Archives de catégorie : Comptes rendus de séminaire / Seminar reports

Economics and sociology of conventions – Taking stock, Looking ahead

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

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

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

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

Robert Salais, André Orléan and Olivier Favereau

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

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

Julia Brandl

Guillemette de Larquier

Tom Duterme

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Irina Wais and Patricia Stöckli (University of Lucerne)

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

Zusammenarbeit zwischen Uni und Hochschule gibt im Parlament zu reden.


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

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

First session

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

Second session

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

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

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

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

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

Third session

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fourth session

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fifth session

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sixth session

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

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

A tribute to Robert Salais’ work

Christian Bessy & Claude Didry (2022)

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leibniz University Hannover 15th and 16th September 2022

Report by Laverne Iminza Chore (University of Innsbruck)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Christian Imdorf (Leibniz University Hannover)

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

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

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

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

Conventions at AFEP congress 2022, Amiens

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

🇫🇷 French version

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

Cécile Vasseur & Olivier Gayot

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


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


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

Lucas Fabre

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

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

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

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


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

  Philippe Semenowicz

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

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


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

Guillemette de Larquier

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

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


Session 2/4: Market and quality conventions

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

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

Cécile Vasseur

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


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

Mathilde Abel & Samuel Zarka

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

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


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

     Julien Gradoz

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

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


Session 3/4: Valuation and Financial Capitalism

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

   Tom Duterme

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

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


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

Christian Bessy

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

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


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

Evan Bertin

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

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


Session 4/4: Environment and transitions

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

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

Olivier Gayot

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

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

Gaël Plumecocq

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

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

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

Géraldine Rieucau

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

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

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