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Comment s’invente la sociologie

How sociology is invented

Luc Boltanski, Arnaud Esquerre & Jeanne Lazarus (2024)

Paris: Flammarion

A propos du livre. La sociologie, mode d’emploi. Aimée par des écrivains et des artistes, sollicitée par des journalistes, des militants, des responsables politiques pour comprendre l’actualité, qu’on s’en réclame ou qu’on la critique, comment se pratique cette science sociale qui attire tant l’attention? Trois sociologues de générations différentes nous ouvrent les portes de leurs laboratoires et nous introduisent à leurs œuvres. Ils expliquent, en dialoguant entre eux, comment on enquête, comment on écrit, comment on forge des concepts, comment on procède à des comparaisons, quels rapports entretenir avec d’autres disciplines. Ils partagent ainsi leurs méthodes pour analyser des problèmes sociaux à partir de questions sociologiques. Ce livre s’adresse à toutes celles et tous ceux qui s’intéressent à la sociologie et souhaitent savoir comment elle s’élabore”

About the book. Sociology, instructions for use. Loved by writers and artists, sought after by journalists, activists and politicians to understand current affairs, whether we claim it as our own or criticize it, how is this social science that attracts so much attention practiced? Three sociologists from different generations open the doors of their laboratories and introduce us to their work. They explain, in dialogue with each other, how to investigate, how to write, how to forge concepts, how to make comparisons, and how to relate to other disciplines. They share their methods for analyzing social problems based on sociological questions. This book is for all those interested in sociology and how it is developed.

Lien / Link

L’ouvrage a donné lieu à un entretien dans l’émission “Les Midis de Culture” de France Culture.
The book was the subject of an interview on France Culture’s “Les Midis de Culture” program.
(04/03/2024; 00:38:06)

Les sociologues Luc Boltanski et Jeanne Lazarus nous ouvrent les portes de la sociologie: le livre “Comment s’invente la sociologie”, qu’ils signent avec Arnaud Esquerre, est un dialogue à trois retraçant leurs parcours et les fonctionnements de cette discipline, de ses débuts à notre époque. Ils sont les invités de Géraldine Mosna-Savoye et de Nicolas Herbeaux.

Sociologists Luc Boltanski and Jeanne Lazarus open the doors of sociology to us: the book “Comment s’invente la sociologie”, which they have written with Arnaud Esquerre, is a three-way dialogue tracing their careers and the workings of this discipline, from its beginnings to the present day. They are guests of Géraldine Mosna-Savoye and Nicolas Herbeaux.

Conference report: Calculation – Design – Cultivation. Ways of Designing Fair Business Models in the Data Economy

Conference report

Philipp Dieterich (University of Kassel)

The conference (titled “Calculation – Design – Cultivation. Ways of Designing Fair Business Models in the Data Economy”), which took place at the University of Kassel (Germany) from February 21st to 22nd 2024, addressed various approaches of fair value mediation in data economic business models, through sociological and (business) informatics lenses, considering the Sociology and Economics of Conventions (EC/SC). It served as the concluding conference of the project ‘Fair Digital Services: Co-Valuation in the Design of Data-Economic Business Models (FAIRDIENSTE)’, conducted by the Departments of Sociological Theory (University of Kassel, Prof. Dr. Jörn Lamla, project coordination), Participatory IT-Design (University of Kassel, Prof. Dr. Claude Draude), Knowledge and Data Engineering (University of Kassel, Prof. Dr. Gerd Stumme), as well as the Institute for Digital Management and New Media (LMU Munich, Prof. Dr. Thomas Hess). Also involved in the project were the two practice partners BurdaForward and the registered association ‘Institut für Technik und Journalismus e.V.’ (ITUJ, Institute for Technology and Journalism). The conference took place at the Research Center for Information System Design (ITeG), which promotes development towards a socially desirable IT design. Approximately 40 participants, including 20 speakers, attended the conference over the two days. It included introductory presentations on the FAIRDIENSTE project, two keynote speeches, and three panel discussions. In each case, the FAIRDIENSTE consortium gave a presentation on a co-evaluation approach, followed by a panel discussion with external guests from academia and practice. The following conference report will provide a chronological summary of each of these contributions and subsequent discussions.

Introduction to the FAIRDIENSTE Project
J. Lamla and Jonathan Kropf (Department of Sociological Theory, University of Kassel) provided an introduction to the FAIRDIENSTE project, which was funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research from February 2021 to April 2024. The project aimed to develop a scientific concept of fairness for the data economy and to produce well-founded results for the design of digital services. The Economics and Sociology of Conventions (EC/SC) was used as its theoretical foundation. A fundamental concept in the FAIRDIENSTE project is the idea of Co-Valuation, which involves considering fairness through the mediation of different values. Approaches chosen included Design (channeling value conflicts through design), Calculation (translating different values into the language of prices), and Cultivation (promoting a culture of fairness for negotiating value conflicts through the cultivation of critical competencies). The field of analysis was digital journalism, due to the numerous value conflicts observed there (e.g., distribution of data-economic revenues, blurred boundaries between journalism and advertising, crises in public debate culture, professional standards of journalistic work, discrimination or manipulation by algorithms). However, insights were intended to be beneficial for fairness in data economy as a whole.

The contents of the conference built upon the “White Paper” (, previously developed by the consortium. This serves as an analytical and practical resource for the implementation and design of fair business models in the data economy, akin to a toolbox. The aim was to make this toolbox as practical as possible in order to reach not only scientists but also practitioners from politics, business, and civil society.

Keynote I: ‘Data Worlds and Fairness – Perspectives from the Economics and Sociology of Conventions’ by Rainer Diaz-Bone (University of Lucerne)
In his keynote speech, Rainer Diaz-Bone provided insights into EC/SC ( He then outlined potential points of connection between EC/SC and the project at hand, along with the associated data-economic issues of fairness. R. Diaz-Bone explained that conventions serve as a justification for cognitive, organizational, and technical data infrastructures. He identified five different data worlds (academic, official statistics, market research, big data, civic data), each following conventions, and emphasized the importance of analyzing the circulation of data production, usage, revaluation, and reciprocal observations across these worlds. From the plurality of data worlds, he inferred that there can be no universal definition of fairness. He also noted that definitions of fairness must be developed empirically. In doing so, attention should be paid to how these definitions conflict with each other, in which constellations they are found, and where compromises can be identified. Fairness, he suggested, is often empirically linked to multiple logics. He concluded by stressing that analyses of fairness must begin with the production of data, as data does not consist of given facts but results instead from statistical chains.
In the subsequent discussion, J. Lamla described various ideas on how fairness could be conceptualized within EC/SC: firstly, fairness could be its own convention; secondly, each convention could have its own concept of fairness; thirdly, the concept of fairness could be approached at a meta-level to empirically trace how challenges of fairness relate to issues of value mediation. J. Lamla noted that the project had opted for the third perspective, which focuses on a procedural understanding of fairness. Consequently, R. Diaz-Bone highlighted the interesting approach of the FAIRDIENSTE project. He pointed out that the meta-analyses and questions that were raised regarding fairness oriented towards EC/SC can be helpful for developing guidance ideas for politics and governance without specific criteria catalogs.

Regarding the calculation approach, Simon Engert (Institute for Digital Management and New Media, LMU Munich) elucidated that perspectives were developed on how fairness can be examined and achieved using economic mechanisms. The central aim was to translate different values into the language of prices, addressing questions such as the fair distribution of data-economic revenues. He summarized that fairness is both normatively desirable and economically relevant.

Christopher Buschow, Mena Teebken, Richard Weber and Thomas Hess

The panel featuring Christopher Buschow (TU Hamburg), Mena Teebken (Bavarian Research Institute for Digital Transformation), Richard Weber (BurdaForward), moderated by T. Hess, delved into the transformation of the media landscape and the challenges of fairness in digital journalism. The discussion focused on proposals for creating a fair business model. C. Buschow opened the panel by referring to various understandings of fairness, depending on historical experiences and linked to the fundamental transformation of the media world over the past 30 years. He emphasized that (lack of) fairness is relevant, both in the remuneration of journalists, and in ensuring non-discriminatory access to platforms. Following this direction, M. Teebken noted that a fair business model crucially depends on how fairly it treats users’ data, highlighting the importance of data. At the same time, she pointed out the necessary pragmatic balance between overly lenient and overly restrictive handling of data privacy. R. Weber emphasized the societal mission of a publisher to provide journalistic content, which necessitates direct and indirect payment methods. He stressed that implementing fairness does not solely lie with publishers, due to the multitude of stakeholders, thus requiring a consideration of the entire value chain.
The panel discussed possible processes for developing acceptable solutions for all stakeholders in journalism. Suggestions included negotiations through unions, the relevance of user interests, and creating a counterbalance to large platforms. The importance of negotiating fairness collectively among all stakeholders was repeatedly emphasized. Subsequently, the possibilities and limitations of tools to support journalism were discussed, highlighting the importance of user engagement and a transformative understanding of science. R. Diaz-Bone argued, based on the EC/SC, that an understanding of privacy that is related to information control and individual autonomy, that often guides many discussions, is actually an outdated bourgeois model from the 19th century and no longer relevant to current ways of thinking. However, the empirical relevance of privacy in the data economy presents an interesting case.

Viktoria Horn (Participatory IT-Design, University of Kassel) referred to a comprehensive concept of design as the basis of the approach, encompassing technical, regulatory, and infrastructural aspects. The focus was on questions of democratizing design processes and reflecting values in artifacts. Therefore, much work was done with ‘participatory design’, where participation entails the early and continuous involvement of stakeholders in design processes, incorporating both technical and non-technical solutions. Fostering fair value mediation requires a multi-perspective process considering power asymmetries, which can be achieved, for example, through a participatory workshop with various stakeholders. Such a workshop was developed in collaboration with BurdaForward as part of the FAIRDIENSTE project and was conducted with different stakeholders.
The subsequent panel discussion with Alina Hang (BurdaForward), Tahireh Panahi (Public Law, IT Law and Environmental Law, University of Kassel), Peter Sörries (Institute of Computer Science, FU Berlin), moderated by C. Draude, began with considering the positive experiences of previous participatory workshops, which had lead to increased empathy among stakeholders. The feasibility of such concepts in reality was questioned, for instance by A. Hang, due to the diversity of actors and existing competitive situations. Challenges were also discussed regarding the implementation of values into technical artifacts and the implementation of fairness business models, particularly regarding financial and time resources. P. Sörries emphasized, based on his own experiences in conducting participatory workshops, the difficulty of deriving and maintaining design requirements, especially considering possible updates or changed data protection concepts. T. Panahi pointed out attempts to introduce more regulations at an EU level, which often allow companies a certain degree of leeway. She concluded that cultivation should be the prerequisite for legal regulations and laws. The panel participants agreed that users’ participation and co-creation is central to a fair data economy. R. Diaz-Bone emphasized the importance of testing and verification in the EC/SC, meaning that it must be tested and must work in reality to endure. This implies that a solely pluralistic perspective is not sufficient, but must always be tested and verified under the given conditions.

Alina Hang, Tahireh Panahi, Peter Sörries and Claude Draude

Markus Uhlmann (Department of Sociological Theory, University of Kassel) introduced the cultivation approach, which aims to explore possibilities for public negotiations of value conflicts and to promote critical valuation competencies. Starting from a problem-oriented presentation of recommendation systems’ popularity metric and personalization, Uhlmann proposed an alternative navigation paradigm. This is based on a cartographic approach, and structures a variety of content through conventions that users can explore independently. This cartography utilizes formal concept analysis linked to the EC/SC, as explained by Johannes Hirth (Knowledge & Data Engineering, University of Kassel).
In the subsequent discussion with Renate Fischer (University of Zurich), Karolin Kappler (Catholic University of Applied Sciences of North Rhine-Westphalia), and Miriam Ruhenstroth (ITuJ e.V.), moderated by J. Lamla, questions regarding the development of critical valuation competencies played a distinct role. In this regard, J. Lamla introduced the concept of ‘critical space’, which must necessarily be created, and asked how such a critical space could emerge. K. Kappler pointed out that its creation, especially in the field of digitization, is not sufficient. As long as exploitative relations of work, environment, and human in relation to data are not considered, a critical space is merely a sham. Instead, she suggested bringing attention to the plurality in a power-sensitive manner. R. Fischer, on the other hand, argued that while plurality exists, there are no skills to recognize it. She concluded that users lack critical evaluation skills and a navigation paradigm could be helpful. M. Ruhenstroth emphasized that ‘critical spaces’ such as the association ITuJ exist, and that cultivation often already takes place among users. She described the desire of users for simplification, such as using grades. However, this logic corresponds to a different logic than the EC/SC uses, as the EC/SC does not solely engage in accounting and tends to authoritatively determine what is good or bad, as J. Lamla explained. This led to a debate about the compatibility of the EC/SC logic with practicality in digital journalism. M. Ruhenstroth noted that people are capable of learning and interested in the topic. There is more demand than the association ITuJ can meet. K. Kappler identified the problem that children and young people are not taught how to act in a self-determined manner in the digital space, but rather they get mainly focused on predetermination and control. M. Ruhenstroth added that digitization in schools currently does not aim to teach the handling of digitization. Conventions could help address ownership and power relations. R. Fischer suggested focusing on imparting skills rather than mere knowledge. K. Kappler emphasized that media literacy means using media sensibly, the EC/SC being helpful in that regard. She further pointed out that competence also means using digital artifacts creatively and subversively against the algorithm.

Miriam Ruhenstroth, Renate Fischer, Karolin Kappler and Jörn Lamla

Keynote II: ‘On the Designability of Power Dynamics in the Platform Society: Insights from Digital Journalism’ by Sarah Ganter (Simon Fraser University, Canada)
Sarah Ganter’s presentation focused on the challenges and opportunities of digital journalism in the context of the platform society ( The aim of the presentation was to illuminate the specific problems of digital journalism within this framework and to highlight the design spaces of news organizations. S. Ganter described the asymmetric distribution of power between platforms and news organizations. On digital platforms, fairness had no value as it did not represent a profitable business model. Earlier attempts, between 2005 and 2015, to shape the power dynamics of platforms, had shown that this asymmetric distribution of power could not be overcome despite various strategies. Aspects that manifested the power of digital platforms, as mentioned by S. Ganter, included the ability to set and break standards, comprehensive expertise and reach, cross-domain actions, and the secrecy of strategies. Platforms could empower digital journalism to be quickly actionable without making high short-term financial investments. Building on this, S. Ganter described possible design spaces for news organizations that exist despite asymmetrical power relations. News organizations were actively involved in the process of platformization and saw it as an opportunity to increase their reach and consolidate or expand their power positions. S. Ganter worked out how news organizations pursued different strategic approaches in dealing with platforms, ranging from confrontation, to coexistence, to collaboration, depending on various endogenous and exogenous factors.

Sarah Ganter

J. Lamla concluded with a positive assessment of the conference in the light of the numerous new insights. For him, it became clear once again that there is an empirical and practical relevance of the concept of fairness, especially in journalism. He observed that, taking the EC/SC into account, there are some theoretical challenges regarding the significance of conventions and norms in the data economy, such as the question of why the justification of central concepts such as privacy is not keeping pace with developments. T. Hess praised the productive work of the interdisciplinary team, which contributed to the project’s great success. He advocated for utilizing the existing design space. As a summary, he added that the interdisciplinary team with different perspectives was a great success of the project, and emphasized that there are design opportunities that must be seized. He hopes to be able to address this, together with others, in another research project in the future.

“Expropriation by Law”: On the Financialization of Intellectual Property Rights and the Effects on Labor, Creativity and Value

Interview with Christian Bessy

By Simon Schrör (Weizenbaum Institute, Berlin)

Christian Bessy is CNRS-researcher at the Ecole normale supérieure (ENS) at Paris-Saclay and works at the laboratory “Institutions and historical dynamics of economy and Society” (Institutions et dynamiques historiques de l’économie et de la société, IDHE.S), of which he is assistant director.

Christian Bessy

He belongs to the French approach of the economics of conventions (in short EC) and has written many articles and five books: “Les licenciements économiques. Entre la loi et le marché” (1993), “Experts et faussaires. Pour une sociologie de la perception” (together with Francis Chateauraynaud, 1995), “La contractualisation de la relation de travail” (2007), “L’organisation des activités des avocats” (2015), and “L’expropriation par le droit. Propriété intellectuelle, valeur, travail“ (2022).

Bessy also has co-edited five books : “Les intermédiaires du marché du travail” (together with François Eymard-Duvernay 1997), “Des marchés du travail équitables? Approche comparative France/Royaume-Uni” (together with François Eymard-Duvernay, Guillemette de Larquier and Emmanuelle Marchal, 2001) and “Droit et régulations des activités économiques et institutionalistes” (together with Thierry Delpeuch and Jérôme Pelisse, 2011), “Les biens communs en perspectives” (together with Michel Margairaz, 2021), “L’économie est une science réflexive (in tribute to Robert Salais)” (together with Claude Didry, 2023).

The recent publication of his latest book, “Expropriation by Law. Intellectual Property, Value and Labor” is the occasion for this interview about his work and the long-term developments in his field of research. The interview was conducted via email exchange between January and February 2024.

SSc:  Your new book is entitled “Expropriation by Law”. How did you get the idea to write this book?

CB:   This book is the translation of my French 2022 book “L’expropriation par le droit” with a few additions to make it readable for an international audience. It represents over 30 years of research, which began with the study of counterfeiting cases with my sociologist colleague Francis Chateauraynaud (EHESS) from the point of view of expertise capacities that these affairs presuppose (Bessy and Chateauraynaud, 1995). Afterward, I delved deeper by studying the collective management of intellectual property rights, in short IPRs (Brousseau and Bessy, 2006), particularly through the practices of licensing technology agreements (Bessy and Brousseau, 1998). My work in the early 2010s on the role of lawyers in the definition of law and the emergence of highly profitable law firms specializing in IPRs led me to question the way in which they participated in their financial valorization, constructing them as a new asset class that could be traded on a market. The rampant financialization of IPR in the contemporary era will have consequences for the allocation of these rights, generating increasing litigation, particularly within companies. It is this chain of events that my book seeks to analyze, using a database of court cases and interviews with legal professionals in the field. It’s a project that I had put off for a while, and it was the period of confinement that gave me the availability I needed to find this thread of “expropriation by law”, by cross-referencing virtually all my previous research.

SSc: You mentioned the rampant financialization IPR and brought up the role of actors like lawyers. Looking back on the developments in the IP-driven sector over the last 30 years. How was it possible to implement and stabilize such changes?

CB:   Our analytical framework shows different conventions for valorization IPRs and their synergy over time, making patents into negotiable assets. The market for patents nonetheless is not developing on a large scale and testifies to the failure of modern finance, as we have shown using the example of Silicon Valley and the key role of new patent intermediaries who have allied themselves with financiers. Nonetheless, it’s a market that’s developing with the strengthening and development of IPR on other objects, as well as companies’ open innovation strategies. This financialization of IPR can be explained by institutional factors and corporate strategies, particularly in the new information and communication technologies.
But the whole thesis of this book is that, far from playing a passive role, IP attorneys play a decisive role in shaping policy and its globalization by contributing to strong inequalities between firms, between countries and between workers. Katherina Pistor (2019) has clearly highlighted how global lawyers, with their codifying engineering of know-how, create exclusive, sustainable, universal, and convertible capital, to the benefit of companies and often against nation states. In this way, they participate in a veritable global legal industry, which is highly prized by investment funds. The success of this IP market is based more on the collective belief in the value of IPRs than on their intrinsic qualities.

SSc: Before talking more about the role of these intermediaries, can you describe the sectors and the kinds of IPs, that are particularly relevant nowadays?

CB:   In the book, we use patent law as a starting point, since this is the field we began to investigate and in which financialization began very early on, calling into question the way patent offices operate. Although the focus is on patent rights, our analysis applies to all IPRs, in particular to copyright, the economic stakes of which have become increasingly important with the development of cultural industries following an entrepreneurial logic and predatory behavior. Moreover, many objects that were protected by other IPRs, such as software, perfumes, or recipes, are now protected, under certain conditions, by the patent. In addition, the criteria of patentability, such as novelty and inventiveness, are penetrating the jurisprudence concerning copyright, leading to the introduction of an economic logic that is more and more prevalent in IPRs. Finally, lawyers and counsels in different areas of IP law are grouping together in the same firms, with the added bonus of their concentration within the same geographical jurisdiction that deals with litigation in this area. Finally, European law is evolving in an identical way on all IPRs, with the emergence of an intellectual property market that is more and more attractive to investors that finance law firms and IP brokers.

SSc: In “Expropriation by Law”, so-called legal intermediaries play a central role – you already mentioned IP lawyers. Can you give a brief overview of these intermediaries and describe why they are so important?

CB: We distinguish between different legal intermediaries and analyze their transformation, in particular through the evolution of IPR valuation and attribution conventions that they help to define and disseminate. We mention the decisive role played by patent office examiners and judges in defining patentability criteria in each technological field.
But our focus is on patent attorneys, who play an important mediation role in the institutionalization of rights. They connect different levels and tailor legal statements to the specific needs of industries, particularly in terms of patentability and the appropriation of knowledge. Mobilizing both their legal skills and their knowledge of markets, these legal intermediaries develop models of compliance with the law that minimize companies’ risk of litigation. Like any legal intermediary (Bessy et al., 2011), they can also fulfill a purely strategic role by taking advantage of a system flaw, which subsequently raises the question of their regulation. Nevertheless, they are able to capture this regulation by lobbying, particularly the global lawyers at European level. The power of legal intermediaries contributes to renewing the vision of capitalist development by raising this group of actors to the level of financiers, with whom they maintain privileged relations, and of innovative entrepreneurs, whom they confirm in their superior status.

SSc: This sounds like lawyers – with their structural connection to financiers – utilize their legal strategies to also impact the value of assets. How are the construction of the value of things and their legal assessment entangled?

CB:  I think we need to distinguish between two levels. At the global level, how IP lawyers have contributed to making IPRs tradable assets on a market through a series of “investments in forms” (Thévenot, 2024), and how in a particular case they will fight to defend the value of a title or the recognition of a particular right, such as the fact that know-how will be protected with reference to a patent or copyright, thus aiming to increase its economic value.
The emphasis in this book is first on their contribution to the social construction of the value of IPRs, even if an individual intellectual property title may have no value at all. The central idea we combat is that this economic value, the price, would be determined on a market with reference to “fundamentals”. Yet despite the normative proposals of certain economists to create a market for patents, attempts to organize auctions, for example, have ended in failure. The market for patents only operates on a small scale, and essentially by mutual agreement. Yet IP lawyers, as a professional group, have done everything upstream to reduce uncertainty about the legal value of titles, as illustrated in recent years by the construction of a European patent law by these lawyers and patent office judges. In particular, the creation of a specialized patent court (European unified jurisdiction) similar to the one in the United States (Chapter 5 of the book).

SSc: Even if, or maybe because, the market for patents is not functional, it has created a number of new intermediaries that exploit the system. Especially when it comes to holders of IP-Portfolios, where you distinguish between defensive and offensive patent aggregators. What makes the latter offensive, or even aggressive?

CB:   These new intermediaries acquire patent portfolios either to secure them or, on the contrary, to search for infringements. Based on the American case, an author such as Allen Wang (2010) distinguishes between “defensive patent aggregators,” who license their patent portfolios in complete security to subscribers, and “offensive patent aggregators,” who also seek to provoke infringement situations in order to make money, like the famous patent trolls. It is, in fact, to counteract this strategic use of the patent system that the first ones appeared, thus increasing the potential of the IP market. These defensive patent aggregators are similar to the intermediary organizations that collectively manage patent licenses, since they deal with the use authorization, control use of the license, the collection of royalties, and the settlement of disputes. The difference lies in the fact that they are real companies driven by a profit logic and not professional associations based on the pooling of resources, as are societies of authors (Brousseau and Bessy, 2006).
So, these new “players” pose a problem of competition with traditional IP intermediaries. They pursue private goals that do not contribute to the advancement of public knowledge. If some of them contribute to the fluidity of the market for patented technologies, the offensive aggregators are more at odds with the objective of the patent system, which is to encourage innovation.

SSc: You address the tension between different justifications of intellectual property. Private pursuit of profit versus public knowledge and resources. Are there actors or intermediaries in this system who defend and uphold the latter, civic idea of IP?

CB:   All the legal intermediaries we have analyzed (patent attorneys, examiners, and office judges) do not always make strategic use of the law, and therefore converge on what makes a “good patent” and promote the construction of a public domain. Schematically, they seek to ensure that the allocation of IPRs is proportional to investment in creative activities. Or they promote the creation of knowledge commons, or combat inequalities in the attribution of IPRs, particularly within companies or in asymmetrical subcontracting relationships.

SSc: To conclude the area of financialization and legal intermediaries: What role has the rise of tech companies like Google, Apple, or Meta played in the global IP system? These companies have enormous financial resources and concentrate a large potential for innovation.

CB:   The economists Cecilia Rikap and Bengt-Åke Lundvall (2020) have developed the notion of a “Corporate Innovative System” to account for the predation of knowledge by multinational companies, such as the GAFAs, on the ecosystem of SMEs that they dominate and that has gradually aggregated to initially form a global knowledge common. The success of these “big tech” companies is based on IPR and strategic acquisitions, as Neil Fligstein (2001) has also highlighted. These big tech companies share some projects with the open-source community by placing them on their development platform and taking ownership of some of the developments that are integrated into complex systems. Such an asymmetry of power exists not only in the pharmaceutical sector, but also, more generally, within each country, between large companies and SMEs rooted in territories and lacking the legal resources to protect their expertise.

SSc: Now the financialization is by far not the only area, where IPRs have an impact. What about the people who create the basis for what is protected in the end? E.g. the creatives, designers or developers. How is their situation affected?

CB:   The financialization of IPRs and their exchange on a market presupposes that their holders are not constrained by forms of co-ownership with those who are at the basis of the creation of these intangible assets, which presupposes that innovators or creators cede their rights, sometimes with monetary compensation, which they sometimes consider insufficient. This form of expropriation by law is then a source of disputes. It is the emergence and resolution of these disputes that we analyzed in the last two chapters 6 and 7 of the book.

SSc:  Chapter 6 is primarily concerned with court disputes over these issues of financial participation and expropriation. What did you find out about the system of court disputes on remuneration issues?

CB:   I long wanted to work on disputes over employee inventions, because I had learned that there was a National Conciliation Commission (Commission Nationale des Inventeurs Salariés in French, CNIS) that could help employees avoid going to court. Modeled on the German commission, it was created in France in 1978 to accompany the French politics of patent. It is made up of non-professional judges who represent different sectors of activity, and who therefore judge rather fairly (en équité in French), according to the conventions specific to the world of production.
We wanted to explore the functioning of this conciliation body from the perspective of the search for “good law” (bon droit in French) as a field of normativity that is an intermediary between positive law and practices within the company (Cottereau, 2002). This institution can be considered as a legal intermediary, articulating different sources of normativity and highlighting the importance of professional circles in the definition of work and employment rules. It allows for a final settlement of 80% of disputes. However, for reasons of confidentiality, we do not have access to the conciliation decisions of this commission. We have therefore fallen back on judicial decisions, which are more imbued with formalism. The fact remains that they are sufficiently detailed to fully understand the nature of the disputes and the characteristics of the parties.SSc:  Analyzing this empirically on a broad scale is a major undertaking. Can you elaborate a little on the methodological challenges that arose with the study?

CB:   The construction of our basis for judicial decisions was not easy because certain decisions are unique and pose a problem of equivalence (n=123, 2000-2018). In a first stage of exploitation of this database, we proceeded to a rather simple statistical coding (about 40 variables): the protagonists and the nature of the disputes, the characteristics of the companies and of the salaried inventors, the amounts of the remunerations or more generally of the compensations. The main objective is not to go back over the judgment criteria used by the judges, but to link the nature of the disputes to the characteristics of the actors involved in these disputes.
From these variables, we have built a statistical typology of cases around two axes. The first axis would reflect the degree of objectification of inventive missions and of the remuneration policy. The chances that the employee inventor will succeed in some of his claims before the court increase along this axis. The second axis opposes inventors according to their socio-professional category, in particular “engineers” in consulting and R&D activities, to “intermediate professions” working in consumer goods or other industries. Each class therefore refers to a world of production.
Thus, we were able to identify an important class of decisions where the dispute concerns the insufficiency of the additional remuneration, as illustrated by the cases of the chemical and pharmaceutical industries. Nevertheless, our typology of judgments reveals another important type of litigation, in particular in innovative SMEs where IP policies are less objectified and where the creators–founders of the start-up seek to fully appropriate the inventions.

SSc:  The analysis of the legal disputes reveals some of the disputes that creative workers have with their employers over the appropriation and ownership of creative results. What other forms and fields of conflict exist here?

CB:   In the last chapter of our work, we sought to give more extension to the processes of expropriation of workers’ know-how. In particular, by emphasizing the decline in forms of co-ownership of intangible assets, and therefore of “intellectual commons”. This decline is linked to the financialization of these assets and the development of a platform economy, modifying the forms of work organization. More generally, we question the attribution of IPR between those who design new products and those who produce them, knowing that traditionally, rights are more attributed to the former than to the latter. Following this perspective, we have distinguished different conventions for IPR attributions according to the worlds of production (Storper and Salais, 1997). In the so-called creative industries, we are witnessing a form of dualization between designers who are considered as artists giving a certain aura to things and, at the other end, forms of self-exploitation based on free work.

SSc:  Looking back on the entire book and its findings: How would you summarize what you have discovered about the interplay between labor, value, and intellectual property in general?

CB:   The challenge in this book has been to articulate two projects that I had initially conceived separately. A reflection on what makes patents valuable and the role of intermediaries in this valuation process. A study that I had put off for a long time on disputes regarding employee invention. It follows on from my previous work on the contractualization of the employment relationship (Bessy 2007), which began with an analysis of institutional transformations concerning the termination of the employment contract (Bessy 1993).
There was indeed the idea that the value achieved by certain patents could lead inventors to have a piece of the pie, but it was necessary to highlight a whole series of mediations to account for the two dimensions. In particular, we have shown the role played by patent attorneys in the legal security of titles and the limitation of forms of co-ownership. It is also important to underline their rather individualistic conception of innovation, particularly when they magnify the start-up model, which refers in a certain way to the initial revolutionary intellectual right based on individual genius.

SSc:  You mentioned that the book is also a review and summary of over thirty years of research into intellectual property. As retrospectives always define a starting point for something new: What plans do you have for further research and what unanswered questions have you identified?

CB:   We will continue to analyze the development of the intellectual property market, particularly through its extension to new objects (AI, genome) developed by start-ups. The idea would be to identify “varieties of capitalism” in this area and the role played by lawyers. But we began to explore the issue of IPRs in the world of design in which they play, as you know, a more and more important role (Bessy and Schrör, 2024). The recent trend is for designers’ lawyers to defend their work by relying on copyright, in particular by proposing narratives that mobilize the ‘collection form’ of valuing things (Boltanski and Esquerre, 2020). The development of geographical indications also goes in this valuation form. Another current research is to focus on the development of copyright (droit d’auteur in French) in terms of moral rights concerning respect for the integrity of works. A particular question is whether this right of preservation diminishes or not with different generations of rights holders.

The Book “Expropriation by Law. Intellectual Property, Value and Labor” has been published in February 2024 at Edward Elgar (Cheltenham, UK). 204 pages, ISBN: 9781035326143, DOI:  10.4337/9781035326150









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« Tout écrivain met en lumière des contradictions qui sont au principe d’un trouble collectif. » Entretien avec Luc Boltanski

“Every writer brings to light contradictions that belong to the roots of a collective trouble” Interview with Luc Boltanski

Interview de Luc Boltanski par Chloé Chaudet and Ivanne Rialland (2023)

Études de la littérature française des XXe et XXIe siècles, 12, Online.

Introduction. “Dans Énigmes et complots. Une enquête à propos d’enquêtes (Gallimard, 2012), le sociologue Luc Boltanski s’appuie sur des œuvres littéraires – romans policiers, romans d’espionnage – pour analyser les formes symboliques de l’enquête et du complot. Plus spécifiquement, il s’agit de montrer en quoi ces romans, à la fin du xixe siècle et dans la première moitié du xxe siècle, traduisent une inquiétude concernant « la réalité de la réalité » que le sociologue associe au développement de l’État-nation comme projet d’organisation du réel, et aux tensions que créent les logiques divergentes du capitalisme en expansion. Loin d’être un hapax dans l’œuvre du sociologue, Énigmes et complots trouve ses racines dans son étude du sens de la justice, ses prolongements dans l’analyse du fait d’actualité, et son fondement dans ses réflexions sur le rôle de la sociologie et du sociologue.”

Introduction. “In Énigmes et complots. Une enquête à propos d’enquêtes (Gallimard, 2012), sociologist Luc Boltanski uses literary works – detective novels, spy novels – to analyze the symbolic forms of investigation and conspiracy. More specifically, the aim is to show how these novels, at the end of the 19th century and in the first half of the 20th century, reflect a concern about “the reality of reality” that the sociologist associates with the development of the nation-state as a project for organizing reality, and with the tensions created by the divergent logics of expanding capitalism. Far from being a hapax in the sociologist’s oeuvre, Enigmas and Conspiracies finds its roots in his study of the meaning of justice, its extensions in the analysis of current events, and its foundation in his reflections on the role of sociology and the sociologist.”

Report on the Conference on the economics of convention and social policies

by Olivier Gayot (Clersé, University of Lille)

Compte-rendu en français

The Economics of Convention and Social Policies study day was held at the University of Lille on 10 November 2023. Organized by Cécile Vasseur and Olivier Gayot, with the support of Guillemette de Larquier, and funded by Clersé (UMR 8019) (, the day provided an opportunity to share questions and the results of numerous studies at different stages.

The day brought together around twenty-five researchers, including nine participants, to discuss economics of convention and social policies. Several categories of work were presented: chapters of collective works, state of the art, results of surveys and calls for projects or articles. The diversity of these works and convention theory gave rise to rich exchanges.
The day was organized around three workshops: (1) economics of convention and the question of work, (2) economics of convention and forms of justification for social and ecological action, and (3) economics of convention and health.


1. The economics of convention and the question of work

Géraldine Rieucau, Olivier Gayot et Philippe Semenowicz

Philippe Semenowicz – The contribution of convention economics to the understanding of inclusion policies
Philippe Semenowicz presented part of his chapter on work integration in the Handbook of Economics and Sociology of Conventions ( This presentation, based on a review of the literature on convention theory to work integration, shows that work integration policies can be divided into two categories: those aimed at employers and those aimed at people in work integration.
An analysis of inclusion policies aimed at commercial companies shows that the aim of inclusion organizations is to influence companies’ human resources policies by influencing their perceptions of inclusion. In order to do this, inclusion  organizations, as intermediaries in the field of integration, rely on a range of actions that help to shape these uncertainties (skills assessment, partnership relations, etc.).
An analysis of policies aimed at beneficiaries shows that support for these people is provided “below the conventions”, i.e. upstream of the recruitment process, in order to make it easier for them to pass the various “tests” that give them access to the labor market.
However, convention theory’s analysis shows that these measures tend to individualize the issue of unemployment and encourage the sorting of jobseekers on the basis of behavioral and psychological criteria, which accentuates discrimination in recruitment. These actions have been further reinforced by the recent introduction of activation policies. These policies are based on conventions of individual responsibility, the management of unemployed people who enter into their private lives and the production of judgements about the usefulness and uselessness of certain professional activities by Pôle Emploi, the French institution that aims to decrease unemployment.
Philippe Semenowicz concludes that, in the light of the analyses already carried out, it might be appropriate to focus more on people in work-integration, particularly the uses of work-integration, or to analyze the work-integration process in certain specific professional sectors.

Géraldine Rieucau

Géraldine Rieucau – Jobs, work and the ecological transition: elements for a approach of convention theory
Géraldine Rieucau presented an ongoing research project funded by ADEME, the aim of which is to establish the link between public policy measures for ecological and social transition and the world of work. The project, known as COMETES, began in 2022 and brings together seven partners in two areas with a high incidence of poverty and unemployment (Picardy and Seine-Saint-Denis).
The project has a number of different objectives: identifying green jobs, developing “good quality” green jobs and promoting these jobs. To do this, the author relies on around sixty semi-structured interviews carried out in the two areas, some of which were with directors of organizations involved in integration through economic activity.
First, the analysis reveals three categories of green jobs: 1) green jobs, where the tasks are ecologically oriented; 2) greening jobs, which include ‘green’ tasks; 3) support jobs, which support the ecological transition without tasks specifically oriented towards ecology.
Second, the presenter highlights the fact that transition jobs are currently mainly jobs in the work-integration sector. This raises the question of the continuity of these jobs, insofar as they tend not to provide specific outlets outside the integration structures in the field studied. In this way, the ecological transition is putting pressure on jobs that are a priori low-skilled and temporary, whereas this transition requires long-term investment. This paradox raises the question of how these jobs should be valued in public policy, how economic players should coordinate their efforts and how ecological tasks should be justified in the world of work. These various questions, studied with the help of the powers of valorization, conventions-institutions and the articulation between the registers of ecological justification and the other forms of justification present in capitalism, are still being analyzed. However, it would appear that a form of compromise is emerging between commercial and industrial conventions and a new form of ecological justification that is still struggling to be valued within the current institutional framework.
Géraldine Rieucau concluded with the idea that, if the ecological and social transition is to succeed, green jobs need to be developed and made sustainable. First, by enhancing the individual career paths of people on integration schemes. Second, by further developing training and awareness-raising on the ecological transition, while seeking to avoid distorting existing schemes.

Olivier Gayot

Olivier Gayot – Social clause facilitators as intermediaries in the work-integration labor market
Olivier Gayot presented the main findings of an article (accepted for publication) on the role of social clause facilitators in training and stabilizing the work-integration labor market.
The presentation sought to show how these facilitators, by encouraging the introduction of social clauses in public procurement contracts, are helping to create the conditions for the emergence and stabilization of the work-integration market. This particular market, seen as a form of sub-market adjoining the labor market, aims to promoting access to the labor market for people in situations of integration through economic activity.
The contributor shows how, by carrying out various tasks on behalf of local authorities, social clause facilitators act as intermediaries in this market and participate in the commodification of the work-integration market. First, by shaping the uncertainties involved in recruiting people for work-integration schemes using “profiles” based on objectified social characteristics. Second, by helping to define the price of an hour of work experience. In this way, facilitators help to make the work-integration labor market run more smoothly and ensure its two main characteristics: the presence of a workforce and a price to coordinate exchanges.
The facilitators also help to stabilize the work-integration market. First, by identifying the supply side of this market (beneficiaries of social clauses) and the demand side (hours of work experience included in public contracts). In this way, they seek to influence local authorities in the implementation of social clauses in order to stabilize, or even increase, the number of hours of work-based integration included in public contracts from one year to the next. What’s more, by helping to identify the beneficiaries of the social clauses, the facilitators ensure that they have the workforce available to meet the demand for the work-integration schemes that they are helping to create.
Finally, the author shows that two quality conventions for social clauses coexist, and that these two conventions modify the way facilitators carry out their missions. The first, known as the “quality convention for social clauses directly aimed at integration through economic activity structures”, tends to favor people who are further away from employment and female beneficiaries. The second agreement, known as the “quality convention for social clauses aimed at commercial enterprises”, emphasizes the competitive rules that dictate the operation of public contracts. By promoting these competitive rules, the facilitators are also helping to ensure that social integration structures compete with each other and with commercial enterprises. What’s more, the application of these rules reinforces the logic of “sorting the unemployed” according to their “distance” from the labor market, which translates into competition between beneficiaries.
Olivier Gayot concludes that, through their actions, facilitators have the power to regulate the work-integration labor market, and that this form of regulation varies according to the quality of the social clauses they implement.

2. The economics of convention and forms of justification for social and ecological action

Rainer Diaz-Bone

Rainer Diaz-Bone – Epistemological evaluation of convention theory – evaluation research with convention theory
In his presentation, Rainer Diaz-Bone suggested that evaluation should be seen as a field to be explored by the economics and sociology of conventions. More specifically, he invites researchers in this field to get involved in the issue of program evaluation, which is a form of evaluation that exists both within and outside the academic world and should be based on convention theorists’ foundations.
Rather than a simple evaluation carried out after the implementation of a public policy, program evaluation can use the tools of economics and the sociology of conventions to explore the different stages of evaluation. First, by questioning the objectives of the evaluation, the way in which it is constructed and the choice of criteria used. Then, by drawing on the various approaches in convention theory: the institutional approach, the dispute, the question of values and valorization, the emergence of standards, indicators and categorizations in measurement. Finally, by producing an evaluation of the policy in terms of its objectives and the way in which it has been deployed by public players and received by users.
All these tools, already used in current convention theory, make it possible to question program evaluation at different levels: how it is created, why it is created, what the different stages will be, etc., but also to question the gap between what is expected of a public policy and its effects on the territories in which it is applied. Rainer Diaz-Bone points out that convention theory, thanks to its realistic approach and the fact that it already includes questions about evaluation and value, is today the best approach for training and discussing with evaluation professionals.
However, there are two points of friction between convention theory and program evaluation: 1) convention theorists systematically stand back from their object of study, which is undermined by evaluation processes that involve personal involvement; 2) convention theory is not very well equipped to question its own practices and conclusions in the short time available for evaluation.
In conclusion, Rainer Diaz-Bone suggests two areas for improvement: 1) to gear convention theory towards an ex ante analysis of the implementation of public policies, so that conclusions can be drawn quickly and clearly at the time of evaluation; 2) to improve communication between public authorities and universities in order to overcome the lack of data that limits the work of researchers.

Andriamanalina Razafindrakoto

Andriamanalina Miorintsoa Razafindrakoto – Coordination issues for public players in the social construction of a children’s flour market
Andriamanalina Miorintsoa Razafindrakoto came to present the main findings of her thesis on public health policies relating to infant milk in Madagascar. The Madagascan government is aware of the challenges posed by child malnutrition in a country where 81% of the population lives below the poverty line, and has been taking preventive health action on this issue for 25 years.
The author highlights the successive forms of coordination of these policies: initial national management, based on the actions of the World Bank; regional management, coordinated by UNICEF and the Madagascan Ministry of Health; and current management, based on decentralized cooperation between the Madagascan government and the social enterprise Nutri’zaza.
The author shows that the coordination methods are based on different conventions. The first convention used, a market convention, failed to match the profitability objectives of the social enterprise with the population targeted by public policy. As a result, the coordination of players based on this agreement was abandoned. The second form of coordination is based on a compromise between a civic convention (social aspect) and an industrial convention (production aspect), giving rise to a social action whose hybrid management raises questions.
This hybridization has enabled the social action of distributing infant milk to be maintained over time and to reassure investors and private funds, shareholders in the social enterprise that produced the milk in the first place (industrial agreement). However, local political institutions, which wish to see the distribution of the product as a form of public service (civic agreement), sometimes refuse to apply tax benefits to the social enterprise because they consider that this policy should not result in the generation of profit for a private company. Thus, the compromise at the origin of the institution is made visible by the existence of an ethics committee within the association that distributes the products, a marketing activity (to sell the product) and an activity focused on nutritional education.
Andriamanalina Miorintsoa Razafindrakoto concludes that the implementation and roll-out of this public child nutrition policy, in the form of a hybrid social action, is creating points of tension across the country.  The National Nutrition Office, which coordinates the policy across the country, promotes three principles: the principle of free access to the public service, the empowerment of beneficiaries and a principle of non-exclusivity. These three principles are in contradiction with the industrial agreement that enables the social action to be maintained over time, which sometimes obliges the Regional Nutrition Office to buy the products directly and distribute them free of charge in order to achieve the objectives of the public policy.

Anaïs Henneguelle

Anaïs Henneguelle – The greening of French social protection: in search of lost indicators
Anaïs Henneguelle presented the results of a survey, funded by social protection, on the “greening” of this administration. The project, called Proseco, was the result of a call launched by EN3S and was carried out between September 2021 and June 2023.
The call for tenders had two objectives: to identify the environmental pressures caused by social security and to highlight the obstacles and levers for creating more environmentally-friendly social protection. The main question was how to ensure that social protection would be less polluting in the future.
Anaïs Henneguelle explains that the solutions initially envisaged by the social protection system were to make benefit payments conditional on more ecological use, or to pool health transport. For the time being, these solutions have been shelved. However, the project led by the author, Alexandre Berthe (University of Rennes 2) and Lucile Marchand (Agrocampus Rennes), focused more on the very idea of ‘greening social protection’, and the effects that this environmental injunction may have on this institution.
The analysis carried out for this report was based on three questions: 1) why produce indicators; 2) what are statistical indicators used for; 3) who are they used for?
In response to the first question, the presenter explained that several studies exist on the ecological effects of health and its environmental impacts (Shift Project, Ademe). These studies reflect a form of political injunction to produce ecological health indicators. In this way, the production of indicators makes it possible to put people in “working order” by means of figures and objectives, and to justify the implementation of action. The solution favored by the social security system was to use a carbon footprint, despite the irrelevance of some of these indicators to the activities managed by social protection (the carbon cost of paying pensions, for example).
On the second question, the authors show that the statistical indicators used are in fact based on an industrial convention. This convention, which was ill-suited to social security, was nevertheless not called into question, and the use of carbon footprints was generalized to the various regional departments. In so doing, the administration was able to respond to the political injunction to produce figures, even though these were not particularly relevant to the activity of social protection. The contributor shows that, in reality, the figures produced by the administration take the form of ex post justifications for numerous internal organizational changes rather than serving as decision-making aids. Their use therefore allows a form of coordination in the absence of a common representation of the notion of the greening of social security (multiple representations and justifications of what this greening is).
To the third and final question, the presenter explained that the figures created (carbon cost, number of drugs thrown away by doctors, etc.) are not really used in explicit governance policies. If there is a suspicion of implicit governance using these figures, it is not clearly identified and specified by the administration. Nevertheless, the authors of the report show that a narrative is developing around the production of these figures, rather than the figures themselves. This narrative is based on the need to quantify an action and its effects before taking action, which makes it possible, when figures are not available, to justify a certain form of inaction, or to justify certain actions that have already been implemented in another context.
To conclude, Anaïs Henneguelle points out that despite the various existing ecological reports, the actions implemented by the regional social security funds do not offer any scenario for getting “below two degrees”.

Rainer Diaz-Bone, Anaïs Henneguelle et Nicolas Postel

3. The economics of convention and health

Hélène Croguennec – Le Saout

Hélène Croguennec – Le Saout – The commodification of old age in public EPHAD: from user to customer
Hélène Croguennec – Le Saout presented the results of a field study conducted as part of her thesis on the supposed dynamics of financialization in public EPHADs. The study, based on semi-directive interviews and passive observation, revealed that several conventions run through these EPHADs.
The first convention identified by the author is a market convention. It applies to all public EPHADs and is reflected in: standardization of the offer, competition between public and private players in EPHADs within a market that is intended to be homogenous, and the introduction of regular evaluations and a benchmark of good practice. The second agreement is a civic agreement, based both on the fact that these establishments are public and on the health service they provide.
According to the presenter, the predominance of the commercial agreement in EPHADs is leading to two phenomena. The first is the invisibility of public funding (departmental council and social security contributions) for these establishments in favor of private funding (accommodation provided by users). The second is the use of standardized indicators and the systematic use of equations to determine the care and dependency packages that influence the funding of these facilities.
Nevertheless, the two conventions (industrial and civic) coexist and, for the time being, a fragile compromise is emerging. This compromise is expressed by the author as the fact that the market convention is valued in practice as long as it does not imply a lack of quality in the support (civic convention). However, this state of affairs is systematically called into question and is subject to change whenever there is a situation of tension (requests from residents that are not anticipated or considered unwarranted by staff) within the establishments.
Hélène Croguennec – Le Saout concluded with the idea that it might be relevant to extend her analysis not only to private EPHADs, but also to other sectors (disability and early childhood) in order to analyze existing agreements and compare the way in which compromises are made in these structures.

Nicolas Da Silva

Nicolas Da Silva – The industrialization of healthcare and its critics
Nicolas Da Silva presented a summary of the chapter he wrote for the Handbook of Economics and Sociology of Conventions ( The chapter focuses on the evolution of convention theory applied to healthcare, moving from an analysis of the mechanisms by which healthcare is commodified to the phenomenon of the industrialization of healthcare. The presentation focuses on the question of the industrialization of healthcare, showing how this has become an integral part of medical practice over time.
The author shows that doctors have constructed their representation of healthcare in contradiction with the market and its imperative of profitability. They are also opposed to the state, as employer, which has the power to change the way doctors work, just as it has the power to change the quality of patient care.
Thus, the convention that dominated medical practice until the 1980s was the result of a compromise between the inspired city (creativity, innovation, medical art) and the domestic city (taking into account the individuality of each patient). In this way, the medical practice that was valued was that based on interpersonal relations between doctors and their patients: a good doctor is one who knows his patients.
However, the domestic convention that predominated in the compromise that underpinned medical practices was criticized. This criticism is based in particular on the deleterious effects of medical paternalism, the cognitive limitations of doctors who have difficulty keeping their knowledge up to date, and a form of denunciation of medical opportunism (abuse of the asymmetry of information between doctor and patient). In this way, the compromise between the inspired city and the industrial city has been destabilized, and is tending to be replaced by a conception of health derived from the industrial city (efficiency).
The influence of this approach on medical practices is reflected in the development of randomized clinical trials, which make it possible to compile data and provide information deemed more relevant than that produced by “traditional” practices. In addition, the industrial city is giving rise to: the creation of norms (standards, certifications produced by health agencies, etc.); the monitoring of practices; the introduction of financial incentives to encourage doctors to adopt certain practices considered to be “quality”; the introduction of financial penalties for practices considered to be deviant; the introduction of soft law and self-regulation by doctors; payment for performance (compliance with imposed norms).
The author concludes that the introduction of industrial logic into the way doctors work implies at least two criticisms: 1) the relationship with illness, which may be seen as a break with a standard state (industrial city) or because the patient feels ‘different’ (previous compromise), is poorly defined; 2) the tendency for doctors to become hyperspecialized, which leads them to distinguish between ‘technical’ care and ‘intellectual’ care, tends to limit the effects of care from a systemic point of view. In so doing, the author shows that the State and doctors tend to promote the industrial convention, without giving it the means to function.

Cécile Vasseur, Hélène Croguennec – Le Saout, Nicolas Da Silva et Léo Delpy


Cécile Vasseur

Cécile Vasseur – The use of healthcare networks by mutual insurers: a market-industrial compromise
Cécile Vasseur presented the results of her thesis, defended on 23 November 2023 at the University of Lille ( The work, which focuses on mutual health insurers, uses a conventionalist approach to show how these organizations, which claim to be non-profit-making, tend to adopt practices and behaviors similar to those of private insurers.
On the one hand, the author highlights the fact that the care network section is a blind spot in the economic analysis of mutual insurance companies. Yet it is within these networks, which are partnerships between mutual insurers and optical, hearing aid and dental care professionals, that mutual insurers adopt the most competitive practices. On the other hand, by analyzing the players’ discourse, Cécile Vasseur highlights the existence of an industrial market compromise. Thus, the practices of mutual insurance companies are based both on the development of standards and norms (industrial agreement) and on competitive logic (market agreement).
The industrial agreement is mainly used in the development of care networks because it makes it possible to set ceiling prices and control the expenditure of the mutual health insurance companies. By promoting an industrial approach to healthcare networks, mutual health insurers are encouraging the emergence of regulated standards and practices, which are not always readily accepted by healthcare professionals. The growing importance of healthcare networks is forcing hearing aid, optical and dental professionals to become part of these networks, even if this integration contradicts the representations of healthcare that they value.
The commercial agreement enables mutual insurance companies to maintain their position in a competitive environment established by various governments and the European Union through a succession of laws. This legislation, which tends to deny the special nature of mutualist players (no profit motive, democracy), pushes these organizations to adopt practices similar to private insurance. In so doing, the author notes an erosion of mutualist values, in particular the democratic aspect of decision-making (reduced representation of customers in decision-making, professionalization of mutual directors). This agreement also influences the relationship that mutual insurers have with their healthcare networks (competition between healthcare providers, competition with other mutual insurers, etc.).
Finally, Cécile Vasseur concludes that despite the discourse of the mutuals, they play an important role in the development of this competitive environment. The players within the mutual health insurers can thus adopt an anti-competitive position through their discourse, while at the same time favoring practices taken from the world of private insurance. By adopting practices similar to those used by private insurers, mutual health insurers reinforce the commercial conception of their activity. In the same way, by importing some of their practices into their organizations and their healthcare network, mutualist players encourage the emergence of a market conception of healthcare. In so doing, the presenter shows that the players act within the institution when they apply the rules imposed on them, but also on the institution when they help to reinforce certain conventions or representations of health.

From original institutionalism to the economics of conventions and Inventing Value: An interview with Dave Elder-Vass

Dave Elder-Vass & Jamie Morgan (2023)

real-world economics review, issue no. 105, pp. 87-110


JAMIE: In any case, we still haven’t said much about conventions theory so we should start to turn more explicitly to that. Who would you say have been the most prominent of the conventions theorists?

DAVE: Over the years prominent figures associated with the tradition include Alain Desrosières, Francois Eymard-Duvernay, Olivier Favereau, André Orléan, Robert Salais and Laurent Thévenot. But perhaps it would help to say a little about where conventions theory first came from. It originated in the 1980s when a group of French economic statisticians, partly under the influence of the sociologist and anthropologist Pierre Bourdieu (so interdisciplinarity was baked in from the start), became critical of some of the positivist assumptions of traditional statistics (Desrosières 2011). Statistics were widely seen as objective neutral reflections of self-evident facts about the world. The conventions theorists, however, recognized that statistics reflected judgements about what should count and thus what should be counted, judgements about how to count, and in particular judgements about how to classify (or “qualify”) the things being counted. Once statistics had been produced in a particular way, this tended to embed and be perpetuated. Judgements were repeatedly re-used in further work and became stabilised as taken for granted assumptions. The conventions theorists took the essentially social constructionist view that these assumptions represented somewhat arbitrary choices, yet once made they became stabilised by social use, but those choices could have been made differently (Diaz-Bone and de Larquier 2020: 5–6). This core concept of conventions then came to be extended and applied in different contexts beyond statistics.

JAMIE: And, to reiterate, like any other approach conventions theory exhibits dispute and diversity…

DAVE: That’s right, and as a result the concept of a convention has been used in a variety of rather different ways in the tradition, making it difficult to provide a clear and unambiguous definition. Diaz-Bone and de Larquier, in the introduction to their Handbook of Economics and Sociology of Conventions (still under construction), describe them as “institutional logics for the valuation or valorization of goods, actions, and persons” (Diaz-Bone and de Larquier 2020: 1–2). That has the merit of being loose enough to accommodate the full range of cases, but at the inevitable cost of leaving it rather unclear what would count as a convention.

JAMIE: Still, before moving on to discuss your recent book Inventing Value and how it relates to conventions theory, it might be worth here just summarising what conventions theory “is”…

DAVE: Well, I can’t guarantee to be any more definitive than Diaz-Bone and de Larquier, but perhaps I can give a definition that complements theirs: conventions theory is a trans-disciplinary tradition that focuses on how stabilised shared understandings shape our classification, evaluation, and valuation practices and as a result influence our social interactions, including our economic interactions. In a sense it therefore provides a more socialised and realistic alternative to the mainstream view of decision-making as purely a process of the rational calculation of self-interest. So, for the statisticians for example, shared understandings of different classes of labour are employed to generate labour statistics. Or for Boltanski and Thevenot, shared understandings of standards of judgement are used to resolve social disputes. Or for André Orléan, shared understandings of how we should value financial assets, like Keynes’s conventions, shape outcomes in financial markets, which I hope we can discuss in more depth shortly. From a critical realist perspective, I would want to extend the argument a little further: we should see decision-making as multiply determined by many different causal mechanisms, so that a fully realistic account of it would take into account both conventions and rational calculation, but also other factors, such as the habits or dispositions we take for granted (as stressed by some institutionalists) and our emotional commitments.

JAMIE: When you first became interested in the subject of value, valuation and pricing was it immediately obvious that your work and conventions theory overlapped?

DAVE: No, it took me a while to realise (or perhaps decide?) that the work I was doing on value fell within the conventions tradition as well as the critical realist one. It had struck me that the concept of value, in the sense of the monetary value of assets and commodities, was central to the operation of our contemporary economy and yet it had almost disappeared from view, in the shadow of two enormously powerful misconceptions of value and its origins: the neoclassical sense of value as the equilibrium price of a good and the Marxist sense of value as a quantity of socially necessary labour power. I recognised that we only buy things because we ascribe value to them, and hence the commodity and asset economies depend utterly on the processes through which buyers (but also sellers) come to ascribe and quantify monetary value. But the Marxist analysis ignores that, and the neoclassical analysis collapses the whole question of the prices people are willing to pay to the exogenous preferences of buyers, thereby ignoring many of the most important factors that shape what prices people are willing to pay for things.

DAVE: […] One of the more important arguments I develop in Inventing Value is that valuation conventions, and value narratives that are used to connect individual assets and commodities to particular valuation conventions, are strongly shaped by deliberate discursive work, in particular work done by people I call value entrepreneurs (I mentioned this with the Snap example if you recall). Value entrepreneurs, usually operating on behalf of larger structures like corporations, actively seek to influence how the assets or commodities in which they have an interest are valued by influencing the discursive environment. The luxury goods industries, for example, have gradually but cumulatively built a sense that the goods they produce have status because they embody heritage and heritage should be valued – as Boltanski and Esquerre have argued in their recent work on enrichment (Boltanski and Esquerre 2020). One extraordinary example is the way in which the guitar company Fender, having recognised that worn guitars have a prestige arising from the sense that they have served expert players well for many years, have started to produce pre-damaged new guitars and sell them at a premium.

JAMIE: These are interesting examples, but they seem to rest on physical qualities of commodities. Your main focus though is financial assets…

DAVE: Because they don’t have clear material consequences for our well-being on which to hang valuations, conventions are even more significant for financial assets. Their value rests entirely on future revenue streams, which of course takes us back to your quote from Keynes. As Keynes said, financial valuations rest quite heavily on the thoroughly unreasonable expectation that things will continue as they are, and hence that future income streams can be taken as read for the purpose of valuing assets. But what does it mean for things to “continue as they are”? Does it mean, for example, that a stock will continue to yield the same percentage dividend indefinitely or perhaps that internet firms will be able to extract a certain number of dollars of advertising revenue per user per annum, or…? What versions of “continuing as they are” are going to be transformed into conventions, and which one of them (or which ones) is going to apply to any given asset? Each of these is a different way of imposing a sense of predictability on an inherently uncertain future, and the prices that can be achieved for financial assets are highly sensitive to which of them is applied. Just as in commodity exchange, firms have a powerful interest in influencing the conventions applied to assets and so engage in shaping value discourses. Financial value entrepreneurs are in the business of developing favourable conventions for the assets they are marketing and producing a sense that this is the natural and obvious way of valuing the assets concerned. But different conventions could have been applied, with the result that investors would have valued the assets concerned quite differently.

Download the full interview

Economics and sociology of conventions – Taking stock, Looking ahead

From July 5 to 7, 2023, the 12th congress “Crises and inequalities: how to inhabit the world of tomorrow” [Crises et inégalités: comment habiter le monde de demain?] of the French Association of Political Economy (AFEP, was held at the Université Paris Cité – which is located at the former area of the Parisian mills (“Grands moulins de Paris”).

Four sessions, organized by Rainer Diaz-Bone (University of Lucerne) and Guillemette de Larquier (University of Lille), were devoted to economics and sociology of conventions (EC/SC) entitled “Economics and sociology of conventions – Taking stock, Looking ahead”. The 13 presentations in these four sessions were (mainly) based on chapters to be published in the Handbook of Economics and Sociology of Conventions (Springer). The handbook aims for more than 100 chapters, 32 first chapters had been published online first before the AFEP congress. The presentation were grouped by topics, beginning with three of the founders, who presented main achievements of EC/SC since the middle of the 1980ies, but also gave insight into their ongoing work. The next two sessions were devoted to main fields of EC/SC: labor market analysis, the analysis of finance and the study of values and valorization. The fourth session presented considerations devoted to EC/SC’s methodology, but also ongoing research on social and regional economics.

Session1: “Perspectives of the founders” – 05/07/2023

  • Olivier Favereau (Paris/France): “The economics and sociology of conventions, a critical theory?”
  • André Orléan (Paris/France): “Où en est l’économie des conventions?”
  • Robert Salais (Paris/France): “Convention et capacités”

Robert Salais, André Orléan and Olivier Favereau

Session 2: “Labor and finance” – 05/07/2023

  • Julia Brandl (Innsbruck/Austria): “Economics and sociology of conventions in the field of human resource management: taking stock and looking ahead”
  • Guillemette de Larquier (Lille/France): “Labor, conventions and conventions of labor”
  • Tom Duterme (Louvain-La-Neuve/Belgium): “Standards as reforms. The role of conventions in sustainable finance”

Julia Brandl

Guillemette de Larquier

Tom Duterme

 Session 3: “Value and valorization” – 06/07/2023

  • Christian Bessy (Paris/France): “Valuation and Enrichment”
  • Samuel Zarka (Paris/France): “The power of valorization : a concept to link political economy and the sociology of work?”
  • Daniel Urrutiaguer (Paris/France): “Art Worlds facing the socio-ecological stakes”
  • Antoine Rieu (Paris/France): “The conventional construction of the
    economic values of Social Joint Ventures”

Session 4: “Methodology and explanatory strategies” – 07/07/2023

  • Rainer Diaz-Bone (Lucerne/Switzerland): “Methodological positions and perspectives of economics and sociology of conventions”
  • Cécile Vasseur (Lille/France): “Conventions, democracy and social economy”
  • Kenkichi Nagao & Junya Tatemi (Osaka/Japan): “Regional development. How convention theory explains economic development”

The sessions were attended by 15 up to 30 visitors each. The presenters as well as the audience gathered scholars from EC/SC from three different generations. EC/SC is an approach in which many PhD projects are proceeded – an indicator for EC/SC’s future. Also, the mostly English offered presentations and the audience demonstrated the ongoing internationalization of EC/SC. All in all, discussions of the presentations made evident that EC/SC is a developing scientific movement, which has many applications and fruitful concepts to offer for contemporary research issues in the social sciences. 

Last but not least, we can point to other presentations at the congress, which were related to EC/SC too: Philippe Batifoulier, Franck Bessis, Géraldine Rieucau, etc. See AFEP programme: Programme_XIIe_Congres_AFEP

Also, at the congress, the Grand manuel d’économie politique was presented, including sections devoted to convention theory. See the blog report.

Conférence vidéo : “Pragmatique de la valeur et structures de la merchandise” (Luc Boltanski, 2017)

Lecture online on Youtube:Pragmatics of value and commodity structures” (Luc Boltanski, 2017)

Vidéo mise en ligne le 21/07/2023
Video uploaded on 07/21/2023

À propos de la vidéo. Tout l’été, l’EHESS vous propose de (re)vivre les conférences Marc Bloch. Depuis 1979, l’EHESS invite au mois de juin une chercheuse ou un chercheur reconnu pour l’importance et la qualité de ses travaux sur le plan international, à prononcer une grande conférence sur un thème d’actualité scientifique. Ces conférences inédites rendent hommage à Marc Bloch, fondateur en 1929, avec Lucien Febvre, des Annales d’histoire économique et sociale – la revue autour de laquelle s’est noué le réseau d’historiens à l’origine de la VIe Section de l’École pratique des hautes études, devenue en 1975 l’EHESS.
Pour la deuxième rediffusion, revivez la conférence du sociologue Luc Boltanski, co-auteur notamment du Nouvel Esprit du Capitalisme avec Ève Chiapello (Gallimard, 2011), présente dans cette conférence prononcée en 2017, ses réflexions sur le thème « Pragmatique de la valeur et structures de la marchandise ». L’occasion notamment de revenir sur les articulations entre structuralisme et pragmatisme.

About the video. All summer long, EHESS invites you to (re)experience the Marc Bloch lectures. Since 1979, every June EHESS has invited a researcher recognized for the importance and quality of his or her international work to give a major lecture on a topical scientific theme. These previously unpublished lectures pay tribute to Marc Bloch, founder in 1929, with Lucien Febvre, of the Annales d’histoire économique et sociale – the journal around which the network of historians at the origin of the VIe Section of the École pratique des hautes études, which became the EHESS in 1975, was built.
For the second rebroadcast, relive the lecture by sociologist Luc Boltanski, co-author of Le Nouvel Esprit du Capitalisme with Ève Chiapello (Gallimard, 2011), who in this lecture delivered in 2017, presents his thoughts on the theme “Pragmatics of value and structures of the commodity”. It’s an opportunity to revisit the articulations between structuralism and pragmatism.
Automatic translated subtitles can be generated (click settings-button at the bottom).

Lien / Link

“À vos marks! 1923, l’hyperinflation ruine l’Allemagne”

To your marks! 1923, hyperinflation ruins Germany

André Orléan & Marie-Bénédicte Vincent (2022)

Radio Podcast, France Culture, Radiofrance, 16/12/2022

Présentation. Allemagne, 1923. Face à l’augmentation effrénée des prix, l’État peine à imprimer suffisamment de monnaie pour répondre à la demande, l’opinion perd toute confiance dans le Papiermark, la famine menace, le pays semble au bord de la guerre civile. Que s’est-il donc passé pour en arriver là?

Presentation. Germany, 1923. Faced with skyrocketing prices, the state struggles to print enough money to meet demand, public opinion loses all confidence in the Papiermark, famine threatens, the country seems on the verge of civil war. What has happened to bring this about?

Lien / Link

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

Irina Wais and Patricia Stöckli (University of Lucerne)

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

Zusammenarbeit zwischen Uni und Hochschule gibt im Parlament zu reden.


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

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

First session

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

Second session

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

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

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

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

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

Third session

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fourth session

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fifth session

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sixth session

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

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

A tribute to Robert Salais’ work

Christian Bessy & Claude Didry (2022)

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leibniz University Hannover 15th and 16th September 2022

Report by Laverne Iminza Chore (University of Innsbruck)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Christian Imdorf (Leibniz University Hannover)

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

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

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

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

Conventions at AFEP congress 2022, Amiens

Convention theorist contributions at the 10th AFEP congress “What is a sustainable economic and social system?” (28 June-1 July, Amiens, France)

🇫🇷 French version

Cécile Vasseur, Olivier Gayot and Guillemette de Larquier (Clersé, University of Lille)

Cécile Vasseur & Olivier Gayot

The congress of the French Association of Political Economy (AFEP) took place at the Jules Vernes University in Amiens, from the 28th of June to the 1st of July 2022. This scientific event, attended by more than 200 researchers, mainly French-speaking, also included numerous contributions on the economics and sociology of conventions (EC/SC). In line with the workshop organised by Anaïs Henneguelle and Gaël Plumecocq at the AFEP-IIPE international congress in Lille in July 2019, the call for papers aimed mainly to bring together young researchers whose research work mobilises EC/SC. It also aimed to invite more experienced researchers to present their work and their approaches based on EC/SC. These differences in approach, as well as in the maturity of the work, led to rich exchanges at the end of each session.


The workshop, organised by Cécile Vasseur and Olivier Gayot, Ph.D. students, with the support and participation of Guillemette de Larquier, included 12 presentations and was divided into four thematic sessions: “assessing and negotiating quality of work”, “market and quality conventions”, “valuation and financial capitalism”, and “environment and transitions”. Each session lasted one and a half hours and consisted of three presentations.


Session 1/4: Evaluating and negotiating the quality of work

Lucas Fabre

Lucas Fabre (Clersé, University of Lille) Worlds of Production and Industrial Relations

Lucas Fabre, a first-year Ph.D. student, presented a draft article whose objective is to propose an innovative theoretical framework combining the convention theory and industrial relations. Industrial relations is a field of research that identifies and studies the relationships built around work. There are two approaches. One is systemic, where the context imposes the choice of individuals. The other is strategic, which emphasises the voluntarist position of the actors in their decision-making.

Lucas Fabre explains that the worlds of production approach developed by Robert Salais and Michael Storper (1993) allows for an exchange between the systemic and strategic dimensions of industrial relations and, more broadly, to question labour relations. Indeed, the labour relationship is studied through the productivity convention and the unemployment convention. In this approach, individuals adjust labour relations in order to respond to the market and its specificities. Lucas Fabre shows how crossing these two approaches make it possible to analyse various coordination situations between actors in a restricted and contingent space (the firm) despite the presence of a plurality of conventions that the actors can influence, but which also condition their possibilities of action.

To conclude, Lucas Fabre explains that the application of this innovative theoretical framework makes it possible to address the issue of democracy at two scales: direct democracy in companies and systemic democracy. 


Philippe Semenowicz (LIRTES, Université Paris-Est Créteil) What recruitment methods should be used at the entrance to a training course preparing for a job classified as unskilled? The example of a refugee scheme

  Philippe Semenowicz

Philippe Semenowicz presented an ongoing collective research and its first results on the skills investment plan for the professional integration of refugees. The public policy device presented is located in the Ile-de-France region and deals with the different social aspects of refugees’ lives: employment, education and housing. The presentation focuses on the analysis of the mechanisms linked to the integration through economic activity of refugees in labour shortage jobs. The job studied is landscape worker, considered as an unskilled job, but which requires gardening and construction skills. The public policy device is seen as a third party employer for the client companies.

After explaining the general background of the study, Philippe Semenowicz presented his problematic: what are the modalities of recruitment to a training formation preparing for a job classified as unskilled? To do this, two case studies were analysed using the methodology proposed by François Eymard-Duvernay and Emmanuelle Marchal (1997) to map the ways of recruiting. This methodology is based on the study of the different moments linked to recruitment: the drafting of job offers, its distribution channels and the candidate selection process. The first results show that companies delegate to recruiters the drafting of job offers and the search for suitable profiles. These criteria, defined beforehand, turn out to be very restrictive and recruiters have to broaden them to reach the objectives of the public policy device. In the end, only two discriminating criteria remain: the legal status of refugee, which allows for registration in the scheme, and the professional experience of the candidates in this field. This professional experience is evaluated during an interview in which French language skills are essential to explain this experience and convince the recruiters.


Guillemette de Larquier (Clersé, University of Lille) The essential place of employment and labour issues in the economics of convention

Guillemette de Larquier

Guillemette de Larquier presented work-in-progress chapter for the Handbook of economics and sociology of conventions. This chapter presents the various EC/SC works on employment and labour issues. The aim of this work is to highlight the essential place of this question within EC/SC; it is one of the questions at the origin of the emergence of  economics of convention in France in the 1980s. For example, the beginnings of the convention-based approach of work can be found in the congress organised in 1984 by Robert Salais, François Eymard-Duvernay and Laurent Thévenot, which gave rise to the collective book entitled Le travail. Marchés, règles, conventions, edited by Robert Salais and Laurent Thévenot in 1986.

Secondly, the aim is to identify the characteristics of EC/SC approaches to work. The convention theory studies the role of quality conventions, and conventional rules, in coordinating people. The convention economics analysis of the labour market is characterised by the assumption that any qualification of labour involves principles of equivalence  that produce a hierarchy between people. Studying how the principles of equivalence produce hierarchies (with which actors? Which investments in form? Which justifications?) allows us to analyse the conventions behind the qualification of work, the tests and issues of valorisation and recognition of people’s qualities, as well as the construction of institutional categories and the management of the workforce. Finally, the last objective is to classify these works according to the different fields studied (unemployment boundaries, labour market intermediation, business models, wages, etc.), their methodology or their EC/SC models (cities, conventions of competences, worlds of production, etc.).


Session 2/4: Market and quality conventions

Cécile Vasseur (Clersé, University of Lille) Do the pricing practices of mutual health insurance reveal different representations of health insurance?

Cécile Vasseur presented research from her ongoing Ph.D. treating the pricing practices of French mutual health insurance in order to account for the plurality of health insurance representations in the complementary health insurance sector in France. In their contracts, mutual insurers set up insurance rules (contributions linked to age, income, geographical area, etc.) and the actors are able to justify these pricing rules set up according to their representation of health insurance.

Cécile Vasseur

Methodologically, Cécile Vasseur realizes a study combining quantitative and qualitative approaches. The statistical work is a classification of contracts based on a database of the Direction de la recherche, des études, de l’évaluation et des statistiques (DREES) on the most subscribed contracts in France, ranging from the most discriminating contracts revealing a market representation of health insurance, to the most redistributive contracts, revealing a redistributive representation of health insurance. This approach is completed by an analysis of the discourse of several interviews conducted as part of the thesis. Cécile Vasseur highlights three registers of justification: redistributive (associated with professional mutuals), merkant (associated with members of the mutuals’ management) and linked to risk management where there is a conciliation between the two representations of health insurance (associated with elected people). This last register justifies the introduction of insurance criteria in mutual insurance contracts and reveals the implementation of “dispositive of compromise” (in the sense of Laurent Thévenot) between several health insurance conventions. 


Mathilde Abel (ICEE, Sorbonne nouvelle) & Samuel Zarka (Lise/CEET) Everywhere, all the time: the promise of platforms in the test of temporalities

Mathilde Abel & Samuel Zarka

Mathilde Abel and Samuel Zarka presented an article published in June 2022 in Questions de communication: ” ‘Disponible partout, tout le temps’ : la promesse des plateformes à l’épreuve des temporalités  ” co-authored with Patrick Dieuaide and Arthur Jan. This article shows the tension between the promise of coordination offered by platforms to their users and providers / contractors, and the reality test they have to deal with in practice. The presentation starts with the definition of a platform, understood as an actor at the heart of information flows that ensures the marketisation of the transaction, whose economic model vary and is characterised by two-sided (two groups of users) or multi-sided (several groups of users) transactions.

Their convention-based analysis distinguishes  what the authors call ‘the promise’ made to the users and providers of different platforms, how the platforms ensure the conditions for the realisation of this promise and how, in practice, this promise is subject to coordination flaws and failures. Mathilde Abel and Samuel Zarka show us that the promise common to all platforms is a ‘total availability’ for its users or contractors / providers. The platforms implement a series of actions aimed at users and providers to ensure that promise. By playing this role, they are shaping the uncertainty linked to the fulfilment of the promise in order to theoretically ensure the conditions for its functioning and renewal. In practice, described as a reality test, many coordination problems or failures appear due to a lack of resources, resistance or material problems on the part of the providers.


Julien Gradoz (Clersé, University of Lille) Product quality, homogeneity assumptions and nomenclature assumptions

     Julien Gradoz

Julien Gradoz’s presentation was based on his Ph.D. ongoing work and dealt with the consideration of product quality in microeconomic theory. There are two hypotheses for product quality: the homogeneity hypothesis and the nomenclature hypothesis. The first one states that products are identical: if there are 5 different products, such as 5 different coloured chairs, then there are 5 different markets. Thus, the homogeneity hypothesis assumes that prior to the exchange, there is an agreement on the different products classification. Convention theory authors have shown that in order to talk about the quality of products, the homogeneity hypothesis must be abandoned.

The nomenclature hypothesis states that it is possible to qualify a set of products. The theory of differentiation introduces the possibility of having a list of products and that some of them with the same characteristics can be associated. Therefore, these products share the same market. The problem is ‘what defines a group of products?’. The economics of conventions, insists Julien Gradoz, also blows up the nomenclature hypothesis. For EC, the question of quality is then studied in two stages: (1) with different value regimes and (2) assuming that quality is based on an agreement, a convention that can be defined during the exchange.


Session 3/4: Valuation and Financial Capitalism

Tom Duterme (CRIDIS, University of Leuven) The new green saliences features of trading rooms

   Tom Duterme

Tom Duterme presented a paper on the new green saliences of trading rooms. The empirical approach assesses the possibility of reorienting finance flows with the help of the theoretical framework of economics of convention. The first author affiliated with EC/SC who worked on the finance sector was André Orléan. He highlighted that financiers are in a situation of uncertainty and that there is an absolute prevalence of speculative logic. The finance sector is an uncertain world where the objective of the actors is to anticipate the stock prices fluctuation in an intersubjective universe, thus anticipating the actions of others. Within this framework, saliences (conventions of interpretation) emerge, which are opinions on what the price should be and what the price of financial products represents. The value of the products then depends only on its ability to achieve consensus among investors.

Since this value is arbitrary, it is possible to redirect capital flows towards green finance by replacing one convention with another convention of green interpretation. He takes two examples of producers of salience in the trading room: the stock market index and central banks who are a source of stability in the markets. Nevertheless, he explains that announcements are not enough. Regulations that do not depend on individual’s interpretation are needed because actors do not act only by mimestism. Tom Duterme presents two pluralisations coming from sociology. (1) The behaviour of individuals and investors is not only guided by the normative level, by compliance with a stabilised norm. Other types of pieces of information are used to justify a decision (e.g. material conditions). (2) Individuals’ behaviour is embedded; actors’ decision-making is framed by external constraints (industrial, legal and managerial heteronomy).


Christian Bessy (IDHES, Ens-Paris Saclay) The failure of a pure patent market

Christian Bessy

Christian Bessy’s presentation is taken from his book entitled “L’expropriation par le droit” published in May 2022. Several works in the literature have focused on patents, in parrticular by showing their participation in the start-ups innovations. Some have also denounced their financial logic. Christian Bessy’s presentation is structured around three issues: (1) How the patent is constructed as an asset on which one can speculate and trade? (2) What is the role played by patent agents whose firms have developed and their activities transformed to accompany the financialisation of the patent? (3) Why has finance failed to create a pure patent market?

The first part of the presentation was devoted to the study of the plurality of patent valuation conventions. Each valuation convention is linked to coordination between actors that allow to shape the uncertainty in the processes of patent granting and exchange. The second part of the discussion was devoted to the presentation of the conditions for the emergence of a pure patent market, based on an American experience. Thus, there are institutional factors (developed by Coriat and Orsi, 2002), but Christian Bessy insisted on the emergence of new intermediaries of intellectual property rights close to the finance sector. Series of studies show that the development of patents on a large scale is not conclusive, except for patent trolls, actors whose business is based on patent litigation, in the ICT sector. In this model, patents “value” is attributed by the courts. To conclude his presentation, Christian Bessy explained the enthusiasm around patents in ICT companies. However, we have seen a stagnation in the patent market over the last decade. This stagnation question this end of the 2000s business model and reduces the chances of patent trolls winning their cases against companies. Thus, the idea of building a pure patent market by strengthening the legal security of patents does not work.


Evan Bertin (CEPN, Université Paris 13) How to explain the survival of the maximisation of shareholder value principle ? An insight based on the concepts of economics of convention

Evan Bertin

Evan Bertin’s presentation, based on his Ph.D. ongoing work, focuses on explaining the survival of the shareholder value maximisation principle. The literature about the financialisation of companies that emerged in the 1980s is critical of this principle. It develops the idea that the maximisation of shareholder value should not last over time. Nevertheless, in the face of the persistence of this principle, a second part of this literature that appeared in the 2000s seeks to explain the survival of this ideology. Evan Bertin’s objective is to show what contribution the theoretical framework of convention economics can make to the understanding of the durability of this ideology. To do this, he uses two concepts: the ‘bad convention’ and the resistance to criticism.

Evan Bertin seeks to understand and highlight the justifications behind the maximisation of shareholder value, which is seen as a bad convention (a concept proposed by Philippe Batifoulier and Guilemette de Larquier and taken up by Olivier Favereau). This inefficient and unfair (to labour) ideology, which justifies valuing companies by the amount of their shares, is supported from a practical point of view by the fact that the shareholder is legally the owner of the company and from a theoretical point of view by agency theory. However, there are still many criticisms of this form of valuation, and Evan Bertin is interested in their reception, and their integration or interpretation by the financial system. These criticisms can emerge from the academic world as well as from the extra-academic world and have abounded since the 2008 global financial crisis. For example, the CEO of BlackRock (one of the largest assets management company) called in an open letter for a stakeholder capitalism in 2022. Thus, it is interesting to note that these criticisms do not succeed in overturning the paradigm and valuation of the shareholder value maximisation principle, but are beginning to be integrated to enable the financial system to resist them.


Session 4/4: Environment and transitions

Olivier Gayot (Clersé, University of Lille) The effects of conceptions of the quality of responsibility in public procurement. The case of green local public procurement in the Hauts-de-France region (France)

Olivier Gayot presented a work-in-progress chapter of his ongoing Ph.D with a double objective. Firstly, to understand how and why local public buyers introduce criteria considered as responsible into their local authority’s public contracts. Secondly, to analyse what they call responsible and how this responsibility is characterised.

Olivier Gayot

After showing that the notion of responsibility in economic sciences is not sufficiently stable to be considered as a convention, Olivier Gayot sought to show that the responsibility evoked by buyers is based on different conceptions of the quality of responsibility. Public buyers, understood as intermediaries in public procurement, make it possible for these contracts to emerge in uncertain situations because they are subject to various risks (failure of the contract, contestation, inadequate purchase). The conceptions of the quality of the responsibility of public purchasing carried by these intermediaries are based on representations that are more stable than responsibility (public service, sustainable development, good management of public funds, legal soundness of the purchase); these conceptions can be seen through the analysis of the ‘spirit of the local public market’. This spirit makes it possible to understand both the representations that feed the conceptions of the quality of the responsibility carried by the buyers and the justifications linked to the actions of these buyers. Olivier Gayot presents two examples of public purchases considered to be responsible in order to show how the spirit of local public procurement can be used as a tool for analysing complex situations, leading to different forms of regulation of contractors and providers by public buyers via the writing and the attribution of local public contracts.

Gaël Plumecocq (INRAE, Toulouse) and Géraldine Froger (LEREPS, Toulouse) The political construction of the economic value of ecosystem services: the case of the agricultural component of the EFESE programme (évaluation française des écosystèmes et des services écosystémiques)

Gaël Plumecocq

Gaël Plumecocq presented a work carried out with Géraldine Froger on the quantification of nature. This work relates and analyses the political construction of the value of ecosystem services within the EFESE programme (2012-2019) for the Ministry of Ecological Transition. Their study only concerns the agricultural sector, which is one part of the set of evaluations requested by the government. Gaël Plumecocq explained how this valuation of ecosystem services in agriculture has been the scene of the confrontation between two evaluation conventions.  

The first one comes from the ministry requesting the evaluation, which seeks to impose a conceptual framework as a tool on all the research organisations working on the final report. Imposing this evaluation convention would, theorically, allow the aggregation of the different field results of all the evaluation work in order to produce global results. Even though it concerns very different fields. The second evaluation convention is the one carried out by INRAE (Institut national de recherché pour l’agriculture, l’alimentation et l’environnement), whose procedures guarantee its independence from political injunctions. Thus, INRAE develops its own assessment framework and proposes a new way of assessing ecosystem services. These services are no longer reduced to their monetary aspect, quantifiable dimension or to a correspondence between service flows and value flows. On the contrary, elements such as the geographical specificities of the studied area or the social situation of farmers are taken into account. Therefore, the monetary values proposed at the end of the report, imposed by the ministry’s economists, are given for information purposes only. Imposing this monetary valuation is based on a market representation of ecosystem services, which ensures the social validation by the market by matching the market value with the production of that value. But in the case of nature, even if standard economists agree that environmental demand can be reconstructed using questionnaires, social validation by the market is not theoretically assured.

Géraldine Rieucau (CRIISEA, University of Picardie Jules Verne) Employment and ecological and social transition: elements for an analytical framework

Géraldine Rieucau

Géraldine Rieucau presented a recent ongoing research project, financed by the Agence de l’environnement et de la maîtrise de l’énergie (ADEME), whose objective is to analyse the relationship between employment and the ecological and social transition. The project is called COMETE (COMunauté Écologie et TErritoirs). This study articulates the issues of employment, training and social justice with questions relating to the effects of the ecological transition on work (industrial closures, development of “green” jobs and the quality of these jobs). Using the theoretical framework of the economics of conventions, this research aims to understand the institutional arrangements and conventions supposedly shared by the actors. In other words, the researchers involved in this project attempt to answer the following question: How does the emergence, reconfiguration and development of green jobs depend on the convention of valorisation and coordination considered as legitimate?

This survey seeks to take into account the plurality of ecological realities, linked to two different territories, in the departments of Seine-St-Denis and Oise, affected by unemployment and poverty, in which different actors are involved. Géraldine Rieucau presents the first results concerning the activities of reuse, carried out by the structures of the social and solidarity economy, pioneering actors in these new sectors of activity. The study concerns different jobs and the first ones focus on “recovery agents”. These agents work on subsidised jobs, linked to integration through economic activity, specialising in sorting, dismantling and recovery of recycled products. However, at the end of the subsidised employment period, the trained individuals hardly work in the recycling centres or, more broadly, in the social economy sector, but seek jobs in traditional market activities (such as logistics or sales).