Archive for the ‘Economic sociology’ Category

The Device: The Social Life of Method

20 December 2012

Keep an eye out for this forthcoming special issue of the Journal of Cultural Economy, edited by John Law and Evelyn Ruppert: “The Device: The Social Life of Method.” Two articles seem to be already available: “Provocative Containment and the Drift of Social-Scientific Realism” by Javier Lezaun, Fabian Muniesa & Signe Vikkelsø, and  “Anticipating Failure: Transparency devices and their effects” by Penny Harvey, Madeleine Reeves & Evelyn Ruppert.

CfP: Valuation Studies

2 June 2012

See the call for papers here [PDF]. Here is the journal website: Valuation Studies. H/t CHARISMA.

Valuation  Studies  is  a  new  open  access  journal  connecting  several  vibrant research fields working  on the study  of valuation as a  social practice.  To engage scholars  with  various  backgrounds  and  orientations  in  discussions  about valuation, the journal  welcomes  papers  in different  forms,  including papers that use or  combine a variety of methods, from ethnographic accounts to quantitative appraisal to conceptual interpretation.

The  overall aim of the new open access journal Valuation Studies is to foster valuable conversations in a new transdisciplinary and emerging field relating to the  study of  valuation as a  social practice. The journal’s first issue  will be available in the first half of 2013.

The  journal will provide a space for the assessment and diffusion of research that  is  produced  at  the  interface  of  a  variety  of  approaches  from  several disciplines:  sociology,  economic  sociology,  science  and  technology  studies, organisation  and  management  studies,  social  and  cultural  anthropology, market  studies,  institutional  perspectives  in  economics,  accounting  studies, cultural geography, philosophy, and literary studies. The project  emerges out of  the  increasing  synergies between these  approaches  around one  particular ambit: valuation.


Professor C-F Helgesson, Linköping University
Senior researcher Fabian Muniesa, Mines ParisTech


21 February 2012

Charisma among others means ‘a special magnetic charm or appeal’ according to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, and it comes from the Greek kharisma, ‘divine favour’ or ‘gift,’ from kharizesthai, ‘to favour,’ which comes from kharis, ‘grace’ or ‘favour.’ And now it is also the name of a new research network focusing on interdisciplinary consumer market studies. See the announcement below. You may notice that a lot of the people involved have been active at the intersection of economic sociology and science and technology studies (STS), which one of the organisers once described as the “‘new’ new economic sociology.’


We are pleased to announce that Charisma: Consumer Market Studies, a new online research network, is now live and can be accessed here:

In collaboration with CRESC and the Journal of Cultural Economy, the site acts as a resource hub and network for researchers interested in consumer markets. It features a range of material including news items, events and announcements, commentaries and working papers as well as photo essays and data visualisations. At the moment, this includes recent posts from Franck Cochoy, Bill Maurer, Paul Langley, Linsey McGoey, Daniel Weinbren, and Liz McFall.

Charisma takes a robustly interdisciplinary approach to consumer market research since we believe that properly understanding the mix of devices and desires that drive markets means being open to experimental, visual, digital, as well as more traditional techniques, methods, theories and perspectives.

We invite interested researchers to participate and contribute to the site. Charisma is designed to allow the production of content amongst a diverse range of participants. Members of the research network will be issued with an account enabling them to upload content ranging from publication or conference announcements, photos, blog entries or research briefs.

With this in mind, if you or your colleagues are interested in being part of this research network, please send a request to

Please feel free to distribute this email widely.

All the best,

The Charisma Team

Joe Deville, Goldsmiths, University of London
Liz McFall, Open University

Follow us on Twitter:
Join our mailing list: (sign up at the bottom of the page)

Forthcoming events with Callon, Latour et al.

24 January 2012

20 February 2012,  18:00 – 19:30 – Bruno Latour at the Science Gallery in Dublin.

7 March 2012, 16:30 – 19:00 –  Bruno Latour & Richard Rogers:  “Digital societies: between ontology and methods,” at Goldsmiths, London

30 March 2012 – 12:30 – 16:30 – Michel Callon, Fabian Muniesa, Adam Leaver and Karel Williams: “How Methods Move in Markets,” at Open University, Camden, London


23 January 2012

Workshop announcement:
“NO-THING PERSONAL? Drawing the frontier between persons and things in accounting, law and marketing

Time: Thursday 2nd February 2012, 14h-18h

Place: London School of Economics and Political Science, Graham Wallas Room (5th floor of the Old Building — behind the Senior Common Room)

After a few decades of increased interest in non-human things, it seems like a good idea for the social sciences to now look again, with their renewed intellectual gaze, at the traditional objects of anthropology that are human beings. What has the detour via things helped us discover about men and women, about individual subjects, about persons? More specifically, the question may be to understand in what ways humans are affected, and possibly redefined, by the non-humans they cohabit with. This workshop proposes to explore this question by confronting the point of view of three social scientists, from three distinct disciplines: Franck Cochoy (University of Toulouse, Sociology), Alain Pottage (LSE, Law) and Peter Miller (LSE, Accounting). Each of them has already, in his personal works, explored the frontier between persons and things (Pottage), subjects and instruments (Miller), or dispositifs and dispositions (Cochoy). All three have, moreover, focused acutely on the sphere of economic transactions, where persons aspirations intermingle constantly with accounting, legal and marketing devices. Their dialogue — or experimental trialogue, rather! — should help us see more clearly how unexpectedly personal things can sometimes get.

14h00-15h00: Franck Cochoy — “Animating markets”
15h00-15h15: intermission
15h15-16h15: Alain Pottage — “Taking law literally”
16h15-16h30: intermission
16h30-17h30: Peter Miller — “Democratising failure”
17h30-18h00: wrap-up Q&A

For further information on the workshop, please contact Martin Giraudeau, at

On sex, worms, and entrepreneurship

8 July 2011

I have a post on the above titillating topics over at the New Combinations blog.

‘Social studies of entrepreneurship’ blog

16 May 2011

I have decided to launch a blog called New Combinations, to corral thoughts and information that comes my way regarding entrepreneurship, my main research area of interest. Inspired by the Socializing Finance blog, which has emerged as a home for the social studies of finance, the idea for New Combinations is to focus on the ‘social studies of entrepreneurship,’ by which I broadly mean sociological and anthropological studies of entrepreneurship, although I’m particularly interested in those efforts that either draw their inspiration from the ‘new’ new economic sociology of Michel Callon and colleagues or from some other incarnations of actor-network theory and science and technology studies.

So a warm welcome to readers, and if you share these research interests, please do get in touch at New Combinations.


Routine objections

1 May 2011

There is an interesting debate unfolding on the pages of the current issue of the Journal of Institutional Economics, a special issue on Business Routines (Vol. 7, issue 2). It appears to mark the moment when institutional economics and the economic theory of the firm first encountered actor-network theory and its allies (unless I’d missed that moment happen somewhere else already).

The encounter was partly brought about by the confrontation between Teppo Felin & Nicolai Foss, who had launched a broadside against the literature of organizational routines, and Brian Pentland, who in turn rode to the rescue. Felin & Foss have been advocating for some time a “return to micro-foundations” in organisation studies (see e.g. Felin & Foss 2005), by which they seem to mean a return to methodological individualism, in the face of the methodological collectivism they perceive in the literature of organizational routines  (which can be traced back to Schumpeter and includes the evolutionary theory of the firm and the resource-based theory it inspired, as well as the more recent efforts to develop a theory of organizational routines by Feldman, Pentland et al.).

In their JIE paper Felin and Foss claim that the organizational routines literature considered the concept of the routine as a black box, where the inputs determine the outputs (somewhat reminescent of what Latour calls an “intermediary” in his Reassembling the Social):

In short, empiricist and behaviorist approaches postulate a strong, deterministic relationship between various inputs and associated outputs. Various external factors (whether stimulus, experience, environment, exposure, situation) essentially determine not only outcomes but also the internal make-up of the organism in question.

In response, they stand up for human agency which they feel is sidelined by the concept of organizational routine:

there is an opportunity to study the underlying ‘microfoundations’ of organization, that is to study the individuals that compose the organization, their underlying characteristics, nature, abilities, preferences, choices, and so forth.

There are three interesting responses to Felin & Foss by Sidney Winter (who disputes the above characterisation of the routines literature as empiricist and behaviourist), Geoffrey Hodgson and Thorbjørn Knudsen, and Brian Pentland. Let’s focus on Pentland’s response, as it draws directly on the tradition to which ANT belongs, and Pentland himself deployed ANT in some of his earlier work (e.g. Feldman & Pentland 2005, Pentland & Feldman 2007).

Already in his introduction, Pentland makes an ANT-ish observation of Felin and Foss’ critique:

They have created philosophical problems concerning organizational routines by disconnecting words from their meaning in practice; they write about ‘experiences’ and ‘routines’ in general, rather than writing about any specific experience or routine. (…) By avoiding empirical examples, and by overlooking or misrepresenting current theory, they create the impression that there are serious problems and confusion in the literature on organizational routines.

Pentland then stays true to the principles of ANT by using specific empirical examples to illustrate his argument that indeed there has been significant effort made in the ethnographic accounts of organizational routines to unpack the black box, which is far from a simple input-output switch. More importantly, and in contrast to the rationalist, choice-based humanist approach of Felin & Foss, Pentland makes the point that in his ethnographic study of organisational routines,

Multiple actors are involved. Dozens of people participated in processing invoices, but it is important to note that not all of the actors were human. Across the four organizations studied by Pentland et al. (2010), the percentage of actions taken by the humans ranged from 15 to 89%; the computerized workflow system performed the rest of the actions.

The main point of Pentland however is that Felin & Foss (and by implication, the economic theory of the firm and institutional economics) are unaware of the primarily sociological literature that has provided detailed empirical accounts of organisational routines for decades:

Some recent theories of organizational routines have been grounded in theories of structuration (Giddens, 1984) and practice (Bourdieu, 1990). Routinization is at the core of structuration theory (Giddens, 1984). Likewise, Bourdieu’s (1990) concept of practice centers on the repetitive, patterned activities that constitute habitus. These theories use different vocabulary and emphasize different things, but they have made a fruitful foundation for a theory of organizational routines (e.g., Pentland and Rueter, 1994; Feldman, 2000, 2003; Feldman and Rafaeli, 2002; Feldman and Pentland, 2003; Pentland and Feldman, 2005). This theoretical view is successful because it is supported by detailed ethnographic observation of a wide range of actual work practices, such as filing papers in an office (Suchman, 1983), photocopier repair (Orr, 1996), medical imaging (Barley, 1986), technology roadmapping (Howard-Grenville, 2005), software support (Pentland and Rueter, 1994), navigating a ship by sight (Hutchins, 1991), and many others.

The contributions of ANT-inspired approaches are brought up under their own heading (8: Routines are Socio-Material):

The most serious flaw in the current Felin and Foss paper (2011), and in their so-called ‘microfoundations project’ in general, is that it fails to incorporate current thinking about the ontology of organizational routines. (…) Contemporary scholars have adopted the term ‘sociomateriality’ to refer to this phenomenon (Orlikowski, 2007; Leonardi and Barley, 2008). Building on the work of Latour (2005), Law (2004) and others, Orlikowski has argued that: “…every organizational practice is always bound with materiality. Materiality is not an incidental or intermittent aspect of organizational life; it is integral to it” [emphasis in original] (Orlikowski, 2007: 1436).

Pentland’s intervention however wasn’t the only figuration of ANT in this special issue. Luciana D’Adderio has a separate paper focused solely on “Artifacts at the centre of routines: performing the material turn in routines theory,” making a strong argument for the agency of artefacts, drawing on STS and ANT:

Existing theories of organizational routines have generally had simplistic and extreme views of artifacts as fully deterministic or largely inconsequential. Artifacts have been treated as either too solid to be avoided, or too flexible to have an effect. This paper endeavours to improve our understanding of the influence of artifacts on routines dynamics by proposing a novel and deeper conceptualization of their mutual relationship. In drawing from recent advances in Routines and STS/Performativity Theory, the paper contributes to advancing our understanding of routines dynamics by bringing artifacts and materiality from the periphery to the very centre of routines and Routines Theory.

So there you have it: ANT and institutional economics face-to-face. Let’s hope that this debate results in some cross-fertilisation, although Foss’ initial response (“unfortunately Pentland has thoroughly misunderstood the nature of the micro-foundations projects we advocate”) suggests otherwise. However, Pentland and D’Adderio have provided plenty of pointers for where the theory of the firm could benefit from the insights of ethnographic studies inspired by ANT and related approaches. These approaches in fact share Felin & Foss’ desire to open up the black box of organisational routines: however, rummaging in the black box has already begun and it had found more than just ‘rational human actors’.


After rereading my post I realised that it may give the impression that the above debate is about methodological individualism vs. methodological collectivism. Felin and Foss indeed seem to propose methodological individualism as an alternative to the methodological collectivism that they perceive in the tradition of the evolutionary theory of the firm (such as in Nelson & Winter 1982). However, the ANT perspective is decidedly neither individualist or collectivist. As a research approach, ANT is agnostic about the nature of an agent prior to an empirical inquiry and it allows for the seemingly strange possibility that an individual can enact collective agency and/or that a collective can act as an individual, and that individuals and collectives also include nonhuman entities. As Callon and Law (1997) put it:

Stable social arrangements are both individual and collective. They are necessarily possessed of a double nature. Sometimes it is useful to talk of individual entities: to imagine that they are discrete objects in an environment. But it is equally appropriate to treat them as collective effects – as patterned networks.


The argument, then, is that the division between the individual and the collective is an effect.


The distinction between individual and society is unnecessary. Indeed, it is seriously misleading. For the sociology of science and technology shows that the idea that society is a set of relationships between human actors is a misunderstanding. Instead it suggests that it is better understood as a collective association of human and non-human entities.

(Some) references

Abell, P., Felin, T., et al. (2008). “Building Micro-Foundations for the Routines, Capabilities, and Performance Links.” Managerial and Decision Economics, 29 (6): 489-502.

Callon, M. and Law, J. (1997). “After the Individual in Society: Lessons on Collectivity from Science, Technology and Society.” Canadian Journal of Sociology / Cahiers canadiens de sociologie, 22 (2): 165-182.

Felin, T. and Foss, N. J. (2005). “Strategic Organization: A Field in Search of Micro-Foundations.” Strategic Organization, 3 (4): 441-455.

Feldman, M. and Pentland, B. (2005). Organizational Routines and the Macro-Actor. Actor-Network Theory and Organizing. Czarniawska, B. and Hernes, T. Malmö: Liber; Copenhagen: Copenhagen Business School Press: 91-111.

Latour, B. (2005). Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press.

Nelson, R. R. and Winter, S. G. (1982). An Evolutionary Theory of Economic Change. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Pentland, B. T. and Feldman, M. S. (2007). “Narrative Networks: Patterns of Technology and Organization.” Organization Science, 18 (5): 781-795.

Supermarket supremacy

16 April 2011

Two pieces of odd news from Slovakia, where Western supermarkets have made major inroads in recent years. Last week the German-owned Lidl firm caused an uproar (at least in the art community) when it knocked down a public sculpture from the 1960s (entitled “Time,” by the sculptor Jozef Jankovič) in Bratislava, in order to make way for a new store. Apparently the authorities that gave the building permission did not see any artistic or historical merit in the work either. The art community and the sculptor only found out about the demolition after the fact.

Here is the sculpture before (source: Pravda – “It used to be the communists who destroyed public art, now it’s the developers“):

and after (source: Sme – “The sculpture in Ružinov was demolished without asking“):

This raises some questions about both the “corporate social responsibility” of Lidl when it comes to  shaping urban environments and dealing with the cultural heritage of host countries, and the ways in which artistic merit and historical value are established in post-communist countries like Slovakia.

The other bit of bizarre news comes from the Southern Slovakian town of Dunajská Streda (or Dunaszerdahely in Hungarian), where the British-owned Tesco supermarket removed the chairs from the cashiers for two weeks, forcing them to stand for 7-8 hours a day. Apparently this was meant as a form of punishment because the checkout assistants weren’t quick enough to jump on their feet to stock shelves when no customers were around. There was also a bulletin board where the names of the least productive cashiers were displayed in big red letters to name and shame them.

It is quite ironic that these emblematic institutions of Western capitalism are engaging in practices that remind the locals very much of the good old communist ways. Though to be fair, the Tesco solution did sound like it was the adoption of a local idea, and Lidl’s local developer didn’t seem to have second thoughts about knocking down the sculpture either. So this might be more about a ‘happy’ coming-together of Western capitalist and Eastern communist attitudes, practices and values for the common ‘good’ of supermarket productivity.

Barbie experiment fails in Shanghai

8 March 2011

It seems highly symbolic that Mattel’s experiment to try to create attachments in Chinese girls and women to the blond Barbie has failed in Shanghai. A project to try format Chinese girls – or at least their imagination – in the image of a doll with exaggerated Western features would seem breathtakingly arrogant. If you watch the video of the store launch or look at any of the photos of the displays, the rows after rows of blond Barbies surrounded by Chinese customers and shop assistants brings the battleground for cultural imagination and body stereotypes into sharp relief.

I wonder if it ever occurred to Mattel that the Shanghai test may have exposed the limits of Western cultural dominance itself, which is literally embodied in their Barbie doll? Could that be the great unthought of Mattel?

Despite the failure of the Shanghai experiment  (where the store was apparently modelled on the ‘American Girl’ concept) , Mattel is not giving up on its project. On the contrary; they now want to roll out Barbie across China, with a new brand strategy. We’ll have to see whether that means a Chinese Barbie, or the same old Western caricature. If the latter, Mattel will be launching the greatest in vivo experiment yet about the limits of Western cultural imperialism.