Archives par étiquette : Thévenot

The peculiar connection between common good and self-interest

Valeska Cappel (University of Lucerne)

The question about the relationship between the common good and self-interest was the frame of plenary sessions, panel discussions and keynote-speeches at this year’s Congress of the Swiss Sociological Association (SSA), June 21 – 23th 2017 at the University of Zurich.

Relating to this topic Rainer Diaz-Bone (University of Lucerne) and Luca Pattaroni (EPFL Lausanne) organized the plenary session “Experience, conventions and the common good”.

It was a great opportunity to give space and attention to different conventionalist researches in various fields of social science relating to the topic of common good and self-interest. Regula Leemann (School for education Basel) and Jean-Michel Bonvin (University of Geneva) talked about convention theory in the field of education and social welfare, before special guest Laurent Thévenot (EHESS Paris) shared his thoughts about convention theory (CT) in the urban studies.

The aim of Regula Leemann’s presentation was to show the explanatory power of the theoretical framework of the convention theory in the research field of education. First, she referred on post-compulsory education in Switzerland. Her concern was to show how different orders of worth in the public sphere (“compound communities”) are constitutive for supplying the post-compulsory education as a common good.

Secondly, she talked about the different modes of coordination of individuals with their environment (“compound personalities”). She investigated how individual academics in Europe coordinate themselves with their professional academic and private environment. By focusing on a situation, constructing the EU as a political project of establishing a common market with the fundamental treatments of free movement of people and capital, she pointed out how a dispositive of transnational academic mobility is shaping the individual coordination between professional status and the private conduct of life.

Referring to the main topic of the congress, Jean-Michel Bonvin highlighted in his speech the theoretical challenges to bring social welfare into social actions. Relating to the capability approach (CA), he depicts the need to understand that social politics is not just a technical matter that can be defined and implemented. He claimed that there are different normativities and rationalities depending on the level of interaction (parliamentary areas, street-level bureaucrats, beneficiaries), which have to be considered. In combining the CA and the convention theory (CT) he proposes a solution for this problem: The concepts of CT, like the “economies of worth” (Thévenot) or “pragmatic regimes of engagements”, allow to understand the situation and what matters in social action. The additional benefit of consulting the CT could be to understand, why sometimes the implemented social welfare, constructed from a specific point of view, in particular situations is not receiving.

The highlight of the session was the input of the cofounder of the convention theory, Laurent Thévenot. Besides his inspiring comments on the other lectures he presented his thoughts on newer developments in the convention theory and the recent pragmatic turn of urban studies.

In particular, he focused on three main issues: First he pleaded to abandon the comparison of a public and private sphere in urban environments and focus instead on the various ways how city dwellers engage with their environment. Building commonality in the end is a result of “orders of worth backed by conceptions of the common good and the “realism” of individual interest” (Thévenot).

Secondly, in considering this point, he developed the idea of an extended view on constructions of commonality in the plural. By doing that, he identified three grammars of communality in the plural:  1) the grammar of plural orders of worth, 2) the grammar of interested individuals choosing among options in a liberal public, 3) the grammar of personal affinities to multiple common-places.

Thirdly, he spoke about his transcultural comparative research in urban studies (Europe, Russia, America), where he discovered, that the grammar of personal affinities to multiple common-places is characterized by familiar, personal and local engagement but simultaneous instrumental by authoritarian populism.

Altogether, the session was a short but impressive proof to see how convention theory is growing forward in different fields of social science and develops its explanatory power. Of course, there remain some mutual reception issues based on language barriers – but what, if not at an inspiring congress like this one, would be a decent step to overcome these problems?

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.

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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.



Marketing and compromising for sustainability. Competing orders of worth in the North Atlantic

John H. Finch, Susi Geiger & Rachel Joy Harkness (2017)

Marketing Theory, 17(1), pp. 71-93.

Abstract. The purpose of our article is to propose that compromising is a constitutive characteristic of those marketing systems that entail matters of public interest or concern. In such markets, actors design compromises as they encounter criticisms of and contending justifications for the market’s products, as these refer to price, efficiency in production and use, regulatory compliance or ecological sustainability. Tests and justifications are vital in order to determine what is valuable and by which measure. As a theory framework, the economic sociology of conventions provides a basis for assessing these contests, compromises, and justifications over the issue of worth in a marketing context. Through an ethnographic study of the regulated activities of chemicals service companies supporting the upstream petroleum industry, we assess how actors evaluate and justify the market’s products and services in this environmentally sensitive setting by means of tests drawing from different orders of worth: the green, the industrial and the market order. Our contributions show that by artful and pragmatic compromising around exchanges, actors in marketing systems can balance several conflicting orders of worth over the question of worth without needing to converge on an overriding institutional logic.

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Trying the unemployed. Justification and critique, emancipation and coercion towards society. A study of contemporary reform in France and Denmark

Magnus Paulsen Hansen  (2017)

Copenhagen: Copenhagen Business School, PhD Series 10.2017

Abstract. Since the late 1980s, European welfare states and labour market regulation have gradually but radically been transformed into ways of underpinning a more “active society” where active usually entails paid work or activities, such as training and qualification, that aim towards work. The thesis investigates the transformation towards the ‘active society’ through the spectre of unemployment and how it is governed. Two puzzles in the transformations have motivated the inquiry: firstly, the co-existence of a plurality of different, and often contradictory, conceptions of who the unemployed are and why they are unemployed; and secondly, the co-existence of wills to emancipate the unemployed alongside the justification of using coercive measures towards them.
This thesis argues that if we want to understand the varieties within the transformations, the “what?” question, it is necessary to address the “how?”; i.e., how transformations are legitimised. Here, ideas and morality are pivotal. Inspired by French pragmatic sociology (Boltanski and Thévenot), the ideas are approached as cities of unemployment that are mobilised to justify and criticise policies related to the governing of unemployment. In these situations where the question of what is the best way to govern unemployment is put to the test, cities of unemployment enable actors to prepare and qualify the reality of the situation for critique and justification.
Each city of unemployment is founded on a principle with specific principles to try or test both those who govern and the subjects inhabiting each city, thus entailing a specific understanding of what emancipating the unemployed involves, i.e., what kind of moral subject the unemployed person is with what kind of needs and characteristics. The thesis thus asks which cities of unemployment are mobilised in contemporary reform processes of the governing of unemployment, how are the cities mobilised to justify and criticise, and how do the cities sediment into instruments and institutions governing the unemployed?
The questions are operationalised through an in-depth comparative study of four key contemporary reform processes: two in Denmark and two in France. The thesis is the first systematic investigation into the test situations that unfold in the public debates with a focus on the plurality of ideas that are mobilised to qualify and evaluate existing policies and justify changes.
The thesis shows how the governing of unemployment is the result of an ongoing sedimentation in the cities tied together in compromises. This makes the governing inherently composite and unstable. The thesis identifies and maps seven distinct cities of unemployment that are mobilised in all debates surrounding all four reforms: the cities of Demand, Redistribution, Insurance, Incentives, Mobility, Investment and the Paternal city. Regardless of differences between the four cases, all analyses show that reforms are particularly driven by justifications from the Paternal, Mobility, Investment and Incentives cities, which are all tied together in multiple ways. The other three cities do not vanish completely, but in the qualification of the unemployed they are increasingly put to the margins.
Finally, the thesis shows how the tensions between the cities that are mobilised for justificatory purposes are mitigated in categorisations and various institutionalised tests that continuously evaluate the behaviour of the unemployed. The tests, such as triage, screening, interviews and contracts, thus question and settle what kind of subject the unemployed person is, i.e., what city he lives in, how worthy he is, and what instruments will bring him closer to emancipation (i.e., the ‘active society’). In this way, the possibility of requalifying the unemployed is made permanent. A similar experimentalist dynamic is identifiable in the public debates concerning justification and critique. Here unemployment is increasingly seen as a multi-causal phenomenon that, in the end, is a matter of how to make the unemployed act in certain ways. The result is a constant uncertainty as to how to attach particular causes to particular categories of unemployment. Hence, the demand for targeting or “personalising” the governing in order to make the unemployed respond to it results in increasingly intimate and often coercive instruments.

Résumé. Depuis la fin des années 1980, les États-providence et les marchés du travail au sein de l’Europe connaissent des transformations radicales quoique graduelles, les amenant à privilégier une société plus « active », où actif a généralement le sens de travail rémunéré ou d’activités rémunérées comme px la formation sur le tas ou la formation professionnelle. Cette thèse étudie ce virage vers la ”société active” à travers le phénomène du chômage et sa gestion, la motivation étant d’arriver à une meilleure compréhension de deux tendances : Premièrement, la coprésence d’une pluralité de conceptions différentes et souvent contradictoires sur le chômeur et les circonstances ayant causé sa situation. Deuxièmement, la coprésence d’intentions visant à émanciper le chômeur, d’une part, et de justifications de mesures coercitives à l’encontre du chômeur, d’autre part.
La méthodologie proposée pour étudier et comprendre ces deux tendances suppose que pour savoir en quoi consistent ces transformations, il est nécessaire d’étudier comment les acteurs essaient de les justifier. À cette fin, une étude des idées et de leurs fondements moraux s’impose. S’inspirant de l’école française de la sociologie pragmatique (Boltanski et Thévenot), cette thèse propose une déclinaison du concept de cité du chômage pour rendre compte des idées mobilisées dans la justification et la critique des politiques de chômage. Dans de telles situations où la question de savoir comment gérer au mieux le chômage est mise à l’épreuve, des ‘cités du chômage’ permettent aux acteurs de préparer et qualifier la réalité afin de la critiquer et de la justifier.
Chaque cité du chômage est fondée sur un principe particulier se référant à une conception spécifique de l’émancipation du chômeur, et à partir de ce principe tant la gestion que les êtres présents qui y sont soumis peuvent être évalués ou mis à l’épreuve. Chaque cité attribue à chacun des chômeurs un sujet moral défini par des besoins et caractéristiques spécifiques. D’où la problématique suivante : Quelles cités de chômage sont mobilisées dans les processus de réforme contemporains de la gestion du chômage ? Comment les cités sont-elles mobilisées pour nourrir la justification et la critique ? Et enfin, comment se sédimentent-elles sous formes de dispositifs et d’institutions de gestion du chômeur ?
Ces questions sont traitées à travers une étude comparative détaillée de quatre processus de réforme importants – deux au Danemark et deux en France. Cette thèse est la première à étudier d’une manière systématique les ‘situations d’épreuve’ du débat public, et cela dans le but de mettre en évidence la pluralité des idées mobilisées pour qualifier et évaluer les politiques existantes et pour justifier des changements.
L’analyse montre comment la gestion du problème du chômage est le résultat d’une sédimentation continue de cités de chômage agencées par voie d’arbitrages. Cela rend la gestion du chômage hétéroclite et instable. Cette thèse révèle sept cités de chômage différentes, toutes mobilisées dans chacun des quatre débats : une cité de la demande, une cité de la redistribution, une cité des assurances, une cité des mesures incitatives, une cité des investissements, une cité de la mobilité, une cité paternaliste. Malgré les différences entre les cas étudiés, ceux-ci se caractérisent par étant fondés surtout sur la cité paternaliste et les cités de la mobilité, des mesures incitatives et des investissements. Les trois autres cités ne disparaissent pas complètement, mais elles sont de plus en plus marginalisées dans la qualification du chômeur.
Enfin ce travail de thèse montre comment les tensions décelées entre les cités mobilisées et au sein de celles-ci sont apaisées à l’aide de catégorisations et diverses épreuves institutionnalisées soumettant le comportement du chômeur à une évaluation continue. Des épreuves comme le triage, le dépistage, des interviews et des contrats questionnent et fixent le sujet du chômeur, à savoir sa cité de ‘domicile’ ou d’appartenance, sa valeur, et les instruments les plus indiqués pour l’amener vers son émancipation, c’est-à-dire vers ‘la société active’. Ainsi la possibilité de requalifier le chômeur est rendue permanente. Une dynamique d’expérimentation similaire se manifeste à travers la justification et la critique véhiculés par le débat public, où le chômage est considéré de plus en plus comme un phénomène à causes multiples et dont la solution consiste à découvrir, en fin de compte, comment amener le chômeur à agir d’une façon spécifique. Le résultat en est une incertitude constante concernant l’attribution de certaines causes à certaines catégories de chômeurs. D’où le besoin d’une gestion plus ciblée et personnalisée pour motiver le chômeur à agir ainsi que le besoin de dispositifs plus intimes et souvent coercitifs.


Special Issue « Conventions and Quantification – Transdisciplinary Perspectives on Statistics and Classifications » Historical Social Research

Rainer Diaz-Bone & Emmanuel Didier (Eds.) (2016)

Historical Social Research, 41(2).

In the last few decades, the field of “quantification” – namely the “sociology of quantification” – has evolved and it has shown an impressing development. There are many different strands of science contributing research on processes of quantification and the impact of quantification within social contexts. The concept of quantification is positioned at the crossroad linking approaches such as accounting theory, convention theory (économie des conventions), sociology and history of statistics, analysis of commensuration, sociology of standards and of standardization, analysis of benchmarking, and others.

Alain Desrosières was an internationally renowned scholar in the fields of sociology of quantification and history of statistics. His work can be regarded as the most important contribution to this field. Desrosières was also a “compagnon de route” of the French movement of the so-called “économie des conventions” which postulated the convention-based (and therefore social) nature of qualities, categories and quantities. Consequently, Desrosières’ work was also one of the main inspirations for this HSR Special Issue.

This HSR Special Issue presents recent and transdisciplinary research on the history and sociology of quantification. Building upon the work of Desrosières, this issue includes contributions on the history of science from the eighteenth century to today, covering topics such as: the millennium development goals, financial quantification, and quantification in higher education environments. All in all, the contributions work out the “political economy” as well as the “political sociology” of statistics, categorization, and quantification.

Furthermore this HSR contains a Mixed Issue with one article on „Societal Malaise and Ethnocentrism in the European Union: Monitoring Societal Change by Focusing on EU Citizens’ Perceptions of Crisis ».


Convention theory in the Anglophone agro-food literature: Past, present and future

Stefano Ponte (2016)

Journal of Rural Studies, 44, pp. 12-23.

Abstract. In the past two decades, convention theory has been applied in various branches of agro-food studies, providing analytical and theoretical insight for examining alternative food networks, coordination and governance in agro-food value chains, and the so-called ‘quality turn’ in food production and consumption. In this article, I examine convention theory applications in the Anglophone literature on agro-food studies through the review of 51 relevant contributions. I highlight how CT has helped explain different modes of organization and coordination of agro-food operations in different places, and how it has provided new venues of approaching quality – in view of understanding how exchange of agro-food products takes place and with what social and power dynamics. I trace two main analytical streams of this literature: one focussing on agro-food adaptations of the ‘worlds of production’ framework (Salais and Storper, 1992; Storper and Salais, 1997); and another applying the ‘orders of worth’ approach of Boltanski and Thevenot (1991[2006]) and further elaborations of ‘quality conventions’. After tracing broad trajectories and the significance of new developments in this literature, I highlight its current limitations and suggest some directions for future research.

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