Lors des crises financières, la panique prend brutalement le pas sur l’euphorie. L’économie casino conduit alors à des situations a priori incohérentes. Cette exubérance des marchés n’est pourtant pas irrationnelle. Bien au contraire, elle révèle la nature autoréférentielle des anticipations sur les marchés financiers. La prise en considération du mimétisme des comportements permet ainsi d’appréhender la déconnexion de la finance avec l’économie réelle et souligne l’impérieuse nécessité de la réguler.
The focus of this Ph.D. course is set on how we can analyse and understand how actors live with, shape, and sometimes question and fight modern forms of power and government. Current challenges in welfare societies, such as developments of rising inequality in wealth and health, technological trends of artificial intelligence and automation, health, climate and biodiversity crises as well as the challenge to democracies that form populist and authoritarian currents, re-actualize the old but still highly relevant and interrelated questions of what is, and ought to be, critical research and what is the role and forms of critique in contemporary societies.
Through the theoretical and crosscurrent lenses of the French pragmatic sociology in dialogue with other critical approaches, we propose an interdisciplinary forum where Ph.D. scholars can exchange theoretical and methodological perspectives on their research material. The French pragmatic sociology is often presented in terms of ‘sociology of critique’. It thus provides tools to help us to understand various practices and formats of critique, in other words how critique is both an essential element in forms of power as well as challenging them. On the one hand new forms of governing that uses critique are emerging, such as instruments using algorithms to test human behaviour, bench marking, and participatory forms of management. On the other hand, new forms of critique, from populism and climate-scepticism to social media, are emerging ignoring hitherto accepted requirements to legitimate critique (based on facts, evidence). This challenges the critical role of research in social science and humanities.
The current debate is often pictured as a choice between, on the one hand, rational thought, science, enlightenment and relativism and postmodernism on the other in which the latter is sometimes blamed for rise of populism. The question is whether it is possible, and indeed needed, to carve out critical positions within social sciences and humanities that do not accept this dichotomy. Based on developments within pragmatic sociology and other strands such as Foucauldian studies, the course will discuss such positions and how they can contribute to critical interventions in society and academia. The objective of this course is two-fold. It aims at giving Ph.D. students the opportunity to address how to conduct research on current challenges in welfare societies through the theoretical lenses of French pragmatic sociology, Foucauldian-inspired analyses, and other critical approaches. Secondly, to give the Ph.D. students the opportunity to engage in interdisciplinary reflections on how to conduct critical research.
Following this two-folded objective, the Ph.D. course last for three days. Around half of the time will be composed by lectures and the other half of discussing the work of participants.
Guest lecturers: Tom Boland, Lecturer in Sociology at University College of Cork, Ireland and Laurent Thévenot, Professor at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (Paris).
Rainer Diaz-Bone: «Krise der Sozialforschung und pragmatische Normativität ‒ konventionentheoretische Perspektiven für eine Soziologie der Sozialforschung» [The crisis of social research and pragmatic normativity – conventionalists perspectives for a sociology of social research.]
Guy Schwegler: «Theorie-informierte Akteur*innen als Herausforderung für qualitative Verfahren» [Theory-informed actors as a challenge for qualitative procedures]
Andreas Schmitz & Christian Schmidt-Wellenburg: «Sozio-Logiken der Methoden- und Theorien“wahl“ im deutschen Feld der Soziologie» [Socio-logics of method and theory « choice » in the German field of sociology]
Kenneth Horvath: «Neue Datenallianzen und ihre Implikationen für Sozialforschung und Methodenlehre» [New data alliances and their implications for social research and methodology]
Zusammenfassung. Im Hauptgutachten „Unsere gemeinsame digitale Zukunft“ (2019) des WGBUs wird das Konzept einer „digitalisierten Nachhaltigkeitsgesellschaft“ skizziert, das zwei zentrale Themen der Gegenwartsgesellschaft mit jeweils pluralen und konfligierenden moralischen Bewertungen miteinander verbindet. In diesem Vortrag wird es deshalb aus dem Blickwinkel der Bewertungssoziologie um wissenschaftlich und technisch vermittelte Formen der gesellschaftlichen Datafizierung, Berechnung und Rechtfertigung gehen. Ausgehend von der Ökonomie der Konventionen als wissenschaftstheoretischem und methodologischem Ansatz und deren Konzept der grünen Konvention fragt der Vortrag konkret nach der Genese solcher Bewertungspraktiken, mittels derer Digitalisierung und Nachhaltigkeit vermessen werden (können). Dafür werden die Ergebnisse zweier abgeschlossener interdisziplinärer Studien vorgestellt. (1) In einem interdisziplinären Projekt wurde ein auf maschinellem Lernen beruhender Algorithmus darauf trainiert, die der Ökonomie der Konventionen zugrundeliegenden Konventionen in großen Textdatenmengen zu erkennen. Die daraus gewonnenen Ergebnisse und Erkenntnisse, aber auch das methodische Vorgehen und die Entwicklung eines automatisierten Analysewerkzeuges werden im Rahmen des Vortrages kritisch reflektiert. (2) Das Zusammenspiel, die Spannungen und Konflikte der grünen Konvention mit weiteren Konventionen im Feld der Digitalisierung wurden in einer qualitativen wirtschafts- und arbeitssoziologischen Feldstudie untersucht, um die Wertsetzungen der Unternehmen mit denen der Mitarbeiter – auch in Bezug auf die grüne Konvention –zu vergleichen und zu erörtern. Theoretisch und methodisch hat dieser Vortrag somit zum Ziel, die grüne Konvention als mögliche Taxonomie in Bezug auf Nachhaltigkeit und Digitalisierung zu diskutieren, um damit Dynamiken und Spannungen einer digitalisierten Nachhaltigkeitsgesellschaft zu konturieren und im Zuge dessen Prozesse der Wertzuweisung im Hinblick zentraler Phänomene, wie z.B. der Herstellung von Standards, Marktwerten, Innovationsgraden und letztendlich Nachhaltigkeit selbst, in den Blick zu bekommen.
Abstract. The WGBU’s main report « Our Common Digital Future » (2019) outlines the concept of a « digitalised sustainability society », which combines two central themes of contemporary society, each with pluralistic and conflicting moral evaluations. From the perspective of the sociology of valuation, this lecture will therefore deal with scientifically and technically mediated forms of social data validation, calculation and justification. Starting from the economics of convention as a scientific theoretical and methodological approach and their concept of the green convention, the lecture will ask specifically about the genesis of such valuation practices, by means of which digitization and sustainability (can) be measured. To this end, the results of two completed interdisciplinary studies will be presented. (1) In an interdisciplinary project, an algorithm based on machine learning was trained to recognize the conventions underlying the economy of conventions in large amounts of text data. The results and insights gained from this, but also the methodological procedure and the development of an automated analysis tool will be critically reflected in the lecture. (2) The interplay, tensions and conflicts between the Green Convention and other conventions in the field of digitisation were examined in a qualitative economic and work sociological field study in order to compare and discuss the values of companies with those of their employees – also with regard to the Green Convention. Theoretically and methodologically, this lecture thus aims to discuss the green convention as a possible taxonomy in relation to sustainability and digitization, in order to contour the dynamics and tensions of a digitized sustainability society and, in the course of this, to focus on processes of value assignment with regard to central phenomena such as the production of standards, market values, degrees of innovation and, ultimately, sustainability itself.
Convention Theory or Economics of Convention (EC), which is one of the French institutionalist approaches, was introduced to Japan after the 2000s by translated books and articles. In 2012, Olivier Favereau (University of Paris Nanterre, France), in 2015, Christian Bessy (École normale supérieure Paris-Saclay, France), and in 2018, Guillemette de Larquier (University of Lille, France) visited Japan and gave lectures. However, while the second generation and their students have developed EC, the recent movements have not been systematically introduced to Japan. Also, the advantages of the developed theory have been not clearly shown to Japanese evolutionary and institutional economists. Therefore, this session was organized to notice the recent development of EC and answer to the question why we dare to learn and to apply EC. The session consisted of the following three presentations:
Masafumi Yokemoto (Osaka City University, Japan)
Quality Tests in an Alternative Food Network: A Case Study of Organic Farming by Minamata Disease Patients and Their Supporters
Kota Kitagawa (Kansai University) and Mihoko Morisaki (Osaka City University, Japan): Wagashi Crafting as a Service: A Place of Materials in the Immaterialization of Capitalism from the Perspective of Convention Theory
Rainer Diaz-Bone (University of Lucerne, Switzerland): Convention Theory and Big Data
Masafumi Yokemoto’s presented a case study of organic farming in Minamata supported by urban consumers. Minamata is well-known as the site of devastating health damage (Minamata Disease) caused by a chemical company’s (Chisso) methylmercury emissions. The linkage of producers and consumers can be seen as an example of alternative food networks (AFNs), which provide foods having characteristics differing from mass-distribution products by linking producers and consumers.
As such, the “quality” of goods is an important point, and in that respect AFN researchers have consulted convention theory. Certification systems enabled businesses to incorporate new types of worth (the environment and food safety) into the process of capital accumulation. On the other hand a strategy of AFN is to switch away from focusing on product qualities those are proved by means of a certification system, and instead use the criterion of “relationships” among producers and with consumers. In the case of Minamata, such relationships are especially important. Also, his analysis traces the emergence of cité of green in Japan.
Kota Kitagawa and Mihoko Morisaki’s presented a case study of new developments in wagashi confectionery industry of Japan as an example of the immaterialization of capitalism. In order to consider immaterialization as a way of creation or transformation of an arrangement, Kitagawa and Morisaki employed convention theory to analyze a valuation world by focusing on humans, things, discourses and their relationships. The typical case for wagashi-crafting as a service (as a performance), in the novel movement in the wagashi segment, was analyzed in the context of forming a « collection » for economic « enrichment » (cf. Luc Boltanski and Arnaud Esquerre, 2020: Enrichment).
Evaluating service as performance has been constructed by mobilizing not only the intangibles (new valuation criteria with the popularization of SNS, photogenic collection in SNS, and the unique skill and spirit of the performer) but also the tangibles (various equipment; the wagashi and its delicate shades; resonance between the performer and the audiences). From the perspective of the plurality of cités, beneficiaries of services need to be embedded with the cité of inspiration in the novel valuation world.
Rainer Diaz-Bone’s presentation was, first, a clear commentary on EC, and second, a critical review of the digital economy in the age of “big data” from the perspective of EC. Conventions are logics of coordination, interpretation and evaluation.
Conventions offer a link to a common good, therefore conventions are also the basis for the social construction and evaluation of quality. Here we reaffirm the importance of Alain Desrosières’s work. Data is not a mirror of pre-given facts. Categorization and quantification are the result of different steps of convention-based practices. When measurement is based on adequate conventions, data can be regarded as useful for collective actions.
Big data is seen as an innovation in economy today. But from the perspective of EC, big data also troubles economies, because many data generating infrastructures are private property and are not used to pursue a common good but to exploit data information asymmetry. The conventions for these data production and measurement are invisible. EC’s claim on big data is to bring the public back in and to implement public ownership into the data infrastructures or develop new public data infrastructures.
In this session, discussions on the floor were actively held, and it was a good opportunity for Japanese researchers to learn more about the significance of Convention Theory.
Das Paper setzt sich aus soziologischer Perspektive mit den Herausforderungen und Chancen auseinander, die beim Onlinelebensmittelhandel (OLH) mit Obst und Gemüse in Deutschland eine Rolle spielen. Anhand des Vergleichs zweier sehr unterschiedlicher Anbieter wird argumentiert, dass die besondere Materialität von frischen Lebensmitteln – ihre Lebendigkeit – die Organisation des Marktes beeinflusst.
« Digitaler Handel zeichnet sich, im Gegensatz zum stationären Handel, allgemein durch eine höhere Anonymität unter den Marktakteuren aus. Dies resultiert aus vorrangig einmaligen Transaktionen, über zum Teil große Entfernungen hinweg, und vergrößert die Unsicherheit und damit allgemein das Vertrauensproblem (Diekmann & Przepiorka 2017, 249). Um möglichst viele Stammkund*innen zu gewinnen, was sowohl für den stationären Lebensmitteleinzelhandel (LEH) als auch den OLH mit Lebensmitteln zentral ist, muss daher eine besondere Vertrauensbasis aufgebaut werden, die mit diesen Charakteristiken bricht. Was „gutes Essen“ eigentlich bedeutet und wie sich dies bewerten lässt, kann unter Bezug auf verschiedene Konventionen, die Rechtfertigungs- und Verhaltensweisen verzahnen, eingeteilt werden (Ermann, Langthaler, Penker und Schermer 2018, 180 ff.) In den letzten Jahren fand in der Agrar- und Ernährungsforschung für die Erklärung solcherQualitätszuschreibung und -bewertung insbesondere der Ansatz der Economie des Conventions (EC) großen Anklang (Diaz-Bone 2018, Ponte 2016). Verschiedene Studien zeigen, dass die an einer spezifischen Warenkette beteiligten Akteure der Produktionskette das Problem der Koordination (Beckert 2009) lösen, indem sie gemeinsam geteilte Wissensbestände (Konventionen1) ausbilden. Die Akteure handeln also eine gemeinsame Qualitätsdefinition (Bewertung) aus und richten umfassend die Organisation der Warenkette daran aus. Die so entstehenden branchenübergeifenden Qualitätsstandards schaffen einen gemeinsamen Referenzrahmen, der über die jeweilige Systemlogik hinausreicht. Motive und Erwartungen der Produktions- und Konsumkontexte werden somit miteinander verbunden (Ermann et al 2018, 180), und für den Tausch der Waren eine Vertrauensbasis geschaffen. » (p. 3)
How the materiality of the goods influences the organization of online trade
The paper deals from a sociological perspective with the challenges and opportunities that play a role in the online food trade (OLH) with fruit and vegetables in Germany. By comparing two very different suppliers, it is argued that the particular materiality of fresh food – its liveliness – influences the organisation of the market.
« Digital trade, in contrast to stationary trade, is generally characterised by a higher degree of anonymity among market players. This results from primarily one-off transactions, in some cases over long distances, and increases uncertainty and thus the general trust problem (Diekmann & Przepiorka 2017, 249). In order to win as many regular customers as possible, which is central to both stationary food retail trade (LEH) and the OLH with food, a special basis of trust must therefore be built up which breaks with these characteristics. What« good food » actually means and how this can be evaluated can be classified with reference to various conventions that interlock modes of justification and behaviour (Ermann, Langthaler, Penker and Schermer 2018, 180 ff.). In recent years, the approach of the Economie des Conventions (EC) in particular has met with great approval in agricultural and food research for the explanation of such quality attribution and evaluation (Diaz-Bone 2018, Ponte 2016). Various studies show that the actors in the production chain involved in a specific commodity chain solve the problem of coordination (Beckert 2009) by building shared knowledge stocks (Conventions1). The actors thus negotiate a common definition of quality (evaluation) and comprehensively align the organisation of the commodity chain with it. The cross-industry quality standards thus created create a common frame of reference that extends beyond the respective system logic. Motives and expectations of production and consumption contexts are thus linked (Ermann et al 2018, 180), and a basis of trust is created for the exchange of goods. » (p. 3)
Die zunehmende Verbreitung und Nutzung von Algorithmen, seien es Such-, Bewertungs- oder Empfehlungs-Algorithmen, ist ein zentrales Thema der Digitalisierungsforschung. Während Algorithmen in der deutschsprachigen Techniksoziologie seit den 1990ern in Anlehnung an Turing allen voran als formalisierte und schematisierte Regelabläufe definiert werden […], beschäftigt sich der Großteil der gegenwärtigen Digitalisierungs- und Algorithmen-Forschung meist nur mit (computer-)algorithmischen Rankings. Diese zeichnen sich dadurch aus, dass sie genauso wie „analoge“ Rankings numerische Ordinalisierungen darstellen, die auf Bewertungen basieren und eine hierarchische Ordnung implementieren; im Gegensatz zu analogen Rankings vollzieht sich die algorithmische Ranking-Erzeugung jedoch automatisiert. Angesichts der Verengung des Untersuchungsgegen-standes gegenwärtiger digitalisierungssoziologischer Forschung auf ranking-produzierende Algorithmen erscheint es umso bemerkenswerter, dass die Digitalisierungsforschung dabei die soziologische Forschung zu Quantifizierung und Rankings bisher kaum berücksichtigt hat. Diese Lücke wollen wir schließen, indem wir demonstrieren, wie sich die Erkenntnisse soziologischer Ranking-Forschung, die vor allem auf Arbeiten der Wissenschafts- und Wirtschaftssoziologie zurückgeht, fruchtbar zur Untersuchung von Digitalisierungsphänomenen verarbeiten lassen. Die verschiedenen, in der Digitalisierungsforschung untersuchten Algorithmen lassen sich dabei analytisch jedoch nicht vollständig auf analoge Rankings reduzieren, da die software-technische Automatisierung der Ranking-Erzeugung zu relevanten Differenzen führt, die es ebenfalls herauszuarbeiten gilt. Unsere Überlegungen münden deshalb in einem Analyse-Raster, das die systematische Untersuchung von algorithmisch erzeugten Rankings sowie den Vergleich mit analog erzeugten Rankings erlaubt. Somit wird es möglich, digitalisierungsbedingte Veränderungen gesellschaftlicher Praktiken soziologisch fundiert zu erfassen. Das Analyse-Raster wird abschließend an zwei empirischen Beispielen schlaglichtartig illustriert, der algorithmischen Kriminalitätsvorhersage im Predictive Policing und der algorithmischen Marktregulierung in App Stores.
„Bei der Soziologie der Quantifizierung handelt es sich um ein immer noch wenig institutionalisiertes Forschungsfeld (Berman/Hirschman 2018: 258; Mennicken/Espeland 2019: 224f.), dass sich mit Praktiken des Quantifizierens, also der Produktion und Kommunikationen von Zahlen, samt ihrer gesellschaftlichen Effekte, befasst (Espeland/Stevens 2008, Diaz-Bone/Didier 2016, Esposito/Stark 2019). Aufgrund der geringen Institutionalisierung des Forschungsfeldes sind verschiedene quantifizierungssoziologisch relevante Erkenntnisse meist in Publikationen der Wirtschafts- und Wissenschaftssoziologie (z.B. Espeland & Sauder, 2007; Fourcade & Healy, 2013) sowie der Soziologie der Bewertung (z.B. Lamont 2012) zu finden. Der Einfachheit halber fassen wir alle diese Forschungen unter das Rubrum der Soziologie der Quantifizierung, auch wenn dies nicht unbedingt der Selbstbeschreibung der Forschenden entspricht. Das für uns dabei relevante Kriterium ist, ob sich soziologisch mit der numerisch-quantitativen Dimension und den daran anschließenden Praktiken und Diskursen auseinandergesetzt wird. […] Ein weiterer Strang der Quantifizierungs-Forschung beschäftigt sich mit der durchQuantifizierung ermöglichten Ressourcen-Allokation (Miller 2001), also der Konstitution politischer Steuerbarkeit mittels Statistiken, sodass die Statistik als Geburt des modernen Staates angesehen werden kann (Desrosières 1998, 2001).“(p. 3/6)
Algorithms = Rankings + x? Impulses of the sociology of quantification for research on digitisation
The increasing dissemination and use of algorithms, whether search, evaluation or recommendation algorithms, is a central topic of research on digitisation. While algorithms have been defined in the German-speaking sociology of technology since the 1990s, following Turing, as formalized and schematized rule sequences […], the majority of current research on digitization and algorithms is mostly concerned with (computer) algorithmic rankings. These are characterized by the fact that, just like « analog » rankings, they are numerical ordinalizations based on evaluations and implement a hierarchical order; in contrast to analog rankings, however, algorithmic ranking generation is automated. In view of the narrowing of the object of study of current research in the sociology of digitisation to ranking-producing algorithms, it seems all the more remarkable that research on digitisation has so far hardly taken into account sociological research on quantification and rankings. We would like to close this gap by demonstrating how the findings of sociological ranking research, which can be traced back primarily to work in the sociology of science and economic sociology, can be fruitfully processed to investigate digitisation phenomena. However, the various algorithms investigated in digitization research cannot be reduced analytically to analog rankings completely, since the software-technical automation of ranking generation leads to relevant differences that also need to be worked out. Our considerations therefore result in an analysis grid that allows the systematic investigation of algorithmically generated rankings and the comparison with analog rankings. In this way, it becomes possible to record changes in social practices caused by digitisation in a sociologically sound way. Finally, the analysis grid is illustrated by two empirical examples, the algorithmic prediction of crime in predictive policing and algorithmic market regulation in app stores.
« The sociology of quantification is still a little institutionalised field of research (Berman/Hirschman 2018: 258; Mennicken/Espeland 2019: 224f.), which deals with practices of quantification, i.e. the production and communication of numbers, including their social effects (Espeland/Stevens 2008, Diaz-Bone/Didier 2016, Esposito/Stark 2019). Due to the low level of institutionalisation of the research field, various findings relevant to the sociology of quantification can usually be found in publications of the sociology of economics and the sociology of science (e.g. Espeland & Sauder, 2007; Fourcade & Healy, 2013) and the sociology of valuation (e.g. Lamont 2012). For the sake of simplicity, we group all these researches under the rubric of the sociology of quantification, even if this does not necessarily correspond to the researchers’ self-description. The relevant criterion for us here is whether sociological research deals with the numerical-quantitative dimension and the practices and discourses that follow. …] Another strand of quantification research deals with the allocation of resourcesmade possible by quantification (Miller 2001), i.e. the constitution of political controllability by means of statistics, so that statistics can be regarded as the birth of the modern state (Desrosières 1998, 2001). » (p. 3/6)
“From the beginning, capitalism needed a non-economic idealistic driving force. In his study The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, the sociologist Max Weber attributed its spread to an elective affinity of religious ethics and the associated professional view and lifestyle. This perspective was taken up again a century later by Luc Boltanski and Ève Chiapello. In the digital age – according to the main thesis of the lecture – a new, polytheistic spirit of capitalism has now emerged, born in Silicon Valley. This spirit is a transnational phenomenon that drives the digital transformation of economy and lifestyle and has a local impact. The digital spirit is based on an ethic of solution that claims to improve the world and underpins a metric lifestyle.”
Location/time: Collegium Helveticum, Schmelzbergstrasse 25, 8006 Zürich, 18:15-20:00.
Session “Why convention theory?” at the upcoming JAFEE (Japan Society for Evolutionary Economics) conference in Sendai, Japan. 28 March 2020. Organized by Kota Kitagawa (Kansai University Osaka, Japan.)
企画：Why Convention Theory?
第1報告：Rainer Diaz-Bone (University of Lucerne）
第2報告：Masafumi Yokemoto (Osaka City University)
第3報告：Kota Kitagawa (Kansai University) / Mihoko Morisaki (Osaka City University）
Vienna University of Economics and Business, Austria 17-18 April 2020.
Organized by Dominik Zellhofer and Katharina Pernkopf (Vienna University of Economics and Business, Austria)
“The workshop will focus on the use and usefulness of different theoretical ideas developed within the French pragmatic sociology – with a particular emphasis on developments and potential challenges in the age of digital transformation. As always, presentations will cover a variety of projects in differents fields of research.”
For a preliminary version of the program see pdf at this download link
Economics of convention as a neopragmatist institutionalism
« In his lecture ‘Economics of Convention as a neopragmatist Institutionalism’, this institutionalism is first introduced and its methodology and contributions to economic sociology are outlined. The focus is on conventions as logics for economic coordination and valorization, and a pragmatic concept of ‘quality’. The basic position of the ‘Economics of convention’ is the radical coexistence of many quality conventions in the economy, resulting in a plurality of economic coordination logics.”
“Kolloquium Sozialforschung” at the University of Lucerne, Switzerland (Autumn 2019)
Guy Schwegler (University of Lucerne)
During the autumn semester 2019, the bi-weekly colloquium at the University of Lucerne took place, which was organized by Rainer Diaz-Bone and Kenneth Horvath. The format features speakers from both academia as well as private and public research institutions to deal with the methodological challenges of social science in a broad way. The various presentations given this past autumn dealt with subjects such as bibliometric reviews (Isabel Steinhardt, University of Kassel), large data sets and maps (Timo Ohnmacht, Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts), or the question of representativeness in surveys (Stephanie Steinmetz, University of Lausanne). Furthermore, two researchers were also part of this semester’s program that relied heavily on convention theory (EC). For the very first presentation of the colloquium, Valeska Cappel (University of Lucerne) presented her PHD project’s perspective on the think-aloud-method. And for the very last one of the semester, Simon Schrör (Weizenbaum Institute Berlin) focused on the furniture industry. For his newly started PHD, he examines the role of conventions in the digital transformation of this industry.
These two latter presentations and their subsequent discussions will be summarized in this blog post.
Valeska Cappel: “Die Think-Aloud-Methode: lautes Denken zur Erfassung impliziter kognitiver Wissensvorgänge” [Using the Think-Aloud Method to Grasp Implicit Cognitive Knowledge-Processes]
In her PHD project, Valeska Cappel focuses on the digital classifications of health within software applications on smartphones (i.e. apps). She has been presenting her project in numerous forums already (see here for some reports on her presentation on this very blog). For her most recent presentation on the subject, she focused on a very specific part of her empirical work, namely the possible application of the think-aloud-method.
As Cappel put it, her project has three aims when it comes to health classifications in apps. First, there is a (more historical and general) side to the establishment of these digital classifications that she looks into. Here, she hopes to identify the equivalences and form-investments present. Second, she also will look at tensions, conflicts and non-intended consequences that result from the implementations of the classifications within and through the helath apps. Third, Cappel wants to examine closely the actual handling of the apps within specific situations, where users interact with the objects, the software and therefore the classifications. Although her three goals co-constitute each other and are somehow inseparable, she approaches each part with a different methodological emphasis. For her third aim—the handling of the apps within situations—Cappel sees the think-aloud-method fit to capture data about the cognitive processes the users bring forward in interaction with the apps.
After these introductory remarks, Cappel went on to introduce the method and different approaches to it. These approaches of the think-aloud-technique range from an “introspective” and immediate verbalization of the participants during process over to “retro-“ or post-process verbalizations, that can happen either just after a respective action or in a delayed manner. For Cappel, all of these approaches to the method promise ways to approach the peculiarities of people dealing with classifications in situations. The more immediate verbalizations, for example, seem to relate better to the ideas present in the regimes of engagement concept while the delayed approach seems more fit for justifications. The main challenge of the method, however, lies in the fact that its basic assumption lead to a psychological explanation of the underlying processes all too fast. A path to use the method in the context of EC concepts, in relation to the ideas of technologies of the self by Foucault, or with the symbolic interactionism in mind, as Cappel intends to, does not present itself easily.
The challenge was also at the heart of the discussion that followed the presentation. Here, however, participants stressed that a similar tension as in the method also lies in Cappel’s very subject, i.e. the knowledge category “health”. The idea of “cognition” with and through the category as a psychological process is connected to the sociological issue of the “handling” of the category. Various approaches to this tension then were discussed. One proposed solution was the idea to re-focus the method on the situation as only accessed by the talking participant (instead of focusing on the thinking participant). Another proposal was to apply the method in sessions with couples (and therefore two participants) or to create some sort of “crisis” experiments, and not just observe daily routines.
Simon Schrör: “Digital-basierte Konventionen und Designmöbel. Transformation einer Industrie” [Digital based conventions and Design Furniture. Transformations of an Industry]
Simon Schrör only recently started with his PhD project that focuses on the digital transformation of the furniture industry and its related implications for modes of productions, justifications, and the likes. In Lucerne, he began his presentation with a little introduction of the Weizenbaum Institute, a joint venture project of Berlin’s universities that focuses on the digital transformation of the society, where Schrör is engaged as researcher. As part of one of the twenty research groups of the interdisciplinary institution, he especially focuses on the new governance forms and norms that result from digitalization.
After this introduction of the institute and its focus, Schrör went on to present design furniture and the changes that present themselves with the digitalization of this field. For him, the furniture objects resemble an interesting case for the digital changes. Consequences in legal, technical, as well as social norms and regulation here find their way into a specific and material object—the ways to coordinate in the digital realm are present in the furniture. Taking a step back further, Schrör then went on to present the wider societal change since 70ties as described by Andreas Reckwitz with the term late-modernity (“Spätmoderne”, see Reckwitz 2017/2020) again as mirrored in the design furniture field. Here, the former idea of design as a process inherent to mass production has been flipped on its head and the changes resulted in a questionable new role of the once standardized furniture. Now, design furniture are presented as luxury objects and a form of singularity. At the same time, however, they are being copied and cheaply manufactured by a mass market with instant and global availability.
To grasp these changes in a more systematic way, Schrör presented the concepts of the four commodity structures respectively forms of valorization that Boltanski and Esquerre introduced in Enrichment (“les formes de mise en valeur”, 2017/2020). With these four characteristics alongside the quality conventions, he went on to describe the differentiated practices to produce furniture present in the industry today. According to Schrör, furniture producers can be grouped with regard to three licensing regimes, each with respective (but non-exclusive) characteristics of goods and valorization. First, a license-based furniture production focuses on luxurious “design” furniture. Here, especially the collection form (“forme collection”) is present while a justification follows the convention of inspiration. Although emblematic of the current societal situation (singularities, enrichment), the licensed-based regime is especially challenged by processes of digitalization—and by the second type of furniture manufacturers. In this second regime type, companies have become specialized in an unlicensed production of the former regime’s products, e.g. “copying” the design products. Here, the digitalization enabled the companies to access the global distribution chains of Amazon and the likes that guarantee a certain amount of safety due to globalization (and lack of regulation). And, of course, this resulted into more and more difficulties for the license-based companies to track down their “copy-cat” counterparts. The companies under the unlicensed regime operate with the standard as well as the trend form (“forme standard/tendance”) for their goods, and justify their actions with the grammar of the civic regime. The second regime type seems to be profiting from the changes made possible through digitalization in an unapologetic manner. The third way of producing furniture, on the other hand, resemble a genuine “post-digital solution”. This regime is based on the Open Source idea, where licenses are available publicly on various online channels. These licenses then are forwarded to local producers (again, via specific channels or “platforms”). Here again the standard form becomes present, with promises to an asset form (“forme actif”), while a domestic justification organizes the production.
For Schrör, the approach of value setting in Enrichment as well as the EC in general enables the researcher to look at processes like the ones happening in digitalization from a more structural viewpoint while at the same time never losing sight of actual practices—and their possible contradictory effects (see also Boltanski and Esquerre 2017:495ff). As a first empirical idea, Schrör presented a possible chain of production that he’d like to follow and where the respective conventions should be identified. According to Schrör, an artefact analysis becomes central in following this chain of production.
During the discussion that followed his presentation, the participants of this last colloquium of the semester talked about three distinctive issues. First, the idea of following the design furniture as artefacts was discussed. Schrör presented the fabrication process in an ideal type model. Participants then pointed out that the situations of “production”—and their respective qualities and justification—shouldn’t be pre-fixed, but rather emerge in empirical work. What the actual “furniture” as an artefact is then should be questioned within various situations. The second subject discussed was the issue of digitalization. In a similar manner as with the first issue of the production process and its “artefacts,” participants pointed out that digitalization as a process also need to be specified empirically: in what function and form does the digital manifest itself, and what are the problems actors try to solve with these novelties? As a third discussion point, some weaknesses of convention theory were addressed. On the one hand, the commodity structures introduced by Boltanski and Esquerre seems to be focusing primarily on actual goods and their consumptions. Non-productive industries, the service sector and their respective “goods,” however, are not yet easily placed within the framework. On the other hand, it was pointed out, that the exact identification of a certain convention or justification in a systematic way has never been laid out—and remains a challenge both in Schrör’s project as well as in EC research in general.
Boltanski, Luc and Arnaud Esquerre (2017) Enrichissement. Une critique de la marchandise. Paris: Gallimard.
Boltanski, Luc and Arnaud Esquerre (2020, forthcoming) Enrichment. A Critique of Commodities. Cambridge, UK; Medford, MA: Polity.
Reckwitz, Andreas (2017) Die Gesellschaft Der Singularitäten: Zum Strukturwandel Der Moderne. Berlin: Suhrkamp.
Reckwitz, Andreas (2020, forthcoming) Society of Singularities. Cambridge, UK; Medford, MA: Polity.