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« That is why we consider hiring activities as valorization and devalorization processes. »

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.

Emmanuelle Marchal

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.

Granovetter, M., 1974. Getting a job: A study of contacts and careers, Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

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.

Thévenot, L. 1984. Rules and implements. Investment in forms. Social Science Information, 23, pp. 1-45.

“It became obvious to me very quickly that economics of convention is a particularly fruitful theoretical approach for analyzing the health sector”

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.

Philippe Batifoulier

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.

The first 100 days

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?

Guillemette de Larquier

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!


Amossé T. 2016. The Centre d’Etudes de l’Emploi (1970-2015): Statistics – on the cusp of social sciences and the state. Historical Social Research,  41(2), p. 72-95.

Batifoulier P. (ed.). 2001. Théorie des conventions. Paris: Economica.

Batifoulier P., Bessis F., Ghirardello A., Larquier G. de, Remillon D. (eds.). 2016. Dictionnaire des conventions – Autour des travaux d’Olivier Favereau. Villeneuve-d’Ascq: Presses Universitaires du Septentrion.

Boltanski L., Chiapello E., 1999, Le nouvel esprit du capitalisme. Paris: Gallimard.

Boltanski L., Thévenot L. 1991. De la Justification. Les économies de la grandeur. Paris: Gallimard.

Diaz-Bone R. 2015. Die « Economie des conventions » – Grundlagen und Entwicklungen der neuen französischen Wirtschaftssoziologie. Wiesbaden: Springer VS.

Doeringer P., Piore M. 1971. Internal Labor Markets and Manpower Analysis. Lexington: D.C. Heath.

Eymard-Duvernay F., Marchal E. 1997. Façons de recruter: le jugement des compétences sur le marché du travail. Paris: Métailié.

Eymard-Duvernay F. 2012. Le travail dans l’entreprise: pour une démocratisation des pouvoirs de valorisation. In L’entreprise, formes de la propriété et responsabilités sociales, ed. Baudoin Roger, 227-278. Paris: Éditions Lethielleux.

Imdorf C. 2017. Understanding discrimination in hiring apprentices: how training companies use ethnicity to avoid organisational trouble. Journal of Vocational Education & Training 69(3), p. 405-423.

Jovanovic B. 1979. Job matching and the theory of turnover. Journal of Political Economy, 87(5), p. 972-990.

Larquier G. de. 2016. Une approche conventionnaliste du marché du travail fondée sur le recrutement des entreprises. Habilitation à diriger des recherches. Université Paris 10 – Nanterre.

Larquier G. de, Marchal E. 2016. Does the Formalisation of Practices Enhance Equal Hiring Opportunities? An Analysis of a French Nation-Wide Employer Survey. Socio-Economic Review 14(3), p. 567-589.

Mortensen D.T. 1988. Matching: finding a partner for life or otherwise. American Journal of Sociology, 94, Supplement, p. S215-S240.

Pissarides C. 1990. Equilibrium unemployment theory. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

Rieucau G. 2017. Canaux d’information et recherche d’emploi : une approche institutionnaliste. Habilitation à diriger les recherches, University of Paris 8.

Roth A.E., Sotomayor M. 1990. Two-Sided Matching: A Study in Game-Theoretic Modeling and Analysis. Econometric Society Monographs 18, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Thévenot L. 1984. Rules and implement: investment in forms. Social Science Information 23(1), p. 1-45.

Interviews published in economic sociology_the european electronic newsletter

(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

(2012) : To move institutional analysis in the right direction: Olivier Favereau interviewed by Rainer Diaz-Bone, economic sociology_the european electronic newsletter, Vol. 14, Iss. 1, pp. 40-46

(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

(2013) : Contributing to a pragmatic institutionalism of economic law: Claude Didry interviewed by Rainer Diaz-Bone, economic sociology_the european electronic newsletter, Vol. 14, Iss. 2, pp. 61-68

(2013) : Questioning economists’ notion of value: André Orléan interviewed by Rainer Diaz-Bone, economic sociology_the european electronic newsletter,  Vol. 14, Iss. 3, pp. 41-47