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Economics of convention all over

“Kolloquium Sozialforschung” at University of Lucerne

Guy Schwegler (Lucerne)

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

Miriam Kutt: Closing one’s Eyes

Miriam Kutt ready for her presentation

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

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

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

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

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

Eva Nadai: “Unqualified”

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

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

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

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

Eva Nadai presenting the conclusions of her research project

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arne Böker: “Education Mobility & Crisis”

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

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

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

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

Arne Böker presenting a project map from his first results

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

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

Leonie Bisang: “Mechanisms of Selection in Higher Education”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EC all over?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Report by Mario Steinberg (Basel)

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

Thursday 06 May 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday 7 May 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Social Research Colloquium” features three lectures relying on EC

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

Miriam Kutt (University of Lucerne)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Introduction à la sociologie pragmatique française

Conférence de Florence Padovani. Conference 8 December 2020, Bejing, China. Conference report.

Le 8 décembre 2020, Florence Padovani, directrice du CFC, a donné une conférence à l’Université normale de Pékin (BNU) pour une classe d’étudiants en master de sociologie sur le thème de la sociologie pragmatique française. Cette conférence fait suite aux échanges organisés en mai 2019 à BNU par le CFC et l’Ecole de sociologie de BNU. Le CFC avait alors accueilli les sociologues Laurent Thévenot, Romuald Normand, Marc Breviglieri et Camille Salgues pour présenter leurs travaux.

On December 8, 2020, Florence Padovani, director of the CFC, gave a lecture at the Beijing Normal University (BNU) for a class of master’s students in sociology on the theme of French pragmatic sociology. This conference follows the exchanges organized in May 2019 at BNU by the CFC and the School of Sociology of BNU. The CFC had then welcomed sociologists Laurent Thévenot, Romuald Normand, Marc Breviglieri and Camille Salgues to present their work.

“Why Convention Theory?”

Report by Taizo Yamamoto (Osaka Sangyo University, Japan)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two EC related lectures in the “Social Research Colloquium”

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

Guy Schwegler (University of Lucerne)

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

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

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

Valeska Cappel

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

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

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

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

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

Simon Schrör

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

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

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

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

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


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

L’État prédateur, Conflits et Résistances

Guillemette de Larquier (Clersé, Université de Lille) et Emma Tyrou (CEPN, Université de Paris 13)

Le vendredi 22 novembre 2019, le CEPN (Centre d’économie de l’université Paris Nord) organisait une journée dédiée à “L’État prédateur, Conflits et Résistances” à la Maison des Sciences de l’Homme – Paris Nord. Deux sessions de deux heures se sont succédé, l’une le matin, l’autre l’après-midi. Cela a été l’occasion d’échanges très riches en particulier sur le lien entre économie des conventions et Marx (lire plus bas le commentaire retranscrit de manière intégrale de Nicolas Da Silva à propos de l’intervention d’Olivier Favereau).

On Friday, November 22, 2019, the CEPN (Centre d’économie de l’université Paris Nord) organized a day dedicated to “The predatory State, Conflicts and Resistance” at the Maison des Sciences de l’Homme – Paris Nord. Two two-hour sessions followed one another, one in the morning and the other in the afternoon. This was an opportunity for very rich discussions, particularly on the link between the economics of convention and Marx (read below the commentary by Nicolas Da Silva on Olivier Favereau’s presentation – with a link to the English translation).

“Prédation et protection sociale”
Philippe Batifoulier, Nicolas Da Silva et Mehrdad Vahabi (Université Paris 13, CEPN)

Discutant: Michael Zemmour (CES, Université Paris 1, LIEPP)

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Philippe Batifoulier, Nicolas Da Silva et Victor Duchesne

Ce travail a pour objet de relire l’histoire de l’Etat providence français à la lumière de la théorie d’un Etat prédateur. On oppose une approche de la protection sociale portée par l’Etat où la protection est un instrument de la prédation à une approche qualifiée de « La sociale » dominée par un « citizen welfare » et axée sur un autogouvernement des individus. L’Etat providence est l’aboutissement de la guerre de masse moderne et la politique sociale (notamment la politique de population) est orientée vers les besoins de la guerre. Cependant bien qu’elle soit en partie le résultat de la guerre, la protection sociale trouve aussi ses racines en France dans l’affirmation d’un bien être porté par les citoyens eux-mêmes et non par l’Etat. Les origines de cette exception française remontent à la commune de 1871 et se poursuivent par la création du régime général de sécurité sociale en 1945/1946. On montrera que toute l’histoire de l’Etat-providence français consiste à se réapproprier le bien-être citoyen autogéré par un processus de réformes engagées à partir de 1947. Ce mouvement d’étatisation du “citizen welfare”, en plus de constituer une dépossession du pouvoir politique d’auto gouvernement des citoyens, s’est accompagné de la marchandisation des politiques sociales.

Predation and social protection

The purpose of this work is to review the history of the French welfare state in the light of the theory of a predatory state. We contrast an approach to social protection carried by the State where protection is an instrument of predation with an approach described as “la sociale” dominated by a “citizen welfare” and focused on the self-government of individuals. The welfare state is the result of modern mass warfare and social policy (including population policy); it is oriented towards the needs of war. Although it is partly the result of war, social protection also finds its roots in France in the affirmation of a well-being carried by the citizens themselves and not by the State. The origins of this French exception dates back to the 1871 commune and continues with the creation of the general social security system in 1945/1946. It can be shown that the entire history of the French welfare state consists in re-appropriating the self-managed well-being of its citizens through a process of reform that began in 1947. This movement of nationalization of “citizen welfare”, in addition to depriving citizens of their political power of self-government, has been accompanied by the commodification of social policies.

Michael Zemmour (à gauche)

Valeur(s), exploitation et économie des conventions
Olivier Favereau (U. Paris Nanterre, Economix)

Discutant: Nicolas Da Silva (U. Paris 13, CEPN)

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Olivier Favereau

Le programme conventionnaliste entend déplacer les conventions du langage théorique en économie vers une réimbrication des dimensions «coordination » et « reproduction », tout en autorisant une interpénétration des deux autres dimensions « valeurs » et « rationalité». Cela a conduit Boltanski et Chiapello (1999) à considérer l’exploitation et la justification comme l’inverse l’une de l’autre. Un lien direct avec Marx devient possible. Marx fait toutefois apparaître l’exploitation non dans l’espace des prix mais dans un espace des valeurs, objectivement mesurables (en heures de travail abstrait), alors que l’économie des conventions opère avec un espace des valeurs, au sens commun, normatif, du terme, mobilisant des entités intersubjectives (telle la justice). Le grand projet marxien d’intelligibilité du capitalisme à partir de la mise à nu de l’injustice capital/travail n’est pas prisonnier de la théorie de la valeur-travail. La distinction conventionnaliste de l’entreprise et de la société, dissimulée dans le « Régime d’Intersubjectivité et de Normativité » néolibéral, permet de faire apparaître dans le nouvel espace des valeurs, un usage indu du droit de propriété par les actionnaires de la société, qui s’approprient, au-delà des revenus de facteurs, le revenu proprement collectif de l’organisation qu’est l’entreprise. Cette forme d’exploitation, objectivement mesurable, entrevue par Proudhon dès 1840, ne peut être remise en cause sans la généralisation de la codétermination, dans le gouvernement des entreprises.

Value(s), exploitation and economics of convention

The conventionalist program aims to displace the conventions from the theoretical language of economics and tries to link the dimensions of “coordination” and of “reproduction”, while allowing the interpenetration of the two other dimensions “value” and “rationality”. That has led Boltanski and Chiapello (1999) to define exploitation and justification as the opposite of one another. A direct link with Marx becomes possible. Still there is the problem that Marx finds exploitation not in the space of prices but in a space of values, objectively measurable (in abstract labour hours), whereas the economics of convention works with a space of values, in the common-sense (normative) meaning of the word, using intersubjective entities (such as justice). The grand Marxian project of making sense of capitalism by revealing the unjust relationship between labour and capital, may not be stuck to the labour-value theory. The conventionalist distinction between company and firm, obscured by the neo-liberal regime of intersubjectivity and normativity, makes it possible to show the unjustified access to ownership by share-holders who claim to get the full collective income of the firm as an organization (after payment of the factor-incomes). That form of exploitation, objectively measurable, guessed by Proudhon as soon as 1848, cannot be questioned as long as corporate governance is not converted into codetermination (Board Level Employee Representation).

Discussion de Nicolas Da Silva (CEPN, Université de Paris 13)
Texte intégral

  English translation

“J’ai préparé cette discussion de l’intervention d’Olivier Favereau à partir de l’article « Valeur(s), exploitation et économie des conventions » paru en 2018 dans les Cahiers d’économie politique.

Nicolas Da Silva et Mehrdad Vahabi

Ce texte m’a posé deux difficultés. La première difficulté est qu’il constitue une mine à ciel ouvert tant par la variété des champs de la littérature abordés que par l’analyse qui en est proposée. Comment alors débuter la discussion ? par quel angle ? la synthèse proposée du programme conventionnaliste depuis 30 ans ? la présentation du projet de Marx ? la critique qui y est faite de Marx ? la tentative de rapprocher l’économie des conventions (EC) et Marx ? l’application de tout cela à la théorie de l’entreprise développée au sein du Collège des Bernardins ? La tâche est immense. La seconde difficulté est que ce texte est très finement écrit car non seulement Olivier Favereau pose son argumentation mais, en plus, il donne la parole à ses éventuels contradicteurs pour leur répondre dans la foulée. Il nous coupe le sifflet, et on a du mal à retrouver la voie.
Je n’ai donc pas trouvé une bonne solution pour faire le tri et hiérarchiser mes questionnements. Alors, je vais proposer ici une discussion assez arbitraire portant sur trois grands ensembles : l’évolution du programme de l’économie des conventions, le rapport ambivalent de Favereau à Marx et les implications de tout cela sur sa théorie de l’entreprise.

     1. L’évolution du programme de l’Economie des conventions

Dans ce texte, Olivier Favereau propose en quelques pages une analyse de long terme de l’évolution du programme de recherche de l’économie des conventions. Deux moments importants sont distingués pour ensuite mieux en montrer la cohérence.
Autour de l’ouvrage de Boltanski et Thévenot, De la justification (1991), la première partie du programme a été de proposer une nouvelle façon de faire de l’économie en associant la question des valeurs, de la coordination et de la rationalité. Pour reprendre la formulation de Corcuff, « il n’y a pas de coordination des comportements (économiques) sans coordination des jugements sur ces comportements » (p. 122). Le concept de justification implique alors que le bonheur des grands fait le bonheur des petits. La publication par Boltanski et Chiapello du Nouvel esprit du capitalisme (1999) marque selon Favereau le deuxième moment du programme de l’économie des conventions. Ils poursuivent le travail de réimbrication entre valeur, coordination et rationalité en montrant qu’à côté de la concurrence, la critique (se référant à des valeurs !) est un autre moteur de la dynamique du capitalisme. Autrement dit, il n’y a pas de reproduction des inégalités économiques sans critique de ces inégalités et de leur reproduction. Favereau  définit alors l’exploitation comme le contraire de la justification : le malheur des petits fait le bonheur des grands. Au total, tandis qu’EC1 [première période de l’économie des conventions : travaux à l’Insee, au Centre d’études de l’emploi et Boltanski et Thévenot (1991)] cherche à généraliser la coordination, EC2 [deuxième période de l’économie des conventions à partir de Boltanski et Chiapello (1999)] souligne l’importance de la critique de la reproduction.
Ma première question porte sur cette évolution entre EC1 et EC2. Olivier Favereau écrit dans le texte que la focalisation initiale sur l’individualisme méthodologique en 1989 était liée à « l’urgence dans la critique de l’économie néoclassique dominante » (p. 122). En quoi cette « urgence » commandait-elle une approche venant de l’individualisme méthodologique plutôt qu’ailleurs ? Par exemple, la théorie de la régulation propose à la même époque (et même avant) une critique de la théorie néoclassique d’une autre nature. Pourquoi se concentrer sur la critique de la théorie du choix rationnel ?
J’ai une hypothèse complémentaire à soumettre. Est-ce que la forme que prend la critique de la théorie néoclassique – tant chez les conventionnalistes que chez les régulationnistes – n’est pas plus liée à la conjoncture économique et aux rapports de force dans l’institution universitaire qu’à des nécessités proprement théoriques ? Je m’explique. L’économie, fille du droit, n’a jamais été une discipline marquée du sceau de la subversion. En plus de cela, les années 70 et 80 en France voient l’influence grandissante de ce que l’historien américain Michael Christofferson appelle la gauche antitotalitaire – c’est-à-dire la gauche anticommuniste. Est-ce que cette époque n’était tout simplement pas propice à une critique radicale de la théorie néoclassique depuis l’économie ? La pointe de la radicalité académique était alors la French theory qui elle-même insistait plus sur la question de la domination que sur celle de l’exploitation. Par exemple, chez Foucault il y a du pouvoir partout mais il n’y a des capitalistes nulle part !
Sans porter de jugement de valeur théorique ou empirique sur EC1 et EC2, est ce qu’on ne peut pas lire aussi – et peut-être d’abord ? – cette évolution comme une radicalisation consécutive à la détérioration de la situation économique et académique ? Je ne rappelle pas le combat de l’AFEP dans la section 5. La radicalisation d’Olivier Favereau ne serait alors pas liée à l’accumulation linéaire et cohérente des connaissances… mais aux questions que l’on se pose, aux questions que le chercheur se pose. Et, quand on observe ce qu’il se passe dehors, il y a effectivement des questions urgentes à poser.
Je me demande alors si ce n’est pas un autre aspect de l’attachement de Favereau à la démarche de Keynes : comme Keynes il tient à ne pas contourner la citadelle orthodoxe mais est-ce que comme lui il ne se radicalise pas aussi théoriquement et politiquement en fonction des évènements ? La question provocatrice serait alors de savoir si comme lui il a comme horizon indépassable le capitalisme ou si il nous donne des clefs pour en sortir – j’y reviendrais.

     2. Le rapport ambivalent d’Olivier Favereau à Marx

Le deuxième ensemble de question et de remarques porte sur le rapport ambivalent à Marx. Je le qualifie d’ambivalent car, comme il est souligné tout au long du texte, Olivier Favereau rejette Marx pour mieux le retrouver – à moins que cela ne soit l’inverse…
L’ambition est de réconcilier Marx et Proudhon. Après avoir salué « le tour de force » de Marx dans sa définition de l’exploitation comme part non payée de la valeur produite par la force de travail, Favereau rejette sa théorie de la valeur-travail car elle se fonderait sur une conception objective de la valeur. La force et l’erreur de Marx serait de chercher à fonder scientifiquement et objectivement l’exploitation sans recourir à l’espace des valeurs morales. La propriété ce n’est pas le vol. Tout en rejetant ce Marx-là, Favereau donne du poids à ce qu’il appelle son projet (ou sa métathèse) : « c’est uniquement dans un espace d’analyse et de mesure où la théorie réussit à intégrer les variables ‘justice’ ou ‘injustice’ que les lois de fonctionnement et d’évolution du capitalisme deviennent intelligibles’. […] En somme, le projet de Marx aurait été desservi, sinon trahi, par sa théorie de la valeur-travail » (p. 128-129). En intégrant les valeurs morales, il serait alors possible de définir, avec Marx et Proudhon, l’exploitation comme un vol.
Dans ce texte, Favereau reprend à son compte la critique d’André Orléan dans L’empire de la valeur selon laquelle, comme la théorie néoclassique, Marx aurait fauté en cherchant un fondement objectif à la valeur. Pour Marx la valeur serait une grandeur objective donnée par la quantité de travail contenue dans les marchandises. Cette interprétation de la théorie de la valeur travail est pourtant contestée. Par exemple, Jean-Marie Harribey précise que la théorie de la valeur-travail ne prend son sens que dans l’analyse du capital comme rapport social de production. Dans ce cadre, tout travail qui produit une marchandise qui ne se vend pas ne produit pas de valeur : il n’y a pas de « substance intrinsèque à l’objet » et il doit y avoir une validation sociale par le marché. Par ailleurs, il semble que l’objet d’Orléan et celui de Marx ne soient pas les mêmes. Marx s’intéresse à la production et à la reproduction tandis qu’en se focalisant sur les marchés financiers et la monnaie, André Orléan s’intéresse à des cas particuliers pour Marx : des biens qui ne sont pas produits (les matières premières), des biens non reproductibles (l’art) et le produit de la spéculation (actifs financiers). Est-ce que plutôt que de penser une opposition, on ne peut pas penser une complémentarité entre Orléan et Marx ?
Juste une dernière remarque sur la question de la valeur-travail et le refus d’une substance objective de la valeur. Je me pose une question un peu naïve. Si toute la valeur est intersubjective ou mimétique, si l’économie n’est qu’une science des relations, est ce qu’on ne passe pas à côté de l’un des enjeux principaux de ce siècle : l’épuisement irréversible des ressources naturelles, l’extinction des espèces et plus généralement les bouleversements écologiques.
Dans sa tentative de rapprocher l’économie des conventions de l’œuvre de Marx, Olivier Favereau reste étonnamment silencieux sur la théorie de l’aliénation de Marx. La note de lecture numéro 4 précise dès le début du texte : « En mettant l’exploitation, plutôt que l’aliénation, au cœur du projet de Marx, je choisis le Marx de la maturité, celui du Capital, contre le jeune Marx, celui des Manuscrits de 1844. » (p. 120) C’est assez étrange parce que le concept d’aliénation semble apriori mieux se prêter à un rapprochement avec EC que celui d’exploitation. Si Marx n’en parle pas ainsi, dans sa théorie de l’aliénation, il se cache peut-être un espace de valeurs, de critique et de justifications.
Pour le dire brièvement, l’aliénation est ce phénomène par lequel les travailleurs intériorisent comme une réalité, comme une vérité, ce qui relève en fait d’un rapport social. Dans le mode de production capitaliste, par leur expérience quotidienne de force de travail au service du capital, les salariés intériorisent leur position dans la chaîne de production mais aussi leur infériorité politique par rapport au capitaliste détenteur des moyens de production. Le travail industriel capitaliste appauvrit l’homme tant du point de vue de ses moyens de substance matériel (c’est l’exploitation) que du point de vue des moyens qu’il a de se réaliser en tant qu’homme complet (c’est l’aliénation). En anticipant un peu sur la suite, l’aliénation implique que les salariés ne pensent même plus qu’ils sont légitimes à décider ce qui doit être produit et comment. Pourquoi participeraient-ils de droit au conseil d’administration des entreprises ? Au-delà même des rapports économiques, toutes les activités sociales participent à la reformation des subjectivités au service du capital – on peut penser aux médias, à la culture, à l’école, à la famille, etc. L’économie des conventions ne trouve-t-elle pas ici des arguments  essentiels pour la critique des cités industrielle et marchande ? N’y a-t-il pas aussi dans l’aliénation une théorie des mauvaises conventions ?
Cette question sur l’aliénation renvoie à une critique plus fondamentale sur du texte concernant l’interprétation faite par Favereau du projet de Marx. Il présente le projet de Marx autour de l’idée que c’est dans l’espace des valeurs que l’on peut rendre intelligible le capitalisme. Or, ce n’est pas ce que Marx cherche à faire, c’est ce qu’Olivier Favereau cherche à faire pour tisser un lien avec la théorie de l’exploitation. Cela ne veut pas dire qu’il n’y a pas de liens possibles entre EC et Marx, mais on n’est pas obligé de faire dire à Marx ce qu’il ne dit pas. Quel est le projet du Marx du Capital, celui qui intéresse Favereau ? C’est de comprendre le capital (et non le capitalisme) comme rapport social de production où l’exploitation est un moment parmi d’autres. C’est un rapport social au sens où c’est un élément d’une architecture sociale qui lie et oppose les groupes sociaux (il n’y a pas que le capital !). C’est un rapport de production au sens où le capital organise ses groupes sociaux en fonction des relations qu’ils entretiennent à leurs conditions matérielles d’existence. Or, si le capital est un rapport social de production parmi d’autres (comme l’esclavage, le servage, la petite production marchande), il est original et se caractérise par au moins quatre traits principaux :
  1/ L’expropriation des producteurs : les producteurs sont séparés de leurs moyens de production. Le serf, par exemple, croule sous la dépendance personnelle envers son seigneur mais il est toujours rattaché à la terre et peut en vivre.
  2/ La force de travail est transformée en marchandise : condition de sa survie matérielle, le producteur potentiel (le travailleur) doit trouver quelqu’un (le capitaliste) qui lui achète la seule chose qui lui reste, sa force de travail.
  3/ La plus-value : en unifiant la force de travail et les moyens de production, le capitaliste retire une plus-value qui est la différence entre le prix de la force de travail (le salaire) et ce qu’elle produit (c’est le rapport d’exploitation).
  4/ L’accumulation : pour que le capital comme rapport social de production soit cohérent, il faut que le capitaliste ne consomme pas toute la plus-value et en utilise au moins une part pour accroitre son capital de départ.
L’exploitation est donc un moment du capital. En quoi l’économie des conventions peut-elle nous permettre de développer ce projet plus général de Marx ? J’en reviens à la question sur l’aliénation : est-ce que l’économie des conventions ne serait pas plus compatible avec le projet de Marx lorsqu’elle cherche à comprendre pourquoi certaines représentations s’imposent et naturalisent des constructions sociales arbitraires ? Pourquoi le capital comme rapport social de production est si largement accepté chez les salariés qui en souffrent ? Pourquoi tout cela alors que d’autres mondes – des mondes non capitalistes – seraient possibles ?

     3. La théorie de l’entreprise développée au Collège des Bernardins

Le troisième et dernier ensemble de questions et de remarques porte sur la théorie de l’entreprise qu’Olivier Favereau a développée dans le cadre des recherches au Collège des Bernardin. Son adversaire est la théorie de Milton Friedman selon qui l’entreprise appartient à ses actionnaires car ils disposent des droits de propriété. Fort justement Favereau remarque qu’en s’appuyant sur le droit Friedman ouvre le champ à la critique car les entreprises ne sont pas des objets de droit (comme une table) mais des sujets de droit (la société). Le recours au droit dans l’analyse de l’entreprise est extrêmement fertile mais il pose question.
Page 135, Favereau écrit ; « il n’y a pas de capitalisme sans entreprise ; il n’y pas non plus d’entreprise sans droit ; donc par transitivité il n’y a pas de capitalisme sans droit ». Mais il reconnait quelques lignes plus bas que : « en France la loi sur les Sociétés Anonymes date de 1867 pour ce qui est du contrat de société ; et l’arrêt Bardou de la Cour de cassation qui définit le contrat de travail par une relation d’autorité remonte à… 1931. Ceci veut dire que Marx aura publié le Livre I du Capital l’année même où se définissait en droit le contrat de société, et n’aura pas connu la stabilisation juridique du contrat de travail, qui n’interviendra en France que près d’un demi-siècle après sa mort. »
S’il n’y a pas de capitalisme sans droit alors cela signifierait qu’il n’y a pas de capital comme rapport social de production avant 1867, voire 1931, c’est-à-dire avant le droit des sociétés et du travail ? Ne peut-on pas plutôt dire que le droit capitaliste vient légitimer un rapport social qui se construit antérieurement et qui rompt avec les formes de droit antérieures ?
Selon Olivier Favereau, nous vivons « une forme chimiquement plus pure du mode de production capitaliste que du temps de Marx » (p. 136). C’est une formulation très étrange qui semble nous dire qu’il n’y a pas de droit en dehors du capitalisme. Or, chez le sociologue du droit Claude Didry, le contrat de travail est une conquête ouvrière face à la relation nue qu’est le capital. Le contrat de louage d’ouvrage permettait au capitaliste de se laver les mains de ses responsabilités et engendrait une concurrence néfaste pour les ouvriers (le marchandage), concurrence organisée par les ouvriers eux-mêmes dans une large chaine de sous-traitance. De ce point de vue le contrat de travail n’est pas capitaliste, il est anticapitaliste. Comme on le voit aujourd’hui avec le capitalisme de plateforme, le capital ne veut pas être employeur, il préfère des autoentrepreneurs. Le contrat de travail, s’il ne libère pas les ouvriers du fait de l’acception de la relation de subordination, il rend les capitalistes responsables vis-à-vis des ouvriers. Tout l’enjeu du capital au 20ème siècle est de détruire le contrat de travail, il n’en veut pas !
Favereau rejette par ailleurs l’idée qu’on ne peut appréhender le capitalisme qu’à partir de pratiques légales et il insiste sur le fait que pour Marx, l’exploitation n’est pas du vol, c’est une injustice et pas une illégalité. Est-ce qu’il ne faut pas plutôt dire que le capitalisme ne doit pas s’appréhender uniquement à partir de pratiques illégales ? En effet, le même Marx, dans le même Capital énonce les conditions d’accumulation primitives du capital qui prennent toutes les formes de violence : vol, pillages, guerre, expropriation, massacres, etc. On pourrait se dire qu’il ne s’agit que d’histoire ancienne. Mais, la privatisation des entreprises publiques, l’accaparement des terres, la liquidation des actifs des pays de l’ex-union soviétique, les pratiques courantes d’exil fiscal et social, les guerres pour les matières premières, et tant d’autres choses ne sont-elles pas des formes d’accumulation primitive toujours recommencées ?
Pour synthétiser ma question sur la conception du droit d’Olivier Favereau, est-ce qu’il ne faut pas plutôt penser le droit comme un moyen de légitimer un rapport de production (féodal, capitaliste, esclavagiste, etc.) plutôt que la caractéristique du rapport capitaliste de production. Car, paradoxalement, si Favereau s’appuie sur le droit pour critiquer l’entreprise financiarisée, il le fait en donnant le droit au capital. Alors que l’on peut penser qu’il faut sauver le droit, car il peut être autre que capitaliste !
Indépendamment de la façon dont Favereau pense la relation entre droit et capitalisme, sa théorie de l’entreprise est très stimulante et demande à être précisée sur certains points.
Favereau mobilise le concept de Régime d’intersubjectivité et de normativité (ReIN) qui est un principe d’ordre donnant sens et cohérence aux pratiques légales dominantes. Intersubjectivité car une règle ne relève ni de la pure subjectivité individuelle ni de l’objectivité matérielle. Normativité car une règle doit être suivie. Dans le monde des entreprises, le ReIN portant l’entreprise financiarisée se fonde sur deux conventions, la convention entreprise-propriété des actionnaires et la convention d’évaluation individuelle par les nombres. Ce ReIN équipe l’architecture des pouvoirs de valorisation qui peuvent évoluer dans le temps, plutôt favorable au salariat pendant le fordisme, plutôt défavorable dans le néo-libéralisme. Selon Olivier Favereau, la leçon de l’histoire du deuxième 20ème siècle est que « le contre-pouvoir salarial est fragile, s’il ne s’accompagne pas d’une démocratisation radicale de l’entreprise, c’est-à-dire pour parler concrètement d’une généralisation de la codétermination » (p. 137).
A mon avis cette théorie du ReIN et de l’entreprise pose deux questions :
– Qu’appelle-t-on codétermination ? La présence à part égale entre des représentants des salariés et des actionnaires dans les conseils d’administration ? Une conception plus exigeante de la démocratie irait plus loin et se baserait sur le principe mutualiste : une personne, une voix. Est-ce cela la codétermination ?
– Qu’est-ce qui justifie la présence au CA et l’existence même des actionnaires ? Si on considère que les travailleurs apportent leur force de travail et sont exploités, qu’apportent les capitalistes ? Quel est l’explication, la justification des dividendes dans ta théorie de l’exploitation ? Si la propriété c’est du vol comme il est suggéré, pourquoi en rester à la codétermination ?

Une piste pour répondre à ces questions serait de revenir à ce qui me semble être un rendez-vous manqué avec le plus conventionnaliste des marxistes – Bernard Friot. Sa conception de la sécurité sociale comme forme démocratique (et anticapitaliste) de la production n’est-elle pas compatible avec cette théorie de l’entreprise ? L’originalité de la sécurité sociale en 1945 est de se construire contre l’État et le capital afin de produire autrement de la valeur. Un autre point de convergence qui me parait évident entre Olivier Favereau et Bernard Friot porte sur le rôle des représentations. Pour Bernard Friot (reprenant Gramsci), une classe n’est dominante que si elle parvient à imposer son discours sur le réel. Est-ce que la force des capitalistes ce n’est pas d’abord d’avoir réussi à imposer l’idée que ce sont eux qui doivent décider de ce qui vaut car ce sont eux les maîtres de l’économie alors même qu’ils ne produisent rien ?”


Conference in honor of Robert Salais

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

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

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

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

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

– Work, employment and unemployment

– The production worlds

– The European question and the capability approach

– Quantification and democracy

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

Pierre-Paul Zalio, Christian Bessy and Claude Didry

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

Pierre-Paul Zalio and Robert Salais

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

Bénédicte Reynaud

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

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

Jean de Munck and Frédéric Marty

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

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

Simon Deakin

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

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

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

Olivier Favereau

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

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

Robert Salais

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

Marie-Geneviève Michal-Salais and Robert Salais






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

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

Download program of the conference

AFEP-IIPPE international conference Lille 3-5 July 2019

Sciences-Po Lille

Convention theorist contributions at the AFEP-IIPPE international conference “Envisioning the Economy of the Future and the Future of Political Economy” Lille 3-5 July 2019

Anaïs Henneguelle (University of Rennes 2) and Gaël Plumecocq (INRA Toulouse)

In Lille at Sciences-Po Lille the congress of the French Association of Political Economy AFEP (Association française d’économie politique) took place (in collaboration with International Initiative for Promoting Political Economy, IIPPE). It was big event with up to 800 participants and it was coined by many contributions from representatives of the French institutionalist approach of economics of convention. 

Gaël Plumecocq and Anaïs Henneguelle,
the organizers of the three sessions

This report presents discussions in three sessions devoted to economics of convention first, and at the end presents an outlook about the future of economics as seen from economics of convention. Here Guillemette de Larquier presents some remarks also on additional conventionalist contributions to the congress at Lille.

10 young researchers present their conventionalist work at the AFEP 2019 congress

Version française

30 years have passed since the publication of the special issue of the French economists journal Revue économique (published with the title “économies des conventions”, Vol. 40(3) in 1989), which was devoted to the economics of convention (in short EC) at this AFEP congress. This congress was an opportunity to review the current status of the conventionalist research agenda. In particular, the call for proposals aimed to bring together as a matter of priority (but not exclusively) the work of young researchers, who work on their problems using the conceptual frameworks of EC. The aim was to consider how the conventionalist research program can or should evolve. In which way have social transformations, such as the emergence of environmental issues, the renewal of public policies or changes in labor law (among others) been taken into account by the approach of economics of convention? How and in what ways does conventionalist work on the scope and functionalities of companies, in the field of health, relating to energy and poverty issues, or on the production and sharing of value(s), etc., renew the approaches of EC? What disciplinary articulations, new or renewed, are the new working fields of young researchers in this approach? How can we envisage cross-fertilization within the economic discipline with the different currents of thought? The three conventionalist sessions thus made it possible to explore these questions, and to raise others. It brought together about ten young researchers working in EC. The debates, introduced for each panel by different senior researchers, provided an opportunity to discuss how this work mobilizes and reworks the conventionalist research agenda.

Session 1/3:  Conventions and institutions of public policy
Discussants: Rainer Diaz-Bone (University of Lucerne, Switzerland) & Amandine Rauly (University of Reims Champagne Ardenne)

  • Victor Duchesne (University of Paris 13): “Criticism, ideologies: analysis of discourses and conflicts around social security from a conventionalist perspective”

Victor Duchesne, the first speaker on this session, began by studying a reform of the French social security system that took place in 1967. His analytical grid uses the terms of  EC, even if for him the framework of cities is too rigid to be adapted to his study. He therefore tried to go apply concepts other than those of cities: that of “referentials” in particular. The “myth” of the social security hole corresponds exactly to the classic definition of “conventions”. From 1967 onwards, the question of the deficit became central. In their discussions, members of French parliament (MPs) debated not only the relevance of taking the deficit into account but also the way it is counted (the statistical categories that underlie it). What should now be considered as an obvious argument (the deficit indicator) then was the question. In his analysis, Victor Duchesne distinguishes 3 “spirits” or “conventions” that govern social security: an anti-capitalist convention (carried by the communists, for example), a solidarity convention (carried by the mutualists) and a liberal convention (mainly carried by economists and ministers). The issue at stake each time is the global vision we have of the social protection system, justice or the common good.

  • Pierre Robert (University of Lille): “How to justify inequalities of access: a study of energy policies in Senegal through the convention of “needs” in energy services”

Pierre Robert begins with some introductory observations on energy poverty: in Senegal, for example, 36% of the population does not have access to electricity. It is difficult to represent what an “acceptable energy service standard” is, which is the basis for the common definition of energy poverty. Indeed, these standards are conventional. This standard is based on the following hypothesis: we can identify an “energy services needs agreement”, which will qualify the level of energy need to which everyone must have access in a specific context. This convention makes choices on legitimate needs. He therefore seeks, in his work, to identify this convention and its evolution. To do this, Robert studies energy policies from the independence of Senegal (1960) to today, with archives, grey literature, interviews. For him, there are four criteria to define “energy service needs”:
– The “orientations” (populations, spaces, sectors of activity)
– Energy services (those related to domestic energy or motive power)
– The types of energy (traditional such as firewood for example, or modern such as oil, gas)
– Consumption levels.
In addition, several registers of justifications are used in energy policies:
– Market justification (cost constraints…)
– Justification of public interest (principle of universal access)
– Community justification (tradition)
– Justification of energy security (improvement of the energy mix)
– Ecological justification (environmental impact)
Pierre Robert explained one result in particular: rural populations are completely excluded from the definition of the energy convention, which allows other actors to support their interests (for example, to put forward a low demand to allow opening up to competition and liberalization).

  • Adèle Sébert (University of Lille): “Thinking about the coexistence of actors in the fight against fuel poverty”

Adèle Sébert presented her current field, which covers the Haut-de-France region and is in line with Pierre Robert’s previous intervention. It thus recalls that fuel poverty has been defined by law since 2009, with the notion of “meeting basic needs” without explaining what it is (but by linking them to the notion of housing). In France, in 2017, fuel poverty is estimated to affect 6.7 million people. French literature links “fuel poverty” more closely to housing, while English literature reads it more closely to the issue of health. This issue is analyzed separately from the construction of the energy market, in particular. However, this construction, where gas and electricity prices continue to rise, mechanically increases the proportion of households in fuel poverty. What would a conventionalist approach have to say on this subject? Such an approach makes it possible to question the definition of the “quality” of the energy service and thus to question the idea of “need”. This would also raise questions about the conditions for satisfying this need and the associated “conventions”.

Session 2/3: Company conventions and sectors
Discussants: Christian Bessy (École normale supérieure Paris-Saclay)

  • Nathalie Magne (University Paul-Valéry Montpellier 3): “When a traditional company becomes a cooperative: what processes for building legitimacy?”

Nathalie Magne presented a study on the transition of “classic” companies in the industrial and construction sectors to a cooperative model. It questions the power of action of individuals in a context of organizational change and institutional pluralism, in particular with the confrontation of two logics: competitive enterprise and enterprise of the social and solidarity economy. To this end, Nathalie Magne studies the confrontation of two registers of legitimacy. In this context, marked by a strong tension between the will to act on the rules to transform the organization and the weight of the organization that frames the wishes of individuals, Nathalie Magne relies on Schuman’s work. It distinguishes between normative and moral legitimacy, pragmatic legitimacy and cognitive legitimacy (in which conformity with the company’s vision as a space of possibilities is at stake). The results highlight differentiated strategies for building legitimacy, depending on the different types of interlocutors (financiers, suppliers, internal stakeholders, possibly a court…). These involve demonstrating the economic efficiency of the cooperative, at both normative and pragmatic levels, to be brought closer to the industrial city; the superiority of the cooperative form (civic city); and respect for the participatory tradition of the company (mobilization of the trust register). This work highlights the capacity of actors to transform the organization, without necessarily resorting to general registers of legitimacy.

  • Tiana Smadja (Terres Univia, Paris): “Obstacles and levers to the development of the French pea sector: lighting according to the Economics of Convention”

Tiana Smajda is working on a research-intervention approach to the analysis and development of the protein pea sector in France, in a project conducted with the oil-protein inter-profession, as part of their action plan to strengthen the French supply of vegetable proteins. In this sector, which is mainly used for animal feed, production is highly variable and agricultural incomes are uncertain. This work mobilizes the transition studies, and in particular the notion of locking to analyze the obstacles to the development of these sectors. Tiana Smajda presents the preliminary results of her survey, conducted among 127 stakeholders from 4 value chains in Europe. These concern, on the one hand, the governance and coordination of the actors in the sector, and, on the other hand, the practices and strategies of the actors around the definition of quality and exchange prices. This work thus makes it possible to highlight two groups of value chains: those in which production contracts exist, specifying expected quality criteria and for which the actors say they are satisfied with the functioning of the sector; and those in which there are no stable benchmarks and reference frameworks on product quality, referring to the dissatisfaction of the actors with the way the sector functions. The main lever for the development of this sector therefore lies in the lack of conventions on the quality of products traded along the value chain, which is a way of extending this work. 

  • Philippe Semenowicz (University of Paris-Est): “The conventionalist approach to CSR in the light of social clauses in public procurement”

Philippe Semenowicz’s study is part of the conventional economic theories on corporate social responsibility. This posture not only criticizes the existing business model, but also questions new business conventions. In this context, Philippe Semenowicz approaches CSR from the perspective of the renewal of legal frameworks, in this case the introduction of social clauses in public procurement: are the learnings required to implement a CSR approach possible within the legal framework, or does this require amending the legal framework? This problem is essentially conventionalist, insofar as it involves testing the justifications according to which CSR is optimal. It is also a question of analyzing legal clauses as conventions referring to issues of social justice and the common good (for example, positive discrimination in employment). A historical analysis of public procurement reforms shows that the evolution of social clauses articulates institutional, contractual and also conventional dimensions, in particular on the modalities of implementation (with, for example, the use of a facilitator). The results show that two types of CSR conventions are at work: “bad” conventions consist in complying with clauses, without necessarily changing exchange practices; “good” conventions refer to changes in companies’ practices. Philippe Semenowicz concluded on the importance of changing the institutional context to enable the conventions to operate.

  • Betty Espinosa (Faculty of Social Sciences, Ecuador): “Community tourism in Amazonian Ecuador: economics of convention Perspectives”

This contribution aimed to analyze tourism practice in Ecuador, an important lever for economic development, through the prism of the economy of conventions and by borrowing from the sociology of action regimes as well as the notion of formatting advanced by Callon and Latour. Tourism practices, captured through commercial offers, point to a dilemma between the enhancement and endangering of cultural heritage. Tourism was approached here from the perspective of quality standards and the standardization of tourism management. The work is based on two cases highlighting a plurality of tourism practices. The first practice refers to an offer of services provided by a group of indigenous people; the second, to a service managed by an NGO. While the first one plays on the register of “the authentic experience”, the last one highlights the question of the “fair price”, inducing a tension between economic and social management of the tourist service. Finally, this presentation highlighted an unstable juxtaposition between different conventional worlds, but in which the commercial world remains central.

Session 3/3: Political, monetary and financial conventions
Discussants: Franck Bessis (University of Lyon 2) & André Orléan (EHESS)

  • Charlotte Bellon (IEP of Rennes): “The economics of conventions between science and politics: what possible crossovers?”

Charlotte Bellon presents an application of the theory of conventions, and in particular the sovereignty of money, to politics. Politics is understood, in fact, as a process of struggle for power, as a set of actions, and as a set of institutions. This work highlights the proximity of this latter political conception to monetary characteristics, referring to sets of entities that support power functions, sets of collective choices and symbolic assertions of inclusive units. While this work distinguishes monetary and political logics, the notion of sovereignty makes it possible to bring them closer together, particularly as in their function of equity accounting and prioritization. Charlotte Bellon thus underlines the ambivalence of the sovereign currency, stretched between trust and violence, giving rise to cognitive dissonances. Finally, these reflections lead Charlotte Bellon to propose a dialectic of three orders: political (organized by a principle of freedom), monetary (power/wealth) and productive (property). These are located in a more or less differentiated space and governed by more or less horizontal relationships. This framework makes it possible to think of the relationships two to two of these three orders: the tension between sovereignty and rules in the relationship between political and monetary orders; the tension between publicizing the relationship between necessity and emancipation in the relationship between political order and productive order; and finally, the tension between general equivalent (currency as value) and differentiation (currency as a medium of value) in the relationship between monetary order and productive order.

  • Evan Bertin (University of Paris 13): “The impact of the financialisation of companies: thinking about the asymmetry of valuation powers in favour of shareholders”

Evan Bertin presents part of his thesis work, which deals with the impact of the financialization of companies on work. The use of the notion of “valuation power” in companies, i.e. the ability to say what matters and what does not, in a given context, make it possible to address asymmetries in the business world. In this respect, the increase in the capitalization of companies appears less as a refinancing mechanism than as a takeover by the company of its decision-making sovereignty. By mobilizing Olivier Favereau’s work on the different regimes of normativity and intersubjectivity, Evan Bertin highlights the prevalence of short-term logic favored by a particularly favorable regulatory context in France. Maximising shareholder value has effects on working conditions (deteriorating social relations at work) and employment levels, in particular through downsizing practices.

  • Guillaume Dupéret (Mines ParisTech): “The manipulation of Libor, a convention been financial actors “

Guillaume Dupéret discussed the conventional dimension of strategic financial interactions, and in particular the calculation of LIBOR. This interbank refinancing rate is defined as the average of the broker reports of a sample of 16 major global banks. If this principle is justified by the practical knowledge of market operators, it potentially gives rise to strategic declarations. Guillaume Dupéret relies on the Lewisian conception of conventions, and in particular on its updating in the new edition of “Conventions”. In particular, it mobilizes the counterfactual dimension of agreements (regularity as an alternative to the agreement in place and which could have existed) to highlight the logic of actors prevailing in the small world of traders involved in LIBOR manipulations. It shows that in addition to the logic of reciprocity of interests, there is also a symbolic logic of compensation that allows the community to be structured on standards of manipulation and goes through a distancing of the conventional rules of behavior, which are commonly accepted. Finally, this work makes it possible, based on an analysis of individual strategies, to highlight the cultural dimension of the practice of interest rate manipulation.

The plenary session ” The future of French schools of thought in economics “

The theme of the conference invited us to look to the future: the future of the economy, the future of the discipline.

Guillemette de Larquier (University of Lille)

Version française

During the AFEP-IIPPE conference, a plenary session with 7 researchers was organized on the theme: “The future of French schools of thought in economics”. I presented the perspective of the economics of convention. To be interested in the future implies to train students. However, when a student wishes to familiarize herself/himself with the economics of conventions (EC), it is impossible to give her/him a reference to read that would go around it. There is of course ”On justification. Economies of worth” (2006, French “De la justification. Les économies de la grandeur”, 1991) by Luc Boltanski and Laurent Thévenot, but the book is difficult to access and does not represent the whole of what the EC is. Moreover, there is a risk: the typology of domestic, industrial, commercial, civil and other cities can be attractive because it is very effective in qualifying a plurality of coordinations or organizations, but it can be applied in a “flat” way in works that remain descriptive, neglecting the demanding axiomatic of the authors’ project. Moreover, we could also recommend to this student a contemporary work, also founding but less quoted, the book of Michael Storper and Robert Salais “Worlds of production” (1997, in French “Les mondes de production, 1993 by Robert Salais and Michael Storper). In fact, as an introduction to EC, why not simply read (and have students read) the introduction to the proceedings of the 2003 “Conventions and Institutions” conference published in 2006: “Value, coordination and rationality: three themes related by the Economics of Conventions”, a text signed by François Eymard-Duvernay, Olivier Favereau, André Orléan, Robert Salais and Laurent Thévenot. By mobilizing three concepts – value, coordination and rationality – this text defines the main principles of the “conventionalist economics program”, in their own terms. Coordination and rationality totally anchor the EC in the economic discipline; at one time, it may even have seemed that the EC was mainly seeking to dialogue with the mainstream economy by keeping a common language, proposing another rationality to solve coordination problems. In other words, EC remained on the side of methodological individualism – certainly complex – but without any real breakthrough assumed by other institutionalist currents. However, the break is in the first term: value. The rationality of an agent is not “complete” and oriented towards her/his subjective preferences that cannot be discussed; the actors base their reasoning on values external to them, collective and plural entities, that justify or criticize. The theory of action that the EC proposes is at odds with mainstream economics and dialogue with other institutionalist currents in economics but also with economic sociology (for example in the German-speaking world) when it comes to studying how actors act in particular situations through collective conventions, interpretative frameworks, which are materialized in rules, devices and tools. The interventions of the AFEP-IIPPE conference in Lille that were part of the EC were in this vein and foreshadow a bright future for EC – in particular, those of the young researchers from the three sessions presented above, but also those programmed in various thematic sessions. The future of EC appeared in the form of applied, and even empirical, work studying the devices, tools, rules of the capitalist economy, going beyond the pure description of facts to reveal the underlying values of the actors (and not only their interests), leaving room for criticism and controversies of the actors towards the powers of valorization and, finally, practicing an interdisciplinarity or a mix of fertile institutionalist theories.

All in all, the AFEP-IIPPE conference offered some more presentations, based on or referring to convention theory. The interventions related to EC outside the mentioned special “youth” sessions have been offered by:

  • Philippe Batifoulier and Victor Duchesne (University of Paris 13): The State as police of the market: the case of the construction of the health insurance market
  • Franck Bessis (University of Lyon 2): Microsimulation models in action
  • Christian Bessy (ENS Paris-Saclay): What has contemporary economic sociology learned about markets?
  • Rainer Diaz-Bone (University of Lucerne): Convention theory and big data
  • Florence Jany-Catrice (University of Lille): Conflicts in the calculation and use of the price index: the case of France
  • Kota Kitagawa (Kansai University): Valuation Devices of Beneficiary Transformation in a Service Process
  • Guillemette de Larquier (University of Lille) & Géraldine Rieucau (University of Paris 8): Recruitment, conventions and segmentation. Lessons from the OFER survey (2015)
  • André Orléan (EHESS): The contribution of the self-referential hypothesis to financial market theory
  • Junya Tatemi (Osaka City University) & Taizo Yamamoto (Osaka Sangyo University): Intermediaries and design: Valuation process of the local products in Japan
Gala diner in the City Hall of Lille

The conventionalists’ presentation at the AFEP congress demonstrate that convention theory (EC) entails many younger researchers heading for their academic future. Also, the conventionalist movement has presented not only as a French movement but as an international scientific and interdisciplinary movement. AFEP as scientific organization has proven to be one of the promotors and platforms for ongoing conventionalist research, engaging many young and established researchers in the field.

10th Sociology of Conventions Workshop “Conventions@Work”

Katharina Zangerle (University of Innsbruck) & Bianca Schönherr (University of Innsbruck)

University of Innsbruck, Austria 26-27 April 2019.

In the evening of 25 April, a proper dinner constitutes the unofficial start – as it is occasionally the case with fruitful encounters – of the workshop. For the second time, the EC family gathers in Innsbruck, after prior workshops in Basel, Vienna, Lucerne, Hamburg and Reutlingen.

The next day, the host and an expert of this year’s workshop topic, Julia Brandl (University of Innsbruck), introduced into “Conventions@Work”, and warmly welcomed all Economie des conventions (EC) long-time representants, veteran performers and newcomers as well as the keynote speaker Emmanuelle Marchal (Sciences Po, Paris), well known for her intense sociological engagement with labor markets and recruitment practices. Besides her, Guillemette de Larquier (University of Lille) allowed to learn first-hand from central representatives of EC about current developments in labor market research. This year’s general focus indeed was – as the title indicates – on labor markets and personal policy work, for example understanding sources of inequalities in the labor markets by looking at recruiting practices. Also, our dear sponsor French Focus (of the University of Innsbruck) got a word in this opening session. Useful side note for researcher in financial need with a link to France: the French Focus financially supports academic exchange between academics from France and Innsbruck

Variety in regard to disciplines (e.g., Sociologist, Economists, Historians), origin (e.g., France, Switzerland, Germany and Austria), empirical interests (e.g., from migration, health, the digital, social policy, science, farming, to intellectual property regulations and information security…), but connected through the common theoretical perspective, characterized the audience composed of about 35 scientists. Besides, it was the workshops format, which allowed the presenters adequate time (45 minutes) to make clear their arguments and respond to the assigned discussants’ and audiences’ responses of different sorts, that triggered the discussion. The following overview serves to communicate current developments in the community, but makes no account to be complete. If some of the following issues awake your interest and if you want to learn more about it, consider to personally contact the authors (they are all quite friendly). This opportunity should also serve to honor Qamar Ali’s organizational efforts behind the event!


On the first morning, discussions were based on four presentations:

  • In the first session, Bernadette Bullinger (IE Business School Madrid) presented her work about mediating employment opportunities for migrants. Together with her co-authors Anna Schneider and Jean-Pascal Gond she thereby encounters the phenomenon of “Placing the Displaced”.
  • Eva Nadai (FHNW Olten, Switzerland) talked in the second session about the encounter of “High Tech, Low Skills” by investigating quality conventions for unskilled workers in an upskilled economy.
  • After the first coffee break, Esther Berner (Helmut-Schmidt-University / University of Federal Armed Forces Hamburg) centers in her work “Between Violence and Love, the Public and the Intimate. The “Citizen in Uniform” in the Perspective of the Sociology of Engagement” from a historical perspective the changing role of military officer.
  • Katharina Zangerle (University of Innsbruck) applies together with the co-authors Konstantin Hondros and Sigrid Quack, the EC to prominent court trials where actors litigate Intellectual Property claims in the music and pharmaceutical industry.

Julia Brandl

  • After lunch in the canteen of the University of Innsbruck, Rainer Diaz-Bone (University of Lucerne), Kenneth Horvath (University of Lucerne), Lisa Knoll (University of Hamburg), Guillemette de Larquier (University ofLille) and Julia Brandl (University of Innsbruck), long standing representants of EC, discussed on the panel “Big Data, Methods, Value Chains – Conventionalists’ Perspectives on Research Practices”.

Guillemette de Larquier, Kenneth Horvath, Lisa Knoll, Rainer Diaz-Bone, Julia Brandl

  • Finally, Emmanuelle Marchal (Sciences Po, Paris) gave her keynote about “Hiring Practices as (De)valorization”. Based on the sociology of markets, she critically encounters recruiting processes and practically asks for example: How can we know what skills are necessary for a job and how to evaluate those skills? What does a recruiter do, when she reads a CV? What game is played at personal meetings between recruiter and job applicant? BTW: The keynote referred to her book Les Embarras des Recruteurs. Enquête sur le Marché du Travail (English: The Recruiters’ Embarrassment. A Labour Market Survey/Deutsch: Die Verlegenheit der Personalvermittler. Eine Arbeitsmarktuntersuchung, Paris, EHESS, 2015, ISBN: 9782713224911).

Emmanuelle Marchal

  • Even though “work” was central in every sense, conventionalists also know when it’s time to celebrate. At the end of the day Christian Imdorf (University of Hannover) and Regula Leemann (FHNW Basel-Muttenz) announced the publication of their upcoming book together with Gonon Philipp on “Bildung und Konventionen” (English: “Education and conventions”) available at Springer Verlag: in the new book series “Soziologie der Konventionen” ( Therefore champagne was cheerfully raised, accentuated by honoring words from Rainer Diaz-Bone. Congratulation again!

After an intensive first day, the group enjoyed a dinner in Innsbruck’s old town.


  • The second day began with the presentation of Lisa Knoll (University of Hamburg), where she introduced her current paper with Eve Chiapello on “The Welfare Conventions Approach” illustrated by social impact bonds.
  • Markus Schermer from the University of Innsbruck engages, against the backdrop of changing roles of and expectations towards farming, with conventions in agriculture and food production, thereby showing how farmers (re)organize and qualify their work.
  • Karolin Kappler and Uwe Vormbusch (both from FernUniversität Hagen) presented Orders of Justification in the Field of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and framed them as ‘Spaces of Negotiation’ in the Making.
  • Dominik Zellhofer from the Vienna University of Economic and Business presented an excerpt of a dissertation project on information security policies in organizations and focused on building a framework based on the sociology of conventions.


  • After a light lunch, a session and discussion on “Methods and Research Question Spaces” followed with input from Kenneth Horvath (University of Lucerne) and Regula Leemann (FHNW) on “Reality Test” in EC-Its Theoretical AND Empirical Dimensions.
  • Valeska Cappel (University of Lucerne), Karolin Kappler (FernUniversität Hagen) and Sarah Lenz (University of Basel) engage in the last session with an increasingly prominent topic: “EC in the Field of Digital Health and Artificial Intelligence (AI)”, by investigating how the complex, ambiguous and contradictory moral infrastructure of late modern societies is mirrored and eventually transformed by AI.


The event was shaped by the active participation of all its attendees. Hence, special thanks to the chairs – Dominik Zellhofer (Friday) and Bernadette Bullinger (Saturday) – as well as the discussants Guillemette de Larquier, Heike Jacobsen, Arjan Kozica and Qamar Ali, Rainer Diaz-Bone, Esther Berner, Nina Pohler and Christian Imdorf who contributed to their colleagues’ scientific development.

Closing words from Julia Brandl and an outlook constituted the formal end of the two-day workshop.

Short reminder: WU Vienna invites to the 11th SoC Meeting (preliminary dates 16-17 April 2020). The central topic will be “Capitalism without Spirit? Conventions in the Age of Digital Transformation”

Economics of convention and Science and Technology Studies: Some notes on the annual meeting of the Gesellschaft für Wissenschafts- und Technikforschung in Berlin

Karolin Kappler (FernUniversität Hagen)

On 15/16 November 2018, the annual meeting of the German Gesellschaft für Wissenschafts- und Technikforschung e.V. (Association of Science and Technology Research – GWTF) took place at the TU Berlin.

During the two days, about 40-50 participants discussed research on the topic “Verhalten und Vorhersage. Die techno‐sozialen Zukünfte algorithmischer Bewertungssysteme” (Behavior and prediction. The techno-social futures of algorithmic valuation systems) organized in thematic blocks on smart cities, predictive policing, the fluidity of algorithmic valuation, behavioral prediction and control, ascriptive inequality in machine learning and theoretical perspectives.

In the block on theoretical perspectives, Karolin Eva Kappler from the FernUniversität in Hagen presented the Economy of Conventions as a theoretical approach to explore socio-technical assemblages. Underlining the concepts of investments in forms, the statistical chain and intermediaries, she illustrated her presentation with empirical examples from genetic diagnostics and genetically induced training plans for athletes.

Gesa Lindemann and Katharina Block discussed different social theories to tackle predictive systems. On this behalf, they insisted on the important difference between property and possession and criticized that most of theoretical approaches – among them the EC – ignore that aspect.

In the session on predictive policing, Selma Lamprecht from the Weizenbaum-Institut in Berlin presented different theoretical perspectives to look at “predictive policing for all”. Apart from the ANT and the analysis of discourses and dispositives, she discussed the EC in order to explore not only practices regarding the development and design of such technologies, but also the disposition of people and end-users to adopt such a system of predictive policing.

In many interesting discussions during the conference, the EC was clearly considered to be a rather unknown theoretical approach in the field of science and technology studies, but its analytical value in identifying the plurality and conflictivity of orders of worth and conventions was highlighted and referred to during the whole conference.

Further, the development and the design of technology “for the good of the people” was discussed as an emergent field of research in many disciplines, such as in informatics, engineering and science and technology studies. In this context, the EC could evolve towards a major theoretical reference in this interdisciplinary field of research.

Program (as pdf) 2018-programm-GWTF

Robert Salais, Dr. h.c. – Lecture “Products: Objects and/or Things”

Robert Salais talks on coming challenges to EC on the occasion of being named honorary doctorate by the University of Lucerne

Kenneth Horvath (University of Lucerne) and Guy Schwegler (University of Lucerne)

On 8 November 2018, Robert Salais received an honorary doctorate degree from the University of Lucerne, among others for his groundbreaking interdisciplinary engagement linked to the formation of Économie des conventions. In his laudatory speech, Rainer Diaz-Bone emphasized Salais’ central position for the development of new French pragmatism, an approach that, as Diaz-Bone nicely summarized, offers “many solutions to many problems”—and opens many new perspectives for social sciences.

Rainer Diaz-Bone, Robert Salais, Bruno Staffelbach (Rector)

On the occasion of the academic celebration, Robert Salais held an evening lecture in which he provided insights into his current studies of the relation between nature and conventions, with a focus on the convention-based creation of objects and things. An object, in this understanding, is created via an equivalence principle, making both a classification and comparison possible. A thing, on the other hand, is based on a specific identification and addresses something in all its particularities. Such a differentiation, Salais went on, is well established in philosophy. In the social sciences, however, most writers tend to use both terms indiscriminately—even within the same paragraph. For Salais, the conceptual differentiation between objects and things is essential, but the same entity could become an object or a thing depending of the types of conventions used by actors. Hence the conceptual distinction should not be used as an ontological opposition in the social sciences, the use of entities is dependent on two different types of conventions—one type already widely covered by EC research practices as well as one to be added to EC’s analytical repertoire.

After introducing central axioms of EC, Salais continued to elaborate the distinction between thing and object using the example of forest management in France. On the one hand, through the standardized planting of trees and through the possibilities of advance woodcutting machines, the forest can be turned into an object. The planting techniques and machines enable to establish relations of equivalence for trees. This corresponds with a rapid investment of capital and a specific temporality for a tree, determined e.g. by the duration of production cycles. This first way of handling products as objects is based on the first type of conventions in a classic EC sense: coordination based upon situations’ commonality. On the other hand, there is the work of lumberjacks who assess trees and decide which one to cut one by one. Within randomly growing forests, the lumberjacks handle trees as things. As a result, the self-sustaining regulation of nature is used as capital, where there is no standardized idea of time for the production cycle. Treating products as things is then based on a second type of conventions: a trans-identification, that is always based upon the particularity of a situation.

Salais further explained the consequences of the distinction between products as objects or as things. Handled as objects, products become subordinated to subjects. Through this subordination, the particularities of the things are being denied, the products as a consequence only exists as the object. At the end of a life cycle of a product, however, its existence as a thing becomes apparent again. Old computer and other electronic devices, for example, result in specific forms of waist that very often were not considered in their production as objects in the first place. Salais went on to explain why products should be treated as things—especially in relation to environmental issues. Unexpected or even perverse effects of environmental regulations become apparent. Those effects, he claimed, are a result a consequence of a conventional logic of products as objects. Furthermore, these effects are also a consequence of regulatory policies following a top-down logic. For Salais, however, the starting point for regulations should be a different one. Central for him is the coordination of actors. Starting there would allow for an openness to things. The goal is to have things taking part in the deliberation itself. Ultimately, Salais closed his lecture, such an assemblage to influence production would correspond with the German etymology of thing: Ding, as a gathering for decisions.

Session “Agro-food branches, food markets, and global value chains – between local tradition and global value chains: Production, distribution and consume of food as sociological research objects”

[Agro-food Branchen, Nahrungsmittelmärkte und Global Value Chain – Zwischen lokaler Tradition und globalen Wertschöpfungsketten: Produktion, Distribution und Konsum von Lebensmitteln als Gegenstand der Soziologie] at the 39th sociology congress of the German Sociological Association at University of Göttingen, 28 September 2018

Rainer Diaz-Bone (University of Lucerne)

At the five day congress of sociology (24-28 September), a session took place presenting convention theory applied in the analysis of food, food markets, food production, food consumption and value issues around food. The session was organized by Lisa Suckert (Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies, Cologne) and Rainer Diaz-Bone (University of Lucerne). The organizers introduced into the session and sketched the tradition of economics of convention (EC) as an important and long lasting approach in these field of social research. Also, the phenomenon of food was identified as offering a kind of “crossroads” to different research fields as economic sociology, cultural sociology, life style analysis etc. But also the whole question of value and quality was related to food issues in EC for some decades now (see the contributions in Allaire/Daviron 2017 and the review article of Ponte 2016). The session then had three lectures.

Linda Hering and Nina Baur (both Technical University of Berlin) presented their research project “Standards for freshness in Germany and Thailand – a historical inspired comparison of pattern of consumption and production” [Frischestandards in Deutschland und Thailand. Ein historisch angeleiteter Vergleich von Konsum- und Produktionsmustern].

Linda Hering

This Berlin group explores the ways how food was offered to consumers at sales points in Berlin and Bangkok, focusing on presentation, situational embeddedness and (concepts of) freshness. The research reconstructed the quality convention, intermediairies and objects involved. Linda Hering and Nina Baur emphasized the important role of the local gatekeepers and technical innovations for the establishement of concepts for food freshness.

Lisa Suckert relied on her PhD-project “Discursive construction of ecological product quality – the discovery of the region as quality dimension for organic milk” [Die diskursive Konstruktion ökologischer Produktqualität – Die Entdeckung der Region als Qualitätsmerkmal für Bio-Milch] to present discursive networks and national developments of value chains for milk in Germany (see Suckert 2015). She started her lecture with the problem of the uncertainty of product quality and identified the different strategies of regional milk producers (diaries) to develop marketing strategies based on discursive concepts of “region”.

Lisa Suckert

But the different diaries base their discursive strategies on different discursive foundations to mobilize a knowledge concept of “quality”. The study combined field theoretical elements with EC to grasp the market position of diaries also.

Xiomara Quinones Ruiz (University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna) gave a talk about her ongoing research on coffee value chains, starting from Colombian coffee production. Her lecture “Interacting and evolving quality conventions: An institutional Analysis of international Coffee Value Chains”

Xiamara Quinonez-Ruiz

In Colombia first developments of fairtrade or organic coffee, and the protection of the coffee origin through geographical indications could be identified by Xiamara Quinonez-Ruiz. But she also found cultural impediments in Colombia, where people where accustomed to new ways of producing coffee and new tastes of differently produced coffees. The project identifies the transformation/reorganization of dominant quality conventions of quality chains, the involved intermediaries and technologies.

The session demonstrated the emergence of a field of conventionalist aggro-food studies in the German speaking countries and was also a start for a planned book project (in the new Springer VS series “sociology of conventions”



Allaire, Gilles/Daviron, Benoit (eds.) (2017): Transformations et transitions dans l’agriculture et l’agro-alimentaire. Versailles: QUAE.

Ponte, Stefano (2016): Convention theory in the Anglophone agro-food literature. Past, present and future. Journal of Rural Studies 44(4), pp. 12-23.

Suckert, Lisa (2015): Die Dynamik ökologischer Märkte. Eine feldanalytische Betrachtung des Marktes für Bio-Molkereiprodukte. Konstanz: UVK.

Clersé study days: ‘The socio-environmental issues arising out of the changes in contemporary capitalism’

Anaïs Henneguelle (LiRIS, Université de Rennes 2)

Version française (avec d’autres photos) / French version (with other photos)

On the 7th and 8th of June 2018, two study days were held at Clersé (University of Lille) around the theme of ‘The socio-environmental issues arising out of the changes in contemporary capitalism’ and the contributions that the economics of convention might make to the topic under discussion. These study days, which were significant because they brought together numerous French academics whose approach places them within the conventionalist school, were organised by Guillemette de Larquier (Clersé, University of Lille), Nicolas Postel (Clersé, University of Lille), Richard Sobel (Clersé, University of Lille), Philippe Batifoulier (CEPN, Paris 13), Nicolas Da Silva (CEPN, Paris 13) and Ariane Ghirardello (CEPN, Paris 13).

Richard Sobel, Guillemette de Larquier, Christian Bessy, Rainer Diaz-Bone, Gaël Plumecocq, Arnaud Le Marchand, Franck Bessis, Philippe Batifoulier & Delphine Remillon

The programme, full to overflowing, saw some 20 participants presenting their research in progress or taking stock of existing work in the conventionalist school. Particularly noteworthy was the presence of many doctoral students and young PhDs, which seems to suggest that the succession is already assured. Without looking at each presentation in detail, the main points that unite or divide the participants’ methodological or theoretical approaches can be summarised.

Thus the first difficulty anyone wishing to use the tools of the economics of convention encounters is how to define the term ‘convention’ itself and how he or she is to use it in their work.

In the first paper, which focused on the actors in domestic help services, Sylvain Vatan (Triangle, Université Lumière Lyon-2) used the term not in the sense of an intentional agreement or compromise but in that of a shared representation based on the ‘precedent principle’ that enables the actors involved to operationalize the prevailing rule imposed by a power relationship. In her case, pricing by the nature of the tasks performed by domestic support workers, which amounts to quantifying qualities to quote the oft-used expression, gives rise, she argued, to a new convention on the valorisation of work, the main purpose of which is to facilitate the coordination of the actors concerned. This approach is echoed in the work of Anaïs Henneguelle (IDHES ENS-Paris-Saclay) on judgments in the criminal courts. She showed that judges’ sentencing decisions are based on various conventions, which are shared by the public prosecutors and serve to homogenise decisions. She drew a parallel with recruitment procedures, which also constitute evaluation tests, the aim of which is to reach agreement on  employees’ future productivity, while judges seek to determine the quality of a case on the basis of the estimated likelihood of recidivism and reintegration into society and the labour market.

Adopting a different perspective, Nathalie Magne (University of Montpellier 3) was concerned with conventions in so far as they are based on principles of justice or legitimacy. In a re-examination of the transformation of ‘standard enterprises’ into cooperatives, she outlined the various types of legitimacy put forward by employees in justification of their chosen forms of corporate governance; in doing so, she drew on Suchman’s typology: normative or moral legitimacy, pragmatic legitimacy and cognitive legitimacy. In each case, there are distinct tests of legitimacy. Leslie Carnoye (Ethics, FUPL) adopted the ‘conventionalist’ approach in developing an environmentalist critique of capitalism. Taking as her starting point the absence of any ‘green’ order of worth or mode of justification (grandeur) and hence of a green polity (cité) in Luc Boltanski and Laurent Thévenot’s justification model, she showed that there is a multiplicity of environmentalist critiques, ranging from  green growth (a critique endogenised by capitalism) via sustainable development (an intermediate form) to ‘degrowth’ (a radical critique). Philippe Semenowicz (Université Paris-Est Créteil), in his work on integration through economic activity, also adopted this definition of conventions as a principle of justice.

Philippe Semenowicz, Frédérique Genel, Christian Bessy & Victor Duchesne

Finally, the study by Nicolas Da Silva and Victor Duchesne (CEPN, Paris 13) drew on a definition of conventions based on principles of justification but without using the polities model in order to investigate the history of French social security. They identified three ‘social security conventions’: an anti-capitalist convention, a solidaristic convention and a liberal convention. Here, they spoke of conventions in the sense of vague, arbitrary arguments that do not have the force of law and whose origin is vague (this echoes certain criteria set out by Christian Bessy and Olivier Favereau in 2003[1]). From this perspective, it can be shown that the formation of arguments by the various actors concerned is conflictive and results from a sometime violent process of negotiation between divergent conceptions of the institution of social security.

During the ensuing discussions, some participants wondered whether the notion of ‘polities’ (cités) was a strictly necessary part of defining oneself as a conventionist. Nevertheless, it was argued, the polities model has the advantage of revealing the ideologies at work behind institutions and reminding us of the deep-rooted normative conflicts that run through the social world. The question of the transformation of these justification mechanisms into conventions in the broader sense was also raised. Conventions as cognitive aids or higher principles of justice should not blind us to the grand narrative that structures contemporary capitalism; one way of rediscovering that narrative might be to take up once again Michel Foucault’s concept of the ‘dispositif’ or apparatus. Participants were also reminded of the importance of not losing sight of power relations in their analyses.

On this point of the rise in generality, the paper presented by Christian Bessy (IDHES ENS-Paris-Saclay) proved invaluable. In order to explain the changes taking place in capitalism, the economics of conventions had moved from an economics of quality or of worlds of production to an economics based on the value and valorising power of certain economic actors. From this point of view, Luc Boltanksi and Arnaud Esquerre’s 2017 book Enrichissement might lead economists in the convention school to further develop the forms taken by the valorisation of things by placing greater emphasis on the new sources of profit and capital accumulation than on moral judgements that reflect different ways of establishing the common good.

Like that given by Christian Bessy, the various presentations often highlighted the plurality of values, of rationalities and of forms of valorisation (or quality conventions) that characterise the various facets of contemporary capitalism.

Turning firstly to the social and solidarity economy, Philippe Semenowicz highlighted the apparently contradictory objectives pursued by the social enterprises in France supporting integration through economic activity (structures d’insertion par l’activité économique/SIAEs): financial viability and continuity of production but also support for populations who are marginalised in the labour market as they seek to return to work. Taking up the concept of an ‘enterprise’s founding convention’ put forward by François Eymard-Duvernay, he showed that the SIAEs are based on a civic founding convention and that they display a certain degree of social voluntarism’. The difficulty, in his view, lies in the linkage between that convention and the market and industrial principles with which the SIAEs also have to deal; this difficulty can be mitigated by a ‘civic-connectionist’ compromise. Daniel Urrutiaguer (Passages XX-XXI, Université Lumière Lyon 2) also showed that there is a multiplicity of principles around which action and evaluation are organised, this time in the worlds of the theatre. Thus evaluations may be artistic, connectionist, civic or even market in nature. Driven by mechanisms based on financial solidarity, which take different forms in the world of commercial theatre and that of publicly subsidised theatre, the market principle often combines with a principle that is more artistic or civic in nature.

Gaël Plumecocq (INRA, AGIR), in his work on environmental valuation theory, shows that there are a number of different environmental valuations rather than just the single one generally envisaged by economists in the form of a price[2]. Here, the value of the environment is regarded as fundamentally social and therefore inseparable from the evaluation processes put in place. In particular, the evaluation method has several political effects, such as the elimination of nature in favour of ‘financial compensation’ should the evaluation be monetary. Camille Chaserant (CES, Université Paris 1) and Sophie Harnay (BETA, Université de Lorraine), in their presentation on the deregulation of the legal profession, focused not on the plurality of valuations but rather on the plurality of quality conventions that serve to coordinate the activities of these representatives of the law. They drew on Lindenberg’s goal-framing theory (Lindenberg 1993) in order to examine the effects of opening up the legal professions in Europe to competition. It would appear from their research that the regulations specific to each legal practice produce different effects. For example, there is a “high-end” segment of practices in which the predominant organising principle is innovation and the strengthening of the market principle could result in higher prices as a quality signal. The diversity of the quality conventions characterising legal practices was also highlighted by Franck Bessis (Triangle, Université Lumière Lyon-2).

During the discussions, it was noted in particular that the economics of convention was proving to be of great heuristic value in understanding the inequalities generated by the contemporary economic system that may affect certain communities that have suffered a deterioration in their situation (which also brought to mind the question of power relations mentioned above). For example, certain communities affected by environmental degradation have succeeded in gathering evidence of the cumulative impact of pollutants by drawing on their local knowledge, which has enabled them to enforce their individual rights in the courts[3].

These two study days also provided an opportunity to raise methodological questions about the economics of conventions, both in concrete terms and in terms of the organisation of the economics discipline itself. With regard to the practical application of the economics of conventions, the presentation by Franck Bessis dwelt on the notion of “grounded theory” (Glaser and Strauss, 1967) as a means of analysing qualitative interviews. The aim, after all, was to avoid the mistake of “tacking” the polities model (modèle des cités) on to all subjects indiscriminately (what he describes as “routine conventionalism”), as well as that of producing only a partial interpretation of empirical data that merely confirms previously held ideas. In concrete terms, this theory makes it possible to interpret the material more systematically by coding it in the form firstly of labels, then of properties and finally of categories. Thus the aim is to raise the level of abstraction by taking the initial interviews as a starting point and subjecting them to conceptual cross-checks. A similar procedure was used to isolate the main strands of the typology of legal practices and to clarify the links between quality conventions, the representation of market dynamics and the forms of reflexivity.

Rainer Diaz-Bone, Philippe Batifoulier & Olivier Favereau

The round table “Around the Dictionary of Conventions”, at which the discussants were Olivier Favereau (University of Paris Nanterre) and Rainer Diaz-Bone (University of Lucerne), focused on the diffusion of the economics of convention. The lack of textbooks was highlighted, despite Rainer Diaz-Bone’s book in German. This book marked the beginning of a new book series entitled “Sociology of conventions”. In French, the Dictionnaire des conventions simply cannot be ignored. Olivier Favereau also presented an overview of the conventionalist paradigm, showing how this dictionary extended two earlier synthesis essays (the first following the article in the 1989 Revue économique, the second following the book edited by François Eymard-Duvernay, L’économie des conventions. Méthodes et résultats, which was published in 2006).

During the discussions, it was suggested that joint seminars could be held on the economics of convention or that we could contribute articles on this “French theory” to English-language journals.

These questions about the future and legitimacy of the economics of convention in the academic world were raised on numerous occasions during the discussions. One question that was raised particularly frequently was that of the relationship between the convention and régulation schools. In his presentation, for example, Christian Bessy, emphasised the specific approach of the economics of convention, which bases its arguments on the existence of a plurality of evaluations, in contrast to regulation theory.

More broadly, the second round table, which was entitled “What is the future of the convention school?” (there was a debate on the very notion of a “school”, which is far from being universally accepted), provided an opportunity to take stock of the current situation. It brought together Thomas Lamarche (Ladyss, University of Paris 7), André Orléan (CNRS) and Nicolas Postel (Clersé, University of Lille) for the closing event of these two study days.

Thomas Lamarche, André Orléan, Nicolas Postel & Guillemette de Larquier

Thomas Lamarche highlighted the importance of not confining oneself to the macroeconomic dimension but also investigating the meso-economic level and the way in which it does or does not function independently. He also mentioned the possibility of investigating “futurity”, i.e. the projection of the actors into the future, which may in particular be translated into conventions as well as into representations or even confrontations (for example, what will the term “excellent” encompass in the so-called “universities of excellence” and who will define it?). For his part, Nicolas Postel noted that the future of the economics of conventions did not lie in the word “conventions”, which caused more problems than it resolved. The aim rather was to manage to link the problematics around values, coordination, reproduction and rationality in order to understand collective agreements. In particular, we had now to understand how capitalism could continue and regulate itself in a post-nation state context. To end these study days, André Orléan noted that the economics of convention was concerned with the question of group formation outside the framework of methodological individualism. According to the philosopher John Searle, collective intentionality cannot be reduced to individual intentionalities, which gives institutional phenomena a conventionalist dimension, in the general sense of collective agreement. To that extent, the conventionalist project is situated at the intersection of a number of disciplines (economics, philosophy, sociology, anthropology).

Finally, it should also be remembered that these study days were also an occasion for much conviviality, both formal and informal, which is undoubtedly essential for the incubation of future research.

[1] Bessy Christian and Favereau Olivier, “Institutions et économie des conventions”, Cahiers d’économie politique 2003/1, N°44, pp. 119-164

[2] As a matter of interest, let us recall that the value of the environment was evaluated in 1997 at 33,000 billion dollars per year, which represents 1.8 times global GDP. In 2011, a fresh evaluation put the value of the ecosystem at 130,000 billions dollars per year (these figures are available here).

[3] On the question of the development of ‘environmental justice’ in the USA, see Francis Chateauraynaud and Josquin Debaz, Aux bords de l’irréversible. Sociologie pragmatique des transformations, Editions PETRA, 2017.

SGBF / SGL (Swiss Society of Educational Research/ Swiss Society of Teacher Training) Annual Congress in Zurich 2018

The “Économie des Conventions” in Education Research

Lea Zehnder & Philipp Gonon (University of Zurich)

From 27 to 29 June 2018, the annual congress of the Swiss Society for Educational Research and the Swiss Society for Teacher Training took place at the University of Zurich, hosted by the Institute of Education. Two paper presentations, which depicted the rise and development of different types of baccalaureate schemes with weaker and stronger links to vocational education and training in Switzerland referred to conventions as unfolded in the “Justification”- Book of Boltanski and Thévenot (translated in German 2007). Furthermore, the key-note speech, held by Elisabeth Chatel, highlighted the struggle over the aims of economic and social topics as a subject in French high schools (lycées).

Regula Julia Leemann and Sandra Hafner from the School of Teacher Education Department of the University of Applied Sciences Basel (Switzerland) presented their work, which focused on positioning and profiling the upper-secondary specialized school (Fachmittelschule). The upper-secondary specialized school is a very young type of school in the Swiss educational system that imparts general education and provides its graduates access to Colleges of Professional Education and Training (Höhere Fachschulen), Universities of Applied Sciences (Fachhochschulen) or Universities of Teacher Education (Pädagogische Hochschulen). Analyzing the genesis of this new type of school they presented three historical situations in detail. Back in the beginning of the 1970ies and during ten years, the main intention was to sum up the Helvetic Mosaic of 30 school types into one standard-model that focuses general interest (civic convention). They identified a tension between regional variation and national convergence. The standardization refers to the industrial convention and also to the civic convention. Back in the 1990ies a claim for more cantonal autonomy raised, in particular regarding admission to schools of education. Respecting regional tradition refers particularly more to domestic convention and in the logic of supply-demand to the market convention. Thus, the main arguments fit quite well to these different worlds of worth. The present structure is characterized by a plasticity that integrates plural rationalities, logics of action, and orders of worth.

Regula Leemann and Sandra Hafner listening to the presentation of Moritz Rosenmund (image: Manon Criblez)

Research on the linking of general education and vocational education was the focus of Lea Zehnder, University of Zurich (Switzerland). She presented her work on the Federal Vocational Baccalaureate (eidgenössische Berufsmaturität) that was introduced in the Swiss educational system in the early 1990ies. The certificate enables graduates to enter the world of work directly or to transfer to specific academic programs at Universities of Applied Sciences (Fachhochschulen). Statistical data show disparate amounts of issuing this certificate in the cantons of Switzerland. Considering only vocational education tracks, French speaking cantons issue more certificates than German speaking cantons. Three case studies, focusing the process of attributing worth and quality to this certificate in the cantons of Zurich, Geneva, and Neuchâtel, gave a detailed insight into different understandings of the public educational mandate. Actors in the canton of Zurich emphasize an industry-related and performance-based interpretation of the Federal Vocational Baccalaureate and mobilize industrial and market conventions. While Actors in the French speaking cantons Geneva and Neuchâtel attach more importance to a collective claim that this Vocational Baccalaureate should simplify access to tertiary education (mobilizing civic convention).

Elisabeth Chatel holding her keynote speech at University of Zurich (image: Manon Criblez)

Within her keynote speech, Elisabeth Chatel from IDHES, Ecole Normale Supérieure Saclay, Paris (France) focused on curriculum development: “the economic and social sciences in French high schools (lycées) from 1966 to the present day”. Her historical reconstruction of the introduction of SES (Science of Economy and Social Sciences) in the 1960s in France depicted a remarkable change from the central aim of schooling to develop a critical personality, who is learning and reflecting social and economic knowledge towards a propaedeutic teaching for the study of economics at university. Whereas originally researchers in the spirit of the “Annales”-School designed a curriculum which stressed the topical and historically grown phenomena of our days the reform of 2011 driven by economic experts and prominent economic leaders replaced this approach by a methodological and instrumental oriented syllabus. Interestingly the teachers refuse this “official” new approach and still stick to a more pedagogical and critical access to this subject. Elisabeth Chatel referred to the new spirit of capitalism, and the hereby included conventions like industry, network and market, which were and are the orders of worth the different actors refer to.

All in all, the EC-approach was present and delivered a powerful framework in explaining developments in the education system which drifts towards a more neo-liberal model.

Philipp Gonon (co-organizer of the congress), Elisabeth Chatel, and Regula Leemann enjoying the panoramic view over the city of Zurich from Polyterrasse, Federal Institute of Technology and Zurich University (image: Philipp Gonon)

Upcoming publication (2018)

Imdorf, Christian, Leemann, Regula Julia & Gonon, Philipp (Eds.). Bildung und Konventionen. Die “Économie des Conventions” in der Bildungsforschung. Wiesbaden: Springer VS.