious works (1) sought to actively (and successfully) overcome their status through subjectively qualifying themselves as skilled and objectively seeking out vocational training. A second mode that workers could follow was about securing basic needs (2), where they devote themselves to one job that does not formally require a skill, without aiming for a more formal recognition of their skills. As a result, this second type of workers could become very dependent on one employer. The last mode of how workers dealt with their situation was recognition (3). The inability to gain formal recognition—and therefore the inability to move away from an unqualified status—did also lead to actors struggling for other types of recognitions (i.e. considering their team as a family, fighting for rights at the work place, …).

Eva Nadai presenting the conclusions of her research project

As a conclusion, Nadai highlighted that a very complex set of relations and strategies enables the “employability” of unskilled workers. At the same time, these processes often do not enable a formal vocational qualification. This absence, however, also deemed the workers valuable for other modes of coordination. In addition, while people categorized as “unqualified” are struggling to be recognized as a group, individuals may get their appreciation as individual employees. The latter point again highlighted that the unqualified workers are the weakest link in such chains of qualifications for the workforce.

The discussion that followed the presentation revolved around two topics: For the first one, the participants were asking about the use of various conventions over the course of these workers’ qualification. Nadai’s empirical examples seemed to show that instead of one convention (or a stable mix of conventions), the logics to qualify people were changed during the process. These changes, however, were mostly implemented either via the employers or the intermediaries, and ultimately lead to disadvantages for the workers. The second topic during the discussion was a possible historical perspective and future scenarios. What is particularly new/contemporary in these ways of qualifying the “unqualified”? And what other developments might we expect in relation to these unqualified workers?

Karolin Kappler: “From Data Worlds to the Digital Chain: A Conventional-Theoretical Reflection on the Digitized Transformation of Society”

Karolin Kappler from the FernUniversität in Hagen gave the third presentation during this semester’s colloquium. At the center of her talk, she put the so-called digital chain in relation to processes of digitalization, inspired by the EC consideration of statistical chains. She started with the current moral conflict surrounding the process of the digital transformations we are witnessing: an almost demonizing view on processes of datafication on the one side, and self-tracking’s promises of salvation on the other side. Both in those two extreme positions as well as in the grey areas between them, an uncertainty of value and quality is present in relation to digitalization. Or rather: Many different values and qualities are mobilized through digitalization. Considering a chain of processes then means looking at different divisions of labor that happen in the process of choosing, generating, analyzing, and using data. The thick description of such a chain both should highlight the investments in forms necessary to make such a chain work as well as its processual nature. Kappler’s idea of the digital chain updated and complemented comparable concepts such as a big-data-process model.[3]

Rainer Diaz-Bone checking the hybrid setting for Karolin Kappler’s presentation

After introducing her concept, Kappler went on to present various situations that are a part of such a digital chain and that she as well as other researchers approached in empirical work. One group of situations was related to the processes of digitalization in self-tracking. Here, Kappler highlighted the performative and generative nature of digitalization.[4] A particular type of world building seems to happen when people use processes of self-tracking that is related to the industrial and inspirational conventions. The digital tools carry the conventions’ logics into people’s regimes of engagements. Another situation that Kappler approached empirically was the one of data analysis and artificial intelligence (AI). Here, she and her collaborators used text mining, scrapping discourse around research, design, and development of AI systems in three different forums: GitHub, Semantic Scholar, and Reddit.[5] The text corpora then were analyzed through automated text classification, to grasp the different quality conventions in the material. The first two forums mainly showed, again, the industrial and inspirational conventions. Reddit, however, also featured justifications relying on civic qualities.

Through following the digital chain, Kappler was able to highlight the tensions and conflicts as well as the plurality of processes and situations were data is being generated and linked together. She proposed to consider “data worlds” on the one hand, and the “data realities” on the other hand, following an idea from Boltanski: The former being the data present, while the latter being the construct made possible through a certain selection of data.[6] Ultimately, Kappler not only highlight an anatomy of such a digital chain and its continues expansion. She also presented how researchers can become active in relation to the digital chain. As an example, she showed a catalogue of sustainability criteria put together with other collaborates and in exchange with the German Society for Informatics.

The discussion after the presentation mainly revolved around two interrelated themes with regards to the digital chain: On the one hand, the participants were interested to know how the aspect of chaining together could be clarified, i.e. the digital chain’s potency beyond one particular situation, its way of connecting situations. The EC framework would of course highlight the role of conventions to show processes beyond fragmentation. On the other hand, the discussion revolved around the digital chain’s spine: The actual thing that is being chained together. The participants agreed that the data itself does not represent this lifeline moment of the chain. But what could it be? Comparing the digital chain with the idea of the statistical chain made it clear that the former does not work in a linear sense towards one institution that would organize the chain (like the state).[7] Ultimately, the image of a chain may be the wrong symbolization for the process around digital data.

Arne Böker: “Education Mobility & Crisis”

In the fourth presentation, Arne Böker presented the early stage of his new project about educational mobility during the current pandemic. The presentation was a fitting topic as the colloquium took place fully online again—a situation we already got used to during the past two years. Böker joined the group from New York, his current location for a research stay at the Columbia University. With his project, he analyzes the pandemic’s consequences on first generation students (FGS). Currently, about half of students at German (and also Swiss) universities are such students, but their numbers are decreasing once the studies continue from BA, to MA, to PHD (i.e. establishing an educational cone/“Bildungstrichter”). Böker wants to find out how these FSGs judge their situation bevor and during the pandemic, and what barriers, resources, and, arrangements are present in relation to social mobility in education.

The project promises to be both innovative with regards to research on the pandemic’s consequences on education as well as regarding the subject of FGS. Research on higher education during the pandemic often has been using quantitative surveys, focusing on certain subject only (like digitalization, financialization, family situation, and so on) and without a differentiation of students’ social background. For his project, Böker wants do qualitative interviews with the FGS. Their situation, he explained, has been worsening: After a highest level of these students were enrolled in the mid-1990s, their numbers decreased ever since. Also, the pandemic is mostly considered a factor that worsens the FGS’ situation, i.e. decreasing the number enrolled at universities. However, there is also evidence that both the pandemic itself (for example the flexibilization thanks to the digitalization) and the FGS show characteristics that could offer a sort of “window of opportunity” for educational mobility. Societal situations that prohibit and foster social mobility are rarely considered when researching education. Böker’s project promises to do just that.

Next to the interesting empirical ideas, the presented approach to higher education during the pandemic is also a new ground for the EC. Böker explained that the theoretical framework allows him to consider two interrelated issues: On the one hand, conflicts and situations of crises can be considered as a re-arrangement of barriers, resources, and arrangements, conceptualizing the corona pandemic as a “test” for institutions. On the other hand, also the actors’ critical capacities within this re-arrangement are highlighted. Such a theoretical view complements the more widespread ideas of Bourdieusian frameworks when approaching institutions and inequality.

Böker then went on the show the first results from an interview he conducted and analyzed. His analysis utilized mapping techniques from Situational Analysis to present a sort of project map of these results with two axes. On the horizontal x-axis, time was represented, ranging from bevor the pandemic to the current situation. The map’s y-axis differentiated between hurdles and resource for the actors.

Arne Böker presenting a project map from his first results

Böker connected various stages the interviewed student went through to highlighted how they changed in relation to each other over time: For example, his interviewee showed how she could both use the pandemic as a justification to extend her grant and how the pandemic lead to a stress relieve—bevor again unleashing a overwhelming amount of work for the student. Böker also showed that the connections he made between the different aspects could be related to different conventions. For example, paths could be traced that followed an industrial logic: from an initial idea of not being good enough to study, over to a particular motivation to organize one’s studies and, finally, to an overburdening with work during the pandemic. Such a relational thinking highlighted how aspects change and are used differently depending on a situation. It also made it possible for Böker to raise awareness for more invisible resource: The family, for example, was a help for the interviewed student particularly because they did not formulate any expectations towards her.

Böker ended his presentation by showcasing his next steps, particularly ideas for the variation in a sample. These ideas of variance were also taken up in the discussion afterwards in addition with another methodological aspect, namely the use of the maps. There, the participants agreed that it would be worthwhile to differentiate the two situations—bevor and during the corona pandemic—and not have them connected with an axis. Such an approach could strengthen the analysis to show the different arrangements in the two situations. In addition to methodological consideration, the discussion also raised a more general theoretical one point: What exactly was the role of EC’s theoretical framework in this project? Here, it was clear that the framework could help to highlight how actors make sense in the respective situations’ different arrangements and, for example, how conventions are brought forward to reduce uncertainty that follows the re-arrangements.

Leonie Bisang: “Mechanisms of Selection in Higher Education”

Leonie Bisang, also hailing form the FHNW, gave the last presentation of this semester. She shared an interest in educational inequality with Böker, but approached the subject with a different angle. For her recently started PHD project, Bisang wants to research how students choose their study course. Her interest lies in those particular students who do not follow a route the theoretical ideas about a structural homology between social space, lifestyles, and field would imply. With this particular interest, Bisang tackles questions of actors’ reflexivity.

To illustrate her research interest, Bisang first showcased the institutional change introduced in the higher education in Switzerland in the 1990s (and that various other countries introduced as well): the establishment of Fachhochschulen/universities of applied sciences. In Switzerland, these institutions offer higher education to people who did not attend a gymnasium (normally required to study at a university), but rather completed an apprenticeship and later on decided to study. While these universities of applied science often focus on courses directly relate to a job market (i.e. management), they also offer the same subjects as regular universities do (i.e. economics).

Bisang approaches this dual system with a particular interest. Following a field logic and the idea of structural homology, one would expect the following when considering students’ choice for institutions: Those who did attend a gymnasium will choose to study at a university, as such an institution is considered to offer a more prestigious education. The culturally-dominated students who did not attend a gymnasium would strive to be enrolled at a Fachhochschule, completing their apprenticeship. This homology is supported through a lot of structural process in place that make sure a majority of students follow such a path. However, there are both students who could attend a regular university that apply for a Fachhochschule, as there are examples the other way around. Moreover, these students’ choices are not only remarkable from a field perspective, but also in a more general sense: They need to go through extra effort to achieve being enrolled at the “other” institution, like getting experience in a job or additional exams.

The inapt choice from both people who could attend universities and from the ones who should attend the Fachhochschulen is what Bisang places at the heart of her PHD project. In a theoretical sense, the inapt choices start a conversation between the Bourdieusian habitus concept and EC competent actors. For the former, questions arise whether these choices are still pre-determined—whether they are in fact non-decision—or if these actors are deliberate and reflexive in their action. Considering the competence of actors is a strength for the latter theoretical position. In addition, the EC’s framework let’s one also consider the processes of coordination that are necessary to make these inapt choices work. Here again, a Bourdieusian framework highlights the aspect of inequality in a more pronounced and explicit way than the EC perspective often does.

For the last part of her presentation, Bisang introduced first idea on how to approach her empirical phenomenon and the theoretical questions she brought forward. One idea she proposed was to make a case comparison between students who chose to study economics: one sample representing the “normal” students, but enrolled at the Fachhochschulen, and one sample would be the those who finished an apprenticeship and then went on to study at a university. The case comparison could then be used in qualitative sense, she explained, to trace a process taking place. These more qualitative approaches could be supplemented with survey-type data, to perform a correspondence analysis once more information about the process of making a choice is available.

Léonie Bisang presenting a model to illustrate the process leading up to the choice of a study course

Bisang’s considerations for her empirical work were the starting point for the discussion that followed the presentation. Next to questions regarding process tracing, the sampling choice was a bigger subject. Aiming for a more open and broader theoretical sampling instead of a case comparison, the participants agreed, could help to identify more interesting cases. This would enable Bisang to grasp the different coordination problems that the students face: from different choices available, to institutional barriers, over to no choice made at all. Such a perspective could also open the possibility to consider reflexivity in another way, i.e. also looking at reflexivity as negative when actors are forced to be deliberate. At the end of the discussion, the subject of inequality was taken up again. Questions of inequality could both be more thoroughly and structurally integrated in case selection, but also in relation to showing inequality in the way people deal with institution (and then, how institutions deal with people).

EC all over?

The five presentations that were given this past semester at the colloquium showcased the following: EC’s theoretical framework—from very broad ideas like plurality over to the more detailed aspects like regimes—is being used in relation to a variety of research interest. They help researchers in grasping their phenomenon and open up interesting perspectives. The five presentations, however, also showed two challenges: On the one hand, using the concepts often is a mere first step, from where researchers still need to conceptualize a problem in an empirical situation. This conceptualization then can make use of other theoretical position and societal issues to move forward. On the other hand, researchers are often faced with challenging methodological problems as a result of the EC framework. Here, the questions of what a situation is seem to be a pressing issue. Next to just showcasing challenges, each presentation and the discussions that followed them made it clear the challenges are a pathway to creative social research.

[1] cf. Thévenot, Laurent. 2019. Measure for Measure: Politics of Quantifying Individuals to Govern Them. Historical Social Research, 44(2), 44-76. https://doi.org/10.12759/hsr.44.2019.2.44-76

[2] Nadai, Eva, and Anna Gonon. 2021. “Simple jobs” for disqualified workers. Employability at the bottom of the labour market. In The Future of Work, ed. Christian Suter, Jacinto Cuvi, Philip Balsiger, and Mihaela Nedelcu, 199–221. Zurich / Geneva: Seismo Verlag AG. https://doi.org/10.33058/seismo.30818.

[3] Weyer, Johannes, Marc Delisle, Karolin Kappler, Marcel Kiehl, Christina Merz, and Jan-Felix Schrape. 2018. Big Data in soziologischer Perspektive. In Big Data und Gesellschaft, ed. Barbara Kolany-Raiser, Reinhard Heil, Carsten Orwat, and Thomas Hoeren, 69–149. Wiesbaden: Springer Fachmedien Wiesbaden.

[4] Kappler, Karolin Eva, Eryk Noji, and Uwe Vormbusch. 2019. Performativität in körperlich-leiblichen Selbstvermessungspraktiken: Zwei Fallbeispiele. In Self-Tracking, Selfies, Tinder und Co., ed. Daniel Rode and Martin Stern, 83–100. transcript Verlag.

[5] Solans, David & Tauchmann, Christopher & Farrell, Aideen & Kappler, Karolin Eva & Huber, Hans-Hendrik & Castillo, Carlos. (2019). Conflict and Cooperation: AI Research and Development in terms of the Economy of Conventions.

[6] Luc Boltanski. (2019). On Critique: A Sociology of Emancipation. Cambridge: Polity Press.

[7] Desrosières, Alain. 2002. The Politics of Large Numbers. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

A value based approach to assessing changes in cultural policies

Mlitz, Kimberly/van den Hoogen, Quirijn Lennert (2021)
In:  Cultural Trends. Online first, pp. 1-19.

Publication Cover

ABSTRACT
“In democratic societies, the political process ultimately is about making value judgements. Comparative cultural policy research indicates different value orientations may be behind cultural policies of different nations. It has also indicated developments that are common, such as democratisation of culture, neoliberalisation of politics and globalisation. As of yet, such value changes have not been studied at the level of cultural policy documents analysed as text [Bell, D., & Oakley, K. (2014). Cultural policy. Routledge]. This article proposes a methodology to study value changes behind cultural policies over time and across nations. Based in the “pragmatic sociology” of Boltanski, Thévenot, and Chiapello [(2005). The new spirit of capitalism. (Translated by Gregory Elliot from Le nouvel esprit du capitalisme). Gallimard Verso. (Original work published 1999); (2006). On justification, economies of worth. (Translated by Catherine Porter from De la justification, Les économies de la grandeur). Gallimard & Princeton University Press. (Original work published 1991)], the article presents a big data methodology to uncover value changes of policy documents over time, between different policy agents, and across nations using material from the UK and the Netherlands. The paper explains the methodology, discusses the implications of the preliminary outcomes and provides suggestions for further comparative policy analyses.”

Link: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/09548963.2021.2012424

The Dynamics of Professional Values in Officership. A study of 300 Years of Officer Performance Evaluation Systems

Vilhelm Stefan Holsting (2021)

In: Roelsgaard Obling, A. and Victor Tillberg, L., 2021. Transformations of the Military Profession and Professionalism in Scandinavia. Copenhagen: Scandinavian Military Studies, pp. 208-235. Open access. DOI: https://doi.org/10.31374/book2

EXTRACT
„In order to examine changing values of officership, I draw on Luc Boltanski and Laurent Thévenot’s work of 2006 on orders of worth, notably pragmatic conceptualisations of justification and the plurality of incommensurable values. The analytical approach to the empirical exploration of values has been widely discussed since Parsons (1983, pp. 27–28) made the argument that values, formed by normative agreements, were “the very heart of the human enterprise… what made social order possible and what made the order potentially resistant to evolution.” Boltanski and Thévenot then described how moral judgements of people and things operate through a repertoire of moral modes or values. Common values must reference an idea of the common good, which has historically proven its worth in practice by becoming institutionalised and a viable part of social life. Moreover, such common values cannot be reduced to one higher universal value. By applying a pluralistic value approach, it is possible to observe the heterogeneous value dynamics in the military profession. Here, this value approach is used as an analytical framework, empirically sensitive across time and capable of observing diverse values both at a societal and a professional level. Boltanski and Thévenot’s (2006) framework consists of a number of historical values, or modes of worth.“ (p. 212)

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Worlds of Education: employing EC for studying schools, training, and higher education

Regula Julia Leemann and Christian Imdorf interviewed by Arne Böker and Kenneth Horvath

The field of education has played a crucial role for the German speaking reception of the Sociology of Conventions. Christian Imdorf and Regula Julia Leemann are key figures of this development. Christian is professor of sociology of education at the Leibniz University of Hannover (Germany), Regula holds a professorship at the University of Teacher Education FHNW and is adjunct professor at the Institute for Educational Sciences of the University of Basel (Switzerland). In the following interview – jointly conducted by Arne Böker (Institute for Higher Education Research, Martin Luther University of Halle-Wittenberg, Germany) and Ken Horvath (University of Lucerne, Switzerland) – they share their views on the past, the present, and the future of interdisciplinary educational research that builds on French pragmatic sociology.

 

 

Arne Böker: You have both been active in promoting and applying the Sociology of Conventions to the German speaking social sciences and, more specifically, to the field of educational research. Could you tell us more about how this journey began for you?

Christian Imdorf: I caught the virus in 2004. Back then, I worked as a postdoc at the University of Fribourg (CH) and was involved in a research project (funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation / SNF) on apprenticeship recruitment processes. We wanted to understand how employers perceive and evaluate young applicants. Initially, I planned to use Bourdieu’s concept of cultural capital as main theoretical resource for analyzing our interviews and field work data. But that proved overwhelming: In a way, everything that had been said and observed could be read as expressing “cultural capital”, it seemed impossible to further differentiate on this conceptual basis. I then talked to a colleague about these problems while we were traveling home from a summer school. He suggested I engage myself more closely with Luc Boltanski’s moral sociology which could help understand the varying criteria that employers use for evaluating candidates. I thus devoted some time to “The New Spirit of Capitalism” by Luc Boltanski and Ève Chiapello. After that project had ended, I successfully applied for a mobility grant by the SNF which allowed me to re-analyze my empirical data on apprentice selection through the analytical lens of “orders of justification”. Franz Schultheis then proposed that I contact the Laboratoire d’Économie et de Sociologie du Travail (LEST), where I met Eric Verdier and also found time and space for studying Boltanski and Thévenot’s “On Justification” in detail. Following my time at LEST, I went to Glasgow where I finally had my first more extensive encounter with Regula.

Regula Julia Leemann: I was also doing research on vocational training – investigating “training networks” (called “Lehrbetriebs- oder Ausbildungsverbünde” in Switzerland and Germany), i.e. networks of companies that jointly train their apprentices. At that time, I had already read some of Christian’s work. When Christian did a sabbatical, I spent some time at the Center for Educational Sociology (CES) in Scotland in Edinburgh. After meeting in Glasgow and Edinburgh, we submitted a project proposal to the SNF that was first rejected but later accepted in revised form. This project inquired into selection and supervision processes in training networks from an EC perspective. The problem in the first application round was that there was virtually no one in the German speaking social sciences who had already worked with this theoretical framework. Neither could we cite any German sources on how to apply this framework to the field of education. When we started revising our funding application, first introductory texts and also first translations had appeared in German, on the initiative of Rainer Diaz-Bone. We ourselves had also published on the topic in the meanwhile. That was helpful for demonstrating that the theory we were talking about was actually known and helpful. During this time, we also put a focus on the sociology-of-organization aspects of our research phenomena. Our exchange with Lisa Knoll in the context of a contribution to an edited book on “organization and convention” (Knoll ) was very important in this regard. Lisa offered us a lot of feedback and helped to better link our theoretical framework with our research interests.

CI: I guess that was the moment when our in-depth involvement with the Sociology of Conventions really started. Before that, we had strongly focused our attention on the idea of orders of justification, leaving the rest of EC’s conceptual repertoire aside. In 2013 we also established links to Julia Brandl in Innsbruck with whom we shared an interest in the methodological implementation of EC concepts and ideas. Our regular EC workshop series evolved out of this context.

AB: What EC concepts were (and are) central for your research?

CI: At the beginning, I worked a lot with the concept of orders of justification. That theoretical framework proved practical for my secondary analysis, even if my empirical data had originally not been generated on the basis of EC notions. Orders of justification allowed to identify the actual and plural criteria mobilized to evaluate young human beings during application processes, and hence to fill a gap in the sociological study of discrimination in recruitment processes. Previously, discrimination had mainly been conceived of in economic terms, but the categories themselves on which these mechanisms relied, were never put into focus. It was all about the performance of students and the productivity of companies. Back then, I realized that this understanding was too narrow to accurately interpret the narratives in the interviews we had conducted with those responsible for recruitment in companies. The idea of orders of justification helped broaden and enhance our understanding of these actors’ accounts. Soon after, I discovered the concept of worlds for my research. I started to differentiate organizational contexts according to their anchoring in different worlds in which economic actors develop their understanding of situations and their strategies of handling them. On this basis I could ask how well potential new employees fit into the worlds that were of relevance in different company settings. All in all, that allowed to conceptualize recruitment processes in completely new terms. I also quickly realized that this novel understanding could not only be conveyed to other social scientists but could also be used in conversation with teacher trainees, students, professionals, and experts. I found it fascinating that a sociological theory can work productively for knowledge transfer. Of course, there were also people who found this perspective irritating. For example, I argued that what “merit” [“Leistung” in German] means differs between different worlds of education – among others I showed that this variety helps understand the justification of the negative selection of migrant pupils in educational transition processes. This thinking in worlds was, of course, strongly informed by the earlier work of Jean-Louis Derouet (1992).

RJL: In our project on training networks we mainly worked with the idea of varying logics of practice. Christian and I tried to understand how such complex organizations function and how and why ruptures and problems emerge in these collaborations. These networks are so complex that they could hardly be established as durable new model for vocational training. The concept of plural logics of practice helped understand how the management of such networks – which we interpreted in terms of intermediaries – needs to navigate between different logics, implying the constant task of finding compromises. The on-going emergence of problems and the subsequent search for solutions that are so typical for these network organizations could be described and understood very effectively with EC concepts. The next step for me together with Christian was a research project financed by the SNF on the institutionalization of the Swiss school form of “Fachmittelschule” which we investigated in a historical perspective, comparing and relating it to already established traditional institutions of upper secondary education. We focused on quality concepts to understand how the third educational pathway of “Fachmittelschulen” could be established in addition to the “Gymnasium” and classical vocational training, and looking at the disputes, conflicts, and compromises that this process entailed. At the moment, I am engaged in a new SNF research project together with two postdocs on educational governance, especially regarding the governing of transition processes in the federally organized Swiss school system. So far, these transitions have been mostly analyzed as individual educational trajectories. We know little about how these transitions in the different cantons are politically regulated and managed by actors on different levels of the education system. In this context, I realized that I had to put more emphasis on processes of quantification, as outlined in Desrosières` “Governing by Numbers”, since indicators and numbers are crucial instruments for the governance of education.

AB: You are also co-editors of a collected volume on EC in the field of education, published in 2019 (Imdorf et al., 2019). How did the idea for this publication project come up? What was your motivation, and what were your objectives with this ambitious publication project?

CI: Our focus on vocational training allowed us to promote EC ideas in Swiss educational research. When we met Philipp Gonon during a conference in Lille, we jointly decided to start the project of editing this volume for which Rainer Diaz-Bone and Lisa Knoll had invited us. We then organized a workshop for our prospective authors in Cologne and invited colleagues who already worked with conventionalist concepts and ideas. We also published an open Call for Papers and received promising proposals from various scholars in response. That was very interesting for us, because we saw that there were several colleagues in German educational research that worked on this theoretical basis than we had been aware of. Rainer Diaz-Bone proposed to also include French speaking authors. Of course, we were familiar with this idea of international exchange through the EC-Workshops, even if the French participants in these workshops had not come from the field of education. But we did already have first contacts to Eric Verdier, Jean-Louis Derouet and Elisabeth Chatel, who all later contributed to our collected volume.

RJL: As editors, we found it essential to support and guide our authors intensively throughout the process of writing and publication. We made many suggestions regarding concepts etc. Our authors were very open and thus the collaboration with them worked very well. A big piece of work for us as editors was subsequently the supervision and support of the externally organized translation from French to German.

CI: We demanded high standards of our own work as editors. Among others, we ourselves were eager to move beyond purely descriptive uses of concepts such as orders of justification. Hence, we also wished that our authors do more than just identify different worlds or orders. Rainer Diaz-Bone motivated and supported us in our attempt to move towards more explanatory modes of working with the Sociology of Conventions. The challenge when moving from descriptive to explanatory research is that one must take the underlying EC methodology seriously. Among others, that implies inquiring into everyday methods of knowledge production, of generating and employing data that themselves structure situational practices. To give an example, in research on recruitment processes a possible focus would be on formats of examination and testing. Who developed these tests? Who is in charge of them? Who implements them? I believe that this is one way of moving beyond a purely descriptive approach.

Ken Horvath: How did you experience the conditions of reception for EC-inspired research in the German speaking social sciences? And how, in turn, do you assess the role of educational research for the Sociology of Conventions in France?

CI: Research on school and education is a very wide and varied field. Regarding the sub-field of vocational training, my impression is that there is an increasing number of scholars and especially PhD students working with EC frameworks. During my stay at LEST I realized that it is a difficult endeavor to refer the works of Boltanski and Thévenot because their ideas were highly contested in the French sociology of education. In France, the dominant Bourdieusian school of thought is very skeptical of pragmatic sociology. That was an important experience – implying that it was actually easier in the German speaking social sciences to refer to these theories and to work creatively with them. In sum, I would therefore see the reception context in German countries as favorable, especially in younger fields such as vocational training in Switzerland. Vocational training is also an interesting case because it itself is a compromise between educational systems and the labor market. The Sociology of Conventions helps grasp this complexity and to differentiate this whole educational apparatus, e.g. regarding how different qualities of education are implemented and lived.

RJL: I served as a board member of the sociology-of-education research network of the German Sociological Association for quite a long time. This network was also very strongly dominated by orthodox Bourdieusian perspectives. One of my key objectives was to launch new themes and novel approaches into a field – for example the Sociology of Conventions, but also neo-institutionalism, systems theory etc. Today there is far more conceptual variety. However, there is still a very strong methodological divide. In particular scholars working quantitatively and with rational-choice frameworks are organized in their own circles. Sometimes they applied for events organized by the sociology-of-education network but were not invited. There just was and still is this very clear separation.

CI: In the meantime, I have become involved in the board of this network. My impression is that the board today is very open for quantitative research. We really do not want to reproduce this methodological cleavage that does not only pervade educational research but the whole German sociological landscape. But of course, these are the conditions in which we need to push through our own “conventionalist” projects. In this context, one promising field of application for the Sociology of Conventions is the study of social research itself. So what is actually going on in sociology or in educational research. There is an increasing amount of research being done in this context, for example on the rise of empirical education research, an interdisciplinary research field that is primarily concerned with the standardized measurement of educational quality and outcomes. It would be more than worthwhile to contribute an EC angle to this debate. But in essence there would have to be a professorship or some institutionalized position dedicated to promoting this kind of research and reflexive perspective. I believe that a lot is going on among younger scholars, and we might have to wait until they end up in these more powerful positions.

KH: French pragmatic sociology is renowned for its conception of the capable social actor. What does that imply for how we think about and also how we organize the relation between scientific research and everyday pedagogical practice?

CI: I already mentioned my experience that EC notions and ideas are easy to convey. Surely this is a matter of finding the right words, but all in all the main ideas are easy to grasp. An important question will be in what direction research funding will develop, and how much weight is given to the transfer of knowledge. My feeling is that this development is only beginning in Germany. On a European scale this question of broader impact seems to be more established for successful grant applications. These are favorable conditions for the Sociology of Conventions. At the same time, there is this state of perpetual disappointment by politicians who are guided by this idea of evidence that immediately translates into decision making. That was one big hope linked to the promotion of empirical education research – a hope that has already at least in parts given way to a certain disenchantment. Empirical research can demonstrate correlations between factors, but for pedagogical practice what counts is to understand how these correlations come about. My impression is that against this background the demand for qualitative research is rising, because of its more immediate relevance for practitioners.

RJL: Our ongoing project on the governance of transitions in the Swiss education system shows, again, that there is this imagination – in social sciences and politics alike – that there is one final solution, one answer to how these transitions should be designed in a fair manner. The promise of the Sociology of Conventions is that it demonstrates that there never is only one answer because there are different forms and notions of educational justice that are relevant for everyday practices. Every form of governing transitions will lead to each own set of positive and negative selection effects. It is all about making this complexity visible and to show how actors necessarily need to deal with a variety of rationalities and conditions. As a project team we are currently working on an article in which we compare two Swiss cantons that differ in many regards. On the one hand a very small canton that is strongly marked by the domestic world, on the other hand a large canton that is characterized by industrial logics. The Sociology of Conventions allows to illustrate how institutional configurations lead actors to choose some particular transition procedures and some specific ways of governing them – and to understand the conflicts that arise as a consequence. That is the key strength of a pragmatic approach. Of course, we cannot tell or influence whether and in what ways political actors will make use of these insights.

KH: In your view, what are the main fields of development, the main challenges but also the most important opportunities for the future development of the Sociology of Conventions in the field of education?

RJL: I see a huge potential especially in primary education, regarding the study of lessons, of teaching and learning, and of the pedagogical profession. This is a huge field that leaves plenty of scope for defining relevant research questions. Something similar can be said about the topic of digitization; likewise, the field of educational governance still offers many opportunities for EC-inspired research. Over the coming years, it will be interesting to see whether the conventions identified by Boltanski, Thévenot, Chiapello & co. will remain to guide research – or whether perhaps new conventions emerge. I believe that this is a field of development for the near future. Further, I hope that in the coming years scholars will pay more in-depth attention to methodological questions, from the production of empirical data to their analysis. In this context, it would of course be helpful to have academic positions dedicated to research methodologies in education.

CI: In my own research, I wish to investigate educational biographies and trajectories from an EC perspective. I would like to develop a better understanding of the educational organizations that co-produce these trajectories. The concept of “tests” could prove valuable for move towards a sociological explanation of these processes. I also see a need to study non-formal educational settings. In addition, I believe it would be valuable to conceptualize notions of general and academic education in terms of the Sociology of Conventions. I notice that there is more and more interesting research being done in the Scandinavian social sciences too. French pragmatic sociology is increasingly read and employed internationally, mirroring developments we have already seen in German educational research. One important question will be, whether these strands of research can be institutionalized. I am optimistic that a few young researchers will manage to obtain professorships. One idea would be to establish a format such as summer schools for younger scholars, in addition to the already existing EC workshop series, in order to build and strengthen academic networks.

References

Derouet, Jean-Louis. 1992. École et justice. De l’égalité des chances aux compromis locaux? [School Education and Justice. From equality of opportunities to local compromises?]. Paris: Métailié.

Imdorf, Christian, Regula Julia Leemann & Philipp Gonon (eds.). 2019. Bildung und Konventionen. Die „Economie des conventions“ in der Bildungsforschung [Education and Conventions. The ‘Economie des conventions’ in Educational Research]. Wiesbaden: Springer VS.

Knoll, Lisa (ed.). 2015. Organisationen und Konventionen. Die Soziologie der Konventionen in der Organisationsforschung [Organisations and Conventions. The Sociology of Conventions in Organisation Research]. Wiesbaden: Springer VS.

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 https://conventions.hypotheses.org/11454). Tamar Sharon (Radboud University Nijmegen) introduced her research project on the Googlization of health and discussed Boltanski and Thévenot’s orders of worth as part of a framework to identify evolving risks. Last but not least, Guy Schwegler (University of Lucerne) brought up to discussion a method to survey actor’s critical competence within his PHD project on performativity.
These three lectures relying on EC and their subsequent discussions are summarized in this post.

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


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

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


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

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


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

References

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

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

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

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

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.

References

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.

Expertise as a “capacity for action”: reframing vocational knowledge from the perspective of work

Guile, David/Unwin, Lorna  (2020)
In: Journal of Vocational Education & Training 2020, pp. 1-19.
https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/13636820.2020.1858939

Publication Cover

ABSTRACT
“Occupational expertise has always been constituted and afforded recognition and status in work contexts, however, these contexts are becoming increasingly interconnected and interrelated, underpinned by, ‘intangible assets’. To explore this complex process and its implications for vocational education and training (VET), this article uses the concept of expertise as a ‘capacity for action’ and its emphasis on the communicative dimension of expertise. It explores the implications of these ideas by identifying, firstly, the ways in which knowledge is produced, consumed, adapted, and discarded through work practices and, secondly, how the valuing of expertise arises from the contexts in which its deployed and shaped. The paper concludes with a framework to show how the necessary components for the development of expertise as a ‘capacity for action’ within VET programmes could be portrayed. It argues that this could offer the means to strengthen the capacity of VET learners (at whatever stage) to both utilise their expertise and understand how it is being recognised and valued.”
EXTRACT
” We then introduce Boltanski and Thévenot’s (2006) taxonomy of ‘economies of worth’ as a potential vocabulary for understanding how our conception and deployment of expertise is influenced by, on the one hand, the reconciliation of competing conceptions of value (for example, aesthetic, technical, financial, sustainability) in occupational settings and, on the other hand, occupational recognition and status within society beyond the traditional benchmarks awarded through educational credentials.” (p. 2)

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 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1og8cTR8wEU). 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 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fish_aggregating_device). 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.

References

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 https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/jan/19/crisis-of-statistics-big-data-democracy.

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 https://cloud.uni-halle.de/s/gB4rThkx7ZHIC9d/download?path=%2F&files=Amo_Lecture_cut.mp4.

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 https://aoc.media/opinion/2020/04/15/politique-du-nombre-de-morts.

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).

A sense of inequality

Bottero, Wendy (2020). London: Rowman & LIttlefield.

Book cover A Sense of Inequality

ABOUT THE BOOK

“We have a detailed picture of how inequality impacts people’s lives, but a much weaker sense of how people perceive, interpret and understand issues of inequality. What shapes people’s everyday understandings of inequality? How are understandings of inequality located in everyday concerns, moral values and principles of justice?
This book considers what provokes everyday ‘views’ or framings of inequality. It examines how different approaches can help us understand this process, drawing on a range of literatures, including social attitudes and perceptions research, class identities and neoliberalism, theories of the psychosocial, affect and the abject, social constructionism, social movements research, and pragmatism. The book examines how troubling social situations come to be regarded as inequalities, explores how they come to be understood as ‘class’, ‘gender’, ‘racial’ or other kinds of inequality, and considers how such inequalities come to be seen as susceptible to intervention and change.”

 

EXTRACT

THE NORMATIVE BASIS OF ‘ORDINARY’ CRITIQUE
“Analysts who qualify accounts of symbolic domination are often reluctant to ‘throw the baby out with the bathwater’, and seek to retain an emphasis on people as embodied, dispositional beings (Sayer, 2005b: 51, 52). Others make a more decisive break, adopting a more rationalist stance on critique. One such departure is Boltanski’s (2011) attack on Bourdieusian ‘critical sociology’. Boltanski (2011: 20, original emphasis) argues that in critical sociology, ‘domination’ becomes overextended into a notion of ‘symbolic violence’ in which ‘actors are dominated without knowing it’, a process explained by ‘the illusions that blind them and appeals to the notion of the unconscious’. But this creates major explanatory problems. Trying to ‘explain virtually all . . . behaviour by the internalization of dominant norms’ places too much weight on the dispositions of actors ‘at the expense of the properties inscribed in the situations into which they are plunged’ (Ibid.: 20). And for Boltanski, arguing that people’s behaviour is in accordance with innate dispositions makes it impossible to account for ‘the disputes actors engage in’ (Ibid.: 20–21). It treats actors ‘as deceived beings or as if they were “cultural dopes”’ in which their critical capacities are underestimated or ignored2 (Ibid.: 20). If we want to take seriously the claims of actors when they denounce social injustice, criticize power relationships or unveil their foes’ hidden motives, we must conceive of them as endowed with an ability to differentiate legitimate and illegitimate ways of rendering criticism and justifications. It is, more precisely, this competence which characterizes the ordinary sense of justice which people implement in their disputes. (Boltanski and Thévenot, 1999: 364) The space for critique is provided by the plural criteria of justification which govern social institutions (with no single axis of domination or legitimation) where people can draw on competing regimes of evaluation and justification for their actions. Boltanski and collaborators examine the critical capacities of actors and their ‘ordinary denunciations’ of injustice, focusing on how people justify themselves in the face of critique, the disagreements that emerge over the legitimacy of social practices and how people resolve disputes using different principles of justification (Boltanski and Thévenot, 2006; Boltanski and Chiapello, 2007; Boltanski, 2011, 2012). In this framework, the social world ‘does not appear as a place of a domination suffered passively and unconsciously but more like a space intersected by a multitude of disputes, critiques, disagreements and attempts to produce fragile local agreements’ (Jagd, 2011: 345–46). Here the exercise of ‘ordinary’ critical competences is a routine feature of social life. This reflects the normative character of social interaction, in which individuals must justify (or be able to justify) their actions to each other, appealing to legitimate principles of action which they hope will command respect or agreement (Boltanski and Thévenot, 2006). People engage in confrontation when their sense of justice is affronted, with such interventions not simply strategic but instead drawing on arguments that claim a more general validity.” (p. 94-95)

Link to publishers’ homepage:

https://rowman.com/ISBN/9781783487868/A-Sense-of-Inequality