In: Revue de la régulation 26(2).
In: Revue de la régulation 26(2).
Interview with Elisabeth Chatel
Andrea Szukala (University of Muenster)
Elisabeth Chatel is an associated researcher at IDHES, Institutions et Dynamiques historiques de l’Economie et des sociétés, at the École Normale Supérieure de Paris-Saclay (ENS). She led a « Groupe d’études en didactique des Sciences économiques et sociales » at the Institut National de Recherche pédagogique from 1988 to 2000. In 1996 she defended her doctoral thesis at Paris X University, prepared under the supervision of Robert Salais and published in 2001 under the title « Comment évaluer l’Education ? », Lausanne, Delachaux et Niestlé. In 2005 she defended her habilitation (postdoctoral) qualification at University Paris 8 under the supervision of Elisabeth Bautier. She published in various fields: heterodox economics, didactics and history of education, such as:
– Zwischen Expertenökonomie und Politischer Ökonomie: der Wirtschaftsunterricht an der französischen Gymnasien auf dem Prüfstand. In: Imdorf, C./Leemann, J. R./Gonon, P. (eds.). Bildung und Konventionen. Die „Economie des conventions“ in der Bildungsforschung. Wiesbaden: Springer VS, 2019, p. 231-254.
– Pour une histoire et une sociologie de l’enseignement de l’économie, L’enseignement de l’économie : conflits, débats, controverses », Numéro spécial Education et sociétés, 35/2015/1, p.5-21.
– Du professorat commercial au professorat économique à l’ENSET de 1948 à 1974 », in Lebot F./Albe V./Bodé G./Brucy G./Chatel E., ENS de Cachan, le siècle d’une grande école des sciences et techniques, PUR, 2013, p. 179-195.
– with Dorothée Rivaud-Danset, « L’économie de conventions : une lecture critique à partir de la philosophie de John Dewey », 2006, Revue de philosophie économique, Recherches et débats en économie, philosophie et sciences sociales, n°13, 2006/1, p. 49-75.
– with Robert Salais and Thierry Kirat, Les dispositifs de l’action publique : institutions, économie et politique, L’Harmattan, 2005.
– L’action éducative et la logique de la situation ; fondements théoriques d’une approche pragmatique des faits d’enseignement. Revue française de pédagogie, N°141, Octobre-novembre-décembre 2002, p. 37-46.
Szukala: Could you tell us about your first contact with the approach of economics of convention/sociology of conventions? What was the decisive intellectual “click” for your conceptual thinking?
Chatel: The contact with the approach of economics of convention (EC) has been decisive in my intellectual trajectory. To put it briefly, it has given me hope for the future of an economic thinking, to which I can either contribute or at least adhere. But, in the end, this thought, which I will describe as pluralist and pragmatist, has above all substantiated my works in the social sciences and not economics.
But before talking about sociology of conventions and pragmatism, I would like to clarify the matters in the economics of convention that have given perspective to this hope that a renewal of political economy would be possible. When I encountered this trend, or rather this emerging economic thinking in the early 1990s, it was promoted by a group of intellectuals, some of whom came from disciplines like mathematics and physics from French engineering colleges before undertaking economic studies. Several had worked at INSEE (the French national institute for statistics and economic research) and they approached economics from a critical point of view.
Their theorization was not complete. Their criticism seemed particularly interesting because it focused on the foundations of the dominant economic theory, especially on the principle of rationality. They proposed, in a non-dogmatic way, to make their personal questions bear fruit by trying to adopt a less unrealistic approach than is the standard approach to economic action. As a result, they reintroduced a social dimension into the consideration of economic behaviors and contextualized them. They wanted to consider the uncertainty constantly present in economic action, an uncertainty which is not always reducible to probabilities, nor always readable through computational processes.
The word “convention” served to focus a core of shared conceptualizations of their critical concerns. Some colleagues elaborated a fine understanding of the production of statistics and classifications from a historical perspective. The work of Alain Desrosières allowed us to show the “conventions” in the classifications necessary for quantification and to allow a critical look at how the measurement of social facts contributes to “building” reality. Others, such as Olivier Favereau, François Eymard-Duvernay and Robert Salais, were more concerned with the diverse forms of organization of work, enterprise, production, and therefore products, beyond the horizon, to which economy is often reduced, the various modes of market regulation.
In this works, the conventions concerned both the modes of measurement and the forms of conduct of the productive activity, from the beginning to the end of its processes. The question of value and prices was put back on the agenda by questioning the plurality of “worlds of production”, the forms of work and the quality of products. The question of value, as it is approached in economic theory, has also been renewed thanks to the conventionalist approach, notably the work of André Orléan (2011). Afterwards, new generations of researchers have taken up the torch of the plurality of “conventions” (of quality, of work, etc.) and are joining other heterodox currents as well as the new economic sociology.
Szukala: How would you describe the role of EC in current sociology of education and/or curriculum studies?
Chatel: The approach of economics of convention is about economic facts. Education, therefore, is not directly in its field of concern, especially if one considers education without reducing it to the acquisition of productive skills, but, more broadly, as the transmission of values and culture from one generation to another. However, especially since the work of Gary Becker in the early 1960s, economists have expanded their field by considering education and training as a “human capital”, as an investment deemed potentially profitable. Theories of economic growth, especially those of “endogenous growth”, reflect this conceptualization focused on the acquisition of productive skills. In the field of the economics of education this allowed to ask new questions about the effectiveness of education. In “How to evaluate education?” (Chatel 2001) I tried to show the limits of how these theories conceive education and attempt to measure its effectiveness.
I want to pick up the thread that led me from economics of convention to a pragmatic sociology of the curriculum. Seeking to build on the economics of convention to elaborate a critique of the economic measure in education (in “How to evaluate education?”), I borrowed from the work of Robert Salais (Storper and Salais 1997) the concept of “worlds of production” to think about the specificity of the “production of education”. In this analysis, I imagined a modelling of the educational activity, in particular the forms that are carried out in school classes as interactions between teachers and pupils in confrontation with cultural artefacts. This allowed me to report on a very rich empirical material about what is happening in high school classes, collected at the NPRI in the 1990s. I have constructed different “modes of coordination” of educational action as it takes place in high school classes in France. Using these “models” I have been able to show a certain variety of modes of what is actually taught on the same item of a school program (in economics). The teachings differ according to the “worlds of education” constructed by distinguishing different ways of conceiving the knowledge of the discipline in relation to classroom knowledge. It depends on intellectual orientations and the level of the teacher’s mastery of the knowledge and the ways in which teachers conceive students’ ability to cope with the uncertainty in the classroom (students’ characteristics and the professional experience of the teachers are involved here). I then wanted to question the ambition to “measure”, because the “product of education” is neither homogeneous nor linear.
Accepting the intrinsic diversity of ways to “produce education” leads us to argue for evaluative bodies that motivate education professionals to frequently debate their ways of appreciating student outcomes, rather than pretending to use a cardinal measure that erases different conceptions of educational value and thus bypasses the necessary debates about what is being evaluated.The aim was to restore the imperative of evaluating education appreciating its intrinsic value(s) rather than seeing it as a cardinal measure of skills.
In France, other researchers had already substantiated their work in the sociology of education by the conventionalist approach. Jean-Louis Derouet, with his team at the National Institute for Pedagogical Research NPRI (Derouet 2019), draws on the research of Boltanski and Thévenot’s “On justification. Economies of worth” (2006) to show how justice issues at school can jointly raise several orders of justice (see the interview with Derouet https://conventions.hypotheses.org/7794). This way of analysing innate conflicts and contradictions of schools allows to get a better picture of what happens there by rendering a greater complexity. This facilitates an approximate description of what school actors do to keep an order alive, and under which circumstances they adjust to new principles in periods of uncertainty. To understand the uncertainties after the disenchantment with the egalitarian and meritocratic ideals that accompanied the development of what has been called “school massification” in France, Derouet (1992) wanted to expand the conceptual framework about justice at school considering “plural legitimate principles” of justice. This approach, inspired by a political philosophy of the school, has brought valuable elements to the understanding of the evolutions in the modes of decentralized management of schools. It allows Derouet (2019) to affirm that “the sociology of conventions is the science of the science of the actors”.
Szukala: I know that you are currently reflecting about the critique of Boltanski. What fascinates you and how would you think his critique may contribute to the development of economic and sociological theory?
Chatel: Well, let’s return to the curriculum issues that have been the subject of my recent work. The question of curriculum is an important domain of the sociology of education. To be fair, it is necessary that the knowledge that is taught in schools, and which, therefore, serves to educate the youth, can be considered legitimate. But how the contours of this knowledge are determined and how its legitimacies are elaborated, is a core question asked by the sociology of the curriculum. This question has been mine in recent years.
I approached it at the crossroads of didactics, curriculum sociology and the history of school subjects. The sociology of the curriculum is the discipline encompassing the question of the social determination of the curriculum. So, it is a big question implying numerous political issues. But, at the same time, the didactics’ perspective seemed very necessary to me, because the essential underlying mechanisms of the knowledge taught in class is based on didactics. It is embedded in the singular relationship between a class and a teacher providing knowledge to be transmitted in a specific field. But didactics tend to define more precisely how the knowledge that is taught and learned is determined, also with the intention of sustainably improving the teaching processes and teacher training. I benefitted from a collaboration with a group of SES teachers [sciences économiques et sociales] at the National Institute for Pedagogical Research, with whom we conducted didactic research between 1988 and 2000. On this occasion, I studied the school curriculum of SES in France: its formation, its evolution. I did it at the level of the “formal” curriculum, e.g. regarding the texts prescribing the teaching, but also at the level of the real curriculum, which supposes to be interested in the actors, the teachers and the pupils and their daily exchanges. We conducted conversational analyses as well as educational situation analyses (Chatel 1998, 2002).
At the same time, I analysed the controversial public debates about the content of economic education in French high schools referring to the interactionist sociology of the curriculum (and by analogy with other cases). However, I was not satisfied with the standard explanation that social groups only defend their proper interests, which is especially represented in the work of Cooper (1997). These interpretations are not at all interested in the didactics and in the pedagogical content of the teaching profession. They do not sufficiently take into consideration the professional ethics’ dimension that permeates teachers’ positions on their teaching. As for the critical works of structuralist and Marxist inspiration, such as Basil Bernstein’s, they did not allow me to work at the research level that I had adopted: the classroom. In fact, I was working on the teaching of one discipline and not on the organisation of a secondary curriculum. Moreover, I was concerned with the transformations of knowledge that actually occur in the classroom because of the purpose of teaching.
In Champy’s sociology of professions I found some elements that allowed me to better assert the ethical dimension present in the teaching work and to see teaching as a profession “with sensible practices” because of the constant uncertainty a teacher confronts in practice (Champy 2009). Nevertheless, as regards the teaching of the economy, a subject with a very important political content, I wanted to better understand what was being played out at the didactic and at the curricular level because of the specific characteristics of economic and social knowledge as well as the political content and the role in the public debate. I had to combine a macro-social approach with this very local work of description and understanding of classroom interactions. The history of the vicissitudes, the controversies relating to the outlines of the economic education of high schools in France also pushed me to it. The theoretical framework constructed by Luc Boltanski has offered me insights, because it suggests articulating the levels of micro analysis and the macro-social level. So I used this approach to interpret both the emergence of conventions and/or values because of the teaching experience in the classroom; and secondly the controversies at the level of curriculum that require disputes, public debates, justifications relating to the contours of school curricula to methods of teaching and evaluation in economics. These recurrent controversies showed that professors did not hesitate to oppose program changes that would put them at odds with their conception of the content that conveys civic, critical and social emancipation (Chatel 2019).
In his 2011 book, Luc Boltanski explains how he sees the role of critique in the evolution of institutions. Contrary to the critical sociology built around Pierre Bourdieu, he does not want to consider that the phenomena of domination would transform actors into highly submissive agents, dominated by the symbolic violence that is done to them. He sees them capable of confronting problematic situations which are open to a certain plurality of interpretations, forged by the multiple affiliations of the actors. Boltanski maintains that there is no alignment of beliefs on an axis that would be that of the dominant ideology. On the contrary, he thinks that the actors still have a possible grip on reality; they act in the event of disputes based on their knowledge of the situation and their sense of justice. They can try to acknowledge a new protest in the public space by joining a collective, denounce what seems to them inaccurate or unfair and sometimes they succeed in bringing out new “worths”. I perceive a social criticism that can be rooted in everyone’s social experience, in both a pragmatic and a critical sense.
Szukala: How do you feel about left outs and left overs of EC and what do you think will be the most promising future developments in EC-research?
Chatel: To close my remarks, I wish to insist on what appears to me as the specific and valuable contribution of the conventionalist approach, whether in economics or sociology. There was a time when the term “convention” did not seem relevant to me to define the specific contribution of this school of thinking. Above all, I thought that the economics of conventions was a method of research focused on the uncertainty of economic action, which was especially considering the depth of the courses of action, their “pragmatic” dimension (Chatel and Danset 2006).
Today, my work does not belong to the field of economic discipline but concerns education in the broad domain of social sciences. The notion “convention” seems to me to bear precisely the pragmatic concern, that of the present moment of an action. Now it is important to maintain in our research the perspective on the present moment of action in that it is partly drawn in the past and that it directs the future. The present of the action allows us to reintroduce in our analyses the potential inventiveness of the courses of action. The conventionalist analysis proposes tools to identify the enigma of the courses of actions with several, “conventions” or “conventional supports of the action” resulting from past actions, adjust, adapt, or fail to do so in the actual courses of events because an action always conveys a future expectation and therefore a potential unknown. Equally, trying to understand the emergence of new practices, new conventions, new legitimacy, new values, requires the study of the “present”. The conventional supports of the action analysed by Dodier (1993, 2019) are of all kinds: internal as dispositions inscribed in people, external as texts, objects, rules, devices that the past has deposited outside the actors; they mobilize them or not according to the situations, the aims, the future expectations etc. The sociology of conventions is not only a way of introducing the plurality of principles of coordination of action or justification by external support already there, it is also a way of thinking about institutional change and developments in articulating them with the present moment of action.
Consequently, this school offers a methodology, which tries to articulate the analyses at different levels of the social. Certainly, the analysed actions follow singular people and not collectives, but considering the pragmatic constraints of their action, the analyses comprise rules, norms, values, socio-technical objects, devices, classifications, which support conventional actions that are, as we have seen, deposits of earlier acts. The question of aggregation becomes a question to be studied for itself and not only a priori position of the analyst.
Boltanski, L. (2011): On critique. A sociology of emancipation. London: Polity Press.
Boltanski, L./Thevenot, L. (2006): On justification. Economies of worth. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Chatel, E./Richet, A. (1995): Dialogues en classe et savoirs enseignés. Spirale 16, pp. 203-222.
Chatel, E. (2002): L’action éducative et la logique de la situation. Revue française de pédagogie 141, pp. 37-46.
Chatel, E. (2001): Comment évaluer l’éducation. Neuchâtel: Delachaux et Niestlé.
Chatel, E./Danset, D. (2006): L’Economie des conventions: une lecture critique à partir de la philosophie de John Dewey. Revue de philosophie économique, pp. 49-75.
Chatel, E. (2019): Zwischen Expertenökonomie und Politischer Ökonomie: der Wirtschaftsunterricht an den französischen Gymnasien auf dem Prüfstand. In: Imdorf, C./Leemann, R./Gonon, P. (eds.), Bildung und Konventionen. Wiesbaden: Springer VS, pp. 231-254.
Champy, F. (2009): Sociologie des professions. Paris: PUF.
Cooper, B. (1997): Comment expliquer les transformations des matières scolaires? In: Forquin, J.-C. (ed.): Les sociologues de l’Education américains et britanniques. Brusseles: De Boeck INRP, p. 66-75.
Derouet, J.-L. (1992): Ecole et justice. Paris: Metailié.
Derouet, J.-L. (2019): Die Soziologie der Konventionen im Bereich der Bildung. In: Imdorf, C./Leemann, R./Gonon, P. (eds.), Bildung und Konventionen. Wiesbaden: Springer VS, pp. 47-90
Dodier, N. (1992): Les appuis conventionnels de l’action. Eléments de la pragmatique sociologique. Réseaux 11/62, pp. 63-85.
Orléan, A. (2014): The empire of value. Cambridge: MIT Press.
Storper, M./Salais, R. (1997): Worlds of production. The action frameworks of the economy. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Interview with Jean-Louis Derouet
Regula Julia Leemann (Schoof of Education Basel, Switzerland)
Jean-Louis Derouet is professor emeritus at the École Normale Supérieure (ENS) in Lyon. In 1991, he defended his habilitation (postdoctoral qualification) at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS), prepared under the supervision of Luc Boltanski and published under the title École et Justice (Paris: Editions Métailié 1992). He led the Groupe d’Études Sociologiques of the Institut National de Recherche Pédagogique (INRP), later the UMR (Unité mixte de recherche) Éducation et Politiques. He founded the Network of Experts in Social Sciences of Education and Training (NESSE). He chairs the research committee (CR07) Education, Training, Socialisation of the International Association of French speaking Sociologists (AISLF). In addition, he is editor-in-chief of Éducation et Sociétés, an international journal for the sociology of education. Recent publications:
– Derouet, Jean-Louis/Mangez Éric/Benadusi, Luciano. 2015 (eds.). Where is the comprehensive project in Europe today? European Educational Research Journal 14 (3-4), pp. 195-205.
– Normand, Romuald/Derouet, Jean-Louis. 2016 (eds.). A European Politics of Education. Perspectives from sociology, policy studies and politics. London, Routledge.
– Derouet, Jean-Louis/Normand, Romuald. 2016. The modernisation of the educational system in France. The New Public Management between affirmation of the state and decentralised governance. In: Helen M. Gunter/Emiliano Grimaldi/David Hall/Roberto Serpieri (eds.), New Public Management and the Reform of Education: European lessons for policy and practice. London: Routledge, pp. 83-95.
– Derouet, Jean-Louis/Savoie, Philipp/Huo, Yioing/Charlier, Jean-Émile. 2017. La formation des élites en Chine et en France (XVIIe-XXIe siècles). Les apports de regards croisés: sociologie, histoire, philosophie politiques. Paris: L’Harmattan.
– Derouet, Jean-Louis. 2019. Die Soziologie der Konventionen im Bereich der Bildung. Wissenschaft, Politik und Gesellschaftskritik in Frankreich am Übergang vom 20. ins 21. Jahrhundert. In: Christian Imdorf, Regula Julia Leemann, Philipp Gonon (eds.). Bildung und Konventionen. Die „Economie des conventions“ in der Bildungsforschung. Wiesbaden: Springer VS, pp. 47-90.
Leemann: Since the 1980s you have taken up the reflections and concepts presented by Boltanski and Thévenot in “On Justification. Economies of worth” (2006) on the foundations of social action in Western societies and fruitfully applied them to questions of pedagogical and educational practices. Could you tell us how you started working with EC [economics of convention / sociology of conventions]? What were your personal references to the authors? What were your first studies, on what topics? What relevance and significance did EC have for the development of your academic career?
Derouet: To answer this question, it is necessary to refer to the situation in France in the early 1980s. Politically, the left wing regained power after more than twenty years of absence. This revival raised many hopes, but also many questions. In the field of education, the aim was to resume the process of setting up the idea of comprehensive school, which was considered the keystone of the democratization program. The 1975 law on the modernization of the education system had imposed a centralized system that led to a paradox: the law was not strictly applied (about half of the principals continued to compose classes with different performance levels) and at the same time teachers, students and families complained that they had lost their references.
To get out of this confusion, some on the left wing proposed to be inspired by the Anglo-Saxon definitions of justice: it was no longer about giving the same thing to everyone, but about giving everyone what they needed. And for that, you had to know them. In order to implement this idea, decentralization was required, giving schools a certain degree of autonomy. These proposals worried another part of the left wing of Jacobin tradition, which feared that this opening on the local level would reintroduce into public education the influence of the notables (bourgeois) and churches that the Third Republic had pushed back.
I joined the INRP (Institut National de Recherche Pédagogique) for a program that accompanied the policy of school autonomy. The aim was to grasp the logics of the actors, which were in conflict; to follow the dynamics of their debates and to analyze the different forms of compromise to which they agreed.
On the theoretical level, the period was marked by a general distance towards structuralism and Marxism, which had dominated previous decades, and the arrival of constructivist and ethnomethodological approaches in France. In the field of the sociology of education, this development also corresponded to the upcoming of a generation that had been trained in the debate between the theory of reproduction and methodological individualism, and that mastered its achievements, but felt the exhaustion of this debate and wanted to do something else.
This generation met at the congress Pour un bilan de la sociologie de l’éducation (1984) in Toulouse, organized in 1983 by Jean-Michel Berthelot. He proposed a program that reflected the contributions of the new sociology of education in Britain by placing them in the French philosophical tradition. In particular, it was a matter of “opening the black boxes”, i.e. of studying in classes and schools in a concrete way the difficulties encountered in implementing the policies of democratization. This program brought together a large number of French-speaking researchers who grouped together as the Research Committee for Education, Training and Socialization of the International Association of French-speaking Sociologists (AISLF), for which I took over responsibility after the premature death of Jean-Michel Berthelot.
It is in this perspective that I got closer to the team of the EHESS that would become in 1984 the Group of the Political and Moral Sociology. Under the supervision of Luc Boltanski, I wrote a PhD thesis on the conceptions of justice in education since the Enlightenment (École et justice [School and justice] (Derouet 1992)). Luc Boltanski was involved, together with Laurent Thévenot, in this anthropology of the ordinary meaning of justice that led to the publication De la justification (Boltanski and Thévenot 1991; engl. Boltanski and Thévenot 2006). In this context, I identified the construction of a matrix that was based on the tension between an ideal of civic equality and a search for performance that prepares for the social division of labor. This tension has gradually discarded other definitions of the common good in education, in particular a domestic conception that insists on the integration of individuals into their community. Since the 1930s, the slogan of equal opportunity has moved the focus to the side of equity. In the 1980s, the scope of the A Nation at Risk report (1983) considered performance issues, but most of the debate remained within the above-mentioned matrix until the end of the century.
After the publication of École et justice in 1992, I formed a group at the INRP that established a continuum between research at University and groups of teachers in schools. This manner of original observation allowed us to observe the emergence of new compromises. International organizations have proposed to replace the ideal of equality by a perspective of equity that takes into account the specific (living) situations, and then shifting the promise of equal opportunities to equal outcomes at the end of compulsory schooling. The European Community sought to break down inequalities through lifelong learning. These suggestions have been carried out with varying degrees of success, but none of them has changed the education system in its foundations.
The matrix based on the tension between equality and performance was challenged in the late 1990s by the emergence of new social issues related to migration and the development of a new reference of justice, the recognition of differences. Approaches of intersectionality have reformulated the issue of inequalities in terms of discrimination and exclusion. The scope of the debate has broadened and has led the sociology of education to bring the issue of integration back into its mission. These developments were described and analyzed at the congress Repenser la justice [Rethinking justice] (Derouet and Derouet-Besson 2009).
Leemann: Research in social sciences of education in the German-speaking world is oriented on the one hand towards the institutionalist or structuralist tradition of Emile Durkheim and Pierre Bourdieu, and on the other hand, and increasingly as mainstream, towards the individualist decision theory of Raymond Boudon. In your eyes, what are the blanks, the limitations of these approaches? What alternatives does EC offer here? What are its strengths? What can be better investigated, understood and explained with the EC approach?
Derouet: The sociology of conventions-approach clearly stems from the Durkheim-Maussian tradition adopted by Bourdieu in the 1960s. This becomes evident when we look at the trajectories of the people who initiated the movement: Boltanski, Thévenot, Desrosières; all went through Bourdieu’s lab. Boltanski rooted his approach in a program defined in 1972 by Bourdieu in l’Esquisse d’une théorie de la pratique (Bourdieu 1972; engl. Bourdieu 1977). In the article, he contributed to the collective book Travailler avec Bourdieu (2003) [Working with Bourdieu], he explained how their paths subsequently diverged. Bourdieu’s analysis led to the concept of habitus, central in Le sens pratique (1980; engl. Bourdieu 1990), Boltanski opted for a softer approach that takes into account the logic of the actors.
With respect to Boudon’s approach, the sociology of conventions is part of a tradition that refuses to reduce the explanation of social behavior to interests. In the field of education, Boudon explains, for example, the strategic decisions by a cost/benefit calculation: working class families do not necessarily have an interest in engaging for long educational trajectories for their children aged 11 or 12. This approach requires a substantial investment for a distant and uncertain profit. This analysis is correct, but strategic decisions are not made solely on the basis of a calculation of homo economicus. Many other dimensions are involved: the love for the child and the will to give him the means to flourish, the hope of social progress, the dudgeon of parents who have not been able to do the studies they wanted …
The interest of the sociology of conventions is to reintroduce values, political principles, and the sense of justice into sociology and at the same time to highlight the plurality of reference systems. The deployment of different definitions of general interest makes it possible both to frame social debates and to build a new external position for the social sciences. This contribution seems to me very essential in a context that calls for the development of forms of local democracy. Coordination of action cannot be based on the simple application of national directives. It is also based on local engagement by the actors.
This is the purpose of the school projects that were requested from primary schools, lower secondary schools and high schools from 1982 onwards. In a world of plural justification, agreement is unlikely: the natural movement of the debate is to expand. In contrast, it is possible to converge different logics on common objects or devices for the organization of work, the supervision of students, the evaluation of their performance, etc. Such an undertaking requires new competencies from teachers and supervisors. The sociology of conventions contributed to their construction with the European Policy Network on School Leadership (EPNoSL). The autonomy of institutions profoundly changes the tasks of teaching and managing: people in charge must be able to frame the debates, to master the translation procedures between different logics, to bring out convergences … This new definition, political, of their competences implies a new type of training.
Leemann: To what extent did the sociology of education, in particular the sociology of conventions, developed in the context of social tensions and educational policy? To what extent have the theoretical developments and results of the sociology of education influenced educational policy decisions, i.e. have they been taken into account? Can you provide concrete examples?
Derouet: To answer this question, a detour is needed on the relationship between the social sciences of education, politics and opinion in the last fifty years. These have been marked by several crises. The first concerns educational research. It was conceived in the 1960s on an experimentalist model: A pedagogue has an idea; it is tested on a small sample that makes it possible to develop an implementation protocol; then the minister must be convinced to generalize these practices by circular. This was the model on which the INRP was operating. The experience regularly showed the failure of these generalization procedures.
The greatest defeat was, at the beginning of the 1980s, the reception given to Louis Legrand’s report Pour un collège démocratique [For a democratic lower secondary school]. Since 1967, Legrand had been conducting action research on twelve experimental lower secondary schools and proposed to generalize their functioning. These propositions were unanimously rejected by teachers, families, and public opinion: the practices of some militant groups, supported by exceptional means, were not transferable in ordinary situations. It was necessary to move to another model that would trust in the capacities for initiatives of the field, follow the practices of the actors and try to understand their logic before prescribing.
This perspective opened up opportunities for sociological endeavors such as the sociology of conventions, but at the same time, the relationship between the social sciences and society was affected by a crisis of trust. After the Second World War, there was a great trust between the social sciences and the social democracies that were establishing themselves in Europe. This alliance has been concretized, in the field of education, by the promotion of the different forms of the comprehensive school, in France the comprehensive lower secondary school. This reformist position was shattered by the radical criticisms of 1968. It did not withstand the difficulties of implementation; yesterday’s allies tore each other apart. The process of democratic opening, the support for students with difficulties have been accused of having led to a decline of the level of educational performance; criticism of traditional authority has been accused of promoting laxity and indiscipline; cultural relativism has been suspected of having facilitated the rise of Islamism, and so forth.
A new contract gradually emerged at the end of the 20th century that re-established a form of trust, based on accompaniment and support: Validation and synthesis sites make research results available to actors, propose a broadening of international perspectives; an evaluation that allows real-time readjustment of emerging shortcomings … This was the purpose of our work when we set up the first European network of expertise in the field of the sociology of education, NESSE (Network of Experts in Social Sciences for Education and Training). It was not easy to convey to managers the principle of the plurality of logics of actions as they tend to measure everything according to the scale of efficiency and prefer positivist approaches. However, the emergence of new social issues in multi-ethnic and multi-cultural societies has changed the situation: the current slogan of inclusive societies implies an understanding of the different logics that inspire actors.
Current topics of the sociology of conventions in France and abroad
Leemann: You are the editor-in-chief of the journal Éducation et Sociétés. You are always very active in the organization of conferences and symposiums and you publish regularly. What are the main developments in school, in the field of education that you are currently working on with colleagues?
Derouet: I continue to follow the parallel recompositions of conceptions of justice, of programs of education, training, socialization, and forms of public action and this field is evolving very rapidly. I mentioned intersectionality, and how it reformulates issues of justice in terms of discrimination. This is an important field that is opening up: how can we think together about objectives of redistribution and of recognition of differences? How can we rethink redistribution in the context of globalization, i.e. by taking into account the inequalities between the countries of the North and the countries of the South? In the same vein, the slogan of inclusive societies developed by international organizations implies a new program of socialization: how to orient oneself in a world where several discourses of truth are in competition?
This program requires that the question of moral education, which was at the origin of the sociology of education but in a renewed context, be brought back into the profession. Durkheim had thought of it from a national integration perspective. Today, it is a question of defining a new cosmopolitanism. This approach undoubtedly implies an opening on the emerging fields of resistance studies and post-colonial studies. Theories of justice have been thought of in the North even if their principles aim to take into account the interests of all mankind. It may be time to open this reflection on the epistemologies of the South. In particular, they articulate a demand for a curricular justice that implies another relationship with the knowledge or learning practices of traditional societies (Éducation et Sociétés 2017 et 2018).
Following the evolution of references of justice also means following the new definitions of the common good that are emerging. The end of the 20th century saw a questioning of the great division between human being and nature. The Sustainable Development Goals set out by international organizations outline the profile of a homo sustainabilis aware of its responsibilities towards the environment and other living beings. Finally, in the field of education, the sociology of conventions has always been confronted with the relationship between worlds governed by equivalent forms of justice and worlds without equivalent forms: how do children move from a universe governed by violence and love to debates of justice? This issue is revitalized both by the highly visible presence of violence in contemporary societies and by the development of a sociology of emotions. These different perspectives undoubtedly call for a reflection in order to achieve a profound curriculum recomposition.
Boltanski, Luc. 2003. Usages faibles, usages forts de l’habitus. In: Pierre Encrevé and Rose-Marie Lagrave (eds,), Travailler avec Bourdieu, pp. 153-164. Paris: Flammarion.
Boltanski, Luc and Laurent Thévenot. 1991. De la justification. Les économies de la grandeur. Paris: Gallimard.
Boltanski, Luc and Laurent Thévenot. 2006. On justification. Economies of worth. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Bourdieu, Pierre. 1972. Esquisse d’une théorie de la pratique, précédé de trois études d’ethnologie kabyle. Paris: Seuil.
Bourdieu, Pierre. 1977. Outline of a theory of practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Bourdieu, Pierre. 1980. Le sens pratique. Paris: Minuit.
Bourdieu, Pierre. 1990. The logic of practice. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Derouet, Jean-Louis. 1992. École et justice. De l’égalité des chances aux compromis locaux? Paris: Métailié.
Derouet, Jean-Louis and Marie-Claude Derouet-Besson (eds.). 2009. Repenser la justice dans le domaine de l’éducation et de la formation. Bern: Peter Lang.
Éducation et Sociétés 40 (2017) / 41 (2018). Vingt ans après: la sociologie de l’éducation et de l’éducation francophone dans un univers globalisé, edited by Sarah Croché and Marie-Claude Derouet-Besson.
Pour un bilan de la sociologie de l’éducation. 1984. Colloque de Toulouse, 16-17 May 1983. University of Toulouse-Le-Mirail. Cahiers du Centre de recherches sociologiques 2.
Interview with Stefano Ponte
Xiomara F. Quiñones Ruiz (University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, BOKU Vienna)
Stefano Ponte is a leading researcher and professor at the Centre for Business and Development Studies (CBDS) at Copenhagen Business School. He is primarily interested in transnational economic and environmental governance, with focus on overlaps and tensions between private authority and public regulation. He is particularly interested in how sustainability labels, certifications and codes of conduct shape power relations in global value chains, and in how different forms of partnerships affect sustainability outcomes.
Quiñones Ruiz: Could you share with us your main researGrabsch interests and/or fields of study and how you embarked (got connected) to the convention theory?
Ponte: My research interests coalesce around the topic of governing economic life – through markets, regulation and hybrid forms of governance. My primary interest lies in transnational economic and environmental governance, with focus on overlaps and tensions between private governance and public regulation. My research, fieldwork, teaching and policy work is informed by international political economy approaches, global value chain analysis and convention theory.
I analyze governance dynamics and economic and environmental upgrading trajectories in global value chains — especially in developing countries and in Africa. I am particularly interested in how sustainability standards, labels and certifications shape agro-food value chains, and in how different forms of partnerships affect sustainability outcomes. I am also involved in projects critically examining the role of celebrities and branding in these processes, new forms of corporate social and environmental responsibility, and cause-related marketing.
I started being interested in convention theory when I attended a workshop in Copenhagen on global value chains and the filière approaches in mid-1999. I had just moved to Denmark to join a research project on value chains in the agro-food sector in Africa, which was coordinated by Peter Gibbon. It was the first workshop of the programme and the group had decided to discuss a series of relevant theoretical readings. Benoit Daviron of CIRAD was part of that project and he had suggested reading a recent publication by John Wilkinson in the Review of International Political Economy, discussing convention economics and regulation theory, plus some Francophone literature on the filière approach, economics of convention (Eymard-Duvernay’s work in particular) and pragmatic sociology (especially Thévenot and Boltanski’s opus magna: Boltanski and Thévenot 2006). This first engagement eventually led to my long-lasting relationship with Daviron and Gibbon (2005) and the publication of two co-authored monographs in 2005 on the role of quality conventions in governing value chains in general, and in the coffee sector in particular. Benoit Daviron also facilitated my first personal contacts with key French figures in the field of regulation theory and pragmatic sociology – Gilles Allaire, Robert Boyer and Laurent Thévenot in particular – with whom I have interacted and collaborated regularly over the years.
Quiñones Ruiz: Indeed, you have made a great and inspiring contribution related to the understanding of the coffee paradoxes, namely, your co-authored masterpiece The Coffee Paradox (e.g. coffee crises in producing countries (i.e. very low prices paid to producers), coffee boom in main consuming countries usually based in the North; producer countries mainly selling material quality while actors in consuming countries sell symbolic and in-service quality). Since the publication of the Coffee Paradox, what are the developments observed to reduce or to cope with the coffee paradoxes?
Ponte: A lot has happened since the publication of the Coffee Paradox (Daviron and Ponte 2005). The industry has gone through two phases since about 2008 – one of diversification followed by one of reconsolidation. The latter has been marked by a new wave of restructuring of coffee roasters that has reverberated across the entire industry. During the first period (around 2008 – 2012), in response to a general economic slowdown, the diversified multinationals that had previously held great market power sold or spun off their coffee portfolios amidst the global recession and a general slow-down in the sector. During the second period, from 2010 to 2014, the explosive growth of the specialty sector allowed companies such as Starbucks and Keurig Green Mountain, as well as smaller boutique roasters, to increase their market shares. This trend provided some hope that the balance of power along the value chain could be somewhat re-equilibrated to the advantage of producers, at least those operating in the specialty sector (often larger farms and more organized cooperatives).
However, as the economy recovered from 2012 onwards, and the new consumer segment of “millennials” acquired more spending potential, the coffee market – and in particular its specialty segment – was recognized as strategic long-term investment opportunity for private equity firms such as JAB Holding. This initiated a major re-consolidation movement. Nestlé, after years of relatively unchallenged market leadership, suddenly had to face a serious contender for global dominance in JAB Holding. This battle for market dominance also reverberated across the industry, causing other roasters to strengthen their own portfolios. It further led to greatly increased downward price pressure on green coffee, and all upstream actors, in particular growers and traders, had to work with slimmer margins.
Large traditional roasters have made massive investments in recapturing at least part of the high-margin specialty market, and in the process have brought their large market power to bear on it. Nestlé, for example, has aggressively developed its high-end single-serve capsule Nespresso line, while Starbucks has now grown to become the sixth largest roaster globally. Other major roaster groups have been acquiring specialty roasters at a high speed: JDE, for example, acquired Peet’s Coffee in 2012; its holding company (JAB) took over Keurig Green Mountain coffee in 2015. As they aim to scale up their performance in this lucrative sector, roasters frequently adopt top-down sourcing management schemes that negate the aspirational equal-footed relations and quality conventions pursued in relationship coffees. For instance, the sustainability verification systems used by Starbucks and Nespresso allow them to obtain precious information on suppliers’ cost structures as well, thus strengthening roasters’ bargaining power and ability to extract value in higher-margin markets.
In other words, the potential held by specialty coffee, indications of geographic origin, sustainability certifications and direct trade to tilt the balance of power in the coffee value chain towards producers has been tamed. This is casting doubts on whether specialization in differentiated coffees allows for sustained shifts in the socio-spatial distribution of value and risk. In sum, we find new dependency relationships emerging, which are closely linked to Northern-dominated quality conventions.
At the same time, and despite the widespread dismantling of coffee institutions, several important countries have bolstered their institutional power by supporting their coffee value chains through enforceable (Colombia, Costa Rica, Cote d’Ivoire) or suggested (Brazil) minimum prices for export contracts. Some countries still operate export auctions (Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia) and regulate export quality and/or require licenses for exporters. Several other support mechanisms are being applied, such as price stabilization funds, disease prevention support and producer income assistance, support for the development of geographic indications, and programs targeting climate change adaptation and improvements in quality and sustainability. These steps thus have helped to curtail some of the power otherwise exercised by large-scale traders and roasters through public intervention. This slow renaissance of institutional involvement and power in the coffee value chain culminated in the 2017 World Coffee Producers’ Forum, convened by the Colombian Federation of Coffee Producers, which openly discussed the inadequacy of current market-based price discovery mechanisms in generating prices that cover producers’ production costs, and called for an investigation of price and cost trends – along with the determination of a sustainable minimum price. Industry insiders see these steps as possible precursors to renewed attempts to align producing country strategies, especially as production is getting increasingly concentrated in three origins (Colombia, Brazil, and Vietnam).
In sum, although recent changes in the coffee Global Value Chains (GVC) toward a more heterogeneous and stratified product portfolio may have lent some power to producing country actors, particularly when proposing new specialty coffees, the overwhelming tendency in current re-consolidation efforts is one where large disparities in bargaining power persist – translating also into buyers being able to impose increasingly stringent terms onto their suppliers (in some cases, roasters’ payment terms to traders increased from 30 to 180 days). The simultaneous but partial renaissance of producing-country institutional power, and through unilateral and incipient multilateral means (e.g. the World Coffee Producers’ Forum), constitutes an important effort for addressing unequal exchange. However, as the experience of the International Coffee Agreement has shown, such efforts frequently face collective action, free-rider, and rent-seeking problems. [I owe many of these insights to Janina Grabs, postdoctoral researcher at the University of Münster – see also Grabs and Ponte, 2019 ]
Quiñones Ruiz: In the EC, conventions are understood as interpretative frames on how to handle institutions (e.g. rules, practices) in situations of coordination. Could you tell us how EC has been beneficial to your research work so far, especially in the coffee sector?
Ponte: EC was absolutely essential in my research for understanding how negotiations over quality along the coffee value chains shaped power relations, the governance of the value chain and associated distributional outcomes. This showed that critiques of EC focusing on its purported lack of attention for power relations were misplaced. I found EC extremely useful in addressing key issues in international political economy. Engaging with EC, first through quality conventions and the work of Eymard-Duvernay, and later more broadly in relation to the pragmatic sociology of Thévenot, allowed me to examined power relations along value chains in a much more nuanced way than in mainstream political economy approaches. This was the case not only in relation to my work on the coffee industry, but also in other empirical settings (e.g. wine, seafood and other agro-food products). Theoretically, it has been the very base for my current work with Mark Dallas and Timothy Sturgeon that seeks to provide a typology of power in global value chains which can be used to unpack not only bargaining relations or institutional settings, but also what we call “demonstrative” and “constitutive” power. These two forms of power are closely related to some of the insights of EC. Finally, my recent book Business, Power and Sustainability in a World of Global Value Chains (2019, Zed Books) builds upon these foundations.
Quiñones Ruiz: Would you say, that a country such as Colombia, where the coffee sector is heavily regulated in terms of quality control, origin, minimum prices (i.e. by developing own quality standards, geographical indications, trademarks, Juan Valdez coffee shops outside Colombia, garantía de compra, etc …), combines several conventions, for instance domestic but also market and industrial conventions? Could you elaborate on this? And even with these conventions put in place why the situation of producers does not improve? One of the possible explanations is that producers still sell mainly green coffee (material quality)?
Ponte: Well, Colombia has actually done a lot more than other countries to create and control value domestically / for farmers and their institutions. The Juan Valdez coffee shop chain is one example, and efforts to defend and manage the “Café de Colombia” denomination have been quite important. However, there has been much less effort done to develop more local and specific indications of geographic origin – actually Peru and Guatemala, for example, have been more advanced than Colombia. But even with these in mind, the fact that the coffee industry has gone through a period of re-consolidation with mainstream roasters buying formerly-known as specialty or “independent” roasters is not a good sign. In the period before the current one (see above), with increasing fragmentation we did see both increases in international market prices and in returns to farmers (but usually those who are more advanced and/or are part of more sophisticated cooperatives).
Quiñones Ruiz: Sometimes I feel a bit disappointed by the fact that the green convention is disregarded by important coffee stakeholders with explanations concerning low productivity, lower incomes, “if producers do not get well-paid, they would not take care of the environment”, etc. However, without soil, water, natural resources; changing climate conditions, producers would not be able to produce coffee and consumers would hardly find a cup of coffee …. What is your opinion on this?
Ponte: Climate change is a real threat, and roasters are indeed very worried about future sources of coffee, especially Colombian-type Arabicas. At the same time, though, they continue to squeeze margins and increase payment terms to international traders (now up to 180 days for some!). So on one hand they know they need to pay better prices, but on the other they continue to take short-term profit maximization approach, which will create further problems down the road. This is really a conundrum, as these roasters at the same time engage in all these “development projects” that are framed as “Corporate Social Responsibility” or “helping farmers” but are really investments in minimizing strategic origin supply risk.
Quiñones Ruiz: Additionally, to what extent should our desire to consume quality coffee (mild washed Arabica) only be the result of a washed production method?
Ponte: I do not see much potential in other places (meaning outside of Ethiopia) or beyond very small niches. Properly washed Arabica is still the top processing method. Drinking straight Ethiopian naturals requires quite an adjustment of taste, and very often they are best mixed with washed Arabicas in high-end espresso blends (instead of Robusta)
Quiñones Ruiz: In addition to the three quality types as clearly illustrated in The Coffee Paradox, that is, material, symbolic and in-person service, a) do you think that a new type of quality can be included, namely, a kind of origin/social quality describing the roasting of green coffee at origin by producers (e.g. themselves with own/collective brands or by contracting the services of local roasters)? or b) this does not make any sense?, or c) should it be added to the already symbolic category?
Ponte: Another very good set of questions! I have been reluctant to engage in adding a new category of quality convention (green) in the past, despite many others having actually made an argument for it (including Bruno Latour). I think that what has been happening in the past few years, and especially with the setting of the Sustainable Development Goals, made me change my mind. I am now thinking that environmental issues have their own special place, not only as a sub-category of “symbolic” quality, but rather as a category on their own, as they being in hybrid physical/symbolic elements at play.
Quiñones Ruiz: Now, I pose these questions because for the proposed symbolic quality it is assumed that this happens in the North (main consuming countries). Despite the relatively recent booming of local markets for specialty coffee in the producing countries, it is well-known the little know-how and lack of facilities and machineries/technology to roast at origin. (By the way, we in the South do not truly drink coffee, only recently this trend has started!) I have asked some third-wave roasters about buying roasted coffee at origin, the usual answers are: the quality is not good/I am roaster of specialty coffee/at origin, they do not know how to roast/producers should “specialize” in producing good [material] quality.
Ponte: I think that the trend of coffee consumption in the Global South is strong and very important, not only in producing countries, but also in emerging markets such as China. In these two segments, the strategies for value addition will probably be quite different. In producing countries, it will probably involve a better approach to roasting and consumption experience, which has been there in Brazil and Ethiopia all along, but not so much in other locations. In non-producer emerging economies, there will be a bifurcated approach I think: low-end cheap coffee (mainly Robusta) and very-high end consumption patterns that may reflect the Chinese craze for top-top quality (e.g. in the wine sector). I think delivering material quality remains important, but symbolic and indeed green content will become increasingly central for value addition and capture.
Quiñones Ruiz: A way to “cultivate” consumers (at origin and abroad) might be by proposing a kind of origin/social quality that goes beyond taste – or cupping as one of the coordination devices for quality –, but proposing a way (alternative) to trigger a fair value distribution and acknowledgment (i.e. of the hard work done represented in a product), not only based on export but also in local markets? Here again your argument concerning the massive investments and capital flows of the big fishes in the coffee industry, right?
Ponte: Cupping at origin is still very important, and the Cup of Excellence competitions have shown that it can pay off handsomely for those producers and cooperatives who have invested in this learning trajectory. But it will have still to be accompanied by major strides in adding symbolic/green content at origin and promote/control it throughout the value chain.
Boydell, H. (2018). Rethinking The C Price: Should We Change How We Price Coffee? Perfect Daily Grind News. October 24, 2018. East Sussex: Perfect Daily Grind Ltd. Retrieved on 24.04.2019 from https://www.perfectdailygrind.com/2018/10/rethinking-the-c-price-should-we-change-how-we-price-coffee/
Boltanski, L, and Thévenot, L. (2006). On Justification. Economies of Worth. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Brown, N. (2019a). Coffee Producers Demand Immediate Action Amidst Price Crisis. Retrieved on 28.03.2019 from https://dailycoffeenews.com/2019/04/22/spp-global-denounces-coffee-prices-calls-for-living-income/?utm_source=Roast+Magazine+%26+Daily+Coffee+News&utm_campaign=28a12c0851-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_6_19_2018_7_26_COPY_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_8f24fab631-28a12c0851-68958361
Brown, N. (2019b). SPP Global Denounces Coffee Prices, Calls for Living Income. Retrieved on 24.04.2019 from https://dailycoffeenews.com/2019/04/22/spp-global-denounces-coffee-prices-calls-for-living-income/?utm_source=Roast+Magazine+%26+Daily+Coffee+News&utm_campaign=28a12c0851-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_6_19_2018_7_26_COPY_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_8f24fab631-28a12c0851-68958361
Daviron, B. and Ponte, S. (2005). The Coffee Paradox: Global Markets, Commodity Trade and the Elusive Promise of Development. London, New York: Zed Books.
Diaz-Bone, R. and Salais, R. (2011). Economics of Convention and the History of Economies. Towards a Transdisciplinary Approach in Economic History. Historical Social Research, 36, 4, 7–39.
Retrieved 8 June 2019 from https://www.ssoar.info/ssoar/handle/document/36326
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Interview with Emmanuelle Marchal
Anna Schneider & Qamar Ali (University of Innsbruck, Austria)
Emmanuelle Marchal is a CNRS Research Professor at the Centre de Sociologie des Organisations, (Center for the Sociology of Organizations) in Paris. Her research focuses mainly on the sociology of labor market and the sociology of valuation. She has carried out many qualitative and quantitative surveys on the functioning of labor market, emphasizing the role of devices, intermediaries, trust, recruitment channels, hiring and screening processes.
Schneider/Ali: Please tell us how EC has been beneficial to your research work so far?
Marchal: To answer your question, it is important to know that I was in contact with the founders of Economics of convention School (in short EC) even before the publication of the founding work of 1989. I was a researcher at the CEE (Centre d’études de l’emploi) when François Eymard-Duvernay took over as director of the Centre and brought Laurent Thévenot in as scientific director. (CEE has recently been integrated into the CNAM.) As a result, I have been “imbued” with the theses of EC, as they have developed. I was able to benefit not only from the reading of the work done on job classifications, companies, public policy intermediaries, and The economies of worth, but also from the daily discussions to which they gave rise. Beyond this first circle of conventionalists, I was also able to benefit from the contacts they were developing with the GSPM (Groupe de sociologie politique et morale) founded by Luc Boltanski, and with the CSI (Centre de sociologie de l’innovation) where Bruno Latour and Michel Callon were developing their own theses. It was all very exciting.
I started working with François Eymard-Duvernay at the beginning of the 1990s, by carrying out a survey on the introduction of New Public Management, in a social housing management organization (in French Office HLM). We were particularly interested in the impact of how changing management styles affects the perceived value of people. Many public servants, previously highly rated, were devalued overnight. Hiring methods were completely revised, abandoning competitions and knowledge tests in favor of private agencies and graphology. This was accompanied by a complete revamp of the organization chart and job titles, as well as an introduction of new methods to evaluate staff and activities. What was evident from our observations, was that the outcome of the individual’s performance evaluation could be very different depending on the conventions valued and chosen by the organization’s managers to evaluate them. This is what we called “skill conventions” (in French, conventions de competence) in the book we published together in 1996, following inquiries done in recruitment agencies. This book marks the beginning of a long collaboration with François Eymard-Duvernay and with the economics PhD students he supervised later in Nanterre University. We developed a typology of “Ways of Hiring” (Façons de recruter is the title of the book), to highlight that each of them carries its own specific interpretation of competency. In some situations, skills are planned: they are seen as pre-established and measurable, independently of the context of its use. On the contrary, they can be negotiated during the hiring process between actors in such a way they are treated as the result of a process. The second continuum goes from cases where skills are considered as embedded in collectives (organizations, networks, workplaces) to cases where they are individualized, as if they were carried by the applicant alone. Depending on the ways of recruiting and screening methods used, the stage of the process and the type of actors involved (when there are several), different conventions are mobilized. As a result, different applicants are valued, selected or excluded. That is why we consider hiring activities as valorization / devalorization processes.
I developed this point in my last book (Les embarras des recruteurs), where I summarize the work I have been doing for 25 years. Starting from the classic distinction between remote coordination, which is highly equipped, and proximity coordination, which more often takes place face-to-face, I highlight the dysfunctions of the labor market in France. I show how recruitment and selection methods can contribute to penalizing some people, and how they maintain long-term unemployment and exclusion.
Schneider/Ali: Give us a brief overview of your research journey in recruitment, work in organizations, and labor markets so far.
Marchal: As a sociologist, I value empirical investigations. So I have tried to enter into numerous collaborations and to use all forms of methods of inquiry (observations, interviews, textual and statistical data analysis). My very first investigation was based on in-depth observations of professional consultants’ activities in private agencies. I was fortunate to be able to follow them in their daily work, including attending interviews with job candidates. This position gave me exposure to the uncertainties they were facing. At the same time, I worked with a colleague from INSEE (The National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies) on the French LFS (labor force survey), to show how recruitment channels were distributed, according to the population who had found employment. I was able to work there again later with Géraldine Rieucau, in comparing results from French and Spain. It must be said that this was the only statistical source available on the topic in the mid-90’s. Thereafter, we became interested in job advertisements and undertook historical and comparative analyses (in France, Great Britain, Spain) to give an account of how the formulated requirements and the language used varied according to these labor markets. Following that, we initiated a major survey, for which I designed the questionnaire. This OFER survey was conducted by the Ministry of Employment in 2005 and 2016 among 8 600 establishments. It makes it possible to trace very precisely the last recruitment method, and shows the great variety of research methods and evaluation of job offers and skills. I worked with Christian Bessy on recruitment channels and with Guillemette de Larquier on the impact of hiring methods on the selection of candidate profiles. I am currently exploring the results by focusing on how “non-qualified” staff (low skilled workers) are recruited. How do you select candidates whose qualifications are not recognized? What is valued in this particular market?
Previously, I have also participated in the evaluation of public recruitment policies, by conducting surveys at Pôle emploi (The French public employment service), among private and public market intermediaries and large companies. As a result, I contributed to the evaluation of the relevance of the potential introduction of the compulsory anonymous Resume and of a particular recruitment method which requires the candidate to simulate the tasks involved in the role (MRS in French). I was also interested in and conducted research on the historical evolution of methods and the introduction of personality analyses in recruitment, via graphology and tests, as well as their criticism. Three years ago, I started a new project on recruitment fairs with Delphine Remillon and Géraldine Rieucau: At a time when most companies are focusing on the all-digital world, what is at stake in these brief face-to-face interviews?
Schneider/Ali: Please tell us what particular aspects of EC you are currently referring to in your ongoing research projects.
Marchal: At the moment, I am conducting an exploration of grievances related to cases of hiring discrimination, and filed through the Rights’ Defender. The question of discrimination has already been addressed from a conventionalist perspective, by Ariane Ghirardello, through her PhD. In the cases treated by the Rights’ Defender’s lawyers, I explore the elements that claimants use to support the presumption of discrimination, and that employers use to defend themselves. In an ideal situation, it should be possible to decide: yes or no, did the employer use a discriminatory criteria to reject a candidate? If not, he must be able to provide the justification of his choice. But there is a lot of uncertainties around the definition of discriminatory facts. What is at issue is the identification of the pivotal factor of the recruitment decision which often involves many actors and many tools. Sometimes, candidates are not unknowns, because they have previously been employed by the same employer; Disagreements over the “worth” of workers (applicants) are frequently at stake; The assessments differ not only between the claimants and respondents in the same situation, but also from one step of the hiring process to another. Judgments may be rightly based on the candidate’s personality or motivation, placing the lawyer in a delicate position to determine whether his rejection appears legitimate or not. The complaints can often go far beyond the issue of discrimination, in addressing the fairness within the hiring process.
Schneider/Ali: What future issues should/could EC scholars address? Which do you think are the most pressing questions related to labor markets EC scholars should address?
Marchal: It seems important to me to follow the evolution of the labor market by highlighting the different ways in which job providers and job-seekers manage the coordination and valuation of themselves on the markets. A good way to do this, is to focus on devices that enable the evaluation and matching of market actors in the market. Most of the time, these tools are designed by employers and market intermediaries (and not by job seekers). What does this “valorization power” (Eymard-Duvernay) produce? This question arises both when entering organizations and when moving internally within them. What are the conventions embodied in the evaluation tools used in any one particular company?
The use of the Internet to recruit may permanently lead to favoring very general and transversal matching tools, with the aim of circulating the workforce over large areas. This is the trend of the public employment service in France, which favors standard and universal markers for recording and classifying job offers and applications. This choice leads to devaluing the markers embedded in local markets and professional markets that would allow many candidates and employers to meet up: locally known schools or companies are not recognized by the standardized tools that devalue them. This fuels recruitment difficulties and long-term unemployment. On the other hand, the role of intermediaries specialized in sectors of activity, trades and localities could be studied further to highlight their contribution. The same is true of networks that not only circulate information, as Granovetter pointed out, but also trust. As economic sociology shows us, no market works without trust devices, “personal devices” or” impersonal devices” (Karpik) or without “investment in forms” (Thévenot).
Another example is the algorithms that some start-ups are proposing to use to recruit. What assumptions and what knowledge are incorporated into these devices? I think the idea is always to predict competence, just like what the psychotechnicians dreamed of doing at the beginning of the 20th century. If an individual succeeds in a job, there are hundreds of data about him or her (tastes, hobbies, personality, network and background) that can be recorded and processed. Would an individual with a similar profile succeed in the same job? The tool is innovative, but the approach is not. Cognitive sciences, ergonomists and the psychodynamics of work have shown to what extent skills are situated, collective, distributed and evolutionary. There are many ways to accomplish a task and it is important to remember that competency judgments are not intended to reveal or measure skills, but to agree on what makes the workers and activities valuable. A lot can be learnt by looking into how other scientific disciplines approach our own research topics. That said, we should take a closer look at the assumptions embedded in the invention of algorithms. The rise of behavioral sciences in public tools and polices is worrying, from this point of view.
Schneider/Ali: In relation to this, and with regards to your multiple use of both qualitative and quantitative methods, how would you describe your methodological stance towards investigating social phenomena from an EC perspective?
Marchal: I don’t think that there is any specific “EC method”, but you are right to underline that adopting an EC perspective has methodological incidences. How to account for the actors’ reflexivity, concerns and constraints? How to take into account the tensions generated by the possibility of referring to several orders of worth and justice? Personally, I subscribe to the principles of the pragmatic sociology developed by Luc Boltanski. I have also been very influenced by the work of interactionists, ethnomethodologists and by the reading of Alfred Schütz. Finding the right distance to the field and to the actors, implies to respect their critical capacities without trying to impose our own point of view. The difficulty is also to account jointly for what stabilizes the social world and what transforms it, as Nicolas Dodier explains well. Observing the activities of actors who are at the crossroads of several worlds is often a good entry point into the field. This is the case, for example, of market intermediaries, of actors who are at the borders of organizations and develop relationships with clients or users, of spokespersons for social movements or State inspectors. This is the case for all those who find themselves at the crossroads of often contradictory requirements, whose activities are easily exposed to criticism. This is also the case of actors who have more distance to what they are doing, because they have to implement an innovation or to face an organizational change, because they have just been hired or have been displaced, because their routine activities are interrupted by something. All of them have interesting things to tell us about what is happening in the social world.
Using quantitative methods is more complicated, because we cannot ignore the work done by Alain Desrosières and by Laurent Thévenot on the history of statistics and nomenclatures, on the choices made when codifying and classifying data. We know that any statistical data incorporates conventions. They incorporate ways of presenting reality that have led to the exclusion of other versions of the world as explained by Espeland and Stevens. It is tempting to leave it there and to focus only on the analysis of their construction: how do individuals go about quantifying what is qualitative? But we also know that quantitative data has more credibility than any qualitative data, especially with decision-makers.
Like all actors, we must make compromises. This is what we tried to do by using the text data processing software created by Francis Chateauraynaud (Prospero). The objective was to quantify the content of the advertisements, without sacrificing the importance of the wording chosen by employers to write their job offers. The vocabulary of job titles, for example, changes over time and is formulated on several registers that should not be eliminated during operations of quantification. Some statistical methods are specially designed to smooth the transition between qualitative and quantitative data, by mastering the intermediate steps. It is the case of the multiple correspondance analysis (MCA) used with Guillemette de Larquier to explore the OFER Survey. We propose an inductive typology of screening process used in hiring. The method enables us to measure the distribution of the four screening processes identified and to measure their impact on equal opportunities.
Schneider/Ali: Regarding your interest in the recruiting of “non-qualified” staff: how can an EC perspective explain the “revaluation” of immigrants’ skills. In other words, how can the EC explain why physicians or engineers end up working as taxi drivers in their host country? Which “skill conventions” are at work here?
Marchal: It is difficult for me to answer this question on immigrant workers because I have not done any specific work on this population. I tend to think that the problems are different in between highly qualified people, like the engineers or physicians you mentioned, and unskilled labor. In the first case, it is the (non)recognition of diplomas by the host institutions which is at stake. For the latter Annalisa Lendaro and Christian Imdorf use the EC framework to show how intermediaries maintain the segregation of immigrant women by assigning them to the domestic labor industry. Immigrant women and mothers appear as cheap labor, having built-in female and traditional skills, which are not recognized as having a market value.
As for me, from what I can see in the OFER survey, is that more than half of recruiters do not recognize the value of unskilled workers diploma. And they do this deliberately whether they are immigrants or not. Being a woman is an asset to be hired as a home helper but represents a handicap to work in the construction sector. You must be young to work in the hotel trade, restaurant industry or in commerce, whereas very few older workers would be hired. The latter are confined to cleaning jobs where there is also a high proportion of migrants. Gender, age and origin work are used as matching signals. But, because they are also discriminatory criteria they are neither displayed nor remunerated. That is why we can talk about “non-qualified” staff in the literal sense: its qualities are not valued nor recognized.
Schneider/Ali: To what extent do you think the theoretical perspectives within EC are useful in facilitating a smooth functioning and progress of society/societal institutions?
Marchal: The conventionalist approach emphasizes the need for agreement to coordinate, and the existence of alternatives: there are several “polities” (in French cités), several registers of action and valuation among which it is possible to choose. The driving force of such a society and what allows it to progress, are the controversies driven by the critical capacities of the actors. They reject unfair situations and attempt to make compromises between competing conventions. Of course, this is a utopian vision of social relations and the way institutions work. To be convinced, it is enough to take up the critical reactions that were made after the publication of the book De la justification: what place is given to power relations in such a society? De la critique, published by Luc Boltanski in 2009 (engl. 2011), aims to correct the situation by insisting on the mechanisms of oppression. Personally, I think that the pragmatic sociology of EC allows us to formulate good questions by looking at the conditions under which a company, a market, an activity (such as recruitment), could operate in an equitable way. Do institutions give real critical capacities to employees, consumers, applicants? Are these capacities well distributed among the layers of society? Does everyone have enough capabilities (using Amartya Sen’s vocabulary) to make choices? Through these questions, it is the place of democracy and liberalism that is being asked. This involves highly political choices …
Bessy, C., and Marchal, E., 2009. Le rôle des réseaux et du marché dans les recrutements: enquête auprès des entreprises. Revue française de Socio-économie, n°3, p.121-146
Boltanski, L and Thévenot, L., 1991, De la justification. Les économies de la grandeur. Paris: Gallimard.
Boltanski, L and Thévenot, L. 2006, On justification. Economies of Worth (Translated by Catherin Porter). Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Boltanski, L., 2009, De la critique. Précis de sociologie de l’émancipation. Paris: Gallimard.
Boltanski, L., 2011, On Critique : a sociology of Emancipation., London: Polity Press.
Chateauraynaud, F. 2003, Prospéro : Une technologie littéraire pour les sciences humaines, Paris: EHESS.
Desrosières, A. and Thévenot, L., 1988, Les catégories socioprofessionnelles. Paris: La Découverte.
Dodier, N., 1993. Les appuis conventionnels de l’action. Eléments de pragmatique sociologique, Réseaux Communication, Technologie, Société, n°62, pp. 63-85
Eymard-Duvernay, F. 2006. Pouvoir d’évaluation de la qualité du travail et décisions d’emploi. In Petit, Héloise and Thévenot, Nadine (eds.), Les nouvelles frontières du travail subordonné: Approche pluridisciplinaire (pp. 71-86). Paris: La Découverte.
Eymard-Duvernay, F. and Marchal, E., 1997, Façons de recruter. Le jugement des compétences sur le marché du travail. Paris: Métailié.
Ghirardello, A., 2005. De l’évaluation des compétences à la discrimination : une analyse conventionnaliste des pratiques de recrutement. Revue de Gestion des Ressources Humaines, n°56, pp. 36-48.
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Karpik, L., 2010. Valuing the unique. The economics of singularities. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Larquier, G. de and Marchal, E. 2016. Does the Formalization of Practices Enhance Equal Hiring Opportunities? An Analysis of a French National Wide Employer Survey. Socio-Economic Review, p. 1-23.
Lendaro, A. and Imdorf, C. 2012. The use of ethnicity in recruiting domestic labour: A case study of French placement agencies in the care sector. Employee Relations, Vol. 34 Issue: 6, pp. 613-627.
Marchal, E. 2015. Les embarras des recruteurs. Enquêtes sur le marché du travail, Paris: EHESS.
Marchal, E. 2013. Uncertainties Regarding Applicant Quality. The Anonymous Resume Put to the Test. In Beckert, Jens and Musselin, Christine (Ed.), Constructing Quality. The classification of Goods in Markets (pp. 103-125). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Marchal, E., Mellet, K. and Rieucau, G. 2007. Job board toolkits. Internet matchmaking and changes in job advertisements. Human Relations, n°60, pp. 1091-1113.
Schütz, A., 1987. Le chercheur et le quotidien. Phénoménologie des Sciences sociales, Méridiens Klincksieck.
Interview with Philippe Batifoulier, director of the laboratory CEPN at Paris 13 and co-editor of the “Dictionnaire des conventions”.
Anna Gonon (FHNW Olten, Switzerland) & Valeska Cappel (University of Lucerne, Switzerland)
Cappel/Gonon: You are the director of the Laboratoire CEPN in the University Paris 13. What are the focus areas of this Laboratory and how would you describe your position and activities there?
Batifoulier: Since November 2015, I have headed the Paris Nord Center for Economics [CEPN, UMR CNRS 7234], a bi-disciplinary economics and management laboratory. This research laboratory has 160 members, including 70 professors and associate professors and 80 PhD students. As director, I represent the laboratory in all management and administration acts and manage the scientific policy.
The CEPN is a reference laboratory of the study of capitalisms and the institutions that regulate them or are at the origin of crisis. The dynamics of capitalisms are analyzed through the structural analysis of contemporary economies as well as the diversity of management modes of organizations and corporate governance. One of the most important characteristics of the CEPN is its pluralism. The CEPN relies on large array of theoretical approaches: post-Keynesian, regulationist, Marxist, economics of convention, critical management studies etc. CEPN researchers use different methods that range from the tools of political economy and socio-economics to quantitative economics (micro and macro econometrics). One of the essential consequences of this pluralism – of both: paradigms and methods – is the valorization of transdisciplinary approaches. The original research conducted by the CEPN uses history, psychology, law or sociology to broaden the scope of the analysis. Because of its unusual positioning, the CEPN is a focal point of pluralism. The CEPN helps to keep heterodox approaches alive and encourages scientific controversy. Without the CEPN, the diversity of economic thought would be weakened. For this reason, CEPN appears as a privileged contact for French and international projects with a strong heterodox dimension. Due to this attractive positioning, the CEPN aims at responding to social demands on many subjects. It constitutes a civic-conscious research structure with an outstanding capacity to foster public debate.
Cappel/Gonon: You have mentioned economics of convention as one of the theoretical approaches at CEPN. Could you tell us a little bit about your academic background and how you started to work with economics of convention?
Batifoulier: I hold a master in econometrics and a postgraduate degree in Mathematical Economics and Applied Economics at the University of Paris 10 – Nanterre. In 1987, I began a thesis on statistical theory using Shannon’s information theory and log-linear modelling to exploit a large health database in order to analyze the reforms in the health sector. I was dissatisfied with the lack of theoretical underpinnings of my work and in search of an adequate economic paradigm. With Olivier Favereau’s arrival in Nanterre, I turned to the economics of convention. I met this new approach with the publication of the special issue of the “Revue économique” in March 1989. I defended my thesis under the direction of Olivier Favereau in 1991 and was recruited as associate professor at the University of Saint Quentin en Yvelines and then at the University of Paris 10 – Nanterre.
The specificity of my work is to propose an institutionalist approach applied to health economics. It became obvious to me very quickly that economics of convention is a particularly fruitful theoretical approach for analyzing the health sector. I think mainstream economics cannot deal with the health sector because the standard assumptions about rationality and market coordination are very disconnected from what a patient or a doctor really is. The health sector is an ideal topic for heterodox economics. Healthcare and social policy are strongly normative issues and economic analysis cannot ignore it. Because economic health policies are precisely one of those domains in which coordination, value judgments and normative considerations cannot be separated, the concept of convention is well indicated to understand the specificities of the health sector. To be convinced of this, we only need to note that one of the main objectives of the economics of convention is to endogenize values within coordination and to take the ethical resources of individuals seriously. Now, the health sector is precisely one of those domains in which values and the concept of ethics (medical, in this case) are omnipresent. The conceptual work on the concept of convention has provided matter for reflection in a domain that has often been criticized for being too applied and insufficiently grounded on theoretical foundations. In return, the conventionalist approach provides a pragmatic application to the theoretical analysis of a sector that is important in terms of both the resources engaged (notably financial) and the social and political stakes involved.
Cappel/Gonon: Could you tell us a little bit more about the specific EC concepts that were fruitful in your analysis of the health sector and maybe also describe an example of application?
Batifoulier: I use EC in two different ways. To deal with coordination, I mobilize the notion of interpretative rationality. To speak about regulation and to criticize the neoliberal policies, I rely on the notion of a common world instead of extrinsic incentives.
First, I tried to capture the coordinating capacity of medical ethics. The coordination between a doctor and a patient or between physicians depends on values in order to comprehend the interaction. This interpretation relies on a collective representation of references as EC shows, in other words a way of judging the situation and of judging oneself and the other party in that situation. So, for example, when a patient consults a physician, he knows that the doctor’s behavior is governed by deontological rules. To be applied, these rules must have a “hic et nunc” interpretation, considering both the collective formed by the patient and doctor and a wider collective consisting of the whole healthcare system; the whole allowing to evaluate the quality of the service provided (the length of the consultation or the level of fees, in particular). This understanding is not only cognitive but also evaluative, with the form of evaluation determining the importance of what the agent considers. Therefore, this interpretation won`t be the same on every occasion or in every place. That’s why we have to consider the plurality of possible representations and the impossibility of reducing medical ethics to a universal and invariable conception of ethical behavior. Ethics is neither immutable nor mechanical; it is very context sensitive.
Secondly, I mobilized EC to review the neoliberal economic policy in healthcare which considers that institutions are understood to be only incentives. I expanded this analysis on health insurance. By considering that health insurance is a problem because it leads to unnecessary consumption owing to the fact that it is by and large free, its existence is not under discussion, only its harmfulness. The consequences of this economic policy are immediate: we must reduce a person’s health cover and resort to healthcare that is more expensive. Making the patient pay is a fashioned strategy that is founded on mainstream theory in which the patient has no depth. He or she does not make judgments, only calculates. This completely self-interested individual does not fit in with a network of social relationships capable of directing his or her behavior, putting the brakes on his or her opportunism. This mainstream economic theory is a political and social creation without society. Consequently, it is the vision of social welfare and healthcare that is misrepresented. In this economics-orientated point of view, national insurance must be concerned with the calculation of individual risk, discarding the aim of a shared world.
Cappel/Gonon: You use EC to criticize neoliberal healthcare policy. How do you think could an EC-inspired healthcare policy look like?
Batifoulier: EC can inform healthcare policy on at least 3 points:
First, EC invites to consider the plurality of professional values and get out of the dichotomy in which mainstream wants to lock and close the debate: the physician’s behavior cannot be generalized to the figure of the homo œconomicus. Professional commitment and the well-being of their patients are more a physician objective than self-interest is. Professional values govern the behavior of the doctor in diagnosing and treating the patient. We have to look at the plurality of professional values: liberal values as Hippocratic values. The values debate is one of EC’s messages. Liberal values have been historically controlled by the welfare state. Today, they are valued by neoliberalism (for example, many practitioners charge fees in excess), which leads to many inequalities of access to healthcare.
Second, in the neoliberal world, the hospital is now a laboratory of competition and has become very “inhospitable”, for the patient as for the employees. With EC, one can question the quality of care in the hospital: not to reduce it to an unambiguous definition and without prior deliberation. The standardization of care and the setting the medical work in protocol puts forward an “industrial” quality and deteriorated a “domestic” quality (by increasing the distance to healthcare) and a “civic” quality (by sacrificing the culture of public utilities). It is thus incorrect to say that the Hospital reform has improved the quality of care. It has developed some qualities, but has deteriorated others.
Thirdly, an aspect where EC can be mobilized is democracy in health. The question of the legitimacy of health decision-making is deeply related to the patient’s place in it. But he often seems to be ruled out of decisions. In terms of funding, the expenses that are very well reimbursed (or well supported) are not necessarily those that are medically justified. We should also draw the lessons of the development of private insurance, very unequal and inefficient, and recognize that we better control the expenditure by solidarity than by the market. There are many examples where the balance of power is not favorable to the patient. EC highlights people’s reflexivity and the type of collectivity to which we belong. This calls for the insurrection of the patient who has to reinvest in the different spaces of democracy to assert the right to participate in decisions that concern him or her in the first place and build the institutions that meet the most basic needs.
Cappel/Gonon: You are co-editor of the “Dictionnaire des conventions: autour des travaux d’Olivier Favereau“ published in 2016 (Presses Universitaires du Septentrion). In this “non-standard” dictionary, as you call it, scholars from different fields take Olivier Favereau’s work as their point of departure to explain EC concepts. Could you tell us a little bit more why this is a “non-standard” dictionary?
Batifoulier: The ”Dictionnaire des conventions” coordinated by Franck Bessis, Guillemette de Larquier, Ariane Ghirardello, Delphine Remillon and myself is a book in honor of Olivier Favereau. The form “dictionary” has imposed itself on us because a lot of scholars from different disciplines (75 authors from the younger generation to the older ones) wished to participate in this tribute. This is a “non-standard dictionary” because the book does not claim to explain all the concepts of EC but proposes a review of many contemporary debates in the social sciences starting from a conventionalist reading, that is, a non-standard point of view. The entries share a common spirit, highly critical of the mainstream economics.
Cappel/Gonon: How do you see the future of EC as an approach? Where will or should it be applied? What are its strengths, are there any weaknesses?
Batifoulier: Beyond the quality of the authors, this dictionary is, in some way, illustrative of the way of functioning of EC, which relies much on working collectives. The existence of collective works, which evolves with the different generations, is typical of the EC. Communities of work in the field of EC settle down with young scholars on topics as diverse as ecology, health, enterprise and the labor market, law and lawyers, social and solidarity economy, etc. The latest works focuses more on economic issues without neglecting the socioeconomic foundation of EC to not abandon the economics to the mainstream. The context in which EC evolves is also crucial in this trajectory. In France as elsewhere, a partial concept of economics, the neo-classical or mainstream approach, has become the established orthodoxy and monopolizes the legitimacy of economic analysis. The rejection of pluralism leads to the gradual disappearance of non-standard schools of thought. Resistance is brought by the Association française d’économie politique (AFEP), a professional association with the aim of defending and illustrating pluralism in economics since 2009. Because all AFEP members shared the same analysis and concerns, the elimination of pluralism has led the various heterodox approaches to seek more what brings them together than what oppose them. So, EC will be interested in topics that were initially introduced by other approaches (regulation theory, Marxist approach). Capitalism and its evolution is now an important issue of EC studies. In the same time, the traditional themes of EC (values, rationality, representations) are now resources for others. This climate is very stimulating for future research.
Cappel/Gonon: At last, what would you recommend for young scholars who are interested to work with EC?
Batifoulier: I think the current period is particularly challenging to commit to this research program. EC is carried by new generations (second and third generations) that do not only relay the initial project but also pilot it in different directions. The progression of the program, from generation to generation is strength. A young scholar easily finds his place. The economics of convention is supported by several major research laboratories, in France as elsewhere giving more opportunities. In short, go for it.
Interview with Guillemette de Larquier on her new position as full professor:
“… we would like to show how EC can complement the labor market segmentation theory”
Katharina Pernkopf (Vienna) & Lisa Knoll (Hamburg & Halle)
Question: The first months are important days in a new position. How have you experienced this time?
GdL: After 30 years at the University of Paris 10 – Nanterre (my studies included), I arrived at the University of Lille 1 on September 1, 2017, more precisely at the Faculty of Economics and Social Sciences, and I am attached to the research lab Clersé (Centre lillois d’études et de recherches sociologiques et économiques). I occupy the position of professor of econometrics applied to labor economics. I see three main missions in this new position: training econometricians who are not necessarily destined to be academics, joining a small team of scholars (led by Héloïse Petit) who privilege applied qualitative and quantitative studies in labor issues and contributing to the development of institutional theories in economics. At Clersé, several researchers (Florence Jany-Catrice and Nicolas Postel for example) are developing works that mobilize conventions and several PhD theses with a conventionalist dimension have been supported or are in progress. I feel very welcome, having the opportunity to present my work in seminars and workshops. On the teaching side, I wait to discover Lille’s first-year students in the next semester. I will be in charge of a large introductory lecture room on microeconomics.
I arrive at an important moment for my new colleagues, the fusion of the three universities of Lille which will be effective in 2018. This fusion, inevitably a “critical” moment, reveals different points of view on the place of the economy among the other disciplines. You should know that the Faculty brings together the departments of economics and sociology and Clersé has the distinction of being a CNRS laboratory registered in sociology and economics. This balance, quite exceptional in France, can be praised or criticized … I am among those who appreciate this balance and I hope to contribute to new synergies between the two disciplines.
Question: Please tell us a little bit about your educational and academic background. What have been the most important influences, inspirations, and key moments?
GdL: I did all my studies at the University of Paris 10 – Nanterre. I started my studies with an undergraduate degree in applied mathematics for social sciences, then I specialized in modeling applied to economics and management, with a good training in econometrics. I started a thesis in economics with Olivier Favereau who submitted me a thesis topic he thought promising: the theory of job matching to explain the labor market dynamics. And he was right!
I took a strong interest in the “conventional” models of job matching in microeconomics (Boyan Jovanovic, Dale Mortensen, Alvin Roth) and macroeconomics (Christopher Pissarides) and it was only between my 2nd and 3rd year of PHD that I introduced a “conventionalist” dimension in my work. Olivier Favereau was not a prescriptive director of my thesis but, in a small sentence, he instilled a doubt in my mind. He told me that he had heard Jean-Daniel Reynaud saying something very right during a seminar: “A worker is not matched to a job but to a firm, a team of work”. If we take this evidence seriously, it’s destructive. With rare exceptions, in the matching models, there is a market for workers and jobs that are independent of each other. There is no room for any firm in these elegant theoretical constructions. It is therefore by wanting to introduce the firm into the matching dynamics that I had to move on to something else. François Eymard-Duvernay had just arrived at the University of Paris 10 – Nanterre and I found convincing his work on the plurality of conventions of goods quality and models of firms. In this line, I deduced a plurality of matches in firms and a plurality of matching processes in the labor market. That was my first step in EC.
Then, I was recruited as a lecturer at the University of Paris 10 – Nanterre. In the early 2000s, there was in Nanterre an “incubator” of young researchers, the 2nd generation of “conventionalists” as Olivier Favereau said. We were a dynamic group of lecturers and doctoral students around Philippe Batifoulier who directed the collective book “Théorie des conventions” published in 2001. The work was structured around the dual filiation of John Keynes and David Lewis. I worked on game theory chapters in Lewis’ filiation. The concept of “bad convention” came out of it, which was unexpectedly successful. It is in the same team spirit that in 2016 five of us (Philippe Batifoulier, Franck Bessis, Ariane Ghirardello, Delphine Remillon and me) published the “Dictionnaire des conventions” in honor of Olivier Favereau who gathered the contributions of 75 researchers.
In 2007, I had the good fortune to join for five years the Centre d’Etudes de l’Emploi (which was deeply marked by François Eymard-Duvernay and Laurent Thévenot in the 1980s and 1990s – I invite you to read the article written by Thomas Amossé about the CEE; see Amossé 2016). In this center, I developed all of my empirical work on labor market intermediaries and firms’ recruitment practices with Christian Bessy, Emmanuelle Marchal, Carole Tuchszirer and Géraldine Rieucau. These collaborations have particularly nourished my reflections on the quality conventions and the investments in forms underlying the functioning of the labor market, as I explained in my “habilitation à diriger les recherches” (HDR thesis. state doctorate) supported in 2016.
Question: To what extent will your research agenda be inspired by EC?
GdL: In my research applied to the labor market, EC brings me – above all – a theory of action where actors make their decisions based on two-level conventions: the level of behavior and the level of representations. I do not really describe the content of the conventions and I don’t study their evolution. EC thus brings me a paradigm on the rationality of the actors. First, their rationality is procedural: they follow rules, some of them being conventions of behavior. Secondly, their rationality is interpretative: the rules are supplemented by conventions at the representation level, which gives a shared meaning to the follow-up of the rules. Tertio, their rationality is argumentative: for example, to justify that the follow-up of such rule in such a situation is appropriate. The actors have an ability to judge what is and is not worthwhile, considering that arguments in terms of individual interest or subjective well-being may not be admissible in order to justify a public action (in the sense of visible by others) such as a promotion decision in an organization or the non-recruitment of a person recommended by an employee.
Question: Please give us a short overview with regard to your previous, current and future research projects that build on EC concepts.
GdL: My starting question is the quality of the matches between workers and jobs. Interactions in the labor market are subject to uncertainty because it is impossible to ascertain the quality of a match before experiencing it. In line with the approach of François Eymard-Duvernay and Emmanuelle Marchal (1997), I regard hiring as an uncertain situation, in which recruiters have to “qualify” labor and workers who do not have worth per se. The ways recruiters define, interpret and assess applicants’ qualities rely on a “labor quality convention”: they imply conventional judgments of what makes a “good candidate”. Consequently, as Emmanuelle Marchal and I showed with a French nation-wide employer survey (Larquier/Marchal 2016), the applicants’ worth depends on the choice of recruitment and assessment methods, on the way of using them, and on the type of actors involved in the process. Typically, the hiring process is a “trial”, as defined by Luc Boltanski and Eve Chiapello (1999), that is to say a social arrangement organizing the test of people’s abilities resulting in their ranking. In fact, the hiring process needs to be a legitimate trial because it justifies the distribution of social goods (jobs) to people according to their ranking. As Christian Imdorf (2017) wrote, the selected candidates have to be “credible and legitimate in the eyes of others”: employees, hierarchy, customers, business and public partners. Recruiters and employers have to explain themselves to ensure coordination and cooperation inside and outside the firm.
As long as hiring practices seem to be efficient in the coordination (they avoid serious hiring failures from recruiters’ interpretation) and legitimate (there is no strong critics about their organization and their outcome), recruiters have no reason to change their way of value applicants. Finally, given these conditions – no failure of efficiency and of legitimacy –, recruiters in firms have the “power of valuation” (according to the innovative concept introduced by François Eymard-Duvernay, 2012): in the labor markets, actors accept that employers can decide who are valuable and who are not. Their labor quality conventions are diffused in the labor market and the applicants have to adjust themselves to these quality conventions. How? It is the function of recruitment channels. It is the issue of my present work with Géraldine Rieucau.
The labor market – in other words, the uncertainty outside the firm – is shaped by the recruitment channels that the firm uses. Here the concept designed by Laurent Thévenot is very useful: the investments in forms. By using a given channel, employers and workers base their decisions and actions on the investments in forms embedded in that channel. They delimit and stabilize the outlines of labor markets and they shape the information about the applicant’s qualities and employer’s requirements. The objective is to coordinate the representations of the labor market and to make possible the formation of matches between firms and workers. And, given the power of valuation of the firms, investments in forms embedded in channels are expected to be coherent with the employers’ labor quality conventions. Finally, my conventionalist approach amends the traditional opposition between external and internal labor markets highlighted by Peter Doeringer and Michael Piore (1971). I consider that external and internal labor markets’ dynamics are linked by the way firms judge the quality of labor and by the way channels convey firms’ valuations.
Question: In terms of your research agenda, what will be the focus of your future work?
GdL: My constant subject is the evaluation of work quality by firms. The recruitment is the exemplary moment for addressing this issue and I will not abandon it. In addition, recruitment is neither quite in the market nor quite in the firm but at the hinge of both. So, by analyzing the recruitment and the conventions that are revealed during the recruitment outcomes, we improve the understanding both of the labor market as a place of matching and of the firms as places of workforce management. My research then will continue in both directions: on the one hand, the analysis of market channels used not only by firms but also by job seekers and, on the other hand, the analysis of the training policies in firms, another crucial moment for valuing work (in the strong sense) by firms. With Géraldine Rieucau, we would like to show how EC can complement the labor market segmentation theory. Investments in forms in external labor markets (ie, channels and intermediaries) and conventions in force in internal labor markets imply that certain qualities are recognized for certain jobs and workers and exclude others; that produces, maintains and strengthens segments of the labor market that are distinguished from one another by the qualification and management of workers and jobs. For example, the category of “unskilled” is not a natural data; in the “unskilled” segment, the qualities that matter are not stabilized by investments in forms made by academic, professional or labor market-specific institutions; as a result, the dynamics of this segment rely on other types of formats to qualify workers and jobs and this segment is likely to be much more embedded in the social structure; it is therefore a mistake to say that the “unskilled” segment corresponds to the most “competitive” segment (I am actually referring to a very fine remark by Jérôme Gautié commenting on Géraldine Rieucau’s HDR thesis).
In short, in my research agenda, there are a number of relatively classical projects in applied labor economics (recruitment channels, professional integration of youth, firm training policies, mobility of trained employees); but each time, I introduce this nagging question specific to EC: how is the work quality recognized? It is not an objective fact; it is neither totally subjective, inscribed in the evaluator’s preferences; it is a convention, intersubjective, each one considering that it is shared with others, and this with good reasons since it is stabilized by different investments in forms.
Question: Where do you see the strengths of EC and its opportunities? Any weaknesses and threats you can detect? What do you expect to be the most important issues, research questions and conceptual puzzles you or other EC scholars should address?
GdL: The EC is not a chapel with strict dogmas; on the contrary, there are many ways to be conventionalist! It is a strength of the EC, but also the cause of its weaknesses. Some researchers use the Economies of Worth of Luc Boltanski and Laurent Thévenot to identify justifications in the discourses; others consider conventions less demanding in terms of justification, their legitimacy being much more local; others may not speak of conventions at all, but adhere to the hypothesis of interpretative and argumentative rationality of the actors. As a result, the consistency and visibility of EC are not so clear. There is no handbook but a myriad of books and articles. When a student asks me what to read for an introduction to EC, I can unfortunately not give a single reference (unless reading German: the book of Rainer Diaz-Bone (2015) being the only reference handbook that I know); it is necessary to make the effort to read several references (for example the ones listed in the References tab of the blog) and discover the various facets of EC. So, learning about EC is not easy, but despite this, I see that many young researchers are integrating a conventionalist dimension into their work. Their field studies lead them to adopt EC, because they observe the conventions and the justifications in situation.
Moreover, from the point of view of the other institutionalist currents in economics, we can at the same time acknowledge to EC a certain capacity to spread the strong points of its program (the widening of the actors’ cognitive and ethical capacities and the meso-analysis of markets and organizations) and blame EC for an apparent lack of analysis of conflicts and of the capitalist system. In response to this reproach, not completely unfounded but not completely deserved either, we organize in Lille, with Richard Sobel, two studies days in June 2018 on the contributions of EC to the understanding of the mutations of contemporary capitalism.
Question: Can you provide any advice for young scholars who want to work with EC and find their way in academia?
GdL: In general, I advise young researchers to always keep an empirical dimension in their work. This gives more strength to the theory that is applied, especially when this theory is not the conventional one taught at university!
Question: Why does EC matter in France and beyond?
GdL: EC matters if you are looking for a paradigm in social sciences explaining the plurality of forms of coordination and the normative attachment of the actors to each of these forms. It is true in France and beyond!
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(2004): The French convention school and the coordination of economic action. Laurent Thévenot interviewed by Søren Jagd at the EHESS Paris. economic sociology_the european electronic newsletter, Vol. 5, Iss. 3, pp. 10-16
(2008): Robert Salais answers five questions about economic sociology: Economics of convention – its origins, contributions and transdisciplinary perspectives: Robert Salais interviewed by Rainer Diaz-Bone, economic sociology_the european electronic newsletter, Vol. 9, Iss. 2, pp. 16-23
(2013): Economics of convention as the socio-economic analysis of law: Christian Bessy interviewed by Rainer Diaz-Bone, economic sociology_the european electronic newsletter, Vol. 14, Iss. 2, pp. 54-60