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the sociology of worker ownership – guest post by adria scharf

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In this guest post, Adria Scharf, director of the Curriculum Library for Employee Ownership, invites you to watch a video workshop that can help inform research, course syllabi, reading lists, and work with practitioners.  Read on for more info, including a special Q&A session at the 2020 ASA meeting.

“The Sociology of Worker Ownership

“Worker ownership” offers both an alternative to the dominant capitalist model of the employment relationship and a means to broaden the ownership of wealth in society.

In this video workshop, “The Sociology of Worker Ownership: New Data Sets and Research Approaches,” leading researchers introduce datasets and research approaches to study worker ownership and its effects:

The video opens with comments from Joyce Rothschild and Joseph Blasi, and is moderated by Adria Scharf.  Janet Boguslaw, Laura Hanson Schlachter, Nancy Weifek, and Joseph Blasi present data sets and research. Sarah Reibstein also contributed.

Alternatively, you can view the video (automatic cc: available) here: https://cleo.rutgers.edu/articles/the-sociology-of-worker-ownership-new-data-sets-and-research-approaches/

This Research & Policy Workshop was developed for the 2020 Annual Meeting of the ASA.  A live Q&A with the presenters will take place at the 2020 ASA virtual annual meeting on Tues., August 11th at 5:30 EDT.

Find a list of several datasets, with information on how to access them, here:

https://cleo.rutgers.edu/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/Datasets-on-Employee-Ownership-2.pdf

 

Written by katherinechen

August 4, 2020 at 6:46 pm

extended q & a with daniel beunza about taking the floor: models, morals, and management in a wall st. trading room

Following 9/11, Wall St. firms struggled to re-establish routines in temporary offices.  Many financial firms subsequently made contingency plans by building or renting disaster recovery sites.   As we see now,  these contingency plans relied upon certain assumptions that did not anticipate current pandemic conditions:

The coronavirus outbreak threw a wrench into the continuity planning that many Wall Street companies had put in place since at least the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Those plans were largely built around the idea that if trading at a bank headquarters was knocked off-line, groups of traders would decamp to satellite trading floors outside the radius of whatever disaster had befallen New York. But those plans quickly became unworkable, given the dangers of infections from coronavirus for virtually all office work that puts people close to one another.

“This is really not the disaster that they had planned for,” said Daniel Beunza, a business professor at the City University of London, who has studied and recently written a book on bank trading floor culture.

 

Just in time for us to understand the importance of face-to-face proximity in the workplace, Beunza has a new book Taking the Floor: Models, Morals, and Management in a Wall Street Trading Room (2019, Princeton University Press) based on years of ethnographic observation. Beunza kindly agreed to an extended Q&A about his research.

Q: “Chapter 1 of your book describes how you were able to gain access to an organization, after two failed attempts.  Quinn, a classmate, offers to introduce you to a former co-worker of his from finance: Bob, now the head of a derivatives trading floor at International Securities.  You meet with Bob and observe activities, where you realize that the trading floor no longer looks or sounds like prior literature’s depictions.  After this first meeting, you send over “sanitized” field notes about your first visit (p. 32), and you meet again with Bob, who has even read and reflected on these field notes. This second meeting to go over your initial impressions starts a longer relationship between yourself and this unit of International Securities [a pseudonym].  You have your own desk on the floor, where you can write down notes​.  

In subsequent years, after the bulk of your field research ends, you invite Bob to come as a guest speaker in your Columbia Business School classes.  Your book recounts how bringing in Bob not only offers the MBA finance students perspective on their desired field of employment, but might also smooth over student-professor relations, especially since teaching evaluations matter.  Afterwards, Bob comments on the students’ late arrivals to class and how he handled the equivalent in his workplace, helping you to understand divergences in your respective approaches to relationships and organizations. 

In chapter 8, your book describes your interview with Peter, an executive who had worked with Bob at International Securities.  Peter describes how most Wall Streeters might react to researchers’ requests for access:

“Bob is a curious dude.  He reads a lot.  He befriended you because he was curious. Most guys on Wall Street would say, ‘Oh, another academic from Columbia?  Thank you very much.  Goodbye.  I don’t have time for you.  You’re going to teach me a new algorithm? You’re going to teach me something big?  Okay.  Come in and sit down.  And I’ll pay you, by the way.’  But a sociologist?  ‘Wrong person on my trading floor.  A desk?  No.  You’re crazy.  Go away.’ So Bob has those qualities, and many of the people you see here have those qualities” (p. 168).

Peter’s comment, along with your observations, also offers a colleague’s assessment of Bob’s management style.  Rather than relying on money as an incentive or fear as a motivation, Bob hires people ‘who were a little different,’ and he cultivates relationships by spending time with employees during work hours in supportive and subtle ways, according to Peter.  (Elsewhere, your book notes that this does not extend to colleagues having drinks outside of work – a way that other organizations can cultivate informal relations.)  

 Your book argues that such practices, when coupled with clearly communicated values delineating permissible and impermissible actions, constitute “proximate control.” Such efforts can check potential “model-based moral disengagement” where parties focus on spot transactions over longer-term relationships; this focus can damage banks’ viability and legitimacy.  In other words, your book posits that face-to-face contact can channel decisions and actions, potentially reigning in the damaging unknown unknowns that could be unleashed by complex financial models.

 First, the content question:

These analyses remind me of older discussions about managerial techniques (notably, Chester Barnard, who built upon Mary Parker Follet’s ideas) and mantras (Henri Fayol’s span of control), as well as more recent ones about corporate culture.  Indeed, your book acknowledges that Bob’s “small village” approach may seem “retro” (p. 170).

That said, your book underscores how people and organizations still benefit from face-to-face connection and interdependency.  Some workplaces increasingly de-emphasize these aspects, as work has become virtually mediated, distributed, asynchronous, etc.  Why and how does it matter so much more now?  How are these findings applicable beyond the financial sector​?”

Beunza: “Face-to-face connections are crucial, but I should add that the perspective coming out of the book is not a luddite rejection of technology. The book makes a sharp distinction between valuation and control. The use of models to value securities is in many ways a more advanced and more legitimate way of pursing advantage on Wall Street than alternatives such as privileged information.

However, the use of models for the purpose of control raises very serious concerns about justice in the organization. Employees are quickly offended with a model built into a control tool penalizes them for something they did correctly, or allows for gaming the system. If perceptions of injustice become recurring, there is a danger that employees will morally disengage at work, that is, no longer feel bad when they breach their own moral principles. At that point, employees lose their own internal moral constraints, and become free to pursue their interests, unconstrained. That is a very dangerous situation.

I would argue this is applicable to all attempts at mechanistically controlling employees, including other industries such as the Tech sector, and not-for-profit sectors such as academia. Some of the warmest receptions of my book I have seen are by academics in the UK, who confront a mechanistic Research Assessment Exercise that quantifies the value of their research output.”

Q: “Second, the reflexivity question:

Did you anticipate how Bob’s visit to your Columbia Business School classroom might provide additional insight into your own “management” [facilitation?] style and your research regarding financial models and organizations?  How have research and teaching offered synergistic boosts to respective responsibilities?  How do such cross-over experiences – discussing issues that arise in researcher’s organizations, which probably constitute “extreme” cases in some dimensions – help with developing organizational theory?”

Beunza: “Back in 2007, I had a diffuse sense that I would learn something of significance when inviting Bob to my classroom, but was not sure what. Before I saw him, I suspected that my original view of him as a non-hierarchical, flat-organization type of manager might not quite be entirely accurate, as a former colleague of him said he was a “control freak.” But I had no way of articulating my doubts, or take them forward. His visit proved essential in that regard. As soon as he showed up and established authority with my unruly students, I understood there was something I had missed in my three years of fieldwork. And so I set out to ask him about it.

More generally, my teaching was instrumental in understanding my research. MBA students at Columbia Business School did not take my authority for granted. I had to earn it by probing, questioning, and genuinely illuminating them. So, I develop a gut feeling for what authority is and feels like. This helped me understand that asking middle managers to abdicate their decisions in a model (which is what the introduction of quantitative risk management entailed in the late 90s) is a fundamental challenge to the organization.”

Q: “This, a methods question:

Peter’s comment underscores what Michel Anteby (2016) depicts as “field embrace” – how an organization welcomes a researcher – as opposed to denying or limiting access.  Anteby notes how organizations react to researchers’ requests to access is a form of data.  How did Bob’s welcoming you and continued conversations over the years shed additional insight into your phenomena?”

Beunza: “Anteby is right that the bank’s form of embrace is data. Indeed, I could not quite understand why International Securities embraced my presence in the early 2000s until 2015, when Bob laid out for me the grand tour of his life and career, and allowed me to understand just how much of an experiment the trading floor I had observed was. Bob truly needed someone to witness what he had done, react back to it, accept or challenge the new organization design. And this was the most fundamental observation of the research process – the one that motivates the book. My entire book is an answer to one question, “how did Bob’s experiment perform?” that I could only pose once I understood why he had embraced my presence.”

————– Read more after the jump ———— Read the rest of this entry »

state-of-the-field article “School choice’s idealized premises and unfulfilled promises” now available

Just before 2019 ends and we enter 2020, I’ve finally broken the superstition that whatever you do on New Years will be what you will do for the following New Years.  This year, a R&R converted into an accept and page proofs before New Years hit!

My co-authored paper with Megan Moskop is now available under the Organizations & Work section of Sociology Compass!  In this paper, using critical sociology and education research, we overview the variants of school choice systems in the US and their impacts on students, schools, and society.

Here’s the abstract:

School choice’s idealized premises and unfulfilled promises: How school markets simulate options, encourage decoupling and deception, and deepen disadvantages

Abstract

In school choice systems, families choose among publicly funded schools, and schools compete for students and resources. Using neoinstitutionalist and relational inequality theories, our article reinterprets recent critical sociological and education research to show how such markets involve actors’ enacting myths; these beliefs and their associated practices normalized white, privileged consumption as a basis for revamping public education as market exchanges between schools and families. Proponents argue that choice empowers individuals, focuses organizations on improving quality, and benefits society more broadly by reducing inequality and segregation. We argue that such school choice myths’ excessive emphases on individual decision‐making and provider performance obscure the actual impacts of school choice systems upon people, organizations, and society. First, rather than enlarging alternatives that families can easily research, select, and (if needed) exit, school choice systems often simulate options, especially for disadvantaged populations. Second, rather than focusing schools’ efforts on performance, innovation, and accountability, they can encourage organizational decoupling, homogeneity, and deception. Third, rather than reducing societal harms, they can deepen inequalities and alienation. Future research should examine both how markets are animated by bounded relationality—routines that enable them to form, maintain, and complete exchanges with organizations—and how activism can challenge marketization.

Please consider assigning this state-of-the-field article in your sociology of education, inequality, economic sociology, and/or organizations courses!  (If your institution doesn’t have access to Sociology Compass, please contact me directly for a copy.)

This paper began when Megan approached me during a March 2018  Future Initiatives “Publics, Politics, and Pedagogy: Remaking Higher Education for Turbulent Times” event at the Graduate Center.  After hearing me talk on a faculty panel about my research interests, Megan asked whether we could do an informal reading group on school choice readings.  We exchanged emails and agreed to meet in person to discuss readings.

At the time, Megan was working on her masters classes and thesis in urban education at the CUNY MALS program.  She was looking for a way to manage her growing collection of citations as she analyzed her past experiences with teaching 8th graders and their families about how to participate in the mandatory school choice market in NYC .

As a new entrant to research on learning and schools through my on-going ethnography of a democratic school, I had the sense that whatever was happening in the insurance market for older adults seemed to exist in other emerging markets for other age groups.  To understand the education options in NYC, I had attended a few NYC Dept. of Education and other orientations for families on how to select pre-K and higher program.  I found these experiences comparable to my observations of orientations for professionals and older adults about enrolling in Medicare: palpable waves of anxiety and disorientation were evident in the reactions and questions from these two differently aged audiences to workshops about how they were supposed to act as consumers felt similar.  I thus became interested in learning about research on the comparable school choice market for my ethnographic research on how intermediary organizations try to orient consumers to the health insurance market.  (Indeed, a side benefit of this collaboration was that the school choice readings helped amplify my development of the bounded relationality concept that ultimately appeared in Socio-Economic Review.)

Megan and I met regularly discuss readings that Megan had suggested and I had found through literature searches in sociology.  After several of these meetings, I raised the possibility of writing a state-of-the-field overview article.  Working on this draft helped us keep track of what we had learned.  It also helped us understand how to map existing research and to identify a void that our respective expertises and writing could address: synthesizing critical studies emerging from organizations and education.   For Megan, I hoped that this experience would give her a behind-the-scenes look at the academic production of research, so that she could decide whether to head this direction.

As we read more about school choice, I realized that we hadn’t come across a chart mapping the types of school choice systems currently in operation.  Megan thus worked hard at developing a table that describes and compares different types of school choice systems.  (In my opinion, this paper’s table is a handy first step for those trying to understand the school choice landscape.)

Meanwhile, I focused on applying an organizational framework to categorize research from the sociology of education and education fields.  As we worked on the drafts in response to writing group and reviewers’ and Sociology Compass section editor Eric Dahlin’s comments, we also realized that no one had systemically broken down the impacts of using market practices to distribute public goods across levels of individual persons, organizations, and society at large.

Along the way, thanks to Megan’s connections to education and activism, we got to learn directly from people about on-going activism and research.  For instance, youth organization IntegrateNYC sent representative Iman Abdul to talk to my “Future of NYC” honors college students about efforts to racially integrate NYC public schools.  Megan and I also attended Kate Phillippo’s talk about her research on school choice in Chicago from her latest book, A Contest Without Winners: How Students Experience Competitive School Choice (2019, University of Minnesota Press).

In all, writing this paper has been a great journey with a fun and insightful collaborator.  Had you asked me back in spring 2018 what the outcome of presenting at a CUNY event would have been, I could not have predicted this.  I am forever grateful that Megan came to talk with me!

Happy New Years, readers!  May the new year bring you joy, happiness, and health.

 

“Talk with your family about [Medicare] Part D over Thanksgiving dinner”: How markets require bounded relationality

 

ObamapardonsWhiteHouseTurkey2014

Question: What do the following three scenarios have in common?

Scenario A.  Congrats, you’re turning 65 years old!

You’re turning 65 years old.  In the US, if you have worked enough units, you are eligible for Medicare; you must select health insurance by choosing among traditional Medicare and HMO plans.  You also need to choose insurance that will cover  your current or anticipated prescription medications.  Depending on where you live, this could involve comparing around 50 different plans.

You start by consulting the Medicare booklet and wading through the flood of mail from insurance providers.  Despite this information, you’re having difficulties understanding the differences among plans and determining how much plans will charge for your medications.  Moreover, you’re not quite sure which medications that you’ll need in the upcoming year.  Each year after this, you’ll have an almost two-month-long window for making these decisions – a period that is happening now, ending Dec. 7.

If you have a long life, you’ll have plenty of practice working with this market.  How do you select a plan appropriate to your needs right now and then in the future?

Scenario B.  Congrats, you’re getting ready to enter high school!

You are a student at a NYC public middle school.  Since students are not automatically assigned to public high schools, you and your family must choose from among 750 programs and rank order your choices.  (If you are two years old or older, your parents must do the same for public pre-K and kindergarten school programs.)  To learn about your options, you can look at a directory of descriptions of these programs and then research each school online.  If possible, you and your family will also attend information fairs and schools’ open houses and tours, where you might be asked to fill out additional forms or leave your information.

Some schools have different criteria for what kinds of prospective students they prioritize, and most selective programs don’t provide rubrics for how they rank prospective students – information crucial for ascertaining your chances of acceptance.  After you submit up to 12 rank-ordered choices, an algorithm, modelled after a medical residency matching program designed by a economist, will generate a match based on schools’ priorities and your listed options.  And, btw, charter schools and private schools have their own admissions processes and admissions deadlines.

How do you choose and rank public high school programs?  Should you try to maximize your choices by also applying to charter schools and, if you have the financial resources, private schools?

Scenario C.  Congrats, you’re rich!

You have amassed enviable, immense wealth.   But, your mattress is bursting, and you distrust regular banking.  And, for whatever reason, you’re not fond of having the state taking a portion to support the common good, social insurance, military spending, etc.  Thinking ahead, you worry about your family having unfettered access to your financial legacy; relatives might fritter away that wealth!  Also, you have a few relationships that other family members don’t (yet) know about, and you want to make sure that those loved ones are also taken care of after your inevitable passing.  So, what to do?

Answer: Most likely, you’ll need what I call “bounded relationality” to assist you with entering complex markets and making exchanges.   To explain what bounded relationality is, I’ll preview excepts from my advance, online first article “Bounded relationality: how intermediary organizations encourage consumer exchanges with routinized relational work in a social insurance market.”

The bounded relationality concept combines two of my favorite theories: (1) economic sociology’s relational work by Viviana Zelizer, Fred Wherry, and Nina Bandjel* and (2) Herbert Simon’s theory about how organizations compensate for people’s bounded rationality, or difficulties with making decisions.

During several years of my research on organizations that support older adults, I observed workshops and meetings for organizational representatives and professionals, including social workers, on topics such as how to select Medicare insurance plans.

At one of these workshops, a representative from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, described officials’ hopes that families would discuss prescription plans at family get-togethers: ‘We tried to say, “Talk with your family about [Medicare] Part D over Thanksgiving dinner,” but we don’t know if people did.’   His comment revealed how much the market relies upon relational work, or connections formed and sustained with other persons (Zelizer 2012) and organizations.

Using observations of US governmental, advocacy, and human service organizations’ (GAHSOs) talks, I show how these intermediary organizations endorsed “bounded relationality” when teaching conventions for participating in the market of social insurance.  Unlike conventional consumer goods and services markets, insurance options are difficult to evaluate and exchanges are challenging to switch.  Decisions are also consequential, with suboptimal decisions impacting personal well-being and requiring support or intervention by family members, if they are available.

Read more about bounded relationality after the jump: Read the rest of this entry »

“Organizations, Markets, & the State” course at the Graduate Center, CUNY, offered for this spring 2020

Are you a graduate student in the Inter-University Doctoral Consortium?*  If so, please consider taking my “Organizations, Markets, & the State” class at the Graduate Center, CUNY.   At student request, I am teaching this class on the sociology of organizations this spring 2020 on Wednesdays @11:45am-2:45pm. Our first class meets on Wed., Jan. 29, 2020.

 

In addition to covering the classics of organizational research, the course includes cutting edge organizational research.  The course also incorporates topics and assigned readings based on enrolled students’ interests.  When I’ve taught this class in past semesters, guest speakers, including Nicole P. Marwell, Jeff Sallaz, Michel Anteby, Caroline W. Lee, Frederick Wherry, Pilar Opazo, and Elizabeth Popp Berman, have discussed their research projects.  (And, Fabio Rojas joined us for a special get-together during a visit to NYC!)

One of the aims of the class, besides learning substantive content, is to develop a local community of emerging scholars whose relationships spanning local, US, and international boundaries.  So, if you are an organizations researcher who is located or will happen to be in the NYC area during spring 2020, please email me about presenting your research!  We’ve also learned about professional development with guests, as participants are eager to learn about different kinds of institutions and career paths.

 

Here is the spring 2020 course description:

Organizations, Markets, & the State, Spring 2020

Graduate Center

Prof. Katherine K. Chen

Course Description

How can people coordinate action across growing groups in creative versus conventional ways?

How can people organize in ways that widen versus reduce power differentials among members?

How do people and organizations hoard advantages for a select few versus ensuring more equal access to all?

How do organizations fend off versus embrace market ideology, and how do organizations encourage members to adopt these perspectives?

Organizations are crucial actors in contemporary society, and they are also sites where many of us expend significant efforts connecting with or coordinating collective action.  Despite their central role in shaping our experiences from education to the workplace to governance, organizations are often overlooked or taken-for-granted among researchers and laypersons.  When researchers do study organizations, they typically pay little critical attention to power dynamics and organizing possibilities.

Building upon more critical perspectives, participants will learn why organizations form, how they develop, and how they can exacerbate or alleviate inequalities.  We will also discuss organizations’ relations with the state and markets, and how these relations affect action.  We will cover a variety of organizational forms, from conventional bureaucracies to networked firms to democratic organizations, with a focus on participants’ organizational fields of interest.  Theories studied incorporate the classics, as well as cutting edge synthetic work like Strategic Action Fields (SAFs), racialized organizations, and relational inequality theory (RIT)’s inequality-generating mechanisms.   Methodological approaches covered include ethnography, interviews, and other qualitative methods, and quantitative analyses.

This course supports deepening participants’ substantive knowledge, including preparing for comprehensives, extending cross-over expertise in a substantive area (i.e. social movements, urban sociology, stratification, education, cultural sociology, etc.), and designing and carrying out research.  In addition, this course aims to both promote professional development and forming a community of supportive scholars for emerging research.

*If you are a student at one of the below schools, you may be eligible, after filing  paperwork by the GC and your institution’s deadlines, to take classes within the Consortium:

Columbia University, GSAS
Princeton University – The Graduate School
CUNY Graduate Center
Rutgers University
Fordham University, GSAS
Stony Brook University
Graduate Faculty, New School University
Teachers College, Columbia University
New York University, GSAS, Steinhardt

Written by katherinechen

November 14, 2019 at 11:21 am

asa2019 live tweets

With ASA and AOM annual meetings simultaneously happening in NYC and Boston respectively, FOMO is in full swing.  In-between spending time with colleagues and helping Fabio pass out Contexts buttons, so far I have live tweeted (with pics!) at my new twitter account @KatherineKChen, a session on “school discipline” and a session on “theoretical perspectives in economic sociology” from ASA.

Sample tweet of the school discipline session, featuring discussant Simone Ispa-Landa‘s comments about where education research should go.

Sample tweet of an economic sociology session summarizes a finding from an analysis of consumer complaints, conducted by Fred Wherry, Parijat Chakrabarti, Isabel Jijon, and Kathleen Donnelly: student debt inflicts “relational damage” on student’s relations with family and employers.  epopp’s tweets and take of the same session starts here.

You can find other tweets about ASA using #asa2019 or #asa19 and AOM using #aom2019.

Written by katherinechen

August 13, 2019 at 10:24 am

book spotlight: beyond technonationalism by kathryn ibata-arens

At SASE 2019 in the New School, NYC, I served as a critic on an author-meets-critic session for Vincent de Paul Professor of Political Science Kathryn Ibata-Arens‘s latest book, Beyond Technonationalism: Biomedical Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Asia.  

Beyondtechnonationalismcover

Here, I’ll share my critic’s comments in the hopes that you will consider reading or assigning this book and perhaps bringing the author, an organizations researcher and Asia studies specialist at DePaul, in for an invigorating talk!

“Ibata-Arens’s book demonstrates impressive mastery in its coverage of how 4 countries address a pressing policy question that concerns all nation-states, especially those with shifting markets and labor pools.  With its 4 cases (Japan, China, India, and Singapore),  Beyond Technonationalism: Biomedical Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Asia covers impressive scope in explicating the organizational dimensions and national governmental policies that promote – or inhibit – innovations and entrepreneurship in markets.

The book deftly compares cases with rich contextual details about nation-states’ polices and examples of ventures that have thrived under these policies.  Throughout, the book offers cautionary stories details how innovation policies may be undercut by concurrent forces.  Corruption, in particular, can suppress innovation. Espionage also makes an appearance, with China copying’s Japan’s JR rail-line specs, but according to an anonymous Japanese official source, is considered in ill taste to openly mention in polite company. Openness to immigration and migration policies also impact national capacity to build tacit knowledge needed for entrepreneurial ventures.  Finally, as many of us in the academy are intimately familiar, demonstrating bureaucratic accountability can consume time and resources otherwise spent on productive research activities.

As always, with projects of this breadth, choices must made in what to amplify and highlight in the analysis.  Perhaps because I am a sociologist, what could be developed more – perhaps for another related project – are highlighting the consequences of what happens when nation-states and organizations permit or feed relational inequality mechanisms at the interpersonal, intra-organizational, interorganizational, and transnational levels.  When we allow companies and other organizations to, for example, amplify gender inequalities through practices that favor advantaged groups over other groups, what’s diminished, even for the advantaged groups?

Such points appear throughout the book, as sort of bon mots of surprise, described inequality most explicitly with India’s efforts to rectify its stratifying caste system with quotas and Singapore’s efforts to promote meritocracy based on talent.  The book also alludes to inequality more subtly with references to Japan’s insularity, particularly regarding immigration and migration. To a less obvious degree, inequality mechanisms are apparent in China’s reliance upon guanxi networks, which favors those who are well-connected. Here, we can see the impact of not channeling talent, whether talent is lost to outright exploitation of labor or social closure efforts that advantage some at the expense of others.

But ultimately individuals, organizations, and nations may not particularly care about how they waste individual and collective human potential.  At best, they may signal muted attention to these issues via symbolic statements; at worst, in the pursuit of multiple, competing interests such as consolidating power and resources for a few, they may enshrine and even celebrate practices that deny basic dignities to whole swathes of our communities.

Another area that warrants more highlighting are various nations’ interdependence, transnationally, with various organizations.  These include higher education organizations in the US and Europe that train students and encourage research/entrepreneurial start-ups/partnerships.  Also, nations are also dependent upon receiving countries’ policies on immigration.  This is especially apparent now with the election of publicly elected officials who promote divisions based on national origin and other categorical distinctions, dampening the types and numbers of migrants who can train in the US and elsewhere.

Finally, I wonder what else could be discerned by looking into the state, at a more granular level, as a field of departments and policies that are mostly decoupled and at odds. Particularly in China, we can see regional vs. centralized government struggles.”

During the author-meets-critics session, Ibata-Arens described how nation-states are increasingly concerned about the implications of elected officials upon immigration policy and by extension, transnational relationships necessary to innovation that could be severed if immigration policies become more restrictive.

Several other experts have weighed in on the book’s merits:

Kathryn Ibata-Arens, who has excelled in her work on the development of technology in Japan, has here extended her research to consider the development of techno-nationalism in other Asian countries as well: China, Singapore, Japan, and India. She finds that these countries now pursue techno-nationalism by linking up with international developments to keep up with the latest technology in the United States and elsewhere. The book is a creative and original analysis of the changing nature of techno-nationalism.”
—Ezra F. Vogel, Harvard University
“Ibata-Arens examines how tacit knowledge enables technology development and how business, academic, and kinship networks foster knowledge creation and transfer. The empirically rich cases treat “networked technonationalist” biotech strategies with Japanese, Chinese, Indian, and Singaporean characteristics. Essential reading for industry analysts of global bio-pharma and political economists seeking an alternative to tropes of economic liberalism and statist mercantilism.”
—Kenneth A. Oye, Professor of Political Science and Data, Systems, and Society, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
“In Beyond Technonationalism, Ibata-Arens encourages us to look beyond the Asian developmental state model, noting how the model is increasingly unsuited for first-order innovation in the biomedical sector. She situates state policies and strategies in the technonationalist framework and argues that while all economies are technonationalist to some degree, in China, India, Singapore and Japan, the processes by which the innovation-driven state has emerged differ in important ways. Beyond Technonationalism is comparative analysis at its best. That it examines some of the world’s most important economies makes it a timely and important read.”
—Joseph Wong, Ralph and Roz Halbert Professor of Innovation Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto
Kathryn Ibata-Arens masterfully weaves a comparative story of how ambitious states in Asia are promoting their bio-tech industry by cleverly linking domestic efforts with global forces. Empirically rich and analytically insightful, she reveals by creatively eschewing liberalism and selectively using nationalism, states are both promoting entrepreneurship and innovation in their bio-medical industry and meeting social, health, and economic challenges as well.”
—Anthony P. D’Costa, Eminent Scholar in Global Studies and Professor of Economics, University of Alabama, Huntsville
For book excerpts, download a PDF here.  Follow the author’s twitter feed here.

book spotlight: freedom from work by daniel fridman

Fridmanbookcover

Daniel Fridman’s Freedom from Work is an ethnographic account of people trying to create economic mobility in Argentina and the United States. The core of the book is a study of people using various “self-help”strategies to improve their economic position. This may include reading self-help books, forming entrepreneur clubs, and, interestingly, playing board games that teach skills that one needs to run a business.

Theoretically, the book is interesting because it is a contribution to a genre that one might call “studies of the self under capitalism.” The phrase comes from Foucault, but it is really a sort of Bourdieusian style habitus study. The idea is that people have a specific set of attitudes and beliefs about the nature of success and mobility. The interesting thing about Freedom from Work is the way these ideas are shaped and reshaped through these self-help activities. Normally, you’d think these activities are uninteresting and frivolous, but they reveal how people understand the nature of success and what individuals can do to affect that.

So what do we learn from the ethnography? A few things. First, from a very basic point of view, is that extracting economic success from a market system requires very specific skills that many (most?) most people do not have. Perhaps a lesson for students of entrepreneurship is that economic actors must be socialized in a specific way. Second, we learn how market logics are applied to individual behavior, which Fridman calls the construction of a neoliberal self.  I normally hate the word “neoliberal,” but I’ll let it slide here. Understanding how market-oriented calculability is applied to daily life and how it transforms the self is a worthwhile topic.

I found the book to be well written and engaging. I think economic sociologists, entrepreneurship scholars, and cultural sociologists will like this book. I also think it is interesting  to those in a Foucauldian tradition, who have a taste for very late Foucault. Recommended!

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($4.44 – cheap!!!!)/Theory for the Working Sociologist (discount code: ROJAS – 30% off!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street / Read Contexts Magazine– It’s Awesome! 

Written by fabiorojas

April 11, 2018 at 12:55 pm

(1) new sase submission deadline and (2) new grant available for researchers studying alternatives to hierarchical organization

Happy 2018, everyone!  Two announcements:

  1. The SASE conference submission deadline has been extended to Jan. 29, 2018.  Please consider submitting to the “alternatives to capitalism” network that I’m co-organizing.
  2. A new fellowship of interest to those studying worker cooperatives and similar organizational forms is now available via Rutgers University:

The Bill & Connie Nobles Fellowship
For the study of alternatives to hierarchy in organizing the activities of corporations

This Fellowship supports research on alternatives to hierarchical organization in the corporation. Scholars will address whether management has any fundamental reason to control employees. Is there a practical alternative to far-reaching hierarchical control by management that can eliminate the root cause of some problems that hierarchical organizations face? The negative impacts of such control on human development and behavior became more apparent as managers sought to maximize the contributions of knowledge workers and encourage employees to think economically. The study may involve innovations in theory or practice, or case studies. Approaches for including employees in sharing equity and profits should be addressed in the proposal.

Doctoral candidates and pre/post tenure scholars in the social sciences and humanities may apply for the $25,000 stipend that can be used for research/travel expenses.

Submit an email application with a 1500 word proposal and a vita by February 28, 2018 with decisions by March 15. Please have three letters of reference sent separately to: fellowship_program@smlr.rutgers.edu

Info at: https://smlr.rutgers.edu/content/bill-nobles-fellowship and https://smlr.rutgers.edu/content/fellowships-professorships for a listing of all current and past Fellows or email the Director of the program at bschrief    [at]  smlr   [dot]  rutgers   [dot]  edu

Written by katherinechen

January 8, 2018 at 7:32 pm

cfp ‘Alternatives to Capitalism’ SASE Research Network Conference, due Jan. 29, 2018 (note extended deadline!)

As you may remember the cfp I posted almost a year ago, Joyce Rothschild and I co-organized a mini-conference “Seeking a More Just and Egalitarian Economy: Realizing the Future via Co-operatives, Communes, and Other Collectives” at the Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics (SASE) 2017 annual meeting in Lyon, France.  We had a great turn-out from researchers who came from around the world to attend and present at our sessions.

We have now joined up with Lara Monticelli and Torsten Geelan to form the ‘Alternatives to Capitalism’ research network at SASE.  The June 23-25, 2018 SASE conference meets in Kyoto, Japan!

Please consider submitting a paper, session, or “author meets critic” session to our research network.  Or, have a look at the other SASE research networks and mini-conferences, including a mini-conference on organizational inequality.

[Update: For tips on how to submit, click  on this guide SASE-Submitting-a-Proposal.]

You can download our research network’s cfp here: RNAlternativestoCapitalismCfPSASE2018.  Or, you can just read the below:

‘Alternatives to Capitalism’
SASE Research Network Conference
Doshisa University
Kyoto (Japan), 23-25 June 2018

CALL FOR PAPERS: SOCIETY FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF SOCIO-ECONOMICS (SASE) ANNUAL CONFERENCE
JUNE 23-25, 2018, DOSHISA UNIVERSITY, KYOTO (JAPAN)
ALTERNATIVES TO CAPITALISM RESEARCH NETWORK:

https://sase.org/about/networks/
DEADLINE FOR ABSTRACT SUBMISSIONS AND SESSION PROPOSALS (MAX 500 WORDS): JANUARY 29, 2018 (updated deadline!)
**************

The theoretical foundations of this new research network, that will run for five years from 2018 to 2022 at the annual conference of the Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics (SASE), lie in the contemporary debate about the future of contemporary capitalism and the urgent need to start prefiguring alternatives that can help tackle the multiple crises we currently face: high and rising inequality of income and power, eroding democracy, irreversible environmental destruction and human-induced climatic change, increasing racism(s), right-wing extremism(s) and various forms of discrimination, and new forms of worker exploitation within the gig economy.
The goal of this new research network is to advance the international, comparative and interdisciplinary study of theories, practices, social movements, communities and other organizations that are advocating, experimenting with and constructing alternatives to contemporary capitalism.
More specifically, the research network has three goals:
1) To bridge the disparate interpretative frameworks that exist by engaging in a theoretical systematization of the literature;
2) To map existing alternatives embedded within various socio-economic, political and geographic contexts;
3) To encourage the use of innovative research methods that can provide new insights and reach broader audiences.

Topics of interest include, but are not limited to: Prefigurative social movements and real utopias; Political and ethical consumerism; Alternative futures; Digital capitalism, technology and the future of work; Independent trade unions and political parties; Eco-villages, autonomous and sustainable communities; Community and practice-based initiatives; Radical lifestyles; Cooperatives (worker/producer/consumer) and cooperativism; Direct democracy and municipalism; The commons and commoning practices; Alternative forms of organisation and governance; Transformative social innovation; Alternative media, and Other forms of alternative social reproduction.
*****************

We welcome paper presentations, sessions (min. 3 participants) and book review symposia (“authors meet critics” sessions) which can be submitted through the SASE website by choosing the Research Network: I (‘Alternatives to Capitalism’).
To submit your abstracts or session proposals, please visit the website: https://sase.org/
DEADLINE FOR SUBMISSIONS: JANUARY 29, 2018 (updated deadline)

Please note that several Early-career Scholar Awards are available each year to cover the costs of travel, accommodation and membership fees. For information on how to apply, please visit the website at: https://sase.org/events/conference-submission-and-award-guidelines/

You are very welcome to contact the research network chairs below to discuss paper and panel submissions or any questions you may have:
Dr. Lara Monticelli (lara.monticelli      [  at]      sns.it);
Dr. Torsten Geelan (tkg22   [at]  cam.ac.uk);
Professor Katherine Chen (kchen   [at]   ccny.cuny.edu).
We look forward to meeting you in Kyoto in June 2018!

Written by katherinechen

December 15, 2017 at 5:35 pm

why contemporary architecture sucks and why economic sociology is the future we’ve been waiting for

Biranna Rennix and Nathan Robinson have a long, but well-written essay called “Why You Hate Contemporary Architecture, and If You Don’t Why You Should”.  The hook: name one example of a building built in the last 70 years that stands up to anything built before the War?  You, like me, probably have a hard time thinking of an answer.

The explanation they offer is that this isn’t just a question of taste.  It is that computers have allowed architects to do things now that weren’t possible before the war.  So we don’t design buildings anymore, we engineer them.  And the engineering possibilities far outstrip normal human capability.  Combine that with capitalism’s emphasis on efficiency and what you get is buildings that are both ugly and inhuman.

As I started reading it, I was thinking to myself “it is so nice to read something long and thoughtful that has nothing to do with Donald Trump.”  But of course, it’s not that simple.  Eventually, I found myself substituting the phrase “public policy” for “architecture.” And in doing so, I found myself coming to an explanation for the “populist moment” we are living through: Just as post-war architecture became more and more focused on efficiency and technical superiority at the expense of feelings and human needs, public policy in the post-War period has become more distant, abstract and technical.

I sympathize with the reaction of elite architecture professors who resist the idea that the solution to the problem of contemporary architecture is to retreat into “nostalgic” buildings.  Similarly, I resist the idea that the response to the critique of contemporary public policy is to go back to a nostalgic pastiche of an vaguely defined golden era.

But here’s the thing: even if I don’t agree with the treatment for the illness I can’t ignore the underlying diagnosis.  Massive policy projects—whether the European Union or reforming the American health care system—are Le Corbusian in their ambition and intelligence as well as their capacity for mass alienation.  And that policy alienation has produced a real and consequential backlash that we should not ignore (despite our moment of joy over the results in Alabama–go ‘Bama!).

The upshot of the architecture article is a call to reintroduce fallibility and limited human capacity into processes by which buildings get built.  Venice and Bruges resulted from the work of builders who contributed in ways that improved on what was already there.  They did so with tools and technologies that suffered from human limitations.  But the result was architecture that is human and even sometimes beautiful. These places evolved in response to—and, were limited by—the people and communities that inhabited them, not the other way around.  Can we find a way to make public policy that takes the same lesson to heart without retreating to a past that never actually existed?

This is where economic sociology comes in.  I don’t go too much for economist bashing.  I like economists.  Some of my best friends of economists.  The strength of their insights is undeniable.  But there is no doubt that the quantitative turn in economics is the equivalent of the arrival of CAD technology in architecture.  It has lead to an exceptionally technocratic era of policy analysis the goal of which is to rationalize and to engineer policy-making on a superhuman scale.  Intellectually, it’s good stuff.  But over-reliance on it, in combination with embracing a certain form of capitalism the last fifty years, has introduced a lot of the same problems that CAD technology introduced into architecture.  We have extracted humans and history from the process of making policy and Trump (and Brexit, and Marine Le Pen) are a result.

Economic sociology, if it doesn’t get itself too distracted by fancy tools, has a contribution to make.  Or more than a “contribution”, economic sociology could become the intellectual basis on which to build a new approach to thinking about public policy.  One that reintroduces a focus on human interactions—with their faults and frailties, as well as their capacity for beauty and insight—as the central actor in the process by which strong societies—not just policies (i.e.,buildings) but societies—are built.  It is not just a matter of understanding the behavioral psychology of people in response to the engineered policies in which they live.  It is understanding how the interaction of human beings produces and evolves social institutions.

The irony of ironies is that Donald Trump—the guy who brought the idea of “look at me” architecture to its tackiest heights when he demolished the perfectly nice 1929 Art Deco Bonwit Teller building in order to build a minimalist brass-tinted-glass monument to value engineering—should be leading the populist policy “movement”.  We can and should reject both his facile, anti-intellectual nostalgia and also the technocratic policy elitism of the second half of the 20th century.  Economic sociology, or at least some version of it, seeks to understanding how institutional fabrics emerge and evolve.  Yet we have not really figured out how to translate that knowledge to a wider audience.  But, we need to (because if we don’t someone else will)

Yes we can.

Written by seansafford

December 13, 2017 at 3:19 pm

unicorns and gazelles are black swans

Both the public and scholars pay a disproportionate amount of attention to the Silicon Valley model of entrepreneurship. But for every startup that becomes a unicorn, a thousand more mundane businesses are started. Howard Aldrich and Martin Ruef contextualize this ordinary entrepreneurship in a special issue of Academy of Management Perspectives on the reemergence of “Main Street entrepreneurship”:

Dazed and confused by the wild hype surrounding gazelles and unicorns, entrepreneurship researchers have focused on the black swans of the entrepreneurial world, even though IPOs and venture capital financing of firms are extremely rare events. Despite their rarity, entrepreneurship conferences and journals have been filled with papers on various aspects of the process of “going public” and “VC networks.” Fortunately, in the middle of the Silicon Valley mania, other scholars have been paying attention to the mundane aspects of business startups – – the ordinary business starts, numbering in the hundreds of thousands each year in the United States for businesses with employees. This special issue gives us an opportunity to look back over what we believe to be scholars’ misplaced attention to the extreme and their neglect of the mundane. Correcting the misperception that has been introduced into the literature by selection biases favoring growing and profitable firms will give scholars and policymakers a more accurate and policy-relevant picture of entrepreneurship in the 21st century.

Check it out!

 

Written by epopp

November 14, 2017 at 1:00 pm

does piketty replicate?

Richard Sutch reports in Social Science History that Piketty does not replicate very well:

This exercise reproduces and assesses the historical time series on the top shares of the wealth distribution for the United States presented by Thomas Piketty in Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Piketty’s best-selling book has gained as much attention for its extensive presentation of detailed historical statistics on inequality as for its bold and provocative predictions about a continuing rise in inequality in the twenty-first century. Here I examine Piketty’s US data for the period 1810 to 2010 for the top 10 percent and the top 1 percent of the wealth distribution. I conclude that Piketty’s data for the wealth share of the top 10 percent for the period 1870 to 1970 are unreliable. The values he reported are manufactured from the observations for the top 1 percent inflated by a constant 36 percentage points. Piketty’s data for the top 1 percent of the distribution for the nineteenth century (1810–1910) are also unreliable. They are based on a single mid-century observation that provides no guidance about the antebellum trend and only tenuous information about the trend in inequality during the Gilded Age. The values Piketty reported for the twentieth century (1910–2010) are based on more solid ground, but have the disadvantage of muting the marked rise of inequality during the Roaring Twenties and the decline associated with the Great Depression. This article offers an alternative picture of the trend in inequality based on newly available data and a reanalysis of the 1870 Census of Wealth. This article does not question Piketty’s integrity.

The point isn’t that income inequality hasn’t risen. Like most social scientists, I am of the view that, for various reasons, income inequality has risen, but it is important to get the magnitudes right, which can support or undermine other hypotheses about wealth accumulation. Sutch’s article shows that Piketty made a good effort, but it depends on some questionable choices. Let there be more discussion of this issue.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($4.44 – cheap!!!!)/Theory for the Working Sociologist (discount code: ROJAS – 30% off!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street / Read Contexts Magazine– It’s Awesome!

 

Written by fabiorojas

November 13, 2017 at 5:44 am

what problems do people think antitrust is going to solve?

Last week, I asked why antitrust is having a moment (it’s continued, on Planet Money and elsewhere), and why Democrats are using radical language to make fairly modest proposals. In this post, I’m going to ask what problems people think antitrust is going to solve, anyway.

Certainly a lot of the current concern about antitrust comes from a broad sense that corporations are too economically and politically powerful, that our economy has been restructured in ways that make ordinary people worse off, and that massive tech companies are able to use our data in ways that we have little control over. That’s political antitrust. And those are totally real issues.

But I want to explore some new questions being raised that are not exactly within the current scope of economic antitrust, but that are still kind of speaking its language—that are pushing to change the antitrust technocracy, not up-end it. To recap, as it has been construed for the last thirty-plus years, the purpose of antitrust is to promote consumer welfare, generally by trying to keep firms from being able to raise and keep prices above a competitive level. The focus is consumers, and prices.

Increasingly, though, people at least adjacent to the space of antitrust expertise are making claims about economic problems they think are being caused by lax antitrust enforcement, or that antitrust should be addressing. And those proposals are worth keeping an eye on, because as hard as it might be to change the expert consensus, it’s still more likely than a new anti-monopoly movement. (Though the two could certainly reinforce each other.) I see these new arguments as falling into basically three categories.

Market power has effects we didn’t realize

Market power is the ability to keep prices above a competitive level (i.e. above marginal cost). Once upon a time, people thought there was a fairly close relationship between how concentrated a market is—that is, how many companies control what share of the market—and how much market power firms have. Since the 1970s, there has been much less of a presumption that concentration, on its own, indicates market power. That means that there’s been less concern about whether we’ve got four airlines controlling 70% of the U.S. market, or that four carriers control 99% of the U.S. wireless market.

Increasingly, though, people are raising flags about other problems that might result from market power. One of these is labor monopsony—the idea that firms have market power, but as purchasers of labor, not sellers of products, and that this is driving wages down. The Council of Economic Advisers put out a report last fall suggesting this might be happening, and Democrats’ mention of “bargaining power for workers” implies this is part of what they’re trying to address. There are related arguments about market power in supply chains and the emergence of “winner take most” industries that also suggest links between concentration or market power and wages.

In theory, monopsony can be handled within the current legal framework, though it is rarely addressed in practice. So developing arguments about the effects of market power on workers, and a legal framework for addressing that within antitrust, is one conceivable new direction for antitrust.

Others are arguing that market power can lead firms to attach undesirable conditions to products that make them lower quality, even as price remains the same. In particular, some scholars, including Nobel Laureate Joe Stiglitz, have framed privacy as an antitrust issue: the product may be free, but consumers have no choice about how their data is used (and in the case of platforms like Facebook, no equivalent competitors). Privacy is hard to address within a framework focused purely on price. But in Europe, competition policy is increasingly tackling privacy issues, and Germany is currently investigating whether Facebook’s dominant position is forcing consumers to give up their privacy without having an alternative choice.

Market power has causes we didn’t realize

The Atlantic just featured a story with the dramatic title, “Are Index Funds Evil?” The article discusses the rise of large institutional investors—index funds, though not only index funds—and what it means that, increasingly, big chunks of competitors in a specific market are actually owned by the same few corporations. It goes on to discuss work by José Azar, Martin Schmalz, and Isabel Tecu that finds that this common ownership enhances market power, and that airline ticket prices are 3-7% higher than they would be under separate ownership.

In this story, index funds were the hook, but it just as easily could have been framed around antitrust. In a way, common ownership was the original antitrust question: the big trusts of the late 19th century were not single-firm monopolies, but competitors that had turned over ownership to a group of trustees that made unified governance decisions. And while research in this area is still new and findings tentative, legal scholars are already making the case that antitrust law can cover the anticompetitive effects of these horizontal shareholdings. If this work continues to hold up, this seems potentially transformative.

Technological change is creating new threats to competition

Finally, a fair bit of the recent chatter is basically arguing, “it’s the technology, stupid.” The dynamics of competition change as more of the economy shifts to online platforms. Because of network effects, companies like Facebook, Google, Apple, and Amazon are hard to compete with—much of their value comes from their existing user base. And because they aren’t just selling products to consumers, but connecting consumers with producers, they aren’t acquiring market power in the traditional sense. Facebook and Google are free products, after all.

But the power of network effects means that they have a tendency towards monopoly. And the fact that the four largest companies by market capitalization are platforms suggests how central platforms have become to our economy.

So we have these new companies that have become very large, and that appear monopolistic, though they also create great value for consumers. From an antitrust perspective, they don’t really appear to be a problem, because they aren’t raising prices. And the history of rapid technological change over the past 25 years, including the rise and fall of a number of once-dominant platforms, raises the question of whether even platforms behaving in anticompetitive ways pose much of a long-term threat.

Recent scholarship, though, argues that monopolistic platforms are in fact anticompetitive, that it is a problem, and that current law is poorly equipped to handle. Lina Khan’s much-circulated note in the Yale Law Journal, for example, argues that 1) platforms encourage predatory pricing—generally seen as irrational (and thus not an issue) within antitrust law—because network effects encourage pursuit of growth over profit, and 2) platforms collect data on rivals that give them an unfair competitive advantage. These sorts of issues clearly fit within the broad scope of “protecting competition,” but don’t fit easily with a consumer welfare, market power conception of antitrust.

Changing that would be a significant project, but if we have an economy that is dominated by firms whose potentially anticompetitive activity is essentially beyond the scope of antitrust, there’s not much left to antitrust. And again, the massive fine the E.U. just levied on Google—for favoring its own shopping service, consisting of companies that pay Google to be on it, over competitors in search results—suggests what this could look like. So far, the U.S. has not demonstrated much enthusiasm about expanding antitrust in this direction. But it’s not inconceivable that it could happen, and it could be done within a framework that was focused solely on competition, if not only on consumer welfare.

Again, all these challenges to the current antitrust framework are at least in the ballpark of its conversation, even if they would require pushing the law in new directions or advancing the acceptance of new economic theories. And they are not the only arguments that are in play here. For example, the question of whether inequality is facilitated by concentration or market power, or whether it has become such a central economic problem that antitrust should try to address it, have prompted enough discussion that two leading antitrust scholars have felt the need to argue that antitrust should leave inequality alone.

Unlike political antitrust, which would probably require a social movement to move it forward, these antitrust arguments have the potential to gain traction without necessarily requiring legislation or a revolution against the current antitrust regime. The 1970s shift toward Chicago-style antitrust happened, to a considerable extent, because the old economic framework seemed increasingly inadequate for explaining the world people found themselves in. As the current framework comes to seem similarly dated, this could be another moment when such change is possible.

Written by epopp

August 10, 2017 at 1:33 pm

the democrats can’t decide how radical they want to be on antitrust

The other day I wrote about the current moment in the spotlight for antitrust. (Here’s the latest along these lines from Noah Smith.) Today I’ll say something about the new Democratic proposals on antitrust and how to think about them in terms of the larger policy space.

The Democrats are basically proposing three things. First, they want to limit large mergers. Second, they want active post-merger review. Third, they want a new agency to recommend investigations into anticompetitive behavior. None of these—as long as you don’t go too far with the first—is totally out of keeping with the current antitrust regime. And by that I mean however politically unlikely these proposals may be, they don’t challenge the expert and legal consensus about the purpose of antitrust.

But the language they use certainly does. The proposal’s subhead is “Cracking Down on Corporate Monopolies and the Abuse of Economic and Political Power”. The first paragraph says that concentration “hurts wages, undermines job growth, and threatens to squeeze out small businesses, suppliers, and new, innovative competitors.” The next one states that “concentrated market power leads to concentrated political power.” This is political language, and it goes strongly against the grain of actual antitrust policy.

Economic antitrust versus political antitrust

Antitrust has always had multiple, competing purposes. The original Progressive-Era antitrust movement was partly about the power of trusts like Standard Oil to keep prices high. But it was also about more diffuse forms of power—the power of demanding favorable treatment by banks, or the power to influence Congress. That’s why the cartoons of the day show the trusts as octopuses, or as about to throw Uncle Sam overboard.

The Sherman Act (1890) and the Clayton Act (1914), the two major pieces of antitrust legislation, are pretty vague on what antitrust is trying to accomplish. The former outlaws combinations and conspiracies in restraint of trade, and monopolizing or attempt to monopolize. The latter outlaws various behaviors if their effect is “substantially to lessen competition, or to tend to create a monopoly.” The courts have always played the major role in deciding what that means.

Throughout the last century, the courts have mostly tried to address the ability of firms to raise prices above competitive levels—the economic side of antitrust. For the last forty years, they have focused specifically on maximizing consumer welfare, often (though not always) defined as allocative efficiency. Since the late 1970s, this has been pretty locked in, both through court decisions, and through strong professional consensus that makes antitrust officials very unlikely to challenge it.

Before the 1970s, though, two things were different. For one thing, the focus was more on protecting competition, and less on consumer welfare per se (the latter was assumed to follow from the former, and was thought of a little more broadly). For another, the courts sometimes took concerns into account other than keeping prices low.

The most common such concern was the fate of small business. Concern for small business motivated the Robinson-Patman Act of 1936, which prohibited anticompetitive price discrimination. It was clear in the Celler-Kefauver Act of 1950, which restricted mergers out of fear that chain stores would eliminate local competition. And the courts acknowledged it in cases like Brown Shoe (1962), which prevented a merger that would have controlled 7% of the shoe market by pointing to Congress’s concern with preserving an “economic way of life” and protecting “local control of industry” and “small business.”

Today, Brown Shoe is seen as part of the bad old days of antitrust, when it was used to protect inefficient small businesses and to pursue confused social goals. This is a strong consensus position among antitrust experts across the political spectrum. While no one thinks that low prices for consumers are the only thing worth pursuing in life, they are the appropriate goal for antitrust because they make it coherent and administrable. Since those experts’ views dominate the antitrust agencies, and have been codified into law through court decisions, they are very resistant to change.

The Democrats’ proposal: radical language, incremental proposals

So when the Democrats start talking about “the abuse of economic and political power,” the effects of concentration on small business, and limiting mergers that “reduce wages, cut jobs, [or] lower product quality,” they are doing two things. First, they are hearkening back to the original antitrust movement, with its complex mix of concerns and its fear of unadulterated corporate power.

Second, they are very much talking about political antitrust, and political antitrust is deeply challenging to the status quo. But their actual proposals are considerably tamer than the fiery language at the beginning, and are structured in a way that doesn’t push very hard on the current consensus. New merger guidelines could make some difference around the margins. Post-merger review would definitely be good, since there’s currently no enforcement of pre-merger conditions that firms agree to, and no good way to figure out which merger approvals had negative effects. I have a hard time seeing a new review agency having much effect, though, since it’s just supposed to make recommendations to other agencies. Even I don’t like bureaucracy that much.

So my read on this is that the Democrats feel like they need a new issue, and it needs to look like it helps the little guy, and they want to sound like populist firebrands. But when you get down to the nitty gritty, they aren’t really so interested in challenging the status quo. That is, basically, they’re Democrats. Still, that the language is in there at all is remarkable, and reflects a changing set of political possibilities.

Next time I’ll look at some of the problems people are suggesting antitrust can solve. Because there are a lot of them, and they’re a diverse group. Tying them together under the umbrella of “antitrust” gives an eclectic political project some nominal coherence. But is it politically practicable? And could it actually work?

Final note: If you are interested in the grand historical sweep of antitrust in capitalism, I recommend Brett Christophers’ The Great Leveler. Among other things, he totally called the emerging wave of interest before it actually happened. Sometimes the very long lens is the right one to use.

Written by epopp

August 3, 2017 at 3:04 pm

so long, sweet money: guest post by nina bandelj, fred wherry and viviana zelizer

Final (I promise!) installment of money month, hosted by Nina Bandelj, Fred Wherry, and Viviana Zelizer. Read the whole series here!

Thank you very much for the opportunity to discuss money in May for Org Theory. We hope our posts have enticed you to check out Money Talks: Explaining How Money Really Works.

We also want to let you know that Princeton University Press published a new edition of The Social Meaning of Money, with a preface by Nigel Dodd and afterword by Viviana Zelizer.  Plus, this summer Columbia University Press is publishing a new edition of Zelizer’s Morals and Markets: The Development of Life Insurance in the United States, with a preface by Kieran Healy.

A fun fact: Viviana was the ASA Economic Sociology Section‘s first chair, Nina was chair in 2013-14 and Fred is incoming section chair. If you are not a member, now is a time to join.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($4.44 – cheap!!!!)/Theory for the Working Sociologist (discount code: ROJAS – 30% off!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street   

Written by fabiorojas

June 5, 2017 at 2:28 am

money month wrap up

We had a lot of interesting stuff on the blog this month. First, the sociology of money posts by Nina Bandelj, Viviana Zelilzer and Fred Wherry:

  1. We are not behavioral economists.
  2. Hackers want bitcoin.
  3. A giving mood.
  4. Policy monies.
  5. Money takes the stage.

Also, we discussed Mark Granovetter’s new book summarizing his approach to economic sociology:

  1. Summary statement
  2. What I like
  3. What I didn’t like

Check it out!

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($4.44 – cheap!!!!)/Theory for the Working Sociologist (discount code: ROJAS – 30% off!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street  

Written by fabiorojas

June 2, 2017 at 12:09 am

granovetter book forum 3: critiques and the future of economic sociology

In this final post on Society and Economy, I’ll discuss critical points with Granovetter’s text. Please read my previous posts for the overview and what I liked about it.

First, let me start with a strange criticism. As I was reading this book, I just kept nodding my head in agreement too many times. Why? Because Granovetter is the central scholar in economic sociology. Reading a book that synthesizes decades of his work was like re-reading the field’s greatest hits. This really feels like (in a good way) reading a book that digs up all of the stuff in my qualifying exam reading list and presents it in a beautiful package. In principle, that’s not a bad thing. But in terms of producing a forward looking text as opposed to a valedictory statement, it’s some what of a limit. If we all agree on these points, then the tension of the book is gone.

This leads me to a second point. I think Granovetter missed a real opportunity here for generating some tension and excitement. Like a lot of sociologists, he is stuck arguing against economics circa 1990. Back then, economics was “full imperialist.” At that point in time, economists tried to turn all studies of human behavior into applied micro-economics and they did so in a way that underplayed, ignored, or mis-interpreted the social dimensions of behavior. In a few words, economists just didn’t think the issues that Granovtter champions were legitimate.

That era is gone. I am not claiming that economics has “come to Jesus” and begun to love sociology. Far from it. But they have moved in interesting directions. For example, some have taken institutions (in Granovetter’s sense) very seriously, such as Daron Acemoglu. Others, have directly tried to model sociological processes, such as Akerlof’s theory of identity. Heck, there’s even an economist who has done economic modelling of “presentation of self” in the context of sex work. In other words, economists still revile sociologists, but they’ve done some interesting sociological work anyway. It would have been interesting to see Granovetter absorb and respond to that work.

This leads me to a bigger sin of economic sociology, though it is not exclusive to Granovetter. Society and Economy does not directly engage with a lot of economic literature. One of my long standing criticisms of economic sociology in general is that scholars in the field do not actually delve deeply into the economic literature. For example, in an old review article, I argued that population ecology/organizational demography essentially duplicated a lot of standard arguments in industrial organization theory.

Here’s an example from Society and Economy. Perhaps the leading economist who writes on institutions as a predictor of a nation’s economic performance is Daron Acemoglu. So you would think that Granovetter would compare his approach/the economic sociology approach to what Acemoglu and his collaborators have done. Perhaps Acemoglu’s work supports Granovetter, maybe it doesn’t. Yet, not a single citation to that massive literature. This is not to say that Society and Economy is totally disengaged from economic writing. Rather, the engage is selective and a more direct assessment would have been enormously useful.

I’ve been critical in this final installment. That’s ok. Granovetter’s work is massive and influential. My jabs won’t diminish that obvious fact. But what I do hope is that the few folks who’ve made it to the end of this review push the field in some new directions.

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Written by fabiorojas

June 1, 2017 at 12:01 am

policy monies: a guest post by nina bandelj, fred wherry, and viviana zelizer

Money Month guest blogging continues with UC Irvine’s Nina Bandelj, Yale’s Fred Wherry and Princeton’s Viviana Zelizer

In The Social Meaning of Money we see how welfare monies have been argued over and policed. While a more efficient solution would be to provide simple cash transfers rather than attaching strings that cost money to monitor, most service delivery programs have paid more attention than seems prudent to how the poor and the otherwise disadvantaged use and understand their funds. In Money Talks, we extend this conversation to address this proliferation of policy monies.

Our introduction draws on work by Jennifer Sykes, Katrin Kriz, Kathryn Edin, and Sarah Halpern-Meekin on Earned Income Tax Credit, which is one kind of policy money. It is not welfare. This is a crucial distinction that explains why EITC as a policy program has gained greater legitimacy among policy makers than welfare cash transfers. And this is not because EITC is a less expensive policy than welfare cash transfers. It is the way the money is given and what it means. Welfare has such poor connotations among Americans. It goes so counter to American values of work ethic and pulling yourself up by the bootstraps. The Earned Income Tax Credit, which was developed by the Clinton administration, with bipartisan support, was intended for low income working families, in a form of a small tax credit, and administered by the IRS.  As such, because of its form and for what is intended, it was more acceptable than a cash welfare program. Not only for policy makers but by low income recipients themselves, who perceive it as a more dignified transfer. Kathryn Edin, H. Luke Shaefer and Laura Tach, reported on how those claiming the credit at tax time, expressed feeling “like a real American,” like they are part of society, rather than discarded from it. They also noted how they wanted their children to have experiences like those of other children. Having the right kind of money made a big difference.

Parents used their EITC money to pay bills or to pay down debts, to increase their savings, to offer their children special treats, and to subsidize a family trip to see relatives.  The purposes to which recipients put the money and its intended beneficiaries (family members) meant that these lump sum payments would be disaggregated and some of its parts deemed nearly non-fungible. This was not simply the outcome of a cognitive process of classification as the mental accounting perspective would suggest. Rather, monetary differentiation was wrapped in relationships and moral concerns, as people managed their EITC monies to work on their relationships.

While Kathy Edin, Luke Shaefer, and others examine the dignity-enhancing ways of framing and delivering social service assistance, Fred Wherry, Kristin Seefeldt and Anthony Alvarez have begun to ask these questions of credit, credit scoring, and programs at the Mission Asset Fund intended to improve the credit histories and financial lives of its participants. (This work is ongoing.) Is there a way that the “lending circle” monies are used that differ from other monies? How is credit talked about, understood, and relationally marked by its users? What lessons might there be for other alternative financial services as well as those services delivered by credit unions and mainstream banks?

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Written by fabiorojas

May 31, 2017 at 8:45 am

granovetter book forum – part 2: what economic sociology is all about

We’ve been discussion Mark Granovetter’s new Society and Economy: Framework and Practices. It’s a book that a lot of us in economic sociology/organization theory have been looking forward to – a synthetic treatment of the scholarly field hashed out by Granovetter and his followers. In this post, I’ll focus on what I liked the most. The next post, I’ll lay out some critiques.

First, this will clearly become the “go-to” book in economic sociology. If you trained in this area, or a related area (like organizational behavior), you know that we sorely need a book like this. Sure, there are a fair number of anthologies of economic sociology, but not a single book that lays it out.

I don’t think there is anyone more suited to writing such as book than Mark Granovetter. He’s probably the most highly regarded economic sociologist and his work is wide reaching. Most importantly, he operates in the mainstream of American sociology. He’s not a fancy model builder, nor an importer of obscure European social theory. He asks fairly intuitive questions about how economic processes depend on rules and norms.

He’s also the person to write this book because his main theoretical article, 1985’s “Economic Action and Social Structure,” is the best explanation of how sociologists ought to approach economic behavior. He rejects the “over-socialized” view of (some) sociologists, who think that choice is meaningless. He also rejects the “under-socialized” view of (many) economists, who think that morals and values are not important. The 1985 article succinctly (if densely) argues that economic action is “inside” social relations, in the sense that larger structures provide opportunities and create incentives.

This leads me to my next point – the big strength of Society and Economy is in Chapters 1 and 2. In very direct language, Granovetter argues against the view that social relations are an thing that is incidental in economic action. Rather, social relations shape and enable action. The “economic” and the “social” are always happening together and they affect other. Then, in chapter 2, Granovetter offers a more general presentation of economic sociology as a field – it is how “mental constructs” (power, authority) are present in the economy and are affected by the economy. Perhaps these two chapters can be read as an argument against the view found among many economists that the “social” is essentially an error term in economic analysis.

Another chapter that I enjoyed reading is chapter 5, on the economy and social institutions. In modern sociology, we often use the framework created by Stinchcombe, DiMaggio and Powell, Scott, and Meyer and Rowan to articulate what we mean by institutions. Granovetter approaches it in a sort of different way. Rather making the focus of analysis the axis of organization and environment, Granovetter adopts the “institution” as durable ways of doing things at the national level. This is a bit closer to how many economists would see it, such as Douglas North or, today, Daron  Acemoglu. Then,  Granovetter delves a bit into institutional logics when he needs to get more detail oriented in the text. Not the way one would do it if trained in the canon of neo-institutionalism, but certainly a valuable way to think about institutions, as manifestations of national cultures.

Later this week, some critiques and more about the future of economic sociology.

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Written by fabiorojas

May 30, 2017 at 12:16 am

money takes the stage: a guest post by nina bandelj, fred wherry, and viviana zelizer

Money Month guest blogging continues with UC Irvine’s Nina Bandelj, Yale’s Fred Wherry and Princeton’s Viviana Zelizer

Stephen Dubner’s Tell Me Something I Don’t Know invited Fred Wherry (from minute 13:34 to 18:50) and Lisa Servon (from 31:55 to 37:30) to the stage to talk about money. From a playful take on dirty money to the hidden monetary practices uniting seemingly unconnected people, their discussions remind us just how social money is. Dubner’s panel of judges had Brian Koppelman (creator of Billions on Showtime), Cheryl Dorsey (president of Echoing Green), and Hari Kondabolu (comedian and co-host of Politically Re-Active) with A.J. Jacobs (host of Twice Removed) as the fact-checker.

Dubner: Ok, tell me something I don’t know.

Wherry: On average, how long does a dollar stay in circulation? And how does that compare to a $100 bill?

Dubner: I don’t know…

Wherry: Let’s take the New York region as an example. About 5 million bank notes per business day go into an incinerator at the New York Fed’s special facility just outside the city in East Rutherford, New Jersey. They have to get rid of so many bills because they’re too dirty or too torn to keep in circulation.

There are lots of other reasons for burning money. Some dirty banknotes have antibiotic resistant bacteria on them. An estimated 3,000 different types of bacteria are living on our paper money, according to a group of researchers at NYU. And the flu virus lives for up to 17 days on our money. That’s why I try to use electronic payments as much as I can in the flu season.

Funny enough, dirty money also compels us to spend it faster. We want it out of our pockets, according to researchers in Canada. But when money is morally dirty (as opposed to physically dirty), we don’t want to use it much at all.

After a discussion of how more money can mean less money, it was time for Lisa Servon to take the stage. She’d just published Unbanking America.

Servon: What do an Ethiopian-American cab driver, a tamale vendor in the South Bronx, and an administrator at a community college have in common?

Check the answer to this question — and more on money — at the Money, Money, Money show!

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($4.44 – cheap!!!!)/Theory for the Working Sociologist (discount code: ROJAS – 30% off!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street  

Written by fabiorojas

May 26, 2017 at 12:12 am

a giving mood, a meaningful relationship: a guest post by nina bandelj, fred wherry, and viviana zelizer

Money Month guest blogging continues with UC Irvine’s Nina Bandelj, Yale’s Fred Wherry and Princeton’s Viviana Zelizer

Although it will come as no surprise that women are more generous than men when asked if they would like to donate to charity, what may be surprising, however, is that men can be as charitable as women when the cause reminds them of their close social ties. In Money Talks, the second chapter (authored by Nina Bandelj and colleagues) presents the results of an experiment that brings insights from behavioral economics and relational sociology (or Zelizerian relational work) together. The researchers gave students 100 tokens worth $3 and asked them how much they would donate to one of four charities, while they could also decide to keep (some of) the money for themselves. Their options were Amnesty International, the United Nations Children’s Fund, Doctors Without Borders, and the American Cancer Society, which are the top most recognized charities among the college population.

Not surprisingly, and as much existing research shows, the women were more generous than the men overall, donating more of their dollars, and most female students who donated picked the United Nations Children’s Fund. However, this generosity evened out for the American Cancer Society.

Why? Researchers actually asked students to write in the reasons for their charity decisions. Those responses revealed that having close relatives or dear friends who have been affected by cancer motivated students’ choices. And both men and women have such experiences. When relationships were considered, empathy crossed gender boundaries. In other words, while it is easy to use gender (or race, or class, for that matter) as a predictor for who is more likely to give to charity, it is important to attend to the social relationships that inform the giving mood.

Relational work goes beyond emphasis on categorical differences because of gender, race or class. Rather, how are these social positions implicated in the kinds of interpersonal relationships that people form and negotiate? How do these dynamics inform charitable giving or other economic decisions to save, to invest, to spend, or to borrow? And how can different theoretical perspectives be brought into the arena of empirical investigations so that more robust explanations can be generated?

These are the money talks we hope to inspire.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($4.44 – cheap!!!!)/Theory for the Working Sociologist (discount code: ROJAS – 30% off!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street

Written by fabiorojas

May 24, 2017 at 12:05 am

granovetter book forum, part 1: review

Gran book

There are three books that economic sociologists have been expecting for decades and all three of them are finally here. First, Padgett and Powell published The Emergence of Organizations and Markets in 2012. This book brought Padgett’s network perspective on the creation of roles and positions in markets to the broader sociological audience. Second, at about the same time, Fligstein and McAdam published a Theory of Fields, which was their attempt to synthesize scholarly writing on conflict in organizations and states. Finally, we have the third book, the long awaited Society and Economy, by Mark Granovetter. This book summarizes Granovetter’s celebrated career and introduces the reader to the field of economic sociology.

What is this book about? I want to be clear up front about what you’ll read. This is not an academic monograph that reports on some research project. Nor does it present new arguments. Rather, it is a collection and synthesis of Granovetters major works and the most noted work in economic sociology written by others. It is the book I wish I had in 1997 when I started graduate school and I wanted to understand the difference between economics and economic sociology. It collects in one handy text the various theoretical strands of main stream economic sociology, such as institutionalism and network theory.

The book itself is directly written and confidently goes through various topics in a point by point fashion. It starts with a discussion of what economic sociology is all about and how its all about the impact of mental or cognitive processes on economic decisions. Thus, in Granovetter’s telling, economic sociology is about how social processes processes seep into economic behavior and how economic processes feedback into society.

In the next two installments of the book forum, I will discuss the book’s strengths and weaknesses. But here, I want to answer the question – “who is this book for?” If you are a practicing economic sociologist or organizational scholar, it probably has limited mileage. That is because you’ve probably read most of Granovetter’s major articles and you already know most of the material. That’s what I felt when I read it. Not a bad feeling, but as I said earlier, this is a much better book for people who are new to the area.

Instead, I think the ideal audience for this book is the first year graduate student in sociology, management, and economics. I also think that a lot of post-PhD economists might enjoy reading this book to see how “economic sociology” matches, or does not match, up with their attempts to account for social processes, like behavioral economics or game theory.

Finally, let me end with some good news for Granovetter’s fans. Near the end of the book, he mentions a sequel multiple times. He suggests that it will be about the empirical applications of the book to topics such as corruption and job search. So let’s hope that Society and Economy Part II comes out soon.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($4.44 – cheap!!!!)/Theory for the Working Sociologist (discount code: ROJAS – 30% off!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street 

Written by fabiorojas

May 23, 2017 at 12:08 am

a giving mood, a meaningful relationship: a guest post by nina bandelj, fred wherry, and viviana zelizer

Money Month guest blogging continues with UC Irvine’s Nina Bandelj, Yale’s Fred Wherry and Princeton’s Viviana Zelizer

Although it will come as no surprise that women are more generous than men when asked if they would like to donate to charity, what may be surprising, however, is that men can be as charitable as women when the cause reminds them of their close social ties. In Money Talks, the second chapter (authored by Nina Bandelj and colleagues) presents the results of an experiment that brings insights from behavioral economics and relational sociology (or Zelizerian relational work) together. The researchers gave students 100 tokens worth $3 and asked them how much they would donate to one of four charities, while they could also decide to keep (some of) the money for themselves. Their options were Amnesty International, the United Nations Children’s Fund, Doctors Without Borders, and the American Cancer Society, which are the top most recognized charities among the college population.

Not surprisingly, and as much existing research shows, the women were more generous than the men overall, donating more of their dollars, and most female students who donated picked the United Nations Children’s Fund. However, this generosity evened out for the American Cancer Society.

Why? Researchers actually asked students to write in the reasons for their charity decisions. Those responses revealed that having close relatives or dear friends who have been affected by cancer motivated students’ choices. And both men and women have such experiences. When relationships were considered, empathy crossed gender boundaries. In other words, while it is easy to use gender (or race, or class, for that matter) as a predictor for who is more likely to give to charity, it is important to attend to the social relationships that inform the giving mood.

Relational work goes beyond emphasis on categorical differences because of gender, race or class. Rather, how are these social positions implicated in the kinds of interpersonal relationships that people form and negotiate? How do these dynamics inform charitable giving or other economic decisions to save, to invest, to spend, or to borrow? And how can different theoretical perspectives be brought into the arena of empirical investigations so that more robust explanations can be generated?

These are the money talks we hope to inspire.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($4.44 – cheap!!!!)/Theory for the Working Sociologist (discount code: ROJAS – 30% off!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street

Written by fabiorojas

May 22, 2017 at 3:28 am

hackers demand ransom in bitcoin: a guest post by nina bandelj, fred wherry, and viviana zelizer

Money Month guest blogging continues with UC Irvine’s Nina Bandelj, Yale’s Fred Wherry and Princeton’s Viviana Zelizer

Imagine getting this message at a hospital or a bank. ““Oops, your files have been encrypted!” and [we] demand $300 in Bitcoin.” That is exactly what just happened to the National Health Service in Britain. (Last February, it happened to a hospital in Los Angeles as well.)

Not only has money multiplied, but so too its surprising effects. Chapters by Nigel Dodd and Bill Maurer in Money Talks, respectively, help us sort through the surprising social life of alternative currencies and new payment systems.

We reached out to Bill Maurer about the ongoing ransom demands, and he had this to say.

Bill Maurer:  “Well, they certainly picked a good time for this ransomware attack. Bitcoin is currently trading at over $1800–the highest it’s ever been, and it’s just been going higher. I can’t help but think that this was part of the underlying motivation to launch these attacks now. Why has there been such a rush to bitcoin? It’s complicated. Different versions of the underlying database behind bitcoin–a distributed ledger or blockchain–are being used by a number of startups as well as large financial consortia to power new infrastructure for everything from title registry to securities clearance. This is part of the general trend of increasing diversification in payment technologies. But in order for these specific blockchain systems to work, they need their own cryptographic token. This in turn has expanded the market for all cryptocurrencies, including the most well known, bitcoin. In addition, the “hard fork” in the bitcoin blockchain that some feared–don’t ask!–never came to pass, bolstering confidence in bitcoin. Politics plays a role, too—and not just regulatory decisions, like Japan’s recent decision to allow payment in bitcoin–but political instability (Trump here, Brexit there, and an uncertain future for the EU) stoking goldbug-like skepticism of the future value of fiat currencies. Zelizer was right: money multiplies!”

Check out also Bill Maurer’s new book (with Lana Swartz), Paid: Tales of Dongles, Checks, and Other Money Stuff (MIT Press 2017).

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($4.44 – cheap!!!!)/Theory for the Working Sociologist (discount code: ROJAS – 30% off!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street 

Written by fabiorojas

May 18, 2017 at 3:48 am

why we aren’t behavioral economists: a guest post by nina bandelj, fred wherry, and viviana zelizer

This month is “Money Month” on the blog. We have three utterly amazing and HUGE guests – UC Irvine’s Nina Banelj, Yale’s Fred Wherry and Princeton’s Viviana Zelizer. This first guest post investigates the boundary between economic sociology and allied disciplines. 

Rather than retreat to disciplinary corners, let us begin by affirming our respect for the generative work undertaken across a variety of disciplines. We’re all talking money, so it is helpful to specify what’s similar and what’s different when we do. That’s what we tried to do in our just born volume Money Talks: Explaining How Money Really Works where we brought together scholars from sociology, economics, law, political science, anthropology, history, and philosophy. In this post, we address our closest cousins: behavioral economics and cognitive psychology. (Mind you, the first chapter’s author is Jonathan Morduch who has co-authored a widely used economics principles textbook with Dean Karlan. Morduch’s essay in our book develops the first sustained comparison between economic and sociological approaches to money.)

In our introduction to Money Talks, we illustrate differences between mental accounting and relational approaches with the following example. Consider the case of a child’s “college fund.” Marketing professors Soman and Ahn recount the dilemma one of their acquaintances, who is an economist, faced with the option of borrowing money at a high rate of interest to pay for a home renovation or using money he already had saved in his three-year-old son’s low-interest rate education account. As a father, he simply could not go through with the more cost-effective option of “breaking into” his child’s education fund. Soman and Ahn use this story to frame how consequential the emotional content of a particular mental account can be. And by mental account, we mean the “set of cognitive operations used by individuals and households to organize, evaluate, and keep track of financial activities” (Thaler 1999: 183).

How does the sociological approach differ?

Note that when managing these accounts, individuals are really managing their relationships with others. The account is thus relational as well as psychological as individuals engage in what we call relational work. In the anecdote of the college savings account, for instance, we find the parents reluctant to dip into money earmarked for their children’s education. Why? Because these funds represent and reinforce meaningful family ties: they include but transcend individual mental budgeting; the accounts are therefore as relational as they are mental. Suppose a mother gambles away money from the child’s “college fund.” This is not only a breach of cognitive compartments but involves a relationally damaging violation. Most notably, the misspending will hurt her relationship to her child. But the mother’s egregious act is likely to also undermine the relationship to her spouse and even to family members or friends who might sanction harshly the mother’s misuse of money. These interpersonal dynamics thereby help explain why a college fund functions so effectively as a salient relational earmark rather than only a cognitive category.

We hope that the volume and our ongoing discussions this month encourage other scholars to ask how we can compare, contrast, but also complement our sociological approaches with those of behavioral economists and cognitive psychologists.

What will follow will be some focused discussions of how emotions and morality shape money and why all this matters from a policy perspective.

Forward! Adelante! Let’s Talk!

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($4.44 – cheap!!!!)/Theory for the Working Sociologist (discount code: ROJAS – 30% off!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street  

Written by fabiorojas

May 15, 2017 at 12:40 am

money month!!!!

People, we have a real treat. This month is “Money Month” at the blog. We have two super, duper ultra-cool events:

  • Fred Wherry and his amazing zoo crew of economic sociologists have volunteered to lead a discussion of recent publications on the sociology of money.
  • Near the end of the month, we’ll start reviewing Mark Granovetter’s long awaited book, Society and Economy.

Stay tuned!

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($4.44 – cheap!!!!)/Theory for the Working Sociologist (discount code: ROJAS – 30% off!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street 

 

Written by fabiorojas

May 2, 2017 at 12:07 am

cfp: “Seeking a More Just and Egalitarian Economy: Realizing the Future via Co-operatives, Communes, and Other Collectives” at SASE in Lyon, France- cfp deadline extended to Feb. 17, 2017!

The Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics (SASE) has extended the abstract submission deadline for all the mini-conferences and networks to Feb. 17, 2017!*

Just as a reminder: Joyce Rothschild and I are co-organizing a mini-conference at the Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics (SASE) in Lyon, France.  Please consider submitting an abstract, due to the SASE submission site by Feb. 17, 2017 (updated deadline!).  Accepted presenters will need to provide a full paper by June 1, 2017 for discussion.  Please circulate to this cfp to interested persons!

Seeking a More Just and Egalitarian Economy: Realizing the Future via Co-operatives, Communes, and Other Collectives

Forty years ago, as the most recent wave of economic collectives and cooperatives emerged, they advocated a model of egalitarian organization so contrary to bureaucracy that they were widely called “alternative institutions” (Rothschild 1979). Today, the practices of cooperative organizations appear in many movement organizations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and even “sharing” firms. Cooperative practices are more relevant than ever, especially as recent political changes in the US and Europe threaten to crush rather than cultivate economic opportunities.

Cooperative groups engage in more “just” economic relations, defined as relations that are more equal, communalistic, or mutually supportive.  The oldest collectives – utopian communes, worker co-operatives, free schools, and feminist groups – sought authentic relations otherwise suppressed in a hierarchical, capitalist system.  Similar practices shape newer forms: co-housing, communities and companies promoting the “sharing economy,” giving circles, self-help groups, and artistic and social movement groups including Burning Man and OCCUPY. While some cooperatives enact transformative values such as ethically responsible consumerism and collective ownership, other groups’ practices reproduce an increasingly stratified society marked by precarity. Submitted papers might analyze the reasons for such differences, or they might examine conditions that encourage the development of more egalitarian forms of organization.

Submitted papers could also cover, but are not limited, to exploring:

  • What is the nature of “relational work” (cf. Zelizer 2012) conducted in these groups, and how it differs – or is similar to – from relational work undertaken in conventional capitalist systems?
  • How do collectivities that engage in alternative economic relations confront challenges that threaten – or buttress – their existence? These challenges include recruiting and retaining members, making decisions, and managing relations with the state and other organizations. Moreover, how do these groups construct distinct identities and practices, beyond defining what they are not?
  • How are various firms attempting to incorporate alternative values without fully applying them? For instance, how are companies that claim to advance the sharing economy – Uber, airbnb, and the like – borrowing the ideology and practices of alternative economic relations for profit rather than authentic empowerment? What are the implications of this co-optation for people, organizations, and society at large?
  • How do new organizations, especially high tech firms, address or elide inequality issues? How do organizing practices and values affect recognition and action on such issues?
  • What can we learn from 19th century historical examples of communes and cooperatives that can shed insight on their keys to successful operation today? Similarly, how might new cooperatives emerge as egalitarian and collective responses to on-going immigration issues or economic crisis generated by policies favoring the already wealthy?
  • Are collectives, cooperatives and/or firms that require creativity, such as artists’ cooperatives or high tech firms, most effective when they are organized along more egalitarian principles? How do aspects of these new modes of economic organization make them more supportive of individual and group creativity?

Bibliography

Graeber, David.   2009. Direct Action: An Ethnography.   Oakland, CA: AK Press.

Rothschild, Joyce. 1979. “The Collectivist Organization: An Alternative to Rational-Bureaucratic Models.” American Sociological Review 44(4): 509-527.

Rothschild, Joyce and J. Allen Whitt. 1986. The Cooperative Workplace: Potentials and Dilemmas of Organizational Democracy and Participation. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Zelizer, Vivianna A. 2012. “How I Became a Relational Economic Sociologist and What Does That Mean?” Politics & Society 40(2): 145-174.

Questions about the above cfp may be directed to Joyce and myself.

Here is info about the mini-conference format:

Each mini-conference will consist of 3 to 6 panels, which will be featured as a separate stream in the program. Each panel will have a discussant, meaning that selected participants must submit a completed paper in advance, by 1 June 2017. Submissions for panels will be open to all scholars on the basis of an extended abstract. If a paper proposal cannot be accommodated within a mini-conference, organizers will forward it to the most appropriate research network as a regular submission.

More info about mini-conferences here.

The 2017 SASE conference in Lyon, France, hosted by the University of Lyon I from 29 June to 1 July 2017, will welcome contributions that explore new forms of economy, their particularities, their impact, their potential development, and their regulation.

More info about the SASE conference theme, a critical perspective on the sharing economy, is available at “What’s Next? Disruptive/Collaborative Economy or Business as Usual?

Joyce and I look forward to reading your submissions!

*Note: If you have problems with submitting your abstract for our mini-conference, please let us and the SASE/Confex staff know.

Bonus: Curious about how contemporary worker cooperatives operate?  This website has video and other resources that profiles several cooperatives.

 

 

 

 

Written by katherinechen

February 3, 2017 at 4:12 pm

the antitrust equilibrium and three pathways to policy change

Antitrust is one of the classic topics in economic sociology. Fligstein’s The Transformation of Corporate Control and Dobbin’s Forging Industrial Policy both dealt with how the rules that govern economic life are created. But with some exceptions, it hasn’t received a lot of attention in the last decade in econ soc.

In fact, antitrust hasn’t been on the public radar that much at all. After the Microsoft case was settled in 2001, antitrust policy just hasn’t thrown up a lot of issues that have gotten wide public attention, beyond maybe griping about airline mergers.

But in the last year or so, it seems like popular interest in antitrust is starting to bubble up again.

Just in the last few months, there have been several widely circulated pieces on antitrust policy. Washington Monthly, the Atlantic, ProPublica (twice), the American Prospect—all these have criticized existing antitrust policy and argued for strengthening it.

This is timely for me, because I’ve also been studying antitrust. As a policy domain that is both heavily technocratic and heavily influenced by economists, it’s a great place to think about the role of economics in public policy.

Yesterday I put a draft paper up on SocArXiv on the changing role of economics in antitrust policy. The 1970s saw a big reversal in antitrust, when we went from a regime that was highly skeptical of mergers and all sorts of restraints on trade to one that saw them as generally efficiency-promoting and beneficial for consumers. At the same time, the influence of economics in antitrust policy increased dramatically.

But while these two development are definitely related—there was a close affinity between the Chicago School and the relaxed antitrust policy of the Reagan administration, for example—there’s no simple relationship here: economists’ influence began to increase at a time when they were more favorable to antitrust intervention, and after the 1980s most economists rejected the strongest Chicago arguments.

I might write about the sociology part of the paper later, but in this post I just want to touch on the question of what this history implies about the present moment and the possibility of change in antitrust policy.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by epopp

January 9, 2017 at 6:51 pm

book forum 2017: turco and granovetter

Hi, everyone! As the year winds up, I’d like to announce two book fora:

Please order the books now!**

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($2!!!!)/Theory for the Working Sociologist/From Black Power/Party in the Street 

* Holy smokes, yes, the Granovetter book is coming out. We have heard of this sacred text for years and now… my precious… my precious…

** And yes, editors who read this blog should send me free copies!!

Written by fabiorojas

December 22, 2016 at 12:15 am

cfp: “Seeking a More Just and Egalitarian Economy: Realizing the Future via Co-operatives, Communes, and Other Collectives” at SASE in Lyon, France – abstracts due Feb. 17, 2017 (updated)

Joyce Rothschild and I are co-organizing a mini-conference at the Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics (SASE) in Lyon, France.  Please consider submitting an abstract, due to the SASE submission site by Feb. 17, 2017 (updated deadline!).  Accepted presenters will need to provide a full paper by June 1, 2017 for discussion.  Please circulate to this cfp to interested persons!

Seeking a More Just and Egalitarian Economy: Realizing the Future via Co-operatives, Communes, and Other Collectives

Forty years ago, as the most recent wave of economic collectives and cooperatives emerged, they advocated a model of egalitarian organization so contrary to bureaucracy that they were widely called “alternative institutions” (Rothschild 1979). Today, the practices of cooperative organizations appear in many movement organizations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and even “sharing” firms. Cooperative practices are more relevant than ever, especially as recent political changes in the US and Europe threaten to crush rather than cultivate economic opportunities.

Cooperative groups engage in more “just” economic relations, defined as relations that are more equal, communalistic, or mutually supportive.  The oldest collectives – utopian communes, worker co-operatives, free schools, and feminist groups – sought authentic relations otherwise suppressed in a hierarchical, capitalist system.  Similar practices shape newer forms: co-housing, communities and companies promoting the “sharing economy,” giving circles, self-help groups, and artistic and social movement groups including Burning Man and OCCUPY. While some cooperatives enact transformative values such as ethically responsible consumerism and collective ownership, other groups’ practices reproduce an increasingly stratified society marked by precarity. Submitted papers might analyze the reasons for such differences, or they might examine conditions that encourage the development of more egalitarian forms of organization.

Submitted papers could also cover, but are not limited, to exploring:

  • What is the nature of “relational work” (cf. Zelizer 2012) conducted in these groups, and how it differs – or is similar to – from relational work undertaken in conventional capitalist systems?
  • How do collectivities that engage in alternative economic relations confront challenges that threaten – or buttress – their existence? These challenges include recruiting and retaining members, making decisions, and managing relations with the state and other organizations. Moreover, how do these groups construct distinct identities and practices, beyond defining what they are not?
  • How are various firms attempting to incorporate alternative values without fully applying them? For instance, how are companies that claim to advance the sharing economy – Uber, airbnb, and the like – borrowing the ideology and practices of alternative economic relations for profit rather than authentic empowerment? What are the implications of this co-optation for people, organizations, and society at large?
  • How do new organizations, especially high tech firms, address or elide inequality issues? How do organizing practices and values affect recognition and action on such issues?
  • What can we learn from 19th century historical examples of communes and cooperatives that can shed insight on their keys to successful operation today? Similarly, how might new cooperatives emerge as egalitarian and collective responses to on-going immigration issues or economic crisis generated by policies favoring the already wealthy?
  • Are collectives, cooperatives and/or firms that require creativity, such as artists’ cooperatives or high tech firms, most effective when they are organized along more egalitarian principles? How do aspects of these new modes of economic organization make them more supportive of individual and group creativity?

 

Bibliography

Graeber, David.   2009. Direct Action: An Ethnography.   Oakland, CA: AK Press.

Rothschild, Joyce. 1979. “The Collectivist Organization: An Alternative to Rational-Bureaucratic Models.” American Sociological Review 44(4): 509-527.

Rothschild, Joyce and J. Allen Whitt. 1986. The Cooperative Workplace: Potentials and Dilemmas of Organizational Democracy and Participation. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Zelizer, Vivianna A. 2012. “How I Became a Relational Economic Sociologist and What Does That Mean?” Politics & Society 40(2): 145-174.

Questions about the above cfp may be directed to Joyce and myself.

Here is info about the mini-conference format:

Each mini-conference will consist of 3 to 6 panels, which will be featured as a separate stream in the program. Each panel will have a discussant, meaning that selected participants must submit a completed paper in advance, by 1 June 2017. Submissions for panels will be open to all scholars on the basis of an extended abstract. If a paper proposal cannot be accommodated within a mini-conference, organizers will forward it to the most appropriate research network as a regular submission.

More info about mini-conferences here.

The 2017 SASE conference in Lyon, France, hosted by the University of Lyon I from 29 June to 1 July 2017, will welcome contributions that explore new forms of economy, their particularities, their impact, their potential development, and their regulation.

More info about the SASE conference theme, a critical perspective on the sharing economy, is available at “What’s Next? Disruptive/Collaborative Economy or Business as Usual?

Joyce and I look forward to reading your submissions!

Written by katherinechen

December 13, 2016 at 9:16 pm

does making one’s scholarly mark mean transplanting the shoulders of giants elsewhere?

The Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics (SASE) website has made Neil Fligstein‘s powerpoint slides on the history of economic sociology available for general viewing as a PDF.  (Here are the slides in powerpoint form: 1469704310_imagining_economic_sociology_-socio-economics-fligstein) It’s a fascinating read of the development of a sub-field across continents, and it also includes discussion of a challenge that some believes plagues the sociology discipline:

Both Max Weber and Thomas Kuhn recognized that Sociology as a discipline might be doomed to never cumulate knowledge.

  • Sociology would proceed as a set of research projects which reflected the current concerns and interests of a small set of scholars
  • When the group hit a dead end in producing novel results, the research program would die out only to be replaced by another one
  • Progress in economic sociology is likely to be made by putting our research programs into dialogue with one another to make sense of how the various mechanisms that structure markets interact
  • Failure to do so risks the field fragmenting of the field into ever smaller pieces and remaining subject to fashion and fad

Fligstein’s claim for these field-fragmenting tendencies stems from the current structure of the academic field.  He depicts sociology as rewarding scholars for applying ideas from one area to another area where current theorizing is insufficient, rather than expanding existing research:

  • … the idea is not to work on the edge of some mature existing research program with the goal of expanding it
  • But instead, one should be on the lookout for new ideas from different research programs to borrow to make sense for what should be done next

In short, scholars tend to form intellectual islands where they can commune with other like-minded scholars.  Bridging paths to other islands can generate rewards, but the efforts needed to disseminate knowledge more widely – even within a discipline – can exceed any one person’s capacity.

 

Written by katherinechen

October 10, 2016 at 6:30 pm

Call for papers: Social movements, economic innovation, and institutional change

To be hosted at the UCLA Meyer & Renee Luskin Conference Center

Date: November 3-5, 2016

We invite submissions for a workshop on the intersection of social movements and economic processes, to be held at the new UCLA Meyer & Renee Luskin Conference Center from Thursday November 3 to Saturday November 5, 2016.

This meeting extends the theme of “Social Movements and the Economy,” a workshop that was held last year at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. The goal of the earlier workshop was to bring scholarship on social movements and organizations into closer conversation with political economy scholarship focused on how economic forces and the dynamics of capitalism shape social movements.

For the present meeting, we hope to further develop this dialogue, continuing the focus on both movement effects on the economy as well as economic effects on movements and movement organizations. Although the conference will not at all be limited to these, welcome topics of investigation will include: links between social movements and financialization; changing or innovative organizational forms; the link between economic and technological change in contentious politics; labor organizing; connections between movements and political or economic elites; studies of relationships between movements and firms or trade associations including partnerships, funding, and/or cooptation; cross-national comparative or historical analyses of movements and economic forces.

We welcome scholars from sociology, management, political science, economics, communications, and related disciplines to submit abstracts for consideration as part of this call. As in the previous workshop, this meeting will seek to engage in a thorough reconsideration of both the economic sources and the economic outcomes of social movements, with careful attention to how states intermediate each of these processes.

The keynote speaker will be Neil Fligstein, Class of 1939 Chancellor’s Professor in the Department of Sociology at UC-Berkeley.

The workshop is planned to start with a dinner in the evening on Thursday November 3, to conclude with morning sessions on Saturday November 5. Invited guests will be provided with domestic travel and accommodation support.

Submissions (PDF or DOC) should include:

– A cover sheet with title, name and affiliation, and email addresses for all authors

– An abstract of 200-300 words that describes the motivation, research questions, methods, and connection to the workshop theme

– Include the attachment in an email with the subject “Social Movements and the Economy”

Please send abstracts to walker@soc.ucla.edu and b-king@kellogg.northwestern.edu by August 21, 2016. Review and notification will occur shortly thereafter.

Contact Edward Walker (walker@soc.ucla.edu) or Brayden King (b-king@kellogg.northwestern.edu) for more information.

Written by brayden king

July 21, 2016 at 7:45 pm

Appetite for Innovation: Creativity & Change at elBulli (To be published by Columbia University Press on July 12, 2016)

How is it possible for an organization to systematically enact changes in the larger system of which it is part? Using Ferran Adria’s iconic restaurant “elBulli” as an example of organizational creativity and radical innovation, Appetite for Innovation examines how Adria’s organization was able to systematically produce breakthroughs of knowledge within its field and, ultimately, to stabilize a new genre or paradigm in cuisine – the often called “experimental,” “molecular,” or “techno-emotional” culinary movement.

Recognized as the most influential restaurant in the world, elBulli has been at the forefront of the revolution that has inspired the gastronomic avant-garde worldwide. With a voracious appetite for innovation, year after year, Adrià and his team have broken through with new ingredients, combinations, culinary concepts and techniques that have transformed our way of understanding food and the development of creativity in haute cuisine.

Appetite for Innovation is an organizational study of the system of innovation behind Adrià’s successful organization. It reveals key mechanisms that explain the organization’s ability to continuously devise, implement and legitimate innovative ideas within its field and beyond. Based on exclusive access to meetings, observations, and interviews with renowned professionals of the contemporary gastronomic field, the book reveals how a culture for change was developed within the organization; how new communities were attracted to the organization’s work and helped to perpetuate its practice, and how the organization and its leader’s charisma and reputation were built and maintained over time. The book draws on examples from other fields, including art, science, music, theatre and literature to explore the research’s potential to inform practices of innovation and creativity in multiple kinds of organizations and industries.

The research for Appetite for Innovation was conducted when Adria’s organization was undergoing its most profound transformation, from a restaurant to a research center for innovation, “elBulli foundation”.  The book, therefore, takes advantage of this unique moment in time to retrace the story of a restaurant that became a legend and to explore underlying factors that led to its reinvention in 2011 into a seemingly unparalleled organizational model.

Appetite for Innovation is primarily intended to reach and be used by academic and professionals from the fields of innovation and organizations studies. It is also directed towards a non-specialist readership interested in the topics of innovation and creativity in general. In order to engage a wider audience and show the fascinating world of chefs and the inner-workings of high-end restaurants, the book is filled with photographs of dishes, creative processes and team’s dynamics within haute cuisine kitchens and culinary labs. It also includes numerous diagrams and graphs that illustrate the practices enacted by the elBulli organization to sustain innovation, and the networks of relationships that it developed over time. Each chapter opens with an iconic recipe created by elBulli as a way of illustrating the book’s central arguments and key turning points that enable the organization to gain a strategic position within its field and become successful.

To find a detailed description of the book please go to: http://cup.columbia.edu/book/appetite-for-innovation/9780231176781

Also, Forbes.com included Appetite for Innovation in its list of 17 books recommended for “creative leaders” to read this summer:  http://www.forbes.com/sites/berlinschoolofcreativeleadership/2016/05/15/17-summer-books-creative-leaders-can-read-at-the-beach/#7ac430985cef

 

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Written by M. Pilar Opazo

June 8, 2016 at 4:46 pm

stratification in the sharing economy: how oreo truffles snuff out egalitarianism

Several writing group colleagues and I were discussing one participant’s extended conference abstract about “prefigurative” groups that have an impact upon society.  The author contended that for a variety of reasons – in particular, pressures exerted by the state, most groups are unable to exact larger change.   Another colleague suggested looking at studies of the sharing economy, which some might see as a contemporary version of the 1960s-1970s collectivist-democratic organizations.

Yesterday, I stumbled upon one study of the sharing economy published in Poetics.   This comparative study examines 4 different cases of groups with egalitarian missions.

“Paradoxes of openness and distinction in the sharing economy”

Abstract

This paper studies four sites from the sharing economy to analyze how class and other forms of inequality operate within this type of economic arrangement. On the basis of interviews and participant observation at a time bank, a food swap, a makerspace and an open-access education site we find considerable evidence of distinguishing practices and the deployment of cultural capital, as understood by Bourdieusian theory. We augment Bourdieu with concepts from relational economic sociology, particularly Zelizer’s “circuits of commerce” and “good matches,” to show how inequality is reproduced within micro-level interactions. We find that the prevalence of distinguishing practices can undermine the relations of exchange and create difficulty completing trades. This results in an inconsistency, which we call the “paradox of openness and distinction,” between actual practice and the sharing economy’s widely articulated goals of openness and equity.

The authors show how class-based stratification can inhibit heterogeneous membership and exchanges, especially when members refuse to make exchanges with persons of lower class. In the time bank, some participants donated their time without drawing back time.  They also preferred to  volunteer skills that they didn’t use in the workplace, declining to offer desired legal and programming expertise.

The food swapping collective, which arose out of the founders’ desire to decrease food waste among single professionals, is particularly fascinating for its participants’ designation of acceptable vs. unacceptable homemade offerings:

The policing of the circuit’s boundaries was particularly clear at one December swap, a charity cookie exchange that drew more than 90 participants—nearly all of them first timers. One regular pointed out that someone had made Betty Crocker cookies and admitted it on their information sheet. ‘‘I know it’s for charity,’’ one swapper remarked, ‘‘but they clearly don’t understand what a swap means for us.’’ One week, a regular participant, noticing Oreo truffles on offer asked, ‘‘Now, are the truffles actually made of Oreo cookies?’’ ‘‘Yeah,’’ the new would-be swapper enthusiastically answered, pleased with his re-articulation of a store-bought product into an innovative form. ‘‘Oh, well then I won’t be able to trade with you, because I can only trade for, like, really homemade things. Like made from scratch, with no preservatives or chemicals or anything, because my friend doesn’t eat any processed foods. She only eats homemade things, that she makes completely herself.’’ These examples show the ways specific evaluative criteria are mobilized to circumscribe the extent to which new participants can enter the circuits of exchange within the swap.

Oreotruffles

One sharing economy’s bane: Oreo truffles.  Photo credit: Kraft.

One regular participant said that she would trade with first timers who did not understand what counted as homemade. However, she would always give them tips after trading with them. If they came back and still did not get it, she would not trade with them again and was not afraid to reject face-to-face offers. Often, new participants who lacked the cultural capital to navigate the food swap environment would leave having made only one trade or a few trades, going home with the vast majority of the food they brought. Such negotiations maintained the values of the swap by drawing on seemingly contradictory notions of ‘‘homemade’’ and ‘‘using up leftovers’’ to delimit participation within the swapping circuit…..

In the food swap, failed matches were rampant. Participants policed choice of ingredients, packaging, volume of offerings, what swappers made, and how they dressed. To make a good match, participants had to intuit multiple criteria which were
highly opaque, often arbitrary, and shifting. We found a fine line between leftovers that were transformed into something exotic, versus food that was just ‘‘left over.’’ Another matching failure occurred when people re-used ordinary jars rather than
the currently faddish, branded canning jars that served as instruments of symbolic class decontamination. The most successful matches happened among purveyors of authentic homemade foods that exhibited no class contamination. In this site, charity
trades also occurred: people would give their foods to others and take nothing in return, or take foods that they then did not use. On one occasion, a swapper was observed giving items she had accumulated to a homeless person as she left the swap.

Such research suggests that such sharing economies may be doomed to one-time, never-to-be-repeated exchanges when participants fixated on the parity (or potential status-enhancement) of possible exchanges.   While other participants attempted to form community by making exchanges as a matter of practice or as a means of socializing newcomers, it seems these exchanges are not enough to sustain these collectives.

Written by katherinechen

February 18, 2016 at 10:06 pm