Homo economicus 2.0

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In the June 2004 issue of the Economic Sociology Newsletter [PDF] the following exchange took place between the interviewer (Søren Jagd) and Laurent Thévenot (“The French Convention School and the Coordination of Economic Action,” p.  13):

Question:

Michel Callon argues that the model of economic man could be useful for people engaging in economic activities. And that the interesting thing about this model is if it is actually used by economic actors. Do you agree with that argument?

Answer:

If Callon says that I would say: Why do they use it? I would ask: What kind of properties should this variety of models have? This is not the kind of question he can answer. He would just answer that they do use it. I think that the problem with this answer is that it will lack a reflection on this architecture of regimes and on the path to the public. This is the main problem for me with this overwhelming notion of network. It doesn’t give any specification of the link, of the social link, of the social action. And again I think a good specification would require this specification both of the good and of the reality as it is used as a test. Instead of that the network modelling in general terms is, I would say, flat, so it cannot give you a good picture of what is needed to go from proximity to the public and to come back from there.

Callon’s essay, “Economic Markets and the Rise of Interactive Agencements” in Pinch and Swedberg’s 2008 book, Living In a Material World, reads like a reply to this challenge, as he develops exactly what Thévenot seems to be asking for. Callon defends his notion of homo economicus 2.0 (also discussed elsewhere) by developing a conceptual framework that allows him not only to describe the conditions for the emergence of such calculative individual agency and its characteristics but also to present some normative considerations for political action. In the process he also manages to revitalise actor-network theory for the study of economic phenomena.

It is an interesting and even unusual article for a number of reasons. Rather than dismissing the rational and independent homo economicus of neo-classical economics in favour of an embedded and networked homo sociologicus, Callon argues that some form of calculative individual agency does exist and that the role of economic sociology is to describe the conditions, the support systems, which enable  this creature (homo economicus 2.0) to be performed. To accomplish this task, Callon builds a conceptual apparatus that draws on Hutchins’ theory of distributed cognition, Deleuze’s notion of agencement, Foucault’s notion of dispositif, and Barry’s notion of interactive diagram (after Deleuze and Guattari) – and of course actor-network theory.

While proponents of actor-network theory sometimes dismiss the agency-structure problem in social theory as a non-issue, Callon tackles it head on by proposing to abandon the focus on actors and actants in favour of agency and distributed action instead, in order to avoid the aforementioned bifurcation. Such a move is necessary because the aim of the paper is to investigate perhaps the most contentious issue for ANT: the problem of individual agency, in this case of homo economicus.

After Barry, Callon characterises the contemporary mode of economic ordering as an interactive diagram, kept stable by socio-technical agencements that are primarily made up of discourses, procedures and information and communication technologies. He demonstrates two dominant types of diagrams – interactive diagrams and disciplinary diagrams – through a case study of a breakdown of homo economicus 2.0, namely the case of people with disabilities. Callon identifies two different ways in which disabled people are enabled within the contemporary network economy: they are either equipped with prostheses (and thus get caught up in a disciplining diagram) or their socio-technical agencement is modified (within the interactive diagram), allowing them to pursue their projects in line with the entrepreneurial imperative of homo economicus 2.0.

Callon comes down in favour of the latter approach for political action (which he calls ‘habilitation policy,’ in contrast to ‘prosthetic policy’), as a solution to address the problems of overflows (negative externalities) of the dominant form of economic ordering  (which produces homo economicus 2.0). These overflows would concern those human beings who find themselves excluded from the interactive, entrepreneurial becoming that is presently valued and encouraged in Western societies, simply because they are not equipped with the appropriate tools and/or do not have access to the requisite socio-technical agencements.

References

Barry, A. (2001). Political Machines: Governing a Technological Society. London, Athlone.

Callon, M. (2008). Economic Markets and the Rise of Interactive Agencements: From Prosthetic Agencies to Habilitated Agencies. Living in a Material World: Economic Sociology Meets Science and Technology Studies. T. J. Pinch and R. Swedberg. Cambridge, Mass.; London, MIT: 29-56.

Jagd, S. (2004). “The French Convention School and the Coordination of Economic Action: Laurent Thévenot Interviewed by Søren Jagd at the EHESS Paris.” Economic Sociology: European Electronic Newsletter 5(3): 10-16.

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One Response to “Homo economicus 2.0”

  1. The interactive diagram « ANTHEM Says:

    […] ANTHEM The Actor-Network Theory – Heidegger Meeting « Homo economicus 2.0 […]

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