Archives de l’auteur : diazbone

Report on the Symposium « Digital Self-Tracking: Between Empowerment and New Barriers », 17.-18. April 2018, Darmstadt, Germany

Elisabeth Späth (Furtwangen University) & Valeska Cappel (University of Lucerne)

A two-day symposium on “Digital Self-Tracking: Between Empowerment and New Barriers“, organized by the Schader-Stiftung and Furtwangen University, took place from 17.-18. April 2018 at the Schader-Forum in Darmstadt, Germany. The symposium was initiated by Stefan Selke, Johannes Achatz and Elisabeth Späth, who are examining the ethical aspects of digital self-tracking in the research project VALID (see project description, in German). The idea to start this symposium was to meet project partners as well leading experts in the field of self-tracking in order to exchange views on current self-tracking practices and their potential to create (more or less) barriers and empowerment of patients. Following the foundation’s motto “Dialogue between Social Sciences and Practice“, experts from a wide range of scientific disciplines (sociology, ethics, health and culture sciences, and medicine) and specific fields of practice, such as patient participation, health insurances, development and certification of health-apps, were invited. This motto was also reflected in the symposium’s structure by providing presentations of ongoing and completed projects as well as four workshops.

Stefan Selke

On the first day, Stefan Selke welcomed all guests, introducing the VALID project. Discussions on concepts and ideas on sampling criteria were led by scientific advisory board member Claudia Bozzaro (University Freiburg). Gerrit Fröhlich (University Trier) presented their on-going project “Reflexive Self-Scientificization” („Reflexive Selbstverwissenschaftlichung”) on lay-people’s perspective on as well as experiences with diet-tracking apps, pointing out that they try to minimize subjective impact on estimating their well-being/health status (“they make the world a laboratory“).  Highlighting relevant insights from a completed project, Nils Heyen (Fraunhofer-Institut ISI Karlsruhe) introduced the prosumer approach, which captures the idea that the self-tracker is producer and consumer of “knowledge“. Furthermore, he shed light on the “future(s)“ of self-tracking by applying a scenario-methodology to current practices and projecting possible societal consequences of self-tracking activities. After a coffee-break, participants split up to attend workshops on “Data and Performance/Achievement“ given by Jana Wegener (Kulturwissenschaftliches Institut Essen) and “Data and Barriers“ given by Peter Langkafel (Healthcubator GmbH). On the following day, two sub-projects of the VALID project were presented: Christof Dame (Charité Berlin, Neonatologie) gave interesting insights into practices of data tracking/monitoring done by parents regarding their premature infants, calling to “track“ and interpret the interaction between father, mother and infant (e. g. bonding). Melike Sahinol (Orient-Institut Istanbul) gave an overview of her research topics, such as human enhancement and cultural meanings of human interventions in bodies, with specific regard to regulations in Turkey, and addressed the particular methodological challenge to conduct interviews with vulnerable groups (here: children with 3D-printed prostheses). After a lunch break, Christina Westphal emphasized in her workshop on “Data and Measuring“ the pitfalls of defining “good“ –  in a quality- and ethics-related sense – criteria for the certification of health-apps. Manuela Pfinder (AOK Baden-Württemberg, department of health promotion) presented the pay-as-you-live tariff model from a health insurance perspective. Exemplifying the interface between theory and practice, Sylvia Sänger (University of Applied Health Sciences, Campus Gera) gave an empirical-analytical account on whether the health care system empowers or rather hinders patients to be “health literates“. In respect to evaluating where to “place“ digital self-tracking on a spectrum between empowerment new barriers, she posed the question of how knowledge can be shared so that everyone can benefit from and contribute to knowledge production at the same time.

Valeska Cappel

In the following, we want to highlight the talks specifically revolving around the economy of conventions (EC) as well as related topics. Valeska Cappel (University of Lucerne) gave a theoretical introduction on the EC to illustrate the benefit of conventionalist thinking in the field of self-tracking. She presented some main concepts of the EC, like the investments in forms, to show how this theoretical frame can help as a methodological approach to start empirical research for analyzing preventive health-apps. The EC hereby serves as a useful approach to grasp the variety and normativity of the situation. In her presentation she focused on the question of the genesis of classifications in preventive health apps and the situational practice. Her empirical research involves qualitative expert interviews, focus groups with different actors from the health sector as well as an artefact analysis. Interestingly, a guest compared the theory of EC with the design thinking approach, because it, too, essentially falls back onto non-hierarchical thinking and exchanging different motives, which might be particularly relevant for a developer’s perspectives. An important aspect was raised in respect to the methodological approach as one should distinguish between an interviewee’s verbal response and their actual behavior. This might be an important hint in the context of analyzing how people justify their behavior, indicating the challenge especially in the field of self-tracking, to get into the situation of visible orders of justification.


Karolin Kappler

Drawing from interviews with self-tracking people, Karolin Kappler (University Hagen) illustrated different types of ambivalences evolving from self-tracking practices in her talk on the habitualization of the body-subjective body relationship („Körper-Leib Habitualisierung“). One type of ambivalence she highlighted lies in the “confusion“ of the relationship between well-being and counting calories; against the supposing benefit of self-tracking by structure and self-monitoring, it is not that clear that self-tracking really does good to one’s health and well-being. Although the data recommended to eat more or less calories, the interviewees explained in some cases, they physically speaking do not feel well after following this advice and prefer to act in a different way. Through qualitative interviews with self-trackers, she caved out the orders of justifications in regard to the use of self-tracking apps. She emphasized self-care as a new form of order of justification: the practice of self-tracking brings a certain type of valence to the fore in the sense that it is “good“ to “be able to take care after oneself“. In this light, theories on individualism and hedonism may gain new relevance in the study of digital self-tracking. An important open question she raised was directed towards which kind of understanding of common good is compatible with this new self-care order of justification.

Rainer Diaz-Bone (University of Lucerne) subsequently gave a stimulating overview of the EC and its main concepts, introducing pragmatism, and structuralism as a form of megaparadigm to frame the EC; following this line of thought, conventions are seen as logics of coordination, which fall back onto certain values and practices. Diaz-Bone brought in John Dewey’s process philosophy, which serves as a useful additional insight into EC, taking reality as constantly-changing entity and, with it, changing values and habits.

Rainer Diaz-Bone

From an ethical perspective, EC may be relevant because this theory shows that situations are characterized through a plurality of normativities: actors, objects and dispositives are involved in mobilizing specific valences, valuations and qualities in situations. Therefore, quantification is always based on normative fundamentals. The insights provided by the EC basically demand to look at the genesis of data production and question the situational definition of health, to be able to understand how these quantifications and classifications are invented and who exactly pushes a certain view, or like Alain Desrosières said: “Quantification means to invent a convention first and measure then”. Diaz-Bone emphasized that the starting point of the research concerning self-tracking should not focus on the data itself, but rather on the initiation of the process of the data formation.

In the light of the different ambivalences concerning the potentials, and downsides coming along with digital self-tracking, we may repeat Karolin Kappler’s illustrative quote at the very end of her presentation: “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.“ (Albert Einstein)


Incremental Urbanism: A study of incremental housing production and the challenge of its inclusion in contemporary planning processes in Mumbai (India), by Tobias Baitsch


Whilst urbanisation reached an unprecedented dimension, in a not so distant future half of the urban population will live in ‘informal’ settlements. Often subsumed under the pejorative term slum, these habitats account for the majority of the future urban growth. Incremental urban development was once accepted as a viable means of addressing housing needs for large parts of the urban population. However, these approaches were largely abandoned in the 1990s in favour of mass housing provided through public private partnerships. While these largely failed in providing the required quantities and produced poor urban spaces, the scale of the phenomenon is such that incremental urban development needs reconsidering. However, in contrast to the well-documented experiences of the 1970s and 1980s, there is a lack of knowledge about the actual functioning of incremental development in contemporary regimes of urbanisation. Adopting an approach informed by French pragmatist sociology (Boltanski and Thévenot 2006), particularly the sociology of convention (Thévenot 1984), this research inquires into the production of slums at two levels: the intricate reality of housing production in Mumbai’s slums and the contemporary controversies revolving around urban development. Building on fieldwork in a ‘self-built’ resettlement colony in Mumbai forty years after it was established, this research examines how incrementally developing settlements are made, maintained, and transformed through everyday practices of local actors. Standing at the crossroads of the market, the political, and the social the so-called contractors are key figures engaged in the processes of construction and house making. As mediators in and of incremental urbanism they produce not only built-up space but also social space. Focusing on contractors as hitherto under-examined figures reveals that self-help housing in Mumbai, in contrast to conventional believes about housing practices of the urban poor, is by and large a professionalised mode of urban production. This research offers a refined account of the intricate reality of housing production and the ambiguous nature of incremental urbanism. Regarding urban planning, this research analyses the on-going revision of the Mumbai Development Plan 2014-2034 and the controversies accompanying it, which brings to the forefront the interplay of powers and arguments that otherwise are disguised in the dispersed and detached everyday making of the city. To better understand the discourse on current planning practices and struggles over conflicting approaches towards slums, this research examines the arguments and legitimization principles that underpin four major positions advocated in the controversies as the ‘good’ way to urbanisation. Considering them as equally valid positions allows drawing comparisons between the different conceptualisations of urban planning and development, and the role and legitimacy they confer to modes of incremental urbanism. Reading the two moments in the production of Mumbai’s slums together sheds light on the challenges to incorporate incremental urbanism into planning processes. It is argued that these challenges lie not solely with the conflicting rationalities ‘or cosmos’ of how to create a just city, which clash in the controversies, but also with the ambiguity of incremental urbanism itself. Both of which contribute to complex processes of invisibilisation, or subalternisation, of incremental urbanism.

Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne

Thesis Director
Dr. Luca Pattaroni , EPF Lausanne

Thesis Co-Director
Prof. Dr. Christian Schmid, ETH Zurich

Dr. Florence Graezer Bideau, EPF Lausanne, president of the jury
Dr. Pushpa Arabindoo, University College London, external expert
Prof. Dr. René Véron, University of Lausanne, external expert
Dr. Jennifer E. Duyne Barenstein, ETH Zurich, internal expert

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The Populist Toolkit Finnish Populism in Action 2007–2016, PhD thesis by Tuukka Ylä-Anttila (University of Helsinki)

Populism has often been understood as a description of political parties and politicians, who have been labelled either populist or not. This dissertation argues that it is more useful to conceive of populism in action: as something that is done rather than something that is. I propose that the populist toolkit is a collection of cultural practices, which politicians and
citizens use to make sense of and do politics, by claiming that ‘the people’ are opposed by a corrupt elite – a powerful claim in contemporary politics, both in Finland and internationally. The concept of the populist toolkit has analytical utility, since it can separate a set of populist repertoires from others, for example that of exclusionary nationalism, and takes seriously
the effect culture has on action, while avoiding cultural determinism. I study four instances in which the populist toolkit was used in Finnish politics from 2007 to 2016. As data, I use party publications, a Voting Advice Application, newspaper articles and opinion pieces, and a large set of online media data. Methodologically, I employ qualitative text analysis informed by theories of populism, cultural practices, frame analysis and Laurent Thévenot’s sociology of engagements, as well as topic modeling. Article I argues that the state of the Eurozone in 2011 gave the Finns Party an opportunity to frame the situation as a crisis for Finland and to
present itself as a righteous populist challenger to established parties. Article II shows that the Finns Party uses anti-feminist arguments to present itself as a populist alternative. Article III presents a theory of how populist argumentation can use familiar emotional experiences in bonding ‘the people’ together. Article IV tackles the populist epistemology: while populism
can be critical of intellectuals and experts in general, the article shows that another populist strategy is counterknowledge, incorporating alternative knowledge authorities. This strategy is particularly employed by the populist radical right. After the monumental success of right-wing populism in Western democracies, the next big question is whether left-wing or liberal actors will take up the tools of populism, or will they rather position themselves on the side of pluralism, democratic institutions and scientific expertise. This will have to be assessed by future studies.

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Franco-German workshop on “Civic education and social integration, a Franco-German comparison: theoretical and methodological perspectives” in Paris, Maison des Sciences de l’Homme (7 to 8 December 2017)

Lisa Schenkel (University of Münster)

School systems in France and Germany are very different in their historical development and institutional characteristics. Nevertheless, in times of growing pluralization, both systems must respond to similar challenges and contradictions. On the one hand, school is supposed to guarantee political integration and socio-economic insertion as well as creating cooperation in classrooms. On the other hand, teachers and students are exposed to a vast number of discourses about social challenges, held by society, economy, government and politics. How can school under these conditions still be the essence of what a nation wants to transmit culturally, and how can social integration take place? Consequently, teachers and students are constantly confronted with various expectations and dilemma-situations in the classroom. To stabilize their domain-specific acting, teachers have to make use of specific conventions and justifications. Especially in the domain of civic education, performative justifications regarding society, economy and politics are permanently demanded from the teachers. But, are these conventions and justifications they use the same in France and Germany? How do civic education teachers refer to the social scientific discourse? Do they use devices in a different manner?

Andrea Szukala (Münster University), Claude Proeschel (Université de Lorraine/ GSRL/EHESS) and Reinhold Hedtke (Bielefeld University) initiated a workshop from 7th to 8th December 2017 at the Maison des Sciences de l’Homme in Paris that aimed to open new theoretical and methodological perspectives on civic education and social integration in France and Germany.

Claude Proeschl

Experts from France, Germany and Switzerland in the fields of Civic and Social Science Education, Sociology of Conventions, Methodology and Sociology of Education were brought into a scientific exchange to discuss new ways to carry out a comparative analysis that goes beyond a holistic description of citizenship models and school systems by making use of the Sociology of Conventions.

Claude Proeschel and Reinhold Hedtke opened the first session of the workshop by presenting and discussing the idea to make use of the Sociology of Conventions to compare citizenship education in France and Germany. They identified three research directions that would be interesting to follow in a comparative study of civic education in France and Germany: Situations, Practices and Professional Conventions.

Lisa Schenkel, Henning Middelschulte, Rainer Diaz-Bone & Reinhold Hedtke

Subsequently Rainer Diaz-Bone (University of Lucerne) introduced the participants of the workshop into neopragmatism and explained pragmatist and neopragmatist perspectives on civic education and comparative studies. Furthermore, he elaborated on how methodological situationalism, which uses situations as analytic and interpretive unit, could be used in comparative studies.

Rainer Diaz-Bone & Géraldine Bozec

The first day of the workshop ended on a contribution from Jean-Louis Derouet (École Normale Supérieure de Lyon). He explained how, in the transition from the 20th to the 21st century, a certain number of “great divisions” that founded the modern age were called into question: the division between the normal and the pathological, between scientific, religious and indigenous knowledge, between man and nature, humans and non-humans. A certain number of these divisions are taken into consideration by the now prevailing idea of integrative societies. This also affected the education policy in France: many attempts were made to develop new conventional systems that would consider the differences of students, for example regarding handicaps, sex, culture, religion or talent.

Jean-Louis Derouet

The workshop session on Friday morning started with a talk by Tobias Röhl (Siegen University). He gave some practical methodological insights into how ethnographic research could be used for classroom studies and explained how material things (like chalk, books, an experimental toolkit or a blackboard) contribute to the formation of knowledge in the classroom.

Géraldine Bozec (Université Nice Sophia-Antipolis) pointed out in her talk that it would be interesting to look at the routines of civic education that are constantly take place in the classrooms. But she also expressed the objection that routines, which seem to stabilize civic education, might make it difficult to observe situations of crisis and conflict in which performative justifications of the teachers are inevitable. In this case, a binational perspective might help to identify, deconstruct and analyze situations and conventions that were not taken into consideration before because they seemed to be self-evident for the biased “local” researchers.

Tobias Röhl, Lisa Schenkel, Andrea Szukala, Géraldine Bozec (speaker), Anne-Claire Husser, & Jean-Luis Derouet

Anne-Claire Husser (École Supérieure du Professorat et de l’Éducation de Lyon) enriched the workshop by presenting the state of research on civic education in France. She explained that there is a lot of theoretical and historical research, but very little scientific insights on the process and the situations of teaching.

Anne-Claire Husser & Jean-Louis Derouet

Tobias Röhl

The workshop was closed by Andrea Szukala who gave a short introduction into the structures, traditions and challenges for citizenship education in schools and civic education research in Germany. During the past years, citizenship education in German schools has not only undergone a process of economization and globalization, but it has also been didactically over-stabilized. In the context of the new materialistic sociology of education, she raised questions about how professional actors and learners define critical classroom situations and how they use devices to enhance teacher-learner cooperation and communication about citizenship and belonging. The workshop gathered new perspectives on agency in the social scientific classroom and highlighted the urgent need for more comparative analysis adopting a materialistic and pragmatist vision of domain specific educational processes to better understand the stabilization and justification of the “social” in the social scientific classroom.

This Franco-German workshop was co-financed by the DAAD (Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst), Bureau Paris

Reinhold Hedtke, Rainer Diaz-Bone, Claude Proeschl & Henning Middelschulte

EC related presentations during the “Kolloquium Sozialforschung” at University of Lucerne (autumn 2017)

Guy Schwegler (University of Lucerne)

During last semester’s social research and methods lectures at the University of Lucerne, three presentations were given that relied heavily on convention theory (EC). Two of the researchers, who gave a speech, applied the theory in the realm of educational research—Leemann’s methodological considerations and Horvath’s presentation of his post-doc research—while Cappel is focusing on the subject of digitalisation and health in her PhD project.

Regula Leemann (FHNW Basel): “The Sociology of Conventions in Social Science’s Educational Research: Methodological Considerations and Experiences”

Regula Leemann presented her approach to EC in the educational research for the “Kolloquium Sozialforschung”, the social research and methods lecture series at University of Lucerne. The former primary school teacher and now professor for educational sociology has been one of the most visible EC theorists in Switzerland. Consistent with the focus of the lectures, Leeman talked about methodological issues related to a study she did a while ago. After a commissioned evaluation of a school gender day—a future career day intended to question/re-think gender-typical job images—, she used the collected data for a secondary study.

Regula Leemann

The establishing of this gender day, she argued, could be viewed as a critical moment with two situations to analyze. On one hand, there were the individual reactions of teachers and school representatives in the conducted group interviews. On the other hand, the specific situation the schools applied to establish the day could be analysed as well. Through this example study, Leemann presented various EC concepts as well as how she applied them, what methodological challenges arose and how she dealt with the challenges through formulating methodological rules for herself. Not least, Leemann also re-formulated a neoinstitutionalist isomorphism thesis of adopting such a gender day. She was able to locate the establishment of the gender day on the level of the actors as wells as their justifications—therefore living up to EC’s combination of pragmatism and structuralism. Leemann went on to present her methodological rules for the EC concepts she used in her secondary analysis of the gender day. With the idea of a plurality of the conventions, she put the role of the researcher itself into perspective, as also her judgments (within the evaluation) should use the justifications given—and not prior normative starting points. With the ideas of justice and justesse, she stressed the fact that not only intense moments during group discussions should be of interest, but also the ones, were sought-after reactions from the participants didn’t occur. With EC’s demand for an extended actor concept, Leemann also present the limits of her secondary analysis—as she was not able to go beyond a few central actors (teachers and school officials). The discussion that followed her presentation mostly centred on the connection between the domestic convention and questions of gender. Are certain justifications via the domestic convention outdated if it comes to gender? (A discussant pointed out this article for further insights: see Talahite 2011). Or are there possibilities to imagine different gender roles (e.g. non-binary and non-stereotypical) with the domestic convention? Another aspect of the discussion brought forward that within the educational sector especially, certain conventions seem to have unchallenged notions—be it always unproblematic (civic conventions), problematic (domestic convention) or for the most part never questioned (industrial convention) like with the example of the notion of ‘fit’ students shows. Leemann’s presentation not only showed the importance of such detailed conventional question, but also their very specific methodological relevance.

Kenneth Horvath (University of Lucerne): “Measuring Educational Classification Knowledge”

For the second EC related presentation in the “Kolloquium Sozialforschung”, Kenneth Horvath presented first ideas for his post-doc research projects. Since August 2017, Horvath is working at the University of Lucerne as a post-doc researcher at Sociology’s chair for qualitative and quantitative methods. Before that, he held a position at the Karlsruhe University of Education—where he extended his former studies on migration to education, which also will be the subject for his upcoming research. He’s move to Switzerland reflects this shift not least again, if one considering EC strong position in educational issues amongst Swiss researchers. In the lecture (see Horvath et al. 2017), Horvath first presented his own starting point, moving from issues of migration to education, as he has been dealing with research topics such as children with migration background and highly gifted children.

Kenneth Horvath

The connected questions to those two topics are related to educational inequality and educational classification knowledge. Horvath named the three major approaches to the question of inequality in education: competencies and educational research, ethnographic studies in education as well as the institutional discrimination theory. All of these three approaches, he summed up, are having troubles dealing with the relationship of structure and practice and argue from an inner-educational standpoint when explaining inequality. Educational classification knowledge as used by teachers themselves on the other hand, is very much an interface between such insider and more broader knowledge—and therefore connected to wider issues to answer inequality within education. With examples of transcripts from recent qualitative interviews (where teachers had to describe their classes), Horvath then went on to explain his idea of classification knowledge through the descriptions the teachers made of their pupils. These descriptions did not only evaluate the students and their respective skills in schools, but also tried to explain why each child acted and performed the way it did. All those descriptions were in term related to certain justifications and used certain categorisations—but they did not only relate to pedagogical realms. Especially when the teachers went beyond a mere reason of their evaluation and classification to an understanding of the child, a change from justification to a regime of familiarity took place. The question for Horvath is how to measure and to quantify the knowledge that teachers use, also in their own quantifications. Other approaches (mostly the competence paradigm) are using Likert-scales to measure such classification knowledge, while somewhat ignoring the scale’s background to measure political views and possible social desirability issues. Dissatisfied with Liker-scale measurements, Horvath tries to approach the classification from a more experimental-setting—following Boltanski’s and Thévenot’s study (1983). To finish his presentation, he introduced two ideas to measure educational classification knowledge that he is currently considering. Unlike Boltanski’s and Thévenot’s experiment, Horvath would like to work quantitative. He thus presented first the idea of factorial surveys, where participants need to choose between descriptions (vignettes) in somewhat dilemma like situations ( Horvath referred to MIT’s Moral Machine ( and wiki surveys as an inspiration for the factorial survey). Especially interesting for Horvath would be a way to give the teachers a possibility to re-integrate their own descriptions in the survey. This first idea was all about adding an experiment like quality to a quantitative survey. His second idea to measure educational classification knowledge would be to make use of the active community of teachers in online forums. In scraping these forums, he should be able to get a solid data foundation to quantify the teachers’ classification knowledge and therefore—as with the idea of the factorial survey—get insights into the way they not only justify their evaluation of the pupils but also their descriptions of and explanations for pupils. The discussion following Horvath’s presentation started with the issues of the teachers’ self-awareness (in theoretical topics related to their work) and possible self-portrayal—and which of the two methods would be more prone to this issues. As Horvath argued, he is also very much interested in these mechanisms—not the teacher as a private, but as professional person is the focus of the research. Further discussions were concerned with how to move away from a mere discovery approach (and therefore structuralism) to explaining the processes at hand in a different way. Within this discussing, Horvath referred to the category of migration and how it is applied within the teachers’ differentiating knowledge. The ideas Horvath presented were not only interesting for their use of EC as an alternative to existing approaches in pedagogic and school settings, but because of the fact how he is aiming at categorisations and quantifications as well as the way they are the established (within and outside of a pedagogical realm) and used. The methodological ideas he presented to approach this kind of meta-perspective on the process of educational classification knowledge added another interesting level to an already worthwhile idea and presentation.

Valeska Cappel (University of Lucerne): “Health Apps – An Investment in Form for a Digital Health Condition?”

Valeska Cappel

For the third EC-related (and final) presentation in the “Kolloquium Sozialforschung”, Valeska Cappel presented her project on health apps. Cappel started with her PHD this year at the University of Lucerne and for the lecture, she gave some first insights into the conceptual work she did so far. The health apps that are the focus of Cappel’s PhD project act as preventive data trackers (in contrast to certain programs for specific diseases)—such as “fitbit” or Swiss medical insurance CSS’ “myStep”. She described three particular developments related to the health trackers. First, the general usage of those apps seems to increase and they therefore gain social science’s interest more and more. However, a general focus of studies on those apps deals with motivation of usage, mostly ignoring wider consequences of such usage. Second, a new kind of interconnectedness related to (preventive) health issues takes place: between a scientific and a commercial field, individuals, welfare state and more. The recent law of the electronic patient dossier (“Gesetzgebung Elektronisches Patientendossier”) in Switzerland is an example of how also legislation needs to deal with such an interconnectedness. Finally yet importantly, the apps seem to introduce new preventive vital parameters that are quantifying every-day actions for health purposes. Against the background of those three developments and the emerged situations, Cappel wants to ask what categories and standardisations are introduced via the apps and what logics are at work. The reason she chose EC as her theoretical framework is that not an actors’ perspective is what is of interest, but how those apps are working in situations, how an interplay between physicalness and material is taking place. The central EC concept—as the title suggests—are investments in form and how apps achieve new investments and initiate coordination. In addition, the quality conventions are at play as Cappel exemplified by the “myStep” app. From the market convention, such an app is a unique feature for the health insurance company—while for its users it is a way to pay less for their insurance. Both sides are therefore primary concerned with other issues than health itself. Her empirical work as she outlined it during the presentation would include expert-interviews with health related actors (e.g. doctors, patients, developers of the apps …) accompanied by document analysis and a qualitative experiment. In the experiment, participants should develop/discuss a new health app or a new preventive health course and defend one option in a group setting. While the first approach would describe the general situation of the apps and the references being made in those situations, the experimental part would show in which situations the apps are actually working. Cappel ended her presentation with some open questions regarding her PHD project. Are those health apps just another example of a digitalisation of classification? Alternatively, is there something genuinely new happening on a cognitive level related to health? Also, the question of whether such a digitalisation is actually working and having consequences is one that needs to be addressed. The discussion that followed this last presentation of the colloquium was mainly concerned with a deepened understanding of Cappel’s research interest. In addition, some more specific issues such as how change (through the health apps) can be integrated and addressed in her methodological framework or whether health apps (as a health practice of quantification) are actually something new. Overall, Cappel’s PhD project promises already in its early stage interesting insights into digitalisation, classification and health—not at least through the application of EC.


Boltanski, Luc, and Laurent Thévenot. 1983. “Finding one’s way in social space” study. Social Science Information. 22(4/5), pp. 631- 680.

Boltanski, Luc, and Laurent Thévenot. 1999. “The Sociology of Critical Capacity.“ European Journal of Social Theory 2(3), pp. 359-377.

Horvath, Kenneth, Anna Amelina, and Karin Peters (eds.) (2017): Migration regimes in the spotlight: The politics of migration in an age of uncertainty. Special issue of Migration Studies 5(3).

Talahite, Fatiha. 2011. “L’engendrement chez Luc Boltanski et Pierre Legendre: lectures croisées.“ Enfances, Familles, Generations. 14, pp. 113-138. 

The first 100 days

Interview with Guillemette de Larquier on her new position as full professor:
“… we would like to show how EC can complement the labor market segmentation theory”

Katharina Pernkopf (Vienna) & Lisa Knoll (Hamburg & Halle)

Question: The first months are important days in a new position. How have you experienced this time?

Guillemette de Larquier

GdL: After 30 years at the University of Paris 10 – Nanterre (my studies included), I arrived at the University of Lille 1 on September 1, 2017, more precisely at the Faculty of Economics and Social Sciences, and I am attached to the research lab Clersé (Centre lillois d’études et de recherches sociologiques et économiques). I occupy the position of professor of econometrics applied to labor economics. I see three main missions in this new position: training econometricians who are not necessarily destined to be academics, joining a small team of scholars (led by Héloïse Petit) who privilege applied qualitative and quantitative studies in labor issues and contributing to the development of institutional theories in economics. At Clersé, several researchers (Florence Jany-Catrice and Nicolas Postel for example) are developing works that mobilize conventions and several PhD theses with a conventionalist dimension have been supported or are in progress. I feel very welcome, having the opportunity to present my work in seminars and workshops. On the teaching side, I wait to discover Lille’s first-year students in the next semester. I will be in charge of a large introductory lecture room on microeconomics.

I arrive at an important moment for my new colleagues, the fusion of the three universities of Lille which will be effective in 2018. This fusion, inevitably a « critical » moment, reveals different points of view on the place of the economy among the other disciplines. You should know that the Faculty brings together the departments of economics and sociology and Clersé has the distinction of being a CNRS laboratory registered in sociology and economics. This balance, quite exceptional in France, can be praised or criticized … I am among those who appreciate this balance and I hope to contribute to new synergies between the two disciplines.

Question: Please tell us a little bit about your educational and academic background. What have been the most important influences, inspirations, and key moments?

GdL: I did all my studies at the University of Paris 10 – Nanterre. I started my studies with an undergraduate degree in applied mathematics for social sciences, then I specialized in modeling applied to economics and management, with a good training in econometrics. I started a thesis in economics with Olivier Favereau who submitted me a thesis topic he thought promising: the theory of job matching to explain the labor market dynamics. And he was right!

I took a strong interest in the « conventional » models of job matching in microeconomics (Boyan Jovanovic, Dale Mortensen, Alvin Roth) and macroeconomics (Christopher Pissarides) and it was only between my 2nd and 3rd year of PHD that I introduced a « conventionalist » dimension in my work. Olivier Favereau was not a prescriptive director of my thesis but, in a small sentence, he instilled a doubt in my mind. He told me that he had heard Jean-Daniel Reynaud saying something very right during a seminar: « A worker is not matched to a job but to a firm, a team of work ». If we take this evidence seriously, it’s destructive. With rare exceptions, in the matching models, there is a market for workers and jobs that are independent of each other. There is no room for any firm in these elegant theoretical constructions. It is therefore by wanting to introduce the firm into the matching dynamics that I had to move on to something else. François Eymard-Duvernay had just arrived at the University of Paris 10 – Nanterre and I found convincing his work on the plurality of conventions of goods quality and models of firms. In this line, I deduced a plurality of matches in firms and a plurality of matching processes in the labor market. That was my first step in EC.

Then, I was recruited as a lecturer at the University of Paris 10 – Nanterre. In the early 2000s, there was in Nanterre an “incubator” of young researchers, the 2nd generation of “conventionalists” as Olivier Favereau said. We were a dynamic group of lecturers and doctoral students around Philippe Batifoulier who directed the collective book « Théorie des conventions » published in 2001. The work was structured around the dual filiation of John Keynes and David Lewis. I worked on game theory chapters in Lewis’ filiation. The concept of « bad convention » came out of it, which was unexpectedly successful. It is in the same team spirit that in 2016 five of us (Philippe Batifoulier, Franck Bessis, Ariane Ghirardello, Delphine Remillon and me) published the “Dictionnaire des conventions” in honor of Olivier Favereau who gathered the contributions of 75 researchers.

In 2007, I had the good fortune to join for five years the Centre d’Etudes de l’Emploi (which was deeply marked by François Eymard-Duvernay and Laurent Thévenot in the 1980s and 1990s – I invite you to read the article written by Thomas Amossé about the CEE; see Amossé 2016). In this center, I developed all of my empirical work on labor market intermediaries and firms’ recruitment practices with Christian Bessy, Emmanuelle Marchal, Carole Tuchszirer and Géraldine Rieucau. These collaborations have particularly nourished my reflections on the quality conventions and the investments in forms underlying the functioning of the labor market, as I explained in my « habilitation à diriger les recherches » (HDR thesis. state doctorate) supported in 2016.

Question: To what extent will your research agenda be inspired by EC?

GdL: In my research applied to the labor market, EC brings me – above all – a theory of action where actors make their decisions based on two-level conventions: the level of behavior and the level of representations. I do not really describe the content of the conventions and I don’t study their evolution. EC thus brings me a paradigm on the rationality of the actors. First, their rationality is procedural: they follow rules, some of them being conventions of behavior. Secondly, their rationality is interpretative: the rules are supplemented by conventions at the representation level, which gives a shared meaning to the follow-up of the rules. Tertio, their rationality is argumentative: for example, to justify that the follow-up of such rule in such a situation is appropriate. The actors have an ability to judge what is and is not worthwhile, considering that arguments in terms of individual interest or subjective well-being may not be admissible in order to justify a public action (in the sense of visible by others) such as a promotion decision in an organization or the non-recruitment of a person recommended by an employee.

Question: Please give us a short overview with regard to your previous, current and future research projects that build on EC concepts.

GdL: My starting question is the quality of the matches between workers and jobs. Interactions in the labor market are subject to uncertainty because it is impossible to ascertain the quality of a match before experiencing it. In line with the approach of François Eymard-Duvernay and Emmanuelle Marchal (1997), I regard hiring as an uncertain situation, in which recruiters have to “qualify” labor and workers who do not have worth per se. The ways recruiters define, interpret and assess applicants’ qualities rely on a “labor quality convention”: they imply conventional judgments of what makes a “good candidate”. Consequently, as Emmanuelle Marchal and I  showed with a French nation-wide employer survey (Larquier/Marchal 2016), the applicants’ worth depends on the choice of recruitment and assessment methods, on the way of using them, and on the type of actors involved in the process. Typically, the hiring process is a “trial”, as defined by Luc Boltanski and Eve Chiapello (1999), that is to say a social arrangement organizing the test of people’s abilities resulting in their ranking. In fact, the hiring process needs to be a legitimate trial because it justifies the distribution of social goods (jobs) to people according to their ranking. As Christian Imdorf (2017) wrote, the selected candidates have to be “credible and legitimate in the eyes of others”: employees, hierarchy, customers, business and public partners.  Recruiters and employers have to explain themselves to ensure coordination and cooperation inside and outside the firm.

As long as hiring practices seem to be efficient in the coordination (they avoid serious hiring failures from recruiters’ interpretation) and legitimate (there is no strong critics about their organization and their outcome), recruiters have no reason to change their way of value applicants. Finally, given these conditions – no failure of efficiency and of legitimacy –, recruiters in firms have the “power of valuation” (according to the innovative concept introduced by François Eymard-Duvernay, 2012): in the labor markets, actors accept that employers can decide who are valuable and who are not. Their labor quality conventions are diffused in the labor market and the applicants have to adjust themselves to these quality conventions. How? It is the function of recruitment channels. It is the issue of my present work with Géraldine Rieucau.

The labor market – in other words, the uncertainty outside the firm – is shaped by the recruitment channels that the firm uses. Here the concept designed by Laurent Thévenot is very useful: the investments in forms.  By using a given channel, employers and workers base their decisions and actions on the investments in forms embedded in that channel. They delimit and stabilize the outlines of labor markets and they shape the information about the applicant’s qualities and employer’s requirements. The objective is to coordinate the representations of the labor market and to make possible the formation of matches between firms and workers. And, given the power of valuation of the firms, investments in forms embedded in channels are expected to be coherent with the employers’ labor quality conventions. Finally, my conventionalist approach amends the traditional opposition between external and internal labor markets highlighted by Peter Doeringer and Michael Piore (1971). I consider that external and internal labor markets’ dynamics are linked by the way firms judge the quality of labor and by the way channels convey firms’ valuations.

Question: In terms of your research agenda, what will be the focus of your future work?

GdL: My constant subject is the evaluation of work quality by firms. The recruitment is the exemplary moment for addressing this issue and I will not abandon it. In addition, recruitment is neither quite in the market nor quite in the firm but at the hinge of both. So, by analyzing the recruitment and the conventions that are revealed during the recruitment outcomes, we improve the understanding both of the labor market as a place of matching and of the firms as places of workforce management. My research then will continue in both directions: on the one hand, the analysis of market channels used not only by firms but also by job seekers and, on the other hand, the analysis of the training policies in firms, another crucial moment for valuing work (in the strong sense) by firms. With Géraldine Rieucau, we would like to show how EC can complement the labor market segmentation theory. Investments in forms in external labor markets (ie, channels and intermediaries) and conventions in force in internal labor markets imply  that certain qualities are recognized for certain jobs and workers and exclude others; that produces, maintains and strengthens segments of the labor market that are distinguished from one another by the qualification and management of workers and jobs. For example, the category of « unskilled » is not a natural data; in the « unskilled » segment, the qualities that matter are not stabilized by investments in forms made by academic, professional or labor market-specific institutions; as a result, the dynamics of this segment rely on other types of formats to qualify workers and jobs and this segment is likely to be much more embedded in the social structure; it is therefore a mistake to say that the « unskilled » segment corresponds to the most « competitive » segment (I am actually referring to a very fine remark by Jérôme Gautié commenting on Géraldine Rieucau’s HDR thesis).

In short, in my research agenda, there are a number of relatively classical projects in applied labor economics (recruitment channels, professional integration of youth, firm training policies, mobility of trained employees); but each time, I introduce this nagging question specific to EC: how is the work quality recognized? It is not an objective fact; it is neither totally subjective, inscribed in the evaluator’s preferences; it is a convention, intersubjective, each one considering that it is shared with others, and this with good reasons since it is stabilized by different investments in forms.

Question: Where do you see the strengths of EC and its opportunities? Any weaknesses and threats you can detect? What do you expect to be the most important issues, research questions and conceptual puzzles you or other EC scholars should address?

GdL: The EC is not a chapel with strict dogmas; on the contrary, there are many ways to be conventionalist! It is a strength of the EC, but also the cause of its weaknesses. Some researchers use the Economies of Worth of Luc Boltanski and Laurent Thévenot to identify justifications in the discourses; others consider conventions less demanding in terms of justification, their legitimacy being much more local; others may not speak of conventions at all, but adhere to the hypothesis of interpretative and argumentative rationality of the actors. As a result, the consistency and visibility of EC are not so clear. There is no handbook but a myriad of books and articles. When a student asks me what to read for an introduction to EC, I can unfortunately not give a single reference (unless reading German: the book of Rainer Diaz-Bone (2015) being the only reference handbook that I know); it is necessary to make the effort to read several references (for example the ones listed in the References tab of the blog) and discover the various facets of EC. So, learning about EC is not easy, but despite this, I see that many young researchers are integrating a conventionalist dimension into their work. Their field studies lead them to adopt EC, because they observe the conventions and the justifications in situation.

Moreover, from the point of view of the other institutionalist currents in economics, we can at the same time acknowledge to EC a certain capacity to spread the strong points of its program (the widening of the actors’ cognitive and ethical capacities and the meso-analysis of markets and organizations) and blame EC for an apparent lack of analysis of conflicts and of the capitalist system. In response to this reproach, not completely unfounded but not completely deserved either, we organize in Lille, with Richard Sobel, two studies days in June 2018 on the contributions of EC to the understanding of the mutations of contemporary capitalism.

Question: Can you provide any advice for young scholars who want to work with EC and find their way in academia?

GdL: In general, I advise young researchers to always keep an empirical dimension in their work. This gives more strength to the theory that is applied, especially when this theory is not the conventional one taught at university!

Question: Why does EC matter in France and beyond?

GdL: EC matters if you are looking for a paradigm in social sciences explaining the plurality of forms of coordination and the normative attachment of the actors to each of these forms. It is true in France and beyond!


Amossé T. 2016. The Centre d’Etudes de l’Emploi (1970-2015): Statistics – on the cusp of social sciences and the state. Historical Social Research,  41(2), p. 72-95.

Batifoulier P. (ed.). 2001. Théorie des conventions. Paris: Economica.

Batifoulier P., Bessis F., Ghirardello A., Larquier G. de, Remillon D. (eds.). 2016. Dictionnaire des conventions – Autour des travaux d’Olivier Favereau. Villeneuve-d’Ascq: Presses Universitaires du Septentrion.

Boltanski L., Chiapello E., 1999, Le nouvel esprit du capitalisme. Paris: Gallimard.

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

Diaz-Bone R. 2015. Die « Economie des conventions » – Grundlagen und Entwicklungen der neuen französischen Wirtschaftssoziologie. Wiesbaden: Springer VS.

Doeringer P., Piore M. 1971. Internal Labor Markets and Manpower Analysis. Lexington: D.C. Heath.

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

Eymard-Duvernay F. 2012. Le travail dans l’entreprise: pour une démocratisation des pouvoirs de valorisation. In L’entreprise, formes de la propriété et responsabilités sociales, ed. Baudoin Roger, 227-278. Paris: Éditions Lethielleux.

Imdorf C. 2017. Understanding discrimination in hiring apprentices: how training companies use ethnicity to avoid organisational trouble. Journal of Vocational Education & Training 69(3), p. 405-423.

Jovanovic B. 1979. Job matching and the theory of turnover. Journal of Political Economy, 87(5), p. 972-990.

Larquier G. de. 2016. Une approche conventionnaliste du marché du travail fondée sur le recrutement des entreprises. Habilitation à diriger des recherches. Université Paris 10 – Nanterre.

Larquier G. de, Marchal E. 2016. Does the Formalisation of Practices Enhance Equal Hiring Opportunities? An Analysis of a French Nation-Wide Employer Survey. Socio-Economic Review 14(3), p. 567-589.

Mortensen D.T. 1988. Matching: finding a partner for life or otherwise. American Journal of Sociology, 94, Supplement, p. S215-S240.

Pissarides C. 1990. Equilibrium unemployment theory. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

Rieucau G. 2017. Canaux d’information et recherche d’emploi : une approche institutionnaliste. Habilitation à diriger les recherches, University of Paris 8.

Roth A.E., Sotomayor M. 1990. Two-Sided Matching: A Study in Game-Theoretic Modeling and Analysis. Econometric Society Monographs 18, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Thévenot L. 1984. Rules and implement: investment in forms. Social Science Information 23(1), p. 1-45.


Seminar on “educational projects in a universe of multiple references” in Amiens (30 November to 01 December 2017)

Kenneth Horvath (University of Lucerne)

The educational field is heavily affected by the societal transformations that have marked the  past decades. Educational and training projects face complex and contested social constellations, marked by increasing diversity as well as intense political debates. The tension between an egalitarian perspective of democratic equality and a meritocratic focus on performance which dominated educational discourses after WWII is today accompanied by and linked to newly emerging definitions of the common good. New and old divisions and inequalities co-exist and seem to be permanently rearranged: migration and citizenship, religion and the divide between science and faith, the relations between humans and nature, the definition of sexual identities …

Jean-Emile Charlier (Catholic University of Louvain), Sarah Croché (Université de Picardie), and Jean-Louis Derouet (Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon) are currently running an international seminar that aims to  further our understanding of these developments. This seminar aims to bring specialists from different subjects and different disciplines into dialogue in order to identify important challenges and analyze current dynamics. The first meeting of this seminar took place from 30 November to 01 December 2017 at the University de Picardie in Amiens, with established and younger scholars from different backgrounds as well as around a dozen students taking part.

The focus of this first meeting was on inclusive education and systems of classification, i.e. on how differences are construed, acknowledged and dealt with in educational contexts. There were two thematic sessions. The first session on Thursday afternoon discussed the inclusion of students with “special needs”. Serge Ebersold (Centre National des Arts et Métiers) discussed the interrelations between normative orders, ideas of normality, processes of institutionalisation, and the construal of “handicapped students”. Accessibility and handicap need to be seen as complex local outcomes that defy any simple definition. Analyzing and handling them hence requires that we understand the interplay of symbolic universes, inclusive politics of education, and practical conditions that structure educational situations in given local contexts.

The second thematic session on Friday morning moved to the issue of migration. Kenneth Horvath (University of Lucerne) discussed the implications of recent transformations of Western European migration regimes for educational practices. The common emphasis on cultural difference and identity neglects important other issues that directly affect educational situations as well as the forms in which teachers define and handle them. The massive politicization and the stratification of migration are two of the issues that have important consequences for everyday educational practices. New forms of critical dialogue between educational professionals and social sciences are needed in order to deal with the complex challenges that arise and that render teachers permanently on the brink of “illegitimacy”.

The seminar will be continued over the coming months. The main objective is to create a space of encounter and confrontation that not only spans different social science disciplines but also thematic areas and geographic regions, from the global North to the global South. Concepts and heuristics developed in the context of the Economie des conventions (EC) provide a promising ground for discussing the questions that arise and relating them to each other. EC concepts have been applied to educational systems from the late 1980s onwards. They have, inter alia, proven fruitful to capture interplay of local pedagogical coordination and societal conventions that inform everyday practices of educational classification and evaluation. In turn, educational contexts provide a dynamic and multi-faceted field of research that may allow to develop and refine EC’s theoretical frameworks.


Governing by numbers: Key indicators and the politics of expectations

Lisa Knoll (University of Hamburg & University of Halle)

From 5 to 7 October the workshop “Governing by numbers: Key indicators and the politics of expectations” – organized by Walter Bartl and Audrey Terracher-Lipinski (both Halle) – took place in the beautiful city of “Mitteldeutschland” Halle an der Saale. For all the guests from abroad, but also for some German scholars who have never been in Halle before, it was a pleasurable surprise to get in touch with the history and culture of this old German city. And, not because of that, but it helps me to find a nice bridge passage to the conference theme, historicity and culture, became the pivotal access points to the phenomenon governing by numbers during the conference. The organizers choose to have a Conventionalist framing, by inviting Laurent Thévenot (from EHESS and CREST, the Centre for Research in Economics and Statistics in Paris) and by giving Rainer Diaz-Bone (Lucerne) the possibility to present the Conventionalist perspective on Quantification outlined in the Special Issue “Conventions and Quantification – Transdisciplinary Perspectives on Statistics and Classifications”, edited by Rainer Diaz-Bone & Emmanuel Didier (Historical Social Research Vol. 41(2) 2016). The intellectual starting point of Conventionalism, being first developed in a working group with Alain Desrosières at the French National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies (INSEE), became a major theoretical and methodological focus point of the discussion.

The presented themes ranged from the historicity of macro-economic models (Tom Kayzel, Amsterdam) over the changing term structure of the interest rate (Timo Walter, Erfurt). Oliver Geden (Berlin) talked about the 2-degree-scenario in climate politics, which is kept up scientifically in the light of its political crisis. Christina Boswell (Edinburgh) presented her work (to be published in January 2018 at Cambridge University Press) on “Targets and the Production of Political Trust”, were she showed how much British politicians bind themselves to the achievement of targets as a legitimatory device. Ingo Bode (Kassel) made a broad argument on the economization in late modern welfare states, which is accomplished by the management by numbers in diverse fields. Thomas Heinze & Arlette Jappe (Wuppertal) presented a quantitative network analysis on the historical formation of the professional field of performance evaluation of and in universities. Michael Huber & Maarten Hillebrandt (Bielefeld) showed how payment schemes at German universities changed from a “pay for performer”, over a “pay by performance” to a “pay for promise”. Anne Piezunka (Berlin) studies German federal school inspections after the German “PISA shock” and their resistance at the school level. Oscar J. Maldonado & Tiago Moreira (Linköping) presented the emergence of global health metrics such as the Disability Adjusted Life Year (DALY) used by the World Bank to monitor and assess “health” across territories and populations. The push for impact data in global health was also at the heart of the presentation of Sara L.M. Davis (New York & Geneva). She nicely showed how the lack of H.I.V. data corresponds with cultural taboos on issues of sexuality. Félicien Pagnon (Paris) presented his study on the reform of New Wealth Indicators, being developed as a critique of the GDP indicator. He studies two regions in France that make use of these alternative wealth indicators. Konstanze Senge & Lisa Knoll (Halle) presented a study on the ambiguity of German national public dept accounting under the reform process of the European system of national and regional accounts (ESA). Clear-cut public or private sector classifications become more and more difficult when public-private-partnerships and other forms of financial engineering are pushed as attractive tools to reduce (hide) public costs.

Laurent Thévenot

The conference showed (a) that convention theory offers an important “analytical framework of the politics of statistics” (Thévenot) to study the plurality and the historicity of various forms of governing by numbers, and it showed (b) that the growing and developing empirical phenomenon “governing by numbers” in the era of digitalization and “big data” challenges an approach that starts from the assumption of public deliberation (justice and justesse) and the normative foundation of measurement. Conventionalism plays an important role in rendering the historical divers statistical models visible (a). As Rainer Diaz-Bone highlighted, for Alain Desrosières “quantification is to implement a convention and then to measure”, which leads us to a huge diversity of quantified and potentially conflicted measurement procedures. Desrosières emphasized the interconnectedness of statistics, markets and states. The engineer state, the liberal state, the welfare state, the Keynesian State, and the neoliberal state embrace different statistical methods and constructions – different ways of governing by numbers.  Laurent Thévenot highlighted that studying governance by numbers involves two kinds of processes: “the upstream side … going back from quantification to valuations that turn numbers into key figures for actions and their government”. Here, we study processes of “reduction of the pluralism of valuations”. In the second process, “we pay attention to the downstream side”, where measurement unfolds “an executive power” – the performativity-side of governing by numbers. Governing by numbers involves a process of “closing one’s eyes” vis-à-vis the plurality of the world, and it may unfold a not “compromising”, but a “compromitting” way of combining a plurality of orders of worth (Thévenot citing Ricœur). An example for a “compromission” of plural values may be the “blended value proposition” in economics.  We are today observing forms of governing by numbers, which mostly unfold undebated and silent. This seems to be a challenge for conventionalism (b). Rainer Diaz-Bone therefore suggests to consider “conventions without semantic content”. Laurent Thévenot sees a “biological kind of capital”, a captured normative foundation of statistics, harking back on eugenics at play, referring to “surveillance“.He states that statistics and algorithms applied on data mining, however tacit or opaque they may be processed for those to be unconsciously tracked – or consciously self-tracked – “cannot operate without some formatting for equivalence”. The responsibility of the researcher lies in determining the “codified format of information”, but also the “critical openness” of each form of quantification and measurement.

Workshop Sociology of Conventions: The Format of « Bildung » or how research shapes Convention

Raffaella Esposito & Sandra Hafner (School of Education Basel, Switzerland)

On September 14 and 15, the biannual workshop ‘Sociology of Conventions’ took place in  Zurich, hosted by Philipp Gonon and Lea Zehnder from the chair of Vocational Education at the University of Zurich. It was the 8th meeting after prior workshops in Innsbruck, Basel, Vienna, Lucerne, Hamburg and Reutlingen.

Having discussed EC concepts and their appliance mostly in the economic field in former meetings, this workshop was specifically dedicated to the issue and format of ‘Bildung’ (education) as well as to methodological questions concerning the EC approach. Eric Verdier was attending as a special guest and keynote speaker as he works with the concept of conventions for comparative analysis of different national educational systems.

On Thursday morning, Philipp and Lea welcomed the audience and introduced into the topic. As usual, the workshop audience was as interdisciplinary as the EC approach itself and consisted of Sociologists, Economists and Historians as well as researchers from Educational Sciences and Social Work. This year, also a remarkable amount of PhDs was attending the workshop.

Katharina Pernkopf from the Vienna University of Economics and Business held the first talk. She presented a working paper based on an ongoing study on the implementation process of a law to reduce the work time of hospital doctors to comply with the European Work Time Directive. Trying to understand organizational change, the research team investigated the emerging conflicts and challenges for the hospitals as organizations and the doctors as professions from an EC perspective. Thereby she strived to inspire traditional strands of theory that usually deal with this research objective: new instutionalism, sociology of professions and human resource management literature. She could show that different organizations response and react differently to institutional pressure and that institutions in the sense of rules are interpreted differently. Especially highlighted was the explanatory power of EC concepts like regimes of engagement (Thévenot), investments in forms and actors’ competences.

Kenneth Horvath from the University of Lucerne shared thoughts and considerations about the applicability of interview research from an EC perspective. He presented snippets from his study on how teachers classify their students along different categories. He raised the question about the validity of the data, as the answers of the teachers could rather be seen as a reaction to the coordination situation in the interview situation than what they really do in the classroom on an everyday basis (teaching practices). As Horvath argued, teachers thus rather use classifications to communicate with outsiders than in the classroom – here, ethnography would come into play. It followed a discussion about the interview situation and how to use interviews as a tool for EC research, especially if methodic holism is strived for.

After the coffee break, Henning Middelschulte from the University of Bielefeld talked about methodological possibilities and limitations of computer based semantic EC-analyses (lexicon method). With this method, he and his research team tried to get a grasp of the question, whether economization of social sciences education in upper secondary education in Germany took place in the curricula. He presented some first results, which triggered a lively discussion about the appropriate use, operationalization and explanatory power of EC concepts in quantitative text analysis.

After lunch, Regula Julia Leemann from the School of Education in Basel presented some preliminary results from her ongoing research project on the positioning and profiling of the Specialized Middle School as a third educational track on upper secondary level in Switzerland. Applying concepts like valuation practices (Kornberger 2017), the power of conventions and investments in form, she could show how the Specialized Middle School was established as a new category on upper secondary level between 1970 and 1980. In this process, she could identify different valuation practices. The new school type was established in a process of assigning existing schools to a programmatic idea of that school type, based on a compromise of the domestic and civic convention. This compromise was later criticized and led to the integration of more market-industry based elements in the recent past.

Karin Büchel from the University of Zurich presented her PhD project. Her research was guided by the question, in how far the development of dual VET in Switzerland in 1954-1980 might be connected to the notion of educational expansion. She focused on the Canton of Lucerne and showed the benefits of a situational (yet historical) EC approach for explaining educational governance processes. Her presentation triggered a discussion about concepts of educational expansion and the explanatory power of EC.

In the later afternoon, the first round table of the workshop took place. Eric Verdier, Philipp Gonon and Esther Berner opened the discussion with their individual statements on the added value of EC concepts within the field of educational research.

Eric Verdier, Philipp Gonon, Esther Berner

All three highlighted the concept of investments in form as one of the most innovative and promising ideas of EC and especially suitable for educational research. In this field, many cognitive and materialized forms like classifications, rules, instruments, routines and devices can be found e.g. in certifications, school programs, curricula, diplomas, regulations etc. The concept of quality conventions was discussed as equally suitable for research on education, as it allows grasping and explaining different forms and ideas of evaluation and evaluation practices, quality constructions and ideas of the common good that are observable in this highly moralized, highly public sphere of society. Here, norms and justifications play a crucial role. As a third benefit, the discussants highlighted the suitability of an EC approach to educational research because of its dynamic view of social phenomena. As a re-combination of the mega paradigms of structuralism and pragmatism, EC analyses help to conceive social processes as way of mobilizing entities and stabilizing conventions at the same time. In addition, the explanatory power and limitations of EC concepts in historical research were discussed. Overall, the conclusion of the roundtable was that EC is very fruitful to apply in the field of educational research, e.g. of organizations and organizational change, analyses of law, concepts of work, classifications and more.

To close the first day, Eric Verdier held a keynote speech about education and training regimes from an international and comparative perspective. He showed how in Europe, various compromises between conventions remain country-specific. The same reform will take on a different meaning depending on the concerned societal (historical and political) context. He proceeded to present Morocco as an interesting case of an unstable social compromise, source of non-quality in Education and Training and cause of conventional crisis.

The first workshop day then came to a happy end with a yummy dinner at the restaurant Commihalle.

On Friday morning, Eva Nadai and Anna Gonon from the School of Social Work in Olten went back to a traditional field of EC research – the analysis of labour market and employment. They presented findings from their study about the valuation of disabled labour, respectively formats and employment of ‘non-standard’ workers. Similar to Pernkopf, they could show how organizations or firms react differently when faced with challenges – in this case the valuation of disabled work. Based on a multi-data design they could show how the value of disabled workers is assessed along two models of compromise between the market, industrial, civic or domestic convention. The operational and state forms structure which conventions become relevant when evaluating a worker. Nevertheless, these formats function as dispositives for coordination, and have to be mobilized.

Katharina Pernkopf

Katharina Pernkopf presented a conceptual paper concerning the fruitfulness and applicability of the EC approach for HRM research. She and her co-authors Julia Brandl, Arjan Kozica and Anna Schneider criticized that mainstream HRM research isn’t yet aware enough of the different logics or the co-presence of market (hiring ‘the best’ from outside) and bureaucracy-based (making use of employees within the organization) managing models in real organizations. Therefore, they proposed the EC approach with its situational stance and its pragmatist approach as more suitable to grasp the complexity of actual decision making employment issues.

Before and after lunch, the method and research question spaces took place. This format was introduced back in January in Reutlingen, and offers (especially for PhDs) the possibility to discuss particular questions concerning EC concepts’ applicability in one’s own research project. Reinhold Hedtke, Andrea Szukala and Claude Proeschel discussed the construction of the ‘Good Citizen’ in French and German schools, while Valeska Cappel presented first considerations about her PhD investigating discourses, classifications and conventions in the field of health apps. Michael Steurer discussed his PhD Project, where he analyzes conventions for critical work practices in inter-firm relationships. At the same time, Raffaella Esposito, Lea Zehnder and Sandra Hafner raised questions about analyzing investments in forms in the field of education.

The two workshop days closed with a final round table on investments in forms, power and pragmatism. The statements by Rainer Diaz-Bone, Patrick Bühler and Philipp Gonon triggered a discussion about the position of EC between pragmatism and structuralism. Again, the importance and explanatory power of concepts like investments in form and the plurality of quality conventions were highlighted, and the exertion of power from an EC perspective was discussed. Different discussants voiced the need to discuss, clarify and conceptualize the notion of actors’ competences in future workshops.

Panel « Convention » at the upcoming AFEP congress

At the AFEP congress 2017 (5-7 July) at Rennes 2 (Campus Villejean) there will a session devoted to (applications of) convention theory.

The session « Conventions » will take place Wednesday 5th of July (14-15.30, Room 1.147) and it will be headed by Nicolas Da Silva (CEPN, University of Paris 13)

  • Christian Bessy (IDHES, Ecole normale supérieure de Cachan)
    Conventions de valorisation des brevets et intermédiaires du droit
  • Pierre Robert (Clersé, U. Lille 1)
    Une analyse conventionnaliste de la pauvreté énergétique à partir de l’action publique sénégalaise dans l’énergie
  • Alain Herscovici (CNPq, U. Federal do Espirito Santo)
    L’historicité du capital : quelques considérations d´ordre épistémologique

Registration is possible until 1st of June, see congress home page


Conventionalist plenary session at the congress of the Swiss Society for Research in Education (SSRE) 2017

Plenary session “Das Potenzial der ‘Économie des Conventions’ für eine sozialwissenschaftlich orientierte Bildungsforschung“ (The potential of the économie des conventions for social science-oriented educational research)
The plenary will take place at the congress of the Swiss Society for Research in Education (SSRE) in Fribourg (Switzerland), Tuesday 27th of June 2017 (8.30-10.00)

Chair(s): Regula Julia Leemann (Pädagogische Hochschule Nordwestschweiz)
Discussant(s): Philipp Gonon (Universität Zürich)/Christian Imdorf (Universität Bern)

– Stephan Dahmen (Universität Bielefeld, Fakultät für Erziehungswissenschaften)
Übergänge als Bewährungsproben – Zur konventionsbasierten Regulierung von Übergängen in Organisationen des Übergangssystems
– Berner Esther (Universität der Bundeswehr Hamburg, Departement Erziehungswissenschaften)
Der „Lehrling“: Qualifizierung einer Kategorie im schweizerischen Rechtsdiskurs (1870-1930)
– Hauke Straehler-Pohl (Freie Universität Berlin, Fachbereich Erziehungswissenschaft und Psychologie)
Scheiternde Rechtfertigungsordnungen der schulischen Selektion an einer Hauptschule im « Berliner sozialen Brennpunkt »

For more details see:

Conventionalist plenary session at the congress of the Swiss Sociological Association (SSA) 2017

Plenary session “Experience, conventions and the common good”
The plenary session will take place at the congress of the Swiss Sociological Association (SSA) in Zurich, Thursday 22 of June 2017 (9.00-11.30)

Organization: Rainer Diaz-Bone (University of Lucerne)/Luca Pattaroni (EPFL Lausanne)
Chair/Moderation: Vincent Kaufmann (EPFL Lausanne)

– Vincent Kaufmann (EPFL Lausanne)
Welcome address
– Rainer Diaz-Bone (University of Lucerne)/Luca Pattaroni (EPFL Lausanne)
Introduction to the plenary session
– Regula Julia Leemann (Fachhochschule Nordwestschweiz)
Common Good and Self-Interest in Education
– Jean-Michel Bonvin (University of Geneva)
The challenges of aiming towards the common good in social policies
– Laurent Thévenot (EHESS PARIS)
Critically differing in a Common City
– Rainer Diaz-Bone (University of Lucerne)/Luca Pattaroni (EPFL Lausanne)
Crossed discussions

For more details see program (9 MB)

Lehrbetriebsverbünde: Integration von benachteiligten Jugendlichen in ein neues Modell der dualen Berufsausbildung in der Schweiz by Nicolette Seiterle


Prof. Dr. Christian Imdorf, Universität Basel
Prof. Dr. Regula Julia Leemann, Pädagogische Hochschule FHNW Basel
Prof. Dr. Ueli Mäder, Universität Basel

PhD at the Unversity of Basel 2016

Das Buch zeigt: Lehrbetriebsverbünde haben ein erhöhtes Integrationspotential für ausländische und schulisch schwächere Jugendliche, weil sie deren Chancen auf einen Ausbildungsplatz verbessern und Lehrvertragsauflösungen verhindern. Die Gründe dafür liegen in der im Vergleich zu einzelbetrieblichen Ausbildungen anders organisierten Selektion und Ausbildung: Verbundspezifische Merkmale wie die Rotation und die geteilte Betreuung erhöhen die Capabilities der Lernenden und wirken als institutionelle Konversionsfaktoren.

Unterschiede zwischen Verbünden bestehen in Abhängigkeit ihrer Strukturmerkmale Größe und Trägerschaft sowie der damit zusammenhängenden Ausbildungsphilosophie. Letztere führt dazu, dass die institutionellen Konversionsfaktoren unterschiedlich stark wirken.

Vier Schweizer Lehrbetriebsverbünde werden in der Studie mit einem Mixed Methods-Design auf der Ebene Lernende, Ausbildungsbetriebe und Leitorganisation des Verbunds untersucht. Zur Interpretation der Daten wurden dabei zwei theoretische Ansätze gewählt: der Capabilities-Ansatz sowie die Soziologie der Konventionen.

PhD is published open acces, download link:

Handling the clash between production & consumption. A situated view on front-line service workers’ competencies in interactive service, by Anna Schneider

PhD-thesis University of Innsbruck


The majority of the workforce is currently employed in the service industry where many employees are involved in daily face-to-face service interactions with customers. At the same time, these direct customer interactions are increasingly put under pressure for example, in traditional retailing by alternative distribution channels. Nevertheless, whenever an essential part of a business-model’s value-creation process builds on interactive service work, both front-line service workers and customers are forced to mutually work together in service interactions. The present study shows the tensions front-line service workers face between demands for cost-efficiency on the one hand and customer service on the other. Although these two rationalities do not necessarily contradict each other on an organizational level, individual front-line service workers face these contradictions in the form of challenging tensions in every day interactions with customers. Building on rich and comprehensive observational and interview data from the retail sales floor, the interpretive research approach allows the analysis of the challenges of interactive service work and carves out the corresponding competencies to handle the clash between production and consumption which manifest in service interactions. Drawing on Convention Theory (“Économie des conventions”), the situation as unit of analysis becomes center stage. Convention Theory shows that not only are individual characteristics such as friendliness important for successful service interactions, but especially the competent interplay between individual resources and organizational settings within the situation of interaction is essential. The results shed new light on individuals’ contributions to successful service interactions and contributes to a more fine-grained picture of the challenges and competencies in interactive service work.

Supervised by Julia Brandl (University of Innsbruck)

Performativité des indicateurs, indicateurs alternatifs et transformation des modes de rationalisation, par Fiona Ottaviani

Pour obtenir le grade de
Spécialité : Sciences économiques


Les recherches récentes portant sur les indicateurs alternatifs suggèrent la nécessité d’une révision fondamentale de la manière de concevoir le processus de construction des indicateurs et s’inscrivent dans un mouvement critique vis-à-vis du primat d’une forme de rationalisation économiciste et expertale dans le champ des politiques publiques. Cette thèse s’inscrit dans le champ de ces travaux et a pour objet d’apprécier la manière dont il est possible que ces indicateurs soient porteurs d’une « alternative » en termes de rationalisation de l’action.
Pour apprécier les transformations opérées au sein du processus de quantification, la thèse prend pour objet l’expérimentation menée à Grenoble quant à la construction d’Indicateurs de Bien-Etre Soutenable Territorialisés (IBEST). La première partie du travail, d’ordre théorique, établit un lien entre la dimension conventionnelle des indicateurs, leur caractère performatif, la rationalité postulée des acteurs et la rationalisation des politiques publiques. Elle est complétée par une analyse de la dimension axiologique des critères de choix sociaux (bien-être, soutenabilité) axée sur les théories du développement qui peuvent appuyer la construction de
tels indicateurs. La seconde partie s’attèle à l’analyse de l’expérimentation IBEST au regard du cadre conventionnaliste et met en exergue qu’un tel processus d’élaboration d’indicateurs induit des transformations aussi bien en ce qui concerne la dimension axiologique présidant à la construction des indicateurs que sur le plan de la rationalisation scientifique et politique. Suivant une logique pragmatique de la recherche-action, nous mettons en avant la plus-value de l’articulation entre une logique d’enquête et une démarche participative au regard du
processus d’opérationnalisation d’indicateurs de bien-être soutenable. Au final, outre les apports méthodologiques et cognitifs liés à l’hybridation opérée entre la méthode quantitative et la méthode participative, la contribution de la recherche réside dans l’éclairage que l’expérimentation apporte sur la conception de la dynamique institutionnelle. En effet, le type de montée en généralité particulière associé à la démarche participative et plus largement le processus non linéaire de quantification d’IBEST appuient la pertinence des concepts d’ « arrièreplan » et de « communautés interprétatives » pour apprécier le type de dynamique à l’oeuvre dans une telle expérimentation et pour la mise en cohérence des notions de légitimité et d’ « encastrement institutionnel ». Nous aboutissons ainsi à une conception de la dynamique institutionnelle qui procède par sédimentation et découle d’une transformation des conceptions et des pratiques d’acteurs dans le champ scientifique et politique.

Mots clés : Bien-être ; convention ; expérimentation ; indicateurs alternatifs ; performativité, rationalisation ;

Thèse soutenue publiquement le 18 septembre 2015,
devant le jury composé de :
– M. Tom Bauler (Président du jury)
Professeur des universités,
IGEAT, Université libre de Belgique
– Mme Catherine Figuière (Suffragant)
Maitre de conférences HDR,
CREG (EA 4625), Université Pierre Mendès France, Université Grenoble-
– Mme Florence Jany-Catrice (Rapporteur)
Professeur des universités,
CLERSE (UMR 8019 CNRS), Université de Lille 1
– M. Michel Renault (Rapporteur)
Maitre de conférences HDR,
CREM (UMR 6211 CNRS), Université de Rennes 1
– M. Robert Salais (Suffragant)
Professeur des universités émérite,
IDHES (UMR 8533. CNRS), ENS-Cachan


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