Archives mensuelles : juin 2017

The potential of the « Économie des conventions » for socio-scientific educational research

Session at the SSRE 2017 conference in Fribourg

These days, from 26-28 of June 2017, at the University of Fribourg the annual congress of the Swiss Society for Research in Education took place. Numerous workshops and symposia dealt with educational aspects like early childhood education, competence measurement in schools, school-to-work transitions, education policy and professional identities of teachers. The overall topic was the aspect of time and learning. The congress attracted 400 researchers and practitioners from the German-speaking, French-speaking and Italian-speaking part of Switzerland, as well as some international researchers.

One of the workshops was dedicated to the potential of the „Économie des conventions“ and the phenomenon of Education. In this meeting, chaired by Prof. Philipp Gonon (University of Zurich) three presentations were held and discussed. One by Dr. Hauke Straehler-Pohl (Freie Universität Berlin), another by Prof. Regula Leemann (FHNW School of Education) and a third one by Prof. Esther Berner (Helmut Schmidt University, Hamburg).

Hauke highlighted the situation in a Berlin social focus area, where teachers are in a dilemma, between furthering immigrant children (coming mainly from Middle East Countries) and selecting them for further advancement in the educational system or bringing them closer to the world of work. These educational aims can be conflicting and the EC approach is very helpful to identify conflicts and consensus possibilities. Out of the axiom of common mankind, diversity and accountability to values, as it was developed in Boltanski/Thévenot (1999), there is a ground for legitimation and critique. The situational aspect of referring to different possible conventions is decisive for pedagogical orders, which can be stipulated or criticised. Analysing one interview (out of several ones which are the basis of his post-doc thesis) with a female teacher in Wedding-Berlin, Hauke referred to project-based, industrial and household-based conventions, which highlighted this back-and-forth approach between supporting and oppressing youngsters in their learning attitudes.

Regula was asking herself and the audience why in Switzerland, in contrast to Norway, training circles – networks of apprenticeship-providers who are organizing the apprenticeship in different training companies and who are in charge of the wages for apprentices – are such a minor model in the Swiss Vocational Education and Training system, although the law is encouraging such formats. With the EC-approach she states only a small reachability of such a format of training provision, due to the dominant orientation towards the market convention of small firms. Since the times of economic crisis in the 1990s, when the claim for the civic convention in order to surrender market failures (and a lack of apprenticeship opportunities) prevailed, the topical situation has changed and the conventions of the market and of networks have pushed aside the industrial and civic conventions.

Esther used the EC-approach for a historical account of written apprenticeship contracts that have replaced oral contracts in the period from 1874-1930 in Switzerland. Her theoretical framing was also a critique of functional and system-theoretical approaches. The concept of an apprentice is in her view the result of negotiations: is she or he more a learner, or a person, who has to be protected as minor (not an adult person), or is she or he a worker. In Swiss history this question was debated around the legislation of industry, trade and civic regulation, which was also based on quality claims, referring to the respective conventions. The result of this long-standing debate was really a far-reaching compromise, which defined an apprentice as a person, who has to be protected in his or her learning aspirations and thus needs a written contract.

All these shortly presented arguments were developed further in the discussion, which found a resonance in the audience who partly was first time confronted and challenged with the EC-approach.

The workshop activists warming up with a Fondue Fribourgeoise on the eve of the conference

Forthcoming workshop “Governing by numbers: Key indicators and the politics of expectations”

Workshop, October 5 – 7, 2017, Martin-Luther-University Halle-Wittenberg

Organizers: Walter Bartl, Audrey Terracher-Lipinski

Advisory committee: Petra Dobner, Oliver Holtemöller, Christian Papilloud, Richard Rottenburg, Reinhold Sackmann, Konstanze Senge

Politics in the 20th century created a whole array of indicators, such as gross domestic product (GDP) or unemployment indicators, that became crucial for the structuration of entire policy fields. Politics in the 21st century, inspired by the new public management discourse, complemented this trend by developing not only more indicators but also by inventing new forms of regulation and new ways of modelling political expectations about the future. In the sociology of quantification, the relevance of numbers in democratic politics and democratic representation was among the earliest issues addressed. A basic assumption in this line of reasoning is that there is an inherently political dimension to what seems to be methodological or technocratic issues in the quantification process. While research has become more diversified, there is also growing need for systematizing theoretical approaches and empirical findings as well as pursuing a strategic approach in defining desiderata for further research so as to build a more coherent stock of knowledge about the politics of quantification.

The planned workshop seeks to advance this endeavor by focusing especially on institutionalization processes of key indicators and particularly on the relevance of key indicators to a ‘politics of expectations’.

Governing by indicators: In a globalizing world of ever more complex social relations, there is a rising demand for accessible and comparable knowledge. Since numbers are said to possess many features that cater to this demand, quantification has been observed as a pervasive feature of contemporary society. Indicators are a special form of quantification in that they emphasize the intentional use of numbers and scripted (political) action. Indicators can be qualified, first, as numbers that use a limited set of measurable parameters to make phenomena visible that cannot be observed directly. Hence, otherwise latent phenomena become manifest by operationalizing them using certain indicators. For example, the American census created racial categories that consequently came to represent heterogeneous populations as homogeneous groups of society. Second, since indicators simplify complex phenomena, their interpretation depends on concepts that ensure their communicability. Concepts aid interpretation by relating the phenomena of interest to the chosen measure. However, these concepts (implicitly) contain causal attributions and, hence, suggest scripts for (political) action.

Key indicators and politics: The power of indicators to structure entire policy fields is very much debated. On the one hand, there is evidence that particular key indicators are so widely used in society that they have become crucial to the regulation of social life ― such as GDP with respect to economic policy. Among the evidence supporting this view is that the effects of some key indicators have a visible impact on policy fields ― a case in point are performance indicators and their impact on education policy. Other indicators operate largely hidden from public scrutiny. On the other hand, very often the power of indicators is also questioned ― as in the case of environmental indicators in politics. However, the processes by which indicators become institutionalized as key elements of collective efforts to achieve larger social goals are still poorly understood. The same can be said about conflicts over alternative indicators. With regard to the potential power of indicators, the contributions will address institutionalization processes of key indicators and conflicts that arise from divergent practices of using indicators in politics. Can indicators mediate conflicts between different actors?

The politics of expectations: The future is essentially uncertain. Yet political actors have to build expectations about the future in order to make plans and collectively binding decisions. Expectations are fictional in the sense that those who rely on them treat them as if they were certain to become reality. This creates an incentive for actors to try to influence the expectations of others by creating credible accounts of future states of the world. How are expectations about the future symbolized and narrated in politics? How do indicators operate as instruments of imagination? Do indicators measure past developments, implicitly assuming that these developments will continue in the future, or do they project future developments, explicitly aiming to account for the contingency of the future? Recently, there seems to be an increasing relevance of prospective indicators such as in inflation targeting when central banks communicate expected inflation rates or when policy targets are formulated as quantitative indicators such as in the European Union’s Open Method of Coordination or in the global governance of development.

Confirmed speakers include Laurent Thévenot, Kenneth Prewitt, Christina Boswell, Rainer Díaz-Bone, Philipp Lepenies and others.

Deadline: Registration is possible until 1st 

Information & Registration

Surveys as a social process: A workshop dedicated to the roots of the Economics of conventions

Caroline Näther & Raphael Vogel (University of Lucerne, Switzerland)

From 01.06 to 02.06 we co-organized a Workshop about surveys as a social process hosted by the Technical University of Berlin. The fundamental idea of this workshop was to refine the understanding of surveys first, as a product of a wide distributed process and second, as an entity that enacts itself social processes. It is a continuation of a discussion group organized by us at the Congress of sociology held in Bamberg in September 2017. The workshop was organized by the two initiates as well as Prof. Nina Baur (Technische Universität Berlin), Dr. Andreas Schmitz and Alice Barth (both University of Bonn). The workshop was addressed to three different group of survey-interested, such as survey-methodologists, survey-users, but also researchers that examines the survey-process itself. The goal was to critically analyze surveys as a social process from different angles. Therefore it was a well ambitioned project, whose success was ambivalent. On the one hand, the workshop enabled different researchers affiliated to survey-research to come together and share their perspectives. In times of more and more specialized sciences, this alone is a noteworthy accomplishment. Additionally, it was an ideal opportunity for us two doctoral students to present our research to a public outside the well-established network of researchers in the field of economics of convention (EC) in the German speaking countries. It was therefore a test to check if our EC-informed perspectives on surveys make sense to a broader, survey-interested public. All in all, different participants of the workshop mentioned the friendly and constructive atmosphere. This was enhanced by the different workshop lunches and dinners. On the other hand it was maybe exactly this atmosphere, which didn’t lead to intensive discussions about the difference and conflicts of the different perspectives on the survey-process. In the aftermath of the workshop, it would have been a good idea to focus on several stations of the survey-process and then determine and discuss the different perspectives on it. But probably this is a task for a following workshop, as it is clear that the different participants of the workshop needed first to have an insight into the perspectives of the other participants. A well-defined agenda setting for the workshop without this prerequisite is probably difficult.

All in all, the workshop was a nice opportunity for us to have a broad insight into different perspectives and disciplines in survey-methodology and to get comments and feedback to our own work about coordination in survey-projects. Additionally, the workshop showed that the perspective of EC is more and more outgrowing in the German speaking countries from a sole perspective in the economic-sociology to a broad paradigm in sociological research.

In this place, a big thank you to the other organizers, especially Nina Baur, who organized the place for this workshop. It would not have been possible, to connect a broad mix of survey-researchers without her. Last but not least, a big thank you also to the staff of Nina Baur, who looked for the well-being of the survey-participants.

Some of the participants of the workshop enjoying discussions and superb Spanish Tapas at the Restaurant Mar y Sol in Berlin.

Understanding discrimination in hiring apprentices: how training companies use ethnicity to avoid organisational trouble

Christian Imdorf (2017)

Journal of Vocational Education & Training, 69(3), 405-423. 

Abstract. Children of immigrants from non-EU countries face particular problems to access apprenticeship training in German-speaking countries. In this context this article asks how recruiters in small and medium sized companies (SME) make sense of national and ethnic origin when hiring new apprentices. The author proposes Boltanski and Thévenot’s theory of justification in order to conceptualise ethnic discrimination in hiring. Accordingly, the social body of a company consists of multiple interweaved (industrial, domestic, market) ‘worlds’ of social coordination and justification. In order to avoid organisational trouble and to guarantee the further existence of the company, these worlds claim different principle of personnel assessment, some of them penalising applicants of specific ethnic origin. Empirically, the article refers to apprentice recruitment in Switzerland and Germany. It illustrates that employers in SME expect trouble in the domestic and in the market world of the company when hiring school leavers they perceive as foreigners. Hence, discriminatory categories such as ethnicity are used as symbolic and organisational resources for trouble avoidance in hiring apprentices.

Link to the article

Collaborer pour insérer ? Les partenariats sociaux dans l’insertion par l’activité économique

 Philippe Semenowicz​ (2017)

Cet ouvrage analyse le fonctionnement de trois structures d’insertion par l’activité économique : un groupe d’insertion de statut associatif, une entreprise de travail temporaire d’insertion et un groupement d’employeurs pour l’insertion et la qualification. Il se dégage trois « conventions d’insertion », qui sont autant de compromis. L’insertion apparaît au final comme une notion ouverte à plusieurs acceptions. Leur portée dépend de la capacité des entreprises sociales à établir des compromis exigeants avec les entreprises classiques.

Philippe Semenowicz est enseignant à l’université Paris-Est Créteil et chercheur associé au laboratoire ERUDITE.


Introduction et table des matières disponibles en ligne

Appel à articles/Call for papers “Pluralist Thinking in Economic and Socioeconomic Education” JSSE

The Journal of Social Science Education will publish a special issue in September 2018 on the theme of “Pluralist Thinking in Economic and Socioeconomic Education”. The issue will edited by Reinhold Hedtke, Bielefeld University, Germany.

For more than ten years, pluralism in economics and in the education of economists has been a hot issue. Contemporary criticism of conventional economics education has started around the turn of the millennium with student initiatives for pluralist economics like the post-autistic economics movement – with a stronghold in France (autisme-économie) – and gained momentum after the financial crisis of 2007/2008. Students turned against the perceived one-sidedness of syllabi, textbooks and exams of their universities and against economists and economics’ lack of contact with reality. In consequence, economic plurality and pluralism in economic(s) education was put onto the public agenda, initiated controversies and triggered changes in policies of higher education.
Recent student movements, however, are not the first and only stage for the debate on pluralism in economics and economic plurality. On the contrary, methodological, paradigmatic and theoretical pluralism in economic research has triggered a controversial scholarly debate. It involves key questions of teaching economics and business studies in the right way, at universities as well as at schools. Moreover, since citizens and voters, pupils and students are confronted with contentious issues concerning economic policies and their pluralist scientific rationales.
However, we do not know much about the impact of these debates on curricula, schools, textbooks, classroom practices and teacher training. Undergraduates, in principle, may be fortunate to find a more pluralist place for studying – as far as there are heterodox professors left – and overcome economics’ orthodoxy by changing the university or, at least, the department. Others may join ongoing protest movements for pluralist economics or educate themselves via pluralist platforms and webs of knowledge. In contrast, pupils and students of secondary and vocational schools as well as trainee teachers normally do not have these options. As a rule, they have to come to terms with the established curricula, content, textbooks and exams.
Against this backdrop, the thematic issue of the JSSE addresses phenomena, findings, problems and educational approaches of economic plurality and pluralism in economic research at different levels and in different contexts of the educational system. The issue will focus on teaching and learning in schools, on teacher education at universities and teacher training colleges and on social representations of economic plurality held by young people.
The thematic issue calls for deeper analyses of the underlying justifications and assumptions, guiding educational conventions and ideologies, corresponding policies, practices and vested interests. It welcomes papers of different formats, such as theoretical and conceptual or empirical papers, policy and curriculum analyses, comparative analyses, process tracing and discourse analyses as well as actor-centred empirical school and classroom research. We also look for qualitative research like ethnography of classroom practice, case studies of pluralist lessons or studies of pluralist teaching cultures.

 We are reluctant to impose a rigid framework but we would be especially interested in knowing how authors respond to one or more of the following questions:

  •      What are the epistemological, philosophical, psychological or sociological foundations of pluralist thinking about economy, economic life and economic policies and how do they relate to economic and socioeconomic education and to social science education?
  •     What are key empirical findings of pluralist teaching and learning in economic and socioeconomic education at schools, universities and teacher training colleges?
  •     How do students cope with the challenge of pluralist economic thinking in the classroom? What impact does pluralist education have?
  •     What do we know about plural economic thinking of young people and plurality in their representations of the economy? How do they cope with plurality and diversity in their every-day life? What are the approaches to mundane economic plurality socio/economic education should prefer?
  •     The social sciences provide an abundant diversity of approaches to the economy and of economic ideas, but learning time is limited. Which approaches and ideas should be selected for secondary or higher education and why?
  •     How can teachers and teacher educators realise pluralist teaching and learning in every-day teaching?
  •     What are the main normative contexts and patterns of legitimisation for economic pluralism or monism of teaching and learning?
  •     What is the relationship of pronounced pluralism in the economic/socioeconomic curriculum and in teacher education to vested interests and socio/economic policies? How is teaching about scientific controversies in schools and universities related to public dispute on the economy and economic policy?

The issue will contain:

  •     An editorial in which key themes are highlighted and articles are briefly summarised;
  •     4-6 articles of between 6-9000 words;
  •     2-4 book reviews (each approximately 4-800 words long) on issues of pluralist economic teaching and learning in schools.

The focus of the special issue will be socio/economic education and subject-matter research related to the social science domain and its core disciplines economics, economic sociology and business studies. The editors will also welcome theoretical and empirical material that allows for consideration of issues using insights from a range of other academic disciplines and areas (e.g. économie des conventions/sociology of conventions, sociology of education, sociology of knowledge; economic psychology; economic anthropology etc.).

The following schedule will be used:

  • First submission by authors to editors: 20 December 2017
  • Response to authors by editors: 30 January 2018
  • Final submission from authors: 15 May 2018
  • Final reviewing and papers ready for layout: 31 July 2018
  • Publication: 15 September 2018

Capital and Carbon: The Shifting Common Good Justification of Energy Regimes

Thomas D. Beamish & Nicole Woolsey Biggart (2017)

In Charlotte Cloutier, Jean-Pascal Gond & Bernard Leca (ed.), Justification, Evaluation and Critique in the Study of Organizations (Research in the Sociology of Organizations, Volume 52) Emerald Publishing Limited, pp.173 – 205.

Abstract. This article traces the regimes of worth that defined energy for centuries as a productive force of human and animal labor, an understanding that transformed in the 18th century to an “industrial-energy” regime of worth supporting an economy of mass production, consumption, and profit and more recently one centered on market forces and price. Industrial and market energy and the conventions and institutions that support them are currently in a period of discursive and material ferment; they are being challenged by different higher order principles of worth. We discuss eight emergent energy justifications that argue what kind of energy is – and is not – in the best interests of society.


Accounting Values, Controversies, and Compromises in Tests of Worth

Marcia Annisette, Gillian Vesty & Thierry Amslem (2017)

In Charlotte Cloutier, Jean-Pascal Gond & Bernard Leca (ed.), Justification, Evaluation and Critique in the Study of Organizations (Research in the Sociology of Organizations, Volume 52) Emerald Publishing Limited, pp.209 – 239.

Abstract. This article will consider the various ways in which accounting can be conceptualized within Boltanski and Thévenot’s economies of worth theoretic. Drawing on two case illustrations, a not-for-profit welfare agency and a government-owned water utility, we follow the unfolding of disputes and the variety of outcomes in which accounting is implicated. We illustrate the role of accounting in justificatory actions and the ways in which it “holds things together” in compromise arrangements. We also illustrate the situations which challenge the “test” of worth and the innovative accounting responses that either facilitate coordination and agreement or become controversial and be the object of organizational and institutional dispute.