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The Technological Economy

In this major new collection, leading experts explore multidisciplinary connections


between technology and economy, drawing on new convergences between economic
sociology and science and technology studies. Through theoretical and empirical
studies, the authors investigate economics and economic knowledges as tech-
nologies; economies as socio-technical assemblages; the nature of innovation; and
the role of technological mediations in representing and performing economies.
This book interrogates the evidence for contemporary claims about the emergence
of the ‘new economy’ and ‘knowledge-based economy’ and sheds new light on the
relation between economy and culture.

Andrew Barry is Senior Lecturer at Goldsmiths College, University of London


and Don Slater is Reader in Sociology, London School of Economics.

Contributors: Michel Callon, Gordon L. Clark, Bob Jessop, Karin Knorr-Cetina,


Celia Lury, Cécile Méadel, Vololona Rabeharisoa, Marilyn Strathern, Nigel Thrift,
Adam Tickell.
The Technological
Economy

Edited by
Andrew Barry and Don Slater
First published 2005
by Routledge
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Simultaneously published in the USA and Canada
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This edition published in the Taylor & Francis e-Library, 2005.
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© 2005 editorial matter and selection, Andrew Barry and Don Slater;
individual chapters, the contributors
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced
or utilised in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means,
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or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in
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Contents v

Contents

Contributors vii
Acknowledgements ix

Introduction 1
ANDREW BARRY AND DON SLATER

1 The economy of qualities 28


MICHEL CALLON, CÉCILE MÉADEL AND VOLOLONA RABEHARISOA

2 From calculation to alienation: disentangling


economic abstractions 51
DON SLATER

3 Externalities in comparative guise 66


MARILYN STRATHERN

4 The anti-political economy 84


ANDREW BARRY

5 Technology, politics and the market: an interview


with Michel Callon 101
INTERVIEW CONDUCTED BY ANDREW BARRY AND DON SLATER

6 From pipes to scopes: the flow architecture of


financial markets 122
KARIN KNORR-CETINA

7 Cultural political economy, the knowledge-based


economy, and the state 142
BOB JESSOP
vi Contents
8 Performing finance: the industry, the media and
its image 165
GORDON L. CLARK, NIGEL THRIFT AND ADAM TICKELL

9 The objectivity of the brand: marketing, law and


sociology 183
CELIA LURY

Index 201
Contributors vii

Contributors

Andrew Barry is Senior Lecturer in Sociology, Goldsmiths College, University


of London. He is the author of Political Machines: Governing a Technological Society
(Athlone 2001) and co-editor of Foucault and Political Reason: Liberalism, Neo-
Liberalism and Rationalities of Government (UCL Press 1996).
Michel Callon is Professor at the École des Mines de Paris. He is the author
(with Pierre Lascoumes and Yanick Barthe) of Agir dans un monde incertain: essai
sur la démocratie technique (le Seuil 2001). He is currently finishing a study, with
Vololona Rabeharisoa, of French patients’ organisations. His main areas of
interest are the anthropology of markets and the study of technical democracy.
Gordon L. Clark is the Halford Mackinder Professor of Geography, Head of
the School of Geography and the Environment, and is cross-affiliated with the
Said Business School and the Institute of Ageing at the University of Oxford.
An economic geographer, his research is at the intersection between global
financial markets and national pension systems. Recent books include Pension
Fund Capitalism (Oxford University Press 2000) and European Pensions and Global
Finance (Oxford University Press 2003). He is also the co-director of the Oxford-
World Bank Conference on Global Pension Reform.
Bob Jessop is Professor of Sociology and Director of the Institute for Advanced
Studies at Lancaster University. His most recent sole-authored book is The Future
of the Capitalist State (Polity 2002) and he is currently working on the contradictions
of the knowledge-based economy.
Karin Knorr-Cetina is Professor of Sociology at the University of Konstanz,
Visiting Professor at the University of Chicago and a member of the Institute
of World-Society Studies, University of Bielefeld. She has published numerous
papers and books including, Epistemic Cultures: How the Sciences Make Knowledge
(Harvard University Press 1999).
Celia Lury is Professor of Sociology at Goldsmiths College, University of London.
Her most recent book is Brands: The Logos of the Global Economy (Routledge 2004).
viii Contributors
Cécile Méadel is researcher at the Centre de Sociologie de l’Innovation, École
des Mines, Paris and the author (with Vololona Rabeharisoa) of ‘Taste as a
form of adjustment between food and consumers’, in R. Coombs, K. Green,
V. Walsh and A. Richards (eds) Demands, Markets, Users and Innovation (Edward
Elgar 2001). Her current research interests include the relations between
consumers and marketing professionals.
Vololona Rabeharisoa is Senior Lecturer in Sociology at the École des Mines,
Paris, and researcher at the Centre de Sociologie de l’Innovation. She is working
in the sociology of health and anthropology of markets. She is the author, in
collaboration with Michel Callon, of Le pouvoir des maladies: l’Association française
contre les myopathies et la recherche (Les Presses de l’École des Mines de Paris 1999).
Don Slater is Reader in Sociology at the London School of Economics. He is the
author of Consumer Culture and Modernity (Polity 1997); Market Society (with Fran
Tonkiss, Polity 2000), and The Internet: An Ethnographic Approach (with Daniel
Miller, Berg 2000).
Marilyn Strathern is Professor of Social Anthropology at Cambridge University
and Mistress of Girton College.
Nigel Thrift is Head of the Life and Environmental Sciences Division, Professor
of Geography and a Student of Christ Church at the University of Oxford.
His main research interests are in international finance, cities, information and
communication technologies, non-representational theory and the history of
time. Recent publications include Cities (with Ash Amin, Polity 2002) and Knowing
Capitalism (Sage 2004).
Adam Tickell is Professor of Human Geography in the School of Geographical
Sciences, University of Bristol.
Acknowledgements ix

Acknowledgements

Many of these papers were given in earlier forms at two workshops (on ‘The
Technological Economy’ held at Goldsmiths College and on ‘Innovating Markets’
at the London School of Economics). Our thanks to all who participated in the
events for their contributions, to the Departments of Sociology at Goldsmiths and
the LSE, and to Economy and Society, for their financial support.
The following chapters have been published elsewhere, in whole or in part:
Chapters 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 in Economy and Society 31, 2, 2002; Chapter 6 in Distinktion
7, 7–23, 2003; Chapter 8 in Review of International Political Economy. Permission to
publish this material is gratefully acknowledged.
x Acknowledgements
Introduction 1

Introduction
Andrew Barry and Don Slater

‘The technological economy’ is a pun whose multiple meanings reflect the


complexity of new understandings of ‘the economic’. The many and diverse issues
that connect ‘technology’ and ‘economy’ are indicated first by the increasing, and
productive, convergences between science and technology studies on the one hand
and economic sociology on the other. This intellectual agenda resonates with a
wider range of relations between technology and economy that provide the stuff
of contemporary attempts to understand the economic: economics as a technology;
economies as material arrangements of technical devices; the nature of
technological innovation and its role in socio-economic change; and models of
contemporary society which draw on scientific and technological concepts, such
as network and complexity.
We begin with two commonplace observations regarding contemporary
economic life. The first observation is that the production and consumption of
knowledge, information and culture have become increasingly central to economic
activity. We live in what has variously been described as a knowledge-based economy,
a post-industrial society, an information society, a new economy, a cultural economy,
an economy of signs or a network society (Bell 1973; Lyotard 1984; Lash and
Urry 1994; Castells 1996; Webster 1996; du Gay and Pryke 2002). Within such a
society, the generation of new knowledge and other immaterial goods is thought
to be increasingly important to economic success. Economic growth over the long
term is reckoned to depend on innovation and creativity. One sense of the title of
this volume refers to the critical part that innovation and new technology have
come to play in economic life.
The second observation is that there has been a huge growth in the production
of knowledge about economic life. Economic and financial analysts produce
assessments of current and future performance of firms, industrial sectors, and
national and global economies (Miller and Rose 1990; Knorr-Cetina and Preda
2000; Jessop, this volume). Political activists, policy makers and social theorists
have sought to develop accounts of the globalisation of economic activity and the
weaknesses of policies and politics that confine themselves to the level of the nation
state. Firms and public institutions are increasingly subject to various forms of
audit and monitoring. Campaigners try to make visible the negative effects of
2 Andrew Barry and Don Slater
economic activity on the environment and the protection of human rights. Writers
on business seek to find the key to the generation of successful managers, brands
and creative organisations. Market researchers attempt to develop increasingly
nuanced accounts of consumer behaviour, using the tools of semiotics, focus groups
and ethnography as well as more conventional forms of statistical survey. Funding
agencies try to measure the quantity and assess the quality of innovative activity
using a variety of techniques and measures. Governments seek to remodel their
economies as knowledge economies and information societies. A second sense of
the title refers to the way that knowledge of economic life can itself be understood
as what we might call, following Foucault, a technology of government (Barry et al.
1996; Rose 1999).
What are the possible responses to these observations for economic sociology
and, more broadly, for social theory? On the one hand, the increasing importance
of new media, knowledge and information in economic life could be understood
simply as a further stage in the development of a global capitalist economy. In this
view the older form of industrial manufacturing society has become increasingly
displaced by a new kind of economy and society organised around the production,
consumption and global circulation of knowledge and information. Concepts such
as the network society or post-industrial society seem to capture this transformation.
On the other hand, from the perspective of academic sociology and anthropology,
the forms of knowledge generated by the growing armies of auditors, brand
consultants, economic forecasters, and market analysts are generally viewed as
quite impoverished especially given the continued power and prestige of neoliberal
and neoclassical economic perspectives. Viewed in this way, the task of social science
has been to develop a different, deeper and richer account, which is able to
demonstrate the intellectual weakness of such narrowly economic or instrumental
forms of reason. Depending on the sociologist, what is thought to be required
instead is recognition of the cultural embeddedness of economic activity and/or
a critical attention to the changing structural forms of the capitalist economy. In
so doing, economic sociology has marginalised or ignored the significance of
economic knowledge itself.
The chapters in this book question both of these orthodox responses, and point
to the need for new approaches to economic sociology and anthropology. Consider
the second observation that economic activity is the object of increasing levels of
scrutiny and analysis. Our starting point is the recognition that the forms of
knowledge produced about economic life are performative, and not just descriptive
or analytical. Practices such as financial and economic analysis and market research
are not just more or less bad descriptions of social and economic life. They are
more than just indicators of the growth of instrumental rationality. They create
phenomena (Osborne and Rose 1999).
The idea of the ‘economy’ itself is a good example of this. As Timothy Mitchell
argues, ‘the economy’ is an invention of quite a recent date. When Adam Smith,
in the nineteenth century, used the idea of economy the word carried the sense of
prudence or frugality. The notion that the economy referred to “the structure or
totality of relations of production, distribution and consumption of goods and
Introduction 3
services within a given country or region … dates only from the mid-twentieth
century” (Mitchell 1998: 84). At this time the contemporary idea of the economy
developed, both as popular and political expression (‘the economy is in a mess’,
‘it’s the economy, stupid’) and as a term of social and economic analysis (‘the
Egyptian economy’, ‘the global economy’). To say that the idea of the economy
was invented does not mean that it should be thought of merely as a fiction or a
social construction. An invention, after all, acquires a reality and a force, depending
on how many come to adopt it as a practical tool, and how far it is imitated by
others (Tarde 2001). Certainly, in the late twentieth century the idea of ‘the
economy’ has come to be extraordinarily powerful, replicated globally (cf.
Appadurai 1990). A whole range of efforts are made to measure and compare the
performance and future prospects of specific economies within the global economy,
and determine the causes of economic success and failure. At the same time,
investors, governments, voters and consumers make judgements and perform
actions on the basis of these measurements.
Studies of the performative role of various forms of knowledge of economic
life have developed from a number of related directions. First, anthropologists
and sociologists of science and technology have increasingly focused their attention
on economic analysis and financial knowledge, as well as natural science and
engineering. The work of Karin Knorr-Cetina, Michel Callon, Donald Mackenzie,
John Law, and others has demonstrated the value of science and technology studies
to economic sociology (Callon 1998a; Law and Akrich 1994, 2002; Knorr-Cetina
and Bruegger 2000, 2002b; Knorr-Cetina and Preda 2000; Mackenzie 2001, 2003;
Mackenzie and Millo 2003). We focus, in particular, on the work of Michel Callon,
whose approach provided the inspiration for this volume and its concerns, and our
own collaboration (Barry and Slater 2002).1
In his book, The Laws of the Markets, Callon argued strongly that sociologists
need to rethink radically their relation to economics (Callon 1998a). Rather than
denounce economics for its ideological content or its impoverished account of
culture, sociologists’ efforts might be better spent examining the role of economics
in the constitution of markets. Instead of viewing economics as bad science it
would be better to view it as a set of technical practices that have a stronger relation
to real economies than sociologists have often imagined. Seen in these terms the
concept of economics has to be understood broadly to include not just academic
economic theory, but all the institutions, techniques and professional practices (such
as accountancy and audit) that serve to make actions and objects calculable.2 “Social
science [including economics] is no more outside the reality it studies than are the
natural and life sciences. Like natural science it actively participates in shaping the
thing it describes” (Callon 1998b: 29). Callon is less interested in the question of
whether economics gives a good or bad representation of markets than in the part
played by economics (in a broad sense) in performing markets. His approach
demands not just an economic anthropology but also an attention to the history
and anthropology of economics.
The work of Callon and other sociologists and anthropologists of science,
discussed in more detail later, intersects with broadly post-Foucauldian approaches
4 Andrew Barry and Don Slater
to the study of the economic life (Miller 1994; Miller and Rose 1990; Power 1997;
Rose 1992; Burchell 1996). Foucault’s lectures on governmentality, in particular,
point to the historical formation of particular forms of economic actor. In this
perspective, for example, economic freedom, competitiveness and rationality are
conceived as the product of specific forms of technical artifice. Neo-liberalism, as
Foucault argued, does not involve the absence of government, but is itself a form
of government which is intended to operate through the constitution of particular
economic arrangements (Barry, Osborne and Rose 1996). As Graham Burchell
notes, “for neo-liberalism, the rational principle for regulating and limiting
governmental activity must be determined by reference to artificially arranged or
contrived forms of free, entrepreneurial and competitive conduct of economic-
rational individuals” (Burchell 1996: 23–4). Seen in these terms, economics forms
part of the technology of neo-liberal government. It helps to constitute the kinds
of person and market organisation that make neo-liberal government possible. In
a similar way, Nikolas Rose has sought to interrogate the historical formation of
what he has termed advanced liberalism:

Gradually, a new diagram of the relation between government, expertise and


subjectivity would take shape. This would not be a ‘return’ to the liberalism
of the nineteenth century, or, finally, government by laissez-faire. It was not a
matter of ‘freeing’ an existing set of market relations from their social shackles,
but of organizing all features of one’s national policy to enable a market to
exist, and to provide what it needs to function.
(Rose 1999: 141)

Much of the literature influenced by the anthropology of science and by Foucault


has focused on the importance of quantitative and rational techniques of economic
analysis, audit and assessment. This certainly reflects the growing importance of
such techniques not just in domains conventionally understood as economic or
commercial, but also within public institutions which had often been previously
considered as outside the realm of the economy (Law and Akrich1994, 2002;
Power 1996; Strathern 2000; Born 2004). Not only is economic activity increasingly
subject to analysis and measurement, but also the domain of what is considered
economic has widened. In practice, the question of what should be considered
economic and what should not be is often contested. A related perspective,
virtualism (Carrier and Miller 1998), focuses on the production by economic actors
of ‘virtual’ objects of intervention: e.g. ‘the consumer’ as constituted through market
research and strategy documents, the ‘developing economy’ as constituted through
the machinery of the Washington consensus. Virtualism indexes the capacity of
economic powers and technologies to make these hermetic constructions plausible
and effective realities.
Callon’s analysis of economics as a technology assumes a very broad definition
of what or who counts analytically as economics or as an economist. ‘Economics’,
in Callon’s original account, embraces the practices and knowledges instituted
well beyond the academy in all forms of governmental and commercial regulation
Introduction 5
and audit and such professions as accountancy, law and marketing. This plurality
indicates that rather than using the specific term ‘economics’, which connotes a
fairly narrow domain of activity, it may be better to speak of a broad field of what
we shall term ‘economic knowledges’ (cf. Knorr-Cetina and Preda 2000: 31). In
many cases the production of economic knowledge may be highly professionalised,
or dominated by particular commercial, governmental or academic institutions or
regulatory bodies. But it is also important to attend to the variable significance of
the forms of economic knowledge developed by non-experts and outside of formal
institutions, by consumers, citizens, and political activists (Callon et al. 2001). Viewed
more broadly, economic knowledges can destabilise as well as stabilise the formation
of economic actors and markets. Economic knowledges can be both a technology
of government, and a technology of politicisation (Callon, Barry and Slater, this
volume; Jessop, this volume).
We return to the question of the importance of non-expert forms of economic
knowledge and the relation between economic sociology and politics later in this
chapter. Here, we note that attention to the plurality of economic knowledges is
necessary if we are to recognise the significance of non-quantitative approaches
to the analysis of economic activity, including cultural analysis and anthropology.
Nigel Thrift, in particular, has highlighted the critical importance of what he terms
the ‘cultural circuit’ of capitalism. Business schools are keen to develop knowledge
of, for example, financial risk but also the importance of such matters as games,
creativity and disorganisation (Thrift 1997, 1998, 2001, 2002, 2003). Likewise,
advertising, marketing and brand consultancy have become increasingly central
to economic life (Lury, this volume). The economy has come to be known and
acted on not just in relation to the values of efficiency and productivity, but in
relation to ideas such as corporate social responsibility (Barry 2004a), ethics
(Osborne 2004), empowerment, excitement, and fun.
But if economic knowledges should be understood as performative and
technological, then what implications does this have for our understanding of the
place of knowledge and information in the economy? Here we put forward four
claims that emerge from convergences between economic sociology and science
and technology approaches.
First, whatever the object of economic knowledge is – ‘the firm’, ‘the market’,
‘capitalism’, ‘the consumer’ – there is always something that is constituted as
external to these objects. Outside of the domain of capitalism there always will be
a variety of economic or non-economic activities which are generally considered
marginal to the development of the capitalist economy (Mitchell 2000: xiii). And
outside the domain of any particular market there will be a variety of forms of
social and economic activity which are not governed by the laws of that market,
and a variety of side-effects which may not be recognised or are ignored by
participants in the market. In these circumstances, the object of economic
knowledge is never clearly bounded. On the one hand, through a variety of means
‘non-capitalist’ economic activities and non-economic processes infiltrate into the
domain of capitalism, and activities which are normally thought of as external to
the market enter into the constitution of the market.3 On the other hand, the
6 Andrew Barry and Don Slater
frame or boundary of a market, or capitalism, or any other economic object, is
itself contestable and negotiable. If the objects of economic knowledge are invented,
so also can they become contested, politicised and transformed.
Consider, for example, the notion of class. As J.K. Gibson-Graham and others
have argued, Marx’s analysis of class can itself be understood as a particular system
of accounting which makes visible certain relations and processes as essential,
while obscuring others (Gibson-Graham et al. 2001: 9). By contrast, many
contemporary political movements have sought to draw attention to, and make
visible, a range of other phenomena – environmental in particular – which have
generally not been taken into account by dominant forms of economic knowledge.4
In this context, rather than view such terms as ‘the capitalist economy’ or ‘the
market’ as given objects we should regard them rather as variable products of
expert knowledge and political practice. We do not think it makes sense to think of
capitalism or the global economy as unified totalities (Mitchell 2002; Thrift 2003;
Callon, Barry and Slater, this volume). But we do need to analyse how such
generalised notions have been both informed and operationalised through various
specific forms of political and governmental practice.
Second, recognition of the importance of innovation and creativity in economic
activity points to the path dependency of historical change (Tarde 2001; David
1985; Foucault 1986; Callon 1991; Urry 2002). Sociologists and economists of
technology have long pointed to the importance of social and economic forces in
driving and shaping the direction of technical change (Mackenzie and Wajcman
1985). Yet although such arguments provide a corrective to technological
determinism, it would be a mistake to imagine that the rate and direction of
innovative and creative activity can be simply seen as an expression of wider social
and economic forces. On the one hand, it is impossible to give a purely ‘social’
explanation of technical or artistic change because technical and artistic objects
themselves (facts, objects, devices, infrastructures, performances) form a critical
part of what the social is (Latour 1993, 1999). On the other hand, in so far as an
invention is an invention it has to be understood as something that creates new
objects and opens up new possibilities for thought and action, which cannot simply
be seen as an expression of pre-existing social forms (Barry 2001). Rather than
understand the social as a context within which invention happens, the social has
to be understood as something which is itself transformed through invention. In
short, a focus on the social and economic conditions of technical change fails to
attend to what is inventive about invention itself.
Third, the importance of innovation and creativity in economic life raises a
broader set of questions concerning how the relation between social and material
objects is conceived. In the social sciences, it is common to make a clear distinction
between social entities (such as institutions, language, knowledge and ‘society’)
and material entities (such as buildings and bodies). Yet this distinction is
problematic, and arguably increasingly so. In part this is because what were once
thought of as purely material objects are never purely material. Their force and
effects depend on their relations with other elements, including information. This
is clearly the case if we consider the kinds of material entities produced through
Introduction 7
scientific and technical research. A drug molecule, for example, should not be
conceived just as a collection of chemical elements bound together by physical
forces. It is a set of chemical elements which has been formed in a complex informa-
tional environment. This informational environment is not simply external to the
drug: it enters into the changing identity of the object. In this way, it makes sense
to understand a drug molecule as an ‘informed material’ (Bensaude-Vincent and
Stengers 1996; Barry 2004b). Conversely, information has to be understood as
much more than a set of signals. “The constant bombardment by signals, the ads
of consumer culture and the like do not constitute information” (Lash 2002: 18).
Information only becomes information (rather than mere noise) in so far as it
becomes bound into a complex environment, including an environment of material
objects.
Fourth, economic transactions increasingly take place through technological
mediation, and these technologies are not neutral tools of economic policy or
practice. The contemporary prestige of such terms as ‘network society’ and
‘information economy’ point to the role of technologies in conceptualising and
reconfiguring economic action. Similarly, contemporary agendas such as
‘globalisation’ rest on core technological presumptions about the impact of transport
and communications on the spatio-temporal structure of economic transactions
and organisational forms. Contrary to formalist economic theory, constituting
markets, regulating markets and conducting market behaviour is inseparable from
substantive knowledge of specific technical mediations: the mechanics of
computerised trading, the mix of online and offline retail facilities in configuring
contemporary consumer markets, the regulation of intellectual property rights
and so on (Knorr-Cetina, Lury, Clark, Thrift and Tickell, this volume).
All of these points indicate the possibility of fruitful connections between science
and technology studies and economic sociology which we discuss in more detail in
the remainder of this introductory chapter. The chapter is organised into two
parts. In the first part we focus on the work of Michel Callon and discuss how his
approach to economic sociology develops from a broader set of concerns in social
theory. Since the first publication of the paper reprinted here, Callon’s approach
has been the subject of a lively critical debate (Miller 2002; Fine 2003; Holm
2003). It has been criticised for being complicit with mainstream economics (Miller
and Fine) and for a failure to analyse ‘structural’ features of economic life. Callon
himself both responds to and anticipates some of these criticisms in the interview
published in this volume.
In the second part of the chapter, we extend our discussion in two directions.
First, we discuss the politics of economic sociology, and the relation of economic
sociology to the study of politics. The issue is a critical one, for many of the criticisms
of Callon’s work, and related anthropological approaches, are framed as political
and ethical ones. The chapters by Strathern and Barry address the question of politics
explicitly. Second, we examine what has variously been described as the new economy,
the knowledge-based economy, or the network society. On the one hand, as we have
argued, this involves a recognition of the performative character of these ‘new
economy’ discourses. This is an important theme of Jessop’s chapter in this volume.
8 Andrew Barry and Don Slater
On the other hand, as Karin Knorr-Cetina has argued, there is a need for empirical
analyses of the complexity of current economic transformations, which are attentive
to the specificity of different forms of economic knowledge. Knorr-Cetina’s chapter
in this volume also points to the critical importance of media in the production of
economic knowledge. We also stress the importance of non-expert economic
knowledge, an important theme in Celia Lury’s analysis of the brand and Gordon
Clark, Nigel Thrift and Adam Tickell’s analysis of financial media.

Science and technology studies and economic


sociology
One of the starting points for what might be called the new sociology of technology
in the 1980s was a desire to challenge the technological determinism that had
characterised earlier sociological and economic accounts of technology (Mackenzie
1996). Rather than view technical change as an external force that had an impact
on society and the economy, sociologists of technology sought to demonstrate the
ways in which technology was socially shaped or socially constructed.5 In this
account, the economy was understood to be one of a set of factors or forces which
influenced the direction of technological change and the design of technological
artefacts. In the context of the new sociology of technology Callon and his co-
authors took a distinctive and heterodox position. In particular, they argued that
the idea that technology was either socially constructed or shaped was problematic
for two reasons. First, because the distinction between what was ‘social’ and
‘technical’ and what was ‘human’ and ‘non-human’ was itself disrupted through
the process of technical change. Second, because the very idea that the social was
something like a structure, environment or context within which technical change
occurred was itself problematic (Callon 1987: 100). It was impossible to give a
purely ‘social’ explanation of technical change because technical objects (facts,
artefacts, devices) themselves form a critical part of what the social is.6 In brief,
Callon and his co-authors argued that studies in the sociology of technology
demanded a rethinking of the very idea of a social explanation.
This argument revolved around two central ideas: the actor-network and
translation. First, rather than assume a distinction between the (social) actor and
the economic and cultural environment within which the actor and its actions were
embedded, Callon and Latour’s approach took the identity of actors as always
bound up with the networks of which they were a part. Instead of speaking of
actors and their networks as if they were distinct objects, this approach suggested
that it would be more accurate to speak of ‘actor-networks’. Actors were able to
have the power to act in so far as they were elements of a network. In effect, the
formation of actor-networks generated specific worlds of actors. The identity,
capacity and strength of an actor were relational. Moreover, the concept of actor-
network implied a form of material ordering (Law 1994). It described the
constitution of a reality forged from heterogeneous elements (materials, texts, bodies,
skills, interests, experimental devices) (cf. Deleuze 1988). The process of innovation
was a process of ‘heterogeneous engineering’.
Introduction 9
Second, in accounting for the dynamism of actor-networks, Callon and Latour
had earlier adapted Michel Serres’ concept of translation (Serres 1974): “By
translation we understand all the negotiations, intrigues, calculations, acts of
persuasion and violence thanks to which an actor or force takes, or causes to be
conferred on itself, authority to speak or act on behalf of another actor or force”
(Callon and Latour 1981: 279). The notion of translation emphasised the way in
which the identity of actors, and their relations, was always in process.7 But it also
implied that translation was a political process in which politics was conceived not
so much in terms of competing ideologies or interests, but as a calculated
Machiavellian act. Seen in these terms, the process of technical change could not
be explained by reference to the kinds of social, political and economic interests
which determined it. Rather, technical change was itself a form of politics that
both revealed and translated the identity of social and economic actors.
What came to be known as actor-network theory was always much more than
an approach to the sociology of science and technology. It was offered, rather, as
a way of rethinking the very idea of society as a domain distinct from nature and
from technical artefacts, and as a way of bypassing the distinction between social
structure and agency. This conceptual apparatus goes to the very heart of what it
means to understand economic processes. Economic formalism has been
preoccupied with the boundaries of the economic: on the one hand, economic
action is treated as occurring within a ‘social context’, the multiple ‘exogenous’
variables of material environments, given technological capacities, ‘cultures’ of
needs, tastes, and preferences, social and political ‘impurities’ such as intervention
in economic processes by governments, custom and tradition and social structures.
On the other hand, within the boundaries of the economic, we are to find actors
endowed with given capacities – above all, formal rationality, or ‘calculativeness’
as Callon terms it – and forms of social action that emanate from these capacities.
Where most economic sociology approaches have simply tried to incorporate the
exogenous within economic analysis, actor-network theory treats the constitution
of these borders as itself constitutive of the technical assemblages that we come to
recognise (and dispute) as ‘economic’. The constitution of rationally calculating
actors is not to be understood in terms of either innate capacities or socialisation
within an exogenous social context, but as a heterogeneous engineering of
assemblages (‘markets’) that enlist specific social capacities. This is a technical
accomplishment that is, again, a form of political action, requiring the configuration
of objects, relationships, methodologies and knowledges into actor-networks that
are identifiable as a specific form of social action and structure.
Within this overall approach we can identify at least four specific points of
contact between science and technology studies (STS) and economic sociology
that have been particularly discussed.
First, and most obvious is the phenomenon of technical change itself.
Technology, after all, is one of the few real ‘social factors’ to impinge seriously on
the hermetic models of formal economic thought. There is an important tradition
of work on the political economy of innovation, from Smith and Marx to
Schumpeter and his followers that addresses the question of the relation between
10 Andrew Barry and Don Slater
economic and technical change. For writers within this tradition the direction of
technological innovation is not autonomous from the economy. On the contrary,
the dynamics of technical change both effect and are influenced by both economic
processes and the specificity of national systems of innovation (e.g. Mowery and
Rosenberg 1998). At a macro-level, Schumpeter developed Kondratieff ’s notion
of long-waves of economic activity associated with revolutionary changes in
consumer and producer technologies (Schumpeter 1943: 67–8). At the micro-level,
case studies pointed to the role of users as well as producers in the innovation
process. In the context of actor-network theory such a conclusion is not surprising:
the development of technology will always involve a more or less radical
reconfiguration of the identity of those human and non-human actors associated
with it.
Despite the existence of a substantial literature in the economics of innovation,
most conventional economics – as well as most recent discussions of the ‘new
economy’ – treat technology simply as an exogenous variable, and (partly for this
reason) have been dominated by forms of technological determinism. In the case
of ‘new economy’ (to which we return later in this introduction), although claims
are constantly made about revolutions in the material basis of production,
distribution and consumption, the underlying relationship that is posited between
technology and economy is structurally unchanged: technological objects, conceived
as independent variables, transform ‘society’ in ways that have then to be captured
within formal models of the flow of economic values.
At one level, sociologists and anthropologists of science and technology have
introduced into the analysis of economic processes a framework that fundamentally
deconstructs both the ‘independent’ and ‘determining’ character of technology.
The relation between technology and economy is a subset of the ‘technology and
society’ problematic which actor-network approaches have systematically
destabilised. However – and this is the second point of contact between economic
sociology and STS – the impact of this work immediately goes beyond the specific
issue of technology. Economic processes can themselves be treated as just another
kind of agencement,8 like cars or nuclear physics (or, indeed, religion or art as a set of
technical practices; cf. Gell 1998), comprising heterogeneous actors whose
properties emerge from specific but contested material arrangements. Economics
is just one of the many elements within these arrangements, shouting for attention
along with all the rest. In socio-technical studies, actor-network theory aimed both
to open the ‘black box’ of the object, and to demonstrate how the constitution of
objects could be accounted for by the way in which actors open and close them; in
the case of economic objects, and the economy as an object, the issue, again, is
how they are defined and contested at their boundaries, how they are internally
formatted by being separated out. As Donald Mackenzie argues, such an approach
is potentially a very demanding one. It may involve economic sociologists under-
standing much more about the technical details of economic and financial analysis
than they have hitherto:
Introduction 11
The flowering in the last thirty years of the sociology of science began when
it started to open the ‘black box’ of scientific knowledge, the contents of which
had previously been held not to be an appropriate subject matter for the
sociologist. … the continued flowering of economic sociology will require a
similar opening of the black boxes of the economy.
(Mackenzie 2003: 353–4)

Mackenzie demonstrates the fruitfulness of paying close attention to the technical


detail of economic knowledge in his study of the sociology of arbitrage. As he
shows, financial markets are “not an imperfectly insulated sphere of economic
rationality, but a sphere in which the ‘economic’ and the ‘social’ interweave
seamlessly” (Mackenzie 2003: 373).
Third, this position seeks to cut across the distinction between ‘macro’ and
‘micro’ levels of analysis. The emphasis is on case studies, although these are as far
from the form of case study typically to be found in economics and management
studies as they are from formalist economic analysis. The empirical examples
addressed by this perspective (whether of economic processes or technoscience)
are not placed in the context of a structural analysis. Rather they investigate the
formation of economic realities through contingent, heterogeneous and local
processes. The question of how contingent, or how local or global, particular
economic forms are, is a matter for empirical investigation. There is a similarity
here between Callon’s approach and Karin Knorr-Cetina’s (1997; Knorr-Cetina
and Bruegger 2000; Knorr-Cetina and Preda 2000; Mackenzie 2003) work on
financial markets or Viviana Zelizer’s (1997, 1998) on money, localised constructions
of economic processes are accorded a primacy that is in profound conflict with,
for example, the structural analyses of political economy. Knorr-Cetina’s chapter
in this volume demonstrates how it is possible to understand a global market through
a microsocial analysis of particular localised work practices. In particular, she points
to the critical importance of the socio-technical arrangement of this market, which
is constituted not so much through the network as through the traders’ screens. As
she argues: “the screen ‘appresents’ the market, it brings the territorially distant
and invisible near to participants, rendering it interactionally and response present”
(Knorr-Cetina and Bruegger 2002b: 392).
A fourth point of contact between science and technology studies and economic
sociology concerns the importance of metrology and calculation. First, metrology
itself creates new objects (Latour 1999). Metrological practices (such as those
associated with quality control, financial analysis, audit or environmental
monitoring) do not just reflect reality as it is. They create new realities (calculable
objects) that can, in turn, be the object of economic calculation (Miller 1992). In
principle, as sociologists have long argued, measurement tends to function as an
‘anti-political’ device: it reduces the space of possible political contestation. In
practice, metrological and calculative practices may serve to open up new objects
to political reflection and contestation (Barry, this volume). Second, calculations
are always, in principle, contestable. Calculations effect a certain rationalisation
of social and economic relations but the extent of this rationalisation should not
12 Andrew Barry and Don Slater
be overestimated. “As AST came to admit for the natural sciences, there is no
reason to imagine an end to these debates and controversies; [there is] no theory
or concept that can provide a final solution” (Callon 1998a: 29). Third, calculation
is both a technical and ethical practice. It is not something that agents are naturally
able to do once markets are formed. Rather, the capacity to calculate depends on
a set of technical devices and discursive idioms that make calculation possible. In
the case of markets, ‘calculativeness’ depends upon the separation or individu-
alisation of objects into discrete transactable entities, with (temporarily) stabilised
properties, that can be placed within a frame of calculation. In the case of markets,
this material reality includes legal inscriptions (of contract and ownership); spatio-
temporal arrangements (institutional and architectural structures that separate out
buyers, sellers and goods as discrete and independent); regulatory institutions that
govern the form, shape and circulation of objects; as well as metrological devices
that stabilise accounts of their properties.
Such an approach is not individualistic, nor psychologistic. “From the fact that
calculations are made in the quasi-laboratories of calculative agencies (the word agent places
too much emphasis on the individual) we should not infer that there are calculative beings, no
matter how well or poorly informed they may be” (Callon 1998a: 4–5, our
emphasis). Despite criticisms that his work is complicit with mainstream economics
(in assuming that ‘economic man’ exists) it is clear that Callon’s notion of economic
calculation is very different. In the anthropology of science and technology, as
understood by Callon, a laboratory is a place within which it may be possible for
scientists to establish a distinction between facts about particular material objects
and the complexity of the relations within which they are ordinarily entangled –
that is, to disentangle a network. Scientists could not possibly achieve such a work
of purification using their rational minds alone. They achieve it imperfectly,
deploying a vast range of resources, material devices, calculating instruments,
personal relationships and so on. Likewise, as the image of ‘quasi-laboratories of
calculation’ suggests, economic calculation is not performed by isolated rational
individuals but by complex socio-material arrangements in which humans may or
may not be entangled (Law 1991: 183; Callon 1998b: 16).9

Issues with economic sociology


While Callon’s approach constitutes a fundamental critique and repositioning of
conventional economic thinking, it also challenges economic sociology, including
its ‘cultural turn’, in several crucial respects. Here, his disagreement with many
approaches to economic sociology parallels his criticism of socio-cultural
approaches to science and technology studies (Callon 1995). In this account,
calculativeness not only cannot be an assumed property of ‘economic man’, it also
cannot be regarded as an exogenous social feature, as something to be accounted
for by terms such as ‘socialisation’, ‘culture’, ‘embeddedness’, or any other ‘social
context’. Calculativeness is not to be imported from somewhere else into the
economic field. In this way, Callon clearly positions himself – particularly in terms
of American economic sociology – against authors such as DiMaggio (1990, 1994)
Introduction 13
who seek to identify the cultural preconditions of observable economic behaviour.
Polanyi is subject to the same criticism (Callon 1998: 8) in that he “assumes the
existence of an institutional frame in which economic activities take place”. In this
context, Callon is more closely aligned with network analysis, even when it is very
far removed from actor-network theory or involves taking up positions that are not
conventional within economic sociology (Granovetter 1973, 1985). We might expect
similar points of difference to emerge in relation to several contemporary research
agendas, such as work on organisational culture or risk and regulation, as well as
some forms of institutional economics, where ‘culture’ may be invoked in the same
way as ‘technology’, as an external explanation of economic action.
In this approach, that which is ‘outside’ the economic does not relate to economic
processes as a ‘social context’ but rather as a range of heterogeneous actors whose
variable roles are registered through acting on the very boundary of the economic
sphere or market institution. An ‘externality’, in Callon’s account, is very different
from a social context: formatting market institutions in ways that entail specific
modes of calculation involves framing a range of features as relevant, and by
definition excluding others (these are no longer economic factors, but cultural or
ethical or political). The latter are not a context within which market behaviour is
conducted but are themselves a result of the very same operation through which a
market is (provisionally) defined in the first place. Externality and framing describe
the way in which ‘insides’ and ‘outsides’ emerge, and change, in relation to highly
political and material processes. The very patterning of elements within the market
that entail ‘calculativeness’ appear there because of (disputable and unstable) acts
of separation and division, not because ‘values’ are imported from a pre-given
outside to be applied to an equally given inside.
In this way, Callon (1998b: 50–1) strongly argues against the ‘two pitfalls’ that
economic sociology regularly stumbles into. On the one hand, it constantly tries to
enrich homo economicus by giving this agent ‘a bit more soul’ by importing ‘value,
culture, rules or passions’; in fact it should be trying to understand ‘his simplicity
and poverty’. In effect, it assumes, like the economists it criticises, that calculation
is actually asocial and amoral, and these deficiencies need to be corrected. On the
other hand, economic sociology adopts the strategy of denunciation, treating
economic theory as impoverished, to be replaced (not enriched) by a ‘sociology of
real man’, as a totality. Both, argues Callon, avoid the real issue of explaining the
emergence of calculative agency:

Yes, homo economicus really does exist … Of course, he exists in the form of
many species and his lineage is multiple and ramified. But if he exists he is
obviously not to be found in a natural state – this expression has little meaning.
He is formatted, framed and equipped with prostheses which help him make
his calculations and which are, for the most part, produced by economics …
It is not a matter of giving a soul back to a dehumanized agent, nor of rejecting
the very idea of his existence. The objective may be to explore the diversity of
calculative agencies, forms and distributions, and hence of organized markets.
The market is no longer that cold, implacable and impersonal monster which
14 Andrew Barry and Don Slater
imposes its laws and procedures while extending them ever further. It is a
many-sided, diversified, evolving device which the social sciences as well as
the actors themselves contribute to reconfigure.
(Callon 1998b: 51)

However, there is also a third area of contention which appears to place Callon
and many economic sociologists and anthropologists on the same side in relation
to the other major tradition in this area: political economy. Whatever conclusions
he comes to about the reality of markets and economic rationality, Callon derives
them from analyses of contingent social arrangements: they are not manifestations
of ‘deeper’ processes. Are entities like money and markets to be understood in
terms of their multiple molecular forms, or are there (as Marxist realists would
have it) processes that – however contradictory – sustain both generalised economic
forms and their diverse manifestations? Can the structuring of economic institutions
and processes be accounted through the alignment of heterogeneous arrangements
rather than by ‘capital’, ‘labour’, and other macro-entities? In the context of such
an approach, does the notion of ‘capitalism’ have any meaning or value? Is it
possible to knit together an ethnographic view of ‘monies’ as local constructs with
a view of ‘money’ as a macro-phenomenon with potentially diverse manifestations
(Fine and Lapavitsas 2000; Zelizer 2000)? For Ben Fine, Callon’s ‘bonfire’ of macro-
structures is extraordinary. A continuing commitment to a structural account –
preferably, political economy – is necessary if social science is to offer a genuine
alternative to economics’ imperialism, rather than one which ends up being
complicit with some of the main arguments of contemporary economics (Fine
2003: 481–2).
In fact, these debates with political economy revolve around two distinct, if
interconnected issues, both of which concern different aspects of the problem of
generalising from local and contingent cases. On the one hand, the stress on specific
and unstable assemblages may appear to eradicate the entire plane of macro-
economics. Callon’s response is to argue that the macro-structures that are
customarily treated topographically as a higher level of abstraction can instead be
analysed simply as another kind of locality, as a similarly heterogeneous assemblage
of agencies. This would not be unfamiliar say to historians of the post-war
international financial order. As we have noted, Knorr-Cetina’s analysis of
international currency dealing convincingly treats the macro as an interconnected
product of local practices.
On the other hand, the focus on micro-level contingency does make it difficult to
visualise the replication and transformation of structuring processes over time. Political
economy has, of course, traditionally captured these structuring processes through
the notion that there are certain economic forms which are intrinsic to capitalism.
Capital, labour, and value for example may be manifested in very different,
contradictory and changing ways, but there is thought to be an underlying logic that
both makes sense of this diversity and actually constrains it. The epistemological
and political grounds for refusing this form of ‘realism’ are well rehearsed. The
difficulty is to write histories of capitalist economies that do not rely on the notion of
Introduction 15
capitalism as a unified totality, or the idea of a universal process of development or
modernisation. Here, we make three observations. First, peripheral and non-capitalist
economic activities should not be thought of simply as a set of residual and resistant
forms. Rather, as post-colonial research demonstrates, such activities play a vital
part in the development of contemporary forms of economic knowledge and
administration (Mitchell 2002; Roitman 2003). In effect, the external environment
of capitalism is constantly folded in, disrupting any identity. Second, capitalism can
be viewed not as a system or a structure which can be framed as such, but a constantly
mutating formation. Rather than view the history of capitalism in terms of an
unfolding logic, such an approach points to the need to attend to the contingent
effects of actions, political events, technological inventions, and fashion (Thrift 2003).
Third, as we have argued, it is important to recognise the performative character of
the discourses of macro-economics and political economy. In this volume, Jessop
argues for what he terms a ‘cultural political economy’ an approach which, while
informed by the political economy of Marx, incorporates many of the insights of
actor-network theory and post-Foucauldian approaches. Such a post-disciplinary
approach, he argues, “adopts the ‘cultural turn’ in economic and political inquiry
but still affirms the importance of the interconnected institutional materialities of
economics and politics” (Jessop, this volume).
By contrast to classical political economy, anthropological approaches such as
those of Callon and Miller meaningfully use notions such as markets and
commodities while simultaneously leading us to question the extent to which we
can meaningfully deploy any such analytical categories if the focus is entirely on
instability, diversity emergence and specificity. In fact we might use such categories
in quite different ways: as underlying forms (within political economy), as the
virtualist projections of economic engineers, or as active forms of economic
knowledge deployed by economic actors, including the social analyst. What is clear
is that each strategy involves a dialectical relationship between ‘our’ categories
and ‘theirs’, rather than a radical nominalism or avoidance of all abstraction.
Slater’s chapter in this volume addresses the problem of how to define markets
in a way that captures both diversity and generality. The argument proceeds by
returning to the previous issue, the question of ‘calculativeness’: Miller is correct
that much market behaviour involves more entanglement, more involvement of
diverse social values. However, in market systems they enter into economic action
in a very specific form, as objects of instrumental calculation. This arises from the
more fundamental defining feature of markets – alienation – that also produces
more diverse forms of calculation than Callon considers. In particular, Slater’s
paper investigates the kinds of cultural calculation that are found in advertising
and marketing, in which the more ‘totalising’ configurations of economic and
social values are in fact placed within a market frame.

Politics
In analysing the relation between politics and the economy, sociology tended to
adopt a particular spatial metaphor.10 The economy is reckoned to be a more or
16 Andrew Barry and Don Slater
less solid foundation on top of which rest political and ethical principles. The
notions of frame and externality, central to Callon’s analysis in The Laws of the
Markets, suggest a very different spatialisation of these relations. Seen in terms of
the concepts of frame and externality, the key distinction is not between that which
is below, and ultimately determining, and that which is above, and determined,
but between those objects, ideas and practices that are internal and those that are
external to the frame.
How does Callon himself spatialise the relation between economics and politics?
There are three elements to his account. First, in The Laws of the Markets, he notes
how politics is generally placed outside of the frame of economic calculation. As
Andrew Barry notes in his chapter, Callon understands measurement and
calculation generally to have anti-political effects. Calculation is intended to have,
and often has, the effect of cooling the temperature of political debate. Seen in
these terms, Callon does indeed map the distinction between economics and politics
onto the opposition between the internal and the external. Possible objects of
political contention are placed outside the frame.
Yet along with this argument, Callon advances a second one, which complexifies
his position. This argument starts from the recognition that framing is always, in
principle, contestable. Indeed, far from limiting the possibility for political conflict
and negotiation, framing forms something like a surface on which forms of political
reflection, negotiation and conflict can condense. No doubt, calculation effects a
certain rationalisation of social and economic relations but the extent of this
rationalisation should not be overestimated. In The Laws of the Markets and in his
contributions to this volume, Callon understands this in historical terms.
Increasingly, he argues, ‘hot’ situations in which scientific calculations are contested
are becoming more common (Callon 1998c).
Why is this the case? One influential argument, suggested by Ulrich Beck, is
that we live in a ‘risk society’ (Beck 1992). In this account, the risks generated by
the development of science and technology can no longer be addressed through
scientific and technical means. Callon’s analysis has some parallels with Beck’s in
so far as he, like Beck, emphasises the reflexivity of social and economic life and
the increasing prevalence of political disputes concerning the development of
science and technology. However, arguing against Beck, he questions both the
contemporary importance of risk, and Beck’s assumption that a clear demarcation
can be made between the expertise of experts and that of ordinary citizens (Callon
et al. 2001: 310–13).
Although there is nothing new in the politicisation of markets, he argues that
this politicisation has come to take new forms. On the one hand, the rise of the
service economy, or what he terms the ‘economy of qualities’, leads to an increasing
focus on the quality, qualification and re-qualification of products. Although some
of the qualities of products may be quantifiable and measureable this does not
mean that they are uncontestable. Indeed, the reverse is true. Actors may become
increasingly reflexive and critical about how qualification occurs and what it implies.
Consider, for example, the increasing consumer interest in the ways in which food
quality is monitored and guaranteed, and the development of the notion of the
Introduction 17
‘organic’ as a brand of quality and purity. On the other hand, there is growing
sense of the plurality of market forms and the need to open up the question of the
particular form that markets take: “the organization of markets becomes a collective
issue and the economy becomes (again) political” (ibid.). In this complex situation,
he argues that it would be a mistake to be simply opposed to markets or to
marketisation. The problem is to develop forms of political institution that make it
possible to debate the question of how markets should be organised. Seen in these
terms, the debate is not between those who favour markets and those who favour
state ownership. Rather there are a series of debates both concerning the form of
market regulation and control, and the particular role of economic experts and
laypersons in economic government.11
The third dimension of Callon’s analysis of the relation between politics and
markets develops from this historical argument, and is explicitly normative. Like
Habermas, Callon’s normative position is a procedural one although, unlike
Habermas, it does not revolve around an opposition between lifeworld and system,
or between instrumental and communicative rationality. On the contrary, in an
analysis that draws some inspiration from ethnomethodology and symbolic
interactionism, Callon seeks to level the difference between sociological expertise
and everyday knowledge.12 The kinds of questions generally posed by the sociologist
are, Callon argues, also posed by actors themselves. In these circumstances, rather
than take up the position of the ‘engaged intellectual’, the critical theorist or the
scientist, he advocates a sociology that both recognises and follows the trajectories
of the actors themselves (Callon 1999: 71; Rabeharisoa and Callon 1999: 3).
But which actors?13 This question is crucial for those concerned with the politics
of economic sociology. In their earlier work the actor-network theorists’ analysis
of politics as a Machiavellian process of intrigue and calculation was criticised for
its identification with the position and strategies of the powerful (Star 1991; Lee
and Brown 1994). In their most recent work, by contrast, Callon and his colleague
Vololona Rabeharisoa have followed the work of those involved with a social
movement organisation, the French muscular dystrophy association (AFM)
(Rabeharisoa and Callon 1999; Callon and Rabeharisoa, 2003).14 Part of the
interest of AFM is precisely its inventiveness in creating new relations between
scientific researchers and laypersons, in raising the visibility of disabled bodies, in
forging new identities and collectivities, and in using public media. The effect of
the actions of AFM has been the constitution of hybrid forums that cut across
established distinctions between experts and non-experts and open up questions
concerning the politics of the bodies and materials as well as forms of social
organisation. Likewise, in relation to the increasing reflexivity of economic markets,
Callon argues for the possibility of new forms of association between sociologists
and social actors: “the key argument … is the suggestion that, in the economy of
qualities … cooperation between scholars and economic agents and the constitution
of hybrid forums are inevitable, for the questions they raise are largely identical”
(Callon, this volume). The role of the economic sociologist is neither legislative
nor interpretative, but experimental (cf. Bauman 1987). The task is to cooperate with
actors in a process of experimentation, innovation and learning. This can be
understood as a particular form of reflexive modernisation (Lash 1999).
18 Andrew Barry and Don Slater
Strathern’s chapter presents two case studies – one of which is a particular form
of hybrid forum – a Commission (in her case, the Canadian Royal Commission on
New Reproductive Technologies). As a specific form of institution that is intended
to inform action, a Commission relies on the existence of oppositions that are
conventionally made between government and market and government and politics.
The idea of a Commission relies on the idea that government is distinct from the
government of the market economy (even though markets are, in part, constituted
through legal regulation) and that government is distinct from politics (if politics is
conceived of as disagreement). Commissions are the institutional form in which
agreement can be reached without having to engage in what is normally called
politics. They are ways of circumventing the messy ‘circumstances of politics’ which
tend to be encountered in parliament or the mass media.15 Although this is not the
central focus of her argument, Strathern’s chapter demonstrates how other (non-
economic) experts may themselves come to dominate a hybrid forum.
Strathern’s chapter extends Callon’s notion of externality in three significant
ways. First, she shows how the notion of externality can be applied to an act of
socio-political framing (by a Commission). Second, she argues that in the case of
industrial patents, the act of framing anticipates externalities that have an ethical
aspect. Third, just as Callon conceives of economics as a set of practical techniques,
Strathern conceives of ethics as a set of practical forms of moral reasoning.
However, there is a crucial difference between ethics and the more calculative
techniques associated with economics. Whereas economic calculation may involve
the generation of a great deal of information, ethics derives from general principles
that are understood by the ethicists themselves. For Strathern, ethics can be under-
stood as a particular form of externality, an internal externality, which derived from
the moral reasoning of the Commission itself: “They were not simply adding their
own voice to the mix; they called down a justification for their views which lay
within themselves” (Strathern, this volume, our emphasis). In his work, Callon insists
that economics must be understood as performative. The level of its abstraction
from the world also serves to effect new relations in the world. The social sciences
are, in his account, a productive enterprise. Likewise, Strathern suggests that we
need to think of ethics in terms of its orientation to action despite its recourse to
the abstractions of moral philosophy. Action is always implied in the ethical norm,
“yet action … does not belong to the discursive framing of the norm itself ” (ibid.).
While Strathern’s chapter points to the need to rethink the anthropology of
ethics, Barry’s chapter points to the anthropology of politics that is concerned
with the technical practice of the political and the messiness of political
circumstance. At one level, the chapter simply extends Callon’s approach from
economics to politics. Following Callon, Barry is concerned with the question of
framing and the ways in which the division between politics and economics is
itself framed. Just as economic activity depends on a vast exercise in framing, so
do forms of political activity such as voting or acting as a politician. Whereas
many sociologists and anthropologists find politics (and ethics) everywhere, Barry
argues that politics is a rather specialist, and located, activity. The chapter revolves
around two arguments. The first emphasises the importance of various forms of
Introduction 19
‘anti-political’ activity that are oriented towards a reduction in the space of politics.
The second argues that metrology and calculation can, in practice, have political
rather than anti-political effects, shifting and opening up the space of politics, and
establishing a conduit for the cross-contamination of the economic and the political.

The new economy


As noted, we intend our title – ‘the technological economy’ – to draw together a
range of issues connecting technology and economy: economics as a technology;
economies as material arrangements of technical devices; but also new approaches
to the traditional issue of the place of technology in socio-economic change. All
of these issues have been given a new urgency by contemporary debates about the
so-called ‘new economy’ and its many cognate terms – information society, network
society, knowledge-based economy, cultural economy, and so on. This diversity of
labels and metaphors points not only to confusion but also to seemingly inevitable
convergences between technology and economy, technology studies and economic
sociology, that develop (and proliferate) the more theoretical convergences discussed
above. In particular, according to the new economy theorists, technological
innovation (above all in new media and biotechnologies) places information and
knowledge at the centre of economic processes (e.g. Leadbetter 1999; Quah 2004).
However, partly through extremely broad definitions of information and knowledge,
new economy and associated terms point to claims about the increased centrality
of cultural and social relations in economic processes, whether through new forms
of (networked) economic organisation, or the ‘dematerialisation’ of economic
factors (for example, the centrality of branding, consumer culture or the rise of
services and ‘non-material’ or less material commodities) (Thrift 2002).
As we have noted, Karin Knorr-Cetina’s exploration of the terminal screen in
financial trading rooms moves in the opposite direction from Castells’ global account
of network society (Castells 1996). Electronic linkages do not lead to a web of social
interconnections, or a disaggregation of markets into specific flows of information,
but rather to a concentrated yet flowing representation of ‘the market’ that embodies
it as a ‘life form’ or ‘greater being’. The terminal as mediation subsumes Castellian
networks but the latter do not provide the metaphors or procedures that constitute
the lifeworld of the social actors or the forms of their transactions. This precise
attention to the specific instantiation of technology and economy allows Knorr-
Cetina to develop a different analytic language, more appropriate to this market and
its historical development. The metaphor of the network, so readily embraced by
many, is inadequate to the task. As she has argued elsewhere:

Networks are sparse social structures and it is difficult to see how they can
incorporate the patterns of intense and dynamic interaction, the symbolic
improvements, and other specificities that we observe in concrete domains …
the emphasis on ties, their character, and what flows through them leaves out
the details of how the connections are implemented.
(Knorr-Cetina and Bruegger 2002b: 392)
20 Andrew Barry and Don Slater
Second – to return to our opening discussion of economics as technology –
terms such as ‘new economy’ and ‘the network society’, are best approached not
as a good or bad account of actual transformations, but rather as a way of framing
socio-economic processes. In this light, such notions should not be understood as
(falsifiable) descriptions of an increasingly dematerialised and networked economy.
On the contrary, they form part of attempts to establish new material economic
arrangements. They are models of the political and economic future (Barry 2001:
87). To take but one of a multitude of contemporary examples, the Ghanaian
government’s recently published Information Technology policy document (2003)
not only examines the transformation of every area of governance (administration,
health, education, etc.) through ICTs but also frames this in terms of an epochal
shift in which Ghana, having missed the industrial revolution, will leap from
agricultural economy to knowledge-based economy. This document – as so many
others, including those produced by the development agencies and donors on which
Ghana depends – assumes as given and ineluctable an historical narrative as well
as a set of techno-economic concepts that also constitute a programme. Jessop’s
chapter in this volume directs us to investigate the heterogeneous social agencies
that install new economy as a master narrative and the equally heterogeneous
apparatuses through which these narratives are to be realised (or not, as in the
case of so many Southern countries). As Jessop argues, the performativity of the
‘new economy’ cannot be grasped by a culturalism that simply addresses these
discourses as discourses. In the Ghanaian case, what is salient is not simply the
prestige of a new economic narrative but the way in which it is imbricated in the
material structures of relationships with development agencies, the practical
arrangements of commercial trading partners and financial institutions, the popular
practices of local SME entrepreneurs drawn to a local ICT sector that is already
formatted in terms of business models and practices that draw on information
society metaphors and concepts.
We have earlier referred to the breadth of the field of economic knowledges,
which not only include economics, accountancy, law, marketing and management
theory, but also the knowledge of non-experts such as citizens, workers, and
consumers. The significance of these sources of knowledge has been variable and
contested, and mediated by other forms of expertise, and through various forms
of collective political practice. Historically, political parties, trade unions,
intellectuals, political economists, anthropologists, sociologists, ethicists and market
researchers have all claimed to be able to re-present the knowledge of social actors,
and to speak on behalf of ‘society’ (Rose 1999; Strathern 2004). At the same time,
political practices such as strikes, direct actions and consumer boycotts have been
used to express the knowledge and demands of non-experts. Rather than draw a
clear distinction between the practices of experts and non-experts, one might point
to a continuum of different forms of social scientific and political practice through
which economic knowledge is demonstrated to others. In this collection, two further
chapters make clear the importance of the economic knowledge of non-experts in
contemporary economic life.
Introduction 21
First, as Clark, Thrift and Tickell’s chapter indicates, an important meaning of
‘new economy’ might be the further proliferation of economics through its
mediatisation (or simply popularisation) eroding boundaries between
professionalised expertise and general publics, or setting up new dynamics between
them. In their example, different financial consumers and producers are watching
the same financial infotainment screens, though often framing them in different
ways. Financial experts have always wanted to know which way ‘the common
herd’ will move (especially during bubble periods) and therefore want to know
what they know. Clark et al., however, are describing a further twist in which the
general public and their infotainment pundits are exerting demonstrable force on
the decisions of financial experts and in which PR management of financial
information is a significant aspect of corporate operations. Moreover – intriguingly
akin to Knorr-Cetina’s terminal traders – we are asked to understand economic
processes through the power of new representations of the economy made possible
by new forms of technological mediation (financial television networks or Reuter’s
information ‘pipes’). That is to say, at least in this sector, the ‘new economy’ may
have an analytical reality in describing new socio-technical arrangements for
representing ‘the economy’ that structure economic practice.
Lury’s chapter develops four intersecting arguments. One is an argument about
the history of marketing, and the increasingly critical importance of the brand as
an object of marketing. As she notes, the notion of the brand is increasingly
associated with global companies (Nike, Starbucks, Virgin) rather than specific
products. Second, and crucially, the development of brands has come to rely on
the knowledge of the consumer, and not just on that of the marketing professional.
The relation between marketing and the consumer was “no longer viewed in terms
of stimulus response … [but] as an exchange, or perhaps better, an interaction”
(this volume). Third, despite this, she notes the continuing reluctance of both
marketing and the law (in different ways) to acknowledge the knowledge of the
consumer. Fourth, Lury makes a more general argument about how it is possible
to understand the brand as an object and global life form (Franklin, Lury and
Stacey 2000; Lury, this volume). For Lury, the brand has to be understood not as a
stable entity but as an object which is both dynamic and indeterminate: ‘an abstract
machine for product differentiation’. In developing this argument, Lury’s analysis
of the brand questions the simplistic oppositions between the materiality of the
‘old’ economy and the immateriality of the ‘new’. Moreover, like Knorr-Cetina,
Lury stresses the critical importance of understanding the market as an object
which is continually being remade in time. Read together, the chapters by Lury
and Clark et al. also point to the growing importance of brands as an object of
both financial journalism and collective political action.16
We have framed this book in terms of the encounter between science and
technology studies and economic sociology. However, the chapters might also be
re-read in the context of a developing encounter between media studies and
economic sociology. Of course, media studies has had a strong interest in the
political economy of the media, as well as in the ideology of media representations
22 Andrew Barry and Don Slater
of the economy (Garnham 1990). There has also been an increasing interest in
the wider economic importance of the media and cultural industries (Negus 2002).
However, the chapters here indicate the possibility of a different form of intersection
between media studies and economic sociology. Barry’s chapter can be understood
as a study of how media events may destabilise the distinction between the economic
and the political. And Lury, Knorr-Cetina, Clark, Thrift and Tickell all indicate
the need to analyse the mediatisation of what we have termed economic knowledges.
Rather than view the economy simply as a context within which the media operate,
or view media representations as ideological, these chapters point to the critical
importance of mediatised knowledges in the formation of economic actors and
markets, as well as their politicisation. As these chapters suggest, there are potentially
fruitful convergences between the concerns of sociologists and anthropologists of
science and technology and media theorists in the field of economic sociology.

Conclusions
How does the knowledge of the social analyst relate to the plurality of economic
knowledges? What kinds of interventions will a reconstructed economic sociology
make into the technological economy? First, this book, following Callon’s argument,
constitutes a case for placing the anthropology of economic knowledges at the
centre of economic sociology. The set of approaches explored here needs to be
sharply distinguished from the customary stances of economic sociology towards
economics as a discipline: it has tried to ‘humanise’ economics by embedding it in
socio-cultural lifeworlds; it has tried to critique economics as wrong or ideological;
and – in the form of political economy – has tried to reconstruct economics as a
revolutionary politics. These engagements with economics have had little impact
on economics as a discipline and at the same time have failed to attend to the
totality of plural economic knowledges that – alongside the formal economics
which it ironically fetishises – are actively framing what comes to be recognised as
‘the economy’. It is high time for economic sociology both to address the full
range of economic knowledges in a sociological, rather than a merely critical,
agenda and to acknowledge itself as yet another agency of economic knowledge
and intervention.
Second, the approaches explored here point to the value of a radical empiricism
which is attentive to the particularities and complexities of places, events and actors.
We acknowledge that this approach must address problems of generalisation (which
we have explored through the issues of macro-economy and economic forms).
Nonetheless, it is through the analytical embrace of the empirical, of the particular
case and event, that we can disentangle our own economic constructs from the
grand and virtual narratives produced by other economics while at the same time
connecting them (politically and analytically) to the economic knowledges of actual
social actors. This demands more complex ethical and political positioning than
in earlier days, and a messy engagement with social realities. Rather than modelling
virtual social agents (e.g., the rational man of neo-liberalism or the proletariat of
Marxist political economy), this indicates the need to understand the formation of
Introduction 23
markets and economic processes through heterogeneous arrangements of ethically
impure agents, entangled in contingent circumstances, and evolving dynamically.
It is significant that many economic sociologists, including the authors of this article
(just like many science and technology researchers before them) are increasingly
engaged in messy and impure research – in policy, in politics, in development
work, in market research – in which our economic knowledges work alongside
others in the generation of new knowledges. The task is to conduct this work with
ethical reflexivity and without becoming complicit with economic ‘facts’ or with
the ‘objectivity’ of dominant economic narratives.

Notes
1 The chapters by Callon, Méadel and Rabeharisoa, Slater, Strathern and Barry were
originally presented at a workshop held at Goldsmiths College, University of London
in December 2000.
2 Thrift (1998: 163) argues that academic economics does not have a great deal of
importance for business, although it does have significance for states: “[political
economy and economics] are important as discursive elements of states, justifying
action in producing arenas that the state enacts as ‘economic’”.
3 In this volume, the chapters by Lury and Strathern also seek to reconceptualise the
relation between the internal and external, although not in relation to this specific
issue.
4 Consider, for example, the efforts of environmentalists to make the effects of develop-
ment projects on global warming the object of explicit calculation by international
financial institutions in determining funding decisions.
5 Two influential anthologies were titled The Social Shaping of Technology (Mackenzie and
Wajcman 1985) and The Social Construction of Technological Systems (Bijker et al. 1989).
6 Callon and Latour 1992: 348.
7 Translation could come to follow predictable paths. “A network becomes irreversible
to the extent that its translations are consolidated, making further translations
foreseeable and inevitable. Under such circumstances, embodied skills, experimental
devices, and systems of statements become increasingly dependent and
complementary” (Callon 1995: 59, see also Callon 1991).
8 The notion of agencement, used by Deleuze, is usually translated as assemblage or
arrangement. These translations do not, however, convey the sense of agency and
process suggested by the French term.
9 Writers on governmentality, influenced by Foucault, have made a similar argument.
See, for example, Burchell 1996.
10 This image persists. Despite a mass of empirical evidence, and his protestations to the
contrary, Manuel Castells finds it impossible to move beyond the vision of structural
Marxism in which technology and the economy are ultimately determining. According
to Castells: “a technological revolution, centred around information technologies, is
reshaping, at accelerated pace, the material basis of society” (Castells 1996: 1).
11 Cf. Rose 1999: 142–5.
12 Callon’s approach can also be distinguished from Habermas in its stress on the right
to resist the normative demand for participation in the public sphere. Writing about a
patient who refuses to identify with or participate in the politics of a patients’ organisa-
tion, Callon and Rabeharisoa note the following: “The triple demand underlying the
establishment of a public arena (demand for visibility, demand for debatability and
demand for participation and articulation) and which, once accepted, legitimises its
existence, is replaced, by the collective, by three counter-demands, a demand for opacity
24 Andrew Barry and Don Slater
… a demand for non-argumentation (‘that’s how it is and nothing can be done about
it’) and a demand for exclusion (the collective is not trying to articulate itself to the
outside)” (Callon and Rabeharisoa 2003: 28–9).
13 “Homo sociologicus has become a hybrid, at once actor and sociologist … Consequently
the choice of actors with which the sociologists is associated is crucial” (Callon 1999:
72).
14 L’Association Française contre les myopathies (AFM).
15 On the “circumstances of politics” see Waldron (1999) and Barry (this volume).
16 Since political actions against specific brands (such as Nike, Esso, Starbucks) may affect
share prices the distinction between “financial” and “political” reporting may be hard
to draw. Demonstrations conducted at company Annual General Meetings are likely
to be reported in the financial pages of newspapers.

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28 Michel Callon, Cécile Méadel and Vololona Rabeharisoa

1 The economy of qualities


Michel Callon, Cécile Méadel and
Vololona Rabeharisoa

As Charles Smith, one of the pioneers of “new” economic sociology, so rightly


pointed out, forms of organization of economic markets and their modes of
functioning are becoming an explicit issue for multiple actors and especially for
economic agents themselves (Smith 2000). Markets evolve and, like species, become
differentiated and diversified. But this evolution is grounded in no pre-established
logic. Nor is it simply the consequence of a natural tendency to adapt. Economic
markets are caught in a reflexive activity: the actors concerned explicitly question
their organization and, based on an analysis of their functioning, try to conceive
and establish new rules for the game.
This reflexivity is evident mainly in the proliferation of hybrid forums in which
the functioning and organization of particular markets (e.g. transgenic colza or
breast cancer predisposition gene tests) are discussed and debated (Callon et al.
2001).1
“Forums” because they are public spaces, the specific structuring of which is
yet to be defined.
“Hybrid” for two reasons. The first is the variety and heterogeneity of the
actors involved. In debate on the organization of markets we find: professional
economists from different schools of thought, anthropologists and sociologists;
economic actors (industrialists, consumer associations and social movements
protesting against the increasing control of certain centres of power, etc.); inter-
national or national organizations such as the IMF, IRDB and ERDB which have
their say in the structuring of markets; specialists of intellectual property, experts
in management techniques and, more and more often, researchers in the life or
natural sciences. The second reason they are hybrid is because the questions raised
concern the economy,2 politics,3 ethics,4 law5 and, finally, even science.6
In these hybrid forums it is impossible to separate or dissociate the different
components of the issues, even for the sake of simplifying the analysis. The forms
of organization of markets defended by the actors engaged in the controversy
vary, depending on those actors’ political or ethical points of view or the way in
which they evaluate the reliability of scientific facts or the efficacy of available
technology. Isolating problems and solutions that could be considered purely
economic would lead to socially illegitimate solutions.7
The economy of qualities 29
There is nothing new about markets being the subject of debate and their modes
of organization depending on (non-commercial!) transactions between groups with
differing and sometimes even opposing views and interests. Studies attesting to
this are starting to become available, although they are still too few (Dumez and
Jeunemaître 1998; Gao 1998; Miller 1998; Cochoy 1998). What seems to be new
is the fact that the locus of these debates and resulting decisions is more and more
frequently (relatively) open public arenas.
One of the most visible consequences of public debates on questions that tend
usually to be monopolized by specialists (or by professional decision-makers who
rely on expert opinions) is the resulting redistribution of competencies and the
increasing role granted to economic agents themselves. Professional economists no
longer have the direct or indirect monopoly (assuming they did ever have it) on
authorized and legitimate discourse. This does not mean that they are excluded
from the debate. On the contrary, they are cordially invited to participate, but they
are no longer alone. Next to them we find not only specialists from other scientific
disciplines (anthropologists, sociologists, political scientists and, depending on the
nature of the markets under consideration, biologists, chemists or climatologists) but
also, and above all, the actors concerned with the markets under discussion.
Economists, sociologists and biologists can no longer confine themselves to an
outdated form of epistemology. The actors are now colleagues whom they have to
take into consideration and who contribute in their own right to the production of
knowledge and its transcription in reality which sometimes ends up corresponding
to theories about it.8 The forum creates an arena in which the great divide between
specialists and laypersons is redistributed. It creates material conditions for cooperation
between laboratory research performed by experts and specialists, on the one hand,
and research “in the wild” that makes it possible for laypersons to be vigilant and
sometimes prompts them to propose guidelines for new research (Callon et al. 2001).
As far as it concerns markets and their organization, this reflexive – because
collaborative – research should progressively be focused on a small number of
questions, including what we suggest calling the qualification of products. Real
markets and the agents inhabiting them have in common with the stylized markets
of economics textbooks the same core question: the classification of goods offered
to consumers. Economic agents devote a large share of their resources to positioning
the products they design, produce, distribute or consume, in relation to others.
Any theoretical and formal description of a market starts with the inevitable
statement: take goods p1, p2, p3, etc., without which no stylized model would be
possible. How could we talk about supply and demand, in practical or theoretical
terms, if there were no agreement, at least tacit or even imaginable, on the list of
products and their characteristics?9 How could we describe, in practice and theory,
the structures of competition within the same market or between related markets,
if relations of similitude or dissimilitude between the goods that circulate could
not be established?10
One of the most visible manifestations of this shared concern (how to classify
and position goods?) is reflected in the upsurge in debate on the concept of a
service. The distinction between manufactured goods and services, which has
30 Michel Callon, Cécile Méadel and Vololona Rabeharisoa
generated recurrent and endlessly open debates, is becoming central again, probably
because it is at the heart of a set of questions on the transformation of the economic
system and/or on the appearance of new models of growth and regulation (Gadrey
2000). Whether one talks about the new economy, the information economy, the
knowledge economy or even, more directly, of the service economy, one is expressing
the possibility of a profound transformation of the rules by which markets function,
a transformation that is thought to be related essentially to radical changes in the
characteristics of the goods traded.
Our view in this chapter is that the emerging convergence between the interests
of researchers and the preoccupations of economic agents, around the question
of services, warrants encouragement and clarification. It is likely, eventually, to
promote the constitution of hybrid forums in which new forms of organization of
economic activity could be discussed. To show the advantages of such convergence,
we shall take a detour via the general question of the definition of goods and
products. Then, based on both the economic tradition and on sociological and
anthropological work, we shall put forward a product definition that will lead us,
in the second part, to show the active and reflexive role of economic agents in the
qualification of products. This will enable us to demonstrate the emergence of
new forms of competition and to emphasize the advantages of the concept of a
service for describing and explaining them we suggest calling this new form of
organization of markets the economy of qualities.
The key argument in this chapter is the suggestion that, in the economy of
qualities, that can also be called the service economy, because the questions posed
by researchers and economic agents are to a large degree identical, cooperation
between them is inevitable. The organization of markets becomes a collective
issue and the economy becomes (again) political. One of social sciences’ objectives
might be to contribute, as far as possible, to that development.11

The product as a variable: conflict and negotiation


around the qualification of goods
What is a product? When one consults political economics textbooks one is struck
by the diversity of terms used to denote the objects of commercial transactions.12
Faced with this semantic proliferation and resulting imprecision, it is out of the
question to try to control the use of concepts, especially since each of them sheds
particular light on the reality in question. To better understand the emergence of
new forms of organization of markets and new modes of competition, it never-
theless seems useful to make a distinction – necessarily arbitrary but nevertheless
rooted in etymology – between a good and a product (two concepts which are
often used interchangeably in the vocabulary of economic theory).
Talking of a good means emphasizing the fact that the aim of any economic
activity is to satisfy needs (what is good, sought after, wanted). Qualifying these
goods as economic means adding that their production and circulation involves
the mobilization of necessarily rare resources, or that these goods can be attached
to property rights which are transferable from one agent to another. The concept
The economy of qualities 31
of an economic good implies a degree of stabilization of the characteristics that
are associated with it, which explain why it is in demand and why, being wanted as
such, it is traded.
A product, on the other hand, is an economic good seen from the point of view
of its production, circulation and consumption. The concept (producere: to bring
forward) shows that it consists of a sequence of actions, a series of operations that
transform it, move it and cause it to change hands, to cross a series of meta-
morphoses that end up putting it into a form judged useful by an economic agent
who pays for it. During these transformations its characteristics change.
The product is thus a process, whereas the good corresponds to a state, to a
result or, more precisely, to a moment in that never-ending process. As an economic
good a car is an object, a thing with a well-defined shape, which is used to meet
specific needs and which has an established value in a market context. But it is
more than that. It is also an object that has a life, a career. Seen from the angle of
its conception and then production, it starts off by existing in the form of a set of
specifications, then a model, then a prototype, then a series of assembled elements
and, finally, a car in a catalogue that is ordered from a dealer and has characteristics
which can be described relatively objectively and with a certain degree of consensus.
Once it is in the hands of its driver the car continues moving, not only on roads
but also, later, for maintenance purposes to workshops, then to second-hand dealers.
At times it becomes an object on paper again which takes its place alongside other
cars in the guide to second-hand car prices in specialized magazines.
The product (considered as a sequence of transformations) describes, in both
senses of the term, the different networks coordinating the actors involved in its
design, production, distribution and consumption. The product singles out the
agents and binds them together and, reciprocally, it is the agents that, by adjustment,
iteration and transformation, define its characteristics.
Once the distinction between goods and products has been established, the
question of their relations remains. These can be considered from a dual point of
view: that of the process of qualification of goods, and that of the product
considered as a strategic variable.
To deepen and enrich the proposed distinction between product and good, we
shall start with the definition of a good, as given in most economics manuals. “A
good can be described as a bundle of characteristics: quality, location, time, avail-
ability, consumer’s information about its existence and … so on. Each consumer
has a ranking over the mix of variable” (Tirole 1989). In other words, a good can
be defined by a combination of characteristics that establish its singularity. This
singularity, because it stems from a combination, is relational. In fact, the selected
characteristics can be used to describe other goods, with which relations of similitude
or proximity are likely to be established. Defining a good means positioning it in a
space of goods, in a system of differences and similarities, of distinct yet connected
categories.13
How are these characteristics established, which make it possible to say that
two goods are relatively similar but different or else totally dissimilar and radically
incomparable?
32 Michel Callon, Cécile Méadel and Vololona Rabeharisoa
First, these properties are not observed; they are “revealed” through tests or
trials which involve interactions between agents (teams) and the goods to be
qualified. The fact that a wine is syrupy, that it matures with age, that it has a high
or low alcohol content, that it comes from the Médoc region or Tourraine, are all
properties which will be used to characterize it but which, to be identified and
objectified, require the implementation of certified tests and the realization of
codified measurements.14 The same applies to a car. Its road-holding, engine
capacity, consumption and comfort, the resistance of its paint to corrosion, and its
delivery time are all parameters which, to be appreciated, evaluated and objectified,
need a battery of tests, test benches, approved measurement instruments, documents
guaranteeing traceability, etc. The characteristics of a good are not properties
which already exist and on which information simply has to be produced so that
everyone can be aware of them. Their definition or, in other words, their
objectification, implies specific metrological work and heavy investments in
measuring equipment. The consequence is that agreement on the characteristics
is sometimes, in fact often, difficult to achieve. Not only may the list of characteristics
be controversial (which characteristics ought to be taken into consideration?) but
also, above all, the value to be given to each of them. Once agreement has been
reached it will be characterized by a degree of robustness if the procedures used
were objective.
Second, the definition of these characteristics is modified as the product develops
and changes. The characterization of a vehicle in the research laboratory is
obviously not the same as that on the sales brochure distributed by the dealer, even
if the two lists of characteristics are related. It is also different from the one proposed
to a sub-contractor who designs and manufactures parts.
The notion of a characteristic in its standard sense (and particularly in the
definition proposed by Tirole) tends to mask both the existence of progressive
metamorphoses of the product and the necessity for successive investment to
organize the trials required for characterization. That is why I prefer to talk of
qualities and of a (continuous) process of qualification–requalification, for they
are simply two sides to the same coin. All quality is obtained at the end of a
process of qualification, and all qualification aims to establish a constellation of
characteristics, stabilized at least for a while, which are attached to the product
and transform it temporarily into a tradable good in the market.15
A good is defined by the qualities attributed to it during qualification trials.
These qualities are therefore twofold. They are intrinsic: the good is engaged in
the qualification trial and the result obviously depends on the good in question.
But they are also extrinsic: not only are the qualities shaped by the device used to
test and measure the good (and therefore depend on the choice and characteristics
of that device) but their formulation and explanation also generate evaluations
and judgements which vary from one agent to the next. The notion of quality has
the advantage of closely binding these two meanings and of including the classical
question in both economics and economic sociology, of the hierarchy of comparable
goods (as when one talks of the quality of a service or second-hand car). Talking
of quality means raising the question of the controversial processes of qualification,
The economy of qualities 33
processes through which qualities are attributed, stabilized, objectified and arranged.
It therefore consists of giving oneself the means to go with no solution of continuity
from the good to the product, from the result to the process and its organization.
Being by definition variable, the product is a strategic variable for the different
economic agents engaged in the process of its successive qualifications–
requalifications. Seen from the point of view of its conception, a good, as noted
above, moves through different stages: the Twingo presented by Renault’s design
department has qualities which will progressively be transformed and adjusted,
until the version available on the market is obtained. That final version will,
moreover, have qualities that differ depending on the place in which it is sold, the
year in which it is licensed, the fact of being first- or second-hand, and so on.
Products, to borrow Appadurai’s apt expression, are goods with a career (Appadurai
1986). Conversely, goods are (temporarily) stabilized products. In the former case
the list of qualities is open; in the latter it is (temporarily) closed.
The process of qualification–requalification, as described by the good–product
twosome, is at the heart of the dynamics of economic markets. It was on the
existence of this very process that Chamberlin based his theory of monopolistic
competition (Chamberlin 1946 [1933]). He started with the idea, proposed above,
that the qualities that allow goods to be differentiated from one another constitute
a very open list. They may be characteristics that common sense would auto-
matically describe as intrinsic, but may also be brands, packaging or special
recipients, particular sales conditions such as location, seller’s reputation or personal
relations between the salesperson and customers. Chamberlin underscored the
fact that all these qualities constitute the good, in the following striking sentence:
the customer buys not only the “material” good but also the reputation and honour
of the seller. Even if Chamberlin does not explicitly say so, this means that all
these qualities have the same ontological status, and that it would be wrong to
distinguish between primary and secondary qualities, for example, or between the
“real” good and its successive presentations. Yet, Chamberlin adds, these qualities
which define a good and make it possible to position it in relation to other goods
are not established once and for all. They have the strange characteristic of being
constituent of the good but nonetheless reconfigurable.
Chamberlin’s conclusion is essential in our argument. The good, as a moment
in the life of a product, as a configuration likely to vary in a continuous process of
qualification–requalification, must be considered as an economic variable in the
same way that prices are: “By variation (of the product) we may be referring to a
modification of the quality of the product itself – technological changes, new
model, better raw materials; we may mean the packaging or a new recipient; or,
finally, we may mean better and more friendly service, a different way of doing
business”. In his introduction to the French translation, Perroux stresses the point.
He notes that for the firm, the ability to modify the list of qualities is a strategic
resource since it is a matter of positioning the good in the space of goods (a space
comprising all possible dimensions and qualities).
Expressed in our categories the good, a point in time in the career of a product
which starts before it and continues after it, is an economic variable in its own
34 Michel Callon, Cécile Méadel and Vololona Rabeharisoa
right that the different economic agents can manipulate to suit their strategic goals.16
Of what do these manipulations consist? Or, put differently, what are the
economic implications of the qualification–requalification of products? Once again,
we turn to Chamberlin, for his answer here is also central to our approach. The
qualification of goods is at the heart of economic competition and the organization
of markets. According to him, the establishment of the list of qualities of a good
involves the linking up or, rather, the co-construction of supply and demand. With
hindsight this mutual adaptation between what a firm proposes and what consumers
want always seems somewhat miraculous. Chamberlin points out that it is based
on a double movement. On the one hand, it leads to a singularization of the good
(so that it is distinguished from other goods and satisfies a demand that other
goods cannot meet). On the other hand, it makes the good comparable to other
existing goods, so that new markets are constructed through the extension and
renewal of existing ones. Different and similar, singular and comparable, such is
the paradoxical nature of the economic good constituting the dynamics of markets.
It is of course economic agents, from either the supply or demand side, or
involved in either distribution or marketing, that construct these singularities and
substitutabilities. The challenge which they share and which divides them is to
establish this difficult adjustment between a supply and a demand that is formed
around a list of qualities – an adjustment that is temporary and constantly
threatened because it operates against a background of substitutability and compa-
rability. The good relates to a certain structuration of competition, which acts
both as a constraint and a resource for the collective qualification–requalification
of products.
This strategic game of positioning or, as we proposed, of qualification–
requalification of goods, has two important consequences for forms of organization
and modalities of competition.
First, the contrast between a situation of monopoly and one of pure competition
no longer has meaning. Through construction, a product is always both singular
and similar to other products, because it is immersed in a space of qualities that
makes comparisons possible. Chamberlin proposed the concept of monopolistic
competition to describe this dynamic. Chamberlin synthesizes this point in the
following assertive statement, often cited: “It is to be recognized that the whole is
not a single market, but a network of related markets, one for each seller”.17 From
this point of view, consumers are just as active as the other parties involved. They
participate in the process of qualifying available products. It is their ability to
judge and evaluate that is mobilized to establish and classify relevant differences.
There is no reason to believe that agents on the supply side are capable of imposing
on consumers both their perception of qualities and the way they grade those
qualities. Interactions involving complex and reciprocal influences, to which we
shall return, are the rule rather than the exception.
Second, and Chamberlin makes this point in passing, the requalification process
can be carried out either “gradually and unconsciously”, taking into account the
reactions of the different agents involved, or in an organized manner. In the latter
case, economic agents, that is the firm, but also the spokespersons of intermediaries
The economy of qualities 35
and consumers, are explicitly defined as being involved in the strategic management
of product qualification. They attempt to answer the following questions: how
products are positioned in the sphere of goods; how they are distinguished from
other goods and to what extent they can be substituted, at least partially, for some
of them. This strategic management starts from the design stage and is seen as a
governable process in which all agents participate, from the research and design
departments right down to the end users, through the production, purchasing and
marketing divisions.

The economy of qualities


To consider the qualification of goods as one of the central issues in the dynamic
organization of markets makes the situations in which this qualification–requali-
fication constitutes an explicit challenge for all the agents involved particularly
interesting. For reasons that will emerge clearly further on in this chapter, we suggest
using the term “economy of qualities” for this (dynamic) economy of the product
(as opposed to a more static economy of the good) in which the modalities of the
establishment of supply and demand, and forms of competition, are all shaped by
the organized strategies deployed by the different actors to qualify goods. These
highly reflexive markets are organized around two structuring mechanisms: the
singularization of goods and the attachment of goods to (and detachment from)
those who consume them.

The singularization of goods


The economy of qualities is based above all on the singularity of the goods offered
to consumers. In other words, what is sought after is a very close relationship
between what the consumer wants and expects, on the one hand, and what is
offered, on the other. Many authors have emphasized these interactions between
supply and demand, as well as the personalization of products they allow and the
progressive adjustments to which they give rise.18 But the perspective adopted here,
that of the qualification of goods, allows us to enrich and complete existing analyses.
Let us consider the question from the demand side first: how do consumers
perceive differences between products and how do they evaluate them? In other
words, how do they qualify products and classify them by giving them an order of
preference?
The answer to this question should avoid the explanation that immediately
comes to mind which accepts the idea of a radical separation between supply and
demand, with the product serving simply as an intermediary between the two. In
this widespread view, the qualities of products are intrinsic characteristics,
inseparably attached to the products. Consumers are supposed to perceive these
qualities (hence, the importance of information) and it is assumed that the way in
which they appreciate, evaluate and classify them depends on their own preferences.
The latter can be considered as strictly individual (as in the standard neo-classical
model) or (as in the extreme sociologizing version) related to membership of a
36 Michel Callon, Cécile Méadel and Vololona Rabeharisoa
group or social class that tries to distinguish itself or form an identity by adopting
a position in relation to the preferences of other groups.19 From our point of view,
this is impossible. The qualities of a product depend on the joint work of a host of
actors and there is no reason to believe that consumers do not participate, like the
other actors concerned, in the objectification of those qualities.20
How, in these conditions, can we explain consumers’ participation in the
qualification of the goods for which they (finally) express a demand? The best way
of avoiding difficulties associated with the traditional concept of preference is to
introduce the more realistic and now well-documented concept of distributed
cognition (Hutchins 1995; Mallard 1996). The perception of differences and their
evaluation, a dual operation that constitutes the exercise of judgement, implies a
consumer immersed in a socio-technical system of which the different elements
will each, in its own way, participate in the implementation of that dual operation.
F. Cochoy’s ethnography of supermarket customers is very instructive from this
point of view (Cochoy 2002).
Cochoy is interested in the particularly disturbing case in which the consumer
has to choose between two almost identical products.21 As he shows, this situation
is very common. Moreover, advertisements often influence the paradox by adding
a strange injunction: between these two identical products choose ours! Chamberlin
was right. The singularization of a product, which allows its attachment to a
particular consumer, is obtained against a background of similitude. The difference
that enables a product to capture the consumer always involves the prior assertion
of a resemblance which suggests an association between the consumer’s former
attachments and the new ones proposed.
How do consumers manage to grasp differences when products are so similar?
How can I explain why I choose a Philips VCR rather than a Sony or, even more
ordinarily, fruit yoghurts made by Danone rather than Nestlé? To explain why and
how consumers end up opting for one or the other, F. Cochoy points to the part
played by two decisive mechanisms.
The first of these is the establishment of a socio-cognitive arrangement that
situates the different products in relation to one another: a particular point on a
shelf; packaging, the semiotic analysis of which shows that it helps simultaneously
to characterize the product and to compare it with other seemingly similar products;
and references added by the distributor. Advertising, studied so well by Chamberlin,
is another element in this apparatus. Consumers are not alone, facing a product,
left to determine its qualities. They are guided, assisted by material devices which
act as points of reference, supports, affordances in which information is distributed.
But consumers also have a life outside the supermarket. For example, they have
a family. The products they buy are tested in their home; collective evaluations are
made; learning takes place, which gives rise to evaluations. More broadly, our
consumers are caught in social networks in which tastes are formed, discussed and
imitated. Moreover, these networks are not purely social. Tests and evaluations are
always based on material devices in which bodies are involved (Teil 1998; Thévenot
1993). The lessons learned from them are sometimes synthesized in lists that
consumers draw up with the people they live with before going shopping. When
The economy of qualities 37
faced with a shelf offering a profusion of similar products, the list will enable them
to rely on elements external to the situation. For some products and markets our
consumers can also consult magazines or guides produced by specialists or consumer
associations (Mallard 2000). In the case of high-tech goods or, more generally,
products that are difficult to qualify (because objective tests are more difficult to
carry out), these intermediaries play a crucial part, in some cases going so far as to
organize what Hatchuel calls a prescriber’s market (Hatchuel 1995). We thus see
the complexity of the process of judgement through which properties are attributed
to products and evaluations are made. It is always, as Chamberlin so clearly saw,
through the comparison and explanation of differences that these judgements are
made. Such comparisons and explanations suppose the existence of a complex
socio-technical device that supports the consumer in her evaluation work.
Let us now turn to the supply side. It has in common with demand the obsession
with positioning products. How is it possible to ensure that consumers identify
properties that they then evaluate positively? This question is crucial, as the
consumers’ attachment and consequent profits depend on the answer! This clearly
explains why all the firm’s activities and those of everyone involved in it turn
around the positioning and qualification of the product. And the only way to go
about it is by trial and error and the progressive learning it allows: trying some
positions, observing consumers’ evaluations, trying to clarify their judgements,
taking them into account when repositioning the product etc.22 As we have seen,
and Chamberlin stressed this point, this work of requalification can concern either
what common sense would tend to consider to be the materiality of the product
(orange juice, its acidity, the origin of the pulp) or its presentation (its wrapping, its
position on the shelf, or advertisements for it). Yet, in the approach adopted here,
there is no reason to distinguish between the two. In both cases what counts is the
qualification of the product: one involves work on the orange; the other involves
work on the bottle, its label or its place on the shelf. But from the point of view of
interest to us here, there is no need to distinguish between these two types of
qualification that contribute equally to the singularization of the product.23
The distinction between supply and demand is useful for emphasizing the
symmetry and similitude of behaviours of the different economic agents engaged
in qualification. Yet it does have a major drawback: it makes the anonymous and
collective work of market professionals invisible, despite the key role they play in
the qualification–requalification of products. In the mass market these professionals
working behind the scenes are legion and far more numerous than omnipresent,
designers, packagers or merchandisers. Cécile Méadel and Vololona Rabeharisoa
followed the career of orange juice from the orange groves of southern Spain to
the display of the juice in a bottle in a range on a shelf (Méadel and Rabeharisoa,
1999). Different actors come onto the scene at different stages in the orange juice’s
career: the taster who, in close collaboration with the buyer, stabilizes the properties
of the juice when production first begins; the sales manager who displays the plastic
from which the bottles are made; the advertising agency and its brief; the marketing
services and the market surveys that prompt it to segment supply and demand so
as to take into account profound changes; the tasting sessions organized with
38 Michel Callon, Cécile Méadel and Vololona Rabeharisoa
different panels of uninformed consumers or informed professionals who are put
into a position to reveal their tastes and judgements (Méadel and Rabeharisoa
2001). All these people working on qualification share a product which they shape
and transform: the orange and its juice constitute their world. But they are
simultaneously in a distant relationship. They pass the product around and on to
the next in line so that, on the basis of work already done, they can propose and
prepare other qualifications. The final adjustment is always in the hands of the
newcomer (Barrey et al. 2000). That is why the coordination of these professionals
is difficult: the maintenance of their difference is essential but too much distance
could cause errors as the product moves between them. All in all, what is being
produced is a progressive “profiling” of products that, through successive adjust-
ment and iteration, ends up profiling both the demand and the consumer.
This profiling which, when successful, results in the qualities of products corres-
ponding exactly to those that consumers want, is concluded with consumers’
attachment to the goods they buy and consume: it is that particular bottle, that
orange juice, that the customer in the supermarket prefers. This attachment to a
singularized product cannot be disassociated from the configuration – through
supply and demand – of an apparatus of distributed cognition in which information
and references are spread out between many elements. The consumer’s preferences
are tied into this apparatus. This is why they can be both stable and reconfigurable.

Detachment and different attachment


All attachment is constantly threatened. This mechanism is central in the question
under consideration here. Competition between firms occurs precisely around this
dialectic of attachment and detachment. Capturing or “attaching” consumers by
“detaching” them from the networks built by rivals is the mainspring of competition.
How does this form of detachment occur? Answer: by getting consumers to
requalify the different products offered to them, that is, by repositioning products
in such a way that it becomes visible to consumers, so that they are prompted to
embark on a new effort at evaluation.24 One can speak of a calculative supply. But
calculations do not simply concern prices and profits. They are mainly about
products and their qualities.
A fairly simple way of understanding how this requalification operates is by
turning once again to the demand side and adapting March’s distinction between
decision-making based on consequences (logics of consequences) and routine
decision-making (logics of appropriateness) (March 1994). It would be a mistake
to have to choose between two opposite conceptions of the economic agent in
general and the consumer in particular. Agents who follow routines and those who
calculate and decide on the basis of the consequences of their choices, both exist.
Moreover, those same agents, for example supermarket customers, generally swing
from one position to the next, rapidly and sequentially.
Attached consumers are ones who are caught up in routines. They are driven
by the distributed apparatus of qualification. The differences they perceive and
the evaluations they make are stabilized, objectified. They buy goods, the qualities
The economy of qualities 39
of which are familiar. They grade them and then use those scales. In the case of
the supermarket, consumers functioning according to routines push their trolleys
around, always use the same list, when they use one at all, and go from shelf to
shelf, never hesitating on the choice of the products they buy. It is always the same
information that is mobilized and treated by the collective to which they belong.
Consumers engaged in the requalification process hesitate. They wonder what
they should buy, are puzzled when faced with an impressive range of orange juices
or when they notice a new product standing out among the others.
How does this switch operate? How is the same consumer, caught until then in
routines, turned into a decision-maker? This is where one needs to turn to the
supply side and towards professionals of qualification. They constantly try to
destabilize consumers, to extract them from routines and prompt them to re-evaluate
the qualities of products, hoping that that requalification might be favourable to
them.
Cécile Méadel and Vololona Rabeharisoa take the example of an orange juice
producer whose sales declined. To remedy the situation it decided to launch a
product requalification project with the aim of changing the position of its products
in the market. The origin of the oranges, the taste of the juice and its packaging
(among other things) were changed. But customers still had to be informed of
these changes. The strategy chosen, both simple and common, clearly illustrates
the nature of the mechanisms at play in this switch. To the questions: “How to
break the consumers’ attachment to their favourite brands? How to extract them
from the routines they follow with a certain delight, and get them to grasp the
bottle without thinking?” the solution devised by (re)qualification professionals
offered an exemplary answer. The strategy consisted of reactivating the network
in which customers were immersed by focusing, for example, initially on those
consumers who were accompanied by their children. The idea was to attract the
children’s attention by means of a prominent feature, for example a bottle offering
a free Pokemon. The child would predictably detach herself from her father, pull
him by the arm, force him to leave the routine he automatically followed, and put
him in front of a product which, strictly speaking, he had not seen. A discussion
between father and child would follow, which was likely to end in a purchase and,
eventually, in attachment to a new brand. If the children’s network was effective,
the new attachment would spread well beyond that single family unit.
This scene, so ordinary and obvious, is instructive. By acting on the collective
in which consumers are immersed, that is, by giving weight to children’s evaluation,
the supplier is in a position to attach consumers after detaching them from another
network in which they are caught. The orange juice proposed, one quality of
which is perhaps the slightly sweeter taste, but which has, above all, a connection
with the Pokemon network, has been differentiated and has attached a new
consumer. This clearly illustrates the general mechanism we wish to describe. It is
through a reconfiguration of the socio-cognitive apparatus (the new orange juice
stands out on the shelf and modifies the circle of those with whom customers are
to interact and deliberate in revising their preferences and finally ending up with
new judgements and evaluations) that detachment and reattachment are effected.
40 Michel Callon, Cécile Méadel and Vololona Rabeharisoa
In the economy of qualities, this struggle for attachment and detachment is at
the heart of competition. It entails the collective (re)qualification of the products
that become strategic variables. The positioning of products and the shaping of
preferences are endogenous variables that agents manipulate and calculate.25 What
we propose to show now is that the modalities of the organization it implies resemble
those of the service economy as described by Jean Gadrey.

Service activities as the basis of the economy of qualities


Until now the validity of the subject of this chapter has been general. At no point
did we raise the question of the distinction between material goods and service
provision. The process of (re)qualification, whether it concerns an insurance
contract, home care for the aged, a transport service, a fruit juice, a motor car or
an apartment, follows the same logic. Forms of competition that are set up and
centre around the struggle for attachment and detachment of customers to the
goods offered to them likewise follow the same logic. Is it useful and of any interest,
in these conditions, to revive problematic distinctions? Why not stick to the good–
product twosome, rather than adding confusion by introducing criteria that flirt
with metaphysics, like those of materiality or non-materiality of products?
That could be a possible strategy. But it would have the drawback of overlooking
the concerns of actors who talk increasingly about services or service relations,
stressing the importance of users and the quality of the services offered. The service
economy exists in reality, in official classifications and in the categories used by
agents. Ignoring that would run counter to our aim which enjoins us to consider
those agents as competent colleagues who know what they are saying and doing. It
would also amount to not seeing that the economy of qualities, as defined above,
easily encompasses what actors call service provision. What we would like to suggest
hereafter is precisely that what we mean by the term service or service activity
increasingly corresponds to forms of organization of markets in which the
qualification of products is a central and constant concern. Perhaps the service
economy is just another name given to the economy of qualities by the agents
concerned and certain economists.
To demonstrate this in rough terms, let us start with Jean Gadrey’s definition
(Gadrey 2000). According to him, any purchase of services by an economic agent
B (individual or organization) is a purchase from an organization A of the right to
use, for a specified period, a technical or human capacity possessed by A to produce
(on agent B or on the goods that agent possesses) useful effects that do not have the
form of new economic entities. On the basis of this definition, Jean Gadrey suggests
distinguishing three service logics: request for intervention, making available and show,
the definitions of which can be summarized as follows:

• In the case of the logic of a request for intervention, B (for example the owner
of a car) addresses a request for intervention to A who is the owner of a set of
human and technical capacities (the garage or mechanics workshop) the
mobilization of which will allow B’s demand to be satisfied.
The economy of qualities 41
• In the case of the logic of making available, B, based on a simple decision,
uses a technico-human capacity which functions and which A makes available
to B in mutually agreed conditions.26 Examples of such logics are transport,
telephone and electricity.
• In the case of a show (or spectacle), B decides to attend, in conditions proposed
by organization A or negotiated with it, a human performance (a play, an
amusement park, a show on a river cruise, etc.) generally supported by technical
devices.

The advantage of this definition, and of the resulting classification in three


logics, is that it clearly demonstrates the link between service activities and the
economy of qualities. The particular frame of the service relationship in which
the service provision takes place has two consequences. First, it facilitates the setting
up of the (reflexive) work through which the different agents engaged in the process
pose and solve the problem of the singularization of products. Second, it facilitates
the formulation and implementation of strategies aimed at managing consumers’
attachment to and detachment from the products offered to them.
In his definition, Jean Gadrey introduces the key concept of socio-technical
capacity. This socio-technical capacity consists in human competencies and material
devices that have been designed and arranged in a way in which they can be
mobilized in order to achieve desired results. In the request for intervention logic,
it consists of a set of means for the purpose of investigation, control, maintenance
and reparation, which combine instruments and machines but also specialized
technicians who are mobilized in an organized way to produce the expected effects
on B. In the making available logic, this technical capacity, often invisible to the
user, may be considerable, as in the case of connection to an electricity, telecom-
munication or the domestic water supply network. B, by lifting her telephone
receiver, opening a tap or switching on her washing machine, sets in motion a
complex arrangement of humans and non-humans whose actions have been
adjusted in relation to one another and prepared for mobilization at any time and
at any point of access to the network. The property of that socio-technical capacity
is sometimes shared between different owners. A car rental network makes available
its vehicles, its rental sales agents, its agencies and its maintenance and insurance
services, but also takes advantage of the road infrastructure (a public good) that
will enable its customers to travel about. In the logic of show, the manager of a
theatre or amusement park and the organizer of a pleasure cruise on the Seine
group together a series of participants, each of whom plays a part in a script or
scenario prepared in advance and the realization of which would be impossible
without the engagement of material mediums participating actively in the show
(the Seine and the boat are needed, as are the theatre, its stage and comfortable
seats, the projector: each of these non-human entities contributes, in its own unique
way, to the show) (Akrich 1992).
In all these situations the beneficiary B acquires – and this is what the commercial
transaction is about – a right to (specified) use of that socio-technical capacity. It is
to repair B’s car that the garage is mobilized. It is to enable her to light her apartment
42 Michel Callon, Cécile Méadel and Vololona Rabeharisoa
that the turbines generate electricity year after year, that agencies carefully monitor
her consumption and that high-tension lines criss-cross the countryside. It is for
the audience’s pleasure that the actress repeats her monologue for the hundredth
time, that the usherette leads people to the seats they have reserved on the Internet,
etc. Service provision consists in the effects produced by the mobilization and
reasoned use of this socio-technical capacity.
Thus defined, service provision is not radically different from other forms of
goods placed on the market.27 But owing to the key importance it gives to the
relationship between the socio-technical capacity (in the seller’s hands) and the
customer (who uses it), it allows greater reflexivity on activities of qualification
and singularization. What we have suggested calling a socio-technical device, a
device that enables us to think of qualification in terms of distributed cognition, is
in fact very similar to what J. Gadrey calls socio-technical capacity. In the case of
service provision, this socio-technical device occupies a central place, for the success
of the service depends on it directly and quasi-perceptibly. This can be expressed
differently by emphasizing the fact that service provision, by allowing consumers
to use this socio-technical capacity, organizes a system of action in which consumers
participate personally in order to benefit from that use. In the course of the
interaction thus constructed, they become elements in this system of action. They
act, react and, most importantly, interact, thus gradually constructing and clarifying
their preferences. Service provision is a machine (sometimes a machination)
designed to reveal what customers want and progressively to construct the
irreducible singularization of their demands along with their satisfaction.
It is with the use of new information and communication technologies that this
logic of singularization reaches its peak. Take the pragmatic case of the Internet
user. When she goes onto the Web through a portal, the Internet user is faced with
a distributed cognition device that, in every sense, is comparable to the one described
when we presented a supermarket customer hesitating in the choice between several
orange juices. She first chooses between different providers and then between the
different services proposed by the chosen provider. Most of her activity will consist
of qualifying (i.e. classifying, evaluating and judging) the products offered to her,
by comparing and relating them to others. This qualification, the generality of
which we discussed above, is even more present, in a purer form, in the case of the
Internet. With information renewed on the screen, with links and cross-references,
and with scroll menus that multiply options from which users can and must choose,
the Internet is a machinery that is entirely oriented towards the singularization of
products. Whether the user is visiting the site of a supermarket or Club Internet,
this qualification takes place within a distributed cognition device. But, in the latter
case, it takes place through programs whose only function is to provide and link
information so that consumers are in a position to make choices.
Not only do providers create and provide this system in which Internet users
are immersed, they are also in a favourable position to monitor users, observe
their preferences and, based on these observations, singularize the products offered
to them. E-commerce companies hope to base their competitive lead on their
ability constantly to observe customers making choices, linking products and
The economy of qualities 43
showing their preferences. Since they are able to record customers’ previous
purchases and their reactions to new offers, suppliers end up knowing as much as
customers themselves do about what they want and expect. This shared knowledge,
which evolves as new experiences accumulate, is based on consumers’ engagement
in a socio-technical device with which they interact and evolve.
In service provision, as defined by Gadrey, business is structured around this
qualification process made possible by the establishment of the device and by the
right granted to the customer to use it. From this point of view, new ICTs make an
irreplaceable contribution. Between supermarket X and E-bay there is a difference
not of nature but of degree. By mobilizing new ICTs, e-commerce makes the
qualification and requalification of products the central concern in service
provision.28 The work of attachment is an obsession explicitly shared by all the
actors, including the end user. Paraphrasing La Boëtie, we could talk of consumers’
voluntary attachment to the products they qualify in close interaction with supply
intermediaries, whether they are human or non-human. It is not by coincidence
that, to describe these opportunities provided by e-commerce to qualify the user-
consumer’s position, the two contradictory words “independence” and “depen-
dence” are used: independence, because the Web multiplies openings, facilitates
comparisons, etc.; dependence because it conversely promotes singularization and
the attachments it allows.29
We could multiply examples and consider the logics of show and intervention
in order to demonstrate that service provisions are always part of the economy of
qualities, because they focus on socio-technical capacities or devices, and promote
their mobilization by customers prompted to participate in the process of qualifying
the products intended for them. This is just one way of saying, in a more precise
form, that what is important in the service business is the relationship or, rather,
system of relationships which, on a material and collective basis, organizes the
qualification of products. The emblematic nature of services is increasing even
further with the development of information networks and computer technology.
The second characteristic of service provision, as defined by Jean Gadrey, is the
character, both lasting and limited in time, of the consumer’s right to use the
socio-technical device. This temporal framing facilitates the reasoned control and
management of operations of attachment, detachment and re-attachment. It
constitutes a sound base for the establishment of lasting relations, constantly re-
evaluated, between service provider and customer.
Take the case of the car market. As Jean Gadrey points out, buying a car is
fundamentally different from renting one.30 Of what does this difference consist?
Obviously, of the consumer’s lesser attachment to the product he consumes. As the
owner of his car he will have to make greater investments to detach himself than if
he were simply renting the car. A weaker attachment enables him, moreover, to
participate more actively (because more frequently and on the basis of more recent
experiences) in the singularization of the product he buys. Seen from the service
provider’s point of view, rental enables him to concentrate on qualification of the
product and on its renegotiation to answer questions such as: what are observable
uses? how do they evolve? in what kind of business is such or such a type of customer?
44 Michel Callon, Cécile Méadel and Vololona Rabeharisoa
This example, which has a general value, shows that the joint advantage for
consumer and supplier in establishing a lasting use of the socio-technical capacity,
while setting a limit in time to the relationship, is that it allows the increasingly
intense and profound qualification of products and the singularization they afford.
This relationship simultaneously encourages agents to focus on the returns from
ongoing experience and to take them into consideration when renewing the contract
and the service.
This collective work on the qualification of products and, consequently, on
users’ attachment, implies consumers who are calculating rather than set in routines.
This in itself implies a risk, for consumers with routines are unquestionably an
advantage in the short term for the service provider: they remain attached, loyal,
reliable. On the other hand, any attempt to experiment with what they want and
hence to model their preferences is more difficult, if not impossible. In an economy
where competition concerns the qualification of products (for the purpose of their
singularization and the consumers’ attachment), a “routinized” consumer31 is a
constant threat since interaction that has been interrupted can be taken up and re-
established by a rival, who will thus adopt a position to detach the consumer by
giving him back his ability to calculate, in order to swing him, with his active and
calculated participation, towards new attachments.
The paradox is clear. In the economy of qualities it is preferable for the service
provider to cooperate with the consumer and therefore to deal with a calculating
consumer, at least on a regular basis without long intervals in-between. This is
possible only by limiting the periods of routine attachment and by constantly calling
into question the singularization of products proposed in order to launch new
negotiations and adjustments of their (re)qualification. Service provision, as defined
by Jean Gadrey, facilitates the detailed and regular management of this delicate
balance between attachment and detachment. The right to use socio-technical
capacities belonging to the service provider, for a limited period of time: this
definition describes a frame that allows compatibility and complementarity between
the entanglement of personal relations (and the collective deliberations they allow),
on the one hand, and the possibility for agents to get out of these relations, to
detach themselves in order to evaluate the advantages of new attachments, on the
other.

Conclusion
The organization of economic markets and the formulation of their rules of
functioning are an increasingly explicit issue not only for social scientists and political
decision-makers but also for economic agents themselves. The upsurge of this
reflexive activity is reflected in particular in the emergence of what we have
suggested calling the economy of qualities. In this economy, inhabited by actors
who are real professionals in product qualification and the profiling of goods,
consumers are constantly prompted to question their preferences and tastes and,
finally, through the explicit debates that that implies, their own social identity. As
the anthropology of consumption has so clearly shown, classifying products,
The economy of qualities 45
positioning them and evaluating them inevitably leads to the classification of the
people attached to those goods. Consumption becomes both more rational (not
that the consumer is more rational but because (distributed) cognition devices
become infinitely richer, more sophisticated and reflexive) and more emotional
(consumers are constantly referred to the construction of their social identity since
their choices and preferences become objects of deliberation: the distinction of
products and social distinction are part of the same movement). As for suppliers,
one of their main concerns is to facilitate and organize to their own advantage this
process of (re)qualification.
The functioning of the economy of qualities involves the establishment of forms
of organization that facilitate the intensification of collaboration between supply
and demand in a way that enables consumers to participate actively in the qualifi-
cation of products. The establishment of distributed cognition devices, intended
to organize real-life experiments on preferences, tends to blur habitual distinctions
between production, distribution and consumption. Design, as an activity that
crosses through the entire organization, becomes central: the firm organizes itself
to make the dynamic process of qualification and requalification of products
possible and manageable.
In the economy of qualities, competition turns around the attachment of
consumers to products whose qualities have progressively been defined with their
active participation. The dynamic of reflexive attachment implies consumers who
are calculating, that is, capable of perceiving differences and grading them, and
who are accompanied and supported in this evaluation and judgement by suppliers
and their intermediaries. Competition between firms plays on the formatting of
socio-technical devices which, distributing and redistributing the material bases
of cognition, format the bases of calculation and preferences.
We have suggested that the economy of services, especially where new ICTs
are involved, is emblematic of this economy of qualities. It is reflected in forms of
organization and competition that encourage reflexive behaviours in actors,
especially those relating to the qualification of goods. The beneficiary and service
provider cooperate closely in the singularization of the services proposed. To be
sure, the modalities of this cooperation differ, depending on the logic. In the logic
of intervention, the consumer adjusts to the socio-technical device whereas in the
logic of making available it is the device that goes to the user. In the logic of
representation the two meet each other half-way, so that forms of life and emotions
are shared. Having the user at one’s place, being at his place, or building a place to
be with him: in all three cases, the economy of goods gives way to an economy of
relations.
It has been possible to demonstrate the emergence and diffusion of the economy
of qualities, and to suggest the existence of a link between this economy of qualities
and what is commonly called the service economy, owing to a frame of analysis
that can be traced back to Chamberlin and sociological and anthropological work
on markets. This dual detour has led to the observation that it is possible to bring
together the preoccupations of actors who, in the economy of qualities, devote a
large part of their resources and cognitive capacities to the qualification of goods,
46 Michel Callon, Cécile Méadel and Vololona Rabeharisoa
on the one hand, and questions that certain economists and sociologists ask, on
the other. This link attests to the reflexive dimension of the economy of qualities.
Once established, it should promote the constitution of hybrid forums capable of
holding debates on the organization of markets, that have become all the more
open both to debate and governance, that they deliberately inscribe themselves in
a service economy that uses new ICTs on a massive scale.32

Notes
1 C. Smith gives the example of e-commerce where the organization of auctions is
constantly the object of debates, experiments and evaluations. These markets are highly
reflexive (see also Giddens 1998).
2 The issues debated are, for example, the granting of property rights, the setting of
prices, the organization of competition, the regulation of international trade and the
modalities of intervention by public authorities.
3 As, for example, questions of national independence and sovereignty or of social equity.
4 The organization of markets and ethical considerations cannot be dissociated in the
case of biotechnologies. Can human organs be transformed into merchandise and, if
so, under what conditions? Should the cloning and commercialization of secondary
products be allowed? Should genetic tests be allowed as a condition for insurance
contracts?
5 Here again, biotechnology multiplies subjects of controversy such as, for example,
those on the conditions of gene patentability.
6 Socio-technical controversies analysed by science studies more and more frequently
include the subject of markets, for non-human entities constantly flow over established
frames, producing externalities that have to be taken into account. By crossing the
barriers of species, do prions connect two markets, that of beef and that of aquaculture
salmon, previously considered to be separate? What protocol should be chosen to
establish incontestable figures for the impact of greenhouse gases on global warming
or to calculate possible penalties?
7 When talking of the social acceptability of technologies, one has to include social
technologies and talk of the social acceptability not of markets in general but of a
particular form of market.
8 The social sciences, like the other sciences and perhaps even more than them, are
performative. They contribute to the existence of the realities they describe. Being
aware of this performative dimension implies a reflexivity that should lead specialists
to agree to collaborate with the actors themselves.
9 The aggregation of demand is not a theoretical problem; it is above all a practical
problem that has to be solved by economic agents. The solutions devised are multiple.
For a suggestive analysis, see Salais and Storper (1993).
10 Apart from Chamberlin and White (1981), very few authors have considered the
products of their qualification as strategic variables for economic agents. We note,
however, the significant and original contributions of the French school and especially
of Salais (Salais and Storper 1993), Eymard-Duvernay (1994) and Thévenot (1989).
11 In his introduction to The Laws of the Markets, Michel Callon emphasized the
performative role of the economic sciences, going so far as to say that “economic
activities are embedded in economics” (Callon 1998). This expression should not be
misunderstood. Two observations warrant attention. First, economics as a discipline
is not alone in accomplishing this performing and framing. It is helped by other
disciplines in the social sciences but also, and above all, by the actors themselves and
especially by professionals of the market (marketing specialists, accountants, managers,
etc.) who readily mobilize lasting material devices to make these frames irreversible.
The economy of qualities 47
(As Weber remarked, there could be no possible encounter between supply and demand
without technical and material arrangements such as the supermarket with its shelves
and tills, etc.) Second, the role played by economics as a discipline increases along
with hybrid forums within which the organization of markets is debated, and which
supply a vast audience for specialists who were previously more or less in the
background.
12 Economic agents have re-appropriated this concept which had disappeared from the
vocabulary of political economics. In the service sector today engineers and sales
people frequently talk of use values as opposed to utility.
13 The incommensurability of goods (as in the classical example of butter and cannons
or in that of wine and canvas between which the agents in economics textbooks establish
necessarily random preferences) is an outcome of the classifications themselves. In
reality, it is by a series of small gaps, tiny shifts, that, starting with a given category of
goods, we end up with one or more radically different categories. In its great wisdom,
economic theory leaves agents to answer the question by introducing concepts such as
that of crossed elasticity.
14 As we shall see below, not all the properties of products are necessarily obtained in
metrological networks. For a subtle analysis of the different mechanisms, see Bessy
and Chateauraynaud (1995).
15 One of the advantages of this definition is that it enables us to apply the same analysis
to the production of “bads” – the name traditionally given to “goods” that produce
negative externalities.
16 Economic theory distinguishes between markets where agents are “price takers” and
those where they are “price makers”. This distinction could, and should, be extended
to products by contrasting markets where agents are “product takers” and markets
where they are “product makers”.
17 H. White is one of the only authors to have followed the programme thus outlined by
Chamberlin. This programme jettisons the two concepts of monopoly and competition
which, as ideal types, are simply useless and even result in a profound lack of
comprehension of the functioning of real markets. Chamberlin synthesizes his
demonstration as follows: “Price adjustments are, in fact, but one phase, and often a
relatively unimportant phase, of the whole competitive process … The fact of such
competition should at least be brought into the open by including the ‘product’ as a
variable in the problem … For a complete picture, indeed, each element of the ‘product’
should be regarded as a separate variable” (Chamberlin 1946: 73). It is interesting to
note that, in Annex C to his book, Chamberlin discusses at length the seminal article
by Hotelling (1929) in which that author lays the foundations of an economy of quality
(products differ according to a variable which is the seller’s location).
18 We borrow the concept of singularization from L. Karpik (1989). It is preferable to
the more common one of personalization or customization, for it maintains the unity
of a process which concerns goods and agents in such a way that they cannot be
dissociated. Yet the economy of quality studied by L. Karpik tends to prefer confi-
gurations in which the main issue is the quality of products (e.g. a lawyer’s or teacher’s
service). By choosing to talk of an economy of qualities, we consider the most general
case in which it is the (necessarily multidimensional) qualification of products and
especially of processes of their (re)qualification that are the key issue. This enables us
to include all productive operations in the analysis without neglecting forms of
competition.
19 For an exhaustive review of the literature on preferences, see F. Cochoy (2002). He
shows the limits of the classical approaches of Samuelson, of Sen, of Ackerloff and
of Lancaster, and highlights the importance of situations in which the qualities of
products are variables and their characterization is dynamic.
20 A cogent demonstration of this was done by C. Smith in his work on public auctions
(Smith 1989).
48 Michel Callon, Cécile Méadel and Vololona Rabeharisoa
21 As he shows, this situation is only a particular case of a more general paradox, studied
for a long time: that of Buridan’s donkey.
22 One of the emblematic forms of this life-size experimental work is that of supermarkets,
from every point of view identical to ordinary supermarkets but transformed into real
laboratories in which a number of parameters can be varied and in which customers’
behaviours are observed in detail.
23 The definition of a good as a “bundle of characteristics” is very valuable, for it
establishes no ranking of characteristics.
24 The consumer in question is not necessarily the final user. The process of
(re)qualification involves many stages. At some of those stages markets may be
organized, binding a supply and a demand around the good thus defined.
25 The concept of calculation must be understood here very generally, as proposed by
Michel Callon in The Laws of the Markets. Calculating implies: a) that different options
are open; b) that conceivable decisions are known, and c) that it is possible to associate
each decision with the realization of a particular option. As shown, these situations
imply framing. It is easy to check whether distributed cognition devices, considered
above, produce such frames. Saying that markets are reflexive is obviously not asserting
that agents are calculating (they are always calculating to some degree, but in different
ways); it is emphasizing the fact that the design and implementation of framing devices
become key concerns for the different agents involved.
26 Again according to Gadrey: “the conventions and contracts corresponding to them
consider in general: a) that A is responsible for the smooth functioning of the capacity
in question, according to prevailing standards, and b) that B must use these capacities
well. In terms of property law he does not have the right to use and abuse them as he
feels fit”.
27 Gadrey shows, however, that there are economic differences between the purchase of
socio-technical capacities and the purchase of their use (modalities of appropriation,
storage, evaluation of production and of performance, etc.).
28 Qualification is at the heart of the customer’s strolling around in a supermarket, along
the rows of shelves. With the Internet and e-commerce, it becomes the very matter of
market relations. E-consumers scroll menus and supermarket clients stroll around in
alleys.
29 In the case of the Web, these attachments are inscribed in navigation software which
proposes bookmarks but also favourites to go to.
30 Between these two eventualities there exists a whole series of intermediate situations.
For example, contracts can be drawn up in which the user is not the owner but may
become the owner after a predetermined number of years. Clauses can also be added
which provide for replacement cars in case of breakdowns or maintenance. The product
becomes more complex; it becomes a “bundle of qualities” that allow singularizations
and differentiations ad libitum.
31 N. Thomas says “entangled” (Thomas 1991). On the relationship between entangle-
ment and disentanglement (calculation), see Callon (1998).
32 This chapter was first published as ‘L’économie des qualités’, Politix, 52, 2000, 211–
39.

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50 Michel Callon, Cécile Méadel and Vololona Rabeharisoa
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From calculation to alienation 51

2 From calculation to
alienation
Disentangling economic
abstractions
Don Slater

Introduction
The sociology and anthropology of economic life keep threatening to dissolve a
tension that seems both necessary and yet very difficult to sustain: how can we talk
about ‘markets’, or ‘the economic’, in any meaningful sense when we have resolved
their key elements into processes of social and cultural construction? The problem
is, first, one of a double abstraction: there is the false abstraction of economic
formalism but there is also the real abstraction of economic processes. Critique
the former and one might miss the latter; formulate the latter wrongly and one is
likely to make a return to economic formalism. Second, this tension is refracted
through methodological divisions between, on the one hand, an ethnographic
particularism that focuses on the diversity, contingency and emergence of local
organizations of exchange and therefore treats economic categories, such as
‘markets’ as at best useful abstractions; and, on the other hand, macro-formulations
(such as political economy) which accord these categories both reality and
explanatory power.
The problem (which in many respects is a rerun of the formalism versus substan-
tivism debates) is that the critique of economic formalism partly depends on arguing
that economic abstraction is not an actual fact of contemporary life. If economic
relations really have become abstract, we need to acknowledge that markets have
a systemic character that cannot be reduced to the broader social relations in
which they may be embedded. Michel Callon’s work – particularly as it has been
received in much Anglo-American economic sociology – seems poised at precisely
this point. Some would charge that he has already slid too far down the formalist
slope, that he concedes far too much to economic models of rational calculation,
which appear as the point of departure for the entire analysis as well as the end-
state that is to be explained. The central question Callon poses could be taken to
be: ‘how is the formally rational behaviour (“calculativeness”) described by neo-
classical economics actually achieved?’, whereas the focal point of economic
sociology and anthropology has been a denial that they have ever existed or ever
could exist.
52 Don Slater
This chapter is an attempt to negotiate this tension between economy and culture,
the abstract and the substantive. The first part of the chapter argues, against more
culturalist positions, that it is valid to distinguish markets from other modes of
exchange according to a formal property. In order to articulate the more culturalist
side of the story, the discussion starts with Daniel Miller’s (2002) critique of Callon,
and particularly his hypothetical example of a highly culturally entangled market
event. The conclusion of this discussion will be that what is crucial to market exchange
is the way in which these increasing entanglements become the objects of instrumental
rationality. This is because the fundamental defining feature of a market is a kind of
transaction rather than a purified form of calculation: the ‘alienation’ of goods in
the form of property, which entails limits on the kind of social relationship formed
between transactors. Callon’s framework is most successful when it focuses on the
mechanisms through which these limits are established and contested. However, it is
less successful when it tries to specify markets in terms of a mode of calculation.
Although Callon explicitly emphasizes diversity in the kinds of calculativeness and
market structures that emerge, it is arguable that he does not capture sufficient diversity
or the right kinds of diversity. Hence the second part of this chapter explores
ambiguity and contradiction within and between modes of calculating, partly drawing
on Callon’s dialectic of framing and overflowing, and specifically considers cultural
calculation in marketing and advertising.

Sophie and the salesman


Let us start with a powerful image developed by Daniel Miller (2002) in an earlier
critique of Callon’s perspective, that of Sophie and the car salesman. Sophie is
buying a car, and Miller asks if Sophie’s process of choosing a car, and the salesman’s
actions in selling to her, can be regarded in terms of ‘disentanglement’. Miller
builds up a very plausible picture of the entanglement of both object and transaction
in a broad material culture and social context: the appearance, function, price and
every other attribute of the car mean something to Sophie in terms of such things
as her recent divorce, single motherhood, being a professional woman and so on.
Far from being a moment of disentanglement, Miller describes the car purchase
as a moment of ‘aesthetic totalization’ – a wide range of values are brought into
correlation with each other so that Sophie comes to her decision through a process
of increasing entanglement.
At the same time, the other market actor – the salesman – equally pushes towards
totalization rather than disentanglement. For a start, his economic behaviour is
embedded in his own complex world of family, colleagues and corporation. But,
more than this, he aims at an increasing entanglement of the car in the meanings
that make up Sophie’s world. Both he and the huge corporate sales drive that
stands behind him aim to produce a ‘car’ (in the widest cultural sense of the term)
that is already so entangled in her aesthetic, functional, relational, rational world
that it is in some sense already Sophie’s car. The most telling line is: ‘The problem
is whether business could ever be entangled enough to reflect the totalizing acts of
the purchase.’
From calculation to alienation 53
The disagreement between Callon and Miller is not over whether there is a
diversity of forms of markets and of calculation. Callon is very clear that, although
‘homo economicus really does exist’ (Callon 1998: 51), this figure takes many forms
and the task is to find the different devices that produce them. However, while
Callon and Miller agree on diversity, for Callon it is a diversity of forms of ‘cal-
culativeness’, a kind of performance that emerges from different mechanisms of
disentanglement, all of which Miller denies. Callon’s market diversity is produced
by contention over the institutional delineation of frames which mark out what is
relevant or not to specifically economic calculation; the specific character of that
calculation – however various its ‘content’ in particular cases – involves actors
who pursue their interests, resolved through prices, by assessing and ranking
resources and goals. For Miller, this disentangled notion of calculation owes more
to the economists than to the real diversity of economic life. On proper ethnographic
investigation, any actual piece of market behaviour dissolves the separations that
economists (and Callon) are focused upon; the result is a diversity of calculation,
but certainly not a diversity of specifically economic calculation. Moreover, Miller
seems willing to accept the consequence of this line of thought, that if disentangle-
ment does not actually occur, then ‘markets’ and ‘economic calculation’ as general
social types simply do not exist, or we cannot identify them in any analytically
useful way.
At one level, which has been particularly well explored within anthropology,
Miller is correct: attempts to characterize either modern markets or a modern
economic order (capitalism) in terms of a purified mode of calculation have largely
failed. Supposedly non-market forms of exchange such as gifting involve highly
complex modes of calculation, including abstracting quantifications such as the
timing of events and the interpretation of relative magnitudes (Bourdieu 1989).
Commodity exchange is always intermixed or hybrid. Second, we cannot distinguish
socio-historical formations by the complete dominance of particular modes of
exchange. It is untenable to argue that in contemporary life, as opposed to something
called traditional society, all forms of exchange other than a pure market type
have been either eradicated or subordinated. In the course of a single day we
enter into an immensely wide variety of exchange relationships, with complex
relations between them (Carrier 1994; Carrier and Miller 1998; Slater and Tonkiss
2001).
Let us accept for the moment that, first, Miller’s hypothetical example is a
plausible one, which Callon needs to accommodate; and, second, that it suggests
that Callon is employing an overly restrictive notion of calculation. Is there a way
of reformulating Callon’s position that retains its analysis of markets as formatting
economic behaviour but without identifying markets with a particular form of
calculation? Indeed, there is an earlier step in Callon’s argument that identifies
contemporary exchange and distinguishes it from gift exchange – as many anthro-
pologists would – in terms of a kind of transaction rather than any one kind of
calculation. Callon begins with the anthropologist Nicholas Thomas (1991), who
originally provided the terminology of entanglement and disentanglement. In this
formulation, what distinguishes market transactions from non-market transactions
54 Don Slater
is alienation, rather than calculation. Market exchange is commodity exchange. It
presumes a form of property right in which a transfer of ownership ends all claims
of the previous owner: the object is thoroughly alienated. When we finish the
transaction, we are quits. As opposed to gifting, commodity exchange does not
aim to perpetuate a social bond between buyer and seller but, indeed, to get it over
with as quickly and cheaply as possible. It certainly aims to repeat the procedure
in large aggregate numbers (repeat sales, customers who come back for more and
are described as ‘loyal’) but not in order to sustain some broader social connection
beyond the immediate market transaction.
Let us go back to Sophie and the salesman. Miller’s description is completely
plausible. Her market calculations can include as relevant a vast range of consider-
ations and entanglements that are officially excluded both by economic theory
and indeed by the devices described by Callon (policy, law, architecture, metrologies).
Moreover, as Miller has explored elsewhere (Miller 1998), her market behaviour
may appear more like gifting in that her shopping and buying behaviour is
constructed to reproduce substantive social relationships (she may enact love and
care for her family through an act of shopping as through an act of giving, and,
conversely, acts of shopping need to be contextualized through consumption into
a meaningful social life). But this is not what defines the act of exchange. When
the shop assistant hands over the goods, the shop has no further claim on them. It
cannot go back on the sale, and cannot appeal to any wider context of obligation
save that which has been internalized through contract or law. In fact, the whole
history of consumer rights, for example, is about writing some longer obligation
and hence relationship into the transaction: internalizing what is otherwise external,
stretching the moment of exchange across a longer temporal statute of limitations.
If we take this step backwards from ‘calculativeness’ to alienated transactions,
we might want to understand the market situation in terms of Weberian
rationalization rather the existence or not of homo economicus. The individualization
of objects, actors and exchanges establishes a stable and reliable context in which
objects and obligations are clearly mapped out and can be intersubjectively
recognized. The stability of legal entities and frameworks allows for reliable and
predictable encounters, and in this much broader sense allows ‘calculation’: if I go
to court over a contract, I want to believe that the upshot will be non-arbitrary and
impersonal, hence calculable in the sense that I can assess my chances of success.
The issue, then, is broader than the question of formal price rationality. This kind
of transaction clearly requires the kind of separative technology that Callon
describes: it presumes individuated objects that can be materially and conceptually
disentangled from their context as discrete and transactable things, items that can
be passed from one context to another as property. It presumes buyers and sellers
as individual socio-legal entities, such that property has a clear initial and final
owner. And it presumes that each transaction is separated from others in terms of
the obligations of the transactors. This has to be accomplished through a social
technology of framing and individuating, but it does not necessarily presume that
the upshot is pristine formal calculation, and it need not identify calculation with
quantitative calculation. Most importantly it does not assume that for the actors the
From calculation to alienation 55
object loses its meaning or cultural connection in the process of exchange, only
that this particular piece of matter can indeed be transferred to someone else’s
ownership.
Callon’s externality argument is about one aspect and consequence of this
individuating technology. The concepts of framing and externality identify the
limits of a transaction by identifying consequences and liabilities. What respon-
sibilities or consequences should be registered within individual exchanges? Where
should the obligations incurred in that exchange end? This involves identifying
and measuring agents and processes, and therefore involves forms of knowledge,
among which Callon is particularly concerned with technical expertise (but there
are many others that we need to consider). This entire issue arises solely because
private property detaches parties to an individual exchange from any sense of
obligation beyond the immediate transaction. It is through the cut-off represented
by externality, the limits that are imposed on obligation, that what we recognize as
the economic is accomplished. What Callon has really helped us see is that these
limits, this cut-off, is a matter of considerable negotiation, and that to understand
the boundaries of markets and market behaviours we need to attend to the fuzziness,
instability, negotiability of these limits. Market exchange might be characterized
by the fact that at the end of a transaction ‘we are quits’, but the externalities
argument indicates how difficult it can be to agree on when we are quits.

Transacting strangers
However, there is another aspect of alienation which Callon tends to summarize
in terms of market exchange as ‘transactions between strangers’. This way of
putting things apparently contradicts much that contemporary economic sociology
and anthropology has tried to establish: that modern markets are embedded in
enduring networks, moral frameworks and chains of transaction. These factors
belie the notion that economies can be understood in terms of individual exchanges
between individual strangers. However, although the term ‘strangers’ is not entirely
helpful (simply because transactors might know each other very well over time),
Callon’s underlying point is crucial: in gifting, the act of exchange is inseparably
the reproduction of the social relationship in which it is embedded. In the mundane
process of putting food on the table, I am reproducing family relationships, roles
and obligations. Sophie and the salesman, on the other hand, insofar as they are
engaged in a market transaction, reproduce no social roles other than that of
buyer and seller. Sophie will very definitely reproduce far more aspects of her life
through the process of consumption, and that will have informed her process of
shopping – precisely as Miller depicts it – but not in the exchange itself. It is in this
sense that Sophie and the salesman are strangers.
This has huge consequences for the way in which Sophie’s and the salesman’s
entanglements relate to the transaction. It may well be the case that the salesman
needs to understand Sophie’s world in great detail, and even that he is a better
salesman to the extent that his understanding is more profound. This may even
result in significant gains to Sophie (for example, a better choice of car) as well
56 Don Slater
as to company profits and his own commissions. But there is no sense in which
the salesman – in order to complete the transaction – must share Sophie’s world,
or agree with it, respect it, treat it as an end in itself. It is merely a condition of
sale; Marx would have said that it was the presence of use-value that is necessary
in order to realize exchange value. The relationship between Sophie and the
salesman is an instrumental one, and it is technical rationality – rather than
quantification – that needs to be at the centre of defining ‘calculativeness’ in
markets. The structure of the transaction involves an instrumentality which can
take very wide and blurred forms and which allows for the market to be the site
of quite mixed calculations.
This objectification of the lifeworld of the other is quite compatible with core
claims of economic sociology. As market transactors, Sophie and the salesman are
involved in reproducing their buyer and seller roles, and these require a moral
framework, a non-contractual basis for contract (e.g. a sense of just price or of
ethical obligations). Therefore, Sophie and the salesman do share an ethical order,
but they need share only one that applies to the transaction; the transaction as
such does not require any wider moral bond, or one that links the market transaction
to other ways in which they might be socially connected to each other. Except that,
as Callon argues, the limits of each transaction (and therefore the limits of their
shared ethical framework) involves ethical, political and cognitive contestation.
These limits are not only fuzzy, but establishing them involves reaching ever
outwards from the market to wider social technologies and institutions. This is
precisely where framing and externality come in: decisions have to be taken and
institutionalized as to what is formally to be included within the notion of a market
transaction. For example, consumer laws that enforce after-sales service, or return
of goods, or corporate liability are precisely points at which the ethical framework
which Sophie and the salesman share specifically as market actors is negotiated in
ethico-legal terms. The entire point of this kind of framing is that it is completely
compatible with (and necessary to) an essentially instrumental relationship between
strangers rather than the reproduction of other social identities. They are the
object of technologies which isolate them and their world as strangers within a strategic
relationship. Moreover, this is quite compatible with seeing market exchange as
having blurred boundaries with networks and more enduring trade relationships
over time: in such cases, a key issue is precisely the relationship between individual
transactions and longer-term commitment, and how this is to be consensually
framed and formalized.
Miller would like to dissolve the market into broader social entanglements on
the grounds that the purified modes of calculability that Callon describes simply
do not exist. I am arguing rather that there really is such a thing as a market
(however multi-form) because there is such a thing as commodity exchange which
is characterized by specific forms of property right. This form of contract means
that exchange is disembedded in seriously consequential ways. It does not mean
that objects and people become formal and abstract as in homo economicus, but it
does mean that their substantive nature, their ‘entangledness’, becomes the object
From calculation to alienation 57
of instrumental calculation. Sophie and her salesman are certainly entangled in
complex social worlds; they just are not the same worlds, and each wants to get the
most out of the other’s.

Market actors: framing and ambiguity


If we shift the focus within Callon’s own work away from ‘calculativeness’ and
concentrate instead on his concepts of framing and disentanglement, we can
concentrate on the most fundamental framing (property and ownership) without
presuming any specific form of calculation. This would seem to be in accord with
the underlying thrust of Callon’s own notion of framing. It concerns the structure
of a type of transaction, how it is individualized (insulated and limited) as an
event, and what is formally to be included in any individual transaction. At the
same time, it characterizes that type of transaction in terms of a process
(disentanglement) which does not cut economy from society, but rather renders
understandings of social relationships central to the way in which market borders
are identified. By the very same token, it renders them unstable, negotiable, sites
of conflict.
This would seem a long way from the position that ‘homo economicus really does
exist’. The implication of Callon’s notion of market instability is that social actors
are as involved in disputing the boundaries and identities of markets as they are in
operating within them. If that is the case, then an economic actor has to be seen
simultaneously as within and without the market frame, as one who is able to
calculate in specific ways, but who is also engaged in the framing process itself.
And if actors do not take these market boundaries as given frames, rationally
calculating within them, then they cannot be neo-classical economic actors. In
Callon’s account, there are two particular features through which this theme might
be pursued: ‘overflowing’ and reflexivity. Actors and objects remain connected
with networks ‘outside’ the economic frame, therefore remaining potentially open
to questions about its boundaries and potentially aware of those boundaries as
actively produced and enforced. Callon tends to explore these features in relation
to ‘hot’ conflicts (and largely in order to assess the role of scientific and social
scientific expertise in constructing markets). In the present discussion, however,
they might lead us to think about mundane, ordinary market experiences: perhaps
‘calculativeness’ is more various and ambiguous in everyday market behaviour
than is allowed by the notion that ‘networks configure ontologies’; perhaps some
of the ‘totalization’ described by Miller can be accommodated within Callon’s
framework.
I should like to pursue the implications of this aspect of Callon’s work by taking
up three issues which particularly concern the relationship between markets and
culture: ‘disembeddedness’ and the ambiguity of framings; economics as culture
and as ideology; and marketing and cultural calculation. Each issue points to more
diverse, contradictory and ambiguous forms of calculation than those which Callon
usually cites.
58 Don Slater
‘Disembedding’ and ‘disentangling’
The first section of this chapter approached the notion of calculativeness by a
different route, that of commodities, alienation and therefore instrumental
rationality, the process by which one lifeworld becomes the object of calculation to
another, a possibility which is premised on the sharp separation or disentanglement
that arises when transactions are framed in terms of limited property rights. What
makes markets specific, and different from the moral totalization of other forms
of exchange, is that the meanings in which the object is entangled are moral for the
other in a transaction, but not for me. As Miller in fact puts it, ‘Much of commerce
consists of each player trying to second guess the entanglements of the other. How
can we sell the car as though it was already part of the purchaser’s life?’ The
transactors and objects come to the transaction absolutely steeped in meaning.
They never lose their meanings in the sense of being abstracted formally and
quantitatively; but they are framed in a way that is quite different from much of
the rest of social life.
It might help here to distinguish sharply between ‘disembedding’ and
‘disentangling’. As Jessop argues, ‘disembedding’ has been bound up with Polanyi’s
macro-sociological argument about the relation of economy to culture and the
extent to which modern economy can be properly treated as an autonomous object
of analysis. Callon is clearly critical of Polanyi, citing him as an example of a
‘social context’ approach to explaining the emergence of economic forms. In the
embedding/disembedding argument, society appears as a container or framework
that assigns a particular location to the economic, and is therefore capable of
separating out culture and economy in a global way. ‘Disentanglement’ is quite
different. It is frankly dialectical, and this dialectic is played out, with only temporary
stabilization, without cease: framing ‘extricates’ (Callon 1998: 253) agents and
entities from the networks of interaction in which they have achieved some kind
of social existence, in order to ‘push them onto a clearly demarcated “stage” ’.
However, like a prop or actor placed on a theatrical stage, these entities retain
their links with the outside world (as do all the actors, or audiences); indeed, to
continue the theatrical metaphor, it is hard to see how any entity could continue to
be meaningful on the stage or in the market without continuing to draw on its
‘cultural’ meanings. This goes for the objects that are transacted as well as the
transactors who, Callon argues, never cease to be simultaneously involved in other
worlds, outside the frame.
Disentanglement, therefore, does not signify the disembedding of economy in
the sense of a separation of economy from culture; it is rather a reframing of
culturally meaningful items that never cease to draw on their ‘external’ meanings.
Indeed, as argued further below, acts of framing and disentanglement necessarily
involve cultural knowledge, and actually bring cultural issues into the heart of
economic action. Callon explores the ways in which this dialectic renders market
boundaries permanently unstable. However, it would seem that this entire analysis
is also an argument for the impurity of market calculation, rather than its purity
and abstraction. We might expect to find quite heterogeneous and contradictory
From calculation to alienation 59
considerations brought to bear within the market frame, as individual actors and
objects operate across its borders. Hence, on the one hand, the market frame looks
more like a set of official and unofficial rules and regulations as to what is admissible
in interactions, and less like a uniform patterning of what cognitive resources and
considerations people actually bring to bear when they are, say, shopping or buying.
I know that there is no point in haggling with the cashier at the supermarket (I
know enough about the regulatory structure of modern retailing to know that
there is no point), but that does not stop me from importing such notions as just
price in to my own calculations.
At the same time, we can put this more strongly: the impurity of actors, objects
and calculations is a crucial strategic tool for market actors themselves, all of whom
have as much interest in destabilizing markets as in stabilizing them (Slater 2003).
Framings are political and strategic battlelines – over liabilities, profits, ethical and
political interests. Callon’s examples of technical disputes, in which knowledge
claims can be adjudicated by identifying and quantifying causal relations, are only
a special case. If we turn instead to advertising and marketing, for example, as we
shall below, we find that these entire practices are constituted by the project of
destabilizing market boundaries and competitive relationships as the basis of their
market behaviour, and they do this on the basis of cultural calculations. These
practices operate directly on and across the framing/overflowing process; they
therefore exemplify the impurity of kinds of calculation, but they look quite pure
if considered as instrumental rationality.
One possible reason why Callon tends towards an overly objectified and abstract
version of calculation is because he does not go far enough with Goffman’s frame
analysis. Callon rightly emphasizes the Durkheimian aspect of Goffman, which
sociologists often ignore when they interpret him as simply a variety of symbolic
interactionist. Goffman’s dramaturgical metaphor, however, is very literally about
social technologies of staging, about social rituals with an objective character that
make for an ethical order. At the same time, Callon largely ignores the interactionist
Goffman, who is concerned with the cognitive, interpretative character of people’s
engagement with these rituals.
To return one last time to Sophie and the salesman: Miller’s story makes intuitive
sense because we know that in carrying out an economic action these economic
actors may not perceive any or many elements of it in economic terms. Certainly,
there is no reason to assume that Sophie perceives the presence of a ‘market’ in any
meaningful sense, and therefore really does not frame her calculations ‘properly’,
although, as stated above, she will simply have to do so when she comes to sign the
contract and write her cheque. Her own framings of what is relevant in deciding
on a car can be highly personal to her up to the point at which an actual market
transaction is accomplished. This hardly gives us a warrant to say that the market
does not exist: independently of Sophie’s perceptions, there is a technology of
alienation that does indeed individualize exchange and even produces a social
mathematics (prices) that seems to add up independently of her perceptions.
At the same time, however, we need to accept that social actors themselves
operate with multiple and contradictory framings of market behaviour as well as
60 Don Slater
different concepts of markets. For example, Karen Knorr-Cetina’s (Knorr-Cetina
and Bruegger 2000) accounts of financial markets include an analysis of how the
same actor can talk about the market as both entirely without form and at the
same time as a meaningfully totalized entity; that is to say, they may operate within
a permanently split perspective as to what kind of frame contains them, and what
holds it together. Similarly, Nicholas Thomas (1991) gives a suggestive example of
an exchange of goods between Europeans and Indonesians in which the two parties
to the exchange each see the same transaction entirely differently. One perceives it
as a market transaction, the other more in the mode of gifting. One party is
astounded by the low price, the other is oblivious to the presence of any price. But
price was produced and a transaction concluded despite utterly different under-
standings. This ambiguity of framing, or even multiple framing, surely has
consequences for the idea that agency is entirely configured by the network, partly
because we may be dealing with intersecting networks, but also because people do
indeed transfer understandings across social locations: there is an interpretative
moment to the arrangement, as well as emergent objective structures.

Economists and economies


The possibility of ambiguous and multiple framings raises another set of issues,
about the role of economics in establishing this peculiar framing. What Callon
offers is a vision of markets as a kind of technological accomplishment: alienation
and calculability (whether quantitative or instrumental) have to be engineered,
and Callon’s example of the strawberry market gives a clear image of this
engineering. Division, display, timing, legal and other definitions, are all orchestrated
to produce collections of things which may be traded at prices. However, I use the
term ‘orchestrated’ quite consciously: there is a sense of both marshalled organiza-
tion and governing plan, of uniformity and direction, which is at odds both with
Callon’s own sense of the complexity of these accomplishments and with our
increasing empirical knowledge of the diversity of markets and market behaviours.
This sense of ‘orchestration’ comes to a head in his claim that markets are the
product of economists. It is difficult to reconcile this assessment of the power of
economists with Callon’s broader contention that the framing of markets is a
contested and unstable arrangement established across numerous technologies and
agent networks. Even highly planned markets, like the strawberry one, are not
only more overdetermined than this, but also do not necessarily behave the way
economists planned once they open their doors to real market actors. We also
have to recognize that markets successfully emerged long before neo-classical
economists were invented.
At certain points in Callon’s argument the claim that economists construct
markets is supported by a much broadened definition of economics. The claim
makes greater sense if one treats ‘economics’ in the same way that Foucauldian
perspectives understand ‘government’, a dispersal of discourses and practices that,
in this case, involves everything from academic theory and ideology, through policies
enunciated across a wide range of agencies, down to the logics informing the most
From calculation to alienation 61
mundane economic practices. Economics is not a set of falsifiable claims about
the economy, or an ideological construction of the economy, but rather a participant
in its construction. This makes huge sense in terms of the diffusion of neo-liberalism
through virtually every social institution over the last twenty years, with very real
effects on the marketization, and consequent abstraction, of social relationships.
As in governmentality, such economic discourses have some kind of analytical
unity (though it is unclear how), yet they are at the same time diffused through
countless institutional spaces. They operate not as directives but as reconfigurations
of subjectivity as practised.
However, there are at least two problems here. First, the very process of disaggre-
gating economics into a broad swathe of embedded knowledges dilutes any sense
of what we mean by economics. There is a difference between the formal structures
of macro-economic modellers and the practical knowledges of a car salesperson
in their showroom. They are not economists in the same sense, although it is true
that both can be treated as operating social technologies from which economic
structures emerge. Paradoxically, this way of defining economics both understates
and overstates the coherence of economics as a social force. On the one hand, it
makes it difficult to grasp neo-liberalism as an ideology, which it is, and yet at the
very same moment all economic practices appear unified – as if macro-economists
and car salesmen are all pushing in the same direction, with the same interests,
technologies, understandings and so on. Indeed, if it is pushed too far, the entire
argument appears to be circular or even tautological. If one defends the idea that
economists construct economies by defining economics as ‘all forms of economic
practice and knowledge’, then surely one is simply asserting what needs to be
explained.
Second, Callon seems to take the familiar Foucauldian step of presuming effects
from discourses. The relation between theory and practice is an issue that cannot
simply be dissolved. Even if we assumed that all ‘economists’ are pushing towards
alienated and calculative social transactions and spaces, we cannot read the effects
of these practices off their own discourses. We need to take an open-ended and
indeed ethnographic approach to the way specific markets are constructed. By the
same token, we need to expect the appearance of contradictory and ambiguous
forms of calculation.
It is interesting to connect this argument with the notion of virtualism as pro-
pounded by Miller and Carrier, which also has a strong affinity with major themes
in Strathern’s work. Virtualism argues that central economic models and policies
are developed in relation to an idealized or virtual concept of the economy, and by
those with the power to make these in some way effective. We might compare
Bourdieu’s (1998) recent formulation of neo-liberalism as a ‘strong discourse’, one
which has ‘the means of making itself true and empirically viable’ because it orients
‘the economic choices of those who dominate economic relationships’ and hence
constitutes a ‘scientific programme, converted into a plan of political action’. Miller
and Carrier both start from something much closer to the notion of ideology,
which has a certain kind of unity and also some relation to issues of truth and
falsity. Most importantly, whereas Callon seems to presume that economics is
62 Don Slater
realized in economies, Miller argues that virtualism and capitalism may be quite
opposed. This has the advantage of not presuming effects from discourses.
The central problem in the case of relating economics to economies – as in the
issues of disentanglement and ambiguous framings – is that we need to make
space not only for a diversity of modes of calculation within the overall structure
of market exchange, but also for contradictory and multiple framings, some of
which might very well approximate to the situation described by Miller, at least in
the way market actors understand their situation.

Markets and marketing


While Sophie may have no reason to look at what she is doing in terms of markets
and isolated moments of exchange, the salesman certainly does, and so does the
corporation that stands behind him. I want to focus on one particular actor, or
aspect, of the corporation, which Miller also discusses: the marketing and adver-
tising functions and departments. They make an interesting test case for my line
of discussion because they differ from the kinds of disentanglements that Callon is
talking about. Callon’s examples are largely technocratic: there are experts who
become strategic at certain moments of framing because they can produce
knowledges of what events in the world should properly be linked (causally, as
consequences) to events within market frames.
Marketing, I want to argue, is a framing process, and one that involves strategic
disentanglements, but it is based on quite other kinds of knowledges. These are
interpretative, cultural knowledges that should look and behave more as in Miller’s
examples, yet also have to be understood within a framework of instrumental
rationality. My example is about marketing strategies (Slater 2002, 2003). When
advertising and marketing agents devise marketing strategies they aim to produce
definitions of objects that simultaneously accomplish two interlinked goals: they
must make sense in terms of relations of consumption and they must look capable
of achieving profitable positions in relation to other products (relations of
competition, the marketplace). The object has to be produced conceptually before
the various branches of the sales effort are deployed to try and produce it socially.
A product concept is therefore the basis for strategic action. In this conceptual
production, it is very hard to separate out cultural and economic issues; indeed,
marketers spend a lot of their time explicitly connecting them. In global terms,
this is simply because culture becomes the object of technical rationality. The
marketer treats relations of consumption – the embeddedness of the object in a
world – as the object of profitable intervention: can this object be made meaningful
and desirable within specific social relations. The calculative, disentangling question
is: can this object be culturally entangled? Can it be defined and represented in
terms of consumer lifeworlds? And this requires deep cultural knowledges of the
objectified other. It is not necessarily empirically correct knowledge (advertisers
may be wrong, and infamously can never really know when they are wrong), but it
must be knowledge that makes sense to the marketers as a cultural embedding of
From calculation to alienation 63
the product, and which therefore makes sense as a strategy for marketing (it makes
sense in terms of uses, users and the materiality of the object itself).
However, this is only part of the story. Cultural and economic thinking are
inseparable in a deeper sense: they are analytically opposite sides of the same coin
in a way that marketers are aware of at every moment. When I define an object in
cultural terms I am also defining it competitively and vice versa. To use an example
from a previous paper: to define Johnson’s baby oil (this was a strategy exercise) as
an eye-makeup remover rather than a facial cleanser means to relate different
aspects of the same object to different social practices (cosmetics versus health
care) enacted by different social actors (in this case younger versus older women).
At the very same moment, to be selling a makeup remover rather than a cleanser
is also to enter into different markets, because each object is competitive with
different products. Any definition of the product makes it more or less substitutable
for another product. This is conventionally what we mean by a particular ‘market’.
The boundaries of a market are defined by what is perceived as substitutable for
what, and by whom. It is an act of social categorization, but one in which the
categories as well as assignments are constantly renegotiated, redefined and
intensively battled over. This is basically what marketing is: defining the product
in such a way as to position it within the competitively optimum definition of a
market as well as the most culturally entangled relations of consumption.
That is to say, marketing is not only about competition within markets, within
given structures. It is a competition over the structures of markets and market
relations themselves. The cultural calculations of marketers are attempts to frame
and stabilize objects as given individual items, which then compete with other
objects in rationalizable ways. They are, if you will, disentangled from the broad
range of social relations to be isolated as individual, transactable entities. This
attempt (more often than not a failure from any individual firm’s point of view) is
strategic: every firm wants to redefine the boundaries of markets by reframing
goods. That is how they compete. They aim at a profitable stabilization of the
market, but they do this by persistently destabilizing it. Finally, the disentanglements
they attempt to effect are precisely not a disembedding, in the sense of a separation
of economy from culture. Rather, it is a specific instrumentalizing of culture in
order to profit by a very specific form of transaction.
In fact, one can think of marketing as playing another, more complex framing
role, something beyond even the framing of objects, hence of market structures.
Marketing is not just one of the many framing technologies through which markets
are defined. It also tries to act as something like a meta-technology, a technology
that tries to manage or orchestrate the technologies of cultural framing. It
orchestrates such commercial technologies as pricing, design, packaging, consumer
education and so on in such a way as to manage people’s framing of goods in
relation to commerce. As noted earlier, in the act of buying and consuming, I may
think of myself as only minimally engaged with markets or commodities at all; I
may largely frame my actions in terms of the meaningful constitution of everyday
life. Marketing employs a range of technologies that individually and together
establish commercial frames in the first place; it tries not only to produce specific
64 Don Slater
market structures, but also to impose the very idea of a market and of commerce
in relation to other object relations.

Conclusion: are there any markets out there?


Economic sociology seems to face two impossible alternatives: either the market is
absolutized as abstraction or it is dissolved into ‘culture’; economic rationality
approximates to neo-classical calculations or it merges with ‘life’. We seem to miss
the turning into a critical space in which markets are neither uniform nor dominant
yet are still identifiable. In order to map out this space we have to do something
which Callon is pointing to: we have to find some of the parameters and border
disputes through which markets take endlessly contingent and unstable shapes.
Externality is probably only one line of analysis/definition. It is a fruitful one if
you are interested in following the relationship between technical knowledges and
market boundaries. It might not be quite so useful in thinking about cultural matters
where the inside and outside of the market are not defined by issues of cause and
effect or empirical consequences but rather by the cultural stability of the entities
themselves (actors, commodities, relationships): markets define themselves to the
extent that they can stabilize objects, but every attempt to do so invokes meanings
and processes that threaten to reopen the market structure. The power of the
notions of disentanglement, framing and overflowing (and their real gain over
simple ‘disembedding’) is that they focus us on the impurity of market behaviour
– including the mixture of economic and cultural calculation involved in constituting
economic action – while at the same time being able to acknowledge its basic
structural forms. This conceptual apparatus is most useful, however, when it is not
inextricably aimed at accounting for an expected and presumed form of calculation.
Instead, such concepts give us a clearer grasp of the one feature that seems to be
reliably useful in analytically delineating markets – the alienation of objects in the
form of property that can be detached from the networks in which they originate
– and which allows for diverse, unpredictable and contradictory modes of
calculation.

References
Bourdieu, P. (1989) Outline of a Theory of Practice, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Bourdieu, P. (1998) ‘The essence of neoliberalism: what is neoliberalism? A programme
for destroying collective structures which may impede the pure market logic’, in Le
Monde Diplomatique, Paris.
Callon, M. (ed.) (1998) The Laws of the Markets, Oxford: Blackwell.
Carrier, J.G. (1994) Gifts and Commodities: Exchange and Western Capitalism since 1700, London:
Routledge.
Carrier, J.G. and D. Miller (eds) (1998) Virtualism: A New Political Economy, Oxford: Berg.
Knorr-Cetina, K. and U. Bruegger (2000) ‘The market as an object of attachment: exploring
postsocial relations in financial markets’, Canadian Journal of Sociology, 25(2): 141–68.
Miller, D. (1998) A Theory of Shopping, Cambridge: Polity Press.
Miller, D. (2002) ‘Turning Callon the right way up’, Economy and Society, 31 (2).
From calculation to alienation 65
Slater, D. (2002) ‘Capturing markets from the economists’, in P. du Gay and M. Pryke
(eds) Cultural Economies:Cultural Analysis and Commercial Life, London: Sage.
Slater, D. (2003) ‘Markets, materiality and the “new economy” ’, in S. Metcalfe and A.
Warde (eds) Market Relations and the Competitive Process, Manchester: Manchester University
Press.
Slater, D. and F. Tonkiss (2001) Market Society: Markets and Modern Social Thought, Cambridge:
Polity Press.
Thomas, N. (1991) Entangled Objects: Exchange, Material Culture and Colonialism, Cambridge,
MA: Harvard University Press.
66 Marilyn Strathern

3 Externalities in
comparative guise
Marilyn Strathern

In his contribution to The Laws of the Markets, Michel Callon (1998) turns to the
phenomenon of externalities, putting it in both negative and positive light. In the
negative case, market transactions simply exclude interests which may be affected
by their operations but do not appear in the calculations; in the positive case such
effects will be recognised, a characteristic for example of situations where business
activities lead to the generation of information in a technological and thus a
knowledge-based economy. Introducing this exposition, Callon tells us that he wishes
to extend a concept familiar from economics in order to enhance the sociological
understanding of markets. He suggests that externality overlies the more
fundamental concept of framing (ultimately from Goffman) and its complicating
counterpart, overflowing. If I add an anthropological twist (of a British kind), it is
to offer a comparison between two situations amenable to this re-visioning of how
phenomena come to have internal and external aspects. I do so with an agenda of
my own, which appears to have little to do with the subject under discussion but is
nonetheless affected by how we describe the technological economy. I am interested
in its location of ethical principles.
My two examples take up possibilities on the positive side. Both echo situations
on which Callon also draws. Thus he points to the way in which industrial patents
inspire external competitors. He instances a pharmaceutical company which invests
heavily in research and then, in the course of filing a patent, necessarily discloses
information which becomes ‘freely’ available for others to use. This overflowing
cannot be prevented. Because its competitors are likely to be working from similar
knowledge bases, they are able to use the information in their own research, ‘invent
around’ the patented invention as the phrase goes.1 This enhances their competi-
tiveness – a commonplace, he says, for businesses who are involved in the production
of information capable of wide application.
A little later he refers to a different order of externalities, whose visibility has
become commonplace in a technoscience regime perceived to throw up problems
‘for society’. At one level, no common informational field is shared; at another, the
object is to create one. The huge proliferation of bodies concerned with ethics –
the social, legal and ethical implications of particular technologies – is an example.
The scientist cannot remain in his laboratory but has to engage with other specialists
Externalities in comparative guise 67
and with non-specialists of all kinds, for ‘society as a whole must agree to take
action’ (Callon 1998: 262). The effort to reduce the number of non-calculable
decisions, and thus to contain a constantly overflowing situation, is part of the
phenomenon of overflow itself. Now overflows are no longer a by-product of trans-
actions and negotiations but have become the rule. The contrast with patents is
clear. The patent is a device to make calculable likely future benefits resulting
from an invention, protecting the patent holder’s claims by framing the information
that led to it. The overflow of information into competitors’ hands cannot be
helped. But, and giving us the second example, there are many situations – often
the results of just such an invention being released into the world at large – where
quite different kinds of information from beyond the domain of technoscience
itself are needed to calculate the manifold effects of technological products or
their application (Callon cites the ramifications of mad cow disease). It is here that
information bursts its frames, and all kinds of externalities jostle one another.
I lay out two approaches to ethical resolutions, then, which use Callon’s reworking
of ‘externality’ and draw on his illustrations. One overtly involves the market while
the other does not. The obvious point is that in both cases there are external
considerations that purportedly lie outside the immediate frame of negotiation. In
the first, which touches briefly on competitive patenting, these are initially drawn
into the agents’ calculations in the way in which Callon speaks of internalisation
(1998: 251, 259). However, in the second case, an overt debate about ethics, there
is a quite unexpected exclusion of information which turns out to be ‘at the centre’
of negotiation (1998: 263). There all along, it only becomes salient at certain
moments. This is not a matter of internalisation, and we might seek a fresh
vocabulary to describe it. Here I adopt spatial terms derived from elsewhere
altogether to talk about an internal externality.
Information on the two cases is derived from secondary sources generated by
public interest in the technological economy. Typical of present times, public interest
takes the form of identifying ‘ethical issues’, actual or potential. One belongs
primarily to the late 1990s/early 2000s, although did not begin then, while the
other comes from a decade ago, the late 1980s/early 1990s, although the issues it
raises continue to reverberate.

Case 1: common knowledge


The duty (a duty owed to progress and prosperity) to share information is already
inscribed in the patent.2 This is a prime example of an external ethical principle
that has been thoroughly internalised. It is so taken for granted as one of the axiomatic
conditions of patent holding (it is of course formally impossible to acquire patent
rights without fully publishing information related to the invention in question)
that it is generally flagged as at once a justification for and the prime benefit of the
patenting system. The principle is constantly evoked in the new public agora
(Nowotny et al. 2001) attuned to the increasing visibility of patent regimes in both
business and the life sciences. For the principle retains its external status as an
effect or outcome of the patenting system that belongs to the realm of general
68 Marilyn Strathern
contributions to the public good, and is not part of the negotiations that ordinarily
take firms to the Patent Office.3
However, there is a further outcome of this internalisation, the desirability of
publishing technoscientific information, which produces the obverse effect and
projects internal motivations outwards. It derives from routine assumptions about
behaviour: information is a desirable insofar as people expect to act on it. Such an
expectation has the effect of speeding up the extent to which people then act with
others in mind; they take anticipatory action precisely because they can predict –
or imagine they can – what effect the information will have on these others, namely
that they will desire to use it. Andrew Barry (2000: 64) comments on one kind of
anticipation, and I shall develop his example.
As a cumulative effect of patenting under conditions of rapid technological
change, ‘Patents are acquired in order that others may not acquire them’, with the
consequence that ‘Invention by others has to be stifled, or anticipated in advance,
for rapid technical change to occur in the present.’ Barry continues: ‘Moving things
rapidly may increase a general state of inertia; fixing things in place before
alternatives have the chance of developing’ (2000: 64), that is, framing becomes a
blocking device. It contributes to what he calls the anti-inventive logics of industrial
development: technical change that allows no pause thereby guards against the
unpredictable. Under technical changes we may subsume business techniques.4
Competitors are kept out of the market by pre-emptive patents. In the US, after
the prevention of copying ‘the prevention of rivals from patenting related inventions,
which we call patent pre-emption or blocking, [is shown] to be the most pervasive
motive for patenting’ (Cohen et al. 2000: 21).5
Patent blocking takes one of two forms. First, the target may be potential
substitutes created by others ‘inventing around’ the original invention. ‘In this
setting, firms wishing to protect some patented core invention may patent substitutes
to foreclose that possibility to rivals, building what is sometimes called a “patent
fence”’ (Cohen et al. 2000: 22). Such patent blocking, they add, is nothing new, and
they cite the famous 1940s case of du Pont’s patenting of over 200 substitutes for
nylon to protect its own core invention. This is the defensive patent put into place
for the kinds of reasons to which Barry’s arguments apply. In essence, the intention
is to stop others from calculating the likely advantage of inventing around another’s
patent by claiming as large a cognate field as possible, ‘laying claims to a territory
in order to ensure that others do not get there first’ (Barry 2000: 65). In short, the
pre-emptive strike lies in preventing competitors from acting on information that
is released into the world; for those who take action project the possibility of so
acting onto their competitors who themselves become the reason for companies
taking out patents.
In the second type of patent blocking practice, traffic is often two-way. Patent
holders may instead try to force entry into areas being developed by their rivals.
‘Because no one firm can move ahead on developing and commercializing new
technology without access to rival technology, incumbents can use their patents
as bargaining chips either to compel their inclusion in cross-licensing or at least
secure the freedom to move ahead on similar technological efforts without being
Externalities in comparative guise 69
sued’ (Cohen et al. 2000: 22). This kind of patent may thus earn money for the
patent holder (through license fees) regardless of whether it in itself leads to a
direct product. It has been called ‘block to play’. The situation typically arises
when it is impossible to proceed with any single invention because the
development to product stage will depend on a complexity of inter-related
inventions, and firms must dovetail their patent portfolios. So a firm will hold on
to access to a piece of knowledge that may be useless by itself, in order to be able
to trade on its usefulness for others. Again, this is nothing new: creating utility
has always been true of industrial production (without the factory the worker’s
labour has no value). Patents measure the significance of each item of information
and give it value. Equally to the advantage of the patent holder has become the
issue of how narrow or how broad any one patent will be. The tinier the fragment
of information which will qualify as an invention, the more patents will multiply;6
the broader the patent, the more a single firm will attempt to underwrite or
encompass the efforts of many others.7 Disease gene patents are a growing
phenomenon here; these are patents which lay universal claim to methods for
diagnosis of a particular genetic condition, that is, they cover all or any methods
of looking at a disease-associated locus for the purpose of diagnosis (Merz 1999).8
These may lead to ‘the imposition of stifling reach-through conditions on licensees
… (e.g. rights of first refusal or compulsory cross licensing of related discoveries)’
(1999: 326).9 At any rate, in this scenario competitors are also co-patent holders.
They become collaterals in the enterprise.
Either way, competitors thus become drawn into one another’s domains of
action. We are back in the market where calculative agencies inevitably attend to
the calculations of others: ‘once framed, each agency is able to integrate the already
framed calculations of other agencies into its own calculations’ (Callon 1998: 32).
The defensive patent highlights the process, thereby drawing attention to a persistent
externality of a kind. If competition emanates from the agent’s own sense of agency,
a firm’s fear of or readiness for battle, then this internal motivation (competitiveness)
is being externalised. To be precise, it is externalised insofar as competition is antici-
pated, even imagined. The blocking patent can even create competitors in the
abstract, firms who do not yet exist but who might exist. Agents thereby generate
externalities for themselves. For the potential rivalry of imagined others is a
projection of agency (from within) that has to imagine – by virtue of that very
projection – agency lying beyond itself.
Among other things, we might note the obvious: an original ethical impulse (to
make information public) has market effects that hardly bear on ethics at all, as
presently understood. Its external character is thereby conserved.

Case 2: incommensurate knowledge


I turn now to an arena that is all about ethics, indeed explicitly about the
determination of ethical principles. But while we can recognise similar processes
of internalisation and externalisation, it throws up another kind of externality
altogether. Exploring this calls for some detail, and its own introduction.
70 Marilyn Strathern
Let me start with Callon’s observations on what he calls hot entanglements.
These are conditions of extreme overflowing as one might find in crises or dilemmas
that seem to have many ramifications. And the usual remedy, making more and
more elements of the situation explicit, often makes hot things hotter.10

Not only are ‘hot’ situations becoming more commonplace, it is becoming


exceedingly difficult to cool them down, i.e. arrive as a consensus on how the
situation should be described … Externalities are at the centre of public debates
[i.e. the focus of them] with no obvious conclusions.
(Callon 1998: 262–3)

The desirability of putting information into the public domain, the ethical principle
we have already encountered, is doubled in the further desirability of stimulating
open debate on ‘ethical issues’ as such. In relation to controversies over science,
Nowotny et al. (2001: 202–3) call this risk feeding off risk: ‘The creation of ethics
committees, the development of ethical guidelines and an apparently endless stream
of regulations, procedures and protocols’ is at once a symptom of unease about the
application of science, a signal of social conscience and a proliferation of the
perspectives that clamour to be taken into account.11 Add to Callon’s description of
the ‘hybrid forums’ which result from such hot entanglements of diverse facts, interests
and knowledge bases12 Siegler’s (1999) description of multidisciplinary approaches
to ethics committed to bringing together a spectrum of views,13 and we have attempts
to frame heterogeneity through creating heterogeneity.
I point to a type of enterprise, a Commission of Enquiry, generally framed off
from the market that measures, frames and disentangles the values of products.14
It belongs to the type of forum which seeks to measure, frame and disentangle
flows and counterflows in the values generated by public concern. As it turned
out, a field of potential, anticipated action was laboriously created out of diverse
domains of information only to be pre-empted by a set of ‘externalities’ that had
all the time lain within at the heart, at the core, of the enterprise itself. This is what
I call an internal externality.
I intend the idiom not as a psycho-dynamic but as a spatial or structural one.
The inspiration here, the externality at the heart of my own exposition, are the
Mekeo people of Papua New Guinea (Mosko 1985) who imagine insides and
outsides as each having their outside and inside. Thus the relationship between a
village, an ‘outside’ place to which visitors come, and the clan territory it lies within,
which is an ‘inside place’, is repeated within the village, between the village street
where the houses are (‘inside’) and its centre, a plaza, an ‘outside’ place into which,
for example, rubbish is swept and from which it is evacuated over the village fence.
The plaza can be thought of as the outside’s inside or an inverted outside; the area
over the fence as an inside’s outside or everted inside. I have thus taken Callon’s
‘externalities at the centre of public debate’ not in the sense of contingent issues
that suddenly require focusing upon but in the sense of an unexpected discontinuity
in the decision-making process. It is a locale for the voices, which speak with
authority, which is what the whole enquiry was about.
Externalities in comparative guise 71
Background
A public inquiry, which unfolded over four years between 1989 and 1993,
deliberately tackled heterogeneity and the multiplicity of interests that ethical issues
call up.15 At stake was appropriate legislation for the ‘social, legal and ethical’
effects of technoscience applied to human reproduction. ‘Society’ needed to find
out what its ‘members’ thought. On an unprecedented scale, the Canadian Royal
Commission on New Reproductive Technologies set about consulting the Canadian
public. The final report (Canada 1993) of 1275 pages states that over 300 scholars
participated in the exercise, across 70 disciplines, involving more than 40,000
Canadians, with a newsletter, research studies, public hearings, symposia, written
submissions and 6,000 individuals leaving their views on toll-free telephone lines.
It also involved the distribution of over 250,000 ‘pieces of information’, such as
brochures and press releases.16 The Report acknowledges the iterative process of
information and regulation – the interplay between policy-makers, the public and
general perceptions (1993: 45). And entanglement is from the outset attributed to
the population under study.

As Canada becomes more heterogeneous, it will become increasingly important


to make core values transparent and to ensure that consensus on technologies
takes into account the diverse nature of the country.
(1993: 29–30)

This Canada was the nation that would recognise core values, the government
that would reach a consensus, and (their hope) the federal state which would give
backing to provincial legislatures.
The Commission interpreted its mandate as being asked to speak on behalf of
‘Canadian society as a whole’ (1993: 20). It wished to be equipped with information
drawn from a wide range of social sources within the population, and thus indeed
intended a ‘total society’ approach (Massey 1993). Now when Callon argues that
any framing produces overflowing, and any disentanglement produces new
attachments (1998: 38), he describes a condition familiar to anthropologists. Above
all, they have pointed out how, as overarching abstractions, Euro-American notions
of ‘society’ and ‘culture’ precipitate a world full of incidental and intransigent
particulars (e.g. Wagner 1976). This is especially true of the way information about
society is marshalled. Notably, the more you describe ‘society’ the more you create
the counter problem of ‘the individual’. But the precipitations that may, from one
point of view, seem external to the descriptive project, from another may seem
constituent parts of a totality. Thus the indigenous (Canadian) view is that society
is made up of individuals. Indeed one could write that it is their very individuality
that constitutes Canada.17 A Canadian ‘national’ voice lies in the way that the
‘diversity’ of Canadian society is constantly noted, at once needing to be articulated
and needing to be regulated.
From the Commission’s point of view, the ‘Canadians’ whom they wish to consult
are not others in the way competitors can be (in part at least a reflex of one’s own
72 Marilyn Strathern
agency) but agents whose calculations may be as yet unknown. The Commissioners
could not act without information, and they wanted to find out what Canadians
thought in order to report the answers to the Canadians themselves. No blocking
here: the information they collected was (in suitable form) to be relayed back to
the public. In what follows I imagine some of the processes that might have lain
behind the massive Report, and the information it marshalled, and thus how the
Commissioners in turn might have imagined their task, that is, the character of
the calculating agency they had to acquire. Evidence is drawn almost entirely
from the text of the Report.

Four frames
The Commission knew that it was going to find itself faced with conflicting values.
With its enlightened approach to making all kinds of fertility treatment available
to all kinds of women and men, it wanted to endorse the legitimacy of individually
held wishes, to give voice to minority as well as majority views, and to convey the
depth of feeling that Canadians have about these important issues. It was thoroughly
aware that it must broach social diversity directly – two civic languages, several
distinctive immigrant populations, First Nations peoples, the advantaged and
disadvantaged, quite apart from experts in medical and reproductive fields, religious
spokespeople, interest groups and lobbies. In short, the Commission would be
criss-crossing many different knowledge bases. What this meant is that over this
first frame (Canadian society and its core values) would be put a second frame, the
distillation of specific opinions, of specific values and attitudes, thrown up by people
in all walks of life. It would consult widely and thoroughly across a truly diverse
range of opinion.18
So they set out to consult a society imagined as heterogeneous at every level. I
speculate that it was able to present or manage such a vision through creating a
certain kind of person. A third framing device, then, was the figure of the calculating
‘individual’. In the same way as the law posits the individual as a bearer of rights,
the Commission posited the individual Canadian man or woman as a decision-
maker.

A central goal of our recommendations is to enable individual Canadians to


make personal decisions about their involvement with the technologies,
confident in the knowledge that mechanisms are in place to assess their safety
and effectiveness and to consider their ethical, legal, and social implications.
(Canada 1993: xxxv)

Since they already have ‘views and attitudes’, an oft-repeated phrase, individual
Canadians were thus the kinds of persons19 whom society (‘Canadian society’)
could consult. Commenting on the Royal Commission itself, Weir (1996) refers to
the ‘constrained conflict’ of a liberal rationality: pre-structured for conflict, liberal
government must be seen to tussle both with minority views and with criticisms of
its own actions. If the Commission were to be liberal in this sense, it must both
Externalities in comparative guise 73
channel and celebrate the contrariness of different positions. Its third frame,
identifying the individual as a decision-making bearer of views and attitudes, would
help do this job.
A final frame – from several others – is considered here: the opinion. Views,
attitudes and opinions were at times run together (e.g. Canada 1993: 426). It is
assumed that it was through investigating ‘views and attitudes’ that one could
elucidate significant values. While views and attitudes are sedimented in the culture
of a population, one potent way in which Euro-American people at large, and
Canadians proved no exception, give them voice is as ‘opinions’ – and opinions
can be surveyed. Moreover, views or attitudes enunciated in the form of opinion
give something of an elective quality to values. Heterogeneous values will show up
as ‘diversity’, and that diversity as a function of the choice-informed diversity of
individual persons. (Individuals are in turn rendered diverse through the opinions
that differentiate them.) This frame not only provided an enumerable counterpart
to the third frame, the individual decision-maker, but picked out the contours of
the second frame, the distilled values of Canadians, as an inevitable precursor to
the first, Canada or Canadian society. At the end of the road were the decisions
that Canada must make as to its future policy directions, the ‘choices’ over health
care treatment facing it as a nation (1993: 103).
Can such an approach also deal with people when they are the representatives
of minority groups and lobbies? What about cultural diversity? The answer, it
would seem, is yes. The opinion as a common frame appeared to enable numerous
‘groups’ to be accommodated. For the opinions of minorities and Aboriginal
communities (say) could be put alongside those of individuals, treating them like
so many ‘collective individuals’ (Foster 1995). ‘The increasing diversity of Canadian
society means that we cannot make assumptions about the impact of new
reproductive technologies on society as a whole. Different groups will be affected
in different ways by the technologies’ (Canada 1993: 35), and one cannot give
either individual or group values precedence over one another (1993: 64). The
Report thus identified women as one such ‘group’ with opinions to express, and
the special needs of women came to stand for all kinds of special needs. (It was
recognised that women had diverse experiences, sometimes speaking for themselves
and sometimes, in the Report’s parlance, for their communities.) If in general
social groups are seen to express opinions in the way individuals do, this does of
course separate the frame of ‘Canada’/‘society’ from the individual entities that
constitute it. However, views and attitudes create ‘groups’ of their own, majorities
and minorities based on the opinion they hold, and minorities proved more trouble-
some than this exposition suggests; I return to them in a moment.
The Report by and large favours quantitative summaries (‘most’, ‘many’) rather
than statistics, although it points to numerical data collected in its research reports
and produces percentages at certain junctures. Either way, opinions can be counted.
Instead of imagining the co-creation of diversity and hegemonic cultural assump-
tions, then, the Report imagines that differences can be enumerated. Enumeration
makes certain trends visible. ‘Along with this greater cultural diversity have come
new perceptions and new attitudes toward family, kinship and parenthood’
74 Marilyn Strathern
(1993: 29). So what kind of action does the knowledge require? It requires the
Commissioners to recommend guidelines for regulation, the first step of which is
weighing up the evidence. That was not to be straightforward. Apropos IVF, they
state (1993: 501–2) that the national dialogue they had mounted gave them ‘a rich
and multifacted basis from which to consider the issues’, a ‘multidimensional
perspective … necessary because no one vantage point can provide a comprehensive
picture’.

There is no single formula for weighing individual and collective interests


that would allow us to resolve all these issues. Rather, we need to look at given
situations and consider how individual interests affect society’s values, norms,
and resources, and vice versa.
(1993: 65)

So what will the Commissioners ‘resolve’ and how will they ‘look’?
We may ask about the relationship between these regulative intentions and the
four frames I have singled out. Will the process of resolution amount to a fifth
frame? If so, it is a rather different kind of frame. For I suggest that it points to the
contours of an externality that cannot be seen at all because it lies in the eyes of
those looking through these other frames. It consists in the normative intentions
of those holding the inquiry. It takes the form of moral reasoning.

Producing externalities20
In the last resort, it is the reasoning of those who have encompassed all aspects of
the inquiry as such – that is, of the Commissioners – which prevails. One example
is deliberation over donor insemination (1993: 431).

We gave great thought to this … guided by … what Canadians said about


both their fundamental values and their attitudes towards specific issues. …
Where there was divergence on specific policy questions, we decided that our
moral reasoning should have greater weight if it was in line with fundamental
values endorsed by Canadians, because we had spent much time weighing
the evidence and thinking through the implications of different policies on
such specific questions.

In making the choice as to what is to be decided, the Commissioners remind


the public that they are liberal persons who, in the name of government, do what
governments have to do and depend on their own reasoning. How, after all, could
it be otherwise? But they will publish in full the scope of the enquiry that gave
voice to so many people.
The example of donor insemination, which is about the ethics of making infor-
mation public, is worth pursuing further. The issue is that of disclosure to interested
parties. We may note the convergence between the value put on openness applied
to considerations of anonymity and the value put on openness that characterises
Externalities in comparative guise 75
enquiries of this kind. The Report was emphatic that method of conception should
be open knowledge, thereby creating a new category of family (‘DI families’) (Eichler
1996). Several of the comments in favour of openness came from professionals
and experts in adoption and other practices: ‘evidence before the Commission
shows that secrecy in families can be very harmful’ (Canada 1993: 444). At the
same time, ‘many donors’ were in favour of anonymity (1993: 441); in addition,
the needs of the DI family had to be taken into account. What had been created
through open information (on the technology of conception) had to be held in
place by concealing other information (the donor’s social identity). In short,
openness had to be balanced against other considerations. In the end, the Canadian
Royal Commission determined to allow non-identifying, but not identifying,
information to be accessible to DI children.

The Commission believes that this is the best way to balance the needs of
children and families. It is a system that acknowledges the need of individuals
for social, genetic and medical information about their biological parent, but
it also acknowledges the need for DI families to flourish and form a strong
unit if the best interests of the child are to be served … [It] accords greater
importance to family relationships and actual parenting than to the source of
genetic material.
(1993: 445)

In the balancing of the two approaches, we might ask what value was being
given to balance itself. It would appear to invoke the balance of individual/society
and state/multiple constituent groups that underlies the writing of the whole Report
itself. This diversity could itself be produced as reason enough to cut through it
with judicious opinion.

There were a few occasions … when our moral reasoning led us to conclusions
that were not strongly supported by the responses to some specific questions
in our surveys of Canadians. This kind of situation usually arose when a
value that Canadians strongly endorsed … such as equality, was not upheld in
answer to a question on a specific situation, such as whether single women
should have access to donor insemination.
(1993: 431)

Perhaps their judicious opinion can be understood as an externality: at the


centre of this huge field of diverse opinions lay a normative process that could
work only according to its own principles. I call it an externality because although
the populace would have recognised the process, and would be subscribing to
norms themselves, the grounds summoned for adjudication (for the purposes of
distilling information about and representing a spectrum of Canadian values) would
be different from the context in which such values were normally enunciated. The
Commissioners’ knowledge base, for a start, was different from those on whose
behalf they were adjudicating (although the Commissioners saw the next step as
76 Marilyn Strathern
sharing as much of that knowledge as possible, hence the publication of the Report).
Yet in the end the vast quantity of data was barely used,21 and only in rather
general terms drawn on to support the Commissioner’s final authority. One is
reminded of Barry’s (2000) suggestion that in the knowledge economy high levels
of information production (‘overproduction’) may displace other forms of action,
and ‘evidence-based’ action seems just such an invitation. The mass of data was,
as we have seen, certainly pressed into the service of comprehending the diversity
of society, underlining its heterogeneity and the differences between sub-
populations. For if everyone differs, no one set of differences need be privileged.
So difference can be turned into an amenable and governable fact not by reducing
the significance of pluralism but by exaggerating it.22
The Commissioners’ moral reasoning appeared in the Report, I suggest, as an
internal externality. They were not simply adding their own voice to the mix; they
called down a justification for their views that lay within themselves. What is telling
is that this frame had its own overflow. That is, when their own weighing up of
evidence (‘we gave great thought’/‘we spent much time’) performed as a frame for
them, it inevitably produced its own externalities. I return to the troublesome issue
of minorities. For no amount of balancing would ultimately dissolve the uniqueness
claimed by certain interest groups, and this led to a dissenting opinion, to a
presentation of moral reasoning not consonant with the majority. In the example
I give here, we see how the non-discriminatory tenor of the Report blocked the
consideration of opinion based on religious conviction.
The Report does not accord religion a basis for values separate from others but
treats it as further grounds for a respectful pluralism, with the proviso that religious,
like ethnic, affiliation should not be a discriminating factor in the offering of
treatment. But, asserts the dissenting Commissioner whose comments are published
separately at the end of the Report,23 if secular jurisdiction overrides religious
principle, this would remove the freedom of religious institutions ‘to interpret their
ethical policies according to their [own] mandates’ (1993: 1093). So while the
main body of the Report acknowledges people’s relationship to certain intermediate
groups, including religious groups, she calls the bluff on choice by thereby pointing
to an arena (religion, ethnicity) where reproductive values constitute part of a
person’s identity. The values at stake are bound up with the very way a person
exercises affiliation. They are not the same kind of choice-informed decision-making
individual otherwise created by the Commission.
Some of these interest groups are what, in the course of developing the idea of
a ‘decent society’ (as against for instance a just society), Margalit (1996: 138ff, 277)
calls encompassing. A decent society does not tolerate institutions that put people
into humiliating positions. It is encumbent on a decent society to acknowledge the
role that ‘encompassing groups’ play in people’s self-placement and self-esteem,
or oppression for that matter. He singles out such ‘groups’ by virtue of the fact that
they are not in any way voluntaristic or elective. Religious and ethnic affiliations
are among his prime examples. A decent society is judged not only by how its
institutions treat encompassing groups but also by how such groups treat their
Externalities in comparative guise 77
members. Now while a whole spectrum of such groups might give the illusion that
they are many-to-choose-from, for each person there can be only one. Hence
‘Canada’ cannot substitute for any one religious or ethnic group, regardless of
how and how many views are distilled. It simply cannot frame them.
The dissenting opinion raised a question about the invidious nature of choice
facing those with religious and similar convictions; they run the danger of
humiliation. It offers several other points of criticism. First, it is explicit about the
social context of values and about the fact that it is not just persons as individuals
who are affected by treatment provision or policy decisions but persons in
relationship with others. Second, it epitomises its own critique: it makes fundamental
values explicit in a way that cannot be regulated or quantified. Third, it draws
attention to the problem of choice in an unenlightened society. When society is
revealed as conservative, what then? If we really look to choice, many Canadians
would deny certain identifiable others their reproductive choices.24 Finally, it
pinpoints the conundrum of majority and minority views. What is a ‘minority’
view? The answer would seemingly depend on whether the minority was a self-
contained religious group, a disadvantaged sector of the population – or a group
of Commissioners charged with interpreting the public will.

Acting on information
In commenting on an earlier version of this account, the editors came to a
conclusion I had not seen: when the process of moral reasoning evoked by the
Commissioners acted like an internal externality it had the effect of ‘cooling’ a hot
situation. (In fact the publication of the Report eventually turned parts of the
debate right off. After some delay, a voluntary Moratorium on Reproductive Tech-
nologies was called, announced as a first step for managing the application of the
new technologies.25) At any rate, it was the kind of stance that bypasses complexity.
Perhaps such short-circuiting may be the only answer. One cannot reach a decision
on the basis of information alone.
The four framing devices I chose to describe were, we may say, intended to cool
but in effect only measured the heat. And here I draw on another of the editors’
comments. The Commission offers a rather peculiar rendering of ethical practice,
exaggerated no doubt in my selection of issues, for it is largely non-relational.
After all (they point out) persons such as teachers or parents may be ethical in
relation to their students or children without having to import ethical principles
from the outside; this is indeed one of the points offered by the dissenting opinion.
The external character of moral reasoning seen here must be a function not of the
nature of ethics as such but of the way that, in this case, the whole problem was
being framed. This suggests that we look again at the Report’s emphasis on decision-
making, choice-informed individuals.
At least on the information about the Commissioners’ activities I have given
here, they appear for all the world to be treating their sources of information as
though it were coming from autonomous subjects of the kind found in the law – or
78 Marilyn Strathern
in the market. Indeed the Commission seemed to be moving towards the kinds of
calculations that Pottage attributes to a patents regime. Pottage (1998: 755, my
emphasis) writes:

there is a basic incompatibility between ethical and political arguments and


the scientific rational character of the patents system, which can [overtly]
accommodate ‘ethical’ themes only if they are translated, or betrayed, by some form
of risk calculus.

Risk can be treated as criteria by which to calculate, for example, the desirability
of information disclosure or to assess how far persons are adequately informed.
Pottage observes how both law and science have converged on the notion of
‘informed consent’ as a concept which binds persons – specifically the ‘scientific
and economic characterisations’ of persons – to the legal concept of the auto-
nomous individual. The Commission was able to approximate its endeavours to a
form of risk calculus, and set up its frames to do so. But it was defeated by the fact
that it had to treat its sources of information as heterogeneous as the data on
which information was being sought.
By invoking externalities, Callon reminds us that part of the economist’s job is
that of description. Description has a crucial role in framing and disentanglement.
Certainly Euro-Americans are constantly invited to understand the world of
description against the ‘real world’ it precipitates. The economists’ position is thus
part of – and central to – a more general Euro-American project: to describe the
societies in which we live. The interest of economists is that their descriptions are
also meant to help us act. That is, even if not predictive, they are drawn into the
economy as findings, research outcomes, trends, and so forth, to stimulate future
policy/market behaviour.
Pottage’s observations underline a contrast between at least two kinds of
descriptions on which Euro-Americans act, two approaches to ethics we might say.
The first is information about the world that purifies it; description transforms its
dimensions into calculable measurements. Discussion is then all about the
instruments of description, how accurate or appropriate a measure, whether the
words convey the right impression, and so forth, and the greater the approximation,
the greater the power of the instrument. People can act on the ‘knowledge’, assess
the risk, which the measurements generate and, as in patent blocking, calculate
the risk of information overflow. The second is information that has power precisely
because it is not a measurement. It may come from a style of reasoning given
value because it exists at a remove from the world; such knowledge has the power
to move people to act precisely because it is not contaminated with the details that
were so important to the first kind of description. Equally meant to be acted on,
this knowledge may be circulated as principles or norms, and in the case of ethical
principles be presented as precepts or values intended as guidelines for action. The
admonition to act is contained within.
The normative guideline, the ethical principle, has already jumped from
description to action; it pre-empts the connection. The anticipation of action is as
Externalities in comparative guise 79
much a condition of the description, we might say, as a consequence of it. Thus
the principle of open information, of the desirability of assessing the degree of
‘informed consent’ (to regulation) that existed across society, which the Canadian
Report endorsed, is not there simply to frame understandings: it points to practices
which need to be implemented. Action is already implied. In this context, action is
not an externality, a contingency or unlooked-for outcome of the promulgation of
norms; on the contrary it is inherent to the normative recommendation. Yet action
– as an activity – does not belong to the discursive framing of the norm itself. One
might describe it as an external internality.

Acknowledgements
I am most grateful to Nurit Bird-David for a conversation that started this off
(pers. comm., November 2000). The second part of this chapter was stimulated by
an International Symposium, ‘Governing Medically Assisted Human Repro-
duction’, University of Toronto, 1996, organised by Lorna Weir. I have drawn on
both Margrit Eichler and Lorna Weir’s contributions in more places than noted
here; considerable thanks for Margaret Lock’s further guidance. I also thank
Georgina Born. Andrew Barry offered quite out of the ordinary assistance on the
text, both in his degree of patience (and encouragement) and through crucial
comments and criticisms.

Notes
1 ‘Competitors may thus benefit, free of charge, from the efforts and investments of a
company which has had to bear the associated costs and risks on its own’ (Callon
1998: 245–6). In their survey of R&D managers from some 1,500 US firms, Cohen,
Nelson and Walsh (2000) found that the ease with which an invention could be ‘invented
around’ by others was a principal reason for firms not to take out patents (and disclose
information); the simple alternative was to keep their innovations secret.
2 I owe the precision of this point to Corinne Hayden’s work on the way ethics and
politics are, so to speak, engineered into biological artefacts (pers. comm.). She cites
Sarah Franklin’s observation about cell lines developed to bypass the use of human
embryos: a ‘built-in ethics’ to avoid public opposition.
3 Indeed, when the public good is articulated as an aim, famously in the release of
information about the human genome, it may be held that the public good is better.
4 Two examples are cited in the Financial Times (17 November 2000) by David Pilling
reporting on patents. One concerns a Maryland firm, Human Genome Sciences, which
was criticised for relying too heavily on patents to protect its databases of DNA
fragments known as expressed sequence tags; so, indeed, rather than rely on the patent
to protect its intellectual property it has evolved into a company to produce its own
drugs. The second is that of a Seattle company which could not afford the $1.6m
needed to register 5,600 genes belonging to a bacteria that plagues cystic fibrosis
sufferers, so it published them on the internet. After academics had set to work on the
information, and in effect refined its targets for it, the company filed its patents.
5 In their words, blocking patents may be used either to extract license revenue or to
force entry into cross-licensing negotiation. They find differences in strategies according
to the type of industry in question, but very broadly in the former case the patent
holders may have no intention of commercialising a product but seek a share of revenue
80 Marilyn Strathern
simply through licensing, while in the latter case they force their way into rival
technologies.
6 ‘For example, the recent ruling that gene fragments are separately patentable suggests
that the commercialization of a single biotechnology drug product may now require
rights over numerous patents’ (Cohen et al. 2000: 19). ‘Expressed sequence tags’ of
otherwise unknown biological function (Heller and Eisenberg 1998; Crespi 2000) have
been a particular source of controversy here.
7 Commenting on the way the patent universe has been expanding, Drahos (1999) notes
that the scope of patentable subject matter has increasingly been given an inclusive
interpretation while, at the same time, restrictions on patentability have been narrowly
interpreted. Thus the US Patent Code defines standards for ‘novelty’ and ‘nonobvious-
ness’ but the courts are said to apply these standards more loosely than is required by
statute (Barton 2000: 1933); in the European Patent Office, restrictions on the
patentability of human treatment [normally excluded] can be overcome by formulaic
means (see Pottage 1998 on the narrow use of legal formulae).
8 In Merz’s words, many patents are being licensed to large clinical laboratories which
then enforce their patents and prevent other clinical molecular pathologists and
geneticists from performing the patented tests. Patents are thus being used to create
monopolies in the testing service market. They may also constrain the delivery of
local medical services.
9 ‘Reach-through’ royalties, for instance, are royalties on second generation products
derived from a patented technique. ‘ “Royalty stacking” can swamp the development
costs of some therapies to the point where development is not economically feasible’
(IPRRTMB 2000).
10 Embraced in a positive way by some. Supercomplexity is the term given by the
educationalist Ronald Barnett (2000) to a heated up world as it looks from the university.
He is passionate about the need to embrace uncertainties: ‘Supercomeplexity is the
world into which the graduates of universities will go; it marks out the experiences
they will face of continual challenge and insecurity. … [They will need the] capacity
to embrace multiple and conflicting frameworks and to offer their own positive
interventions in that milieu.’ The supercomplex graduate has to grasp unpredictable
intersections of knowledges which fold in on one another in convoluted, crisis-like,
locations, while academics, diversified through their relationships with the wider
community, will work with one another in epistemological ‘turmoil’.
11 Not that the condition of overflow is not confined to the kinds of crisis situations with
which ethics committees (say) have to deal.
12 Hybridity alone, of which there are several ‘cold’ examples (Latour 1993), does not
necessarily produce ‘heat’.
13 Siegler’s subject matter is institutional ethics committees, which in a clinical context
(according to his account) can often produce an ‘immoral’ outcome which fudges
responsibility by virtue of its very remove from the purview of the exclusive specialist.
14 Barry (pers. comm.) comments that the whole phenomenon of Commissions relates
to opposition conventionally made between government and market (and government
and politics).
15 I have drawn on this material in diverse places. Originally prepared for a conference
on Reproductive values: the individual and society in 1997 (the Centre for Social Ethics and
Policy, Manchester, and Comm. of Europ. Communities BIOMED-2 Programme on
‘Reproductive choice and control of fertility’), portions can be found in Strathern
1999, ch. 4; Strathern, 2003.
16 For a commentary, see Basen, Eichler and Lippmann 1993. Similar but more modest
exercises were being carried out elsewhere, such as the Warnock Enquiry which in the
UK led to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 (e.g. Mulkay 1997). But
there has been no other population consulted on such a scale and with such a thorough
airing of multiple voices. The constitutional pluralism of Canada, with multilingualism
Externalities in comparative guise 81
and the rights of women and minority peoples recognised in the national Charter, was
a significant environment.
17 Note that this is as unproblematic to write in English as the Melanesian inversions and
eversions are problematic to express.
18 Surveys to determine views and attitudes targeted a population (by phone) controlled
for factors such as age, ethnicity, region. There were, among many kinds of additional
consultants, ten focus groups for ascertaining the ‘specific attitudes’ of Aboriginal
peoples: key representatives from ethnocultural communities were thus sought for their
unique attitudes (although the reported patterns turn out to be similar to those of the
‘general public’).
19 In the sense of social person, that is, an actor with particular attributes of agency.
Massey (1993) points out that prior to the working of the Commission there were no
new reproductive technologies (NRT) advocacy groups as such; the only constituencies
of which the Commission was initially sure were medical and research groups.
20 Of course there is a sense in which we may regard the four frames as producing
externalities, but they do so in relation to one another, so they (the frames) appear as a
set of internalising and externalising strategies. This is how, for example, we might
understand the different positions occupied by the ‘individual,’ now a member of
society and now in antithesis to society. (These are projections and introjections not of
motivation but of roles, agencies and so forth.) A notable example comes from Eichler’s
(1996) observation on the way in which the new reproductive procedures are, as
technologies, rendered external to arguments about family formation. Indeed at several
junctures ‘society’ itself is framed by separating it from ‘technology’ (Strathern (2003)
tracks this and other separations further). Thus in a section entitled ‘Impact on society’,
the Report asks how the new reproductive technologies will ‘change our understanding
of how we relate to each other as members of society?’ (Canada 1993: 45) Depicting
the technologies as having an impact on society renders them notionally beyond it.
That is, technology is ‘outside’ society. This formula is reiterated in the separate section
called ‘Impact on family structure’. ‘Social’ factors, with their own trajectory of
development and change, are in turn seen to have implications for NRT. That is, society
is ‘outside’ technology.
21 Many values were given voice. But, at least in the final Report, it was never made clear
on a systematic basis how the values were distributed or located across the different
kinds of data that the Commissioners were considering, e.g in reference to how the
data was collected or the (social, cultural) context in which views were enunciated,
and whether individual choices were being stressed or people were appealing to
collective sentiments. In other words, analysis of the data as data was not seen part of
the Report’s business. Without such information there can be no questioning of the
extent to which particular values resonated with what the Commissioners themselves,
as a specific body of people, held as obvious and right – the pre-figured assumptions
that came from their own real-life worlds.
22 Diversity thus appears as a double feature of the population at large, both social and
cultural, and as characteristic of (to use the Report’s terms) individuals and of groups
alike.
23 This is only one of the Commissioner’s six grounds for dissent, which are published in
full, the ‘Six Dissenting opinions’ (1993: 1054–65) being followed by 80 pages of
‘detailed reasoning’ for them.
24 This was, for example, documented in the Report in relation to single and lesbian
mothers.
25 The immediate response by the federal government had been to turn up the heat
again – in the wake of the Report and its 293 specific recommendations it conducted
its own consultation exercise, ‘with provinces and territories as well as more than 40
organizations representing women, the disabled, medical and research groups, infertile
Canadians, and other’ (Health Canada news release, 27 July 1995). The Moratorium
82 Marilyn Strathern
asked medical and research communities to refrain from applying a number of
controversial technologies or practices (they were listed) to humans beings. The list
overlapped with but was not the same as the list of practices which the Commission
wished to criminalise.

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Heller, M. and R. Eisenberg (1998) ‘Can patents deter innovation? The anticommons in
biomedical research’, Science, 280: 698–701.
Intellectual Property Rights and Research Tools in Molecular Biology (2000) Intellectual
Property Rights and Research Tools in Molecular Biology, ch 5, available online at http:/
stills.nap.edu/html/property/5.html.
Latour, B. (1993) We Have Never Been Modern (trans. C. Porter), London: Harvester
Wheatsheaf.
Margalit, A. (1996) The Decent Society (trans. N. Goldblum), Cambridge, MA: Harvard
University Press.
Massey, C. (1993) ‘The public hearings of the Royal Commission on New Reproductive
Technologies’, in G. Basen, M. Eichler and A. Lippmann (eds) Misconceptions: The Social
Construction of Choice and the New Reproductive and Genetic Technologies, Quebec: Voyageur
Publishing.
Merz, J.F. (1999) ‘Disease gene patts: overcoming ethical constraints on clinical laboratory
medicine’, Clinical Chemistry, 45: 324–30.
Mosko, M. (1985) Quadripartite Structures: Categories, Relations and Homologies in Bush Mekeo
Cultures, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Mulkay, M. (1997) The Embryo Research Debate: Science and the Politics of Reproduction, Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.
Externalities in comparative guise 83
Nowotny, H., P. Scott and M. Gibbons (2001) Re-thinking Science: Knowledge and the Public in
an Age of Uncertainty, Oxford: Polity Press.
Pottage, A. (1998) ‘The inscription of life in law: genes, parents, and bio-politics’, Modern
Law Review, 61: 740–65.
Siegler, M. (1999) ‘Ethics committees: decisions by bureaucracy’, in H. Kuhse and P. Singer
(eds) Bioethics: An Anthology, Oxford: Blackwell.
Strathern, M. (1999) ‘Refusing information’, in Property, Substance and Effect, London: Athlone
Press.
Strathern, M. (2003) ‘Redescribing society’, in H. Nowotny, P. Scott and M. Gibbons (eds)
Reflections on the New Production of Knowledge, special issue, Minerva, 41: 263–76.
Wagner, R. (1976) The Invention of Culture, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall.
Weir, L. (1996) ‘Recent developments in the government of pregnancy’, Economy and Society,
25: 372–92.
84 Andrew Barry

4 The anti-political economy


Andrew Barry

The political and the anti-political


In The Laws of the Markets, Michel Callon refrains from any explicit discussion of
politics. Yet, particularly in the final chapter of the book, it seems that a consider-
ation of politics is at the centre of his concerns. In that chapter, in a discussion of
framing and overflowing, he speaks of a distinction between cold and hot
negotiations. In cold negotiations, agreement regarding overflows is easily arrived
at. “The possible world states are already known or easy to identify: calculated
decisions can be taken” (Callon 1998: 261). By contrast in hot negotiations
everything is up for grabs. Particular agencies may try to make calculations, but
the basis for those calculations may be radically called into question (ibid.: 260).
Today, hot negotiations proliferate. He cites BSE as an example.
Let us begin with a very conventional definition of politics. We can take politics
to refer to all those kinds of institutions, agencies and practices broadly associated
with international, national and local government. In thinking about politics in
this sense, the perspective adopted in The Laws of the Markets offers a good starting
point. Callon argues that the discipline of economics tends to forget that the
formation of markets is a technical matter, requiring extraordinary investments in
the law, technology, architecture, accountancy and, sometimes, economics. Likewise,
political scientists tend to forget the remarkable technicality of politics. Devices
such as press conferences, parliamentary debates, public demonstrations, public
opinion polls, political analyses, electoral registers and so on are not incidental to
politics. They play a critical role in making it possible for politicians, trade unionists,
activists, lobbyists and citizens to act as political agents. The political actor does
not come isolated into the political arena any more than the consumer comes
isolated into the market place. They come with a whole array of material devices
and forms of knowledge which serve to frame political action. There is a physics
to politics.1
Consider the question of the capacity of persons to act as voters. The design,
distribution and counting of ballot papers requires constant and substantial invest-
ments. The frame of representative democracy breaks down when these investments
are not properly made, and the frame made secure; when questions can be raised
The anti-political economy 85
about the marks made on ballot papers, registration of voters, and the distribution
of polling booths. In this context, we should push the analogy between voting and
market transactions. Doubtless voters are thoroughly entangled in their social world.
They receive advice from many directions: friends, television, politicians and so
on. But, as in a market, in voting there is disentanglement. Representative
democracy is just as different from a culture of permanent political activity, as a
market economy is different from one based on the exchange of gifts. It makes no
demands on the citizen once the election has ended. After the vote is cast, the
mark of the vote itself does not bear (or should not bear) any visible trace of the
complexity of the voter’s investments in the process or its outcome. Once the choice
is made, the vote becomes detached from its entanglement in a particular place,
time and personal experience. It is rare, as the case of American presidential election
of 2000 demonstrates, that this framing is challenged and disintegrates as each
technical component is scrutinised.2
Such a perspective – on the technology of politics – does indicate limitations to
those accounts of politics that primarily view politics in terms of struggles and
negotiations between classes, interests and movements (as is normal in political
sociology). It is also suggestive of the weaknesses of those accounts of politics that
focus on questions of identity and discourse at the expense of an analysis of the
technical and institutional forms which politics takes.3 It points to the fact that
politics, as conventionally understood, is actually a rather specialist activity, which
is associated with particular techniques and practices. Sociology has tended to
want to find politics in everything, including in the discourse of economics. But it
should not be forgotten that there is a specificity to politics. Max Weber’s sense of
the importance of considering the particular characteristics of politics as a vocation
has often been forgotten in the effort to expand our sense of politics.4
Nonetheless, focusing on the technology of politics makes politics too much of
a technical and instrumental matter. The Foucaultian analysis of technologies of
government seems to fall into this trap.5 Politics, after all, is both about contestation,
and the containment of contestation. It is about the possibility of governing, and
about questioning and disrupting the conditions for government.6 It is about conflict,
negotiation and the resolution of conflict. For government to be possible it is
necessary to reach common decisions, however arbitrary, negotiated and provisional
such decisions are. The fact that such common decisions have to be arrived at in
the face of persisting disagreement and in the absence of ‘rational’ justification is
one of the persisting circumstances of politics. Jeremy Waldron makes the point
succinctly:

The prospect of persisting disagreement must be regarded, I think, as one of


the elementary conditions of modern politics. Nothing we can say about politics
makes much sense if we proceed without taking this condition into account.
We may say … that disagreement among citizens as to what they should do,
as a political body, is one of the circumstances of politics. It is not all there is
to the circumstances of politics, of course: there is also the need to act together,
even though we disagree about what we do … the circumstances of politics
86 Andrew Barry
are a coupled pair: disagreement wouldn’t matter if people didn’t prefer a
common decision; and the need for a common decision would not give rise to
politics as we know it if there wasn’t at least the potential for disagreement
about what the common decision would be.
(Waldron 1999: 153–4)7

In this context, it is useful to make a distinction between politics – as a set of


technical practices, forms of knowledge and institutions – and the political as an
index of the space of disagreement. An action is political, in this latter sense, to
the extent that it opens up the possibility for disagreement. Political disagreements
will, in general, take established forms and occur between clearly identifiable
political actors and positions. Yet the conduct of specific actions may have political
effects precisely in so far as they cannot be understood in the conventional terms
of political discourse. Georgio Agamben, for example has discussed the way in
which the events of Tiananmen Square had political consequences not because
they were a reflection or articulation of a particular political interest or ideology
but precisely in so far as they subverted the frame within which politics was
conventionally understood in China (Agamben 1993: 84–6). In a different context,
Vololona Rabeharisoa and Michel Callon have studied the new forms of association
between patients’ groups and scientists which disrupt the boundaries which have
conventionally existed between experts and publics (Rabeharisoa and Callon 1999;
Callon 1999).
Seen in these terms, what is commonly termed politics is not necessarily – or
generally – political in its consequences. Politics can often be profoundly anti-
political in its effects; suppressing potential spaces of contestation; placing limits
on the possibilities for debate and confrontation. Indeed, one might say that one
of the core functions of politics has been, and should be, to place limits on the
political. Politicians, officials and activists have developed a remarkable set of skills
in containing and channelling the form and direction of political disagreement.
Such skills, in using available institutional procedures, in holding public inquiries,
in maintaining organisational or party discipline, in understanding how to draw
up legislation, in using the possibilities for patronage and developing voting
procedures, in creating arrangements where consensus can be reached, and in
managing the press and public relations and so on, are often extraordinarily
technical. Just as we might investigate the place played by economics, marketing
and accountancy in the formation of markets, so too we might consider the
importance of political science, political theory and public opinion research in
justifying and informing the conduct of anti-politics, and reproducing particular
forms of anti-political action. 8
To recognise that a lot of politics (and much political theory and philosophy)
has anti-political effects is not necessarily to denounce it. There are huge differences
in the forms of anti-political action that exist; ranging from those which recognise
the value of disagreement to those which, through the use of censorship, force or
violence, suppress any form of opposition. A democratic society is one which places
particular value on the right to dissent and to contest, but the defence of this
The anti-political economy 87
political norm should exist in conjunction with the protection and enhancement
of other cultural, economic and political rights.9 In such a society, legislation is not
grounded in reason, and rarely in a consensus, but may be justified in relation to
the needs of the collective to reach agreement on matters of common interest,
while recognising the necessary existence of continuing disagreement about what
the collective is, what its needs are, and what is of common interest. Isabelle Stengers
uses this as a starting point for a positive definition of political science:

The specialist in political science deals with a dimension of human societies


that is not the material for an ‘objective’ definition, practiced in ‘the name of
science’, because in itself this dimension corresponds to an invention of
definitions. Who is a citizen? What are his or her rights and duties? Where
does the private end? Where does the public begin?
(Stengers 2000: 59)

In politics the collective is not a given, but an entity in process.10 The fact that
there is never likely to be a consensus about what the collective is and what individual
rights and duties are does not prevent the emergence of a common view. Conversely
the need for a common view does not make the fact of disagreement evaporate.
“Instead it means that the basis for common action in matters of justice have to be
forged in the heat of our disagreements” (Waldron 1999: 155). In general, legislation
and technical regulation have the effects of placing actions and objects (provision-
ally) outside the realm of public contestation, thereby regularising the conduct of
economic and social life, with both beneficial and negative consequences. The
divisions between the realm of political contestation, on the one hand, and the
realms of law, administration, science and the economy on the other are always
temporary and, in principle, contestable. Those engaged in politics are necessarily
concerned with the tension and the relation between political and anti-political
activity; between the politicisation and the depoliticisation of other realms.

The politics of calculation


But what of the specific relation between politics, technology and the economy?
In what way can the organisation and operation of markets either become a political
matter, or be prevented from becoming so? And what role does scientific and
technical calculation have in these processes?
A starting point for thinking about these issues is the opposition, which is often
drawn by sociologists, between calculation and politics. In sociology, from Weber
onwards, calculation is often regarded as an essentially anti-political instrument,
in the sense used here. Calculation is thought to reduce the space of the political
and to limit the possibility for disagreement. When situations become calculable it
is taken to indicate the fact that political contestation has ended. There is something
of this argument in The Laws of the Markets, although it is reformulated in terms of
the concept of framing. A situation becomes calculable, according to Callon, when
it has become framed. “No calculation is possible without this framing which allows
88 Andrew Barry
one to provide a clear list of the entities, states of the world, possible actions and
expected outcomes of these actions” (Callon 1998: 19). The performance of
calculation and the formation of calculable agents depend on the existence of a
frame. But how does this occur? How are situations framed, such that calculation
becomes possible at all?
Consider one example – the measurement of urban pollution caused by cars.
Pollution typically takes the form of what Callon calls an overflow (Callon 1998:
250–5). It frequently exists outside of the frame of normal economic calculation.
All the effects of a car purchase on noise, the safety of children, on local levels of
carbon monoxide and ozone, and on global warming, are simply not taken into
account when a car is purchased – or at least they are unlikely to be consciously
taken into account in the transaction between the buyer and seller.
However, this situation may change once a local authority places pollution
monitoring devices next to the road, and car drivers are fined for driving polluting
cars.11 The frame can shift. The possibility of being fined might begin to affect the
driver’s calculations about what car she drives and to what extent she keeps it in a
good state of repair. In being made visible through measurement and through the
operation of the law, it is hoped that pollution will enter into the frame of the car
driver’s decisions. She might choose to buy a car which uses a cleaner fuel, or has
lower emissions, or abandon the car altogether. Likewise, the environmental costs
of motoring might enter into the manufacturers’ calculations as well – as govern-
ments – receiving more and more negative environmental information from the
streets – raise fuel taxes and create tax differentials between more and less polluting
forms of fuel and more or less fuel efficient vehicles. Through measurement,
overflows become calculable. The costs of such overflows become factored into
specific economic transactions, in ways that the immediate participants may not
always be aware.
This is a version of the old sociological story about rationalisation. Through
measurement, a whole range of objects and problems become brought into the
frame of economic calculation. In this way, scientific measurement and economic
calculation have largely anti-political, but arguably beneficial, effects. Calculation
increases reflexivity about the organisation of the market, but it also effects a
reduction in the potential space of political conflict. When they meet in the
showroom, the car buyer and the car seller do not enter into a heated controversy
about the politics of global warming or the effects of cars on the health of school-
children or on asthma sufferers. In various ways these have already been made
calculable by others – working in Whitehall, Brussels and in laboratories in Paris
and Munich. The political differences and moral dilemmas of car buyers have
been partially resolved elsewhere. Those involved in the market do not worry about
morality or politics, not because they are immoral or apolitical, but because
enormous efforts have been made to make morality and politics calculable, and
make them happen in other places. The use of measurement, in combination with
regulation, policing and the law serve to reduce the possibility of political conflict
over the purchase and use of cars.
The impressive efforts to measure urban air pollution are indicative of a broader
The anti-political economy 89
trend. Recent years have witnessed increasing activity on the part of government,
consumer and environmental groups and standardisation bodies to monitor the
properties and effects of technical practices. A vast number of engineers and natural
and social scientists are engaged not in research but in the business of measuring
and monitoring properties.12 Such measurement activities are conducted for the
purposes of environmental monitoring, quality control and assurance, market
regulation or consumer advice. At the same time, in more or less rigorous ways,
consumers themselves are involved in this enterprise. Increasingly, in the interest
of environmental protection and fuel economy, individuals and families have
themselves been encouraged to monitor their use of technology and have been
given the information to do so.13
Callon and his colleagues have spoken of an economy of qualities in which the
measurement of properties becomes increasingly important (Callon et al., this
volume). This idea can be extended. It is possible to talk today of a government of
qualities, and of the critical role of various levels of government in both fostering
and extending this economy and in funding and regulating what I would call
metrological regimes.14 In the UK, the garage mechanic who performs the MoT test
on the car, to see if its exhaust emissions meet national and European standards, is
a typical member of a metrological regime.15 The mechanic’s practices have the
effect of translating a particular framing of a political debate (about pollution)
into the economic field. In a mediated form, his metrological work also plays a
critical role in the calculations of buyers and sellers concerning the value of the
car. In this way, politics and the market are connected to each other, but political
confrontation does not come to interfere with market transactions.16

The instability of framing


But the situation is more complex than this. Measurement and calculation do not
only have anti-political effects. They do not just have the effect of restricting political
controversy in the economic field. They also, at the same time, provide the basis
for an opening up of new objects and sites of disagreement. In what follows, I
discuss two specific issues. One concerns what I term the fragility of metrological
regimes. The second issue concerns the inventiveness of measurement practices.

The fragility of metrological regimes


While the enormous efforts of the authorities to measure pollution look impressive
from a distance, the whole apparatus of measurement and calculation is much
more fragile than it first appears. In part this fragility is a function of the weakness
of standardised metrological regimes when judged against the more complex
analyses that often derive from on-going research. In the case of routine air pollution
measurement, for example, from the point of view of research scientists such
information is massively overproduced.17 Measurements of air pollution in the
city only occur at particular points and it is very difficult to say what air pollution
is at other places in the city, even a hundred yards away from the point at which a
90 Andrew Barry
permanent air quality monitoring device is placed.18 Certainly, it is almost impossible
to establish an exact correlation between air pollution measurements and health
statistics, except in extreme conditions. Greater levels of pollution certainly do
contribute to bad health but it is very difficult to say how much (Barry 2001: 170).
Moreover, despite the efforts of garage mechanics to measure the levels of pollution
from car exhausts, such measurements may actually have surprisingly little relation
to the performance of cars on the road. In the mechanic’s garage, the composition
of the exhaust fumes from the car is measured when the engine is idling.19 On the
road, however, the exhaust is likely to contain the highest concentrations of
pollutants when the car is starting, or in a traffic jam, or accelerating rapidly, and
there is no straightforward relation between such concentrations and the
concentrations of common pollutants as measured in the garage. A car that fails
the mechanic’s test in the garage may, in practice, produce lower levels of pollution
on the road than one that passes the test. In the garage the car is abstracted from
the complexity of the relations within which it exists at other times. On the road,
it always functions in conjunction with a driver and in relation to a whole series of
other entities including other cars, traffic lights, fog, rain, speed cameras and
policemen.20 Increasing efforts are made to measure pollution levels but for scientists
it is very difficult to know what the results of these activities mean. One could tell
a comparable story about other metrological regimes. In general, the formation
and legitimacy of metrological regimes increasingly rely on the use of standardised
procedures.21 Yet standardised procedures will not be able to capture the complexity
of objects and practices in actuality. Moreover, once established and diffused,
metrological regimes based on the use of common standards may be difficult to
transform, despite a recognition of their weaknesses. Their limitations may be
difficult or costly to rectify.22
Certainly, routine monitoring and measurement activities often have anti-
political effects. Governments, environmental organisations, laboratories and firms
may all apply themselves to the task of increasing the quantity and enhancing the
accuracy of environmental data. Attention is devoted to improving the practice of
monitoring and testing. Garage mechanics are required to do further training to
make sure that their measurements are comparable with each other. But this vast
metrological regime is much more fragile than one might imagine. The situation
has been framed – in the sense that a whole series of other questions about urban
pollution and urban politics have been displaced (Rydin 1998) but the organisation
of any regime is always open to the possibility of contestation. There is an
agreement, whether consensual or forced, to accept the truth of measurements
and the legitimacy of the regulatory practices with which they are associated, but
this agreement is not grounded in science, but in the much more uncertain
procedures of metrological practice (Latour 1999a: 258–9).
In these circumstances the work of scientists can have political rather than anti-
political effects. For scientific work can identify the weaknesses in this vast exercise
in routine monitoring and measurement. Potentially at least, far from restricting
the space of contestation, further scientific calculations may serve to open it up.
They may reveal the limitations of all the investments of governments and
The anti-political economy 91
environmental organisations in monitoring pollution levels. Indeed, in the case of
air quality measurement it is relatively easy for research scientists to demonstrate
the weaknesses of existing metrological regimes.23
To be sure, there is no general political crisis about how car exhaust fumes are
measured or how air quality is monitored on the street. Consumers simply accept
the validity of the test, and environmentalists press for further increases in the
level of monitoring. But in other cases the weaknesses of metrological regimes are
revealed. Consider, in particular, the case of BSE. Despite the huge investments in
the inspection of farms and abattoirs, for example, the limitations of such inspection
regimes have become apparent. After many years, there is still no commonly
accepted method for ensuring that beef is safe to eat across Europe.
Given that routine metrology is so weak to further interrogation, how do
metrological regimes survive? There are two possible options. One option is to
protect the fragility of metrological regimes. Measurements and assessments are
routinely conducted, by abattoir inspectors, garage mechanics, structural
engineers, financial analysts, auditors and so on, but the form and content of
their assessments are rarely subject to wider scrutiny and debate. To be sure, the
ways in which the fragility of metrological regimes are protected are various.
They depend on the use of a range of anti-political devices. An explanation of
why it took so long for BSE to be recognised might include, for example, discussion
of the particular culture of scientific advice in Britain, the existence of a culture
of secrecy in government, the role of the farming lobby and a failure to adopt a
precautionary policy in the context of scientific uncertainty.24 In the other
instances, the fragility of metrological regimes relies on the fact that metrology
itself is given a market value. For example, in the British context, much regulatory
and measurement work is contracted. Government laboratories have come to
have a semi-privatised existence, acting as agencies of central government and,
potentially, competing with other agencies for government business. They “sell”
their advice to central government. According to the private company, Serco,
which manages the government laboratory responsible for fundamental
measurement standards, there is no conflict between an orientation towards the
market and a public sector ethos.

Serco has a particularly strong culture that embodies people, ethics and an
ethos that enables us to work easily with public sector bodies. We adopt a
stance towards customer relationships that can be reconciled with the provision
of public services through the private sector. This is not an artificial stance
that we have taken with a view to a particular market – it is a culture that has
become embedded because it describes the organisation we wish to be.25

This contractual arrangement – amongst other factors – has made it difficult


for scientists to raise questions about the reliability of metrological regimes even if
they so wanted. Once their knowledge is sold to government, they may simply be
unaware of how their knowledge is represented in public by government officials
and ministers.26 At the same time, because they depend on government for business,
92 Andrew Barry
laboratories that sell their services may be less likely to produce conclusions that
criticise government policy.
The second option is to open up metrological regimes to greater scrutiny and
to acknowledge the weaknesses of measurement and the uncertainties of economic
and scientific calculations. In the wake of the BSE crisis, amongst other problems,
there are some indications of movements towards this option.27 In Britain and
France there have been calls for demands for more constructive debates between
experts and publics. Some writers have framed the need for a greater level of
dialogue between experts and publics in terms of the notion of risk.28 “When
society has problems with science, it is often over questions of uncertainty and
risk” (House of Lords 2000: 7). But the issues are much wider. As Michel Callon
argues elsewhere, many of the debates associated with BSE, GMOs and, most
recently, foot-and-mouth disease have not been narrowly concerned with the issue
of risk. They have involved a much wider set of issues including the role of
American multinationals, agricultural employment and sustainability, the ethics
of intensive farming and the dominant market position of supermarket chains. In
short, recent years have seen increasing demands for a politicisation of the
technological economy.29

The inventiveness of measurement


Metrology puts new objects into circulation. It multiplies realities by creating objects
that can be regarded neither as reflections of reality, nor the expressions of the
social subjects who created them. Reality is not a blank screen onto which social
categories can be projected. Metrology creates new objects that make a difference
in the world. When it is presented as information, measurements do not merely
inform – they make demands on those who should be informed (Strathern 1999,
2000). In so far as it is treated as the source of information, metrology has
performative and regulative consequences.
Consider the importance of measurements of, and experiments on, metal fatigue
in rail tracks following the rail crash at Hatfield, on the main line north of London,
in October 2000.30 At Hatfield, a train travelling from London King’s Cross to
Leeds derailed while travelling at 115 miles per hour. It soon became clear that the
accident had been caused by a broken rail. According to the owners of the track,
Railtrack plc, within hours Railtrack engineers had “identified some significant
deterioration in the condition of the rail”.31 Later it was stated in public that this
was likely to have been caused by “gauge corner cracking”, itself the result of
metal fatigue. Despite reports in January 2000 by engineers working for the
Railtrack sub-contractor, Balfour Beatty, that the Hatfield track should have been
re-railed, the track had not been re-railed, nor had speed restrictions been imposed
in order to reduce the stress on the weakened track. Later reports highlighted the
systematic underinvestment of Railtrack in track repair, the lack of engineering
expertise in the Railtrack board, and the failure to maintain an adequate
programme of monitoring of the state of railway infrastructure. The company
did not have a detailed register of its assets or their condition. Assessments of the
The anti-political economy 93
conditions of track that had been made were not systematic, coordinated, nor
acted upon. The Hatfield crash was not an accident.32
To be sure, metal fatigue in railway track is difficult to detect, to investigate and
to analyse. First, laboratory simulations are extraordinarily inexact. Tracks in
laboratories can never be subjected to the same range of temperature variations,
surface contamination, and stress resulting from complex variations in train speed
and load, which they will be subjected to in commercial use. The level of track
lubrication, which varies considerably with weather conditions and the form of
track maintenance, significantly affects crack growth, for poorly understood
reasons.33 Second, it may be difficult to locate or detect cracks caused by metal
fatigue on rails in use. Indeed, according to the UK government Health and Safety
Executive, the ultrasound equipment commonly used to detect cracks on railways
may not have been able to detect the kind of cracks found in the rails at Hatfield.
The Hatfield cracks may have been too slanted from the vertical:

The [ultrasound] techniques [used on British railways] allow for rail to be


classified as ‘untestable’ under certain circumstances, in particular, when metal
has been lost from the rail surface by a process known as ‘spalling’ which
appears to have been the case at Hatfield. Laboratory examination has revealed
that the transverse fatigue cracks present in the Hatfield rail were located in
the angular range 20°–35° from the vertical. Hence, had the rail been testable
it is possible that all the fatigue cracks would not have been detected.
(HSE 2001: 13)

But, following a crash, however difficult they are to interpret, and however
inexact and contested earlier observations and measurements of rail track fatigue
had been, they have to be taken into account. They demand a response on the
part of those who are in receipt of such information. They have an immediate
regulative effect. “Railtrack acted swiftly to accept responsibility for the terrible
accident at Hatfield. Railtrack’s actions since the accident have been taken in the
light of the lessons learned from the initial investigation and the engineering
understanding of gauge corner cracking.”34 Given the uncertainties in the science
of metal fatigue and the evident weaknesses of its existing metrological regime,
Railtrack responded with extreme caution. Speed restrictions were immediately
imposed throughout the UK railway network, causing chaos as it was no longer
possible to keep to existing timetables.
Sociologists have sometimes wanted to find political or sectional interests
embedded in the calculations of experts (Callon and Latour 1992). But the case of
the rail track suggests a different conclusion. In this case, the observations of the
Health and Safety Executive and the calculations of experts about fatigue in rail
tracks had political effects precisely because such calculations are not reducible to
politics. Metallurgy and mechanical engineering – the most material of disciplines,
which contain no obvious traces of political impurity – proved to be the most
profoundly political in their effects.35 Because they were not associated with any
particular political doctrine, the mechanics of metal fatigue raised questions about
94 Andrew Barry
the viability of a model of economic organisation based on the regulation of private
monopolies. Far from having anti-political effects, the calculations of engineers
had political resonances.36 They flooded across the political field. Demonstrations
of the state of rail tracks were political demonstrations of a kind, but they were
not ones that could be associated with any identifiable political actors. As a result,
they were much more difficult to police than demonstrations conducted in the
street. Fatigue cannot be explained away as the expression of particular political
interests. It exists, as Whitehead would say, as a stubborn fact.37
In Isabelle Stengers’ account, an event can be understood as a creator of
difference. It is in the middle of a field of effects, which does not mean that it is the
cause of such effects. An event has a factual existence, yet this existence does not
pre-determine the response to it, but creates the necessity of a response (Stengers
1997: 215–16). The force of an event is itself in question. It is resisted only when
its existence is ignored:

The scope of the event is part of its effects, of the problem posed in the future
it creates. Its measure is the object of multiple interpretations, but it can also
be measured by the very multiplicity of these interpretations: all those who, in
one way or another, refer to it or invent a way of using it to construct their
own position, become part of the event’s effect. In other words, every reading
– even a reading that denounces the event as a fake – still situates the one who
proposes the reading as an heir, as belonging to the future whose creation the
event contributed to.
(Stengers 2000: 67–8)

In this sense, the failure of the track at Hatfield turned out to be a political
event. It became the centre of actions, questions and responses on the part of a
vast range of agencies that were compelled to respond to the fact of the crash.
The stubborn fact of metal fatigue demanded a response, yet the course of this
response could not be predicted. This response was not merely technical. However
briefly, it raised questions concerning the relations between the organisation of
markets, the management of companies, the role of engineers and the performance
of technology. It served to reveal the inadequacies of the particular form of market
organisation, which had been established through the privatisation of the railways.
For a few months, ‘Hatfield’ came to occupy the centre of field of political activity
that went far beyond the local problems of repairing a particular stretch of track.

Politics and the technological economy


This chapter began with a discussion of politics of a conventional kind: the politics
of elections, political parties and governments. This form of politics relies on a
careful framing of political actions and events. It demands the development of
anti-political as well as political technique. Parliamentary architecture and
procedure, press management and public relations, organisational discipline, policy
analysis and focus groups, party membership and polling stations provide just some
The anti-political economy 95
of the array of devices and forms of knowledge that serve to contain and channel
the space of politics. Political actions and events are framed, and they are kept
separated, as far as is possible, from any contamination by the economic field.
Although political actors are always entangled in more or less complex networks
of economic relations and financial obligations and transactions, somehow
miraculously, the vast technical apparatus of politics manages to keep these fields
more or less distinct,38 although the exceptions seem to be increasingly common.39
A vote in an election or in parliament should bear no visible traces of economic
interests any more than the money exchanged for a car bears any visible traces of
political ideology.
The increasing importance of measurement and information in the economy
might be thought to have anti-political effects. Governments have become less
concerned with questions of distribution and public ownership, and more
concerned with fostering a culture of regulation, monitoring, measurement,
auditing, testing and compliance.40 And all these activities – the whole government of
qualities, to echo Callon – can be delegated to experts. Metrology – in all its forms
– becomes a secure relay between the political and the economic fields. It connects
them, yet keeps them distinct and pure.
But this is not exactly what happens. On the one hand, the development and
preservation of these new metrological regimes actually requires a lot of anti-
political work. Measurement activities are much more vulnerable to interrogation
than one might imagine. Metrology, in itself, does not have the resources to defend
itself against interrogation. Institutions need either to be protected from external
scrutiny, or external scrutiny must be managed in a way that does not provoke an
excessive politicisation. Contracts need to be awarded to bodies that can be trusted.
Reports and information must be released at the appropriate time to the appropriate
audiences.41 The appropriate persons needed to be appointed to committees.42 In
so far as external scrutiny does occur, it must be channelled and organised through
the organisation of public enquiries and democratic forums. Measurement activities
do not increase reflexivity in general. They intensify it in certain directions (Power
1997). On the other hand, measurement can have political effects. It can reveal
objects and phenomena which cannot be merely explained away as expressions of
political or economic interests. Far from creating a clean and secure connection
between the world of politics and the world of the economy, measurement becomes
a conduit for contamination. The organisation of economic activity becomes a
political matter.

Acknowledgements
Thanks to Mike Michael for his comments on the chapter and to Catherine Pitt
for helping me to understand the mechanics of rail track fatigue. Thanks above all
to David Owen for his extensive comments and contribution to the argument.
96 Andrew Barry
Notes
1 cf. Waldron (1999, chapter 6).
2 See the collection of papers on the US presidential election brought together in the
June 2001 issue of Social Studies of Science. As Mike Lynch notes, the media coverage of
the election drew attention to the “local contingencies associated with the politico-
techniques of voting and vote counting” (Lynch 2001: 417).
3 See, for example, Butler, Laclau and *i)ek (2000).
4 A sense of the specificity of politics as a practice and an experience is suggested in the
work of Michael Oakeshott in his criticism of rationalist accounts of politics (Oakeshott,
1962) in his criticism of rationalist accounts of politics.
5 cf. Barry et al. (1995).
6 Political theorists have tended to want to place emphasis on one side of this equation
or the other. See, for example, the different perspectives on the political collected
together by Seyla Benhabib (1996). Political theorists are divided over the question of
whether the goal of politics should be the end of politics or its continuation. Should
politics lead to consensus and agreement or should it, as Bonnie Honig argues, “affirm
the inescapability of conflict and the ineradicability of resistance” (Honig 1996: 258).
7 My thanks to David Owen for both the argument and the reference to Waldron’s
work.
8 Although see Bonnie Honig (1993) on the association of the dominant tradition of
political theory with the justification of anti-politics.
9 Hannah Arendt (1964) argued that a social and economic justification for the anti-
politics of administration and management historically subverted and displaced the
value of democratic freedom.
10 For an expansion of the notion of the collective that includes non-humans as well as
humans see Latour (1999b: 351). Latour draws here on the philosophy of AN
Whitehead (1929, 1985).
11 cf. Latour (1999a: 186).
12 The development of metrology in natural science and engineering on a large scale is
a nineteenth-century phenomenon. On the history of metrology see, in particular, the
essays collected in Wise (1995). In the advanced industrial countries, metrological
work is a major recipient of public money. Institutions involved include the National
Bureau of Standards in the USA, the National Physical Laboratory and the Laboratory
of the Government Chemist in the UK, and numerous international organisations.
13 In the UK this has taken the form of public information campaigns on such matters
as air pollution, the possible effects of the use of mobile phones on children, domestic
insulation, vaccination and AIDS. The relation of experts to the public has shifted
from one in which the public are primarily addressed as uninformed to one in which
they are addressed as individuals who require and demand information in order to
make choices (Rose 1999; Barry 2001, chapters 6 and 7).
14 On the history of metrological regimes see the essays collected in Wise (1995). A
metrological regime is a zone in which measurement has come to take relatively
standardised forms.
15 As the example of the garage mechanic suggests, many of the elements of such
metrological regimes are to be found in the private sector. Indeed, it is a feature of
contemporary forms of government that the state increasingly delegates responsibility
for measurement activities to other agencies (Barry 2001).
16 See Slater (this volume) for further analysis of this point.
17 Interviews, London, 1996–7.
18 Penn et al. (1996).
19 Testing procedures are quite different in different countries. In Germany, for example,
testing is not delegated to private garages that may be unreliable and poorly equipped.
The anti-political economy 97
20 Mike Michael develops the notion of the co-agent to describe the existence of entities
(such as the driver-car) which contain both human and non-human elements (Michael
2000: 93). In this case the significant relation is between two different co-agents – the
driver-car (the agent of pollution) and the street-person (who breathes polluted air).
The heterogeneity of such co-agents is difficult to capture through the development
of standardised metrological regimes.
21 Rather than the relatively unstandardised observations of individual professionals and
laypersons, for example (Osborne 1992).
22 On the lack of reversibility of techno-economic arrangements and the association
between irreversibilisation and standardisation see Callon (1991: 151).
23 See, for example, Hickman and McCrae (1995) and Sadler (1996).
24 An excellent review of the literature on the BSE crisis is given by Seguin (2000). On
the precautionary principle see Dratwa (2000).
25 http://www.serco.com/uk/au_009.htm, my emphasis. The policy of establishing
government research and development institutions as either privatised or autonomous
agencies developed under the conservative governments of the 1980s and 1990s.
However, the idea that government laboratories should “sell” their advice to
government has a much longer history. As early as 1972 Lord Rothschild established
the so-called customer-contractor principle for government science (Department of
Industry 1972). However, a much more significant shift occurred in the late 1980s and
early 1990s when most government laboratories (with the exception of defence research
laboratories) became agencies and were run by private companies. The National
Physical Laboratory was semi-privatised in 1995 and is now operated on behalf of
the Department of Trade and Industry by NPL Management Limited, a wholly owned
subsidiary of Serco (www.npl.co.uk).
26 Interviews, Transport Research Laboratory 1996.
27 In Britain see, in particular, House of Lords (2000). “A meaningful response to the
need for more or better dialogue between the public and science in the United Kingdom
requires us to go beyond event-based initiatives like consensus conferences or citizens’
juries. The United Kingdom must change existing institutional terms of reference
and procedures to open them up to more substantial influence and effective inputs
from diverse groups” (ibid.: 7).
28 Particularly following the work of Ulrich Beck (1992, 1995).
29 Callon (this volume). Such demands have not just come from social movements and
activists. In response to the outbreak of Foot-and-Mouth disease in pigs, sheep and
cattle in the UK in February 2001, Prime Minister Tony Blair spoke of the “arm-
lock” which the major supermarkets had over “you people” (the farmers). “Blair woos
farmers in price ‘arm lock’ ”, Guardian, 2 March 2001, “Law to break supermarkets’
grip on farmers”, Observer, 4 March 2001.
30 Paul Virilio (2000) notes that the history of the technological invention is also a history
of technological accidents.
31 First HSE interim report, cited in House of Commons (2000).
32 “Why an accident like Hatfield was waiting to happen”, Financial Times, 22 February
2001. Ulrich Beck has argued that technological hazards are a manifestation of social
imperfection. “It is not something external but itself that society encounters in the
hazards that convulse it, and the reigning paralysis can only be overcome in so far as
society apprehends the hazards as signposts to its own history and its own corrigibility”
(Beck 1995: 159).
33 Interview with Catherine Pitt, Cambridge, February 2001. According to her: “These
studies did not include a range of track conditions, and so the effects of varying axle
load and train speed cannot be examined. Only heavy haul lines were investigated:
the wear situation may be quite different on high speed lines. There is also the fact
that real rails experience a much larger range of environmental conditions than steels
in wear tests. There is the possibility of quite large temperature variations,
98 Andrew Barry
contamination of the rail surface by dirt and dead leaves, and lubrication by rain or
snow” (Pitt 2000: 25).
34 Railtrack response to Select Committee report, 14 December 2000, http://
www.railtrack.co.uk/corporate/noticeboard/article.cfm
35 In this context, I take mechanical engineering and metallurgy to refer not just to
academic disciplines but to an array of specific technical practices with which they are
associated. In this case, such practices include grinding, monitoring, repairing and
lubricating sections of track.
36 Following the Hatfield crash the Labour government were unable to follow through
with their plan to privatise UK air-traffic control operations. The government were
also forced to compromise over their plan to privatise the London Underground in
the face of opposition from the Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, and the Chief
Executive of London Underground, Bob Kiley.
37 In Whitehead’s analysis the notion of the “stubborn fact” refers to the capacity of
arrangements of social and natural entities (“organisms”) to set limits on possible events:
“The macroscopic meaning [of the organism] is concerned with the givenness of the
actual world, considered as a stubborn fact which at once limits and provides
opportunity for the actual occasion” (Whitehead 1978: 129).
38 Even if they are revealed. Although the funding of political parties or radical organisa-
tions is often apparent, this does not mean that it is easy to establish a connection
between economic interests and political positions and activities.
39 Consider, for example, the scandals and events associated with the names of Helmut
Kohl, Peter Mandelson, Edith Cresson, Neil Hamilton, Bill Clinton amongst others.
On the history of political scandal see Thompson (2000).
40 See, in particular, Power (1997), Rose (1999) and Strathern (2000).
41 In the European Commission all research and development programmes were formally
evaluated. However, those involved in commissioning evaluation were acutely aware
of the need to control the production and circulation of evaluation reports (Barry and
Rose 1995).
42 The development of effective institutional forms of anti-politics long predates the
development of the audit culture. While the recent critical interest in the emergence
of the “audit culture” is important, there is a real danger of romanticising the regime
which preceded it.

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Technology, politics and the market 101

5 Technology, politics and the


market
An interview with Michel Callon
Interview conducted by Andrew Barry and
Don Slater1

Andrew Barry: One way to start would be to think about the relation between your
work on markets and your earlier work on the anthropology of science and
technology. There is a movement: a generalisation from some of the earlier work
you’ve done on science and technology. How do you see the relation to the earlier
work?
Michel Callon: I think that there are three main relations between this work on
markets and the work on science and technology. The first is that the way we are
now studying social sciences is only an extension of the work done on the natural
sciences. It’s simply the continuation of anthropology of science, but an
anthropology of science which is concerned with economics in the broadest sense
of the term, including, for example, marketing and accountancy. The second reason
is the role of technologies in the structuring of economic markets. It is impossible
to think of markets and their dynamics without taking into account the materiality
of markets and the role of technological devices. The anthropology of technology
might be very helpful if we want to understand better how markets are stabilised
and organised. And the third reason is the work we have done on the links between
scientific research, academic research and the function of economic markets. I
have been very interested in explaining the exchanges between academic research
and economic markets. And I’ve been struck by the fact that economists have been
playing, although not alone, a very important role in designing institutions for the
organisation of the exchanges between scientific research and economic markets.
For example, if you take this very usual linear model, with the flow of knowledge
going from the scientific laboratory to the end consumer via the industry or
enterprise, you can recognise the role of economic theory in justifying this model.
The work done by Arrow and Nelson at the end of the 1950s and the theory of
science as a public good, has contributed strongly to perform this idea of an
autonomous scientific sphere that was disconnected from economic markets.
Moreover if you were to trace the genealogy from the Manhattan Project and
Vannevar Bush to Arrow and Nelson this would provide a good explanation of the
institutional configuration of science and economic activities in the 1960s, 1970s
and 1980s. So in trying to understand how science and economy were co-ordinated,
102 Michel Callon, Andrew Barry and Don Slater
I was struck by the role of what I call framing by economic theories. So for these
three reasons – because economics as such is a science and demands to be studied
by anthropology of science, because of the role of material and technical devices
in the functioning of markets, and because of the obvious performing role of
economic theories in explaining how science and economic markets interrelate –
it was impossible to avoid considering markets as constructed, and necessary to
emphasise the importance of technologies, including economics, in this very process
of construction.
Don Slater: That relation between science and markets is part of what is very exciting
about your work and produces connections and ways of thinking about the market
which would not otherwise have been possible. But the strong focus on seeing
markets in relation to science can also give a very technocratic reading of some of
the social processes around the market. For example, a lot of the argument about
externalities and overflowing could point to a highly politicised sphere of conflict
over market boundaries, whereas in a lot of your discussion it actually moves into
a much more technocratic area in which these look like disputes that can be solved
by developing a new metrics or by something like a scientific procedure. It sometimes
pushes the discussion into a sense of the possibility of a rather calmly negotiated
settlement between competing forces. It can point away from politics.
Michel Callon: Yes, I think there are these two possible options. If you consider, for
example, what economists call externalities and what I call overflow, you could say
that a way of integrating and internalising these externalities is simply to take
groups of interest into consideration and to extend the market. But in my mind
that’s not exactly the right way to understand what overflowing means because the
simple fact of framing economic activities creates, outside the market, emerging
identities that are political per se. So you cannot reduce the consequences of over-
flowing to a simple calculation of interest. I would say that what is created outside
the boundaries of the market is not something which is reducible to economic
calculations, because markets create new collective identities, that are not very
well defined. It’s impossible to take them into account without creating or setting
up a space, that is a political space in which these identities are discussed and
confronted with each other. So the consequence of overflowing is a constant
(re)creation of new political spaces. You could imagine a debate between techno-
cratic forces that insist upon the necessity or the possibility of reducing these
externalities to a simple account of interest. But there are other ways of organising
the political process in order to discuss these new identities, and the place of the
market activities in these new configurations. It is a question of a trial of strength
between technocratic approaches and more political forces.
Andrew Barry: Do you have in mind a normative model of the political space within
which overflows become identifiable?
Michel Callon: Yes, I think one of the duties of social sciences is precisely to contribute
to the explication or articulation of this political space. And what we have tried to do
in our recent book Agir dans un monde incertain: Essai sur la démocratie technique is precisely
Technology, politics and the market 103
to describe this space where the emerging identities created by technosciences’
overflows could be discussed and could be mobilised in order to compose, to constitute,
the collective. There’s a strange meshing of technosciences and economic markets
which produce what Marilyn Strathern calls the proliferation of new identities and
which constantly create new uncertainties about the constitution of the collective.
So this constant creation and proliferation of the social (or what we propose to call
emerging concerned groups) requires new procedures, new institutions, political
institutions, new forms of debates and so on.
Don Slater: To what extent does your normative version of democracy include the
market, and to what extent is it defined in opposition to the market? For many
years we’ve been caught between a political economy that cannot put market
processes within the democratic sphere, and neo-liberalism that simply subsumed
democracy to the market.
Michel Callon: I think it’s the same question. The same question arises in relation to
the technosciences and in relation to markets. What is new is precisely that you
cannot disconnect the two questions. The two questions are linked together: if you
want to solve the question of the democratic treatment of science and technology,
you have also to solve the question of the relations between economic markets and
democracy because of this interaction between scientific and technological
developments on the one hand and economic developments on the other. You
can’t separate technology and science from economic markets. So the two
institutions, I use this term, the two institutions are entangled. I think there’s now
really an opportunity because people are more aware of the possible or potential
consequences of technosciences, and more social groups are ready to mobilise
themselves in order to monitor science and technology. In the same way they have
become aware of the fact that markets have to be organised in order to make
possible certain technological or scientific developments. Because technological
and scientific overflows are fuelled by economic logics, the idea of markets as
political issues is becoming more and more thinkable. Yes, I think that the
connections between technosciences and economic markets make both the
orientation of technological developments and the organisation of the markets
more central and disputable.
Andrew Barry: Does this imply a normative model of citizenship? At the moment
the ideal of active citizenship is often promoted. Your suggestion seems to imply a
normative model of citizenship as well, but it may be different from that model.
Michel Callon: I think it is different because the usual model of citizenship is based
on individual achievements and individual wills. But if you consider overflows,
you don’t know who is concerned. Is it an individual? Is it a group of individuals?
Is it a hybrid collective, mixing humans and non-humans? Nobody is able to answer
this question. So it’s a principle of uncertainty about what the collective is made
of, or will be made of. This notion of citizenship is usually linked to the notion of
an individual or society made of individual citizens who have to be integrated,
and who have to be more active in order constantly to recreate and rebuild the
104 Michel Callon, Andrew Barry and Don Slater
social link. So our model is a very different one. Is it normative? Yes, obviously.
But not in a technocratic way. Because in the old configuration you have a separation
between science and political power, and you have a divide between lay people
and specialists on the one hand and ordinary individual citizens and professional
representatives on the other. This configuration produces a series of problems:
one of them being the passivity of the ordinary individual citizens who are created
by the configuration and who are, at the same time, forced to delegate for long
periods of time their will to their elected representatives and the production of
knowledge to professional experts or researchers. So in this old configuration, in
order to fill the gap constantly created by the double delegation, the only solution
is to make more active and more interactive, individual citizens. What I am saying
is that thanks to growing overflows this old configuration is in the process of being
dismantled. Innovative actors are experimenting with new configurations. More-
over, in this process of recomposition, you have new types of political regulation
appearing. The role of the social sciences is to try to make this evolution and the
forms of experimentation that are involved in it more visible. So I think it is
impossible to escape the question of normativity. Should we maintain the same
institutional frame as before when science, markets and political powers were very
strongly disconnected from each other or not?
Don Slater: I was wondering if you’d like to relate some of what you were saying to
Beck’s work, in particular the new configuration you’re talking about and the
normative concerns that arise from some sense of reflexivity. One could replace
the word ‘externality’ with the word ‘risk’, and say that they are overflowing with
risk. So the potential reflexivity of these institutions arises from a sense of danger.
Michel Callon: Not exactly a sense of danger and risk. I resist this idea of labelling
the society as a society of risk, for example, because it’s a very one-dimensional
way of defining the stakes and the issues. Seeing risks everywhere and arguing that
risk is a central concern for society tends to make very different situations
homogeneous. When you impose this notion of risk as an analytical category and
as a pragmatic category, you narrow the space of political debate. You can’t leave
the actors with the possibility of defining themselves what is at stake. I’m very
struck by the fact that in numerous socio-technical controversies the notion of risk
is simply absent. If you take, for example, the case of GMO, you have a lot of
different discourses about the existence or the non-existence of risks linked to
GMO. But if you look at the content of the debates of the social movements you
are obliged to recognise that the majority of actors don’t care at all about risks.
They are debating the organisation of global markets, the organisation of
agriculture development and jobs. So to say that we are in a society of risk is
simply misleading. We preferred to start with the broader and less socially coded
notion of social and technical uncertainties and with the idea of a collective
investigation aiming at reducing them.
Andrew Barry: The Risk Society is also an interesting case of the influence of sociology
in framing of markets. Look at the growth in the industry of Risk Management.
Technology, politics and the market 105
Michel Callon: Exactly, exactly. In our book on Agir dans un monde incertain we never
use the notion of risk. The notion of risk is a counterproductive one. It is a concept
that can be useful for political decision-makers and insurance companies, but not
for sociologists because we have to give room to actors and let them choose the
repertoire of the debates. It’s a way of imposing a certain form to political debate.
The idea, for example, of distributing risks between social groups or different
actors is a technocratic dream.
Andrew Barry: But it does raise a question: which is the question of historical change.
Beck likes to see the emergence of the Risk Society as a historical transformation.
And what you were implying is that there has been movement towards greater
overflows.
Don Slater: Could I just put it even more broadly. At a number of points you do put
forward a thesis of various institutions becoming more flexible, and that is a
historical development.
Michel Callon: Yes, the two points are linked and difficult to respond to. You could
have several entry points. The first is, I think it’s an empirical observation. Don’t
you agree with the fact that you can observe a multiplication of socio-technical
controversies? I think it’s difficult to contest this point. And if you admit this point,
you have to try to explain why such controversies are more and more frequent and
more difficult to manage from the point of view of existing institutions. For example,
the innovation of the precautionary principle could be viewed as a response to the
growing number of socio-technical debates. So you have several indicators showing
that something is emerging that, although not completely new, is more central
than it was before. And if you want to explain that, you have to listen to actors and
not to impose your own interpretation or your own analytical grid. If you listen to
the actors involved in such controversies, I think that you can hear two messages.
The first one is: ‘don’t leave experts and specialists the monopoly in the production
of knowledge and exclude social actors, lay, concerned groups and so on. We are
able to participate in this production of knowledge’. And the second point is about
the contestation of the divide between professional representatives, political
representatives and ordinary citizens. What is at stake in those fora is not the
distribution of risk, it is precisely the contestation of these two great divides between
the lay people and specialists and between ordinary citizens and professional or
political actors. I think that one of the possible explanations of these messages is
the existence of a new form of intricate relation between the technosciences and
economic markets. What is becoming central in these debates is a concern both to
transform the institutional conditions and direction of scientific research and to
transform the organisation of economic markets. I’m not saying that this is always
present but it’s very often discussed and debated in these public controversies.
Andrew Barry: It does seem that the question of the organisation of the market has
become much more central to technological controversies in a way in which it
perhaps wasn’t in the recent past.
106 Michel Callon, Andrew Barry and Don Slater
Michel Callon: I think it has become more important in European countries. I’m
not sure that in the States it’s exactly the same. But the situation might change. If
you take the case of European countries, you can say that what is debated is precisely
the organisation of markets. And for me, it’s a very new situation because before
the fall of the Berlin Wall, you had market economies on the one hand, and
bureaucratically planned economies on the other hand. But now I think that we
are freed of these dichotomies and of this opposition. Social actors are now aware
of the fact that the notion of market is a very large, ambiguous, polyvalent notion
and that it’s possible to shape the market, and to change its roots and its institutions.
The idea of the economy becoming political is again a growing idea and conviction.
So if you take the debates about intellectual property, about GMOs, about health
questions, food safety and so on, in all these debates the main question now is how
to organise markets. I don’t believe that all the groups have the capacity to partici-
pate in these debates, but it is now the case that economic markets are considered
as political issues.
Don Slater: I do have problems with this. In one sense it’s very obvious that markets
have always been political questions. We could talk about a whole nineteenth-
century history of working class opposition to markets. We could talk about huge
debates in the early twentieth century on the welfare state, often in relation to
working class movements. Such debates were very much about contesting the
natural shape of the market. You could actually say the opposite: in one sense the
most de-politicised period in the history of the market has been the neo-liberalism
of the last 20 years. Even social democratic parties, such as ours in Britain, now
certainly accept the market.
Michel Callon: Okay, I agree with your analysis. But the market is not this unified
category as it was in the nineteenth century, or even in the first half of the twentieth
century. I think that the paradox is as follows: everybody agrees that the market is
a very effective institution, but now it seems to me that more and more people
consider that there are various ways of organising concrete and specific markets.
So it’s a very different situation because you now have an abundance of ways of
seeing economic markets. The idea of the market as a unified category and
institution is progressively disappearing.
Don Slater: What bothers me about that is that it depends to some extent on who
you are listening to. If we’re saying that more social scientists are recognising that
markets are multiform and that they’re not peculiar to capitalism, or they’re not
particular to modernity, that’s true. There is evidently an increasing reflexivity in
the sense that there’s a language to talk about the diversity of market forms and
the political options we’ve had. That’s still different from saying that they weren’t
previously multiform. If one’s following some of the economic actors, they might
have been able to say a lot of these things to us generations ago. It’s simply our
discourses that have changed.
Andrew Barry: In comparison to a relatively recent past though, there is a new kind
of politicisation of the market today. The point which we haven’t really discussed
Technology, politics and the market 107
enough is the emergence of neo-liberalism and its different inflections in Britain
and France. We need to consider how neo-liberalism involved both deregulation
and depoliticisation, but has also brought re-regulation as well. A lot of the
recognition that the market has different political forms is about the sense that
actually one is engaged in a process of re-regulation.
Michel Callon: It’s a very important point. It’s not the same thing to say that markets
are multiform, and to argue that we need to have a debate on how to organise
markets. In Britain and France, for different reasons, we have arrived at this political
question. The organisation of markets depends on the nature of technologies, the
nature of professional activities that are involved in the markets and so on. I think
that the other way of making the point is to link this debate to the question of the
commodification of life. It’s not a new question but it’s a very central issue and the
way of answering this question is I think profoundly different now from the way
we used to phrase this question and to imagine answers to this question. The
metaphors of infrastructure and superstructure and the metaphor of embeddedness
are not helpful if we want to find answers to these questions. What I tried to do in
The Laws of the Markets was to replace these old metaphors by a new way of
describing transactions or relations that involves a double process of entanglement
and disentanglement. This notion of entanglement and disentanglement leads to
very different accounts of markets than the notions of infrastructures or
embeddedness.
Don Slater: This has caused great anguish amongst some economic sociologists.
Embeddedness has been so linked to a certain kind of humanism.
Michel Callon: Society is imagined as a context or as a frame. Society is out there
and you imagine how to put this strange beast, the market, in this frame. It’s another
version of the infrastructure and superstructure metaphor. You have realities that
are called markets or economic activities or society and what you try to imagine is
the respective positions of these realities. Developing an argument made in the
anthropology of science and technology, you must not imagine society as a context
for different types of activities including economic activities; you have to imagine
the process through which collective relations are constructed, including relations
that can be called economic relations. So it’s a reversal of the approach. The
notion of embeddedness has been very useful, but now we have to get rid of it.
The metaphors of entanglement and disentanglement are more productive because
they allow you to describe the omnipresence of commercial transactions and other
types of relations and, in the same movement, the process of boundary shifting.
Don Slater: That’s one of the things I’m very excited about. They are incredibly
powerful metaphors. One of the things I was trying to point to before though is
that the embeddedness metaphor also had a very strong moral agenda behind it,
which was about resisting a kind of reductionism. It was saying that whatever an
economist says, the way we go about our economic lives is actually deeply meaning-
ful, it’s informed by some sense, a fuller humanity than, for example, rational
choice. I think some of the resistance to your work has been that, certainly by
108 Michel Callon, Andrew Barry and Don Slater
some of the political economists, it has been interpreted as giving away that ground
again, of allowing something close to the kind of economic vision to come back
into the social and cultural field. And I think a lot of the reaction to The Laws of the
Markets has been this kind of worry.
Michel Callon: We have to get rid of this notion that economic goods are abstract,
disembodied and need culture to be added to them. As economic goods are the
outcome of a double process of disentanglement and entanglement, they are richer
products. It’s exactly the opposite to the process described by conventional economic
sociology. I think it’s amazing. I think one needs description of financial markets,
for example, and it’s easy to do in my opinion. What you would see is that in order
to produce alienation between two agents in one place, you have to produce more
and more attachments, relations and proximities between usually very distant agents.
For example, if you want to create a frame for the transaction between a trader
and a consumer in a financial market, the trader, the seller and the designer of the
financial product have to be very close to all the traders, banks, on all continents
and so on. So this is a double movement of producing more and more attachments
in order to frame this isolated place in which these alienated relations between
strangers are temporarily stabilised. I think one needs to describe this double
movement: the dual logics of markets. The more you produce attachment, the
more you are able to produce and to stabilise entanglement. The example given
by Miller could be interpreted exactly as following this line of analysis. He shows
very clearly the upstream work that makes the final commercial exchange
unavoidable and successful. On the one hand entanglements are investigated,
explored and made more explicit and visible, leading progressively to the attach-
ments of goods and humans; and on the other hand, through the same process,
supply and demand are adjusted, co-produced and this ground is carefully prepared
for the commercial transaction. That is the reason why it could be said, in a
paradoxical way, that in order to make disentanglement possible, economic agents
heavily invest in the production of entanglements! To disentangle you have first to
entangle better.
Andrew Barry: This leads to a question about vocabulary. In your earlier work you
spoke about similar kinds of processes using the vocabulary of what was called
actor-network theory at the time. You didn’t use the concepts of entanglement
and disentanglement. Is there anything at stake in the shift in vocabulary away
from the way in which you understood the relational character of scientific objects
in your earlier work?
Michel Callon: Yes, it’s a very good question and also a very difficult one! I have the
feeling that it’s using the notion of attachment, and of entanglement, that allows
us to describe more precisely the complicated relations in, for example, a
marketplace. Put in a nutshell: what science and technologies do is to maintain or
to make possible connections between frames and between different places. So
you are freed from this image of a multilevel society. You don’t need several layers,
different layers. You don’t need infrastructure and superstructure and
Technology, politics and the market 109
embeddedness. You only need places that are connected and the possibility for
actors and information to circulate from one place to another one. I think it’s a
point made by Bruno Latour, framing and connecting are the two faces of the
same coin. Technologies and sciences can be used to frame interactions, but also
to mobilise other places and to connect them to the place where interactions are
done. So the possibilities of connecting and framing are both linked to science and
technologies. If one can speak of markets as networks, or even of market structures,
it is because science and technology are constantly mobilised to connect, displace
and transport. I think that the processes of entanglement and attachment are
enhanced, multiplied or made easier by technologies or by sciences: because it
becomes possible to create strong relationships between places, between agents
that are very far from each other. I see science and technologies as the media
through which, or some of the media through which, this process of disentangle-
ment and entanglement is not only made possible, but enhanced and made easier.
In actor-network theory, the emphasis was put on these links, but not so much on
the process of entanglement and disentanglement. So the concepts of entanglement
and disentanglement describe the dynamics involved in reconfiguring entities and
networks of entities. I think it gives a more precise and more dynamic version. But
the very process of attachment between goods and humans still remains to be
explained. Our article on the economy of qualities is precisely intended to supply
these analytical tools.
Andrew Barry: It gives a sense of the process as a practical process. A lot of the
criticism of the actor-network model was that it was a textual model. It was unclear
how the model of the text applied to material objects, to processes and to practice.
Michel Callon: It was one of the criticisms. The other one was the actor-centred
analysis. In order to describe the dynamics of networks you need actors which
have objectives, goals and so on. If you use the idea that entanglement and
disentanglement are processes, the model of agency is very different. Your question
is very difficult, but my answer will be that in order to describe diversity of
interactions and relations, we have to diversify the notions used to describe these
relations. The network metaphor is too strongly related to technology and science.
And maybe the notions of attachment and detachment, entanglement and
disentanglement are more relevant to the description of markets. It is a difficult
question. Because if you consider that in a market there are several modalities of
co-ordination, or what Bruno Latour called enunciation, you probably are led to
consider that economic markets are a specific combination of these different types
of co-ordination. In a market you need technologies, sciences, and you probably
need forms of political representation and so on. So the problem is to describe the
diversity of relations, modalities of co-ordination or enunciation, the diversity of
all these relations that are mobilised in order to create a basis where commercial
transactions are possible. The problem is to explain how isolated frames are shaped,
allowing for the very specific relations in which goods or services are alienated and
commercial transactions are set up. And if you want to explain that, you have to
enrich the description of the connections or relations or processes in which agents
110 Michel Callon, Andrew Barry and Don Slater
are plunged. In order to create islands of commercial transactions, you have to
imagine a very rich web of various relations and I think the notions of entanglement
and disentanglement can describe, in a satisfying way, the double movement.
Don Slater: One of the questions about that metaphor is that it might capture the
kind of diversity and multiplication of relationships and possible connections and
in a sense put them on the same level and get a sense of the local. But is there any
level at which you would recognise not a multiplication but a homogenisation of
relationships. What happens to old categories like capital and class? I’ll be a crude:
political economists point out that certain structures and forms like property which
obviously do transcend any particular market (even if they depend on local circum-
stances and have diverse forms in particular places) are certainly established at a
much different level. It might be an old-fashioned question, but how do we move,
or should we move, from markets to capitalism? Is there any version of a macro-
economy that is compatible with this kind of metaphor? We’re leaving behind the
kind of depth models of infrastructure and superstructure. We’re leaving behind
the assumptions that are involved in a common embeddedness model. Does that
actually leave us without any structural model?
Michel Callon: Yes. I would say that we no longer have macro-structures. The idea
of the existence of macro-structures is very far from the description we are trying
to give. As I said, it doesn’t mean that there are only local localities because what
is provided by this description, is precisely a double logic of local framing and
connection between localities. In these terms, some localities are able to control
other localities. So what has to be explained is precisely the progressive construction
of connections, and of localities that are able to control other localities. What
could replace the vision of society marked by class conflict is an account of the
competition between different ways of connecting, controlling and framing
localities. I agree that it’s very difficult to imagine these new types of conflicts. But
if you want to interpret the new conflicts about the organisation of the market for
GMOs, for example, you have to imagine a conflict between different ways of
structuring markets and considering markets precisely as the capacity to attach
and shape some entities and disconnect others. In the case of the GMO market
these entities include transgenic forms of organisation of agriculture, developments
and relations between north and south and so on and the nature of property rights.
All these questions are debated and the opposition is not between classes defined
by the position of people in the political process. The opposition is between
emerging groups who are defining in different ways how to organise these markets,
knowing that the organisation of this market depends on questions dealing with
the types of products which are designed and sold as well as the types of property
rights and so on. So I would not say that you have structures and that you have
position within these structures, and from this position you can deduce or explain
some oppositions and some conflicts. Rather you have oppositions and conflicts
about how to structure economic markets given the fact that this structuration
depends on configurations which mix property rights, certain forms of technological
developments as well as other things. It doesn’t mean that there is no structuring
Technology, politics and the market 111
process, but that the structuring process as such is at stake. It’s the heterogeneity of
markets that makes them shapeable and it is around this process that conflicts can
happen.
Andrew Barry: Just to press Don’s point. It is a question of structuring processes
rather than structure. But then could one think and see forms of conflict that are
about quite general aspects of these different structuring processes? For example,
concerning the whole institution of property rights or, indeed, of capitalism.
Michel Callon: The question of property rights is a very good one. Because, on the
one hand, you cannot imagine that the market could be organised without defining
some types of property rights. But on the other hand, you can say that the diversity
of types, distribution, and definition of property rights is very high. And you can
imagine very different markets because there is a great deal of diversity in the
form of property rights. Discussions and debates about rights depend on the type
of markets, the type of technologies, the type of political debates and so on. If you
take the case of cultural goods, for example, you could imagine very different
configurations or regulations based on different definitions of property rights. So
the question of property rights might be considered as open. Even if you maintain
the notion of capitalism, you could have several forms of capitalism depending on
the form of the compromise, for example, around property rights. But I think that
your argument is about the equivalence between a certain conception of property
rights and the existence of capitalism. I don’t know if in your mind as soon as we
consider the question of property rights, we are in the sphere of capitalism. Would
you be ready to consider that property rights might be compatible with such different
ways of organising markets that even the simple notion of capitalism is not helpful
in describing these possibilities?
Don Slater: The idea that I was playing around with in my paper was that although
you can have different kinds of property rights, there is one fundamental aspect
which is a certain kind of alienation within which you can have different kinds of
contracts. There’s a certain kind of structure of alienation, of delimiting a certain
kind of transaction that I would associate with capitalism, even if within that it
can take quite a number of different forms. And that form of transaction does
seem capable of being regularised across an incredible number of locations. I get
worried about the word structure because we’re actually talking about a number
of different levels here. I absolutely agree that one of the fundamental problems
with conventional economics has been that it couldn’t recognise that structures
were themselves part of the competitive framework; that they’re a part of the
strategic action itself. But there are still higher levels within which those kinds of
contests take place. And it’s in that way that you can have an over-arching structure,
a certain kind of fundamental macro-structure and people can contest various
forms within that or find forms which suit particular operations better than others.
Sometimes, it almost feels it’s more like a matter of instinct. Practically speaking,
in negotiating this kind of economic environment you assume certain kinds of
112 Michel Callon, Andrew Barry and Don Slater
regularities that you know also can be contested at a different kind of political
level than the market.
Michel Callon: Yes, I understand your argument, and I think it’s a strong argument.
As soon as you have some form of property rights allowing this framing of
interaction, you could say that capitalism exists and that this takes the form of an
over-arching structure. But I’m not completely convinced. If you take the case of
informal economies, for example, I’m struck by the fact that those economies are
often very formal. The rules are very well defined and explicit and in certain cases,
they involve collaborations between actors and academic economists. I know some
local informal economies in the south of France, which have inspired colleagues
of mine who are working in anthropological economics and are involved in defining
alternative ways of constructing markets. So you have very interesting laboratories
and experiments that show the possibility of creating new institutions. I resist the
idea of naming these economies as capitalist. So my feeling is that you can imagine,
if you consider economic markets are performed by technologies, economics and
so on, that in some cases, economic activities could lead to institutions and
experiments in which you have property rights, but arranged in such a way that
this notion of capitalism is not very useful for understanding what is happening.
Andrew Barry: An answer one could give to the question of capitalism which I
thought you are implying would be: isn’t capitalism itself and the framing of the
economy as capitalism, itself a product, to put it very crudely, of the whole history
of critical political economy and anti-capitalist political movements and the various
technical devices they have deployed to make this thing called capitalism apparent?
In other words, the analysis needs to be extended to the analysis of critical political
economy.
Michel Callon: I think you’re completely right. I think it’s a good answer to the
question. And it opens precisely the possibility of considering multiple ways of
organising economic activities in which property rights are present but property
rights as such have no meaning. They have to be linked to other ways of framing
activities and so on. The configurations are multiple and I’m not sure that the
notion of capitalism is very useful to describe this diversity. I agree with Andrew
that probably capitalism is linked to this way of describing economic activities as
an infrastructure or are encoded in this debate as an opposition between anti-
capitalism and capitalism. It’s probably also a notion we have to get rid of. But this
doesn’t mean that we are buying into liberalism and neo-liberal ideology because
what we are discovering is precisely the diversity of markets. Some markets are
very powerful devices for creating asymmetries, and other forms of markets are
more open to debates, to reorganisation and so on.
Don Slater: Do you know J.K. Gibson-Graham’s, The End of Capitalism (As We Knew
It)? It makes the same kind of point in arguing that the main political task is a
deconstruction of a kind of notion of capitalism that’s been built up: something
that is more solid in one’s ideology than it is in reality.
Technology, politics and the market 113
Michel Callon: Yes, I think it’s a very important point. Capitalism is an invention of
anti-capitalists.
Don Slater: We produce this thing which we cannot overcome and which structures
our own opposition.
Michel Callon: Yes, I think that the point that capitalism is maintained alive thanks
to the anti-capitalist movement and analysis is very important. It is the reason why
I disagreed with the description given by Luc Boltanski, because his argument is
that capitalism – its logics of accumulation and so on – is amoral. There is no
morality in capitalism. But I think it’s a mistake to describe capitalism as homo-
geneous and, being homogeneous, it is not concerned with questions which are
termed usually as political, ethical and so on. If you accept the diversity of what is
usually called capitalism, you are led to recognise that in some markets you have
constant discussions or negotiations about ethical or political questions. The manner
in which answers are found differs from one market to another, from one country
to another and so on. So describing capitalism, even for the purposes of criticism,
as something which is homogeneous is a way of maintaining this idea of the
impossibility of social actors to act on the organisation of economic activities
because it implies that there is simply a choice between completely destroying the
organisation of economic activities or accepting them as a whole.
Don Slater: Well, it’s the classic structure of an older politics: creating or constituting
your opponent as such a totality.
Michel Callon: A totality unable to think of its own transformation and that just
reacts to external criticisms. It’s like an automaton and the only way for it to survive
is to incorporate those people outside the thing in order to transform itself. I think
it’s a way of being completely unable to act on the organisation of economic
activity.
Andrew Barry: The hostility of political economists to the kind of work you’re
proposing might relate also to the particularly virulent form of capitalism in Britain
and to the way in which neo-liberal economics has been so dominant over the past
20 years. Given that it doesn’t make sense, in your view, to be anti-capitalist, do
you see there may be some key points of division that should be contested?
Michel Callon: What is strange in the case of Britain is that, in the case of railways
or sectors like that, there is political debate on how to organise this market, learning
the lessons that can be drawn from deregulation. I think this experience is a
laboratory in itself because you can see the effects of political choices and you can
imagine that markets might be organised in certain ways which are less or more
satisfying for different social groups. My question is, is it becoming a political issue
in Britain or not, given the lessons which can be drawn?
Don Slater: One pessimistic answer, from your point of view, is that it has certainly
become more of a political issue in the sense of asking, what is a basic service? I’m
114 Michel Callon, Andrew Barry and Don Slater
not so convinced that it has become an issue of political economy, about how to
organise markets. It is still so much an issue of state versus market.
Michel Callon: One of the interesting issues now is whether we should abandon this
idea of a division or separation between the public sector and the private sector,
and between a market per se and government intervention. The idea that public
powers are exterior to markets is becoming more and more difficult to defend.
And the idea of the constitutive role of public powers in the organisation of
economic activities is making progress. There is a growing recognition that all
markets are a strange combination of rules defined by public powers and by private
agents.
Don Slater: I think this is where Andrew’s point about the context of extreme neo-
liberalism is important because the kind of development that he described in the
UK has been experienced more as the penetration of markets into the public
sector rather than as a sense that markets could be organised differently, or have
different regulatory structures. So if you talk to people in Britain about where are
the points at which markets and regulation mix into new forms, they’re likely to
talk about internal markets in the National Health Service, for example, which
have caused major problems.
Andrew Barry: I think there’s a distinction between the analytical point which is
trying to move away from thinking about the opposition between state and market
and the way in which that statement might be read in the British context which
would be very closely associated with the idea of the ‘Third Way’. Maybe it is
different in the French context.
Michel Callon: Yes, I think that the idea of market organisation as an open field of
reflection and experimentation is making progress. But the role of social scientists
and the position of economists are very important to this, in setting the terms of
the debate. And I would like to say that the sociology and anthropology of economic
markets should be more active in presenting this new range of political choices
because economists, by profession, tend to think in terms of a tug of war between
the private sector and public sector. What sociology and anthropology could bring
to the debate is precisely a recognition of the experimental character of markets
and market organisation and the need to debate the consequences of
experimentation. It is a collective learning process.
Andrew Barry: The key to what you seem to be saying is that you want to introduce
democracy into the equation, which is not generally there because the debate
actually tends to be about the hybridisation of state and market, without any sense
of the democratisation of that hybridity.
Michel Callon: And the debate is monopolised by experts like economists. They
create, as in other scientific fields, an ignorant incompetent public, who are not
endowed with the possibility of entering in to the debate. The economists play a
very important role because they perform the idea of pure markets, governed by
natural laws in the political sphere. It’s bizarre because I think that now more and
Technology, politics and the market 115
more people are ready to contest the monopoly of experts in the physical and life
sciences. But in the social sciences, the role of experts remains very, very strong.
Economists do not act as scientists or researchers, but as experts who give advice
to political decision-makers. Probably, these experts are much more influential
than experts in physics or biology. For example, Prime Minister Jospin in France
created a council of experts three years ago to advise him on economic questions.
And in this committee you have not one sociologist. You have only economists,
pure economists! It’s incredible because if you take committees dealing with health
issues or agricultural issues a lot of specialisms are represented. Only in the case
of economic policy do you have a monopoly of this certain type of expert.
Don Slater: A good example is what I’ve been seeing in issues around new media
and the Internet and the kind of emerging policy debates around the digital divide.
It’s almost entirely dominated by economists as far as I can see, in the most techno-
cratic way. There’s been the most extraordinarily rapid shift from the visionary
version of the Internet as a new field of human communication, to this thing that
is simply a technocratic means that is to be economically delivered for economic
ends.
Michel Callon: Yes, but economists have great difficulties in describing what is
happening. For example, I read some papers written by economists or by economic
sociologists about the interpretation of Linux’s emergence and success. Mainstream
economists find it very difficult to understand what is happening. It’s fascinating.
The new tools for managing these strange markets can’t be devised by economists
alone.
Don Slater: But what still amazes me, although it shouldn’t because economists
have always done this, despite the fact that they can’t explain what’s going on, is
that they still put forward the same policies and have the total prestige to impose
them.
Michel Callon: I agree with you completely but I think it means that we have to
develop two strategies. The first is to describe precisely the influence of economists
in different institutions like the OECD, the International Monetary Fund and so
on. We need some empirical studies about how these institutions function and the
role of economics and of mainstream economists in these institutions. And the
second strategy is to try to make more visible the analysis done by economic
sociologists and to take part in the devising of tools useful both for us and for
economic agents. If we believe the analysis we are producing, we are obliged to
recognise that the way to influence or structure institutions is to devise tools. If we
accept that there is nothing that could happen without being framed, the role of
the sociology and anthropology of economies is precisely to design tools and to
provide actors with such tools. I think it implies an involvement in the performative
activities of social sciences. The weakness of sociology and anthropology when
they come to analyse economic activities is precisely their reluctance to do the
same jobs as economics. Economists are able to tell how it is possible to calculate
profits and so on, but sociologists do not provide these kinds of tools.
116 Michel Callon, Andrew Barry and Don Slater
Don Slater: I totally agree. One of the most frustrating things about economic
sociology – and I think it’s one of the reasons why we haven’t performed this kind
of constructive role – is that it’s constantly engaged in rehearsing endless critiques
of conventional economics and often in a vain attempt, a delusion, that they might
convince economists. It’s not an argument that you win. It’s an argument that you
need to go around and do something else.
Michel Callon: Yes, you’re completely right. There are two positions we have to
abandon. The first is the idea of critique of hard economists, which is intended to
show them that they are wrong. And the second position is to describe markets just
to say that they are more complicated than economists or political decision-makers
believe. So we have to abandon those two positions and to contribute to the
understanding of the disentanglement and entanglement process. If we succeed
in that we will be able to devise our own tools, like the economists, but tools that
will endow economics agents with the capacity to experiment with different forms
of markets organisation. Let us stop criticising the economists. We recognise the
right of economists to contribute to performing markets, but at the same time we
claim our own right to do the same but from a different perspective.
I don’t understand why sociologists have to comfort and to support the ideas
that economists and mainstream economists are in a dominant position. I think
it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy so we just have to stop saying that. Economists have
succeeded in creating alliances with technocrats, but if we accept the idea of the
emergence of hybrid fora in which various actors are participating, we can imagine
economic sociologists co-operating with actors who are interested in thinking about
ways of organising markets in order to counter the role of the mainstream
economists. What is very important is to abandon the critical position, and to stop
denouncing economists and capitalists and so on. Instead, we need to engage with
debates on specific markets. I think that it’s a first step, and progressively it will be
possible to accumulate experiences on how to organise markets, how to organise
debates on the organisation of markets and so on. This movement is very important.
Andrew Barry: This relates to the difference between your position and Bourdieu’s.
Michel Callon: Yes, because I think that Bourdieu’s position leads him to reinforce
this stylised opposition between existing macro-structures, established powers, and
the forces that are trying to destabilise these macro-structures without taking into
consideration concrete questions about, for example, the organisation of such
markets. So it’s related to what we said previously about capitalism and anti-
capitalism as two forces which perform capitalism as a reality, and which paralyse
actors. The position adopted by Bourdieu is precisely of this form. The only way
to give some margin of manoeuvre to actors is to consider that at certain times
and places some actors are able to transform, first locally, the rules of the game, to
analyse the situation in which they are, and to develop some new strategies to deal
with that situation. And the role of the social scientist is to identify these actors, to
try to appreciate, to evaluate their capacities to transform the rules of the game, to
reconfigure institutions and to produce results that can be transported to other
Technology, politics and the market 117
places. The way to transform so-called macro-structures is to start with micro or
local restructuring activities, and to make connections possible between these
localities and other localities. If we accept the idea of the non-existence of macro-
structures in which micro-structures are embedded, and if we accept the idea of
localities framed and connected to each other, I think that sociologists should try
to identify the actors who are able to transform the frames in which they are located,
and to transform other places because they are located in a very strategic place.
It’s another way of describing how social scientists can link themselves to social
actors. There is no longer a contradiction between choosing actors or situations as
objects of research, and co-operating with actors who are considered as subjects
by themselves. And it’s a non-zero sum game. On the one hand, actors are interested
in this form of cooperation because they can enhance their capacity to describe
and analyse their own experience and, on the other hand, social scientists are also
interested in co-operating because they can mobilise actors as colleagues who are
as competent as academics or scientists. Actors can ask the same questions as
social scientists: how to frame and re-frame situations, how to transform other
places and to imagine new ways of organising institutions and so on. Indeed, the
only way to produce robust knowledge is precisely to set up this form of cooperation
with very competent and relevant actors.
Andrew Barry: And the key question is, which actors do you co-operate with and
with which do you not co-operate?
Michel Callon: It’s a very important question and there is no straightforward answer.
It’s a question of trial and error. I think that it’s inherent in this position that you
are obliged to ask normative questions. If you consider that the organisation of
markets is a growing concern for numerous groups, the next step is to ask, where
will I go in order to participate in an experiment about the organisation of markets?
You could choose, depending on your habitus! You could choose very different
places where different actors are in a leading position and so on. As social sciences
are performative activities, you will influence the course of those experiments. For
example, you will probably help some actors who are trying to elaborate rules, or
you will allow some groups to participate in the discussion of the market. So you
will, as a social scientist, help to perform some sorts of markets, and it depends
completely on the choices you make. These choices depend on what you consider
as important, valuable and so on. The choice can’t be deduced from methodological
or scientific considerations. I think everybody could agree about the importance
of debates about the organisation of markets. Having said that, you can choose
very different situations where the role of actors is different. So I think it’s a very
traditional question but even if you accept the arbitrary character of the choice of
the actor with which you will co-operate, you are in a very different position from
that of Bourdieu. Bourdieu has not only to reinforce the macro-structures that are
supposed to exist, but he has also to explain why the truth is on one side and not
the other. He is also confronted with the moral and political choice to help one
side and not the other one. But I think it’s easier to explain why in the case of a
118 Michel Callon, Andrew Barry and Don Slater
very limited conflict or debate, you will choose to co-operate with certain actors
and with others, because the problems are more circumscribed and actors from
different sides could agree about the reality of the difficulties they are encountering.
For example, in some cases like GMO markets, even industrialists are aware of the
fact that they are in a deadlock and that something must be discussed. So it’s not a
black and white situation, of the kind that prevails in the macro-structure debate.
Don Slater: This comes back to the beginning of our discussion: your underlying
normative commitment is perhaps more to some sense of democracy than to
particular participants. You might be closer to Habermas than to Bourdieu. A lot
of what you are pointing towards is establishing norms of democratic procedures
and how structures can emerge which will allow new collective political agents to
emerge. The issue is not so much the taking of sides as the conditions for those
kinds of democratic procedures.
Michel Callon: I’m convinced of the importance of procedures but I would say that
the political or the public space that is implied by Habermas is different from the
political space that I imagine. And the main reason is that in the case of Habermas,
as in the case of Rawls, or even Arendt, the actors or the agents who are involved
in the public space are reduced to speakers, to free-speaking actors. If you consider
emerging groups and social identities that are created or performed by overflows,
you will have a very different account of social identities and groups than those
who are put on the stage by John Rawls or Habermas. In their case, you have dis-
incarnated agents whereas in the case of emergent social concerned groups you
have very different identities. Consider, for example, patients suffering from
muscular dystrophy. They are created by the way markets function. As you know
they consider themselves as orphan groups because, as they are so few in number,
they are not considered to be profitable. And, in addition, they are generally not
interesting for academics or scientists. It is easy to understand that economic markets
create a lot of such orphan groups. They are simply unrecognised and they do not
exist at all. And you have other concerned groups who are hurt by overflows, as in
the case of pollution and so on. So you have these two figures, or types, of concerned
groups: orphan groups and hurt groups. And if I take the case of orphan groups
like patients suffering from muscular dystrophy, the only way for them to participate
in a public debate and to have the possibility of reorganising markets, is to come
with their disabled bodies, and transform themselves from being monsters who
were hidden in private life into human beings who have to be considered as human
beings. This transformation is central. You cannot put their bodies and the specific
characteristics of the actors and so on into brackets. There is nothing to be hidden.
You have to display what must be veiled in John Rawls’ philosophy. And you have
to put your body on the stage, and not leave your body and your genes at home. So
the notion of the public sphere is very different in this case from what it is in the
case of the more traditional philosophy.
Don Slater: It’s also a different level of commitment. The involvement of social
movements commits more of themselves to political action – it’s more than the
Technology, politics and the market 119
force of a reasoned argument. It’s about a kind of bodily ‘being there’, taking,
accepting other consequences, much greater consequences, than simply losing an
argument.
Michel Callon: Exactly. The case of AIDS patients studied by Stephen Epstein is
very illuminating because it’s not a Habermasian arena. They are engaged, involved
in organising experimentation, clinical trials, they discuss what it means to construct
a representative sample of patients and so on. And it’s a question of life or death
and not a question of argument.
Don Slater: Your position as a researcher in relation to them bears some relation to
what could be a Habermasian position: even though their forms of engagement
are different, what you are looking for are precisely those means by which they can
be brought into the democratic process, by which processes can correspond to
something closer to a situation where everyone has the power of speech but in a
wider metaphorical sense: the force of democratic presence.
Andrew Barry: The relation to Habermas is something like the relation to economics:
Habermas frames politics as being about the public sphere that is distinct from the
realm of the state that is distinct from the market. Even if one retains the notion
of the public sphere, it’s a public sphere whose overflows themselves need to be
dealt with.
Michel Callon: Exactly. It’s a very important point. And remember Hannah Arendt’s
point about the necessity for citizens to leave economic worries at home in order
to be free to speak in the public sphere. What I recommend is exactly the opposite.
Your body, your economic activities, your worries about subsistence and so on –
because all these matters are disputable they must be debated in the public sphere.
Andrew Barry: Your recent work with patients’ organisations raises the question of
social movements and, in particular, the relation of your work to the earlier work
of Alain Touraine. How do you see that relation?
Michel Callon: I have to say I have been very strongly influenced by Touraine. I
regularly attended his seminars and I was also interested in his view of the new
role of sociologists. And I remember a seminar where he said that now we know
what society is we need to find out what the sociologist should be doing. We have
to endorse Lenin’s old question: ‘What is to be done?’ Obviously there is a relation
with the answer given by Touraine, but I am more struck by the differences. After
all, Touraine conceived of sociology as a science, a positive science. And the inter-
ventions of the sociologists are empowered by mastering knowledge. They have to
teach social actors and to lead them progressively to be more aware of the social
issues at stake. So sociologists help to effect something like a progressive
transformation in which social actors become more reflexive. Sociologists give to
social movements their implicit choices. It is a very classical modern position.
What is striking is the assumption that actors are able to be competent, but when
they are challenged to account for the course of social action they are unable to
make it explicit. What is different in the position I try to develop is the relation to
120 Michel Callon, Andrew Barry and Don Slater
actors and the position and definition, qualification and epistemological status of
sociology. The point is that sociological knowledge is a co-production between
actors and social scientists. We can’t avoid the co-production of knowledge and
the consequence of this joint production is the generation of new identities. So it’s
similar to Touraine’s position in that you have a process of transformation but the
position of the social scientist is not epistemologically higher. The social scientist
and the actors are at the same level. They are still different, of course. They do not
have the same interests, the same references and so on.
Andrew Barry: But it requires teaching the actors that that is the relation you are
hoping for. In many situations actors impute power or expertise (or lack of it) to
the social scientist.
Michel Callon: You are perfectly right. We are pre-formed by the expectations of
actors. It is sometimes difficult to convince them of the interest of this new deal.
But I think that it is something that is possible to identify who is ready to accept the
position and sometimes who is even reluctant to consider social scientists as experts
who are able to say the truth. My vision of this question is that we have to try, as a
first step, to co-operate with social actors who are willing to co-operate with us,
and who are able to understand what is at stake. In the second phase, using these
first studies as examples we could extend this new conception of the relation between
social scientists and social actors. It’s a question of the progressive implementation
of a programme.
Andrew Barry: So this is the answer to the question what is to be done.
Michel Callon: It’s obviously very different from the position of Bourdieu with his
notion of the collective intellectual, or even from Michel Foucault with his notion
of the specific intellectual which is very close to the notion of expert. If you take
the case of Bourdieu, it’s a way of keeping social science outside of the social
sphere and of reinforcing the positive visions of the social sciences.
Andrew Barry: The question that arises for me is how do you deal with actors who
are not willing to accept this model, and in particular with governments who may
have other visions?
Michel Callon: We have to learn from experience, it’s a question of trial and error.
We will get a clearer vision of what is possible. I would be reluctant to use this
programme to co-operate with governments for the purposes of public adminis-
tration. I think it’s not an objective for this vision of the social sciences. What I
would like to do in the next few years is to try to develop this form of joint research
with those who are not well prepared for this kind of reflexive questioning and
who are not sufficiently self-organised. The real challenge would be to choose
people who are loosely networked and in a loosely oppositional position, and who
are in a situation that is unpredictable, out of which new social identities and
subjectivities might emerge.
Technology, politics and the market 121
Note
1 This interview took place in Paris and Lancaster in February and March 2001.

References
Arrow, K. (1962) ‘Economic welfare and the allocation of resources for inventions’, in
R.R. Nelson (ed.) The Rate and Direction of Inventive Activity, Princeton, NJ: Princeton
University Press.
Beck, U. (1992) The Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity, London: Sage.
Boltanski, L. and E. Chiapello (1999) Le Nouvel Esprit du Capitalisme, Paris: Gallimard.
Bourdieu, P. (1998) Contre-feux: propos pour servir à la résistance contre l’invasion néo-libérale, Paris:
Éditions Raisons d’Agir.
Bush, V. (1945) Science: The Endless Frontier, Washington, DC: US Government Printing
Office.
Callon, M. (ed.) (1998) The Laws of the Markets, Oxford: Basil Blackwell.
Callon, M., P. Lascoumes and Y. Barthe (2001) Agir dans un monde incertain: essai sur la démocratie
technique, Paris: Le Seuil.
Epstein, S. (1996) Impure Science: AIDS, Activism and the Politics of Knowledge, Berkeley, CA:
California University Press.
Foucault, M. (1977) ‘The political function of the intellectual’, Radical Philosophy, 17, 12–
14.
Gibson-Graham, J.K. (1996) The End of Capitalism (As We Knew it): A Feminist Critique of
Political Economy, Cambridge, MA: Basil Blackwell.
Rabeharisoa, V. and M. Callon (1999) Le pouvoir des malades: l’association française contre les
myopathies et la recherche, Paris: École des Mines.
Touraine, A. (1981) The Voice and the Eye: An Analysis of Social Movements, Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.
122 Karin Knorr-Cetina

6 From pipes to scopes


The flow architecture of financial
markets
Karin Knorr-Cetina

Recently, economic sociologists have tended to view markets as embedded in social


relations and social networks, the structures they see as defining markets and framing
economic action (e.g. White 1981, 1993, 2002; Baker 1981, 1984; Baker et al.
1998; Granovetter 1985; Swedberg and Granovetter 1992; Swedberg 1994, 1997;
Burt 1983, 1992; DiMaggio and Louch 1998; Uzzi 1997, 1999; Podolny 2001).
This chapter draws a distinction between two types of markets: those based on a
network architecture where social relationships carry much of the burden of
specifying market behaviour and of explaining some market outcomes, and markets
that have become disembedded and decoupled from networks and exhibit what I
shall call a flow architecture.1 As illustrated elsewhere (Knorr-Cetina and Bruegger
2002a, 2002b), flow architectures are “microstructured” rather than simply
network/relationally-structured. They are more richly structured than the relational
vocabulary allows for, and display patterns of coordination and behaviour that
are global in scope and microlevel in character. As Fligstein notes (1996: 657),
networks are sparse social structures, and it is difficult to see how they can
incorporate the patterns of intense conversational interaction, the knowledge flows,
and the temporal features observed in some areas of practice. Though flow
architectures may include networks, these networks are not the salient structuring
principle of a global microstructure. Flow architectures, I shall argue in this chapter,
also involve global “scopic” systems that project market reality while at the same
time carrying it forward and allowing it “to flow”. The suffix “scope”, derived
from the Greek “scopein”, to see, when combined with a qualifying notion means
an instrument, etc. for seeing or observing, as in “periscope”. Social scientists tend
to think in terms of mechanisms of coordination, which is what the network notion
stands for; a network is an arrangement of nodes tied together by relationships
which serve as conduits of communication, resources, and other coordinating
instances that hold the arrangement together by passing between the nodes.
Cooperations, strategic alliances, exchange, emotional bonds, kinship ties, “personal
relations”, and forms of grouping and entrenchment can all be seen to work through
ties and to instantiate sociality in networks of relationships. But we should also
think in terms of reflexive mechanisms of observation and projection, which the
relational vocabulary does not capture. Like an array of crystals acting as lenses
From pipes to scopes 123
that collect light, focusing it on one point, such mechanisms collect and focus
activities, interests, and events on one surface, from whence the result may then be
projected again in different directions. When such a mechanism is in place,
coordination and activities respond to the projected reality to which participants
become oriented. The system acts as a centring and mediating device through
which things pass and from which they flow forward. An ordinary observer who
monitors events is an instrument for seeing. When such an ordinary observer
constructs a textual or visual rendering of the observed and televises it to an
audience, the audience may start to react to the features of the reflected, represented
reality rather than to the embodied, pre-reflexive occurrences. In the financial
markets studied the reflexive mechanism and “projection plane” is the computer
screen; with the screen come software and hardware systems that provide a vast
range of observation, presentation, and interaction capabilities sustained by
information and service provider firms. Given these affordances, the pre-reflexive
reality is cut off and replaced; some of the mechanisms that we take for granted in
a lifeworld, for example its performative possibilities, have been integrated into
the systems, while others have been replaced by specialized processes that feed the
screen. The technical systems gather up a lifeworld while simultaneously projecting
it. They also “apresent” (bring near, see Schutz and Luckmann 1973) and project
layers of context and horizons that are out of reach in ordinary lifeworlds – they
deliver not only transnational situations but a global world spanning all major
time zones. As I shall argue below, they do this from trading floors located in
global cities (Sassen 2001) which serve as the bridgehead centres of the flow
architecture of financial markets. Raised to a level of analytic abstraction, the
configuration of screens, capabilities, and contents that traders in financial markets
confront corresponds to a global reflex system, or GRS, where R stands for the
reflexively transmitted and reflex-like (instantaneously) projected action and other
capabilities of the system and G stands for the global, scopic view and reach of the
reflex system. For the present purpose, which is that of distinguishing between
forms of coordination relevant to understanding markets, the term is intended to
denote a reflexive form of coordination that is flat (non-hierarchical) in character
while at the same time being based on a comprehensive summary view of things –
the reflected and projected global context and transaction system. This form of
coordination contrasts with network forms of coordination which, according to
the present terminology, are pre-reflexive in character – networks are embedded
in territorial space, and they do not suggest the existence of reflexive mechanisms
of projection that aggregate, recontextualize, and augment the relational activities
within new frameworks that are analytically relevant to understanding the
continuation of activities. With the notion of a GRS system, I am offering a
simplifying term for the constellation of technical, visual, and behavioral
components packaged together on financial screens that deliver to participants a
global world in which they can participate on a common platform, that of their
shared computer screens. On a technological level, the GRS mechanism postulated
requires that we must understand as analytically relevant for a conception of
financial markets not only electronic connections, but computer terminals and
124 Karin Knorr-Cetina
screens – the sorts of teletechnologies (Clough 2000: 3) that are conspicuously
present on trading floors and the focus of participants’ attention – as well as the
trading floors themselves, where these screens cluster and through which markets
pass.
In the following, I begin with an analysis of financial markets as focused upon
computer screens as the centrepieces of such a GRS form of coordination. I will
also briefly sketch the historical innovation and emergence of the relevant systems
in the 1970s and 1980s and point out how they led to a replacement of network
markets. I address some temporal features of the foreign exchange market which
I take as my exemplifying case. A flow architecture, I shall argue, results from a
combination of these temporal features with the GRS form of coordination,
clustered in time-zone-specific bridgehead centres.

The mirrored market: “GRS” illustrated


To begin with a concrete case, consider the foreign exchange market, which, with
an average daily turnover of US$1.2 trillion in 2001, is the largest financial market
and also the most global market (BIS 2001; for comprehensive descriptions of
bond, stock and other financial markets see Abolafia 1996a, 1996b, 1998; Smith
1981, 1990, 1999; Hertz 1998). Unlike other financial markets, the foreign exchange
market is not organized mainly in centralized exchanges but derives from inter-
dealer transactions in a global banking network of institutions; it is what is called
an “over-the-counter” market. Over-the-counter transactions are made on the
trading floors of major investment and other banks. On the major trading floors
of the global banks where we conducted our research2 in Zurich and New York,
between 200 (Zurich) and 800 (New York) traders were engaged in stock, bond,
and currency trading involving various trading techniques and instruments. Smaller
floors in Sydney, Zurich, and New York featured between 40 to 80 traders. Up to
20 per cent of these traders will deal in foreign exchange at desks grouped together
on the floors. The traders on these desks in interbank currency markets are not
brokers who mediate deals but rather market makers. They take their own
“positions” in the market in trying to gain from price differences while also offering
trades to other market participants, thereby bringing liquidity to the market and
sustaining it – if necessary, by trading against their own position. Foreign exchange
deals through these channels start in the order of several hundred thousand dollars
per transaction, going up to a hundred million dollars and more. The deals are
made by investors, speculators, financial managers, central bankers, and others
who want to profit from expected currency moves, or who need currencies to help
them enter or exit transnational investments (e.g. in mergers and acquisitions). In
doing deals, all traders on the floors have a range of technology at their disposal;
most conspicuously, up to five computer screens, which display the market and
serve to conduct trading. When traders arrive in the morning they strap themselves
to their seats, figuratively speaking, they bring up their screens, and from then on
their eyes will be glued to these screens, their visual regard captured by it even
when they talk or shout to each other, their bodies and the screen world melting
together in what appears to be a total immersion in the action in which they are
From pipes to scopes 125
taking part. The market composes itself in these produced-and-analysed displays
to which traders are attached.
What do the screens show? The central feature of the screens and the centrepiece
of the market for traders are the dealing prices displayed on the “electronic broker”
(EBS), a special screen and automated dealing service that sorts orders according
to best bids and offers. It displays prices for currency pairs (mainly dollars against
other currencies such as the Swiss franc or the euro), deals being possible at these
prices. Traders frequently deal through the electronic broker, which has largely
replaced the “voice broker” (real-life broker); the price action there is also central
to the prices they make, as “market makers”, for callers approaching them on the
“Reuters conversational dealing”, another special screen (and computer network)
through which they trade. On the Reuters dealing, deals are concluded in and
through bilateral “conversations” conducted on screen. These resemble e-mail
message exchanges for which the Reuters dealing is also used in and between
dealing conversations. On a further screen, traders watch prices contributed by
different banks worldwide; these prices are merely indicative, they express interest
rather than being dealing prices as such. Traders may also watch their own current
position in the market (e.g. their being long or short on particular currencies), the
history of deals made over recent periods, and their overall account balances (profits
and losses over relevant periods) on this or another workstation at their disposal.
Finally, the screens provide headline news, economic commentary, and interpre-
tations which traders watch. An important source of information which also appears
on these screens, but is closer to traders’ actual dealing in terms of the specificity,
speed, and currentness of the information, are internal bulletin boards on which
participants input information.
Consider now the installation side of these trading floors. All financial markets
today are heavily dependent on electronic information and communication tech-
nologies. Some markets, for example the foreign exchange market that is the focus
of this work, are entirely electronic markets. As over-the-counter markets of
interbank trading, currency markets rely on electronic technologies that enable
the dealer-to-dealer contacts and trading services across borders and continents.
Reuters, Bloomberg, and Telerate connections wire together these markets, as do
intranets that internally connect the trading room terminals and other facilities of
particular banks and groups of banks in global cities. Reuters, Bloomberg, and
Telerate are news and service provider firms. In 2001, Reuters had more than
300,000 terminals installed worldwide in all markets and facilities and Bloomberg
had more than 150,000. Revenue from leases of their systems amounted to
approximately $2.5 billion each at the end of 2001.3 With the terminals comes
sophisticated software: dealing and information systems, worksheet, e-mail and
customization capabilities, electronic brokerage and accounting services, some of
which – like EBS, the electronic broker system – have been developed by the banks
themselves. The connections and the intricate and expensive hardware and software
delivered by providers and the banking institutions themselves constitute the
material infrastructure of financial markets.
How does this bear on the difference between a network form of coordination
126 Karin Knorr-Cetina
and the reflexive, global form of coordination discussed in this chapter? First, it
will be obvious from the description thus far that the material infrastructure of
financial markets includes much more than electronic networks, the cable and
satellite connections between banks and continents. It includes the installation of
trading floors in the global cities that are the financial centres in the three major
time zones: London, New York, Tokyo, Zurich, Singapore and a few others (see
Sassen 2001: Ch.7; Leyshon and Thrift 1997). The trading floors are the bridgehead
centres for a global market that moves from time zone to time zone with the sun.
The centrepieces of the interconnected floors are their federations of terminals
that feature the sophisticated hardware and software capabilities discussed. When
talking about the electronic infrastructure of financial markets, we should not lose
sight of the hardware and software of the trading floors themselves and the terminal
structures that “ready” these floors for trading. Second, the electronic interconnec-
tions which are part of this federation and link all participating institutions, including
the service provider firms, are not simply coextensive with social networks through
which transactions flow. As electronic networks they correspond to different
construction criteria, involve electronic nodes and linkages irrelevant to social
relationships, and what flows through them frequently does not derive from social
and financial relationships; an example are EBS deals, which are traders’ responses
to anonymous buying or selling offers provided by an automated electronic broker
system. Third and most important, the terminals deliver much more than just
windows to physically distant counterparties. In fact, they deliver the reality of
financial markets – the referential whole to which “being in the market” refers, the
ground on which traders step as they make their moves, the world which they
literally share through their shared technologies and systems. The thickly-layered
screens laid out in front of traders provide the core of the market and most of the
context. They come as close as one can get to delivering a stand-alone world that
includes “everything” (see below) for its existence and continuation: at the centre
the actual dealing prices and incoming trading conversations, in a second circle
the indicative prices, account information and some news (depending on the current
market story), and further headlines and commentaries providing a third layer of
information. It is this delivery of a world assembled and drawn together in ways
that make sense and allow navigation and accounting which suggests the globally
reflexive character of this form of coordination – and the scopic nature of traders’
screens. The dealing and information systems on screen visually “collect” and
present the market to all participants.
Two aspects of the system need to be emphasized. One is that the GRS in
currency markets assembles not only relevant information about, for example,
political events, economic developments, and prices, but “gathers up” the activities
themselves – it affords the possibility of performing the market transactions and
other interactions through its technological and software capabilities. In other words,
the system is reflexive and performative. In fact, it not only affords these possibilities
as an option but has drawn market activities in completely. With the exception
perhaps of situations where there has been an electronic breakdown, when traders
may resort to dealing via the telephone, nearly all dealing transactions – trades of
From pipes to scopes 127
financial instruments – and other interactions are performed on computer screens.
This system effectively eliminates the pre-reflexive reality by integrating within its
framework all relevant venues of the specialized lifeworld of financial markets.
The reality on screen becomes the traders’ lifeworld, a lifeworld that is at the same
time reflexively transmitted and instantaneously projected. It also offers, beside
anonymous venues of trading through the electronic broker, relational dealing
systems – e.g. the previously mentioned Reuters conversational dealing, where one
trader contacts another and deals with him or her in what natives call a “dealing
conversation”. This window can also be used for conversing with a financial market
friend connected to the system about anything of mutual interest; for example, it
is used extensively for soliciting and offering and co-analysing information. In
sum, the global reflex system of financial screens integrates within its framework
the conduits for building and maintaining relationships. Should we therefore
conclude that this global reflex system is nothing more than an electronic facilitating
device for markets that run through networks? Surely not. Roughly 80 per cent of
trades, if not more, according to traders’ estimates, are conducted through the
electronic broker, which is an anonymous dealing system, as indicated. Even if
some of these deals involve parties with whom one entertains a business (or personal)
relationship, these relationships remain interactionally irrelevant since the deal-
offering parties are not disclosed in advance on the EBS. Among the at most 20
per cent of the trades conducted through conversational dealing systems, relation-
ship deals are more likely, but they need not be dominant. Any bank accredited for
certain dealing limits and electronically connected to the system can approach
any other bank through the conversational dealing without a pre-existing or ongoing
relationship. Traders also differentiate between “their networks” of contacts, those
dealers and clients with whom they interact frequently and consider a subset of
the market; their circle of closer “friends” comprising perhaps up to 5 or 10 people
with whom they talk almost daily and sometimes extensively via the conversational
dealing system and the telephone; and the market, which has a large anonymous
component. As one trader put it, “(the market on screen) is probably like 99.99999
per cent anonymous”.
The second aspect to be emphasized follows from the description thus far. The
mirrored market that is comprehensively projected on computer screens acquires
a presence and profile of its own, with its own temporal and other properties.
Traders are not simply confronted with a medium of communication through
which bilateral transactions are conducted, the sort of thing the telephone stands
for. They are confronted with a market that has become a “life form” in its own
right, a “greater being”, as one of our respondents, a proprietary trader in Zurich,
put it – a being that is sometimes coherent but at other times dispersed and
fragmented.

LG: You know it’s an invisible hand, the market is always right, it’s a life form
that has being in its own right. You know, in a sort of Gestalt sort of way …
it has form and meaning.
128 Karin Knorr-Cetina
KK: It has form and meaning which is independent of you? You can’t control it,
is that the point?
LG: Right. Exactly, exactly!
KK: Most of the time it’s quite dispersed, or does it gel for you?
LG: A-h, that’s why I say it has life, it has life in and of itself, you know, sometimes
it all comes together, and sometimes it’s all just sort of, dispersed, and arbitrary,
and random, and directionless and lacking cohesiveness.
KK: But you see it as a third thing? Or do you mean the other person?
LG: As a greater being.
KK: …
LG: No, I don’t mean the other person; I mean the being as a whole. And the
being is the foreign exchange market – and we are a sum of our parts, or it
is a sum of its parts.

The following quote also gives an inclusive definition of the market which brings
out its life-like depth. The territorial disputes between economics, sociology, and
psychology over market definitions all melt into a sort of “markets are everything”
in which the focus can shift from aspect to aspect.

KK: What is the market for you, is it the price action, or is it individual participants,
or?
RG: Everything. Everything.
KK: Everything? The information?
RG: Everything. Everything. How loudly he’s screaming, how excited he gets,
who’s selling, who’s buying, where, which centre, what central banks are
doing, what the large funds are doing, what the press is saying, what’s
happening to the CDU [a political party in Germany], what the Malaysian
prime minister is saying, it’s everything – everything all the time.

Who the buyers and sellers are, what significant actors and observers both in
the market and outside it do and say, all the agents, activities, and contextual events
indicated in this quote and the reactions of market observers and participants to
these events represent the market. The quote comes from an experienced trader
who had worked in several countries, including ones in the Far East, before coming
to Zurich. Note that his “the market is everything” refers to the manifold things
that one finds on financial screens, the news and news commentary, the confidential
information about what some major players are doing, and the prices. The screens,
or perhaps we should say the availability of a projection plane for financial markets,
appear to have enlarged rather than reduced the world of this market. It has
undeniably enlarged the world beyond that which ordinarily flows through trading
networks, which, as we shall see in the next section, historically was to a large
extent price information.
The notion of a network draws on a powerful convergence of organizational
changes, technological developments, and broader cultural transformations of
values which sustain the network not only as an analytic concept for the investigation
From pipes to scopes 129
of social structure, but also as a model and advertisement for how things in many
areas should be structured. The most important convergent development that has
contributed to the recent renaissance of network concepts is surely that of
information and communication technologies which are based on electronic
linkages between geographic areas and are referred to in terms of a vocabulary of
nets, webs, circuits, and nodes. Information and communication technologies have
made the network notion salient, strengthened pre-existing trends toward network
forms of organization, and facilitated some of these developments. Castells
accordingly writes of the network society where “flows of messages and images
between networks constitute the basic thread of our social structure” (Castells
1996: 476–7; compare Lash 2002). He sees dominant societal functions organized
in global information technology networks linked by these communications, while
subordinate functions fragment in local settings where people occupied with these
functions become increasingly segregated and disconnected from each other. But
the central question for social scientists is how these technologies are instantiated
in concrete areas of practice, and here a different picture emerges. From the traders’
perspective, and from the perspective of the observer of traders’ lifeworld, the
dominant element in the installation of trading floors in globally interconnected
financial institutions is not the electronic infrastructural connections – the “pipes”
(Podolny 2001: 33) or arteries through which transactions flow – but the computer
screens and the dealing and information capabilities which instantly reflect, project,
and extend the reality of these markets in toto. They give rise to a form of coordina-
tion that includes networks but also vastly transcends them, projecting an aggregate
and contextualized market. The screens on which the market is present are
identically replicated in all institutions and on all trading floors, forming, as it
were, one huge compound mirroring and transaction device to which many
contribute and on which all draw. As an omnipresent complex “Other”, the market
on screen takes on a presence and profile in its own right with its own self-assembling
and self-integrating features (for example, the best prices world-wide are selected
and displayed), its own calculating routines (for example, accounts are maintained
and prices may be calculated), and self-historicizing properties (for example, price
histories are displayed and a multiplicity of other histories can be called up). The
electronic programs and circuits which underlie this screen world assemble and
implement on one platform the previously dispersed activities of different agents;
of brokers and bookkeepers, of market-makers (traders) and analysts, of researchers
and news agents. In this sense, the screen is a building site on which a whole
economic and epistemological world is erected. It is not simply a “medium” for
the transmission of pre-reflexive interactions.

How did the market get on screen? The move away


from network markets
The market has of course not always been on screen. The history of foreign
exchange markets since the 1970s instantiates and exemplifies for other areas the
transition from a network market to a flow market utilizing a central, compound
130 Karin Knorr-Cetina
space. Let us start with the breakdown of the Bretton Woods Agreement, which
had hitherto effectively fixed exchange rates. In the 1970s, first the USA (1971),
then major European countries, including Britain by 1979, and finally Japan in
the early 1980s, abolished exchange controls, effectively eliminating the Bretton
Woods Agreement of fixed exchange rates in place since 1944 and allowing foreign
exchange trading for purposes of speculation. Before the breakdown, foreign
exchange markets also existed: foreign exchange deals are cross-border exchanges
of currencies. Such exchanges were born with the dawn of international trade
and persisted through all ages. But in the 30 years of the Bretton Woods Agreement,
foreign exchange deals reflected by and large the real requirements of companies
and others that needed foreign exchange to settle bills and pay for goods. When
exchange controls were removed, currency trading itself became possible as a
market where exchange reflected price movement anticipation. In 1986, the dealing
rooms of the world had taken off, with an average of US$150 billion and as much
as $250 billion being traded around the globe, double the volume of five years
before (Hamilton and Biggart 1993). In April 1998, according to the Bank of
International Settlement’s Triennial Survey, the average daily turnover in traditional
global foreign exchange instruments had risen from $36.4 billion in 1974 to $1.5
trillion (BIS 1998). Two-thirds of this volume derives from “over-the-counter
transactions”, i.e. from inter-dealer transactions in a global banking network of
institutions. Banks had responded quickly to the business opportunities which arose
with the freedom of capital that the breakdown of the Bretton Woods system
initiated. They also responded to an increasing demand stimulated by volatile
exchange and interest rates reflecting various crises (e.g. the energy crisis of 1974)
and to the tremendous growth in pension fund and other institutional holdings
that needed to be invested. Though the volume of trading has since receded to
approximately $1.2 trillion with the economic downturn and the elimination of
some currencies according to the latest BIS survey (2001), the foreign exchange
market is still by far the largest market in daily turnover worldwide.
When exchange controls were removed in 1971, the current foreign exchange
market was born. Traders, however, had no computers and trading was a question
of finding and negotiating this market, which lay hidden within geographical space.
A trading room, in the early beginnings, was a room with desks and phone lines
and a calculating machine. It may also have had a central phone booth installed in
the middle of the room, originally serving as a quiet place to take international
phone calls which, early on, still had to be ordered through the phone company;
only national calls could be dialled directly. A most important device was the
“ticker”, a device which churned out “50 metres a day” of news headlines and
price pointers, as a former participant put it (see Preda 2003 for its specific history).
Activities on the floor centred around “finding the market”, that is finding out
what the price of a currency was and who wanted to deal. In the following quote,
a former chief of trading recalls how he continually chased after the market.

P: … So you had to constantly find out what the rates were in countries.
KK: And you did this by calling up banks?
From pipes to scopes 131
P: By, yes. And there were also calls on the telex by other banks who either
wanted to trade or wanted to know, simply wanted to know where dollar-
Swiss was.
KK: …
P: Yes, you were a broker for traders, every morning you had to fetch all the
prices in Europe, Danish crowns, Swedish crowns, Norwegian crowns, and
such, national currencies every morning, the opening rates. You gave them
to traders, they calculated them in Swiss francs, and wrote them down on
big sheets.
B: And you offered two-way prices already?
P: … In Swiss banks exchange rates were determined by negotiation, like in a
bazaar (etc.).

The notion apresentation, a term adapted from Schutz and Luckmann (1973:
11), refers to the transport of details from different geographical locations and
time zones to a particular domain of activities. A partial attempt at apresenting
markets occurred before the introduction of screens: the prices written down by
hand on the “big sheets” to which P refers in the above quote were displayed on
wall boards and can be seen as early attempts at market apresentation. When
screens appeared, they were at first no more than substitutes for the “big sheets”:
displays on which the handwritten price sheets put together by female clerks were
projected on the basis of pictures taken of the sheets on the floor. This form of
apresentation rested upon a chain of activities that was in important respects
indistinguishable from the one that fetched prices in pre-screen times: it involved
narrowing down where the market was by calling up or telexing banks, writing
down the responses by hand (and perhaps recalculating prices in national
currencies), and making this information available for internal purposes through a
form of central presentation. Screens began to apresent a dispersed and dissociated
matrix of interests more directly only in 1973, when the British news provider
Reuters first launched the computerized foreign exchange system “Monitor”, which
became the basis for this electronic market (Read 1992). Monitor still apresented
the market only partially, however, since it, too, only provided indicative prices.
Nonetheless it did, from the beginning, include news. Actual dealing remained
extraneous to screen activities and was conducted over the phone and telex until
1981, when a new system, also developed by Reuters that included dealing services,
went live to 145 institutional customers in nine countries. The system was extended
within a year to Hong Kong, Singapore, and the Middle East, resulting in a market
with a world-wide presence (Read 1992: 283ff., 310–11). From that point onward,
deals could be concluded on screen within two to four seconds, and dealers could
communicate via the screen. Yet even before this system went live, the first system,
Monitor, from its launch onward, radically changed one aspect of dealing: it
answered the question of where the market was, i.e. what the prices of currencies
were and who might be ready to deal.
Before the market-on-screen, prices differed from place to place and had to be
ascertained afresh for every deal through long and painful processes of phoning
132 Karin Knorr-Cetina
up banks and waiting for lines from operators for overseas calls. After the
introduction of Monitor, prices suddenly became available globally to everyone
connected by the system, in a market that functioned between countries and between
continents. Before the market-on-screen, there were dispersed networks of trading
parties entertaining business relationships. After the introduction of the computer-
ized screen quotes in 1981, “the market” no longer resided in a network of many
places, but only in one, the screen, which could be represented identically in all
places. The economic counterpart to this coming together of all market fragments
in one location was the declining importance of arbitrage. Price differences between
locations made visible on screen, even if they involve only indicative prices, will
quickly be eliminated, as the information about them is available to all traders
connected and traders try to take advantage of these differences. The sociological
counterpart to Monitor and its expansion into dealing services and the many
capabilities and information windows the successor systems provide is the
emergence of GRS as a mechanism of coordination. Not only were markets recast
with the coming together and expansion of all their functions and contexts on
financial screens, but forms of social coordination were also reconfigured.

The market as a moving timeworld and the flow


architecture of this timeworld
I now want to address the flow architecture of foreign exchange markets which
has been made possible by the GRS. The notion of a flow, as I shall use the term,
responds to the aggregate properties the market acquired after being put on screens
and to the global processual qualities of this market. To start things off, consider
the continuation of the conversation reported before with the proprietary trader
who defined the market on screen as a life form. He also pointed to the continuously
changing shape of the market:

KK: I want to come back to the market, what the market is for you. Does it have
a particular shape?
LG: No, it changes “shape” all the time.

Traders perform their activities in a moving field constituted by changing dealing


prices, shifting trading interests (the indicative prices), scrolling records of the
immediate past that are continually updated, incoming conversational requests,
newly projected market trends, and emerging and disappearing headline news,
commentaries and economic analyses. In other words, they perform their activities
in a temporal world; the market itself is intrinsically dynamic and processual and
the global reflex system of financial screens displays, enhances and accelerates the
market process and its dynamic properties. As the information scrolls down the
screens and is replaced by new information, a new market reality continually
projects itself. The constantly emerging lines of text at times repeat the disappearing
ones, but they also add to them and replace them, updating the reality in which
traders move. The market as a “greater being”, as an empirical object of ongoing
From pipes to scopes 133
activities and effects, continually transforms itself like a bird changing direction in
mid-flight, creating the anticipation problem traders confront. From one point of
view, a defining characteristic of a financial market is its non-identity with itself.
Markets are always in the process of being materially defined, they continually
acquire new properties and change the ones they have. It is this ontological liquidity
of financial markets that contributes to their perception as a reality in flux. The
flow of the market reflects the corresponding stream of activities and things: a
dispersed mass of market participants continues to act, events continue to occur,
policies take hold and have effects. Markets are objects of observation and analysis
because they change continually; and while they are clearly defined in terms of
prices, news, relevant economic indicators, and so on at any given moment, they
are ill-defined with respect to the direction they will take at the next moment and
in the less immediate future.
Historically, markets were marketplaces, physical locations where buyers and
sellers were able to meet and coordinate their interests (e.g. Agnew 1986: 18).
Likewise, our concepts of an everyday reality tend to be spatial concepts. We see
reality as an environment that exists independently of us and in which we dwell
and perform our activities. The very notions of a lifeworld and of a world on
screen as used so far in this chapter also suggest spatiality; they suggest that the
idea of a spatial environment can be extended to electronic domains as these become
– for some of us – a place to work and live. The problem with these notions in
regard to time is that they imply that time is something that passes in these spatial
environments but is extraneous to the environment itself. We relate the existence
of a lifeworld, of an environment, or of everyday reality more to the physical
materiality of a spatial world than to any temporal dimension. We also express,
one assumes, the durability of the physical world compared with the human lifespan
through spatializing concepts. The point is that the screen reality discussed has
none of this durability. It is more like a carpet of which small sections are rolled
out in front of us. The carpet grounds experience; we can step on it, and change
our positioning on it. But this carpet only composes itself as it is rolled out; the
spatial illusions it affords hide the intrinsic temporality of the fact that its threads
(the lines of text appearing on screen) are woven into the carpet only as we step on
it and unravel again behind our back (the lines are updated and disappear). Thus
the screen reality – the carpet – is a process, but it is not simply like a river that
flows in the sense of an identical mass of water transferring itself from one location
to another. Rather, it is processual in the sense of an infinite succession of non-
identical matter projecting itself forward as changing screen. This is what one
may call the flow-character of this reality.
This formulation suggests that what I have called the global reflex system – and
particularly its screen component – is necessary for this flow reality to emerge: it is
through the performative and presentational capabilities of the GRS mechanism
and its information feeds that the market acquires the properties of an aggregate
entity and, while being performed and reflexively analysed and projected, takes
on the character of a stream of things moving forward as a whole. We also need to
distinguish here between participating financial flows and the composite reality of
134 Karin Knorr-Cetina
a flowing market. Traders sometime contrast “taking a view” of a market develop-
ment, which is subjective, with having concrete information about what they call
“orders” and “flows”, which is objective, since orders and flows are constitutive
components of financial markets. Financial orders refer to requests for trades once
the price of a financial instrument reaches a certain level; when an order is executed,
it becomes a flow. Financial flows refer to volumes of a financial instrument
changing positions and accounts; in accounting terms, flows are distinguished from
“non-changing” objects in that they must be expressed in terms of a time interval
(Houthakker and Williamson 1996: 9). In foreign exchange, large flows are large
amounts of currencies being bought or sold. The sales may arise from mergers
and acquisitions of firms that require large cross-border payments, from central
bank transactions in support of a particular currency, etc. Advance and concurrent
knowledge of large orders and flows is important to traders because these orders
and flows may “move the market” – they may change price levels. They may also
potentially set in motion new market trends and reverse upward or downward
tendencies in currency prices. To participants, orders and flows are part of the
market as an independent reality and they are at the same time forces that drive
the market.
Participants’ understandings of flows can be related to common notions of
flow which we should briefly consider. Social scientists tend to associate the term
flow either directly with (1) things travelling or (2) fluidity. The first idea responds
to the increased mobilities of contemporary life (Urry 2000: 15–16, 36–7). It gives
expression to the phenomenon that it is not only people that commute, travel, and
migrate in seemingly ever-increasing numbers, but that messages and information
also move. It is particularly the travelling of communications that underpins the
idea of a network society as one based on flows of information (e.g. Castells 1996).
This idea is important, but it does not quite capture what happens in the case of
financial flows. In currency trading, financial flows refer to payments that imply
adjustments of accounts. No physical transfers of money need take place for this
purpose; what flows in the sense of something being transferred is financial (market,
payment, etc.) power as an abstract capacity rather than actual money. The
payments are important to market participants because they influence price levels,
as indicated. The changes that occur and concern participants in response to
financial flows pertain to the market as centrally composed of price levels. Also
changing in conjunction with large financial flows may be market stories,
commentaries, and analyses, headline news, trend extrapolations, and the like –
all belonging to the level of the market as presented on screen. This level of the
market is what the notion of a flow market as used in this chapter targets.
The second meaning of flow found in the literature is that of fluidity; it draws
on the distinction between liquids and solids. For example, analysts who emphasize
fluidity conceptualize the current stage of modernity as marked by a transition
from more solid forms of order and tradition to structures that are more liquid
and fluid, or that are melting, as in Marx’s famous phrase that “all that is solid
melts into air” (e.g. Berman 1982; Bauman 2000). The liberalization of traditional
education exemplifies this trend, as does the deregulation of markets, the
From pipes to scopes 135
flexibilization of labour and the breakdown and replacement of traditional family
relations (e.g. Lasch 1978). This idea of the “melting of the solid” comes closer to
the one used here, but the point about the screen reality as a flow is not that it is
nomadic (without itinerary) and unmarked by the traces of social and economic
structure. The point is the projection and reconstitution of this reality as one that
is continually emerging in a piecemeal fashion. One can compare it to a text that
is in the process of being written simultaneously by many authors, that is composed
in the process of writing out numerous different components, and that reaches no
further than the contributor’s pen. It is the emergence of this market text in episodic
pieces, contemporaneously with the agent’s activity and the short duration of the
text, that the notion of a flow as used here is intended to capture. I also suggest
that it is possible to retain notions such as that of a world while remaining aware
of the scrolling change of this particular world. The screen that rolls out the lifeworld
in which traders move nonetheless presents such a lifeworld; it presents a complex
environment composed of “walkable” regions and horizons that ground activities.
The ground may be shifting continually and the lifeworld is “in flight”. But traders
are able to deal with this flux; their ways of “inhabiting” it are adapted to the
timeworld they confront. An example of this adaptation is the traders’ tendency to
keep pace with their world-in-flight by following market movements in their trading
and by developing a “feeling” for these movements. Traders also analyse the short-
term and long-term tendencies of their lifeworld’s movements in terms of stories
and “big pictures” that give duration to particular states.
If markets are continually changing processes with variable time attributes,
they can also be viewed as time contexts that move across space, or to be precise,
across time zones. Here the global character of financial markets, particularly of
currency markets, becomes important. One can see these markets as moving in
and out of time zones continually with the sun, and as they do, of taking on different
features and updating their positions. As global entities, markets have their own
instrument- and clock-related characteristics that characterize them in the
aggregate. For example, markets have characteristic “speeds” indicated by the price
movements which are at the centre of a changing market process. In currency spot
trading, which is the direct exchange of currencies, prices tend to change within
split seconds during periods of average activity. As a consequence, the currency
trading timeworld moves forward at a breathtaking pace. Another attribute is the
liquidity of a market, which in this context indicates the speed with which a financial
instrument can be bought or sold, without significant price changes. Markets will
be “thin” (have few participants willing to trade) at certain times and “deep” at
others, with market liquidity varying over time. Markets also undergo seasonal
variations, for example, periods of low trading volume during the holiday season
in December, when the accounting end of the year draws close. When markets are
conceived as moving across time zones, additional features become relevant,
underscoring their character as moving entities and timeworlds. To make this
character plausible, I want to consider the following aspects of global markets,
focusing again on the foreign exchange market as the most developed global market.
A first set of characteristics refers to the temporal unity of these markets: they
136 Karin Knorr-Cetina
keep their own clock and times and they have their own global schedules and
calendars. A second characteristic of these markets is that they are globally
“exclusive” systems that have left behind their natural embeddedness in local and
physical settings. This point will allow me to address the architecture of these
markets as based on bridgehead centres in the three major time zones. My final
point illustrates the working of a flow architecture as one where such centres play
“bridging” and mediating roles in giving support to a moving market and in
updating and forwarding the market on a time zone trajectory.
A first feature that ties into the view of global foreign exchange markets as
moving time contexts is that they follow their own time, which is Greenwich Mean
Time (GMT). Greenwich Mean Time, the time and date of the zero meridian
which runs through Greenwich, England, was adopted as a universal standard in
November 1884 during the meeting of the International Meridian Conference in
Washington, DC, USA. This conference drew up an international date line and
created 24 time zones. Prior to that, the United States alone had over 300 local
times (see Zerubiavel 1982: 12–13 for its interesting historical origin). Since these
markets have no central location, time is fixed to a particular coordinate of the
globe to assure global identification of the correct transaction date. If this were
not the case, a transaction in New York requiring delivery in Sydney two days later
and the receiving side in Sydney might not register the same delivery date. But this
also means that the respective markets carry their own time reckoning with them.
As an aggregate of positions, orders, flows, and travelling “books” (accounts), they
remain independent of local time zones. A further aspect of the temporality of
global markets is “calendars” and schedules: dates and hours set for important
economic announcements and for the release of periodically calculated economic
indicators and data. These calendars and schedules structure and pace participants’
awareness and anticipation. They originate in a particular world region and the
respective time zones; for example, the data might be released in the US at Eastern
standard time and they will consist of national statistics referring, for example, to
the US, or of aggregate statistics referring to a group of nations, as with European
Union data. But calendars and schedules from all three major time zones are
relevant and will be listed in daily and weekly market “schedules”. These schedules
“anchor” market developments in national or regional economies’ fundamental
characteristics. Yet as transnationally relevant collections of time points that punctu-
ate and dramatize the ordinary temporal flow of market events and observations,
they also belong to the disembedded timeworld of global markets.
This disembedding is the second feature I want to discuss. It too sustains the
notion of global markets as moving timeworlds. Giddens uses the notion of
disembedding to refer to the “lifting out of social relations from local contexts”
(Giddens 1990: 21–9). I use the term to refer to the phenomenon that the markets
observed appear removed from their local context in terms of participants’
orientation, their inherent connectivity and integration as the key to overcoming
the geographical separation between participants, their rules of trading practices,
their forms of compensation, and the like (see Knorr-Cetina and Bruegger 2002a
for an overview of these characteristics). To give some examples, market participants
From pipes to scopes 137
(e.g. traders) are disembedded in the sense that they are oriented toward one another
across time zones rather than toward the local environment. They remain oriented
to the translocal environment even after their working hours, continuing to watch
the market that has moved on to another time zone through handheld Reuters’
instruments and TV channels. An important feature that points beyond this global
orientation is what has been called elsewhere the reciprocal interlocking of time
dimensions among traders as a means for achieving a level of intersubjectivity in
global fields. What holds participants together across space is a “community of
time” rather than a community of space, as in traditional societies. This community
of time comes about, for example, by market participants on dispersed trading
floors watching the market virtually continuously in synchronicity and immediacy
for the duration of their working (and waking) hours.4 All three aspects are
important here: synchronicity refers to the phenomenon that traders and salespeople
observe the same market events simultaneously over the same time period;
continuity means they observe the market virtually without interruption, having
lunch at their desks and asking others to watch when they step out; and temporal
immediacy refers to the immediate real-time availability of market transactions
and information to participants within the appropriate institutional trading
networks. Traders may also see themselves as belonging to global professional
communities and they exhibit similar lifestyles across continents. Another
disembedding feature are the rules of trading practice which are not covered by
national law but correspond to a lex mercatoria (a rule of trading practices) holding
among participants on a global level, and reinforced in trading interactions without
recourse to formal law.
Going beyond disembeddedness and asking what “supports” a market that moves
freely across time zones, one can point to the trading floors in global cities where
the moving market resides during time zone hours, becomes further articulated
and defined, and then moves on to the next time zone. To begin, let me draw a
distinction between a globally inclusive and a globally exclusive cultural form. A
globally inclusive financial marketplace would be one where individual investors
in any country are able to trade assets freely across national boundaries. Such a
system requires, among other things, the computer penetration of investor locations
(e.g. households), language capabilities or unification, Web architectures, payment
and clearing arrangements between exchanges, regulatory approvals, and national
pension and insurance systems that support individual financial planning. Such
systems are in the process of being created in some regions, but they are far from
being in place on a worldwide basis. On the other hand, in the area of institutional
trading considered in this chapter, a global market of a different kind has been in
evidence for some time. This form of globality is not based upon the penetration
of countries or of individual behaviour. Instead, it rests on the establishment of
bridgehead centres of institutional trading in the financial hubs of the three major
time zones: in New York, London, Tokyo, and Zurich, Frankfurt or Singapore.
The moving market “rests” in these bridgehead centres where it becomes articulated
and revised. The bridgehead centres contribute to the markets’ continuation by
the trading activities of their “market makers” (the traders who take their own
138 Karin Knorr-Cetina
positions in the market), the activities of their salespersons, and others. These
activities support the market, which becomes anchored in the time-zone-specific
global reflex systems of trading floors. The activities also change the market, and
this contributes to the notion of the market as a flow in the sense introduced
before, and as a moving timeworld. Participants coming to work in New York in
the morning will not be confronted with the same market they left at the end of
their previous working day. They will see an updated version of this market, one
that bears the mark of the events happening in the intermediate time zones of
Asia and Europe. In addition, these markets will arrive “whole”, at every new time
zone and take off “whole” to the next one. This is somewhat simplified, but let us
see what one might mean by such a statement. When traders arrive at their desks
in the morning in Tokyo and open their screens they will find summary accounts
of what happened before in the New York time zone – these accounts are encap-
sulated in closing rates, index values, volume statistics, intraday trading trends,
etc. They will also find more qualitative summaries relayed to them by their contacts
in the earlier time zone in their conversational dealing screens. In addition, traders
themselves will make efforts to find out more about market developments in the
earlier time zone by listening to relevant news services at home, calling friends, or
contacting them via the conversational dealing system before and while they begin
dealing. Most major institutional trading floors also have morning meetings where
such information is reported, analysts’ summaries prepared in another time zone
are transmitted over intercoms, and on-floor analysts and economists relate their
assessment of the situation. Similarly, at Tokyo closing time, traders and analysts
in this time zone will transmit summary information to contacts, bulletin boards,
and other outlets in the next (European) time zone and they may be contacted by
those working there via phone or electronic mail for specific and concrete
information. The European (London, Zurich, Frankfurt) and American (New York)
time zones overlap by several hours (New York institutional trading starts at 8 am,
which is 2 pm Central European Time). In response to the overlap between the
European and North American opening hours, the markets will not “move on”
immediately but will trade simultaneously until Europe closes – the markets tend
to get “hectic” at these times just as they will be “silent” when Tokyo is not yet very
active and New York has closed. When the European closing time approaches, the
same sort of summarizing and forwarding described earlier will take place. The
overlap between Europe and the US corresponds to a “time gap” between the US
(New York) and Japan (Tokyo) provoked by the larger time difference between
these cities where no or little trading takes place in both time zones. Traders in the
same institution, dealing in the same instrument (say currency options), may
cooperate across time zones when longer-term contracts are involved (e.g. options)
and positions cannot be closed at the end of a trading day. In this case, the market’s
move to the next time zone may involve the transfer of a “global book” – an
electronic record of all contracts entered, including those added and structured in
the forwarding time zone. Global books incorporate particular philosophies of
trading whose content and adaptation to time-zone-specific circumstances will be
From pipes to scopes 139
discussed in similar beginning- and end-of-day global conversations between traders
in different zones.

Conclusion
The market “flow” refers to these forwarded features as well as the aggregate
positions and accounts that circle the globe while changing continuously with
activities and events. A flow “architecture” refers to the support systems of these
flows, which I take to be the time-zone-specific trading floor settings with their
global reflex systems. The global reflex systems provide for the market’s unity and
movement across space. They also suggest a form of coordination of global fields
that is to be distinguished from spatially embedded network structures. As the
above examples show, the market’s movement across the globe has an accomplished
sense; it cannot be detached from the activities of market participants who sustain
the market in a particular time zone and then “compute” and discursively
summarize a market’s features over time zone intervals as they forward these features
to the next time zone. By the same token, participants provide for the continuation
of global markets, but their activities are not the focus of this chapter. Also left
unconsidered, given the limits of this chapter, are the activities of the information
and service provider firms that develop and service the global reflex systems and
assume much of the apresentation function.

Acknowledgements
I am heavily indebted to the managers, traders, salespersons, and analysts whose
activities I studied together with Urs Bruegger, my co-author on other papers, and
who so generously shared with us the information we collected. Research for this
chapter is supported by a grant from the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft.

Notes
1 For a more general use of the term “architecture” in relation to market institutions
approached from the angle of a theory of fields see Fligstein (2001).
2 The study is based on ethnographic research conducted from 1997 on the trading
floor of a major global investment bank in Zurich and in several other banks. For a
description of this research, see Knorr-Cetina and Bruegger (2002a). See also Bruegger
(1999) for an extensive description of currency trading in all its aspects.
3 These figures were reported in the New York Times, Sunday, 8 September 2002 (see
Barringer 2002).
4 As Harvey has argued (1989: 239–59), increasing time-compression is a characteristic
of the whole process of modernity and of post-industrialization. A similar argument
had been advanced by McLuhan (1964: 358), who proposed that electricity establishes
a global network of communication that enables us to apprehend and experience
media-transmitted events nearly simultaneously, as in a common central nervous system.
To date, however, few media events are “simultaneously” transmitted across time zones,
and media content is adapted to local cultures and locally reinterpreted. We argue
that many other mechanisms and infrastructures and in fact a secondary economy of
information collection and transmission need to be in place to create a global social
form.
140 Karin Knorr-Cetina
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142 Bob Jessop

7 Cultural political economy,


the knowledge-based
economy and the state
Bob Jessop

This chapter explores the constitution of the knowledge-based economy as an


increasingly hegemonic meta-object of governance (and, indeed, meta-governance)
in response to the crisis of Atlantic Fordism.1 It interprets the knowledge-based
economy (KBE) as a complex, heterogeneous, and variable assemblage of social
relations which are articulated to a distinctive set of subjectivities and mediated
through material objects and social institutions. It also traces the rise of the KBE
as a provisional, partial, and unstable product of distinctive discourses and material
practices. It should be emphasized at once that this approach does not imply that
capitalism is always characterized by such hegemonic meta-objects of
(meta-)governance nor that the latter have some predetermined lifespan (let alone
a predetermined life-course) that coincides with a preordained logic of capitalist
development. Instead the following analysis is concerned with what I have elsewhere
termed the ‘contingent necessity’ of durable institutional orders and with what
actor-network theorists have elsewhere described as the problem of how Leviathan
(and, by extension, other institutional ensembles) get ‘screwed down’ and actors
are enrolled behind them (Jessop 1982; Callon and Latour 1981; Callon and Law
1982).
My interpretation of the knowledge-based economy is developed in three main
steps. First, theoretically, I introduce the distinctive features of cultural political
economy as a powerful general approach that helps to overcome some of the
limitations of conventional approaches to economic analysis (Jessop and Sum 2001;
for applications, Jessop 2003; Sum 2003). Second, substantively, I describe the
search to identify and develop a ‘new economy’ following major crises in/of the
Atlantic Fordist economies and argue that this search has been provisionally
concluded with the (still incomplete) discursive construction and material
constitution of the new economy as a KBE. In particular, I highlight the extent to
which this new meta-object of (meta-)governance rests on an expanded notion of
the technological and economic factors making for competitiveness, on increased
valorization of creative and flexible attitudes in an enterprise culture, and on the
potential contribution of lifelong learning to the dynamism of the knowledge-
based economy as a mode of growth. I also argue that these discourses are
performative rather than purely descriptive. And, third, in this context, I describe
Cultural political economy, the knowledge-based economy and the state 143
the distinctive roles played by states in shaping these new objects and subjects of
economic governance and note how these roles are linked with a profound structural
transformation and strategic reorientation of the political regimes associated with
Atlantic Fordism. The chapter ends with some brief remarks on a more general
research agenda for cultural political economy.

Theoretical preliminaries
My approach to this topic draws on the Marxian critique of political economy
and reinterprets it through what can usefully be termed ‘cultural political economy’.
The latter is an emerging post-disciplinary approach that adopts the ‘cultural turn’
in economic and political inquiry but nonetheless affirms the importance of the
interconnected institutional materialities of economics and politics. In brief, the
cultural turn highlights the complex relationship between meanings and practices
and examines the role of discourse and discursive practices in the making and re-
making of social relations as well as their contributions to the contingent emergence,
provisional consolidation, and tendential logics of the various extra-discursive
properties of social relations. The cultural turn includes approaches in terms of
argumentation, rhetoric, narrativity, discourse, semiotics, hermeneutics, identity,
reflexivity, historicity, and so forth. As such it involves an interconnected series of
general ontological, epistemological, and methodological claims as well as more
specific substantive claims about the fields to which it has been applied. One aim
of this chapter is to show that the cultural turn is just as relevant to scientific,
technical, economic, and juridico-political orders as it is to more obviously cultural,
ideological, or spiritual phenomena.2 It also aims to steer a path between a ‘soft
economic sociology’ that subsumes economic activities under broad generalizations
about social and cultural life without regard to their formal and substantive
specificity and a ‘hard orthodox economics’ that reifies formal, market-rational,
calculative activities and analyses them in splendid (or sordid) isolation from their
broader extra-economic context and supports. There are some similarities here
with Callon’s recent attempts to move actor-network theory away from its roots in
science and technology studies towards concern with the specificity of markets
and market transactions (cf. Callon 1999). However, while he clearly rejects or
reinterprets the assumptions of orthodox economics, it is less clear that Callon
escapes entanglement in the snares of ‘soft economic sociology’. This claim is best
developed after my presentation of the cultural political economy approach.
Ontologically, cultural political economy stresses the contribution of discourse
to the overall constitution of social objects and social subjects and, a fortiori, to
their co-constitution and co-evolution. For example, orthodox political economy
tends to naturalize or reify technical and economic objects (such as land, tools,
machines, the division of labour, money, commodities, the information economy)
and to employ impoverished accounts of how subjects and subjectivities are formed
as well as of how different modes of calculation emerge, come to be institutionalized,
and get modified. In contrast, cultural political economy holds that technical and
economic objects are always socially constructed, historically specific, more or less
144 Bob Jessop
socially embedded or disembedded (or, perhaps better, entangled or disentangled
in broader networks of social relations), more or less embodied (or ‘in-corporated’
and embrained), and in need of continuing social ‘repair’ work for their reproduc-
tion. It also emphasizes the contribution of discourse and discursive practices to
the forming of the subjects, subjectivities, modes of calculation, routines, and social
arrangements that are involved in the production, reproduction, and consumption
of these objects.
Cultural political economy can adopt both bottom-up and top-down perspectives
and, ideally, should combine them. In the first case, it considers how particular
economic objects are produced, distributed, and consumed in specific contexts by
specific economic and extra-economic agents; traces their effects in the wider
economy and beyond; and explores how different subjects, subjectivities, and modes
of calculation come to be naturalized and materially implicated in everyday life.3
Conversely, when adopting a macro-level or top-down viewpoint, cultural political
economy would focus on the tendential emergence of macro-structural properties
and their role in selectively reinforcing certain micro-level behaviours from among
the inevitable flux of economic activities – thereby contributing to the reproduction
of a more or less coherent economic (and extra-economic) order. Moreover, in this
context, it seeks to identify the tendential laws, dynamics, or regularities of economic
conduct and performance that are reproduced only insofar as this structured
coherence is itself reproduced.4 Any such coherence is always spatially and
temporally delimited, however, being realized through particular discursive-material
spatio-temporal fixes. These enable agents to operate within specific frames of
action and serve to displace and/or defer certain costs, dilemmas, contradictions,
and crisis-tendencies beyond their respective discursive-material boundaries and
spatio-temporal horizons.5 Finally, from the viewpoint of agency, a macro-level
cultural political economy would also explore how the inherently improbable
reproduction of these relatively stable and coherent economic (as well as extra-
economic) orders is secured through the complex strategic coordination and
governance of their various heterogeneous elements.
To avoid misunderstanding, four clarifications are needed. First, emergent
properties are constituted in and through action, always tendential, and always in
need of stabilization. Thus any tendencies linked with particular accumulation
regimes or modes of regulation, let alone with capitalism itself, are themselves
always tendential. This doubly tendential nature of tendencies means that the
very presence of the tendencies linked with a given accumulation regime or mode
of regulation (whether or not such tendencies are actualized in specific circum-
stances) depends on the extent to which the properties that generate them are
themselves reproduced. This implies that the incomplete realization and/or subse-
quent decomposition of a given social form will attenuate what would otherwise
be regarded as its naturally necessary tendencies. Second, strategies are always
elaborated in and through discourses; they are not the automatic product of rational
calculation from pre-given positions. These discourses are complex, heterogeneous,
and differentially associated with particular institutional orders and/or specific
identities, values, and interests in the lifeworld. Among the relevant discourses
Cultural political economy, the knowledge-based economy and the state 145
here are techno-economic paradigms, norms of production and consumption,
specific models of development, accumulation strategies, societal paradigms, and
the broader organizational and institutional narratives and/or meta-narratives
that provide the general context (or ‘web of interlocution’) in which these discourses
make sense (Jessop 1999; Jenson 1990; Somers 1994). Third, the implementation
of strategies and tactics depends on organizational and learning capacities and is
always prone to failure. Thus one aspect of the successful consolidation of new
economic forms and relations is the capacity to learn from failure and to adapt
activities, organizations, and institutional architectures accordingly (on governance
failure, see Malpas and Wickham 1995; Jessop 2002). And, fourth, strategies are
always pursued on a strategically selective terrain which makes some strategies
more viable than others. This terrain is not purely economic, however, almost
regardless of how broadly the economy is defined. It is always the product of the
interaction of economic and extra-economic systems and social relations.
Epistemologically, consistent with this general approach, cultural political
economy involves a critical approach to the categories and methods of political
economy and to the inevitable contextuality and historicity of the latter’s claims to
knowledge. It rejects any universalistic, positivist account of reality, denies the
subject–object duality, allows for the co-constitution of subjects and objects, and
eschews reductionist approaches to the discipline. But it also continues to stress
both the materiality of social relations and the constraints involved in processes
that operate ‘behind the backs’ of the relevant agents and the emergent structural
properties and dynamics engendered by these processes. It can thereby escape the
sociological imperialism of pure social constructionism and the voluntarist vacuity
of certain lines of discourse analysis, which seem to imply that one can will anything
into existence in and through an appropriately articulated discourse. In short, it
recognizes the emergent extra-discursive features of social relations and their impact
on capacities for action and transformation.
Substantively, cultural political economy distinguishes between the economy as
the chaotic sum of all substantive6 economic activities and the ‘economy’ (or, better,
‘economies’ in the plural) as an imaginatively narrated, more or less coherent
subset of these activities. There is a complex relation between these two: for there
is no economic imaginary without materiality (Bayart 1994: 20–1; cf. Callon 1988a).
Thus, on the one hand, the operation of the economic imaginary presupposes a
substratum of substantive economic relations as its elements; on the other, where
that imaginary is successfully operationalized and institutionalized, it transforms
and naturalizes these elements into the moments of a specific economy. For
economic imaginaries identify, privilege, and seek to stabilize some economic
activities from the totality of economic relations and transform them into objects
of observation, calculation, and governance. In so doing, they accord the economy
specific boundaries, conditions of existence, typical economic agents, tendencies
and counter-tendencies, and a distinctive overall dynamic (Daly 1994; Miller and
Rose 1993).7 These imagined economies can be discursively constituted and
materially reproduced at different sites, on different scales, and with different spatial
and temporal horizons (for the example of a local strawberry market, see Garcia
146 Bob Jessop
1986; and, for the neo-liberal global economy, Langley 2002). This always occurs
in and through struggles conducted by specific agents, typically involves the
asymmetrical manipulation of power and knowledge, and is liable to contestation
and resistance. In this sense the ‘economy’ considered as an object of observation
and/or governance is only ever partially constituted and there are always interstitial,
residual, marginal, irrelevant, recalcitrant and plain contradictory elements that
escape any attempt to identify, govern, and stabilize a given ‘economic arrangement’
or broader ‘economic order’ (Jessop 2002). This explains the recurrence of eco-
nomic governance failures, whether this is attempted through the market, hierarchy,
networks, or some combination thereof.
A further consequence of this approach is that the economy in its broadest
sense includes both economic and extra-economic factors. On the one hand, capitalism
involves a series of specific economic forms (the commodity form, money form,
wage form, price form, property form, etc.) associated with generalized commodity
production; but, on the other hand, as theorists including Adam Smith, Karl Marx,
Max Weber, Emile Durkheim, Karl Polanyi, and Michel Callon have noted in one
context or another, the reproduction of these forms cannot be secured purely
through the logic of the capitalist market. It follows that the economy cannot be
adequately conceived (let alone managed) as a ‘pure’ economic sphere that repro-
duces itself in total isolation from the non-economic and that can therefore
determine non-economic spheres in a unilateral manner. But it also follows that
the economy should not be dissolved back into society (or culture) as a whole. For
it does have its own specificities that derive from the distinctive extra-discursive
properties of its various forms (cf. Slater 2002a on the importance of the commodity
and property forms in differentiating the economy from other social relations).
Thus successful economic governance depends on the co-presence of extra-
economic as well as economic forms and on extra-economic as well as economic
regularization. It follows that the operations of the economy are co-constituted by
other systems and co-evolve with them: these include technologies, science,
education, politics, law, art, religion, etc. They are also articulated more generally
to the lifeworld. The latter comprises all those identities, interests, values and
conventions that are not directly anchored in the logic of any particular system
and that provide the substratum and background to social interaction in everyday
life. And, if this is true for the nature and dynamic of the circuits of capital con-
sidered as a whole (abstracting from specific differences among its many constituent
elements), it will be even more significant for specific forms of economic activity,
economic object, economic institution, and economic subjectivity.
Given the variety of forms that can be taken by the cultural turn as well as the
wide range of institutional and evolutionary approaches to economic analysis, it
follows that there are also many variants of cultural political economy. My own
approach is rooted in Marx’s critique of political economy in the twin belief that
capitalism is the dominant force in contemporary economic life and that Marx’s
pioneering analysis still defines the unsurpassable horizon for critical reflection on
capitalism. This does not mean that it is incontrovertibly true and cannot be
improved – far from it. Instead it means that critical engagement with Marx’s
Cultural political economy, the knowledge-based economy and the state 147
critique of political economy is an essential reference point (if no longer – or not
yet again – an obligatory point of theoretical passage) for any serious attempt to
improve our understanding of the historical specificity and dynamic of capitalism.
This claim refers to the Marx of Capital and its preparatory works rather than the
many Marxisms claiming his legacy. In this context, and for present purposes, the
most important reference point is Marx’s insistence that capital is not a thing but
a social relation. For, as Marx notes in Volume I of Capital:

… property in money, means of subsistence, machines and other means of


production, does not as yet stamp a man as a capitalist if there be wanting the
correlative – the wage-worker, the other man who is compelled to sell himself
of his own free-will. … capital is not a thing, but a social relation between
persons, established by the instrumentality of things.
(Marx 1967: 717)

Marx took this claim, which anticipates key arguments in mediology and actor-
network theory, very seriously (on mediology, see Debray 1991, 2000; on actor-
network theory, see Latour 1987; Callon 1998a; Law and Hassard 1999). Thus, as
Law’s general survey of actor-network theory suggests, ‘almost all of our interactions
with other people are mediated through objects of one kind or another. … [or
more precisely, through] a network of objects [and] networks of objects-and-
people’. More generally, Marx emphasized not only the co-constitution of the
forces and relations of production (thereby rejecting any simple-minded reduction
of one to the other) but also the continuing dependence of capital qua social relation
on the heterogeneous instrumentalities of things. This can be seen not only in the
complex genealogy of the various elements that are eventually combined to produce
and then reproduce the capitalist mode of production but also in his analyses of
the technical and social division of labour, the complexities of the circuits of capital,
and the tendential formation of the world market. In this context, for example,
Marx shows how the transition from manufacture to machinofacture played a key
role in the dominance of capital over wage-labour; how it transformed the
individual worker and collective labourer into appendages of the machine; and
how the increased cooperation and productivity enabled by the technical division
of labour and machines within the factory contributed significantly to the
accumulation process. Equally importantly, Marx stressed both the inherent
improbability of continuing capital accumulation and the tendency for competition
and class struggle to break through (or, to use Callon’s language, to ‘overflow’) any
emergent and contingent institutional frames and/or spatio-temporal fixes that
might contribute to its regularization or governance through their capacities to
displace and/or defer capital’s contradictions and tensions.
Marx also interpreted actors as complex ensembles of roles, masks, and social
performances (Urbánek 1967), considered the specific material and social conditions
in which capitalist calculation and calculating subjects emerged and could be
reproduced (cf. Bryer 2000a, 2000b), and examined closely machine–person
relations and their impact on mind and body (Marx: 1967: 351–485; Marx 1973:
148 Bob Jessop
690–706, 769–77; Harvey 1998; Marsden 1999). Indeed, in the last regard, Callard
notes:

Marx depicts an economy characterised by parasitic and vampiric relations;


an economy in which it is no longer clear whose organs are whose, whose
agency (animate or mechanical) drives what, and whether organs should be
understood as natural or mechanic entities; an economy replete with
profoundly unnatural players – Cyclopean machines, dwarfish workers, the
pulsating organ of the collective worker.
(Callard 1998: 396)

There are strong affinities between the relational materialism of Marxism and
that of actor-network theory. While I cannot elaborate all of these here, it is worth
noting four key ones: (a) a relational ontology based on the mutual constitution
and interpenetration of the material and social linked to a determined refusal of
rigid object–subject and material–cultural distinctions; (b) rejection of the fetishistic
distinction between the profit-oriented, market-mediated, and self-reproducing
economy and other ‘objectively necessary’ functional systems within the wider
social formation; (c) denial of any fixed ontological distinction between the ‘macro’
and the ‘micro’ or the ‘global’ and the ‘local’ in favour of their mutual conditioning
and continued interaction; and (d) interest in the interaction between mechanisms
and strategies that gives some semblance of unity to economic and political agencies,
the conditions and points at which these unities can break down, and the
mechanisms and strategies that may restore these unities. Nonetheless there are
also some significant differences between a Marxist critique of political economy
inflected by cultural political economy and actor-network theory as Callon applies
the latter to the economic sphere. Above all actor-network theory continues to
reflect its origins in science and technology studies with the result that it tends to
remain a generic theory analogous to the strategic-relational approach that informs
cultural political economy (on the strategic-relational approach, see Jessop 1982,
1990, 2001b). This means that it lacks many of the concepts that Marx developed
to comprehend the historical specificity of the capitalist mode of production, its
directional dynamic (not to be confused with an ultimate telos), its distinctive laws
of motion (i.e. its doubly tendential tendencies), and its unique organization as a
political economy of time (Postone 1993; Jessop 2003). Accordingly, while Callon
offers us many insights into the general conditions for the emergence of markets,
the particular constitution of markets in specific groups of goods and services
(defined in terms of their particular ‘qualities’), and the social preconditions of
economic externalities, much of this critique is directed against the ‘hard political
economy’ of orthodox economics. His more recent work is also directed in part
against the assumption that there is a capitalist system that operates behind the
‘backs of the producers’. This leads him to emphasize the competitive strategies
of particular actor-networks in a reflexive economic game of supply and demand
without regard to the changing modalities and overall logic of competition (e.g.
Callon et al., this volume). However, without taking account of the generalization
Cultural political economy, the knowledge-based economy and the state 149
of the commodity form to labour-power as a fictitious commodity, the peculiarities
of capital as opposed to money, the competitive pressures on individual capitals to
minimize socially necessary labour time and socially necessary turnover time, the
interdependence of the different circuits of capital, and the disjunctions and crisis-
tendencies inherent in the circuit of capital, actor-network theory as currently developed
cannot fully escape the limitations of a ‘soft economic sociology’ that emphasizes
the material institutedness, social embeddedness, and improbable reproduction
of specific economic institutions, organizations, and activities but is unable to
account for the generic crisis-tendencies and overall directional dynamic of capital
in general.
This said, rather than insisting on a strict opposition between a Marxist approach
and actor-network theory à la Callon, I want to suggest that they complement
each other in some respects and hence that there is some scope for a productive
dialogue between their respective advocates.8 For, whereas the sadly incomplete
Marxist critique of political economy tends to provide excellent macro-analyses
of capitalism and the capitalist social formation, it lacks many concepts crucial to
a satisfactory exploration and explanation of the mechanisms of valorization,
realization, and appropriation in specific branches of production and particular
markets. In this regard, it is stronger on the overall logic of exchange-value than it
is on the specificity of use-values. Conversely, while actor-network theory offers
significant insights into specific mechanisms of qualification, calculation, and
institutionalization in specific material–social–spatial–temporal frames, it lacks the
theoretical tools to account for the overall logic of accumulation. We will certainly
not find the answer in terms of the same modes of ‘translation’ that enable the
state to act as if it were a unitary authority in the name of its subjects (Callon and
Latour 1981: 278). For the operations of the invisible hand are different from
those of the iron fist (perhaps in a velvet glove). In this regard, actor-network
theory is stronger on the social construction of the material and immaterial features
of marketized and/or marketizable use-values than it is on the logic of surplus-
value and exchange value (Slater 2002b). Whether it is really possible to combine
the two approaches into a coherent analysis remains to be seen. Here I wish to
offer an alternative approach to solving some of the same deficits in the orthodox
Marxist approach and, in so doing, hope to contribute to the dialogue between
Marxism and actor-network theory.

The search for the ‘new economy’


There has been an extensive and often heated discussion – now somewhat
diminished – about the adequacy of the concept of post-Fordism as an entry-
point for studying recent changes in the growth dynamics of advanced capitalist
economies, the changing forms of competitive advantage of cities, regions, and
nations as well as of firms, clusters, and economic networks, and changing forms
of economic and social policy. Such questions are apparently either too ‘macro’ or
too general to have exercised actor-network theorists interested in market economies.
A cultural political economy approach may nonetheless offer a bridge between
150 Bob Jessop
their concerns and Marxist analyses. We can initiate the dialogue by considering
the role of economic imaginaries in the restructuring of economic and political
institutions, organizations, and activities and in the reorienting of the economic
and social policies pursued by the state as a mechanism of translation and authoriza-
tion. Let me begin by making two brief points about post-Fordism.
First, it may be better for some purposes to characterize the emerging accumu-
lation regime through a substantive concept that is analogous to Fordism, such as
Toyotism, Sonyism, Gatesism, or Wintelism. These refer to new techno-economic
paradigms in established or emerging manufacturing sectors and/or to new forms
of enterprise and competition deemed superior to the archetypal Fordist forms.
These paradigms lack the pervasive resonance in many different discourses,
domains, and countries that the Fordist paradigm enjoyed during the consolidation
of the Fordist labour process and its associated mode of growth based on mass
production and mass consumption. But they are certainly more susceptible to
analysis in actor-network terms as well as more fruitful than the more formal concept
of post-Fordism. This relies primarily on a chronological prefix to distinguish it
from Fordism and serves at best to remind us that its successor regime, if any, is far
from pre-ordained. The same problem holds for the ‘new economy’, with its
simplistic and overdrawn contrast between old and new. Indeed, Boyer has even
suggested that frequent use of ‘new’ and/or ‘end’ in debates about contemporary
economies is not only a sign of theoretical disorientation but also serves as a ‘leading
indicator’9 of the next economic crisis (Boyer 2002: 194–5). Other concepts, such
as the network economy, the information economy, the knowledge economy, or
informational capitalism, provide a more substantive entry-point not only to
interpret but also to guide economic developments. This does not mean that any
substantive concept is as good as another, either interpretatively or practically. We
must distinguish between the trial-and-error search to develop such concepts and
their adequacy to a critical understanding of emerging economic forms. The
concepts with the greatest resonance over time will be those that correspond most
adequately to the emerging economy and/or become so influential that they
themselves play a constitutive role in its evolution (on the dialectics of economy
and economics, see Callon 1988a). It is in this context that Gramsci distinguished
between ideologies (and discourses more generally) that were ‘arbitrary, rationalistic,
and willed’ and those that were ‘organic’ in that they could be translated into
feasible and reproducible practices and structures (Gramsci 1971: 376–7).
Second, whether the notion of post-Fordism is currently theoretically justified
as an analytical concept or not, discourses more or less explicitly referring to post-
Fordism or flexible specialization were important in the initial mediation of
economic, political and social change during the crisis in/of Atlantic Fordism.
Even so the initial meaning of ‘post-Fordism’ appeared to be more negative than
positive, i.e. it was seen in terms of a series of moves away from certain crisis-
generating or crisis-prone features of Fordism rather than as a move towards a new,
positively defined mode of economic growth with its own putative structured
coherence. For example, the once popular notion of flexible specialization was
mainly concerned with the reorganization of the labour process, firm structures,
Cultural political economy, the knowledge-based economy and the state 151
and forms of competition in response to the rigidities of mass production. There
was also interest in historical alternatives (such as a reinvigorated craft production)
or contemporary foreign models (such as the Third Italy, Silicon Valley, Toyotism,
or ‘lean production’) – although these would often prove hard to revive or transplant.
In addition this search process was often focused one-sidedly on technical-
organizational questions (cf. Gough 1992; Schoenberger 1997; Smith 2000). Efforts
were made, for example, to discover how, given the basic technology, firms could
organize design, production and marketing most ‘efficiently’, i.e. to achieve the
best mix of cost minimization, quality/variety maximization, and responsiveness
to markets. This focus was linked to the assumption that problems within capitalism
can be solved through technical-organizational change within the economy and/
or through adoption of new technical-institutional fixes and forms of governance
in the wider societal context in which capitalism is embedded.
The search for a positive content for post-Fordism can be compared with the
rise of Fordism. Gramsci’s comments on ‘Americanism and Fordism’ are helpful
here (Gramsci 1971). For he indicates that the emergence and consolidation of a
new accumulation regime depends critically on the exercise of political, intellectual,
and moral leadership and its translation into the reorganization of an entire social
formation. It cannot be secured purely through technological innovation coupled
with specific changes in the labour process, enterprise forms, forms of competition,
and other narrowly economic matters.
A key part of this process, as noted above, is the development of a new ‘economic
imaginary’ with its own performative, constitutive force. This involves struggles
among economic, political, and intellectual forces to redefine specific economies
as subjects, sites, and stakes of competition and/or as objects of regulation and to
generalize new norms of production and consumption in this connection. We
could see these struggles as analogous to those discussed by Callon under the rubric
of qualification–requalification and the logic of framing and externalities – albeit
now played out on a wider stage, with larger stakes and, a fortiori, with larger
problems of ‘translation’ if the new economic imaginary is to be successfully
institutionalized as the basis for a ‘new economy’. A major role is played by the
rivalries and struggles of intellectual forces, individually and collectively, in a free-
floating or an organized manner, to articulate strategies, projects and visions that
seek to reconcile contradictions and conflicts and to resolve dilemmas for various
sites and scales of action. The principal forces involved here are organized interests,
political parties, and social movements with a central role, in addition, for the
mass media rather than the public sphere in mediating their struggles for popular
hegemony in these matters. At the same time the new economic imaginary with its
associated accumulation strategies, state projects, and hegemonic visions must also
be capable of translation into a specific set of material, social, and spatio-temporal
fixes (or ‘frames’) that can together provide the basis for a relative ‘structured
coherence’ in the expanded reproduction of capital accumulation.
In these terms an effective solution to the search for a meaningful ‘post-Fordist’
order in an increasingly integrated world market would involve an ‘economic
imaginary’ that satisfies two interrelated requirements. First, it should be able to
152 Bob Jessop
inform and shape economic strategies on all scales from the firm to the wider
economy, on all territorial scales from the local through regional to the national or
supra-national scale, and with regard to the operation and articulation of market
forces and their non-market supports. And, second, it should be able to inform
and shape state projects and hegemonic visions on different scales, providing
guidance in the face of political and social uncertainty and providing a means to
integrate private, institutional, and wider public narratives about past experiences,
present difficulties, and future prospects. The more of these fields a new economic
imaginary can address, the more resonant and influential it will be.10 It is in this
context that the KBE has emerged as an increasingly dominant and hegemonic
discourse that providing the framework for broader struggles over political,
intellectual and moral leadership on various scales as well as over more concrete
fields of technical and economic reform (see Table 7.1). Thus the basic idea is
being articulated on many scales from the local to the global, in many organizational
and institutional sites from firms to states, in many functional systems from education
and science through health and welfare to law and politics as well as the economy
in its narrow sense, and in the public sphere and the lifeworld. It has been translated
into many different visions and strategies (e.g. smart machines and expert systems,
the creative industries, the increasing centrality of intellectual property, lifelong
learning, the information society, or the rise of cyber-communities). It is capable
of being inflected in neo-liberal, neo-corporatist, neo-statist, and neo-
communitarian ways and often seems to function like a Rorschach inkblot to provide
the basis for alliances and institutionalized compromise among very disparate
interests. And, as other contributions to this volume show, there are many disparate
forms of knowledge and expertise in the private, public, and third sectors that may
prove difficult to subsume under the generic label of symbolic analysis, knowledge
work, or knowledge-intensive business services.
It is for these reasons that I referred above to the knowledge-based economy as
a meta-object of (meta-)governance and it should now be clear that it is an extremely
heterogeneous notion. In short, the KBE seems to have become a master economic
narrative in many accumulation strategies, state projects and hegemonic visions
and has steadily acquired through the 1990s a key role in guiding and reinforcing
activities that may consolidate a relatively stable post-Fordist accumulation regime
and its mode of regulation. Whether or not it does so, however, will depend on a
whole series of issues that affect the ability to implement any given project, let
alone the multiple, complex, heterogeneous, competing, and, indeed, mutually, if
not frequently also self-, contradictory, projects linked to the KBE. It is in this
context that the key issues of translation and authorization arise and these involve,
as actor-network theorists have emphasized, more than the performativity of
language or discourse. Indeed, as with all evolutionary processes, we must dis-
tinguish between variation, selection, and retention. The proliferation of competing
discourses during the emerging crisis in/of Atlantic Fordism, the greater resonance
of some of these discourses, and the successful institutionalization of relatively
coherent economic strategies, political projects, and hegemonic visions involve
rather different processes. In this respect, there is many a slip between discursive
Cultural political economy, the knowledge-based economy and the state 153
Table 7.1 Some representative terms linked to the KBE in different functional systems and
the wider society

Technology Smart machines – intelligent products – expert systems – new


materials – dematerialization – wetware, netware – information and
communication technologies – information superhighway –
innovation systems
Economy Knowledge creation – knowledge management – knowledge-based
firm – learning organization – knowledge-intensive business services
– infomediaries – embedded knowledge networks – e-commerce –
learning economy – reflexive accumulation
Capital Knowledge capital – intellectual capital – intellectual property rights
– informational capitalism – technocapitalism – digital capitalism –
virtual capitalism – biocapitalism
Labour Teleworking – intellectual labour – knowledge workers – symbolic
analysts – immaterial labour – tacit knowledge – human capital –
expert intellectuals – cyborgs
Science Knowledge base – innovation – scientific and technical revolution –
life sciences – technology foresight – triple helix
Education Lifelong learning – learning society – corporate universities –
knowledge factories – advanced educational technologies
Culture Creative industries – culture industries – cultural commodities –
cyberculture – technoculture
Law Intellectual property rights – rights to information – immaterial
objects – biopiracy
State Virtual state – e-government – science policy – innovation policy –
high-technology policy – evidence-based policy
Politics Electronic democracy – cyberpolitics – ‘hactivism’
Warfare Smart weapons – cyborg warriors – stealth technologies – network-
centric warfare – information warfare – cyberwar – ‘revolution in
military affairs’
Space Innovation milieu – learning region – intelligent city – informational
city – digital city – Silicon Valley – technopoles – knowledge flows –
cyberspace – smart community
Societalization Scientization – information age – information society – knowledge
society – virtual community – virtual society – surveillance society –
intellectual commons – digital divide – information overload
154 Bob Jessop
resonance in a particular conjuncture and a relatively enduring institutional
materiality. Nonetheless, with all due caution about the frailty of prediction during
a period still strongly marked by the specific crisis-tendencies associated with a
transition from one long wave of capitalist expansion and decline to another (see
Perez 2002), it does seem that the knowledge-based economy has not only been
‘selected’ from among the many competing discourses about the post-Fordist future
but is now subject to ‘retention’ through a complex and heterogeneous network of
practices across a wide range of systems and over many scales of action. Whether
or not the KBE also offers a scientifically adequate description of the nature of
the contemporary economy in all its chaotic complexity is another matter entirely.
The emergence of the KBE as the master narrative guiding the transition to
post-Fordism is by no means an innocent development. It has material and
ideological roots in earlier discussions on post-industrialism but gained momentum
in the 1980s as US capital and the US state sought an effective response to the
challenge to American hegemony from the increasing competitiveness of their
European and East Asian rivals. A growing body of academic studies, think-tank
reports, and official inquiries indicated that the US was competitive in the leading
sectors of the ‘knowledge-based economy’ (an important discursive innovation in
its own right, leading to the ‘reclassification’ of goods, services, industries,
commodity chains, and forms of competitiveness) and this prompted a very
deliberate and highly concerted campaign to make this the material and ideological
basis for a new accumulation strategy tied to the massive extension of intellectual
property rights to protect and extend the dominance of US capital. There is no
need here to repeat the subsequent history of the attempt to reorient and strengthen
the bases of economic competitiveness in this way through a wide range of bilateral
and multilateral economic, political, legal, and ideological measures as well as
through the dissemination of US technical standards, social norms of production
and consumption, and juridical precedents.
The rationale for this continuing effort has been quite clearly stated by leading
figures in the US administration, namely, that the economic growth and competi-
tiveness of the USA in the twenty-first century will depend on creating, owning,
preserving, and protecting its intellectual property. This can be seen as a neo-
liberal policy for productive capital that safeguards its superprofits behind the
cloak of free trade and thereby complements its neo-liberal policy for financial
capital. But this strategy has been translated into a successful hegemonic campaign
(armoured by law, bilateral trade leverage, diplomatic arm-twisting, and bloody-
minded unilateralism) to persuade many other states to sign up to the KBE agenda.
The knowledge-based economy has also been warmly embraced as a master
narrative and strategy by other leading political forces – ranging from the
international level (notably the OECD and WTO but also the IMF, World Bank,
and UNCTAD) through regional economic blocs and intergovernmental
arrangements (EU, APEC, ASEAN, Mercosur, NAFTA) and many individual
national states with widely different positions in the global division of labour down
to provinces, metropolitan regions, and small cities. Like the earlier promotion of
Fordism as a master narrative and strategy, the ‘KBE’ can be inflected in different
Cultural political economy, the knowledge-based economy and the state 155
ways to suit different national and regional traditions as well as different economic
interests. It can also be used to guide economic and political strategies at all levels
from the labour process through the accumulation regime and its mode of regulation
to an all-embracing mode of societalization. Moreover, once accepted as the master
narrative with all its attendant nuances and scope for interpretation, it becomes
easier for its neo-liberal variant to shape the overall development of the emerging
global knowledge-based economy through the sheer weight of the US economy as
well as through the exercise of economic, political, and intellectual domination.
This said, we should not neglect the scope for counter-hegemonic versions of
the knowledge-based economy and for disputes about the most appropriate ways
to promote it. This is why I distinguish between neo-liberal, neo-corporatist, neo-
statist, and neo-communitarian approaches to the promotion of the KBE (Jessop
2002). Let me illustrate this point with two examples. First, from 1998 to 2002 an
interesting conundrum was played out in the international competitiveness
benchmarking exercise conducted by the World Economic Forum, with the neo-
liberal USA and neo-corporatist Finland alternating in the top two positions (see
Porter et al., 2000; Cornelius and Schwab 2003). Similarly, at its Lisbon summit in
March 2000, the European Council committed itself to making the European
Union the leading knowledge-based economy whilst protecting the European Social
Model and developing new modes of meta-governance that relied on social
partnership rather than market forces alone (see Telò 2002).

States and knowledge-based economies


Cultural political economy should treat politics and the state in the same way as
the economy. For states can also be analysed as imagined political communities
with their own specific boundaries, conditions of existence, political subjects,
developmental tendencies, sources of legitimacy, and state projects (Jessop 1990;
Mitchell 1991). As such they orient political actions that influence the institutional
architecture of the state and the exercise of its various state powers. At the same
time, states can be imagined as co-existing in complex state systems (e.g. the
medieval, Westphalian, and post-Westphalian orders). Moreover, building on these
arguments, we can also study how struggles over the boundaries between the
economic and the extra-economic (including the political) are central both to
economic restructuring and to the transformation of the state and state intervention
(Jessop 1999, 2002). Here too we can identify some interesting parallels with actor-
network theory in terms of the notion of ‘punctualization’, i.e. the semblance of
solidity and unity to an institutional ensemble or organization as a ‘single point
actor’ that, in other circumstances and/or from another perspective, would appear
as heterogeneous and disunified (Law 1992). Thus equipped, I now turn to the
third part of my argument: the transformation of the state in and through its
attempts to transform the economy and its economic agents. This has two
interrelated aspects. On the one hand, the state is actively involved through its
own distinctive juridico-political powers in the discursive-material constitution of
the globalizing KBE as an object of economic governance and in seeking to create
156 Bob Jessop
and discipline the subjects deemed necessary to sustain it (e.g. flexible workers,
entrepreneurial subjects, respecters of copyright, lifelong learners). And, on the
other hand, through its key roles in organizing multiple public–private partnerships
and other networks and in shaping attitudes, expectations, and horizons of action,
the state also undertakes key meta-governance activities in organizing the conditions
for other economic and extra-economic agents to contribute to this process (on the
complexities of meta-governance and meta-governance failure, see Jessop 2002).
States have been actively involved in shaping the meanings and practices of the
new, knowledge-based economy and, in attempting to do so, they have also been
transforming themselves, sometimes in a deliberate, reflexive manner, sometimes
as the unintended result of these interventions. However, since politics is not just
‘concentrated economics’, state involvement cannot be read off from a given set
of economic imperatives. For the particular functions of the state are always
overdetermined by its generic role of securing social cohesion in a conflictual society.
Thus state involvement in promoting the KBE is mediated through the state projects
and strategic selectivities of the state and its exercise of power. In this sense, then,
state capacities in promoting the KBE are constrained not only by the specific
problems of governing particular technologies in a ‘technological society’ (cf. Barry
2001) but also by the more general problems of governing the political sphere as a
whole in the light of new problems of social cohesion associated with this transition
(cf. Poulantzas 1978).
This said, as the economy comes to be defined and naturalized as knowledge-
based and/or knowledge-driven (an ongoing achievement that involves active and
extensive discursive as well as material work), states are increasingly involved in
promoting the production and diffusion of knowledge. This is one part of the
more general structural transformation and strategic reorientation of the Keynesian
Welfare National State system associated with Fordism towards what I have
elsewhere categorized in ideal-typical terms as the Schumpeterian Workfare Post-
National Regime (Jessop 2002). I will ignore this broader set of changes here to
focus on how states advance the central role of ‘knowledge’ in the KBE. This role
is doubly problematic. On the one hand, knowledge is an extremely heterogeneous
and deeply contested category both ontologically and epistemologically and, as
social scientists of various stripes have shown, knowledges (or truth regimes) are
intimately linked to the material and discursive (or, better, material–discursive)
conditions of knowledge production and management. And, on the other hand,
knowledge is a collectively generated resource and, even where specific forms and
types of intellectual property are produced in capitalist conditions for profit, this
depends on a far wider intellectual commons. In this sense, one can regard
knowledge as a fictitious commodity analogous to land, labour-power, and money
(cf. Polanyi 1957).
The state has three key roles here. First, as a privileged instance of the distinction
between mental and manual labour (cf. Poulantzas 1978), it is a major player both
directly and indirectly in the social production of truth regimes. Second, in the
context of the transition to the KBE, it is promoting the commodification of
knowledge through its formal transformation from a collective resource (intellectual
Cultural political economy, the knowledge-based economy and the state 157
commons) into intellectual property (for example, in the form of patent, copyright
and licences) as a basis for generating profits of enterprise and rents for individual
economic entities as well as for its own fisco-financial benefit. And, third, it must
also seek to protect the intellectual commons as a basis for competitive advantage
for the economy as a whole as well as to develop the bases of the learning society
and an informed public sphere. While these tensions may be especially acute for
state actors, they also occur on many other scales from individual firms through
local ‘innovation milieux’ or ‘learning regions’ to the global ‘knowledge complexes’
involved in genomics and the like.
In short, states at all levels are currently involved in helping to manage the
contradictions rooted in the nature of knowledge as a fictitious commodity. For,
on the one hand, ‘[t]he intellectual commons is fundamental to the production of
knowledge’ (Dawson 1998: 281); and, on the other hand, intellectual property is a
major source of profit in informational capitalism. States are situated differently
in this regard. They tend to polarize, first, around interests in protecting or enclosing
the commons (for example, North–South) and, second, around the most appropriate
forms of intellectual property rights and regimes on different scales from global to
local. Thus, some states are more active than others in enabling the primitive
accumulation of intellectual property, in privatizing public knowledge and in
commoditizing all forms of knowledge; others are more concerned to protect the
intellectual commons, promote the information society, and develop social capital.
Given its competitive advantage in ICT products and the knowledge revolution,
the American state is the strongest advocate of the neo-liberal form of the
knowledge revolution on a global scale. This is especially clear in its advocacy of
the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights agreement as a key
element in the World Trade Organization (WTO) and in using bi- and multilateral
trade agreements, conditionalities and other pressures to seek to enforce its interests
in intellectual property rights.
Whatever their position on such issues, all states must try to resolve various
contradictions and dilemmas in knowledge production whilst eschewing any direct,
hierarchical control over it. For example, they ‘must balance the need to protect
and maintain the intellectual commons against the need to stimulate inventive
activity’ (Dawson 1998: 278). Likewise, in the latter context, they need to balance
the protection of individual intellectual property and its associated revenue flows
against the collective benefits that derive from the general diffusion of its
applications ‘by creating open systems, by moving key intellectual properties into
the public domain, by releasing source code democratically’ (Kelly 1998: 28). The
latter task is often pursued through state promotion of innovation and diffusion
systems (including social capital), broad forms of ‘technological foresight’, co-
involvement and/or negotiated ‘guidance’ of the production of knowledge, and
the development of suitable meta-governance structures (Messner 1998; Willke
1997). Thus states sponsor information infrastructures and social innovation systems
on different scales; develop intellectual property rights regimes and new forms of
governance and/or regulation for activities in cyberspace; promote movement
away from national utility structures with universal supply obligations suited to an
158 Bob Jessop
era of mass production and mass consumption to more flexible, differential,
multiscalar structures suited to a post-Fordist era; and intervene to restructure
research in universities to bring it more closely into alignment with the perceived
needs of business and to encourage the management and exploitation of intellectual
property through spin-offs, licensing, partnerships, science parks, technology parks,
industry parks, and so on.
More particularly, some states are getting heavily involved in assisting the primitive
accumulation of capital (in the form of intellectual property) through private
expropriation of the collectively produced knowledge of past generations. This
enclosure of knowledge takes several forms, including: (1) the appropriation of
indigenous, tribal, or peasant ‘culture’ in the form of undocumented, informal,
and collective knowledge, expertise and other intellectual resources and its trans-
formation without recompense into commodified knowledge (documented, formal,
private) by commercial enterprises – biopiracy is the most notorious example; (2)
divorcing intellectual labour from the means of production – embodying it in
smart machines and expert systems – and thereby appropriating the knowledge of
the collective labourer; and (3) gradual extension of the limited nature of copyright
into broader forms of property right with a consequent erosion of any residual
public interest. States have a key role here in changing intellectual property rights
(IPR) laws and enabling firms to appropriate the intellectual commons at home
and abroad (on all these issues, see Drahos with Braithwaite 2002).
States also advance the commoditization of knowledge and the integration of
knowledge and intellectual labour into production, whether in the private, public,
or third sectors. This is reflected in the increased emphasis on the training of
knowledge workers and lifelong learning, including distance learning, the
introduction of ICTs and other new technologies into its own spheres of activity
and the more general proselytization of the knowledge-based economy and
information society.
The state also heavily furthers the dynamics of technological rents generated by
new knowledge as part of a more general promotion of innovation. This serves to
intensify the self-defeating character of the informational revolution from the
viewpoint of capital, insofar as each new round of innovation is prone to ever
more rapid devalorization. But it nonetheless wins temporary advantages and
technological rents for the economic spaces it controls and, insofar as there are
sustainable first-mover advantages, it can consolidate longer-term advantages for
a region, nation, or triad. This strategy is an important and quite explicit element
in the reassertion of US hegemony since the pessimism of the early 1980s. More-
over, if firms in the information economy are to maintain above-average profit
rates despite the tendency for technological rents to be competed away, less
technologically advanced sectors must secure below-average profits. This is another
driving force behind globalization insofar as less profitable firms are forced to
relocate or outsource to lower-cost production sites and reinforce the tendencies
towards unequal exchange and development associated with globalization. States
also get involved in often-contradictory ways in promoting and/or retarding the
mobility of productive capital.
Cultural political economy, the knowledge-based economy and the state 159
Such activities tend to subordinate the totality of socio-economic fields to the
accumulation process so that economic functions come to occupy the dominant
place within the state. Other functions thereby gain direct economic significance
for economic growth and competitiveness and this tends to politicize those formerly
(or still formally) extra-economic domains that are now direct objects of state
intervention. In this context, states also attempt to manage the conflicts between
time horizons associated with time–space distantiation and compression – especially
in regard to protecting the social capital embedded in communities, promoting
longer-term economic orientations and designing institutions that sustain
innovation. But this expanding field of intervention means that the state finds it
harder to reconcile its responses to ever more insistent economic imperatives with
the more general demands of securing general political legitimacy and social
cohesion (Poulantzas 1978).
I argue elsewhere that this set of functions (and the many other new tasks tied
to the shift from state concern with full employment in relatively closed national
economies to a concern to promote permanent innovation and economic
competitiveness in relatively open economies) is associated with a fundamental
restructuring and strategic reorganization of the typical postwar form of state. In
telegrammatic form, this shift involves three main trends: (1) a complex rescaling
of the national state, with old and new state capacities being located above, below,
and across national states; (2) an equally complex shift from top-down government
to heterarchic forms of governance based on networks and partnerships, sometimes
including, sometimes excluding states; and (3) a growing internationalization of
policy regimes. All three changes appear to challenge the continued vitality of the
national state but this impression is misleading on several grounds. Above all, it
ignores the extent to which it is a particular form of the national state that has
been challenged by the crisis of Atlantic Fordism and the transition to a globalizing
knowledge-based economy. What we find is the slow reinvention of the national
state as state managers redefine the nature and purposes of the state in the light of
this transition – to which they themselves are making a key contribution both in
terms of discursive practices and in terms of new forms of government and
governance. Thus the three above-mentioned trends are actively linked to three
other trends that reaffirm the importance of state institutions and capacities. These
are: (1) the increasing importance of states, especially the national state, in
interscalar articulation, i.e. the modulation of which capacities are recalibrated
and rescaled; (2) an increasing role for states, especially the national state, in meta-
governance, i.e. the organization of the conditions for self-organization and the
continual reweighting of the relative balance of market, network, and state modes
of coordination in achieving state objectives; and (3) an increasing role for states,
especially the national states in seeking to influence the design of international
regimes and to control their implementation (for further discussion, see Jessop
2002). Within this general set of transformations, there is ample scope for variation
in and across national states, reflecting national political specificities as well as the
relative position of their different economic places and spaces within the emerging
globalizing knowledge-based economy.
160 Bob Jessop
Conclusions
This chapter has examined the state’s role in the (re-)constitution of the economy
as an object of regulation and the shaping of the subjects of economic activity.
There are no objective criteria that enable us to identify the necessary boundaries
of economic space (on whatever territorial or functional scale). Instead we should
pose this issue in terms of an imaginary constitution (and naturalization) of the
economy and the resulting construction of a boundary between the economy and
its environment. At the same time, the mode of regulation helps constitute and
naturalize its objects in and through the very processes of regulation. Of course,
naturalizing discursive formations and specific regularizing practices are
contestable. Struggles to define specific economies as subjects, sites, and stakes of
competition and/or as objects of regulation typically involve the asymmetrical
manipulation of power and knowledge and also depend on the resonance of these
new narratives with wider cultural and institutional formations and with meta-
narratives that connect a wide range of interactions, organizations, and institutions
or help to make sense of whole epochs (see Somers 1994: 619). But this resonance
is also related to material contradictions and tensions in existing and emerging
forms of economic regulation and/or governance as these influence personal and
organizational experience and challenge the plausibility of technoeconomic
paradigms, accumulation strategies, and societal paradigms.
Thus, the emergence of a new accumulation regime and its mode of regulation
involve a veritable ‘cultural revolution’ as well as radical institutional innovation.
Technoeconomic paradigms are transformed – witness the contrast between the
discourses of economic and political planning and of productivity based on
economies of scale in Atlantic Fordism and the discourses of enterprise, market
forces, and flexibility in the early stages of the transition to post-Fordism. Changes
are also occurring in organizational paradigms – witness the new-found emphasis
in the economic and political spheres on the role of networks, partnerships,
stakeholding, and good governance. New norms and expectations must be defined
to complement new structural forms and social practices – thus the transition to
new accumulation regimes is typically associated with public campaigns to adopt
new bodily, production, and consumption practices and to share new visions of
economic, political, and social life. All of this involves acts of imagination that
establish an ‘imagined economic community’ grounded both in an ‘imagined
economic space’ and an ‘imagined community of economic interest’ among social
forces. It also involves social mobilization as well as institutional innovation to
establish the hegemony of the associated accumulation strategies and to articulate
them into different state projects and hegemonic projects. Economic strategies
and spatiotemporal horizons must be re-aligned with changes in the structurally
inscribed strategic selectivity of modes of growth and their associated political
regimes. This is reflected in the rhetoric of the enterprise culture, the knowledge-
based economy, and the learning society. This said, it remains the case that ‘there
is many a slip ’twixt cup and lip’. For such visions, projects, and strategies must be
translated into reality – and this is far from automatic. This is why cultural political
Cultural political economy, the knowledge-based economy and the state 161
economy must not only study changing discourses but also the mechanisms and
material practices through which visions, projects, and strategies are realized,
imperfectly, if at all. This is where the insights of the Anglo-Foucauldians and
actor-network theorists as well as institutional political economy can be brought to
bear in analysing the improbable expanded reproduction of capital accumulation.
Drawing on these ideas, a research agenda based on cultural political economy
would need to address the following questions: (a) how are objects of economic
regulation and governance constituted in specific conjunctures and under what
conditions, if any, do they become more or less hegemonic despite the inevitable
tendencies towards instability and fluidity in social relations; (b) how are actors/
institutions and their modes of calculation constituted and how do they interact to
produce these objects both discursively and extra-discursively; (c) how do new
spatio-temporal fixes serve as socially-constructed institutional frameworks for
displacing and deferring the contradictions and dilemmas of capital accumulation
beyond their prevailing spatial boundaries and temporal fixes; (d) what specific
discursive practices and structuring principles are involved in consolidating the
various discourses that (re-)position subjects and identities, articulate power and
knowledge, consolidate truth regimes, and materialize power relations in specific
institutional contexts; (e) how do counter-hegemonic forces challenge routinized
categories and naturalized institutions, generate new subject positions and social
forces, and struggle for new projects and strategies; and (f) how are different forces
continually balanced and counter-balanced in an unstable equilibrium of
compromise within specific spatio-temporal fixes to maintain what is often little
more than a ‘thin coherence’ in different conjunctures?

Notes
1 This chapter has benefited from discussions with Andrew Barry, Ryan Conlon and
Ngai-Ling Sum. It also draws on previous work, notably Jessop (1997, 2000, 2002,
2003) and Jessop and Sum (2000). The usual disclaimers apply.
2 The distinction between social and cultural phenomena is analytical and based on
their respective emergent properties. Whereas the ‘social’ concerns configurations of
social interaction, the ‘cultural’ refers to properties of both narrative and non-narrative
discursive formations. However, insofar as social relations are discursively constituted
and meaningful, they have a cultural dimension; and, insofar as cultural phenomena
are realized in and through social relations, they have a social dimension.
3 Here I follow Wickham (1987) in insisting that the distinction between micro and
macro (or between particular and global) is always relative to an object of analysis
rather than a fixed property of a given set of social relations.
4 On the doubly tendential nature of these laws (as tendentially reproduced tendential
laws), see Jessop (2001a).
5 On spatio-temporal fixes, see Jessop (2001a, 2002). Callon’s notions of ‘framing’ and
‘overflow’ perform similar work but, in developing a more general sociological approach
and/or focusing on particular market transactions or specific economic externalities,
he does not relate framing to the basic contradictions and dilemmas of capitalist
economies (Callon 1988b). Although these different approaches were developed
independently, they share several key themes and insights.
6 I follow Polanyi (1982) here in distinguishing between substantive economic activities
concerned with material ‘provisioning’ and formal (in the sense of profit-oriented,
162 Bob Jessop
market-mediated, formally-rationally calculated) economic activities.
7 Daly rejects the concept of ‘extra-discursive’ but he radically simplifies the distinction
between discursive and extra-discursive, reducing it to an issue of epistemology and
neglecting the issue of ontology. Contrast Debray (1991).
8 This argument is inspired by, but by no means identical with, Richard Marsden’s
comment on the Marx–Foucault relation (Marsden 1999: 149).
9 A ‘leading indicator’ in econometric analysis is an empirical indicator that enables
one to anticipate a later event; conversely, a lagging indicator is one that becomes
apparent after that event.
10 Cf. actor-network theory on the depth, breadth, and heterogeneity of networks and
entanglements in the sedimentation of structures and their associated constraints. The
strategic-relational approach is quite consistent with this claim but also emphasizes
that constraints are relative to specific actors, identities, interests, strategies, spatial
and temporal horizons, etc.

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Performing finance 165

8 Performing finance
The industry, the media and its
image
Gordon L. Clark, Nigel Thrift and
Adam Tickell

In the old days, daytime television … programming and advertising took for granted
that anybody who was home on the couch at noon was willing to swallow some
pretty hokey palaver.
That assumption is still valid. My day … starts with a conversation between
Mark Haines and Maria Bartiromo on CNBC. … For hours and hours, as the
financial news continues, I zone in and out. Hey, what’s that sound? Dum, dum,
de-dum, it’s Power Lunch. Now that’s my show [but] I really despise the fact that I’ve
been listening to all this nonsense on this channel all morning, for the two-hundredth
day in a row, instead of listening to a nice, relaxing Chet Baker album. The problem
is, I can’t stop. Without CNBC, I might miss something important, like the collapse
of the bhat, or a surprise Greenspan dirge, or a Joe Kernen one-liner that could
ruin my day.
(Anuff and Wolf, 2000: 131–2)

Introduction
International finance has always been intimately entwined with the media. In the
febrile environment of eighteenth-century London and Amsterdam, tip sheets
circulated around the coffee shops, and the growing formalization of financial
markets in the nineteenth century had media analogues in newspapers such as the
Financial Times or the Wall Street Journal (Kynaston, 1995). Recurrent speculative
bubbles and “irrational exuberance”, from the Tulip mania and the South Seas
Bubble right through to the dot.com boom, have been both the object of the
reporting media and one of the key means of propagating expectations until the
illogics of speculation are undermined, sometimes by the merest rumor
(Kindleberger, 1978; Shiller, 2000; Williams, 2001; Thrift, 2001). For example,
rampant speculation in English print media about the supposed “unlimited
prospects” of canals in the early nineteenth century was repeated in the Argentine
railway bubble of the late nineteenth century, an episode which nearly led to the
bankruptcy of one of the era’s most powerful institutions: Barings (Tickell, 1996).
Similarly, although expressed in ways unavailable to nineteenth-century speculators,
the dot.com bubble was also fuelled by claims of a paradigm shift, inscribed and
reinforced by the real-time ticker-tapes of the FTSE, NASDAQ and NYSE flowing
166 Gordon L. Clark, Nigel Thrift and Adam Tickell
across the bottom of television screens (and broadcast by CNN, CNBC, BBC 24
and other similar 24-hour news organizations).
This chapter explores the ways in which the media impact on money and finance,
emphasizing how that inscription is not just changing the practices and protocols
of finance, but also the media’s nascent transformations of what counts as finance.
As the finance industry pays more attention to the media, we can discern three
main effects. First, as financial management is now conducted under the media’s
gaze, its practices reflect this scrutiny and, consequently, new forms of calculability
are evolving. Second, the value of financial products is increasingly, therefore, bound
up with the media image of those products as new connections are gradually
made. Third, the media has come to play an important role of imposing new
rhetorics and other forms of (in)disputability on the finance industry as the industry
itself has gained audiences whose nature has become the object of constant research
and the subject of constant feedback. Here, then, we consider the impact of these
effects on the conduct of business in international finance and, specifically, the
investment management industry.
The chapter primarily focuses on “wholesale” (and mainly international) finance
in contradistinction to retail (and mainly domestic) finance. This distinction is
routinely made by those who focus on the role and responsibilities of institutional
investors in market-driven processes of financial intermediation (Davis and Steil,
2001). Remarkably variegated and complex institutions and services dominate the
industry and its centers of trading and transaction (Clark, 2000). Nevertheless, it
is clear that the historical differences between these two sectors of finance are
increasingly blurred. International finance has made a transition from an almost
entirely producer-led industry (dominated by the print-related media) to a more
consumer-driven model of sales and distribution (dominated by television and
other electronic images).
The chapter is in four main parts. The first part considers the relationship
between media and finance in some detail. In particular, we hope to demonstrate
that this relationship is not just an epiphenomenal but a constitutive shift. The
second part of the chapter then considers how, as a result of the penetration of the
media into finance, a whole set of different “financial audiences” have grown up
which present a serious challenge to the standard mode of operation of international
financial professionals. The third part of the chapter then documents, through
participant observation, the belated attempts of a set of investment managers to
come to terms with the new mediatized environment in which they now find them-
selves. The final part of the chapter considers the degree to which the dominance
of visual media might prompt a new round of market-related regulation of the
international financial markets, one in which financial consumers (or at least their
virtual representations) become more important players than heretofore.

The media becomes the money


Until the 1960s, the international finance industry received press attention but not
much reader attention. Although there had been episodes of intense general interest
Performing finance 167
in the stock market (see Kurtz, 2000; Shiller, 2000) there remained no general
constituency (as there now appears to be). Even in the United States, international
finance remained the preserve of a relatively small number of elites, often connected
with the industry (Henwood, 1997; Mayer, 1997). However, from the 1960s, this
situation began to change as finance skills began to migrate out of their traditional
realm and into corporations. Non-financial companies found that “disinter-
mediation”, raising money directly in the financial markets, was cheaper than
borrowing money from banks. Similarly, particularly after the fiscal crisis of New
York, US municipalities intervened directly in bond markets (Soybel, 1992).1 More
generally, financial literacy began to increase as individual share-holding became
more common. Financial information began to become more available at a cheaper
price because of technological advances at the same time as a cultural shift took
place in the perception of financiers. In Britain, for example, finance was no longer
seen as an acceptable career for the not very bright second son of a minor aristocrat.
It is now seen as a desirable career for the most able and ambitious university
graduates. These developments, in turn, have created a domestic and global market
for financial publications.
In the early phase of the financialization of Anglo-American societies, the media
responded with a set of specialist publications such as Euromoney (“the journal of
the capital markets”). In the 1980s and 1990s, however, this situation significantly
changed. International finance became more and more visible as the volume of
international financial transactions multiplied rapidly – most markedly in the case
of derivatives trading, which grew by 2,800 per cent in the decade to 1997 (Tickell,
2000). Culturally, too, finance began to exert an important influence, coming to
be seen as the preserve of the young, rich and thrusting individuals. Oliver Stone’s
1987 film Wall Street, intended as a searing indictment of the amorality of financial
markets, unwittingly was read by aspirant financiers almost as a training manual.
Similarly, the emergence of new media combines during the 1990s, and novel
transmission mechanisms that allowed multi-channel TV, meant that there was a
profit to be turned from focusing some attention on finance and money. And finally,
there was significant state pressure to produce the conditions under which financially
aware consumers could come into existence, from consumer legislation to
governmental action promoting private pensions and retirement savings (Clark,
2000). The result was clear: key elements of international finance (investing, trading,
etc.) developed a growing audience and clientele among the general population,
most apparently in the United States, where the rapid growth of mutual funds and
related products, the expansion of 401(k) plans, Internet trading and generally
available “real-time” (or near to real-time) information all produced a financial
ambience in which it appeared that international financial transactions were
properly part of middle-class everyday life.
Amplifying and driving this emerging state of affairs was the concomitant growth
of the financial media. This has taken four main forms. First, there was an explosion
of financial publications, from newspapers and specialized magazines to various
round-robin publications, including the growth on the Internet of the kinds of
tipster publications which would previously have been limited to small specialist
168 Gordon L. Clark, Nigel Thrift and Adam Tickell
readerships (Leyshon et al., 1998; Leyshon and Thrift, 1998). Second, and perhaps
more significantly, financial reporting became a key feature component of
mainstream media. This was manifest both through the growing prominence of
the personal finance pages of the newspapers and the specialist financial television
programs, and specialized financial television channels (such as CNNfn, CNBC
and Bloomberg in the US or the (now bankrupt) Money Channel in the UK).
Economic news has become increasingly interpreted solely in terms of its impact
on financial markets. A concomitant result of these changes has been that financial
journalists and commentators have increasingly become players in their own right
(Kurtz, 2000). Third, advertising for financial products exploded (total global
spending worldwide tripled during the 1990s; Greenfield and Williams, 2001),
fuelling a demand for financial products. And fourth, the supply of financial news
and information has been increasingly concentrated into the hands of a very few
“news, information and technology” corporations (Craig, 1999, 2001), especially
Reuters and Bloomberg. These news and information-gathering corporations
increasingly have moved up and down the value chain, supplying information
technology and trading systems at one end (such as the famous Bloomberg
terminals), financial journalism and “brand-name information” in the middle,
and a series of diversified investments in such growing areas as the Internet at the
top end.
Thus, for the first time, international finance has become a news and entertain-
ment commodity like any other. Through the 1990s boom and bubble, what counted
as news and entertainment clearly included finance just as this began to exclude
the so-called “hard facts” of the conventional channels such as the BBC, CBS and
NBC. In turn, the conjunction of entertainment with finance has made finance
open to exactly the same conditions as those driving the production of any other
news and entertainment commodity. These conditions are of five kinds.
First, the rule of the next story: stories must circulate rapidly in order to provide
the daily fuel for morning shows. This means that “tipping points” (Gladwell,
2000), where stories circulate until they gain sufficient currency to change percep-
tions and – in this case – market sentiments, must constantly be created. Second,
the rule of celebrity: money and finance are increasingly represented through
personalities whose representation (which often includes ex-cathedra homilies and
opinions) is itself a source of profit. Whether financial channel anchors or symbolic
analysts from investment banks, personalities like Louis Rukeyser or Maria
Bartiromo (CNNfn’s “Money Honey”) do not simply represent finance, they
embody it. Third, the rule of celebrity notwithstanding, finance is increasingly
governed by a rule of fashion: styles of practice, personalities and products come
and go. Being associated with substance is no refuge from the harsh imperatives of
media demographics and related image consultants. Fourth, the rule of theatricality:
money and finance have an explicitly performative character. They have to be
scripted and acted out, as Tsing’s (1999) evocative account of the collapse of a
Canadian gold consortium – Bre-X – powerfully demonstrates. Fifth, and last, the
rule of emotion: part of the media’s appeal comes from their ability to produce
and catalyze emotion. Although a critical appreciation of the role of affect in
Performing finance 169
constructing market dynamics can be traced back to Gabriel Tarde’s (1902) tour de
force and through both Kindleberger (1978) and the research on behavioral finance
(for example, Thaler, 1993), as financial markets have become more mediatized so
affect is playing an even greater part in the changing market “sentiment” (see
Pixley, 2002).

Plurality of financial audiences


I consider the middle-aged Caucasian man in a business suit to be my enemy,
and I do not underestimate him. That man – the man who really controlled
the stock market during its pre-Internet phase – was a professional money
manager, banker, or stockbroker. He may have been slimy, or he may have
been the model of rectitude and community service. He may have subjected
his investors to a random walk toward bankruptcy, or he may have given them
a nice consistent premium over index funds, or he may have merely sold them
an index fund. But whatever he was, and whatever he did, chances are that he
had access to better tools and more information than I did.
As long as there was an inside, and I wasn’t in it, playing the stock market
was a dangerous game.
(Anuff and Wolf, 2000: 140–1)

The deepening connection between the media and international finance is further
complicated by another element: the size and composition of the audience. In the
past, the audience for international finance was comparatively small and well-
defined by market segment, expertise and means of dissemination. This is apparent,
for example, in the historically modest (but recently growing)2 circulation figures
of the principal broadsheet newspapers such as the Financial Times or the Wall
Street Journal. However, if finance was a specialist arena in even the recent past,
financial deregulation and the growth of personal investment spawned a growth
in, and a transformation of, the audience for financial infotainment (Livingstone,
1999). Consequently, contemporary financial audiences have a number of critically
novel characteristics. First, these audiences are heterogeneous. Whilst they continue
to include professional financiers, financial advisers and sophisticated retirees, the
discursive and economic centrality of financialized capitalism has meant that groups
of untrained amateurs who run investment clubs, (a small number of) teenagers
wagering their pocket money, and people who simply want to keep a weather eye
on their mortgages, insurances and pensions (Lewis, 2001) are a ready audience
for financial journalism.
Second, and consequent, contemporary financial audiences display much greater
levels of financial literacy than in the past, in part precisely because of the barrage
of financial media information and advertising. Terms like “selling short” have
become a familiar discursive currency and some households now pursue sophis-
ticated, carefully deliberated accumulation strategies involving close attention to
the timing of market events and other participants’ choices and options. Though
most households do not reach these very high levels of sophistication, their expertise
170 Gordon L. Clark, Nigel Thrift and Adam Tickell
has been “bulked out” by a growing army of market intermediaries who have
become both a key extension of the production of financial knowledge and a
constitutive audience in their own right.
Third, contemporary financial audiences are much closer to financial markets
and may, indeed, be directly involved in them. Emphatically, the underlying
geography of finance remains unchanged and as markets integrate and national
states adopt common standards and codes, trading through electronic systems is
increasingly concentrated in just a few global markets (Clark, 2002; Laulajainen,
2001). However, real-time electronic communications and media images allow
even remotely-located market participants to feel as if they are trading on the floor
of the London and New York stock exchanges. In just a short time, Internet banking
acclimatized people to making electronic transactions and, particularly during the
dot.com boom, a group of these moved into online stock trading. In turn, stimulated
by a constant drip feed of information from the financial media, consumer demand
for financial services has become continuous, following the ups and downs of the
markets in response to the (near) real-time display of events and prices. More and
more of the growing financial audience expect a degree of market volatility and
anticipate the opportunities for arbitrage between stocks and markets: consequently,
the growing demand for real-time passive and active electronic and visual media
images.3 In feeding these expectations, providers’ standards of service are constantly
critically questioned, albeit from a position of weakness, by their consumers.
The canonical example of this phenomenon in motion was the 1990s high-
tech boom. By the late 1990s, many investment funds’ managers were belatedly
concluding that as stock market growth was unsustainable and in “bubble”
conditions, their investment strategies should become more defensive. Simultane-
ously, however, retail consumers, “educated” by financial infotainment and
advertising and deluded by projections of their paper gains forward into the future,
directly (by switching out of “underperforming” stocks and even, in one notorious
case, suing Philips and Drew) and indirectly pressurized funds into maintaining
their dot.com investments. Consequently, demand for investments in high-tech
meant that high-tech stock values kept accumulating, drawing in more and more
marginal players while holding in check even institutional investors convinced that
– although the bubble may explode – they could time their market exit (Shiller,
2000; Williams, 2001). In other words, the watching audience became powerful
players in their own right, rather than being simply represented in the markets by
knowledgeable professionals. While financial institutions may have been privately
alarmed by the speed of the escalation of stock-prices (and not all were), they were
also driven by audience expectations. On this level, then, assumptions that may
have held in the past that financial consumers will comply with professional
judgments no longer apply. There are critically important alternative mediating
channels and modes of intervention.
Added to this, however, the corporate sector is increasingly active in “managing”
financial news including reported earnings and assets and liabilities (Lowenstein,
1996). With senior managers’ stock options and compensation tied to the market
value of their firms, corporations have sought to bypass market analysts and experts
Performing finance 171
by appealing through the media to market participants.4 All large corporations
have press offices that attempt to manage “their” news, reaching out to various
kinds of investors through the usual road-shows and by attempting to manipulate
the more general climate of opinion. The size of corporation undertaking in this
activity has decreased over the past decade so that more and more types of firm
are managing their media presence. Furthermore, as more corporate treasuries
run sophisticated financial operations involving active trading in their own stocks,
currency hedging with respect to their global revenues, and investment in related
firms, they have become discriminating and demanding customers of financial
services.
There is (or was), however, one group drawn from within the financial knowledge
community itself which has developed a critical role as mediators of knowledge –
but only by deploying the new channels of mediation themselves. These are star
investment analysts. Investment analysis theoretically provides relatively information-
poor investors with the ability to choose between different stocks or bonds, as dedicated
professionals interrogate the “economic fundamentals” of a company’s balance sheet
or corporate strategy. However, two major changes in investment analysis have taken
place since the 1980s. First, as companies have wished to maintain their share prices,
they have increasingly employed financial PR agencies to influence journalists and
analysts. Second, mergers and acquisitions between investment banks, stockbrokers
and so on has led to potential conflicts between disinterested investment advice and
investment banks increasingly treated in-house analysts as marketing departments
for fee income generating services. The result is that investment advice tends to be
positive (the Wall Street Journal, 1999, calculated that two thirds of stocks were
recommended “buys”, one third were “holds” and only 1 per cent were recommended
“sells”), coded (even relatively unsophisticated investors may not correctly interpret
“long-term hold” correctly as meaning “sell”) or dishonest (Golding, 2001: 201, for
example reports “one analyst talking to a fund manager: ‘We are putting out a “buy”
recommendation on Company X – it is spelt S E L L!’”). During the dot.com boom,
star investment advisers played a very real part in promoting the bubble market,
with their strongly positive assessments of companies which had never made a single
dollar in profit and their tales of a new economic paradigm (for critical analysis, see
Thrift, 2001; Williams, 2001). Notoriously, documents unearthed during investigations
by the New York Attorney General showed that the public statements of the brightest
star of the dot.com boom, Henry Blodget, differed markedly from his internal
assessments at Merrill Lynch. For example, at the same time as he rated excite@home
as a “short-term accumulate”, he was telling colleagues that it was “such a piece of
crap” and while InfoSpace was recommended as a short- and long-term buy, internal
emails described it as a “powder keg” stock (The Economist, 2002).
The consequences of these trends are, by now, all too evident. For all the informa-
tion in the market about stocks and prices, a paradox of the new financial literacy
is that information is both less valuable in its own right and harder to judge in
terms of its integrity. Information is not knowledge.
The reach of financial professionals has, consequently, increased markedly over
the past decade. A network which hitherto largely consisted of large corporations
172 Gordon L. Clark, Nigel Thrift and Adam Tickell
and institutional clients has now expanded to include a heterogeneous range of
financial consumers, often with their own active opinions and opinion makers. Hence
the rise of an active audience information-gathering industry that can take in and
work on the proliferation of calculative agencies, all searching for and constructing
various kinds of financial consumers, either through demographic profiling or
increasingly through more sophisticated psychographics (Machauer and Morgner,
2001). This new mode of financialized capitalism is most marked in the United
States where retail-orientated firms like Fidelity and Schwab developed a mass-market
for traded investment products. Although only the very largest financial conglomerates
can reach so far down into the retail market (and are now, in the wake of the dot.com
crash, withdrawing from its lowest reaches), it still seems likely that this experience
will be vital in Europe as national states increasingly emphasise personal responsibility
in providing an income in retirement (Clark, 2002).

The medium and the message


I am watching. Mostly, I am watching the commercials. There is nothing that
can restore the faith of a day trader faster than a series of commercials for
online brokerages.
(Anuff and Wolf, 2000: 136)

The increasing significance of electronic and visual media has occurred at the
same time as the image of international finance has become more complex and
difficult to represent. As information technology has taken over many of the
functions and relationships of financial practice (like open outcry markets), greater
and greater anonymity has accompanied the investment and trading process
(Wilhelm and Downing, 2001). Whatever the historical image of international
finance was in London and New York, the screen has swamped that image and has
replaced it with a cacophony of images, noise and visions. It is also accompanied
by a distinctive rhetoric.5
The US television channels CNBC and MSNBC, which are rebroadcast globally,
provide illustrative examples. On both these channels, the eye is bombarded by an
array of constantly changing images and information. While the program anchor
remains important, s/he is constantly framed by an electronic ticker tape displaying
the latest prices for stocks and bonds and the aggregate price for the three major
US stock indices (priced in red or green depending on the day’s trading). Further,
programs are presented at breathtaking speed, interviews are interrupted for
breaking news, expert analysis deploys yet more data displays, reports from the
New York Stock Exchange or the Chicago Mercantile are formulaically fronted by
attractive women and backgrounded by the noise, color and hubbub of open outcry
trading. These techniques owe more to MTV than to the “serious and sober”
financial journalism of the Financial Times or the Wall Street Journal. In doing so,
they breathe a new life into finance, turning it into a living organism. Rather than
a rational entity, finance becomes a performative, continuous activity whose
appreciation assumes a minimum level of financial literacy.
Performing finance 173

Figure 8.1 Talking about finance

We should not underestimate the importance of these screens which are not
only consumed by financial end-consumers, and as such are part of the ecology of
everyday life, but are also viewed by more skeptical financial professionals who
know that outrageous claims on CNBC or CNNfn can still move markets. While
they may be consumed by the new financial audience, they are thus constitutive of
the entirety of finance. Furthermore, although they have evidently not replaced
canonical entertainment programs in the popular imagination, the sheer ubiquity
of money channels in hotel chains around the world, or airport lounges, suggest a
presence that is coterminous with the service functions for the global economy.
These global money shows have a self-conscious attempt to place reporting
according to the 24-hour market trading cycle around the world. Managing time
is as important as managing the image of financial reporting (Galison, 2000), a
feature emulated in the clocks on the trading screens of financial professionals.
Such screens accompany the long periods of “down-time” in finance and at least
give the illusion that they are making unproductive time more productive, just as
laptops, PDAs and mobile phones have made investment management possible
while on the move. Increasingly, the “rhythms of reception produced by the cycles
and patterns of [financial] broadcasting overlap with the rhythms of social life”
(McCarthy, 2001: 196).
A useful distinction can be made between the passive components of the screen
and the active components of the screen. The former include data, updates of
data, and so-called news. These are provided rather than discussed, though the
implication is always that this is done in real-time as opposed to the delayed material
which dominates news magazine programs. Even so, compared with the Bloomberg
channel, the material passively displayed is rarely completely up-to-date. Further-
more, again unlike Bloomberg, data cannot be accessed, displayed and analyzed.
While no doubt useful, such passive material is more often than not material for
watching and to feed curiosity rather than market trading.
By contrast, active components of the screen are presented as if the information
and opinion being imparted is urgently needed by the viewing audience. In this
sphere of CNBC, “talking heads” dominate with comment, discussion, and the
presentation of multi-colored graphics summarizing stock market data. Breathless
excitement characterizes such commentary, being associated with “breaking news”,
174 Gordon L. Clark, Nigel Thrift and Adam Tickell
“new information”, and “unexpected events”. Talk is fast and furious. Talk is also
often interrupted by some sudden happening, and talk moves on at a breakneck
pace covering topic after topic – interrupted, of course, by commercial breaks.
Flicking between channels as one might between MTV, VH-1, and CNN might
also mean missing a so-called vital piece of information mixed in with all the other
material so quickly displayed and so quickly discarded.
Associated with the “talking heads” are regular trading floor commentaries. In
these brief moments of report from the action, reporters appear to stand in the
middle of Wall Street jostled by exceedingly active – even frantic – traders going
about their business. These reporters may be male or female and report to us as if
they know something that we don’t know. Over time, they have gained their own
following even if they seem to come and go on and off the program without any
announcement of departure. As we move on with the program it seems that its
producers have made a couple of very basic assumptions about the time we take
to watch as well as our capacity for concentration. In the first instance, program
producers assume we dip in and dip out of the program with five minutes here
and five minutes there. It appears we don’t follow the program for more than a
couple of commercial breaks. Furthermore, it appears that our concentration can
only last between 45 seconds and 90 seconds on any one issue. Perhaps they’re
right. Perhaps MTV is more challenging and more entertaining!
Until recently, much of the active information presented on CNBC has had a
positive gloss.6 There were always good stocks, amazing success stories, and hitherto
untold opportunities for making a profit. Rarely were investors advised to divest
from a particular stock, withdraw from a particular market or given a bleak
assessment of market trends (although market bears were treated with respect: the
fear that such animals engendered was a perfect emotive counterweight to the
relentless good news elsewhere). At the same time, program presenters and pundits
took the opportunity to encourage investors to avoid the market herd and take
advantage of little-known, out-of-favor opportunities. They know we follow the
news, and they know we are self-conscious of our unwillingness to go against market
leaders. Like so much of financial market reporting, stocks are hardly ever talked
down, while falling share prices are market corrections and even opportunities.
Critically, an Orwellian golden rule is that the positive evaluations which turn out
to have been wrong are never returned to. He who controls the past truly does
control the future, at least on CNBC.
All this activity is executed in a most aggressive manner. In the middle-ground,
the presenter is newsworthy in their own right. The banter between the host,
commentators and guests is positive but combative. Each personality has their
apparent important place in the financial industry – otherwise, why would they be
on the show? But it is rare for guests to finish their presentations. Being interrupted,
being shunted sideways in favor of breaking news, and having one’s image drowned
by a graphic are ever-present risks associated with being on the show. However, in
contrast, one real advantage of being on the show is that the host never ever
questions the veracity of stated opinions. Commentators and guests never have to
Performing finance 175
reveal their own interests in the opinions being portrayed and displayed. But we
know, of course, that all these pundits have a stake in having their views positively
received by the audience (Kurtz, 2000). If they do not directly and immediately
benefit from their exposure on the program, can we be sure that their employers
do not reach for the calculator to assess likely future bonus payments? While it
would be naïve to believe that the audience is uncritical in their construction of
these opinions (see, for example, Philo, 1990; Dahlgren, 1992, on the construction
of information from TV news media) and that what construction of disputability
there is is mainly false, the constant drip of infotainment has a subtly opiate effect
(for parallels, see Roscoe and Hight, 2001). After all, advertising and commercial
interests dominate the channel so why should we expect “independent” advice as
if the audience’s best interests are those served by the program? Indeed, seen in
this way, perhaps much of the commentary and opinion given out on channels
like CNBC is closer to advertising than independent advice and should be under-
stood as such.

Adjusting to new conditions


Institutional investors and fund managers have responded to the increasing
anonymity and media-hype surrounding the global finance industry typified by
financial channel programs. Even if they no longer hold to the purity of the rational
markets hypothesis, economists of finance presuppose that sophisticated professional
investors are not responsive to the media: much of the theory of finance maintains
that the fundamentals of asset allocation strategy and the largely under-represented
and unremarkable imperatives of market competition dominate price formation
(for example, compare Rubinstein, 2001, or Campbell and Viceira, 2002, with
Shiller, 2000). In any event, to be media-responsive would mean being vulnerable
to the harsh discipline imposed on market participants by market arbitrageurs
(invoking the evolutionary principal of “survival of the fittest” most often associated
with competitive market processes; Clark and Marshall, 2002). These presumptions
are, however, based on a false premise. Institutional investors are highly susceptible
to external influences in their decision-making processes.7
At financial industry conferences, organizers frequently implore delegates to
understand behavioral norms and attitudes in order to make greater profits, whilst
the founders of the school of behavioral finance set up a fund management
company to put their theories into practice (www.fullerthaler.com). Training in
the role of behavior starts with attitudinal analysis of simple puzzles (for example,
of a limited set of identified competing nations, which one will win the World
Cup? Of those identified as likely finalists which will win? And by what margin?).
Once inducted into the process, more complicated tests are introduced. For example,
participants may be asked to anticipate the average score (between 1 and 100) of
the group. This puzzle is more complicated than it superficially appears, and has
natural analogues in the finance industry. By coding and displaying the results,
considerable variation in participants’ ability to understand the puzzle is apparent,
176 Gordon L. Clark, Nigel Thrift and Adam Tickell
underlining the recursive nature of successful decision-making, and the difficulties
encountered because the audience is uncertain as to the composition and attitudes
existing in the audience.8
There are three key issues arising from this example. First, even amongst industry
experts the context, knowledge of other participants, and the specific questions
are all important variables in decision-making. Although familiarity with the process
means that participants converge around expected norms and standards, this kind
of accumulated knowledge is unusual in the financial industry. Not only do market
participants change over time, the issues faced and the setting in which they are
played-out also vary in unpredictable ways. There are many risks in simply repli-
cating the past as if the future is yet another version of the past. Producing an
investment product, for example, is quite unlike producing a manufactured product
(Clark, 2000). Performance is assessed according to a benchmark whose value is
only known at the end of future periods of time. Consequently, market agents are
vulnerable to unanticipated events and actions within a mandate period. Further-
more, as financial markets are comprised of many different kinds of people, the
heterogeneity of market expectations and emotions is a necessary ingredient in
sustaining market liquidity; those markets dominated by one kind of participant
with common expectations are ultimately self-defeating (Clark, 2002).
The issue of market expectations is not simply resolved using the dichotomy
between expert and non-expert. For example, at a recent finance industry con-
ference, expert participants were shown two videos. The first advertised investment
management by using the tools of the MTV generation, stressing the “hipness” of
a product in relation to current trends, while the second was more sober and stressed
the relative performance of the product against an appropriate benchmark. When
asked to assess these two videos, although a majority preferred the substance, a
significant minority of professional fund managers and consultants chose the fashion
statement. In assessing the manager as a potential vendor, a bare majority were
impressed by the videos and a substantial minority suspended judgment on the
grounds of inadequate information (both videos). Those most strongly of this
opinion were those employed by consultants whose job it is to be skeptical of
performance claims made by investment managers. Pension fund managers and
administrators were more willing to suspend judgment; either they rely upon
consultants to do the discrimination or they are so used to such advertisements
that they treat them as entertainment and judge them according to the norms of
such a genre.
The growing heterogeneity of expectations and significance of the media has
changed the way finance works. For some, especially consultants concerned with
advising institutional investors about the investment decision-making process, these
kinds of puzzles and video shows have encouraged close attention to the norms
and principles under-pinning the process of decision-making. Whereas recognition
of psychological biases and related cognitive traps have served as one element in
this re-invigorated emphasis on process, check-lists and codes of practice have
served as means of encouraging best-practice. Other avenues of process-based
advice have included a focus upon decision-making in groups and the limits of
Performing finance 177
information-rich decision-making. In essence, commonplace assumptions about
the necessary rationality of market agents have had to be rejected in favor of
formulating models of decision-making that are sensitive to context, cognition
and opinion. Such models may not find favor with many finance theorists. But
they are increasingly the focus of industry participants and government regulators.
For many years, it was self-evident that financial decision-making would be
best when informed by the principles of modern portfolio theory. The conceptual
and measurement-related weapons of such theoretically-informed decision-making
included the Sharpe ratio, the Black–Scholes option pricing theorem, and the
value-at-risk formula (Ezra and Goodwin, 2000). When allied with the efficient
markets hypothesis, these concepts were the cornerstone of investment practice.
But in combination with those advocating a behavioral approach to decision-
making, large-scale empirical studies of patterns of market trading have encouraged
many in the industry to reconsider the basis of their investment strategies. If there
is greater volatility in markets because of systematic differences amongst market
participants in terms of their attitudes, expectations, and responsiveness to
information and news, then those differences must be the object of investment
strategy. In this regard, many large global investment houses have developed trading
regimes designed to take advantage of greater (not less) volatility and systemic
inefficiency.
There remains an unresolved debate as to the significance of market volatility
for short-term and long-term investment policy. There is no doubt that being able
to take advantage of increased market volatility may generate high rates of return
for larger institutional investors who have the resources to mine the data, respond
immediately to trigger points, and in general take advantage of the “remoteness”
of individual investors from the flow of gossip within and between such firms. In
this respect, knowledge of the scope of existing market expectations combined
with empirically-tested models of common psychological traits in specific market
conditions may provide such institutions with significant tactical advantage in
designing market trading regimes. However, it remains to be seen whether tactical
advantage can be translated into strategic advantage with respect to long-term
asset allocation. Here, there are some who believe that attention to the fundamentals
driving long-term rates of return between different classes of financial assets remains
an essential component of any winning investment strategy (Campbell and Viceira,
2002). By this logic, the rise of the media image is a real threat to the welfare of
most market participants since it continually imposes alien logics of calculation.

Conclusions
In this chapter, we have argued that there has been a transformation of the relation-
ship between finance and its media image. As the centrality of the traditional
arbiters was unsettled by disintermediation and the growing financial literacy, the
media have become a key means of coordination in the financial markets, but a
set of arbiters whose primary mode of delivery is infotainment rather than hard
news. Over the last two decades of the twentieth century the reporting of finance
178 Gordon L. Clark, Nigel Thrift and Adam Tickell
has undergone a revolution. Moving from sober reporting to daily entertainment,
has meant moving into a world dominated by video clips, the rush and clash of
symbols, and the need to entertain minute after minute, day after day. Stock-tipsters
have attained cult followings. These changes are of fundamental importance. Before
them, there were producers of financial knowledge (financial professionals and
analysts working in, and determining the course of, the markets) at the core and
there were consumers of financial knowledge (the media and, through them,
investors) at the outside. However much the producers of financial knowledge
may dislike it, they now have to share the stage with a set of media which has
become both consumer and producer. In a very short time, the Reichian symbolic
analysts of finance have had to accommodate an influential external presence and
recognize that markets move on their volition. The boundaries between the
producers and consumers of financial knowledge are fuzzy.
All this might be unproblematic if it were simply the case that such images and
personalities are mere “froth” set atop the fundamentals driving investment
decision-making. However, during the 1990s individual investors entered the market
drawn by the promise of enormous unearned wealth and the erroneous belief
that electronic communication networks provided them with sufficient information
and knowledge to be competitive with much larger institutional investors. Although
the collapse of NASDAQ has meant that some of these have retreated, participation
in securities markets is now a permanent feature of Anglo-American life (and the
logical outcome of the shifts in welfare in many European countries). Therefore,
the close symbiotic relationship between the print media and the large financial
houses has been replaced by a close asymmetrical relationship between individual
investors and media networks. As a result, the means of the “construction of proof ”
(MacKenzie, 2001) have changed. In this respect, at times the print media appear
to have become reporters on the sidelines, looking on in dismay as markets move
in response to momentary image and untutored opinion (Clark and Wojcik, 2001).
There are many implications that flow from these observations. In the first
instance, greater scrutiny needs to be paid to the relationship between financial
reporting in the print media and financial reporting in the television media. We
know little about the design and structure of financial reporting in these rather
different environments just as we know very little in fact about the significance of
historically derived codes of practice in sustaining the divide between reporting
information and making opinions about the significance or otherwise of that
information. Even articulating this implies that there are wider media responsibilities
than chasing ratings, responsibilities not to hype markets or to chase the latest
story. Indeed, the integrity of capital markets may demand (but not necessarily
achieve) such distinctions; just as regulators will have paid increasing attention to
the integrity of corporate accounting practices in the aftermath of Enron, these
same regulators ought to be paying closer attention to the roles and responsibilities
of media image managers.
Of course, it is arguable that the entertainment value of electronic images has
been drastically curtailed by the collapse of the technology, media and com-
munications (TMT) bubble. It is equally arguable that the bubble and bust has
Performing finance 179
proved once again that attention to fundamentals is a necessity even if fashion and
hype would dictate otherwise. It would seem that both propositions are entirely
plausible. However, market volatility remains an important characteristic of Anglo-
American capital markets; diverse expectations and behavior will not simply “go
away” by reference to the supposed virtues of fundamentals. Any appeal to
fundamentals must be tempered with the realization that such appeals are hardly
ever unambiguous and risk-free recipes for long-term investment success.
Furthermore, it is apparent to many in the market, whether expert or amateur,
that increased market volatility has provided opportunities for risk-taking and
reward. There are fashions of theory just as there are fashions in opinion. The
increasingly close relationships over the last two decades between financial theorists
and investment firms is evidence, surely, of the burgeoning market for ideas.
In any event, the transformation of financial reporting into the world of image
and entertainment has also transformed how we understand regulation. Whereas
in the past the regulation of capital markets was intimately related to “hard data”
such as measures of capital adequacy, the efficacy of transaction settlements systems,
and the management of risk-taking internal to large financial conglomerates, it is
arguable that regulation must also be sensitive to the interests of consumers. Here
the world of financial markets is increasingly the world of consumer protection,
going beyond regulatory regimes designed to maintain competition and ensure
stable markets to regulatory regimes which are sensitive to the possibility that
financial institutions may exploit the ignorance and inexperience of consumers.
This is surely the implication of recent moves by the New York attorney general
(themselves interpreted by some as a calculated media strategy) to hold financial
institutions accountable for their expressed opinions (given reservations about the
value of stock recommendations).
Finally, there remains a most important issue to be confronted: if, as it seems,
individuals will be required to bear a higher proportion of the risk associated with
their long-term wealth and retirement income, financial literacy must be given
greater significance than has been the case. It is apparent in the UK that this issue
is an important agenda item for the Financial Services Authority (FSA). The
publication of decision trees, flow charts, and handbooks devoted to the assessment
of risk all suggest that the FSA has taken on a most important educative role.
However, this is just the beginning. Much of this type of educative material presumes
a level of cognitive sophistication and access to information of integrity at odds
with the actual circumstances of individual investors. Moreover, this type of material
suggests a level of quality of information and decision-making competence that
would put television outlets like CNBC out of business. If, as we have suggested
here, all kinds of market participants are caught-up in the market for image and
media time, appeals to rationality shorn of media hype seem to us to be forlorn
attempts to institutionalize a clinical conception of decision-making and proof
that are at odds with what we are beginning to know about media-driven financial
markets which suggest that we may now be beginning a new chapter in the history
of how financial markets are co-ordinated (Clark and Marshall, 2002).
180 Gordon L. Clark, Nigel Thrift and Adam Tickell
Notes
1 Some of the more deleterious impacts of a cultural shift within the finance industry
towards taking risks also migrated into the corporate and municipal realms, as the behavior
of a small number of corporate treasurers and municipal authorities began to resemble
gamblers rather than money managers (for example, in Orange County in California
and Hammersmith and Fulham in the UK (see Tickell, 2000).
2 For example, the Financial Times has been the only UK newspaper whose circulation
figures consistently grow on an annualized basis and now publishes separate editions
for the UK, Europe and North America.
3 This demand notwithstanding, what little evidence there is suggests that individuals
who actively trade on the financial markets consistently underperform the professionals
and the financial markets. For example, empirical research during the 1980s suggested
that small speculators in the futures markets lost 20 per cent of their money every year
(Zeckhauser et al., 1991). More recently, during the dot.com boom the media widely
(over-)reported the emergence of the ‘day-trader’ phenomenon. Day traders are
individuals who actively trade stocks on their own account in the hope of arbitraging
profits or second guessing market moves. Although a few lionized day traders were
wildly successful during the period when the NASDAQ appeared unstoppable and
commentators were claiming that the Dow Jones index should properly be valued at
36,000 (Glassman and Hassett, 1999), the majority lost money.
4 As illustrated by the Enron scandal, managing reported earnings and financial positions
is a widespread phenomenon. While most obvious in the Anglo-American world, it
should be noted that European corporate reporting practices are typically even less
shareholder friendly than Anglo-American practices. In fact, so significant is insider
information in many continental European countries that common Anglo-American
portfolio investment strategies such as passive index matching are demonstrably poor
investment vehicles when compared with active stock selection and exclusion (see Clark
and Wojcik, 2002, on the design and execution of European investment strategies).
5 Here, we have obviously cribbed our section title and argumentative logic from Marshall
McLuhan. See his seminal contributions on the semiotics of the media and the status
of image in modern (postmodern) society; McLuhan (1964) and McLuhan and Fiore
(1967). Even so, we should recognize that these issues have developed in ways perhaps
unanticipated by McLuhan especially as regards the question of peoples’ cognitive
capacities to process information and make informed decisions. We should take care
not to assume that the medium is in fact the message as if it is in some sense unprocessed
by human beings characterized by consciousness and education.
6 This is in stark contrast to the print media where considerable skepticism is now
dominant – contrast Levi (1987) with the interpretive understandings of the collapses
of Barings (Tickell, 1996) and Long Term Capital (MacKenzie, 2000; de Goede, 2001)
– in part because of the different timeframe in which such media run.
7 In constructing this argument, we are drawing upon empirical work carried out over
the last five years by the three authors including: (i) over 100 in-depth interviews in
major financial institutions in London, New York, Chicago, Frankfurt and Sydney; (ii)
observations and discussions at industry conferences, including a recent conference
attended by 200 European financial institutions and fund managers; and (iii) research
for the [UK] National Association of Pension Funds and Watson Wyatt on decision-
making models in pension fund investment allocation. This latter study, by Clark,
developed formal models which analyzed predetermined protocols and tested responses
to a range of variables, including the role of expertise and external ‘noise’.
8 See, for example, the puzzle involving choice amongst a pre-determined set of options
set in Clark and Marshall (2002) for participants in the Annual Investment conference
of the UK National Association of Pension Funds. Increasingly, these puzzles are
based upon cognitive psychology and are designed to record deeply-embedded biases
common to all kinds of people whatever their cultures and environments.
Performing finance 181
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The objectivity of the brand 183

9 The objectivity of the brand


Marketing, law and sociology
Celia Lury

Introduction
In this chapter, I want to develop the argument that the brand is a complex object
or abstract thing. I will do this by focusing on the argument that what has come to
define the brand1 in the contemporary era is the organisation and functioning of
a set of relations between products or services. I will demonstrate that these relations
are dynamic, that is, they are probabilistic, global and transductive (these terms
will be outlined below). It is the dynamism of these relations that makes the brand
a complex object and a peculiar kind of social fact. I will outline here the role of
both marketing and the law in the staging of this complex objectivity, identifying
the ways in which possibility is introduced into the object of contemporary
capitalism (Massumi 2002). In the final section, I will explore how the realisation
of this possibility is restricted in practice, and conclude by considering how sociology
might contribute to the objectivity of the brand.
Before developing this argument in any detail though, let me first address the
issue of how it is that something as abstract and intangible as a brand may be
described as a thing or an object at all. To get at what is at issue here, consideration
of something whose objectivity we take for granted may be helpful: a car. We are
easily able to accept that a car is an object, although it typically comprises many
thousands of parts or components. Moreover, while each of these parts is more or
less essential to the capacity of the object to move its passengers from one place to
another, none of the individual components has this capacity. It is their relation to
one another that makes the components of a car into a car. We also tend to think
of the car as a discrete or closed object, but it is of course only a functioning car
when it is in a controlled relation to elements of its environment: the atmosphere,
the driver and roads. In other words, the car is an object in a dynamic relation to
its environment. In both these respects, the objectivity of the brand may be
described in a parallel way; it is an object that emerges in relations between parts
or rather products and in a dynamic relation to the environment, that is, to
consumption or everyday life. But as indicated above, it will be suggested that
what really distinguishes the brand as an object of the contemporary economy is
184 Celia Lury
not simply that it is a set of relations between products, but that it is a set of
relations between products in time.
To understand the peculiarity of the objectivity at issue here, I draw (implicitly)
on a tradition in philosophy in which time is internal to the processes by which the
(physical and social) world operates (Bergson 1991; Whitehead 1967, 1970; Deleuze
1986, 1989). This is an approach in which time is dynamic, where dynamism is
not an activity of fixed objects moving through space, but rather a process of
immanent or objective differentiation. In this view, no object is fixed or closed, but
rather is a set of more or less self-organising processes in time. To explore what
this might mean, let me return to the example of the car, an object that we more
normally think of in terms of complicatedness rather than complexity. Thus, we
tend to think of the components of the car as staying the same in time, or at least,
as all ageing at the same rate; it is only when the car breaks down that we might
acknowledge that one part has aged faster than another. But of course, some
components of the car are designed to manage the temporality of the relations
between the components themselves and their relation to the environment. That
is, many of the parts have some kind of feedback mechanism, whose function is to
manage change (that is, to organise temporal differentiation). Moreover, the number
of these feedback elements in the car has increased enormously in recent years
(Manzini 1989). As a consequence, the car is not simply complicated but also
increasingly complex, that is, it is more open, more able to be responsive to change
(for further discussion of complexity in relation to contemporary social sciences
see Waldrop 1994; Thrift 1999; Urry 2003). And while the parts or products of
the brand may not be in such close or proximate spatial relation to each other as in
the case of the car, it is their complex relationality – like that of the car – which is
at issue here in terms of its emerging objectivity. In what follows then, the focus
will be on the peculiarity of the dynamic relations between the products that
comprise the objectivity of the brand.

The objectivity of marketing


Let me start then with a somewhat cursory account of the development of
marketing2 in the last fifty or so years (for a fuller account see Cochoy 1998 and
Arvidsson, forthcoming). Marketing has always concerned the definition of products
as both objects within competitive market relations and as objects of consumption;
that is, in marketing products must be defined in terms of their similarity or
difference – their substitutability – from other objects that might occupy the same
social space (in relation to competitors) and in terms of their integration in social
life (in relation to consumers) (Slater 2002). But this is the period that sees the
increasing influence of marketing in the economy. Specifically, it is through the
use of market information about competitors, but also, crucially, about consumers
that the discipline of marketing has come to play a role in the (ongoing) production
of an abstract object, the brand. Of course the claim that information became
central to the organisation of the market in this period is not to say that it has not
always been important. In all markets, supply and demand transform each other
The objectivity of the brand 185
through a sort of back-and-forth movement of information between the two, a
kind of dance between the producer and the consumer (Storper 2001). The
argument being made here is that the novel understandings of information
developed in the immediate post-war period (Hayles 1999) play a key role in this
interchange, and contribute to the emergence of a new, more abstract object in
the economy. The notion of the brand being developed here is thus part of a
broader analysis of the implications of the use of information in the integration,
co-ordination and organisation of the objects of economy and of everyday life
(Kwinter 2001).
More particularly, the 1950s and 1960s sees a call for marketing knowledge to
lead rather than follow practice, for a shift from descriptive to prescriptive practices,
and from inductive to deductive methods of analysis. The increasing legitimacy
of marketing in this period is described by Cochoy as being in part a consequence
of internal developments: the abandonment of institutional economics by marketers
and the adoption of a combination of quantitative techniques and behavioural
sciences. On the one hand, the implementation of operations research and econo-
metrics contributed to the development of marketing science, a research stream
that was concerned to model and optimise market activities. On the other hand,
the importation of statistics, psychology and behavioural analysis gave rise to what
has come to be called consumer research. This involves the use of economic, social
and psychographic demographics to map target markets (Cochoy 1998). Crucially,
the active role awarded to marketing involves a reorganisation of product
qualification trials (Callon, Meadel and Rabeharisoa, this volume), and legitimates
an increasingly important role for marketing in product development, product
differentiation and product classification. The measuring devices involved in the
process of qualification–requalification by marketers included statistical devices
which increasingly showed that ‘beyond prices, the result of competition depended
on the management of the multi-dimensional aspects of products – above all,
brands, services, packaging. It showed that one had to play on these many
dimensions in order to shape the markets’ (Cochoy 1998: 213). In other words,
statistical manipulations begin simultaneously to decompose the fixity of the product
and reconstitute the objects of economic analysis at a different level, that of the
market.
In these calculations, the market is not conceived as a static context for
transactions in which fixed entities or products are exchanged, but as a verb, an
activity, as marketing; in short, the product is not simply brought to the market,
the market is brought to the product. As a consequence, the bundle of qualities,
attributes or characteristics comprising the product was both multiplied – with
attention to the so-called multi-dimensional aspects of the product – and dispersed
across different stages of production and distribution. The previously existing
distinction between the processes of production (as the source of value) and those
of distribution (of an already fixed product) begins to be eroded. The publication
of Theodor Levitt’s manifesto for a marketing revolution in 1960 is instructive
here. The distinction between selling and marketing was crucial to his argument.
Selling, he said:
186 Celia Lury
… focuses on the needs of the seller, marketing on the needs of the buyer.
Selling is preoccupied with the seller’s need to convert his product into cash,
marketing with the idea of satisfying the needs of the customer by means of
the product and the whole cluster of things associated with creating, delivering
and finally consuming it.
(quoted in Mitchell 2001: 76–77)

More generally, what emerged in this period was a widely adopted programme
of marketing management. This involved the idea of the ‘marketing mix’ which
sought to present the best marketing policy as an optimal and controlled
combination of the four Ps – price, promotion, place and product strategies (Cochoy
1998). This was the first stage of what might be called a probabilistic programme of
marketing management. In this programme, the characteristics of a new object –
the brand – begin to emerge from the statistical calculation of the probabilities of
interconnections between parts (the four Ps) of a decomposed process of production
and distribution.
In the following years the commercial success of the ‘marketing mix’ led to
further shifts in the role of marketing in the qualification and requalification of
products. Marketers found ways to show that products are not adequately defined
by their functional properties alone. Qualification trials demonstrated that the
product could not be limited to its physical characteristics, that is, its objective
existence extends beyond being a discrete physical good. In short, product qualifica-
tion in terms of physical or functional properties was increasingly found inadequate
for the objectifying or performative purposes of marketing. Instead, the pattern of
customers’ needs as identified through the use of the behavioural sciences in
consumer research – in particular psychological theories of the self, such as Maslow’s
hierarchy of needs – were used to define the emerging object of the brand. In
short, the mediation of the exchange or interaction between producer and consumer
leads to processes of product differentiation and the emergence of objective qualities
in an abstract thing, the brand. What is at issue here is the emergence of an object
characterised by transductive relations, where transduction is ‘a process whereby a
disparity or difference is topologically and temporally restructured across some
interface’ (Mackenzie 2002: 25). The developments in marketing described here –
the application of the marketing mix, the use of information about the consumer
in the qualification of products, and, as will be discussed later, the use of the
product as a marketing tool – are absolutely fundamental in this regard. They
organise the interface – the asymmetrical communication of information – between
producer and consumer and produce the specific attributes of particular brands.
This key stage in the emergence of the brand is linked to a changed view of the
producer–consumer relationship in marketing: no longer viewed in terms of stimulus–
response, the relation was increasingly conceived as an exchange or perhaps better
an interaction. This view was advocated most explicitly by the proponents of a new
organisational model for advertising agencies, which put ‘account planning’ at the
heart of the advertising process. This position was first developed by the London
branch of international advertising agency J. Walter Thompson and the London
The objectivity of the brand 187
agency Boase, Massimmi and Pollit in the 1960s, and was taken up more generally
first by advertising agencies in the 1980s and then by design consultancies in the
1990s (Julier 2000). In this model, the account planner, whose role is to act as a
representative of the point of view of the consumer within an agency, co-ordinates
the various other aspects of the advertising process. The role was designed to ensure
that brand ‘essence’ was maintained throughout the execution of the advertising
design or creative process and to offer the client an objective view of the consumer’s
experience (Julier 2000: 19–20). At the same time, the traditional marketing concern
with social distinctions and categories was supplemented by attempts to map
constellations of cultural dispositions, values and references – so-called taste cultures
or life styles. This attempt was characterised by a desire to get more knowledge not
simply about consumption as a moment of exchange but as a set of heterogeneous
activities, in which value is added to the product. Put simply, the growing objectivity
of the brand was linked to an expansion of the use of qualitative methods in the
market research industry. Here, as in the social sciences more generally, there was an
interpretative turn (Lury and Warde 1996).
In a further crucial stage in the development of branding, from the 1970s
onwards there is a move away from the branding of stand-alone products to the
branding of product ranges and to the branding of services. Alongside the use of
the brand to secure demand and often a price premium for the manufacturer by
guaranteeing consistent quality, there is an increasing emphasis on qualitative
differentiation across product ranges or within services. The product mix that is
produced in this way is sometimes said to have three (objective) dimensions: width,
depth and consistency. The width of the product mix refers to the number of
different product lines established by a company (or brand proprietor). The depth
of the product mix refers to the average number of items offered by the company
within each product line. The consistency of the product mix refers to how closely
related the various product lines are in end use, production requirements, and
distribution channels. Or to put all this another way, the establishment and
maintenance of links between a product item, a product line and a product assort-
ment comes to be increasingly organised in relation to a new object, the brand. To
understand what is at issue here, think of the respective attributes of the brands
Wilkinson Sword and Gillette, both of which include razors in their product ranges.
However, while Wilkinson Sword claims to be ‘the name on the world’s finest
blades’, Gillette says that it is ‘the best a man can get’ and is the brand name of a
wide range of products including not only razors but also after-shaves and
deodorants (G. Lury 1998: 66). The brands respectively position themselves in the
‘blades’ or shaving market and the broader men’s toiletries market and emerge as
qualitatively different objects.
Once the distinctive objectivity of the brand is developed in this way it may
come to function as a medium for new product or service development. For example,

One general rule with the Levi’s brand is that all innovations must be ‘Levi’s-
like’. What that means is that innovations are pursued or rejected based on
their compatibility with the core values and attributes of the brand.
(Holloway 1999: 71)
188 Celia Lury
This process is usually described in the marketing literature as brand extension.
Thus, for example, the Persil trade mark for detergents has been extended to Persil
washing-up liquid, the Mars trade mark for chocolate bars has been extended to
ice creams, and the Smirnoff vodka brand recently introduced a citrus-flavoured,
single-serve drink, Smirnoff Ice. Similarly, starting with women’s skin-care products,
Nivea (a brand belonging to the company Beiersdorf) has been extended into men’s
products, including deodorants, shampoos and electric razors (that dispense
moisturiser). The luxury fashion brand Versace has been extended to include a
hotel and hospitality service; the product brand Lynx has established a Lynx Barber
shop. In all these examples, the company makes use of the reputation of the existing
brand to enter a new market more cheaply, establish the product or service more
quickly and increase the overall exposure of the brand.

The objectivity of the law


A number of accounts of brands stress their role as a mark of ownership or badge
intended to create trust in the consumer as a guarantor of the quality of particular
products through the identification of an origin. And certainly there are grounds
to support this view. This is the notion of the brand as a badge of origin. Thus
trade mark law is acknowledged to have historically been a means to secure a
monopoly on the use of that mark with the dual purpose of protecting the owner
from unfair competition and the consumer from ‘confusion’ as to the origin of the
good. As such, trade mark is a form of intellectual property right that has historically
been asserted by manufacturers of products. Importantly, although the law has
long accepted that the ‘origin function’ can include selection as well as manufacture,
in many respects the notion of an origin for a product or service is increasingly
difficult to sustain (see Lury 2004, for further discussion of this argument). There
are a number of shifts – partial and uneven but significant nonetheless – that are
relevant here.
First, a number of recent cases (for example, Sabel BV v. Puma AG, Rudolf Dassler
Sport, 1998) suggest that the law is responding to changes in the organisation of
production such that the product is recognised to be constituted in a process
(although see below for the important limit to this). That is, it seems that the law is
willing to recognise and provide protection for goods that are marked by a sign
whose distinctiveness is not intrinsic to the mark as such. Rather, the distinctiveness
of the sign recognised in law as a trade mark is held to be perceived by the consumer
in a process of ‘global appreciation’, that is, in the relations between the mark and
the sign and the goods and services established in the course of trade. This ‘course’ is
explicitly recognised in law to be a dynamic, fluid or global process. Or to put this
another way, the activity of the course of trade that is the basis of the claim to the
property rights at issue cannot be broken down by the law into discrete stages;
rather the converse. The very distinctiveness of the goods themselves is held to be
a function of the channels – in which is included packaging (such as jars) and the
shelving in supermarkets – via which they are distributed. In this respect, the law
may be seen to acknowledge a process of production in which a product is never
The objectivity of the brand 189
simply identical with itself, but is transformed as it is brought to market or is
marketed. As will be discussed later, there are limits to the legal recognition of this
non-identical product. Nevertheless, the thing that is the foundation of property
rights is recognised to be realised in a process of production that occurs in time
through the structuring of the market. In other words, in current legal reasoning,
the thing that is the object of the claim is not described as a discrete entity whose
nature may be fixed or attributed to a clearly identifiable point of origin. Instead,
the course of trade is understood as an activity of bringing something to market,
an activity in which the thing is not fixed, but is globally distributed or in process.
Secondly, there has been a shift in the basis on which the range of goods and
services that a trade mark may take as its object is legally adjudicated. Until recently,
the originator of a mark was unlikely to be able to control the use of a mark in
relation to products in different trade classifications of goods, since it was held
that there was unlikely to be confusion as to the origin of trade. However, following
the so-called Ninja Turtles case (Mirage Studios v. Counter-Feat Clothing, 1991), the
application of a mark across classes of goods can now be prevented by the originator
of the sign, under the law of passing off, if that originator has a business selling
the right to use the sign. In this case, the plaintiffs licensed the reproduction of
fictitious cartoon characters, the ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’, but did not
manufacture any goods themselves. The defendant made drawings of turtle
characters using the concept but not copying the plaintiff ’s drawings, and licensed
them for use on clothing. The plaintiff sued for copyright infringement and passing
off. The court held that there was a case to answer in passing off on the grounds
that the public would be aware of the licensing industry and would assume a
connection between the plaintiff and the defendant. This shift thus secures
legitimacy in law for the more or less unlimited transference of the sign so
fundamental to licensing and the associated practice of merchandising. It seems to
indicate an internal reversal within trade mark law: ‘While unfair competition law
is based on the prohibition against palming off one’s goods as the goods of another,
licensing itself is essentially a “passing off ” ’ (Gaines 1991: 214). In according
property rights in trade mark on these changing terms then, the law acknowledges
that marketing is of increasing importance to the economy and secures recognition
of a thing-in-process as an incentive for innovation and as a medium of competition.
In short, the law provides support for the exclusive ownership and exploitation of
the brand as an abstract, indeterminate and dynamic thing.

The emergence of the brand


By the 1980s and 1990s there was a rapid increase not only in the branding of
services but also in corporate branding, that is, the branding of a company rather
than particular products. This results in a situation in which ‘the bulk of consumer
spending is on corporate brands (motor cars, financial services, telecommunications
and utilities) rather than on product brands’ (Mottram 1998: 63). For example,
Mitsubishi manufacture cars, stereos, medical equipment and textiles, as well as
190 Celia Lury
being in the shipbuilding and banking industries. Similarly, the Virgin brand includes
air and rail travel services, a music company, financial services, fashion and drinks.
Indeed, the commercial success of the marketing management model outlined
above has been such that the brand has been extended beyond business through
the invention of social marketing. This term refers to both marketing applied to
non-business organisations (including political parties, charities and campaigning
groups; see Szersynski 1997), places (towns, regions and countries) and to an
approach which proposes that business should acknowledge its ‘strong social
influence on a society’s sense of purpose, direction and economic growth’ (Hart
1998: 213).

Since brands play such a fundamental role in society, we believe it is the


responsibility of brand owners to begin to ask themselves more wide-ranging
and searching questions: rather than ask a straightforward question such as
‘Will it sell?’ they must ask a series of more complex questions: ‘Will it make
a contribution to our customer’s success?’ ‘Will it improve the customer’s and
society’s well-being?’ ‘Does it add to our country’s cultural stock or bring
pride to our nation?’
(Hart 1998: 213–14)

As Cochoy (1998) notes, social marketing is oriented towards fundamental


research, towards the study of the consumer for his or her own sake as it were,
rather than towards the study of the consumer for the optimisation of markets. A
number of other commentators have also argued that the figure of the customer
or the consumer is central to many recent attempts to reconstruct institutions and
practices in both the public and private sectors (Keat et al. 1994; du Gay 1996;
Abercrombie and Longhurst 1998).
In this pursuit of the consumer, contemporary marketing makes use of an ever-
increasing set of approaches including anthropology, sociology, cultural studies
and semiotics (and marketing and advertising executives – with job titles such as
‘Experience Officer’ – are themselves increasingly drawn from those with educa-
tional qualifications in these fields). The use of ‘cultural’ approaches by not only
brand management and design agencies but also the marketing personnel in large
corporate firms contributes to a more situated model of the consumer, supple-
menting and deepening previous constructions of the individuated, rational
consumer. In seeking to develop their Vision of the Future (1996), for example, Philips
makes use of practices of modelling or simulating everyday life. Multidisciplinary
teams are brought together to develop ‘scenarios’, that is, ‘short stories describing
a product concept and its use’. Such scenarios are then evaluated in relation to
four ‘domains’ that ‘represent all aspects of everyday life’: ‘personal’, ‘domestic’,
‘public’ and ‘mobile’. New products are then proposed for production in the form
of ‘tangible models, simulations of interfaces and short films’. The rise of social
marketing also contributes to a devaluing of what has come pejoratively to be
called rear-view marketing and the rise of the aspiration among marketers to be
The objectivity of the brand 191
able to provide future knowledge of consumer behaviour. Companies such as the
Future Laboratory seek to present information about the future to clients such as
the BBC, Proctor & Gamble, and Marks and Spencer. It provides information
about changes in consumer and lifestyle trends, edits a magazine called Viewpoint
that ‘offers a more directional look at a single trend set to impact on the culture
over the coming year and beyond’, and uses video-makers, photographers and
‘guerrilla researchers’ to produce custom-made reports for clients.
The development of a more situated model of the consumer has also been fed
by the development of retail management and retail design, ‘theming’, event-based
and ambient-marketing sub-disciplines, in all of which the brand is staged as a
performance or event of some kind. Niketowns provide an obvious example.
Another is Original Levi’s Stores which are said to provide ‘an invaluable test-bed
for new ideas, such as powerful point-of-sale strategies related to our advertising
campaigns’ (Holloway 1999: 76). Similarly, Sony showrooms located in global cities
including Tokyo, New York and Paris are furnished with ‘lifestyle settings’ such as
bedrooms, offices and lounges, and consumers are encouraged to play with Sony
products.

Their behaviour and preferences are closely monitored by Sony staff. The
showroom thus becomes a laboratory for analysing consumer reactions to
different products. This information is passed on to Sony headquarters which
then feeds into subsequent product research and development.
(Julier 2000: 106)

In such marketing practices, the brand seeks to incorporate not only (aspects
of) the consumer but also (aspects of) the context of use or wider environment,
inserting itself into activities and entities that exceed the individual consumer. Or
to reverse this point of view, points of access to the brand now include not simply
the point of purchase and associated advertising and promotion, but also ‘special’
events.
Such events – openings, launches, visits, specially arranged performances and
happenings – extend the openness of product–product and product–consumer
relations. In these and other ways, the brand is presented as open-ended, as question-
generating, in process and requiring completion (Knorr-Cetina 2000). Thus Phil
Knight, for example, the Nike CEO, describes the consequences of the self-
recognition of the company as a marketing company in terms of a re-evaluation
of the product – in the Nike case, to a view of the product as a marketing tool
(Willigan 1992). This view was also adopted by Microsoft, when it sent out 350,000
beta-tests of Windows 98 to computer users. At an estimated labour cost of around
$3,000 per test, the net customer contribution to the development of Windows 98
has been calculated to be in the region of $1 billion, probably more than Microsoft
invested itself in the development of this new product (Mitchell 2001: 230).
Similarly, in March 1999, personal computer manufacturer Compaq, under their
‘FreePC’ scheme, began to give computers to consumers for ‘free’ in exchange for
192 Celia Lury
information on consumption habits (Mackenzie 2002: 151). In Britain, the energy
drink Red Bull was given away ‘free’ at clubs and dance music festivals before it
was marketed or sold anywhere else. It appeared in the Play Station game Wipeout,
and was available in chill-out rooms at these venues with a soundtrack by the
Chemical Brothers. Only when the brand had become part of dance music culture,
was it marketed – as a ‘cool’ drink – to the general public (Grant 1999 in Arvidsson,
forthcoming). A similar shift in perspective was also made by Levi’s as illustrated
by the Levi’s ‘Personal Pair’™ programme. This is a mass customisation pro-
gramme, introduced in 1995, in which a consumer’s measurements are taken and
entered into a computer. This information is sent directly to a factory and personally
fitted jeans are produced and delivered on a pair-by-pair basis within two weeks,
resulting in what Levi’s describe as ‘a genuine one-on-one relationship with our
target consumers’. However:

The programme is also important for another reason: size, style and colour
preference details of each consumer can be stored and accessed, giving the
company a wealth of valuable information about each Personal Pair consumer.
Since these individuals tend to be some of the most motivated and loyal Levi’s
brand consumers, our ability to know who they are and what they want most
provides us with a powerful way to ensure their continued engagement with
the Levi’s brand today and in the future.
(Holloway 1999: 71)

Consumers are explicitly adopted as salespeople and as marketing tools. One


much discussed example of this is the practice of cool-hunting as developed by so-
called cool consultancies such as Sputnik, The L. Report and Bureau de Style, and
‘bro-ing’. The latter is the name given to the practice of ‘giving’ prototype shoes
and clothing to selected individuals in black inner-city neighbourhoods in New
York, Philadelphia and Chicago by Nike marketers in order to monitor their use
and evaluate their likely success (Klein 2000: 72–5). In another case, in 1998, the
Korean car manufacturer Daewoo hired 2,000 students on 200 US campuses ‘to
talk up the cars to their friends’ (Klein 2000: 80); in another, some market researchers
working for Nike asked schoolchildren to undertake research, by, for example,
collecting and presenting evidence of ‘their favorite place to hang out’ (Klein 2000:
94). As Michael Dell (of Dell computers) puts it:

Our best customers aren’t necessarily the ones that are the largest, the ones
that buy the most from us, or the ones that require little help or service. …
Our best customers are those we learn the most from.
(quoted in Mitchell 2001: 230)

At the same time, with the intensification of consumerism and the development
of hybrid forums (including consumer advice organisations), consumers are
themselves acquiring greater knowledge of marketing and can increasingly position
their own consumption choices in terms of marketing practices. As Callon says:
The objectivity of the brand 193
The forum … the great divide between specialists and laypersons is
redistributed. It creates material conditions for cooperation between laboratory
research performed by experts and specialists, on the one hand, and research
‘in the wild’ that makes it possible for laypersons to be vigilant and sometimes
prompts them to propose guidelines for new research.
(Callon et al., this volume)

This consumer reflexivity is sometimes described as what is called ‘co-training’,


as, for example, when Amazon.com recommends books to a customer on the basis
of previous purchases. As Mitchell describes it, ‘[t]he customer realizes he is training
Amazon.com as to his tastes and preferences, while Amazon.com trains the
customer to get most value from its services and infrastructure’ (Mitchell 2001:
230). More generally, consumer market reflexivity has contributed to the proposal
by marketers for the practices of marketing to be deployed to develop ‘deep’
relationships with consumers: so-called relationship marketing. This is said to involve
moving beyond a one-way model of exchange or communication and a single-
stage transaction model of consumption to the advocacy of an on-going ‘dialogue’
between producers and consumers. In this and other ways, brands are now
developed as a response to – and as a means of managing – a relation that is
constituted by marketing practices as not merely two-way, but also as long-term,
interactive and inherently open-ended. As a consequence, the objectivity of the
brand is abstract, dynamic and indeterminate.

The prejudices of complexity


Of course, neither marketers nor the law can be held entirely responsible for the
new role (and commercial success) of brands. That the adoption of this marketing
framework was to prove so effective is in large part a consequence of its relation to
other changes in the production process, notably those changes associated with
flexible specialisation (Harvey 1990; Lash and Urry 1996; Castells 1996). This is
production that is flexibly organised for specialised rather than mass production
and decentralised through the use of communication media and information
technologies. These changes meant both that product differentiation in terms of
function was less and less often able to sustain competitive advantage (because it
could be imitated so quickly) and that the production process was itself more flexible,
more able to adapt or flexibly respond to requirements for new or differentiated
products. The emergence of the brand as a complex object must thus be seen in
the context of an economy in which flexibility is a necessity, in which the
differentiation of products enables the management of change. But, so it has been
argued here, marketing played a key role in the organisation of this flexibility, especially
in so far as it contributes to the use of information about the consumer in the
structuring of markets. Marketing not only provides the rationale for increasing
the rate of product differentiation (as markets are conceived to be dynamic) but
also provides the framework within which product differentiation occurs (as markets
are reconfigured in terms provided by marketing knowledge about the consumer).
194 Celia Lury
Put more radically, the practices of marketing help produce a new object: an object
that is produced in and as probabilistic, transductive and global relations between
products (or services). In other words, marketing provides the conditions for the
emergence of a thing of possibility, an object of manageable flexibility; it is a
matter of indeterminacy within limits.
However, the opportunity to realise the possibilities of this abstract object are
unevenly distributed and poorly realised. While the brand has the potential as a
complex object to bring ‘an understanding of the outside, of society, economy and
customer, to the inside of the organization and to make it the foundation for strategy
and policy’ (Drucker, quoted in Mitchell 2001: 77), its possibilities are often not
acknowledged. The interface of the brand typically organises the interaction
between ‘producer’ and ‘consumer’ in profoundly unequal and asymmetrical ways
and the brand as it is protected by trade mark law is the basis for the growth of
legally protected monopolies that restrict opportunities for competition by other
companies. In short, while exerting a profound influence on the social and political
organisation of the work process, the objectivity of the brand does not often extend
the possibilities for action (Barry 2001). The situation remains much as it did when
Levitt called for a marketing revolution in 1960:

When it comes to the marketing concept today, a solid stone wall often seems
to separate word and deed. In spite of the best intentions and energetic efforts
of many highly able people, the effective implementation of the marketing
concept has generally eluded them.
(quoted in Mitchell, 2001: 77)

Moreover, while I have suggested that the activity embedded in the thing that is
the object of trade mark law is recognised to be a process in which something is
brought to market, the legal representation of this activity is also uneven. Case
law acknowledges the activities of many of those involved in the qualification–
requalification of products, explicitly including market researchers, but only
minimally acknowledges the activities of consumers.
In this regard, consider a ruling relating to the opposition of the name Rysta as
a mark to indicate that a company had repaired second-hand stockings by an
invisible mending process (Aristoc v. Rysta, 1945). Of three grounds for opposition,
one was that this was not in fact a proposed use of the mark as a trade mark (Trade
Mark Act 1938). In accepting this argument, Viscount Maugham notes that in an
earlier Act (the Trade Marks Act 1905), the purpose of the mark is stated to be
‘indicating that they are the goods of the proprietor of such trade mark by virtue
of manufacture, selection, certification, dealing with, or offering for sale’. He
continues that while the relevant section of the 1938 Act is much vaguer – merely
stating that the purpose of the mark is to indicate ‘ “a connection in the course of
trade” between the goods and the proprietor of the mark …’ – it seems to him
‘beyond doubt’ that hitherto a registered trade mark has the purpose of indicating
the origin of the good, that is, as he puts it, ‘either manufacture or some other
dealing with the goods in the process of manufacture or in the course of business
The objectivity of the brand 195
before they are offered for sale to the public’ (in Cornish 1999: 464). It is this
‘before’ that indicates not simply the partiality but also the prejudice of the legal
representation of consumer activity, since it implies that the dynamic or global
process of bringing something to market is brought to culmination or fixed at the
moment of sale. To put this another way, while the distinctiveness of the object
before sale is not fixed at any particular stage or moment in time in legal thinking
but established in dynamic relations between stages, such dynamism is halted at
the moment of sale. Any activity which occurs after sale is typically recognised to
be discrete (i.e. separable from other stages of activity and from the thing itself).
The activities of the consumer are not recognised to be constitutive of its
distinctiveness. The implication is that they do not contribute to the improvement
of the object or resource in Lockean terms; they are insufficiently objective – or
objectifying – for the law in this respect.
Consider also the case of British Sugar v. James Robertson (1996), in which Jacob J.
seeks to answer the question as to whether a product is a jam or a ‘dessert sauce or
syrup’. British Sugar produced a large number of sugar-related products under
the general mark, ‘Silver Spoon’. One of these was a syrup-topping for ice cream
and other desserts which they marketed as ‘Silver Spoon Treat’ in toffee and other
flavours. They also registered ‘treat’ for dessert sauce and syrups. They brought a
case for infringement against James Robertson, the well-known jam manufacturer,
for their product ‘Robertson’s Toffee Treat’, a toffee-flavoured spread. In
considering whether the Robertson product did indeed fall within the specification
of goods for which the mark is registered – one condition required in law to establish
infringement – Jacob J. notes that the plaintiff, British Sugar, themselves describe
the relevant product as a dessert sauce or syrup. Thus, the small print on the back
of the jar says:

Toffee Treat is delicious at breakfast, with desserts or as a snack anytime.


Spread Toffee Treat on bread, toast or biscuits, spoon it over yoghurt or ice-
cream or use as filling for cakes.

Jacob J. continues in his representation of the plaintiff ’s case:

So, say British Sugar, the product can not only be used on a dessert, but
Robertson’s positively suggest this. Thus, even if the product has other uses, it
is, inter alia, used on desserts. … It does not matter if … other uses are much
commoner: the fact that the product can be used as a dessert sauce means it is
one.
(in Cornish 1999: 471)

Jacob J. disagrees with this view: ‘I reject this argument’. A number of reasons
are given for this rejection. These include the fact the use of the spread with dessert
is judged likely to be slight, and here he cites an estimate that: ‘all potential uses of
the product, other than as a spread, amounted to less than five per cent of the
volume’. He further argues that while even jam can also be used as a dessert and
196 Celia Lury
‘everyone knows and sometimes does that’, no-one would describe jam as a ‘dessert
sauce’ in ‘ordinary parlance’. Further, Jacob J. continues,

Supermarkets regard the product as a spread. The jam jar invites use as a
spread. When it comes to construing a word used in a trade mark specification,
one is concerned with how the product is, as a practical matter, regarded for
the purposes of trade. After all a trade mark specification is concerned with
use in trade. The Robertson product is not, for the purpose of trade, a dessert
sauce.
(in Cornish 1999: 471)

In short, Jacob J. thinks that the use of ‘treat’ causes the plaintiff no harm,
because ‘by and large one is not in practice a substitute for the other’. That
something has the potential to be used as another product would be (or has potential
uses that everyone knows and sometimes does), does not, in this ruling, mean that
it is the other product or indeed that it is sufficiently similar to it to be substitutable.
But the trial of substitutability in real practice, as advocated here, is a much cruder
qualification trial than that staged by marketing. In marketing, it is precisely the
staging of the possible uses of something that produces the (emergent) object of the
brand at the level of the market, not a majority of real uses in practice. In short,
the trial of the object in the law courts does not produce the same something that
is produced in the qualification trials of marketing; in respect to consumer activities
at least, the legal object is a matter of the real rather than of the possible.
This discrepancy between objectivity in the law and in marketing is revealing
for what it suggests about the respective representation of consumer activities. It
might be seen to suggest that marketing provides a more adequate (a more just)
representation of the objective activities of the consumer than the law. But this is
not so. On the one hand, marketers explicitly acknowledge the value of consumer
activities in the building of brands. On the other hand, trade mark holders are
explicitly advised by marketers to be wary of acknowledging the activities of
consumers as objective. Consider, for example the following ‘rule’ given by marketers
to trade mark owners as to correct or incorrect usage of trade marks:

A trade mark is an adjective. It is not a noun and it is not a verb. It should


always be used in print as an adjective qualifying a noun or noun phrase. The
noun or noun phrase which the trade mark adjective must qualify is of course
the generic name for the product.
(Blackett 1998: 60–1)

This ruling is deemed necessary by marketers since the property rights acquired
by registration of a trade mark can be lost in those legal cases in which consumer
activities are – exceptionally – held to be objectifying. In a judgement often referred
to as genericide, it is legally established that if a trade mark becomes the generic
name for the thing itself, then the trade mark owner loses exclusive rights to the
mark (Coombe 1998; see also Gaines 1991). Examples of words that started off
The objectivity of the brand 197
their lives as trade marks but now have lost their status as private property include
gramophone, zip, tabloid and escalator. Other marks, while still registered, are
frequently thought of by the public as being common names, for example Biro,
Thermos, and Cellophane. In these and other cases then, trade mark owners are
advised by marketers that they must continually watch to ensure that brand and
genre remain distinct if they wish to continue to assert property rights. In the
terms of the genericide ruling, it seems that the law is willing to recognise the
thing that is the object of a property right as brought into being in consumer
activity. This is because it is common or generic, that is, it is not merely a potential
use that everyone knows but only sometimes does, but a real use that everyone
does. But with this ruling in mind, marketers insist that what they produce is merely
an adjective, a qualification of something that exists in its own right, independently
of the trials of either the law or marketing. It thus reverts to a notion of objectivity
in which the possible is a mere may-be.
In sum, what has been argued here is that the brand is an object that is both
dynamic and indeterminate; it is an abstract machine for product differentiation;
it is an artefact that adapts through continuous feed-back and feed-forward. In
ideal typical terms, the peculiar objectivity of the brand enables the communication
of information relating to a continuously evolving multi-dimensional system,
including its ability to mutate in time (Kwinter 2001: 47). That this ideal is even
conceivable is a consequence of the increasing role of information in the co-
ordination and conduct of the processes of production. That is, it is a consequence
of the use of technologies and logics that act on the generation and processing of
information, resulting in significantly extended scales of organisation, much more
rapid processes of circulation, and a new centrality of information to processes
and products (Castells 1996). But the possibility introduced into the economy in
this way is only partially realised. In particular, it has been argued here that the
qualification trials of both law and marketing are such as to produce not simply a
partial but a prejudiced objectivity. That is, the object produced in these trials,
especially as they relate to substitutability of products, is dependent on, but does
not recognise, the activities of consumers.

Coda: sociology and the brand as a social fact


Describing the societies in which we live is a general Euro-American project, so
Marilyn Strathern (this volume) says. She further notes that the interest of
economists is that their descriptions are meant to help us act; even if their knowledge
is not predictive, it is meant to stimulate future policy and/or market behaviour.
This is one type of description, she says, a type that makes use of information
about the world that purifies it, that transforms its dimensions into calculable
measurements. But the mode of description of the objectivity of the brand is
different; it is an object into which possibility has been introduced. As such, it
contains within itself not only a descriptive but also an imperative (Simon, 1981)
and is an example of what Strathern describes as a second type of description, in
which:
198 Celia Lury
The normative guideline, the ethical principle, has already jumped from
description to action; it pre-empts the connection. The anticipation of action
is as much a condition of the description, we might say, as a consequence of
it. … Action is already implied.
(Strathern, this volume)

I have argued here that abstraction, dynamism and indeterminacy are the
characteristics of the social fact – or objectivity – of the contemporary artefact
that is the brand. As a consequence while the brand may be totalising, it is not and
cannot be a total fact (Mauss 1976). It is not a ‘bare fact’ but rather a ‘happening
fact’ (Whitehead 1970). This is the source of its value as an object of contemporary
capitalism, but it is also what makes it partial or open to other interests. I want to
conclude by suggesting that sociologists need to be able to address this object –
and others like it – not only in terms of the descriptive but also of the imperative.
This would involve sociologists contributing to the implication of action in the
object, and to the object in action, without becoming complicit in objectivity. It
would involve the multiplication of partial solutions to the complex problem of
ordering the economy.

Notes
1 Although I will consistently speak about ‘the brand’ or ‘branding’, I hope I will not be
taken too literally. There is no single thing at issue here, or even a single set of convergent
processes. To understand my use of the phrase ‘the brand’ to imply a single, specific
thing that is in all instances the same is to give what is at issue a kind of misplaced
concreteness, to mislocate the abstract in the concrete, to present a complex artefact
as an immediate matter of fact (Haraway 2000; Whitehead 1970). To put this another
way, to assume that what I have called the brand is a single thing would be to mistake
the layers of abstraction and processing that have gone into producing the brand. My
aim is rather to see how the ‘thingyness’ or ‘objectivity’ of the brand is something that
has gradually emerged slowly and unevenly over the last 150 years or so, and then
more intensively but still not always coherently over the last 50 years. The method of
working adopted has thus been working back from an object toward ‘the system of
mutual implication, the system of regularities, and the coherent network of conditions
of possibilities that give the object its body and its sense’ (Kwinter 2001: 215; Haraway
2000: 92–3, 95) and forward to the object as a possible set of relations and connections.
2 Of course the emergence of the brand is not the inevitable result of a single tendency
(‘the rise of marketing’), there are multiple processes at issue, including developments
in graphic and product design, media, accounting and law as well as retail management
and marketing. The activities of the law in this regard are discussed in Lury,
forthcoming.

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Index 201

Index

action: as external internality 79; political BSE 91


86 Bush, V. 101
actor-network 8–10, 146, 148; criticism of
108–9; and Marxism 147–9 calculation 11–12, 38, 48n25, 53–4;
Agamben, G. 86 cultural 59, 63; and markets 52;
agency 9, 60; calculative 69 political effects of 16, 89, 94; politics
AIDS 119 of 87–8; see also economic calculation
Amazon.com 193 ‘calculativeness’ 53, 54, 56, 57–8
anthropology: of consumption 44–5; of Callard, F.J. 148
economics 101–2, 114; of science and Callon, M. 17, 52–64, 86, 148, 192–3;
technology 12, 101 actor-network theory 8–9; calculation
anti-politics 86; and calculation 87, 88, 89 12–14, 69, 87–8; economic sociology
apresentation 131 7–8, 51; economics 18–19;
Arendt, H. 118, 119 Canadian Royal Commission on New
Arrow, K. 101 Reproductive Technologies 71–8
Atlantic Fordism 142, 150–1 Canadian society 72–4
capitalism 14–15, 112–13
Balfour Beatty 92 car 31–2; purchase of 52, 88
Bank of International Settlement survey Carrier, J.G. 61–2
130 Castells, M. 129
Barings 165 Chamberlin, E. 33–4, 36–7
Barry, A. 18–19, 68, 76 citizenship 103
Bartiromo, M. 168 CNBC 168, 172, 173–4
Beck, U. 16, 104 CNNfn 168
Blodget, H. 170 Cochoy, F. 36, 185, 190
Bloomberg 125, 168; channel 173 Commission of Enquiry 70
Boase, Massimmi and Politt 187 Compaq 191–2
Boltanski, L. 113 competition 34, 38, 45, 63; monopolistic
Bourdieu, P. 61, 116, 117, 120 33; and patents 69
Boyer, R. 150 computer screen 123–4, 126–7, 129;
brand 21, 186; marketing 21, 184–6; and electronic broker (EBS) 125, 126, 127;
intellectual property law 188–9; as introduction of 131; reality 133;
object 183–4 Reuters conversational dealing 125,
Bretton Woods Agreement 130 127
Bre-X 168 consumer rights 54
bridgehead centers 137–8 consumers’ attachment 36, 37, 38–40,
British Sugar v. James Robertson 195–6 43–4, 45; production of 108–9
bro-ing 192 consumers’ detachment 38–40, 41
202 Index
contestation 85, 87, 105 Financial Services Authority (FSA) 179
co-operation 30, 116–17 Financial Times 165, 169
corporate branding 189–90 Finland 155
cultural calculations 59, 63 Fligstein, N. 122
cultural turn 12, 143 flow architecture 122, 123, 132–5
culture 13, 62, 108, 153; and economy 58, foot-and-mouth disease 92
63; of markets 57, 64 foreign exchange market 124, 130, 135–6
Foucault, M. 4, 120
decent society 76–7 framing 13, 16, 18, 55–8, 66, 109;
descriptions 78; as basis for action 78, 197 ambiguity of 57, 60; as blocking device
digital divide 115, 153 68; and calculation 87–8; devices 72;
disease gene patents 69 instability of 89; as marketing 62–4
disentanglement 52, 53, 58, 64, 78, France 115
107–10; and marketing 62, 63; see also Future Laboratory 191
entanglement
distributed cognition 36,38, 42, 45, 48n25 Gadrey, Jean 40–3, 44
donor insemination 74–5 Ghana 20
dot.com bubble 165, 170 Gibson-Graham, J.K. 112
du Pont 68 Giddens, A. 136
Durkheim, E. 146 Gilette 187
global book 138–9
e-commerce 42–3, 162 global markets 135–6; temporality of
economic actors 4, 5, 28, 57, 59 136–8
economic calculation 12, 53, 88 global reflex system (GRS) 123–4, 126,
economic knowledge 5–6, 15, 20, 22–3 133
economic sociology 2, 22, 56, 64, 115–16, GMO 92, 104, 106, 110
143; critique of 13; and science and Goffman, E. 59
technology studies 7, 8, 9–12 goods 29–34, 108; marketing of 63;
economics 10, 22, 47n11, 60–2; singularization of 35–8, 41–5, 47n18;
mediatisation of 21; and politics see also attachment, qualification of
15–19, 143; as science 101–2; as goods, trade mark
technology 3–4, 10 government: technologies of 85
economy of qualities 30, 35, 40–1, 43, governmentality 61
44–6 Gramsci, A. 150, 151
economy of relations 45 Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) 136
entanglement 52, 53, 58, 107, 109; hot
70; production of 108 Habermas, J. 118, 119
Epstein, S. 119 Hatfield rail crash 92–4
ethical principle 66–7, 69–70, 77, 78 homo economicus 13–14, 53, 54, 56
Euromoney 167 hybrid forums 28, 30, 46
European Council 155
exchange 53–4, 60; gift 55; see also market information 2, 7, 70, 71, 75; acting on 68,
exchange 77–9; effect of 67; production of 66,
exchange controls 130 76
expert knowledge 6, 16, 17, 18, 20–1, 29, information and communication
86 technologies 42–3, 45, 125, 129, 158
experts 91, 95, 96n13, 105, 114–15, 176 InfoSpace 170
externalities 18, 55, 56, 64, 66, 102; innovation 8, 9–10, 19, 153, 157, 158,
generation of 69, 74; internal 18, 70, 187
77 intellectual property 154, 156–8
intellectual property laws 158, 188
financial audiences 169–70 International Monetary Fund (IMF) 115,
financial information 167, 171, 172–5 154
financial media 167–8 interbank currency markets 124
Index 203
International Meridian Conference 136 metal fatigue 92–4
Internet 42–3, 115; see also information metrological regimes 89–92
and communication technologies metrology 11, 95, 96n12
IVF 74 Microsoft 191
Miller, D. 52–4, 56, 58, 61–2
J. Walter Thompson 186–7 Mirage Studios v. Counter-Feat Clothing
Japan 130 189
Jessop, B. 15, 20, 58 Mitchell, A. 193
Jospin, L. 115 Mitsubishi 189
Money Channel 168
Kindleberger, C. 169 MSNBC 172
Knorr-Cetina, K. 11, 19, 60
knowledge 2, 19, 29, 69, 78, 157, 171; NASDAQ 178
accumulation of 158; production of national state 155–9
104, 105, 117, 119–20, 156–7; see also Nelson, R.R. 101
economic knowledge, expert neo-liberalism 4, 61, 106–7
knowledge, non-expert knowledge network 19, 60, 109, 122, 128–9, 139
knowledge-based economy 66, 142, network market 129–30, 132
152–55, 160–1; emergence of 152, new economy 18–21, 142; see also
154; and national states 155–8; knowledge-based economy
representative terms of 153 New York 124, 126
Nike 191
Latour, B. 8, 9, 109 non-expert knowledge 5, 8, 20
Law, J. 146 non-experts 176
Laws of the Markets 3, 16, 48n25, 66–7, 84 Nowotny, H. 70
Levi’s 187, 192
Levitt, T. 185–6 OECD 115, 154
Luckman, T. 131 opinion 73
Lury, C. 21 overflowing 64, 59, 57, 52, 67; and com-
Lynx 188 petitiveness 66; consequences of 102

Mackenzie, D. 10–11 Papua New Guinea 70


Manhattan Project 101 patent 66–8, 78; and invention 68;
Margalit 76 blocking 68–9
market boundaries 57, 58–9, 63, 102 Playstation 192
market exchange 52, 54, 58 Polanyi, K. 13, 58, 146
marketing 5, 59, 62–4, 101; development political economy 14, 51; cultural 143–5,
of 184–5; social 190–1; see also brand 160–1
marketing political space 102–3
marketing mix 186 politics 87; of calculation 87; and the
markets 51, 52, 55, 57, 58, 60, 63, 133; political 86; and technological
behaviour 15, 54; and democracy 103; economy 94–95; technology of 84–5
dynamics of 33; dual logics of 108; pollution 88–91
embedded 122; evolution of 28; post-Fordism 149–51
organisation of 16, 28–9, 105–6; Pottage, A. 78
politicisation of 106–7; and science product 30–40, 63, 185–6
101–2 product mix 187
Marx, K. 56, 146–8 property rights 111–12
Méadel, C. 37–9
measurement 11, 78, 88–92, 95 qualification of goods 30–1, 34–6
media 165–7, 176–9 qualification of products 29, 30, 34–5, 37
Mekeo 70 qualification-requalification: and
Merrill Lynch 170 marketing 185; process 32–5, 37–40,
meta-governance 155–6 42–5
204 Index
Rabeharisoa, V. 37–9, 86 Tiananmen Square 86
Railtrack 92–3 time zones 138
Rawls, J. 118 Tokyo 126
Red Bull 192 Touraine, A. 119
religion 76 trade mark 188, 189,196; law 188, 204
representative democracy 84–5 traders 124, 127–8, 132
Reuters 125, 168; Monitor 131–2 trading floors 124–6
risk 78, 104 trading room 130
Rose, N. 4 transactions 29, 53–4, 58, 60, 107, 108;
Rukeyser, L. 168 and alienation 55–6; over-the-counter
124, 130
Schumpeter, J. 9, 10 translation 8
Schutz, A. 131 Tsing, A. 168
science and technology studies (STS) 1, 3,
7, 8–12, 148 United Kingdom 89, 130; government
screen 172–3; see also computer screen laboratories 91–2; Health and Safety
Serco 91 Executive 93; political debate in 113;
Serres, M. 9 railway network 93
Siegler, M. 70 USA 130, 155; knowledge-based economy
Singapore 126 154; presidential elections 85; times
Slater, D. 15 136
Smirnoff 188
social actors 57, 59–60, 106, 113, 119; see Versace 188
also economic actors Virgin 190
social movements 104, 118, 119 virtualism 4, 61–2
Sony 191 voting 84–5
star investment analysis 170
Stengers, I. 87, 94 Waldron, J. 85–6, 87
Strathern, M. 18, 197–8 Wall Street 167
supply and demand 29, 34, 35, 37–8, 45 Wall Street Journal 165, 169
Sydney 124 Weber, M. 85, 146
Weir, L. 72
Tarde, G. 169 Wilkinson Sword 187
technology 8, 9–10, 19, 68, 153; economy working class movement 106
as 4, 20; of government 2, 4, 5, 85 World Bank 154
Telerate 125 World Economic Forum 155
telex 131 World Trade Organisation (WTO) 154,
terminals 19, 125–6 157
Thomas, N. 53, 60
Thrift, N. 5 Zurich 124, 126