Review Note on “The Worth of Goods”

Review Note on “The Worth of Goods. Valuation and Pricing in the Economy”, edited by Jens Beckert and Patrik Aspers, Oxford University Press, 2011

9780199594641_4501-200x300The Worth of Goods is a book addressing an important topic for all those interested in market studies. It follows in the wake of David Stark’s The Sense of Dissonance and for Francophones, an excellent collection of essays in Evaluer et valoriser. Une sociologie économique de la mesure, edited by François Vatin.  The EGOS 2012 conference will run a special track on value, values and valuation. All these constitute encouraging signs of renewed interest in valuation practices.
The Worth of Goods does not amount to a programmatic commitment to study valuation or pricing. Its value – no pun intended – lies in bringing together a diverse set of studies dealing with valuation and pricing in multiple ways.  Chapters deal with such diverse topics as the valuation of nature, scientific papers, wine, art objects, financial products and fashion modelling.  The empirical examples are thus plentiful and so are the theoretical sensibilities mobilised to explain valuation in different markets. It is thus an easy book to read for those who wish to dip into particular approaches or empirical settings.
The introductory chapter by Aspers and Beckert provides a long review of value and pricing from an economic sociology standpoint. The focus is on how sociological notions (e.g. social networks, institutions, rules) play a role in the valuation and pricing of goods. The ultimate goal is a sociological theory of valuation and pricing that applies just as well to markets for wines as to commercial airliners. Aspers and Beckert recognise that concepts such as singularity or judgment devices are likely to be of some use even if the aim of a general theory remains a mirage.
There is much to admire in the chapters that follow the introduction. Marion Fourcade’s chapter, based on her research in compensation hearings for maritime disasters such as the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska, contains fascinating insights into how nature itself became the subject of contestable valuations. Lucien Karpik’s chapter on the valuation of scientific papers will resonate strongly with all those involved in research assessment exercises of one kind or another.
Marie France Parpet’s chapter presents an interesting case of classification and valuation concerning Aimé Guibert of Mas de Daumas Gassac, and his struggle to establish his estate and the Languedoc as recognised sources of premium wines. Ashley Mears introduces the reader to the mysterious world of fashion modelling and Olav Velthuis focuses on Damien Hirst and modern art auctions. Akos Rona-Tas and Stefanie Hiss’s chapter is a lucid and enlightening account of the role of rating and credit agencies in the US subprime mortgage crisis that sparked the financial crisis that we have yet to escape from. There are plenty more chapters that may spark some readers’ interest – for example, the notion of symbolic value features strongly in Beckert’s chapter on imaginative value and Ravasi et al’s account of the creation of Piaggio’s museum.
The last word belongs to David Stark in a chapter appropriately entitled “What’s Valuable?”. This is a thoughtful and though provoking discussion of value from a pragmatic perspective, following John Dewey’s (1939) Theory of Valuation. Dewey noted that the terms price, prize and praise are derived from a common Latin root – and arrived in English via old French according to most dictionaries – to which one could add appreciate/ depreciate.  To these three Ps, Stark adds a fourth – perform.  If we shift from value (as a noun or attribute) to valuation (as a practical act), the four Ps that Stark proposes turn into verbs – to price, prize, praise and perform. This suggests both a theoretical and methodological injunction to study the situated practices of valuation and to try to answer the question: “what is valuable to whom, where and when?”.
Stark’s chapter brings us full circle to the introductory chapter and to Aspers and Beckert’s remarks about the absence of a comprehensive theory of valuation. Perhaps we should just be content with more modest understandings of the practices of valuation rather than more ambitious and general theories about valuation and pricing.

Review note on “The Illusion of Free Markets”

9780674057265-lgReview Note on “The Illusion of Free Markets. Punishment and the Myth of Natural Order” by Bernard Harcourt, Harvard University Press, 2011

The Illusion of Free Markets by Bernard Harcourt is an intriguing book.  The author is a Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Chicago and the book is dedicated to some of the most famous names of the Chicago school of Law and Economics, namely Gary Becker, Ronald Coase, Richard Epstein and Richard Posner. But this is no eulogy of the Chicago orthodoxy; quite the opposite. It should be read as a trenchant critique of the basic tenets of this school that has played such an important role in political and economic affairs over the last half century. One wonders what the relationship between Harcourt and his colleagues is like but apparently all is well on that front, according to a Harcourt interview in Harpers’ Magazine.
Harcourt intends this book as a prolegomenon to a more serious discussion of dominant models of social and economic organisation. In Harcourt´s words, this discussion can only start in earnest when the myth of the “free market” as a natural order is debunked and laid to rest.  The argument developed by Harcourt is that the myth of natural order rests on two pillars: first, the economic sphere should be left to its own devices, free from regulation and government intervention. Secondly, government intervention is both necessary and efficient in the penal sphere. In other words, government should stay out of the economy but go heavy on law and order.  This strangely dichotomous approach to the role of government is highlighted by the book´s subtitle “Punishment and the Myth of Natural Order”.
The argument developed by Harcourt takes us back to the 18th century and to a range of influential theorists from François Quesnay and the Physiocrats, to Cesare Beccaria, Adam Smith and Jeremy Bentham.  Indeed, the first six chapters of the book can be read as a whirlwind tour of the history of ideas that inspired the Chicago school.  There is much original historical research here and a fine weaving of arguments showing how different theorists conceived the role of government in the economic and penal sphere.  Harcourt is at great pains to show that interpretations of early works, namely those of Cesare Beccaria, have missed more subtle and nuanced approaches to law and economics.  The contact and influence amongst these theorists – e.g. between Beccaria and the Physiocrats or between Quesnay and Smith – shows there is no linear evolution culminating in the contemporary Chicago school approach to law and economics.
The Chicago school is briefly depicted in chapter 6. This is hardly a full blown account of the emergence of Law and Economics at Chicago although the copious annotations provide the reader with a gentle steer towards earlier works on the subject. Harcourt presents Coase´s theorem as the linchpin of the Chicago School, the intersection of two radically different intellectual traditions embodied by Jeremy Bentham and Friedrich von Hayek. The Coase theorem is elaborated at length in “The Problem of Social Cost” published in 1960 in the Journal of Law and Economics – itself, a product of the Chicago Law and Economics programme. The target of Coase´s article was the conventional approach to welfare economics represented by Arthur Pigou at that time.  Indeed, the first part of the article is dedicated to showing the limitations of Pigou´s approach and explaining how the problem of one party causing harm to another, had to be conceptualised in a broader context. Harcourt draws the conclusion that Coase sides with “laissez faire” approaches to regulation since he believes that in a world of zero transaction costs, markets will produce the most efficient outcomes. If transaction costs are positive, Coase appears to suggest that government interventions are problematic since it is far too difficult to assemble all the necessary data and perform the required calculations necessary for intervention to produce an efficient outcome. Whether or not one concurs with Harcourt´s summary of Coase´s seminal article, it is hard to disagree with the notion that there is a presumption of orderliness in market exchange that Coase is unwilling to extend to state intervention.
More importantly, Harcourt contends that the Coase theorem joins at the hip two very different intellectual traditions, namely natural order in economics and the need for ordering in social affairs represented by government intervention in the penal sphere. The latter is called “neoliberal penality”, a term Harcourt associates with Richard Posner and defines somewhat cryptically as: “Criminal activity is best understood as an end run around the market and criminal law is therefore best understood as that which prevents this kind of market evasion” (p. 147).
The key argument is that the early language of the Physiocrats, emphasising natural order in economic affairs, has been superseded by a terminology of market efficiency and transaction costs clad in scientific language, virtually with no break in the underlying logic. The potentially diverging influences of Bentham and Hayek are brought together in the twin beliefs that natural order reigns in economic affairs and neoliberal penality should rule the legal sphere. In sum, Coase’s theorem transformed the quasi-religious belief of the Physiocrats in the natural order of markets into a scientifically credible and politically neutered theory of market efficiency.
The latter part of the book (chapters 7 to 10) is dedicated to the rise of mass incarceration in the US since the 1980s, coinciding with Ronald Reagan´s rise to power and the slow ascent of neoliberalism. It is debatable whether these three chapters add anything substantive to the main argument of the book. They can be read as a longish appendix to Harcourt´s earlier work or the springboard to another set of arguments regarding social exclusion, inequalities and approaches to crime over the last three decades. These are important topics that are probably best addressed in a separate tome.
In the final analysis, Harcourt is clear that many of the dichotomies we have taken for granted – e.g. natural order vs. policing, free vs. regulated markets – need to be ditched altogether rather than repositioned in a revised history of ideas. These dichotomies stand in the way of loftier aims such as a proper public debate on the distributional consequences of different forms of social and economic organisation.
In conclusion, this is an important book that largely succeeds in deconstructing the web of assumptions that pervade conventional wisdom on the role of government in socio-economic affairs, as seen from a North American perspective at least. The latter point is worth stressing. Harcourt may be less tied to a North American context than most American academics – he has a significant output in French – but the targets and the contexts of most of his arguments are quintessentially American. And the Chicago School is not shy about proclaiming its global ambitions for the next fifty years. The historical evidence amassed by Harcourt and the way this evidence is marshalled to show continuity, cleavages and precariously welded joints between 18th and late 20th century ideas, is impressive – even if it takes a hyper-attentive reader to follow some of the finer threads woven by Harcourt, because his narrative moves so speedily in time and space.
The timing of this book is felicitous too, both from a current affairs and intellectual standpoints. From an intellectual standpoint, this book fits well with recent works that have attempted to plot the rise of neoliberal thought (see e.g. The Road from Mount Pèlerin) and shed light on widely used metaphors in economics and politics (see e.g. Erasing the Invisible Hand). The weight of contemporary affairs on intellectual developments is also being felt – as Harcourt himself notes, some of the exponents of the Chicago School such as Richard Posner have suddenly felt the need to dissociate themselves from  some of the tenets of the school that Harcourt so closely associates with them.  There is little reason to believe in pious conversions where there is only token engagement with the foundations of the Chicago orthodoxy. The health warning that this book is no more than a prolegomenon appears to be fully justified.  Wither the Chicago School, but what next?

Papers from the 2nd EIASM workshop

We are very happy to be able to provide the papers presented at the 2nd workshop in pdf-format. The list below includes all papers presented at the workshop. Papers available in pdf-format can be downloaded by clicking on the paper title-link. Please note that the papers are work-in-progress and that you should contact the authors before citing.

AZIMONT, FRANK and LUIS ARAUJO. Evidence for Markets, Markets for Evidence: Extending Evidence-Based Medicine to the Food Sector (Araujo_Azimont_Evidence).

BEAUVISAGE, THOMAS, JEAN-SAMUEL BEUSCART, VINCENT CARDON, KEVIN MELLET and MARIE TRESPEUCH. Online Consumer Reviews: Markets Facing Common Opinion (Beauvisage_et_al_Online).

CHAKRABARTI, RONIKA and KATY MASON. Enabling Practices: Making Markets ‘Worth the Effort’ at the Bottom-of-the-Pyramid. (Chakrabarti_Mason)

CHONG, KIMBERLY. Performing an Ethic: Shareholder value and Management Consultancy in post-Mao China.

COCHOY, FRANCK. The social animation of markets: elements for a behavioral economic sociology.

COVA, BERNARD, GUILLAUME FONOUNI-FARDE and ROBERT SALLE. The Tentative Marketization of La Sécurité Civile: Unsolicited proposals as composite objects (Cova et al_Marketization).

D’ANTONE, SIMONA, ROBERT SPENCER and DANIELLE CASTAGNONI. About Labels, shapes and shades of markets: The Green Palm Label and Palm Oil Scorecard as instances of Market Making and Shaping (Dantone_et_al_Shades_of_green).

DIAZ RUIZ, CARLOS ADRIAN. Organizing markets through representations in market research.

DIX, GUUS. The Incentive as a Technique of Governance: Performativity, Genealogy, Worth (Dix_Incentive).

DOGANOVA, LILIANA and PETER KARNOE. Controversial valuations. Assembling environmental concerns and economic worth in clean‐tech markets (Doganova_Karnoe_Valuations).

DUBUISSON-QUELLIER, SOPHIE. Governing through the market. The case of the French policy on sustainable consumption.

DUFFY, KATHERINE. Framing Value in the Vintage Marketplace – an exploration of the practice of consumption and valuation in the Glasgow vintage collective (Duffy_Framing_value).

FELLESSON, MARKUS. Breaking the bank: young customers as market actors (Felleson_Breaking_the_bank).

GUILHOT, NICOLAS, BENOIT CRET and MAGALI ROBELET. How Public Policy Shapes Competition: Market Structuration of the French Disability Field (1950-2011).

HAGBERG, JOHAN. Get a life(style)! – Marketing efforts to shape lifestyles and to satisfy their demands.

HARKNESS, RACHEL and JOHN H. FINCH. Making Pollution Orderly.

HAUBER, JÜRGEN. Engaging conflicting values in the exchange of corn for the production of bioenergy – A question of pricing.

JOHANSSON KRAFVE, LINUS. To Design Free Choice and Competitive Neutrality: The Construction of a Market in Primary Health Care.

KAVANAGH, DONNCHA and JIM LAWLOR. The Civilizing Tension at the Heart of Market-Making: A case study of the stent industry (Lawlor_Kavanagh_Stent).

KNOLL, LISA. Markets as compromising devices (Knoll_MarketsAsCompromisingDevises).

LINDEMAN, SARA. Organizing a way out of poverty: From well-being functionings to market agency.

MEIJLING, JESPER. Configurations of conflict and conformity in marketisation.

NENONEN, SUVI and KAJ STORBACKA. Finding the focus for market re-configuration: a morphological approach.

ONYAS WINFRED IKIRING, ANNMARIE RYAN and MORVEN MCEACHERN. (Dis)Ordering a coffee market under situations of indeterminacy (Onyas_et_al_disordering).

REID, EMMA and JOHN H. FINCH. The Practices of Mediation and Exchange in Audience Development (Reid_Finch_Audience).

ROSCOE, PHILIP. Can a market for marriage be moral? A philosophical and organizational problem.

SCHWARZKOPF, STEFAN. Consumer research as market practice and the making of ‘choice’ as a cognitive-semantic field.

SITZ, LIONEL. Market emergence and cognitive category creation: aligning metaphors.

STIGZELIUS, INGRID. Doing green: consumer practices in the shaping of green market and food practices.

TREBUCHET-BREITWILLER, ANNE-SOPHIE. The making of things precious. An inquiry into the qualification and valuation of luxury perfumes.

Musings on Bruno Latour’s “Politics of Nature”

9780674013476-lg-197x300Musings on Bruno Latour’s Politics of Nature, Harvard University Press, 2004

This is a dense and difficult work to unpick and in doing so it helps to be familiar with Bruno Latour’s other works, especially We have never been modern and Reassembling the Social. Much of Latour’s line of thinking of those two books appears here in relation to the subject of ‘political ecology’, a term which he divorces from the outset from ‘deep’ or ‘militant’ ecology. Indeed, his entire starting argument (and Chapter 1’s title) is that political ecology has to let go of Nature, and the reader quickly realizes that that capital ‘N’ comes to stand for an uncontestable nature ‘out there’ that is (kept) separate from ‘S’ociety, mainly through the works of ‘S’cience. He explains this argument through Plato’s allegory of the Cave. According to Latour, this allegory presents two points of rupture, one of which is between the discontinuity between the world within the Cave – Society, which has no access to ‘the truth’, and the world without – Nature with its capital N, a world to which only a select few under the guise of Science have access.

The second point of rupture follows from this first, namely that because only Scientists (note the capital) can shuttle back and forth from the Cave to its outside, they are the only ones with access to ‘objective’ laws, “laws not made by human hands” (p. 10). No surprise then that this kind of Science turns political straight away in the power it holds, in being the only way of accessing objective reality and conveying it to the chattering, shadowy totality of ignorant humans who then, of course, have to bow to Science’s infinite wisdom (and the political purposes of those who are interested in the “incontestable authority that would stem from things themselves”, p. 14). This illusion of living in a cave governed by indisputable facts worked reasonably well, according to Latour, when humankind only had to deal with ‘matters of fact’ (I love the part where he claims that asbestos was the last modern object). However, in recent times more and more of these matters of facts have turned into what he calls ‘matters of concern’, fuzzy or tangled objects that even our venerated Scientists (and associated Politicians) cannot handle easily – prions causing Mad Cow Disease and contaminated blood are but two examples. Yet, matters of concern really allow us a glimpse of a much more general ‘crisis of objectivity’, bearing upon all objects (Latour’s emphasis)! For humans in a Cave, objects are considered “risk-free”, they have clear boundaries, a well-defined essence, and well-recognized properties, and they were governed by strict laws of causality, efficacity, profitability, and above all, truth. Behind these undisputable objects, the scientists, politicians, marketers and their apparatuses who brought them to life disappeared. Latour’s tangled objects are different. They have manifold attachments and tentacles, and they are no good to hide behind; on the contrary, they reveal with every move even more human implications and tanglements. In a world full of such objects, ecological politics can ‘naturalize’ no longer – that’s why it has to let go of Nature (or rather, the strict Nature/Society, objective/subjective, given/puzzling distinction). In Nature’s place, political ecology’s concern has to lie with natures, and with this ‘multinaturalism’ a single collective whose role it is to debate (rather than totalize) the hierarchy of beings and to arrive at an acceptable solution.
The book goes on to describe in great detail exactly what is required to move from a ‘two house’ system (Nature and the Cave, or the Assembly of Things and the Assembly of Humans) to a single house or parliament, without any outside recourse to ‘natural laws’. It expands, first, on the issue of how to make the things speak, all while being sceptical of self-proclaimed spokespersons (“it is not the objective fact that is speaking, but you and your own subjectivity”, p. 65), and how to acknowledge that they act (readers familiar with Actor-Network Theory will be broadly familiar with this argument). Once we have allowed speech and action to (now ‘civilized’) objects, we then have no choice, really, to include them into our collective – but of course we cannot do so at once, or else the collective would be completely overwhelmed! Instead, humans and objects alike have to be seen as ‘propositions’ and the collective needs to decide on which of these to take account of in a given argument or discussion: “By refusing to tie politics to humans, subjects, or freedom, and to tie Science to objects, nature, or necessity, we have discovered the work common to politics and to the sciences alike: stirring the entities of the collective together in order to make them articulable and to make them speak” (original emphasis, p. 89).  Now that things are stirred up (literally), there needs to be a due process by which some sort of order can be re-established. This is the task of the collective, which has two powers: the power to take into account (how many are we?), and the power to arrange in rank order (can we live together). This due process will have ‘externalities’, just like the former two-house politics had, but this time round these externalised propositions are clearly marked as such and can come back and unsettle the collective at any point by ‘appealing’ to be taken into account (and, Latour claims, they have a tendency to do just that). The main point of difference between the old State and the new is that there is no natural order, no natural or undisputable fact or value, no externality forever outside, and no problem solved for good.
So what does this all have to do with market studies? Well, Latour claims that this move to a collective also makes away with what he calls the quarrel of the two ‘eco’ sciences, economy and ecology. And here, he gets into a line of reasoning that is familiar from Michel Callon’s work on markets, namely the role of calculations. In his perspective, economics has missed a chance to describe the complicated attachments of things and people and limited itself to calculation without any negotiation or consultation – a failure, as Latour puts it, “to dissimulate the search for values under already-established facts and the search for facts under already-calculated values” (p. 135). So economics (read economy as an activity) in general and calculating in particular becomes an important tool to help the collective in answering its two questions of ‘how many are we’ and ‘can we live together’; thereby stabilizing the relations between humans and nonhumans, and thereby also making action possible. So economists (and Latour includes marketing specialists in this) become indispensable to the functioning of the collective by providing a vocabulary to articulate one’s preferences, and thus works on behalf of and together with political ecology! Though there is much more to say about the book, I will end this book review on this rather comforting notion that in an age where matters of concern pop up their messy and tangled heads everywhere, economists will be more in demand than ever – but not by totalizing and naturalizing ‘objective’ orders of facts, but by joining in the eternal debate on ‘what counts’ to the collective!
University College Dublin

New research program on digitalizing consumer culture

The Swedish Research Council has granted funds for a new 4-year interdisciplinary research program with participants from Gothenburg Research Institute, University of Toulouse II and Stockholm School of Economics. The program is led by project leader Magdalena Petersson-McIntyre (GRI), Franck Cochoy (Toulouse II) and Hans Kjellberg (SSE), and also involves Johan Hagberg (GRI), Lena Hansson (GRI) and Niklas Hansson (GRI).

Project summary: Digcon is an international interdisciplinary project that aims to study digital market devices through the lens of the shaping of product markets and consumption practices. Mobile smartphones, laptops and tablet computers are omnipresent gateways to cyber activity, at work and at home, in education and consumption. Among these fields, the latter deserves particular attention: digital devices are not only consumed, they are also used increasingly by consumers along their consumption practices (as payment tools, information providers and virtual shops). In so doing, these devices contribute to the shaping of new consumer identities, and address issues in terms of gender, ethics, class, abilities and exclusions. The project aims to contribute to the emerging tradition of practice-based approaches to consumption and particularly the study of market devices and their use in everyday markets. We use a multi-methodology approach targeted at revealing different aspects of digitalized consumption. With a combination of common ethnographic qualitative and virtual ethnography but also historical methods, we will study digital consumption in five work packages: The evolution and consequences of digital market devices by tracing their development over time; the gendered aspects of the digitalization of consumption; the changes in consumer commitment and forms of trust regarding ethical consumption; the self-marketing aspects of digital devices; and theoretical development.

For more information please contact

Market Making Perspective

Andrew Sissons and Spencer Thompson from the Big Innovation Centre, a joint initiative between The Work Foundation and Lancaster University, have recently published a report entitled Market Making: A Modern Approach to Industrial Policy.

The report proposes a new approach to policy making to support innovation and makes good use of sources associated with the Market Studies community, namely the special issue of Marketing Theory on Market Practices and Forms published in 2008.

The main argument of the report is that industrial policy has too often been associated with the state’s support for existing industries rather than fostering the take-off of novel and disruptive technologies. An industrial policy focused on innovation should focus on the creation of new markets or market-making, as new markets cannot simply be assumed to materialise out of the efforts of innovators. Sissons and Thompson identify a number of market-making areas where government intervention can help new markets grow and consolidate ranging from technologies and physical infrastructures to regulation and user routines.

The report is complemented by a short note co-authored by Luis Araujo, Katy Mason and Martin Spring entitled Self-Driving Cars; A Case Study in Making New Markets, inspired by the much-publicised trials of Google’s Driverless cars. The case asks a number of questions around the theme “how would the current automobility system – a term coined by the Lancaster sociologist John Urry – have to change in order to accommodate driverless cars?”.  The answer to this question involved a wider range of issues than those that have been focused on in the press, namely new legislation to recognise a novel vehicle on the road. Self-driving cars break the bond between man and machine that has been the mainstay of many of the traffic rules and regulations that have governed the automobility system for over a century now, not to mention the risk pooling institutions better known as car insurers. The automobility system Urry[i] speaks about also involves a complex network of interconnected markets centred around car travel including parts and accessories, fuel distribution and retailing, road building and maintenance, urban design and planning, as well as a range of amenities and roadside services such as hotels, service stations, out-of town retail parks and so on.  The introduction of driverless cars in large numbers would have to cope with varying gradients of resistance and accommodation in each of these areas, leaving aside more fundamental questions related to the future of our transport systems namely the move towards lower carbon-emitting and energy-intensive modes of transport. Katy Mason has elaborated on some of the issues addressed in the report in blogs written for the New Statesman and the Big Innovation Centre.

Review Note on Michael Sandel’s “What Money Can’t Buy. The Moral Limits of Markets”

sandel-178x300Michael Sandel is a rare example of a philosopher whose work has wide public impact. His books post impressive sales figures and publishers rarely hesitate to print paperback versions shortly after they are introduced. Newspapers refer to him as a “rock star” philosopher, a status helped by his frequent media appearances and the on-line clips of his over-subscribed Justice course at Harvard. A former Rhodes Scholar at Oxford and frequent visitor to this side of the Atlantic, Sandel delivered the 2009 edition of the prestigious BBC’s Radio 4 Reith Lectures.

In What Money Can’t Buy, Sandel recovers and develops an argument first introduced in his 1998 Tanner lectures on Human Values delivered at Oxford. Indeed, the book bears the title of the Tanner lectures. There are also echoes of this book in one of the chapters of an earlier bestseller, Justice (2009) and the first of his 2009 BBC Reith Lectures. For Sandel, we live in an era of market triumphalism where the market is widely acknowledged as the default mechanism of economic coordination even if the current global economic crisis has shaken our belief in markets. Sandel is at pains to point out that he is not against the market economy and acknowledges their effectiveness in generating unprecedented prosperity and affluence in developed economies. But he is decidedly against the market society, where everything is seemingly for sale and utilitarianism penetrates every nook and cranny of social and political life. This distinction is crucial for Sandel’s argument. It keeps Sandel out of polemical questions about the politics of markets and defines his task as essentially a moral philosophy enterprise.

Sandel is content to battle the expansion of markets to areas where they don’t belong rather than take issue with say, imperialist projects in the social sciences based on expanding the scope of rational choice theory to all areas of social life. The 1992 Economics Nobel prize winner, Gary Becker is keen to expand rational choice theory to intimate areas of social life such as marriage, divorce and family size and thorny public policy issues such as crime or immigration. This approach concedes that human behaviour is not purely governed by reason but the concern is still with establishing a calculus where all values can be weighed and translated into preferences. In management theory, the broadened concept of marketing first introduced by Kotler and Levy (1969) and the generic concept of exchange proposed by Bagozzi (1975), purposefully avoid discussing the scope of markets and see marketing as a social technology of universal applicability.

In What Money Can’t Buy, Sandel advances two key objections against the market society: inequality and corruption. As far as inequality is concerned, Sandel is agnostic about the rise of inequality in Western societies namely in his native USA. His concern is that in a society where everything is for sale, money regulates the access to such basic goods as healthcare, adequate education, safe neighbourhoods and political influence. In this scenario, the notion of public goods, cohesive social fabrics or thriving civic cultures are irremediably eroded, if not destroyed. The corruption objection tackles more decisively one of the pillars of utilitarianism. Sandel rallies against the notion that markets are morally neutral. The familiar argument of utilitarianism is that turning exchanges into market transactions doesn’t interfere with the nature of what is transacted or redefine how the parties behave in relation to each other. Sandel deploys a number of examples to illustrate his point, including the provision of financial incentives for primary school kids to read books and Gneezy and Rusthicini’s (2000) experimental study of an Israeli day-care centre. In this study, a fine was introduced to punish late- coming parents for holding back teachers. After the fine was introduced, the number of late-comers increased significantly. The latter removal of the penalty had no effect in the number of latecomers, prompting the authors to speculate “once a commodity, always a commodity”.

A further argument, more tentatively developed by Sandel, is that economists are fundamentally mistaken in their assumption that values such as altruism, friendship or civic virtue are subjected to decreasing returns just as any other good. Thus we are advised to economise on these scarce resources by reserving their use to the few areas where markets cannot help. Sandel takes on this argument by pointing out that these resources are depleted precisely through non-use and are subject to increasing rather than decreasing returns, an argument familiar to those acquainted with the Bourdieu-inspired social capital literature.

Sandel marshals an impressive array of empirical examples in support of his arguments, as a way to draw in a general audience unfamiliar with the background and ramifications of his narrative. Many of these examples are firmly rooted in a North American context, namely those related to queues, sports and other exotic domains such as concierge medicine. The scope of this book is broader and less ambitious than Debra Satz’s Why Some Things Should Not Be for Sale, although the two books complement more than rival each other. But there is no denying that of the two, Sandel’s effort has had the wider impact. Few books of this nature feature in the review section of newspapers or get mentioned in editorials. The Boston Review forum contains the most interesting summary of Sandel’s arguments supplemented with informed critiques and a rejoinder. And, for airing these issues and kick-starting a much needed public debate, we should be grateful for Sandel’s efforts to aim for broad public impact even if too many of his arguments deserve a more thorough treatment.

Conference on Anthropology of Markets and Consumption, Irvine


Alladi Venkatesh, George Marcus, Deborah Heisley and James McAlexander at UC Irvine hosted a conference on Anthropology of Markets and Consumption, March 7-9, 2013. The conference gathered 100 or so participants from various disciplines, including Anthropology, Marketing, Consumption studies, Literature, and Sociology, with some emphasis on researchers active in the Consumer Culture Theory tradition. Several of the paper presentations touched on subjects relevant to market studies, including topics such as value creation in redistribution systems, the emancipatory effects of supermarkets for Moroccan women, market practices and controversies in the Yoga market, the creation of the Californian food truck market, the gradual greening of markets, etc. In an interesting keynote, Neil Fligstein discussed the emergence of a finance culture in american households based on data from the US survey of consumer finance.

Overall, the spirit of the conference was very much in line with that of the Interdisciplinary Market Studies Workshop, and we are looking forward to a possible continuation of this initiative in the US.

Call for evidence on use of digital market devices!

Do you own a smartphone and use one or more app(s) installed on it to assist you in your everyday mobile consumption practices? If so, we would be very grateful if you would share some of your experiences with us!

In recent years, a number of new digital aids have been introduced that are geared towards various aspects of consumption: shopping, price comparisons, coupons, shopping lists, payments, e-loyalty cards, product reviews, geolocalized offers, augmented reality, QR-code readers, etc. As part of a joint research program on the digitalization of consumption, we are interested in learning if and how consumers actually use these devices.

To this end we are calling for personal accounts/experiences on the use of digital market devices. We encourage you to tell us freely about one of your significant experiences from using these types of apps and devices in mobile context, whether this experience is positive, negative or mixed. To participate, simply click on the link below and enter your account (without size limitation!):

The full call for evidence can be found here: Digcon – Call for evidence

Johan Hagberg, Senior Lecturer, University of Gothenburg, School of Business, Economics and Law.

Hans Kjellberg, Associate Professor, Stockholm School of Economics.

Franck Cochoy, Professor of sociology, University of Toulouse II/CERTOP, UMR CNRS 5044, France.

Jan Smolinski, doctoral student in sociology, CERTOP, UMR CNRS 5044, France

Contact:; CERTOP, Maison de la Recherche, 5 allée Antonio Machado, 31058 Toulouse Cedex; 05 61 50 45 05.