36th EGOS Colloquium
Organizing for a Sustainable Future:
Responsibility, Renewal & Resistance
University of Hamburg
July 2–4, 2020
36th EGOS Colloquium
July 2–4, 2020
What makes markets ‘better’, and for whom: those let down by markets, those who maintain positions of strength within them
(Fligstein & McAdam, 2011), or for society as a whole? What characterizes a ‘good’ market, and who can say so? While these
questions have always accompanied the theorization of markets and market-based liberal economies, a relatively recent literature
has started to combine an activist perspective with an emerging theoretical account of markets as fragile and temporary socio-technological
arrangements and ongoing organizational achievements (e.g. Dubuisson-Quellier, 2013; McKague et al., 2015; Geiger & Gross
2018; Giamporcaro & Gond, 2016; Gond & Brès, 2019).
This emerging literature on markets stems from the encounter of science studies with the disciplines of economic sociology and anthropology (Callon, 1998; Çalışkan & Callon, 2010), and, more recently, organization studies (Geiger & Gross, 2018; Palo et al., 2018; Roscoe & Chillas, 2014).The literature understands markets as comprising a host of socio-technical assemblages that organize the conception, production and circulation of goods: ‘an arrangement of heterogeneous constituents that deploys… rules and conventions, technical devices, metrological systems, infrastructures, text, discourses’ (Çalışkan & Callon, 2010: 3). These studies emphasise descriptive analysis of market agencements as a means of unpacking power relations in the institutions of high modernity (Beunza & Ferraro, 2019; Giamporcaro & Gond, 2016). Conceptualizing markets as organizational – and organized – phenomena helps us to explore how actors challenge and upset market structures: if markets are socio-technical agencements, as Callon (2017) argues, then these agencements can be challenged, subverted, resisted and changed, from the inside and from the outside. Market ‘misfires’ provide opportunities for actors to reshape market structures (Geiger & Gross, 2018). Issues of power – and powerlessness – come to the fore in this questioning, and our focus is turned toward understanding who (or what) can influence a market’s organizational arrangements: its hierarchies, memberships, rules (Ahrne et al., 2015), its socio-material apparatus and calculative practices (Giamporcaro & Gond, 2016). Where market-based social movement research (e.g. de Bakker et al., 2013) has focused on the institutional level of resistance and change, often over long periods of time, we take into account that the ‘redevising’ of markets may also come in the form of material resistance or subversion (Hawkins, 2011; Finch et al., 2017; Gond & Nyberg, 2017). The strand therefore contributes to the ongoing synthesis of STS-inflected market studies and a more traditional critical political economy.
Whether institutional, organizational, individual or material, market-based activism always throws open issues of stakes and value – ‘what counts’ – in a market. Recent scholarship has emphasised how values too are constructed through the social-material apparatus of the markets (Kornberger et al., 2015). ‘What counts’ is particularly important in relation to those markets associated with the planet’s current grand challenges: climate, the environment, healthcare, education and civil rights. Several collectives have attempted to trace such practices within such ‘concerned’ (Geiger et al., 2014; Roscoe & Townley, 2016) markets, giving us a glimpse of how clashes of values are played out through market contestation and reorganization. Market activism does not always equate to market resistance, as shown, for instance, by the advent of the activist entrepreneur (Esper et al., 2017) and the activist investor (Kish & Fairbairn, 2018). Thus, we conceive of market based activism in the broadest sense, defining it as practices related to the challenging and redevising of markets’ organizations.
In keeping with the theme of the 36th EGOS Colloquium on “Responsibility, Renewal and Resistance”, the nexus of market studies and activism also requires that we take our responsibilities as researchers of markets seriously. Scholars have demonstrated that the existence of the market as an abstract entity is the outcome of ‘efforts in abstraction’ performed by economics (Callon & Muniesa, 2005: 1244), where economic knowledge – theoretical as well as practical, codified in disciplines like accounting and marketing – participates ‘in the design, elaboration, experimentation, change, maintenance, extension and operation’ of markets (Çalışkan & Callon, 2010: 23, see also Callon, 2017; Marti & Gond, 2018). This emphasis on the performative role of market knowledge proffers an entrance for participatory research and scholarly activism.
Thus, the sub-theme also considers the performative role of our own research. Turning the question of market-based activism onto our own activities means confronting issues such as: What are the responsibilities of the social scientists studying markets to ‘join in’ to make markets better? How can we become better aware of our own ‘critical performativity’ (Cabantous et al., 2016) as researchers engaged with market settings? Curiously, while social scientists seem reluctant to abandon a detached and objectivist stance when studying markets, economist researchers have rarely had such qualms in influencing market design(s) (Roth, 2007). We argue that it is time that the field of market studies started to reflect on its own transformative potential (Roscoe & Loza, 2018).
This sub-theme invites questions that lie at the centre of organization researchers’ attempts to grapple with markets, for instance:
What or who decides what a ‘good’ market is? How are markets organized around these notions of ‘the good’? How do markets contribute to undermine or promote competing forms sand definitions of the ‘the common good’?
How do actors contest these conceptions of good at the core of a market’s socio-technical arrangements? How can they be equipped to propose alternative arrangements?
What is the critical performativity of the market studies researcher? How can we maintain a balance between describing and intervening? Is every description necessarily an intervention? If not, what does it mean to remain a detached observer, especially when it comes to contested or concerned markets?