In: Agricultural and Food Economics, 8(6), pp. 1-16. Open Access
“Increasing fish consumption along with rising competition in the global seafood market has brought fisheries and aquaculture producers to adopt several differentiation and marketing strategies. Labelling schemes were thus introduced to respond to a growing demand for traceable and sustainable products. However, the proliferation of quality labels brought to general confusion, calling for collective and public fish labels to ease decision-making. In our case study region (Tuscany, Italy), a number of policy-driven efforts were deployed for establishing regional labelling schemes for fisheries products with no observable impact on the market. Meanwhile, local companies have implemented a number of successful private and regional labels. The purpose of this research is to contribute to potential options for collective regional labelling schemes of fisheries and aquaculture products, through a case study analysis, building on agro-food value-chain and management approaches. Our empirical results highlight key issues and perspectives on labelling policies for local fisheries and aquaculture products.”
“Convention economics build on the paradigm of uncertainty and on the multiple justifications of action as a result of individuals’ and organisations’ belongings to different groups such as “worlds” (Rastoin and Ghersi 2010). Ponte (2016) offers an extensive and overarching literature review of the convention theory applied to the food system. In this respect, convention theory helps identifying that there might be multiple justifications of action operating at the same time, and it highlights that different conventions underpin different forms of organisation, coordination, and exchange between actors (Ponte 2016). The Boltanski and Thévenot’s (1999) convention theory model is based on the identification of different worlds of production. This model has been applied to the food system by a number of scholars (e.g.: Murdoch and Miele 1999; Rastoin and Ghersi 2010; Trabalzi 2007) who identified several sets of “world of foods” to explain the strategic positioning of firms and their movements between worlds by highlighting how different worlds of production can coexist even within individual firms (Ponte 2016).” (p. 4)
“From the beginning, capitalism needed a non-economic idealistic driving force. In his study The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, the sociologist Max Weber attributed its spread to an elective affinity of religious ethics and the associated professional view and lifestyle. This perspective was taken up again a century later by Luc Boltanski and Ève Chiapello. In the digital age – according to the main thesis of the lecture – a new, polytheistic spirit of capitalism has now emerged, born in Silicon Valley. This spirit is a transnational phenomenon that drives the digital transformation of economy and lifestyle and has a local impact. The digital spirit is based on an ethic of solution that claims to improve the world and underpins a metric lifestyle.”
Location/time: Collegium Helveticum, Schmelzbergstrasse 25, 8006 Zürich, 18:15-20:00.
Session “Why convention theory?” at the upcoming JAFEE (Japan Society for Evolutionary Economics) conference in Sendai, Japan. 28 March 2020. Organized by Kota Kitagawa (Kansai University Osaka, Japan.)
企画：Why Convention Theory?
第1報告：Rainer Diaz-Bone (University of Lucerne）
第2報告：Masafumi Yokemoto (Osaka City University)
第3報告：Kota Kitagawa (Kansai University) / Mihoko Morisaki (Osaka City University）
Vienna University of Economics and Business, Austria 17-18 April 2020.
Organized by Dominik Zellhofer and Katharina Pernkopf (Vienna University of Economics and Business, Austria)
“The workshop will focus on the use and usefulness of different theoretical ideas developed within the French pragmatic sociology – with a particular emphasis on developments and potential challenges in the age of digital transformation. As always, presentations will cover a variety of projects in differents fields of research.”
For a preliminary version of the program see pdf at this download link
“What are the major factors shaping whether embodied emissions policies and the informational devices enabling them are perceived as legitimate by the various actors that could advance or block their adoption? What is perceived as legitimate will vary depending on the context in which and the perspective from which one assesses the legitimacy of an object, practice, idea, person or organisation. The object of such an assessment will be accepted as legitimate when it qualifies as fulfilling the requirements of, variously, being good, proper or fitting within the internal logic of an intersubjectively – yet unevenly – shared convention as to what constitutes specific desirable qualities. Which qualities are deemed desirable, and which trade-offs between them acceptable, varies between situations and among people. Therefore, processes of legitimation are most fruitfully analysed with reference to the plurality of different ‘orders of worth’.” (p. 38).
“Der französische Rechtswissenschaftler Alain Supiot schreibt in seinem Buch La Gouvernance par les nombres (2015), dass die Quantifizierung des Sozialen die Antwort auf den in der Geschichte des Westens mythologisch tief verwurzelten Traum der ‘Harmonie durch das Kalkül’ sei. Die Harmonielehre habe zunächst Eingang in die Ökonomie und später in das Rechtssystem gefunden, wo sie beispielsweise mit der ‘Harmonisierung’ des europäischen Binnenmarkts festgeschrieben wurde. Mit der Generalisierung arabischer Ziffern, die den “Babylonischen Traum einer gemeinsamen Sprache” realisieren, hätten diese eine ‘universelle normative Kraft’ entfaltet, schreibt Supiot. Damit einher gehe auch ein Wandel der Bewertungslogik, weg von einer ‘juridischen Qualifikation’ hin zu einer “statistischen Qualifikation” des Menschen, die weitgehend im Schatten operiere. Die Herrschaft der Zahlen kommt zwar im Gewand einer vermeintlichen Objektivität und Rationalität daher, doch in Wahrheit objektiviert sie den Menschen – er ist bloß noch eine Nummer im System.”
A dangerous enchantment of the world. Many companies rank the creditworthiness of their customers. Their algorithms are secret – and potentially a perfidious instrument of power to discriminate against people.
“The French jurist Alain Supiot writes in his book La Gouvernance par les nombres (2015) that the quantification of the social is the answer to the dream of “harmony through calculation”, deeply rooted in mythology in the history of the West. The theory of harmony first found its way into the economy and later into the legal system, where it was established, for example, with the ‘harmonisation’ of the European internal market. With the generalisation of Arabic numerals, which realised the ‘Babylonian dream of a common language’, they had developed a ‘universal normative power’, Supiot writes. This is accompanied by a change in the logic of valuation, away from a “juridical qualification” to a “statistical qualification” of the human being, which operates largely in the shadow. Although the rule of numbers comes in the guise of a supposed objectivity and rationality, in reality it objectifies man – he is merely a number in the system.”
Review Essay: Julia Böcker, Lena Dreier, Melanie Eulitz, Anja Frank, Maria Jakob & Alexander Leistner (Hrsg.) (2018). Zum Verhältnis von Empirie und kultursoziologischer Theoriebildung: Stand und Perspektiven. Weinheim: Beltz Juventa. In: Forum Qualitative Social Research. Open Access.
“Im Sammelband ‘Zum Verhältnis von Empirie und kultursoziologischer Theoriebildung’ werden diverse Auseinandersetzungen über eine systematische Verknüpfung der beiden Bereiche präsentiert. Deren bisheriges Verhältnis, so die Ausgangslage, sei insbesondere in der deutschsprachigen Kultursoziologie durch eine Spannung gekennzeichnet. Im vorliegenden Review Essay werden die im Sammelband sowohl in Form von programmatischen Positionen als auch in Forschungsbeispielen präsentierten Lösungsvorschläge mit zwei Perspektiven diskutiert: Auf der einen Seite werden die Beiträge versammelt, die eine bestimmte Vorstellung von Kultursoziologie festschreiben und daraus Konsequenzen ableiten für das Verhältnis von Empirie und Theoriebildung. Auf der anderen Seite werden die Positionen und empirischen Beispiele gemeinsam besprochen, die von einer konkreten Methodologie ausgehen und daraus eine Idee von Kultursoziologe ableiten. Über diese doppelte Betrachtungsweise wird sowohl das Spannungsverhältnis aufgeschlüsselt als auch der allgemeine Stand einer deutschen Kultursoziologie in den Fokus gerückt. Die an dem Band beteiligten Autor*innen verdeutlichen nämlich, dass mehr und mehr die älteren Trennlinien des Fachs ihre Relevanz verlieren. Dies kann allerdings noch nicht gleichgesetzt werden mit dem Verschwinden des Spannungsverhältnisses zwischen Empirie und Theorie. Die vorgebrachten Lösungsvorschläge bleiben selbst in forschungspraktischen Beispielen noch zu programmatisch. Zu wünschen gewesen wären klarere Anleitungen, aus denen sich ein wirkliches Wechselverhältnis zwischen Theorie und Empirie ableiten ließe.”
“Ein möglicher Lösungsansatz zur Überwindung einer Mikro-Makro-Problematik findet sich in PETTENKOFERs Beitrag. Der Autor erläutert hierzu das Konzept der situativen Evidenz. Dieses besagt, dass die Frage nach der Reichweite in konkreten Situationen “kleingearbeitet” (S.53) werden könne in zeitliche und räumliche sowie medial abgegrenzte Momenten. Über diese Perspektive der situativen Evidenz würden sich Forscher*innen den “Scharnierstellen in der Restabilisierung oder Destabilisierung weiter ausgreifender Ordnungen” widmen (S.65). Es seien dann sowohl die empirischen als auch die theoretischen Beiträge zu den re- bzw. destabilisierenden Mechanismen, die das Verhältnis zwischen den beiden Seiten bestimmen und anleiten müssten. PETTENKOFER zeigt hier keine einheitliche Kultursoziologie auf, sondern er führt vielmehr verschiedene Forschungslinien zu Situationen an, von denen das gemeinsame Bezugsproblem der Stabilisierung abgeleitet werden kann. Als Hauptlinien nennt er die Untersuchung von Selbstverhältnissen, Darstellungen, Ritualen und Prüfungen. Es gelingt ihm dabei, sowohl Klassiker wie GOFFMAN (1961) als auch neuere Ansätze wie den von BOLTANSKI und THÉVENOT (2007) zusammenzufassen. PETTENKOFER schließt mit einer umkehrten Herangehensweise an die Position von WOHLRAB-SAHR an. Gleichzeitig wird jedoch in seiner Position zunehmend unklarer, was denn keine Kultursoziologie wäre.” (paragraph 19)
New circumstances? Two perspectives on the relationship between empiricism and theory formation in the sociology of culture in Germany.
“In the anthology ‘Zum Verhältnis von Empirie und kultursoziologischer Theoriebildung’ (On the relationship between empiricism and cultural-sociological theory-building), various debates on the systematic linking of the two areas are presented. According to the starting point, their relationship to date is characterized by tension, especially in the German-speaking sociology of culture. In this review essay, the proposed solutions presented in the anthology, both in the form of programmatic positions and research examples, are discussed from two perspectives: On the one hand, the contributions are gathered together that establish a certain idea of cultural sociology and derive consequences for the relationship between empiricism and theory formation. On the other hand, the positions and empirical examples are discussed together, which start from a concrete methodology and derive from it an idea of cultural sociologist. Through this dual approach, both the tensions are broken down and the general state of a German sociology of culture is brought into focus. The authors involved in the volume make it clear that the older dividing lines of the subject are increasingly losing their relevance. However, this cannot yet be equated with the disappearance of the tension between empiricism and theory. Even in practical research examples, the proposed solutions remain too programmatic. It would have been desirable to have clearer instructions from which a real interrelation between theory and empiricism could be derived.”
“A possible approach to overcome a micro-macro problem can be found in PETTENKOFER’s contribution. The author explains the concept of situational evidence. This concept states that the question of the range in concrete situations can be “worked on in a small scale” (p.53) in temporal and spatial as well as medially delimited moments. From this perspective of situational evidence, researchers would devote themselves to the “hinges in the restabilization or destabilization of more extensive orders” (p.65). It would then be both empirical and theoretical contributions to the re- or destabilizing mechanisms that would have to determine and guide the relationship between the two sides. PETTENKOFER does not present here a uniform sociology of culture, but rather he lists various lines of research on situations from which the common reference problem of stabilization can be derived. As main lines of research he mentions the investigation of self-relations, representations, rituals and tests. He succeeds in bringing together classics such as GOFFMAN (1961) as well as newer approaches such as those of BOLTANSKI and THÉVENOT (2007). PETTENKOFER follows on from the position of WOHLRAB-SAHR with an inverted approach. At the same time, however, his position becomes increasingly unclear as to what would not be a sociology of culture. (paragraph 19)
“Gegen die Thesen Bourdieus sind im Laufe der Zeit wichtige Einwände formuliert worden. Ein Autor, dem dabei eine wesentliche Rolle zukommt und der zugleich für die Klassifikationstheorie von großem Interesse ist, ist der französische Soziologe Luc Boltanski. Er geht den Charakteristika und den Konsequenzen kulturhistorischer Klassifikationsschemata und ihren Wirkungen auf die Verhaltens-, Deutungs- und Konfliktmuster von Individuen in anderer Weise als Bourdieu nach. Deutlich wird dies vor allem in seinem wohl wichtigsten Buch Über die Rechtfertigung, das er gemeinsam mit dem Wirtschaftswissenschaftler Laurent Thévenot (geb. 1949) verfasste. In dieser Studie fragen die Autoren danach, was Individuen dazu befähigt, Handlungen zu begründen oder K.ritik zu üben (Boltanski/Thévenot 2014 ). Um einer Antwort näher zu kommen, legen die beiden Autoren drei sehr unterschiedliche Materialschichten übereinander: Beschreibungen alltäglicher Auseinandersetzungen, Ratgeberliteratur zur erfolgreichen Unternehmensführung sowie Schlüsselwerke der politischen Philosophie. Die grundlegende These dabei ist, dass auf den drei Ebenen die gleichen Argumentationsmuster genutzt werden, um Handlungen oder Beurteilungen zu rechtfertigen.” (p. 176)
“Over the course of time, important objections have been formulated against Bourdieu’s theses. One author who plays a significant role in this and who is also of great interest to classification theory is the French sociologist Luc Boltanski. He examines the characteristics and consequences of cultural-historical classification schemes and their effects on the patterns of behavior, interpretation and conflict of individuals in a different way from Bourdieu. This becomes particularly clear in what is probably his most important book, On Justification, which he wrote together with the economist Laurent Thévenot (born 1949). In this study, the authors ask what enables individuals to justify actions or practice ritual (Boltanski/Thévenot 2014 ). To get closer to an answer, the two authors lay three very different layers of material on top of each other: descriptions of everyday conflicts, literature on successful business management, and key works of political philosophy. The basic thesis here is that the same patterns of argumentation are used on the three levels to justify actions or assessments. (p. 176)
Economics of convention as a neopragmatist institutionalism
“In his lecture ‘Economics of Convention as a neopragmatist Institutionalism’, this institutionalism is first introduced and its methodology and contributions to economic sociology are outlined. The focus is on conventions as logics for economic coordination and valorization, and a pragmatic concept of ‘quality’. The basic position of the ‘Economics of convention’ is the radical coexistence of many quality conventions in the economy, resulting in a plurality of economic coordination logics.”
In: Science, Technology & Society (2020): 1-19. Online first.
“This contribution to the sociology of food security as a globalised public issue highlights the importance of instruments of proof that underlie discourses on related matters. This article addresses the issue of the economic models that are used in the definition of the futures of food security. Through these models, the food security issue is centred on neo-liberal options which systematically and closely connect agricultural productivity and international agricultural trade. Over the last ten years, we have been witnessing the development of new kinds of foresight which construct alternative scenarios. Agrimonde (2008-2010) is one of them. This article highlights how this foresight attempts to open up the debate in instituted networks dedicated to food security in which economic models – and the International Model for Policy Analysis of Agricultural Commodities and Trade (IMPACT) model developed by IFPRI1 in particular – exert a strong influence. Furthermore, it examines the way in which Agrimonde’s construction principles and its underlying axiology engage in a critique of economic models. The Agrimonde approach also includes the mobilisation of the strategic resources required to perform the international debate and to raise the visibility of alternative conceptions of food security.”
“In this article, from the standpoint of the sociology of scientific controversies, we wish to stress that such divisions result not only from diverging interests or balance of power between partisan coalitions. The structuring of debates on food security also covers the use of tools of proof (Desrosières, 2008, 2014) which conflict with one another and which cover different actor networks.” (p. 2)
Guillemette de Larquier & Géraldine Rieucau (2020)
Document de travail, Centre d’études de l’emploi et du travail, n°201
Résumé. En prenant appui sur les données de l’enquête Offre d’emploi et recrutement (Ofer, 2015) de la Dares (Direction de l’animation de la recherche, des études et des statistiques), l’objectif de ce document est d’analyser les pratiques de recrutement des entreprises françaises afin de mettre en exergue les conventions et les segmentations du marché du travail. L’analyse statistique consiste dans un premier temps à construire une typologie d’emplois ayant donné lieu à un recrutement puis, à l’aide de régressions logistiques, à caractériser les pratiques de recrutements associées aux 7 classes d’emplois de la typologie. Ces pratiques renvoient à 4 fonctionnements différents du marché du travail, distingués par notre construction théorique originale, qui croise la théorie de la segmentation et l’économie des conventions. Premièrement, la théorie de la segmentation nous amène à étudier les contours de l’offre de travail recherchée par les entreprises : sont-ils ou non bien définis en amont (marché fermé ou ouvert) ? Deuxièmement, l’économie des conventions nous conduit à prêter attention au format de l’information que les entreprises utilisent pour capter et évaluer l’offre de travail : ce format est-il standardisé ou au contraire personnalisé ? Les deux approches et notre cadre théorique les croisant sont présentés dans la première partie du document, les données, la démarche empirique et les résultats commentés dans la deuxième partie. D’après nos résultats, près d’un appariement sur deux s’inscrit sur un « marché de proximité » où les entreprises ne cherchent pas à maîtriser en amont le profil des candidats qui se présentent. Les appariements proches de ceux décrits par la théorie économique conventionnelle représentent à peine un recrutement sur cinq et se situent sur un marché que nous qualifions de « standard ». 17 % du total des recrutements sont positionnés sur un « marché professionnel », où l’entreprise connaît les contours de l’offre qu’elle souhaite capter et sélectionne sur des critères personnalisés. Enfin, nous identifions un « marché partenarial », relativement ouvert car le recrutement est l’occasion de constituer la main-d’œuvre avec des intermédiaires du marché du travail, dont l’évaluation est standardisée.
Extrait : “[La théorie de la segmentation (TSeg) et l’économie des conventions (EC)] ont des origines et des objets qui leur sont propres. La TSeg met en évidence et analyse les segmentations du marché du travail issues des pratiques des entreprises, tandis que l’EC propose une théorie de l’action selon laquelle les individus prennent appui sur des conventions, qui harmonisent représentations et comportements, pour se coordonner. Plusieurs proximités entre les deux approches confortent notre projet de les croiser. EC et TSeg bâtissent leurs hypothèses à partir d’observations empiriques, issues d’enquêtes statistiques ou d’enquêtes de terrain . Le «marché du travail» n’a rien d’évident ni de spontané, pas plus qu’il n’y a de «concurrence» évidente entre les catégories de main-d’œuvre et entre les emplois ; il doit être analysé via les institutions et les conventions qui sous-tendent la coordination et lasélection qui s’y jouent. De cet appui sur les observations et sur le fonctionnement concret des marchés, découle une posture partagée par les deux courants : l’analyse ne se fait pas à l’aune d’un étalon unique – celui de la rationalité maximisatrice des comportements individuels ou de la convergence des marchés vers un modèle unique – et il ne s’agit donc pas d’inscrire les comportements ou les marchés dans un continuum unidimensionnel, mais bien de mettre en évidence les segmentations et donc les frontières des marchés (TSeg) et la pluralité des comportements (EC). […] Quant aux pratiques de recrutement, les deux courants s’y intéressent avec des regards complémentaires. Les travaux qui relèvent de la TSeg montrent comment les pratiques de gestion de la main-d’œuvre en général façonnent les segmentations du marché du travail. Nous insistons sur le fait que les pratiques de recrutement en particulier, moins analysées par ce courant d’analyse que les autres pratiques de gestion, contribuent à la segmentation. De leur côté, les travaux qui, dans le courant de l’EC, cherchent à expliquer le fonctionnement du marché du travail conçoivent une diversité de modes de coordination entre entreprises et travailleurs, fondée sur une pluralité de représentations de la qualité du travail, c’est-à-dire des conventions de qualité, au moment du recrutement. La question générale que nous nous posons est dès lors la suivante : cette pluralité des conventions mise en évidence par l’EC recouvre-t-elle celle des segments du marché du travail analysée par la TSeg ?” (p. 5-6)
Firms’ recruitment practices: a power of segmentation and valuation
Abstract. Based on data from the Dares Offre d’emploi et recrutement Survey (Ofer, 2015), the objective of this document is to analyse the recruitment practices of French firms in order to highlight labour market conventions and segmentations. The statistical analysis consists first of constructing a typology of jobs that have given rise to recruitment and then, using logistic regressions, of characterizing the recruitment practices associated with the 7 isolated job classes. These practices refer to 4 market functioning that our original theoretical construction distinguishes by crossing Labour market segmentation theory and Economics of convention. First, segmentation theory leads us to study the contours of the labour supply sought by firms: are they or are they not well defined (closed or open market)? Secondly, the economics of convention leads us to pay attention to the format of the information that firms use to capture and evaluate the labour supply: is this format standardized or personalized? The two approaches and our theoretical framework crossing them are presented in the first part of the document, the data, the empirical approach and the commented results in the second part. According to our results, nearly one matching out of two is part of a “proximity market” where firms do not seek to control the profile of candidates who apply. Matches close to those described by conventional economic theory represent barely one in five recruitments and are located in a market that we call “standard”. 17% of all recruitments are positioned in a “professional market”, where the firm knows the contours of the offer it wishes to capture and selects on the basis of personalized criteria. Finally, we identify a “partnership market”, relatively open because recruitment is an opportunity to build the workforce with labour market intermediaries, whose assessment is standardized.
Translation of the excerpt: “[Segmentation Theory (ST) and the Economics of Convention (EC)] have their own origins and objects. ST highlights and analyses labour market segmentations arising from the practices of firms, while EC proposes a theory of action according to which individuals rely on conventions, taht harmonize representations and behaviours, to coordinate themselves. Several proximities between the two approaches support our project to cross-reference them. EC and ST build their hypotheses from empirical observations, resulting from statistical surveys or field surveys. There is nothing obvious or spontaneous about the “labour market”, nor is there any obvious “competition” between categories of labour and between jobs; it must be analysed via the institutions and conventions that underlie the coordination and selection involved. From this reliance on observations and on the concrete functioning of markets, a position shared by both currents emerges: the analysis is not carried out against a single yardstick – that of the maximising rationality of individual behaviour or the convergence of markets towards a single model – and it is therefore not a question of placing behaviour or markets on a one-dimensional continuum, but rather of highlighting segmentation and therefore the boundaries of markets (ST) and the plurality of behaviour (EC). […] As for recruitment practices, the two currents take an interest in them with complementary perspectives. ST studies show how labour management practices in general shape labour market segmentation. We emphasize the fact that recruitment practices in particular, which are less analyzed by this current of analysis than other management practices, contribute to segmentation. On the other hand, EC studies seeking to explain the functioning of the labour market consider a diversity of modes of coordination between firms and workers, based on a plurality of representations of the quality of work, i.e. quality conventions, at the time of recruitment. The general question is therefore the following: does this plurality of conventions highlighted by EC cover the plurality of labour market segments analysed by ST?”
“In a world, in which measurements, indices and agreed-upon standards are ubiquitous, Bessy and Chateauraynaud’s work on experts and counterfeiters has gained new relevance. The French social scientists provide a rich theory on the sense of things, explaining how experts evaluate the authenticity of objects. Along with the mobilisation of a shared language and stabilised criteria, the sense of things generates from everyday interactions between experts and objects. While social scientists tend to prioritise the study of the commonly-accepted aspects of evaluation, the concept of the sense of things directs attention to the subtle micro interactions and sensory experiences on the ground. This process can initiate shifts in stabilised evaluations of the true and false. This article presents the central theoretical arguments of the book “Experts et Faussaires” (Experts and Counterfeiters) and sketches their relevance for the study of environmental phenomena.”
“The issue of scientific and professional independence is a central concern of National Statistical Offices (NSOs). It pertains not only to scientific and methodological dimensions, such as definition of concepts, or design of surveys and questionnaires, but also to issues such as data release policies, definition of the overall statistical program, nomination or dismissal of the chief statistician, an NSO’s position within government architecture, as well as budgetary discretion. Independence is now an explicit feature of statistical acts and codes of practice in many countries and appears as a condition for securing the public’s trust. After describing the range of formal and informal means developed for protecting statistics independence in OECD countries, this chapter sketches three interpretations of the independence drive: the principal-agent, the independent expert and the technocrat-guardian models.”
“But many official statisticians believe that it should extend to more general operational issues, such as data release policies and the definition of the overall statistical program, to organizational or structural dimensions like the nomination or dismissal of the chief statistician or a national statistical office’s (NSO) position within the overall government architecture, or even to fixing the size of an NSO’s budget or at least allowing discretion over its management. The reasons for independence put forward by NSOs and their officials are often presented as self-evident and unproblematic: without perceived independence, public trust would vanish, as would, in consequence, good, “evidence-based” policy. This claim for independence, however, can itself be seen as an instance of the politics of quantification, a crossroads where contending interests and values meet, and as a statistical policy characteristic of the era of neo-liberalism. Following Desrosières, it may indeed be argued that a significant change occurred in official statistics around the 1980s and 1990s, with the shift from a Keynesian orientation to a regime more attuned to the neo-liberal context.” (p. 156f)
“Kolloquium Sozialforschung” at the University of Lucerne, Switzerland (Autumn 2019)
Guy Schwegler (University of Lucerne)
During the autumn semester 2019, the bi-weekly colloquium at the University of Lucerne took place, which was organized by Rainer Diaz-Bone and Kenneth Horvath. The format features speakers from both academia as well as private and public research institutions to deal with the methodological challenges of social science in a broad way. The various presentations given this past autumn dealt with subjects such as bibliometric reviews (Isabel Steinhardt, University of Kassel), large data sets and maps (Timo Ohnmacht, Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts), or the question of representativeness in surveys (Stephanie Steinmetz, University of Lausanne). Furthermore, two researchers were also part of this semester’s program that relied heavily on convention theory (EC). For the very first presentation of the colloquium, Valeska Cappel (University of Lucerne) presented her PHD project’s perspective on the think-aloud-method. And for the very last one of the semester, Simon Schrör (Weizenbaum Institute Berlin) focused on the furniture industry. For his newly started PHD, he examines the role of conventions in the digital transformation of this industry.
These two latter presentations and their subsequent discussions will be summarized in this blog post.
Valeska Cappel: “Die Think-Aloud-Methode: lautes Denken zur Erfassung impliziter kognitiver Wissensvorgänge” [Using the Think-Aloud Method to Grasp Implicit Cognitive Knowledge-Processes]
In her PHD project, Valeska Cappel focuses on the digital classifications of health within software applications on smartphones (i.e. apps). She has been presenting her project in numerous forums already (see here for some reports on her presentation on this very blog). For her most recent presentation on the subject, she focused on a very specific part of her empirical work, namely the possible application of the think-aloud-method.
As Cappel put it, her project has three aims when it comes to health classifications in apps. First, there is a (more historical and general) side to the establishment of these digital classifications that she looks into. Here, she hopes to identify the equivalences and form-investments present. Second, she also will look at tensions, conflicts and non-intended consequences that result from the implementations of the classifications within and through the helath apps. Third, Cappel wants to examine closely the actual handling of the apps within specific situations, where users interact with the objects, the software and therefore the classifications. Although her three goals co-constitute each other and are somehow inseparable, she approaches each part with a different methodological emphasis. For her third aim—the handling of the apps within situations—Cappel sees the think-aloud-method fit to capture data about the cognitive processes the users bring forward in interaction with the apps.
After these introductory remarks, Cappel went on to introduce the method and different approaches to it. These approaches of the think-aloud-technique range from an “introspective” and immediate verbalization of the participants during process over to “retro-“ or post-process verbalizations, that can happen either just after a respective action or in a delayed manner. For Cappel, all of these approaches to the method promise ways to approach the peculiarities of people dealing with classifications in situations. The more immediate verbalizations, for example, seem to relate better to the ideas present in the regimes of engagement concept while the delayed approach seems more fit for justifications. The main challenge of the method, however, lies in the fact that its basic assumption lead to a psychological explanation of the underlying processes all too fast. A path to use the method in the context of EC concepts, in relation to the ideas of technologies of the self by Foucault, or with the symbolic interactionism in mind, as Cappel intends to, does not present itself easily.
The challenge was also at the heart of the discussion that followed the presentation. Here, however, participants stressed that a similar tension as in the method also lies in Cappel’s very subject, i.e. the knowledge category “health”. The idea of “cognition” with and through the category as a psychological process is connected to the sociological issue of the “handling” of the category. Various approaches to this tension then were discussed. One proposed solution was the idea to re-focus the method on the situation as only accessed by the talking participant (instead of focusing on the thinking participant). Another proposal was to apply the method in sessions with couples (and therefore two participants) or to create some sort of “crisis” experiments, and not just observe daily routines.
Simon Schrör: “Digital-basierte Konventionen und Designmöbel. Transformation einer Industrie” [Digital based conventions and Design Furniture. Transformations of an Industry]
Simon Schrör only recently started with his PhD project that focuses on the digital transformation of the furniture industry and its related implications for modes of productions, justifications, and the likes. In Lucerne, he began his presentation with a little introduction of the Weizenbaum Institute, a joint venture project of Berlin’s universities that focuses on the digital transformation of the society, where Schrör is engaged as researcher. As part of one of the twenty research groups of the interdisciplinary institution, he especially focuses on the new governance forms and norms that result from digitalization.
After this introduction of the institute and its focus, Schrör went on to present design furniture and the changes that present themselves with the digitalization of this field. For him, the furniture objects resemble an interesting case for the digital changes. Consequences in legal, technical, as well as social norms and regulation here find their way into a specific and material object—the ways to coordinate in the digital realm are present in the furniture. Taking a step back further, Schrör then went on to present the wider societal change since 70ties as described by Andreas Reckwitz with the term late-modernity (“Spätmoderne”, see Reckwitz 2017/2020) again as mirrored in the design furniture field. Here, the former idea of design as a process inherent to mass production has been flipped on its head and the changes resulted in a questionable new role of the once standardized furniture. Now, design furniture are presented as luxury objects and a form of singularity. At the same time, however, they are being copied and cheaply manufactured by a mass market with instant and global availability.
To grasp these changes in a more systematic way, Schrör presented the concepts of the four commodity structures respectively forms of valorization that Boltanski and Esquerre introduced in Enrichment (“les formes de mise en valeur”, 2017/2020). With these four characteristics alongside the quality conventions, he went on to describe the differentiated practices to produce furniture present in the industry today. According to Schrör, furniture producers can be grouped with regard to three licensing regimes, each with respective (but non-exclusive) characteristics of goods and valorization. First, a license-based furniture production focuses on luxurious “design” furniture. Here, especially the collection form (“forme collection”) is present while a justification follows the convention of inspiration. Although emblematic of the current societal situation (singularities, enrichment), the licensed-based regime is especially challenged by processes of digitalization—and by the second type of furniture manufacturers. In this second regime type, companies have become specialized in an unlicensed production of the former regime’s products, e.g. “copying” the design products. Here, the digitalization enabled the companies to access the global distribution chains of Amazon and the likes that guarantee a certain amount of safety due to globalization (and lack of regulation). And, of course, this resulted into more and more difficulties for the license-based companies to track down their “copy-cat” counterparts. The companies under the unlicensed regime operate with the standard as well as the trend form (“forme standard/tendance”) for their goods, and justify their actions with the grammar of the civic regime. The second regime type seems to be profiting from the changes made possible through digitalization in an unapologetic manner. The third way of producing furniture, on the other hand, resemble a genuine “post-digital solution”. This regime is based on the Open Source idea, where licenses are available publicly on various online channels. These licenses then are forwarded to local producers (again, via specific channels or “platforms”). Here again the standard form becomes present, with promises to an asset form (“forme actif”), while a domestic justification organizes the production.
For Schrör, the approach of value setting in Enrichment as well as the EC in general enables the researcher to look at processes like the ones happening in digitalization from a more structural viewpoint while at the same time never losing sight of actual practices—and their possible contradictory effects (see also Boltanski and Esquerre 2017:495ff). As a first empirical idea, Schrör presented a possible chain of production that he’d like to follow and where the respective conventions should be identified. According to Schrör, an artefact analysis becomes central in following this chain of production.
During the discussion that followed his presentation, the participants of this last colloquium of the semester talked about three distinctive issues. First, the idea of following the design furniture as artefacts was discussed. Schrör presented the fabrication process in an ideal type model. Participants then pointed out that the situations of “production”—and their respective qualities and justification—shouldn’t be pre-fixed, but rather emerge in empirical work. What the actual “furniture” as an artefact is then should be questioned within various situations. The second subject discussed was the issue of digitalization. In a similar manner as with the first issue of the production process and its “artefacts,” participants pointed out that digitalization as a process also need to be specified empirically: in what function and form does the digital manifest itself, and what are the problems actors try to solve with these novelties? As a third discussion point, some weaknesses of convention theory were addressed. On the one hand, the commodity structures introduced by Boltanski and Esquerre seems to be focusing primarily on actual goods and their consumptions. Non-productive industries, the service sector and their respective “goods,” however, are not yet easily placed within the framework. On the other hand, it was pointed out, that the exact identification of a certain convention or justification in a systematic way has never been laid out—and remains a challenge both in Schrör’s project as well as in EC research in general.
Boltanski, Luc and Arnaud Esquerre (2017) Enrichissement. Une critique de la marchandise. Paris: Gallimard.
Boltanski, Luc and Arnaud Esquerre (2020, forthcoming) Enrichment. A Critique of Commodities. Cambridge, UK; Medford, MA: Polity.
Reckwitz, Andreas (2017) Die Gesellschaft Der Singularitäten: Zum Strukturwandel Der Moderne. Berlin: Suhrkamp.
Reckwitz, Andreas (2020, forthcoming) Society of Singularities. Cambridge, UK; Medford, MA: Polity.