Valuation practices at the margins
Location 111
Date and Start Time 01 September, 2016 at 09:00
Sessions 7


  • Claes-Fredrik Helgesson (Linkoping University) email
  • Freyja Knapp email
  • Francis Lee (Uppsala University) email
  • Kristin Asdal (University of Oslo) email
  • Steve Woolgar (LInkoping University) email

Mail All Convenors

Chair C-F Helgesson (Linkoping Univ. - 1); Torben Elgaard Jensen (Aalborg Univ. Copenhagen-2) Steve Woolgar (Linköping Univ 3), Andrea Mennicken (LSE-4), Francis Lee (Uppsala Univ. -5), Tiago Moreira (Durham University-6), Kristin Asdal (Univ. of Oslo-7)

Short Abstract

Studies of valuation explore a variety of practices where values are negotiated, ordered and established. One might say valuation is about the making of certain forms of hierarchy or importance. This track engages with the fringe practices that are situated in the shadow of more dominant techniques.

Long Abstract

The growing interest in the study of valuation has resulted in a plurality of studies exploring by what means and procedures values are established, by whom, to what ends, and to what consequence (see, e.g., the journal Valuation Studies). It has, in short, opened a space for studies about various social practices and settings where the value or values of something are established, assessed, negotiated, provoked, maintained, constructed and/or contested.

This track follows a fruitful suggestion by Andrea Mennicken and Ebba Sjögren* to attend to the margins of valuation, where valuation practices are problematized, introduced or met by limitations. Margins are different across places and settings. Margins can appear in the form of subjecting new phenomena to practices of valuation. Margins can appear in the bringing in of new techniques and tools to reform established valuation practices. Margins can, finally, appear in asymmetric struggles over valuations, or in encounters between dominant techniques and other means of valuating performed in the shadow of more influential techniques or modes of valuing. Attending to the margins of valuations may also tease out the conditions for manufacturing values at the "core" and how these are sometimes challenged and transformed by way of new and emerging techniques.

The panel welcomes both empirical studies of valuation practices as well as contributions that develop approaches for examining the agencies, means, and consequences of such practices.

* Mennicken, Andrea, and Ebba Sjögren. 2015. Valuation and Calculation at the Margins. Valuation Studies 3(1):1-7.

SESSIONS: 5/4/5/4/5/4/5

This track is closed to new paper proposals.


Valuation and the quantification of life: healthcare and correctional services

Authors: Peter Miller (London School of Economics & Political Science)  email
Andrea Mennicken (London School of Economics and Political Science)  email

Short Abstract

Death and incarceration define the margins of society, and for long have been at the margins of valuation. This paper examines how both phenomena have been brought into the realm of calculation and valuation, with consequences for democracy and regimes of quantified personal accountability.

Long Abstract

Just as life has been made subject to practices of valuation, so too can death. Likewise, with the antinomy of freedom and incarceration. This paper examines two cases of valuation and calculation at the margins: one pertains to the entry of mortality statistics into the apparatus of calculation surrounding UK hospitals, the other pertains to the quantification of decency in UK correctional services. These two very different examples demonstrate how new tools of quantification, with their attendant and highly technical disputes and debates, can accord a particular and new visibility for phenomena. They demonstrate also how this in turn can contribute to the creation and contestation of hierarchies of importance, particularly in domains that are so central to democratic societies, but which have historically been seen as beyond the scope of quantification. Further, they highlight the ambivalence of valuation through quantification, which is not always given sufficient attention. For numbers are not necessarily or inherently "bad" in and of themselves, a device only for bureaucratic rationalization or economization under the rubric of neoliberal reform. Numbers may also be used by various groups in their attempts to aid social mobilization and empowerment, to fight for patients' and prisoners' rights, equality, humanity, or a host of other noble aspirations. Instruments of quantification are not only ways of making the world fit the metrics that are devised to measure it, they are integral to the ways in which democracy is justified and operationalized and personal responsibility enacted in regimes of quantified accountability.

Situated differences in the valuation of human life: Comparing QALY and DALY

Authors: Oscar Javier Maldonado (Linköping University)  email
Tiago Moreira (Durham University)  email

Short Abstract

By comparing the uses of QALY and DALY in Global Health, this paper discusses how differences in measurement of health organize, perform and reproduce geo-politically situated differences in the value of human life.

Long Abstract

This paper discusses the role of difference in the configuration of knowledge infrastructures in Global health and their consequences in the valuation of human life and health. Differences in measurement of health organise, perform and reproduce differences in the value of life that are geopolitically situated. By comparing the design, controversies and practical uses of health adjusted metrics: Quality Adjusted Life Years (QALY) and Disability Adjusted Life Years (DALY) this paper explores the margins of the valuation of human life in healthcare policy and decision-making. Despite its universalistic rhetoric, the value of human life depends on the social practices and material infrastructure that make possible its calculation. A comparative approach to these practices shows asymmetries in valuation that recreate geopolitical, social and healthcare segmentations, for instance between developed and developing countries, North and South, the rich and the poor, communicable and non communicable disease. STS recently has shown an increasing interest in understanding the consequence of quality of life metrics in the shaping of contemporary healthcare (Sjögren and Helgesson, 2007; Moreira, 2012; Wahlberg and Rose, 2015; Kenny, 2015), this paper contributes with such works by showing the tensions, asymmetries and contradictions that these metrics entail. This paper empirically traces the ways in which differences in calculation and measurement are key elements to understand the exclusions that global health knowledge infrastructures create in terms of production of value.

Marginalizing Hospital Work: Contesting Practices of Referring Patients to Beds

Author: Amalie Martinus Hauge (Copenhagen Business School)  email

Short Abstract

Based on an ethnographic study of how Lean consultants work to optimize the practice of referring patients in a children’s hospital, this paper investigates the interplay between valuation and organization and shows how this has implications for the enactment of center and margin.

Long Abstract

This paper investigates the interplay between valuation and organization. Empirically it is grounded in a practice-based, organizational ethnography of the use of Lean management in a children's hospital. This established a unique access to the Lean consultants' valuation work as well as to the conduction of the actual valuation practice under scrutiny; the task of deciding in which bed to put the patient. This task of referring patients is not trivial. It may have far-reaching consequences not only for the present patient, but also for the one who needs to move, and for the hospital in general. This is why it is under scrutiny by Lean consultants. While Lean consultants and the referral team share the goal of putting the right patient in the right bed, there is a strident dissonance between the way Lean and the current referral practice connect the task of referring patients to the 'flow' of patients. In order to explore this dissonance, the paper revisits the concept of organization as decision situations as developed by March and colleagues (1972, 1976 etc). Using this concept, the paper shows that practices of valuation enact not only values but also organization. It suggests that in moving forward, organizational perspectives may be productive for valuation studies, as they expand the scope of how things come to count as valuable to include the study of how things are organized, which is highly relevant in exploring how valuations can become marginalized and how some margins become organized.

Fetal Values: On the Limits of Valuation in Reproductive Research

Author: Francis Lee (Uppsala University)  email

Short Abstract

Fetuses are valued in many different ways. Often in terms of non-quantified scales such as emotional and ethical value. This paper asks how we can study how objects (such as fetuses) shift and meander (aborted-fetus-waste; fetal research saves the human herd) when they meet the limits of valuing.

Long Abstract

Fetuses are valued in many different ways. They are often valued in terms of non-quantified scales such as emotional and ethical value. Sometimes (less often) they become valuable in terms of their epistemic potential—as raw material for laboratory research. At other times (even less frequently) they become valued as economic objects. However, the value of fetuses is often so controversial that the very idea of fetal research freightens researchers, politicans, and organizations.


This paper attends to a space—reproductive research—where the study of valuation practices are met by limitations. Where the fear of being discovered as unethical makes the value practices become permeated with disquiet, shame, secrecy, or fear. For example, in interviews about fetal research the agenda of discussion is sometimes quitely shifted to something more important than the fetus—such as public health; or to aborted fetuses as waste—where the aborted-fetus-as-waste becomes possible to value as research. 


These examples point to an interesting dynamics of studying value practices: when the shifting of yardsticks and scales of measurement face the limits of valuation. With the point of departure in reproductive research this paper examines how objects (fetuses) become transformed into other objects (waste) in order to make a yardstick of value acceptable. The paper draws on Vivana Zelizer's work on intimacy and value and Anne-Marie Mol's work on ontological politics. I ask how we can study how objects shift and meander when they meet the limits of valuation?

Valuation Practices in Transition: From the Analogue to the Digital High-End Audio

Author: Tsutomu Nakano (Aoyama Gakuin University)  email

Short Abstract

What will happen when quantum technologies hit markets? This investigates changes of the high-end audio market from the analogue to the digital music downloading. It poses problems to judge value of products. We employed network analysis and interviews as an empirical study to find transitions at the margins.

Long Abstract

What will happen to the existing valuation practices when new quantum technologies hit the market? This paper investigates a dynamic change in the high-end audio market from the traditional, analogue mode as exemplified by record players and disks to the digital music downloading or the PC and network audio. The transition poses pressing problems how to judge the value of products. We employed both network analysis and interviews as an empirical study.

As findings, the valuation of traditional analogue tone employed repertories of reviewers as pragmatic knowledge and skills, combining objective metric tests and subjective tasting. The analogue tone has become the benchmark for the growing digital audio labelled the high-resolution or "Hi-Res" sound. The experts agreed to set a highly subjective measure that each device or equipment must carry its distinctive sound character to be certified, which can possibly be detected only by audiophiles of high caliber. Thus even in the age of digitalized audio, the tasting of symbolic nature matters a lot in the changing market.

As contributions, the pragmatic valuation of digital technology promotes inter-subjectivity of experts to experience and interpret knowledge embedded in the multi-vocal culture of analogue tradition. To get across the margins of technological domain, it involves an integrating transformation of intangible assets through the tasting processes in the cultural domain.

The Taste of Valuation

Author: Fabian Müller (Copenhagen Business School (CBS))  email

Short Abstract

Reinforcing the notion of valuation devices, this research analyzes the interdependency of multiple, co-existing valuation devices in one market. It argues that this interdependency has lead to the spread of a new culinary form in Scandinavia, which has formed a change in fine-dining.

Long Abstract

This research lays ground in the question of the possible mutual relation of change and valuation. To find an answer to this question, it builds upon the growing interest in the study of valuation in general and investigates on co-existing valuations in particular. Therefore, it theoretically reinforces the notion of devices and conflates it with valuation studies in order to combine elements of both: I elaborate on the term valuation device, which I understand as a representative of one of the four categories of actions of valuation that Stark (2011) introduced: pricing, prizing, praising, and performing. I shed light on not only one, but multiple, co-existing valuation devices in one market, namely fine-dining. Empirically, this research is grounded on a mixed-method approach that investigates the foundation, development, and spread of the New Nordic Cuisine throughout Scandinavia and identifies the role of multiple valuation devices present in fine-dining. Focusing on both commonalities and differences in the practices of these valuation devices, this research argues that especially their overlap forms the possibility for change: While the initial idea of New Nordic Cuisine gained just little attention and their value was ascribed differently by different devices, the phenomenon of "New Nordic Cuisine" gained importance in the moment all valuation devices attained value to the cuisine. In sum, this research sheds light onto the interdependency of different valuation devices, which provides new insights on how value and values of something are established, maintained, and constructed.

Valuing marginal materials: Mouldy grapes at the limits of pricing

Author: Jeremy Brice (London School of Economics)  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores the practices used by Australian wine producers to price diseased grapes. It explores the different understandings of what matters in market transactions, and which exchange relationships are to be valued, embodied in the ‘marginal’ valuation practices used by two wine producers.

Long Abstract

This paper will explore Australian grape and wine producers' attempts to value, and to price, 'marginal' materials - specifically, grapes infected with the fungal pathogen Botrytis cinerea. These grapes were marginal materials in the sense that their quality was deteriorating quickly, and they were therefore rapidly becoming worthless to would-be buyers. Yet they also lay at the margins of valuation because their material and commercial instability unsettled well rehearsed routines of grading and pricing in which the quality (and worth) of grapes is established through tasting and visual inspection.

The challenge of valuing mouldy grapes forced wine producers and grape growers to fall back on a variety of obscure and seldom-used techniques (such as counting the proportion of grapes visibly afflicted with mould) whose efficacy in determining the quality and worth of grapes was often open to question. But why did different wine producers employ contrasting, and sometimes seemingly ineffective, ways of determining prices for mouldy grapes? This paper will examine this question by exploring how two wine companies went about pricing these marginal materials - and specifically the different ways in which their employees went about securing grape suppliers' consent to judgments about the worth of mouldy grapes whose quality, and potential usefulness in wine production, remained deeply uncertain. It will suggest that these differences can be used to tease out these two wine producers' contrasting understandings of what is important in a market transaction, and of which sorts of exchange relationships are to be valued.

Harvesting quality: practices of (re)valuation in rural networks of production

Author: Alexander Dobeson (Uppsala University)  email

Short Abstract

Based on the case of the Icelandic coastal fisheries, this paper shows that ‘quality’ of raw materials such as fish cannot be understood as external from the materiality of the good, but must be viewed in the broader context of production in which it is materialised and reproduced.

Long Abstract

Constructivist accounts commonly suggest that 'quality' is not an essential feature of a given object, but a historically contingent marker that is shaped and negotiated in societal discourse. Nevertheless, little attention has been paid to quality construction as valuation practice in the economy.

Based on the case of the Icelandic coastal fisheries, this paper shows that 'quality' of raw materials such as fish cannot be understood as external from the materiality of the good, but must be viewed in the broader context of production in which it is materialised and reproduced. Accordingly, quality construction takes place in distinct 'epistemic cultures', in which raw materials are manipulated and shaped according to collectively negotiated valuation recipes.

All in all, the case shows that the revaluation of quality-related practices can be understood as collective coping strategy for small industries confronted with the changing expectations of an increasingly marketised rural economy. While quality-upgrading has led to an increasing valorisation of 'line caught fish' in the Icelandic coastal fisheries, however, the case likewise shows that rural networks of production remain tied to the uncertain and highly volatile futures of a globalised economy.

Turning garbage into waste: Trash valuations and environmental knowledge

Author: Talia Fried (Bar Ilan University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores the Israeli-Palestinian moral universe of waste-making through the lens of physical surveys of trash. These valuations co-constitute waste within broader environmental stories, but their influence on policy is limited.

Long Abstract

In a physical waste survey, environmental consultants representatively sample trash from sidewalk bins or collection trucks and then manually sort, weigh and measure it, with the aim of evaluating how much garbage people are throwing away and how well environmental policies are being implemented. I examined physical waste surveys in Israel-Palestine as a lens into the moral universe of waste-making, characterizing how valuations of trash inform broader nationalistic, ethical and environmental claims.

Although physical waste surveys are rather low-tech and prosaic means of data gathering, they traffic in important ways with more elite forms of environmental expertise. Furthermore, in the highly competitive and contested world of waste and recycling, survey data become crucial to the ideological, regulatory, scientific and economic claims of diverse stakeholders.

Research was based on participant observation in waste surveys alongside environmental consultants and sanitation workers, as part of three years of fieldwork on trash epistemologies in Israel-Palestine.

My findings show that valuating trash is not merely a technocratic practice but also a story-telling practice: in the course of settling trash as a material, epistemic and normative object, some 'wastes' are more 'wasteful' than others. Further, ironically, the surveys did not influence policy implementation in meaningful ways. This suggests that the power dynamics of valuations in the Israeli-Palestinian case may differ from the more common European backdrop of STS, in a manner that remains under-theorized in STS and in valuation studies specifically.

Valuating Waste: Containers, Bins, Bags and Other Technologies of Dumpster Diving

Authors: Turo-Kimmo Lehtonen (University of Tampere)  email
Olli Pyyhtinen (University of Tampere)  email

Short Abstract

This paper studies dumpster diving from the point of view of different technologies involved in it. Our claim is that the ways freegans valuate the food stuffs in supermarkets’ waste containers are dependent on the specific technologies that are used for storing food, moving it and classifying it.

Long Abstract

At the margins of the consumer society, freeganism fundamentally questions received ways of valuating the quality of food. In this paper we study what many consider the core practice of freeganism, dumpster diving, from the point of view of different technologies involved in it. The study is based on an on-going fieldwork conducted in Finland. Our claim is that the ways freegans valuate the food stuffs in supermarkets' waste containers are dependent on the particular technologies required. First, dumpster diving is about becoming a specialist on the management of storage and preservation. Not only does this imply that one is able to decipher the information provided by the texts on packages or the material conditions of objects, but freegans also create new ways for managing the routes of commodities from shop shelves via waste containers, bags and kitchen tables to their own freezers and, finally, to plates. Second, other tools are used for the concrete work of valuating and sorting out what in the waste containers is potentially edible and what is not. These include not only things such as suitable clothing but also flashlights, cotton or plastic bags and, for some, rubber gloves. Without these, the valuation practice that literally needs to be 'hands-on' would be an impossibility. Finally, freeganism involves technologies of the self. It is inherently characterized by the ideas of politics, of good and beautiful life, and the means with which one makes oneself into a moral subject in the Foucaultian sense of the term.

Processing Electronic Waste, Re-Evaluating Limits. Ethnographic Insights from a High-Tech Recycling Company

Author: Stefan Laser (University of Kassel)  email

Short Abstract

Professional recycling is said to be the remedy for the global issue of electronic waste. However, results from an ethnographic study reveal that the evaluation of such waste is a complex challenge. It calls for multiple machine setups and non-formalisable knowledge to sense the limits of its value.

Long Abstract

Electronic waste (e-waste) is important for recycling policies and industries. Metals, in general, are being processed for more than a century. Yet it took a while to utilise the waste casted off by the electronics industry, which has begun expanding in the 1980s. In fact, today there is a political consensus to foster high-tech recycling of e-waste to reduce hazardous impacts (cf. Lepawsky 2014, Gabrys 2011) even though the process to recycle such leftovers still is difficult to establish.

Many studies discuss problematic recycling practices of the "informal" sector in the global south. Yet, surprisingly, in-depth accounts of "formal" recycling are absent. What are the boundaries the latter is facing? This question is a pressing one, because the industrial solution pushes away alternative practices (like refurbishment). To close a gap in waste-research I present insights from a two-month-long, participatory, actor-network theory (Latour 2013) inspired ethnography of a leading European waste recycler.

There are merely a handful of firms, globally, that have the capacity to invest in such recycling. E-waste is complex to handle—and a value hard to yield. A major part of the organisation of the value chain, my findings suggest, deals with (re-)evaluation. Contracts have to be reorganised regularly. Different kinds of discards are assessed separately—in different machine setups. And workers are sensing when scripts must be recalibrated. Here one finds engineers specialised in novelties and their limits, who are, however, confronted with a public that ignores the fuzzy, embodied and non-formalisable practices they are engaged in.

Ridding as valuation mechanism in UK used goods markets

Author: Emma Greeson (University of California, San Diego)  email

Short Abstract

Post-consumer goods are valued through different processes than those being valued for a first time. Ridding through various channels is central to those valuation process. This paper focuses on valuation in UK charity shops and recycling firms, and considers the role of ridding in primary markets.

Long Abstract

Valuation proceeds differently for consumer goods in their first time on the market as compared to further rounds. When post-consumer (used) goods are valued, ridding is central in the process of producing value-able commodities. This paper investigates how used items are (re)produced as commodities in UK charity shops and recycling firms. This paper shows how the subtractive logic of ridding (i.e., wasting, discarding, ejecting goods from the calculative space) is crucial in the process of qualification of used goods. Whereas many valuation studies emphasize the need to qualify or frame already-existing objects as desirable goods, I draw attention to the pragmatic, concrete processes of processing, sorting, categorizing, and/or (most crucially) discarding via various channels whereby a supply of heterogeneous materials and things is transformed into value-able goods. The valuation process for these goods must be understood as part of an ecology of valuation made up of private individuals as well as public and private firms who take on the work of ridding. The pragmatic and ecological approach to understanding valuation proposed in this paper contributes to STS valuation studies by suggesting that these marginal practices associated with the processing of discarded post-consumer goods are actually present - and significant - in more mainstream (firsthand) market contexts. Ridding mechanisms, while not as visible at points of sale in firsthand markets, are also of fundamental importance at points upstream along the value chain, namely during production and distribution. This paper draws on ethnographic and interview data from a year of fieldwork in the UK.

Good shit: evaluating health at the margins of the body

Author: Justine Laurent (University of Amsterdam)  email

Short Abstract

The guts have been under the spotlights recently, largely thanks to work on the microbiome. But bowels are also the site of mundane, daily evaluation practices that challenge the centrality of given understandings of the body to push excrements and digestion centre stage.

Long Abstract

Critical theory extensively attended to the body as a site where theory matters. Recently, this focus began to concentrate more closely on the gut. This attention comes at a time of intensified intersections with life sciences, and the paradigm shift of microbiome studies that is repositioning eating, digesting, and shitting within biomedicine, and often places the emphasis on the novelty of scientific discoveries. Despite this apparent centrality, though, gut health in its more mundane aspects is still marginal, and so are the valuation practices that are shaped around it.

While symbolic anthropology famously considered the segregation of dirt and excrement as part of a system of meanings, much work in medical anthropology, nursing studies and STS of healthcare have complicated that understanding through the troubles brought about by bodies that are incontinent or constipated, or that variously struggle with their bowel activities.

Here, instead of focusing on settings in which the (not) digesting and (not) shitting body is mobilized through the difficulties of its recalcitrance, I attend to everyday sites in which good bowel movements are enacted and cared for. But what the gut is in these sites, and how 'good shit' is valued vary: in some cases the microbiome can be made relevant, but in others the food eaten is, or the time spent on the toilet. Attending to the evaluations taking place at this marginal interface of the body that is the gut, I argue, pushes us to think differently about how health and bodies can be made.

Defining the data that "counts": Consumer databases as practical accomplishments:

Author: Tomás Ariztía (Universidad Diego Portales - Chile)  email

Short Abstract

This paper relies on an eight-month fieldwork to describe how consumer digital data assembled in data intensive financial business. By taking a pragmatic approach, we describe customer datasets as the outcome of multiple moments of qualification and valuation.

Long Abstract

This paper describes how consumer datasets are produced and mobilized in a data intensive finance retail startup. More concretely, the paper focus on unpacking the myriad of qualification and valuation practices and devices that take part in the assembling of a customer database.

The paper takes an STS inspired pragmatic approach were customer "digital data" is understood as a practical accomplishment involving a careful orchestration and manipulation trough expert practices and devices. This approach is empirically unfolded by presenting the outcomes of an eight-month experimental ethnography of the process of manufacturing and analyzing a transactional dataset from a low finance retail small company in Chile. During this fieldwork, we actively engaged in the process of creating, modifying and data mining a big set of customer digital transactional data. We describe two interrelated process. The first process deals mainly with the practical activity of making relations; the use of SQL queries for creating and modifying links between preexistent data that result in the creation of new entities. The second process relate to the practical operation of testing and valuing consumer data. We focus on how valuation practices and devices involves orchestrating different types of trials were the value(s) of a given entity or collective in the dataset is realized.

The paper conclude arguing that customer datasets might be understood as the outcome of multiple moments of qualification and valuation that relies on the interplay of different digital valuation devices and infrastructures.

Real estate valuation in practice

Author: Uri Ansenberg (University of Manchester)  email

Short Abstract

The sharp increase of valuation oriented studies has yet to include a similar increase in the studies of real estate valuation. This qualitative research aims to fill this gap while utilizing the current real estate valuation crisis into a more general understanding of valuations.

Long Abstract

Cross disciplinary research involving the studies of valuations came into fashion in the last few years. These studies, stretching over a large scope of topics and agendas, have not sufficiently addressed what seems to be an important political and economic arena of valuation practices - the real-estate valuation field. This paper aims to help in filling this gap by exploring the special characteristics associated with the practice of real-estate valuation.

Drawing on initial findings from a 12 months ethnographic research in Israel, interviews with real-estate appraisers, in depth analysis of valuations reports and a review of the relevant literature this paper contributes to the study of valuations by describing real-estate valuations` political aspects, presenting the ways in which instruments and models shapes them, examining their limits and boundaries and trying to understand how they are connected to the notions of `performativity` and `calculability`.

Leaning on the observation made by Andrea Mennicken and Ebba Sjogren*, the emphasis is on real estate appraisers` reaction to the current crisis in real estate valuation. This crisis, connected to the pre-2008 `housing bubble explosion` backlash, the growing use of valuation software and the seemingly loss of connection to `reality` of real estate values around the world, gives us an invaluable opportunity to scrutinize the ways in which appraisers re-organize their profession, develop new technical and material solutions, create new professional borders and initiate new `fights` and struggles.

*Mennicken, Andrea, and Ebba Sjögren. 2015. Valuation and Calculation at the Margins. Valuation Studies 3(1):1-7.

Making news of value: exploring valuation practices at Valor Economico

Author: Tomas Undurraga (Universidad Alberto Hurtado)  email

Short Abstract

This article studies the multiple valuation practices in newsmaking at Valor Economico, an economic journal in Brazil. Valor promises to produce news that generates value. Different valuation practices compete within the newsroom to define value, reflecting diverse journalistic and economic visions.

Long Abstract

This article explores the multiple valuation practices that pervade news-production at Valor Economico, the leading economic journal in Brazil. Valor institutional promise is to produce news that generates value. This promise suggests that journalists mediate and transform the events that they report in a manner that produces value for certain economic stake-holders or for Brazil as a whole. How journalists at Valor understand their performative role in producing value of this kind? It is contended that different orders of worth and valuation practices compete within the newsroom to define 'value' itself, reflecting different visions of journalism, different understanding of economy and society, and different conceptions of what reporting is good for. The article is based on a 10-month ethnography of Valor Economico's newsroom in São Paulo conducted between 2013, 2014 and 2015.

First, it explores the journalistic principles of access and accountability which are in tension in defining Valor's coverage - i.e. reporting information about powerful actors versus accounting the actions of powerful actors themselves. Second, it explores how political positions play-out among journalists, finding a clash between liberal and developmentalist views that currently divide Brazilian society. Third, it investigates the competing valuations of economic coverage itself, as this struggle is reflected in the experts and sources that are privileged. Journalists' conceptions of the real and the financial economy are up for grabs here. The article concludes that despite frictions and disputes between different valuation practices, the plurality of modes of evaluation is possibly Valor's greatest capital.

The value of the negative

Authors: Rene Brauer (University of Surrey)  email
John Tribe (University of Surrey)  email
Nigel Morgan (University of Surrey)  email
Mirek Dymitrow (University of Gothenburg)  email

Short Abstract

Contemporary evaluations of research emphasize positive impacts while marginalising negative ones. This paper uses Collins and Evans' (2007) notion of 'interactional expertise' to conceptualize a new approach that incorporates the value of negative impact.

Long Abstract

Assessing the value of research results is long-known to be a difficult task. The problem lies in distinguishing between positive and negative results, because this demarcation always depends upon the underlying value system. Regardless of this philosophical difficulty, research assessments largely focus on positive results (i.e. positive impacts of research). For example, UK's 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF) reported that an "impressive [array of] impacts were found from research in all subjects" (REF 2015); accordingly, no negative impacts were reported. This effectively marginalises negative results in favour of positive results, inadvertently deeming them 'valueless'. As a marketing strategy for research, it is indeed a powerful approach. However, as an objective scientific standard to justify what research gets funded (or not), due to this one-sided focus, it is less useful. However, negative results can be cognitively and sociologically extremely beneficial (cf. Pinker 2002, Taleb 2014). The paper explores the construction of REF's impact assessment in the case of tourism studies. We show that the impact criteria not only shift the emphasis on positive results, but also emphasize economic gains and short-term impacts. By unpacking the underlying values implicit within the REF, we propose a new socio-material approach that does not marginalise the value of negative results. By using Collins and Evans' (2007) notion of 'interactional expertise', we argue that the underlying value problem can be addressed sociologically.

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Marginal Advantage: Seismic Energy and the Value of an Early Warning in Mexico

Author: Elizabeth Reddy (University of California-Irvine)  email

Short Abstract

This paper draws on ethnographic fieldwork to address how the advantage time that earthquake early warning systems make possible comes to be more valuable or less so.I argue that this contested valuation articulates material energies with human practice.

Long Abstract

An earthquake is a matter of energy traveling through soils, waters, buildings, and bodies, but it does not do so quickly.  Radio waves move faster, and the difference between the speed of an earthquake and a radio signal about it can be leveraged. Mexico's earthquake early warning system exploits those differences to alert users before sizable earthquakes. While the margin of difference between the speed of radio and seismic waves close to a quake's epicenter is small, increasing amounts of "advantage" time are available at greater distance and as algorithms are refined, communications infrastructures developed, and receivers fine-tuned. The value of advantage time is something else entirely for many users, despite the best efforts of risk management experts.

In this paper, I draw on ethnographic fieldwork on Mexican seismicity to discuss how this advantage time that earthquake monitoring systems make possible comes to be more valuable or less so. This work develops from the insight that when the value of technical endeavor is at issue, what is at stake is "a politics," in the words of Helen Verran, "over what there is and who/what can know it" (1998:238). Here, I attend to the production of basic concepts in disaster prevention and in the process denaturalize early warning as a risk management tool. I argue that this contested valuation articulates material energies with human practice.


Verran, Helen. 1998. "Re-imagining land ownership in Australia." Postcolonial Studies: Culture, Politics, Economy 1:237-254.

Recording Indian fish: reports, records and administrative practices of valuation

Author: Aarthi Sridhar (University of Amsterdam)  email

Short Abstract

The paper examines colonial valuation practices around fisheries, to recover the agential quality of reports in association with practices of catch estimation and administrative acts of record-keeping which in turn produce stable geographies of 'demand' and 'supply' in uncertain environments.

Long Abstract

The literature on valuation of natural resources lacks not just a wider disciplinary engagement, but is singularly bereft of any historical interest or exploration. This paper follows scholarship that argues for serious examination of the performativity or work of texts, such as scientific and legal documents not just in producing particular effects but importantly for scholars of history, in producing our understanding of the past.

Following conceptual ideas in postcolonial science studies, STS and History of Science, I argue that the agential performativity of specific intersecting documents, namely scientific reports on fish maws, administrative protocols on fish catch monitoring as well as commodity status reports are all critical to our understanding of how value in a historical sense is understood by scholars.

The paper examines historical valuation practices around 'improving' fisheries in British India, which included evaluations and assessments not just of fish catches but also of fishers, their technologies, capabilities and 'mentalities'. I examine the gradual intensification of administrative publications on these subjects and the attended institutionalisation of scientific and bureaucratic practices around both fish catch estimation, record keeping of resource monitoring and periodic status reports on fisheries in the Madras Presidency in the early 1900s. In so doing, I attempt to recover the agency of documents in producing effects, in this instance, stable geographies of fish 'demand' and 'supply' in politically and ecologically uncertain spaces. I suggest that valuation practices linked to 'management' are sites where both community and state are produced.

Weed or Value? Compensating nature at Frankfurt airport

Authors: Martina Schlünder (University of Toronto)  email
Susanne Bauer (University of Oslo)  email
Nils Güttler (ETH Zürich )  email

Short Abstract

This paper will examine the management of non-human lives and nature at Frankfurt airport, Germany’s largest international hub. We will show how economic, cultural, or legal values are not pre-given but emerge from practices that give rise to politics of compensation.

Long Abstract

Boundary drawing is a characteristic for the modern airport. In order to make air traffic flow, multiple geographic, legal, economic, national, acoustic, security-related borders and boundaries must be coordinated, sometimes even created. This boundary drawing includes contestations over valuation between airport operators, biologists, nearby residents and protest movements. Airports can be understood as multiple borderlands (Anzaldúa), producing inclusions and exclusions, centers and margins of different kinds. Our collaborative research project studies the management of non-human lives and nature at Frankfurt airport, Germany's largest international hub, which is almost completely surrounded by forests of high biodiversity. In this talk we will focus on valuation processes of non-human life at the margins of Frankfurt airports. Valuation of these areas of lands, the forests and their biodiversity have been constantly made and unmade, politically intervened in, negotiated or temporarily settled through "compensations". Our research investigates those specific valuation practices by means of archival research, ethnographic site visits, interviews and photo documentation. Drawing on these materials we show how nature and non-human lives are valuated differently depending on time and place and how they are coordinated and negotiated or separated from each other. Even if woods are firmly fixed on a spot, practices of valuation have made them rather flexible and moveable. We will argue that values (of all kinds such as economic, emotional, cultural, or legal) are not pre-given they rather emerge historically from different practices, which are still matters of conflict today and settlement can be violent.

Valuating Molecules and their Risks. How Socio-Economic Analysis Has Transformed the Evaluation of Toxic Chemicals.

Author: Henri Boullier (IFRIS / CERMES3)  email

Short Abstract

This paper shows how the introduction of socio-economic analysis in the course of their assessment by public experts transforms the practices of chemical (risk) valuation.

Long Abstract

As far as the regulation of toxic chemicals is concerned, economic reasoning has informed regulators in the setting of priorities more and more systematically since the 1980s, as the example of cost-benefit analysis illustrates (Porter, 1996; Thaler and Sunstein, 2008). However, the introduction of so-called "socio-economic analyses" (SEA) in the European REACH regulation, in charge of controlling the most toxic chemicals, has modified the ways in which molecules are valuated.

In this paper, I propose to study how SEA transforms how public experts valuate molecules in order to control their placing on the market. When it comes to expert committees that inform regulators, valuation practices tend to focus on the decisions' relevance and efficiency, the evaluation of molecules themselves being presumably only technical. The activities of a French expert committee responsible for assessing dangerous chemicals in the context of REACH illustrate, however, how SEA has brought in new practices that reconnect the valuation processes organized by companies to more classical risk evaluation practices. Such an instrument brings together the intertwined identity of chemicals as both objects of science and commodities (Gaudillière, 2010; Gaudillière and Hess, 2012) as never before.

Based on ethnographic data, I suggest that European experts use SEA as a means to problematize their evaluation and valuation practices (Mennicken & Sjögren, 2015). The work of qualification they perform not only transforms how molecules are valuated, but simultaneously redefines them as objects of knowledge. These activities displace the ways in which molecules and their markets are defined and constructed.

Resilience in the "technical dialogue" of French nuclear risk governance

Authors: Jérémy Eydieux (Mines Nantes)  email
Stéphanie Tillement (Ecole des Mines de Nantes)  email

Short Abstract

This paper addresses the issue of articulation between anticipation and resilience strategies through the lens of valuation theory. We draw on the case study of the "technical dialogue" that governs nuclear risks in France, to qualify how resilience values are included in this dialogue.

Long Abstract

Articulation between anticipation and resilience strategies for risk management is increasingly problematic (Wildavsky, 1988). Risky activities are masked by organizations, whereas risk governance practices such as audits seem imprisoned in formality. We draw from a Deweyan perspective in which dangers are managed through valuations (Dewey, 1929), such that anticipation and resilience are merely valuations differentiated by their temporality and relation with dangers (Dewey, 1939).

Our paper seeks to specify how values related to resilience are included in valuations of the "technical dialogue" of French nuclear risk governance, in which a safety demonstration built by a nuclear operator is evaluated by the Radioprotection and Nuclear Safety Institute (IRSN). We collected documents and interviews to understand valuations of "technical dialogue." To track values related to resilience in the dialogue, we did ethnographic fieldwork in a risky activity hidden by the organization in which it unfolds.

Results show that values associated with resilience (identified through the ethnographic study) are included in "technical dialogue" valuations to manage uncertainties related to projects evaluated. Uncertainty (Gross, 2010):

• prompts IRSN actors to investigate the planned sociotechnical system's resilience, and

• leads the nuclear operator to disclose information that may harm its credibility.

With the help of valuation theory, our results suggest that resilience could be included in formal arrangements oriented towards anticipation. Lastly, we discuss the capacity of institutions to adapt the formality of the "technical dialogue" to cope with ineradicable uncertainties.

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Happiness as a valuation of nations: from margin to indicator

Authors: Gustaf Nelhans (University of Borås)  email
Christopher Kullenberg  email

Short Abstract

This paper traces how subjective measures of welfare were transformed from a marginal issue in the social sciences to a valuation of welfare of nations. The co-production of social science and politics is analysed in a case study of negotiations of subjective and objective indicators in Sweden.

Long Abstract

Since the 1970s social scientists have strived towards finding a replacement for the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as an indicator of welfare in nations. Over the years, various political actors have attempted to make such measurements comply with their ideas of what constitutes a good society. This paper traces the co-production of social scientific knowledge and the political process of attempting to establish a new standardized way of measuring welfare in Sweden.

As GDP and other purely economic indicators have dominated how value is ascribed to nations, the various attempts of challenging this form of measurement have taken place at the margins of the social sciences. However, during the past two decades, the negotiations of finding alternative measures of welfare have dramatically moved forward their positions, entering mainstream science and politics.

Drawing from a variety of source documents (political proposals, influential reports, mass media accounts and scientific literature), this article connects and analyses multiple modes of veridiction that are the subjects of controversies and negotiations in the construction of a proposed valuemeter of welfare in Sweden. As a result, we show how two major social scientific conceptions of welfare measurements, based either on subjective or objective indicators, relate (without being reduced) to political proposals.

The little tools of large-scale visions

Authors: Hilde Reinertsen (University of Oslo)  email
Bård Hobæk (University of Oslo)  email
Kristin Asdal (University of Oslo)  email

Short Abstract

Documents are key sites in which valuations are done. One example of this is the proliferation of policy documents articulating large-scale visions of a "blue growth" in the EU and Norway. How do these documents - the little tools of aquaculture policy - produce this desired future?

Long Abstract

Documents are key sites in which valuations are done. One highly interesting and most important example of this, is the major expansion of policy documents articulating large-scale visions for a European future in which green growth, innovation and the new bioeconomy are made central concepts. Indeed, documents both in the EU and beyond are also envisioning blue growth, in which the marine sector - fisheries, aquaculture and related industries - is recast as a driver of this new bioeconomy. In this paper, we seek to explore how these policy documents seeks to appreciate nature and the environment, while at the same time envisioning economic growth, both in sheer output volume (amount of fish produced) and in terms of value production in the conventional sense (financial revenue). How do these documents, what we call the little tools of government, work upon the issue of aquaculture to redefine what was previously understood as limits to growth and conflicts of interest into technical problems that may be solved by means of innovation and new technologies? In pursuing this question, we will investigate empirical materials from the EU and Norway, a small country at the margins of Europe aiming to become the world's leading producer of farmed fish. How do the little tools of Norwegian aquaculture policy produce this desired future?

Locating Global Value: National Statistical Infrastructures and Multinational Banks

Authors: Jess Bier (Erasmus University Rotterdam)  email
Willem Schinkel (Erasmus University Rotterdam)  email

Short Abstract

Global finance is often characterized as a realm that supersedes the nation-state, but multinational banking statistics produce specific geographies that are both national and gobalized. Attention to the infrastructural work of valuation can help to specify these spaces of global capital flows.

Long Abstract

In this paper, we argue that attention to the infrastructural work of statistical valuation can help to specify the spaces of capital flows. Global finance is often characterized as a realm that supersedes the nation-state. In contrast, drawing on ethnographic fieldwork and document analysis, we show that financial statistics produce specific geographies that are both national and gobalized, and that these are intrinsically related to statistical determinations of value. So global statistics are infused with national valuation techniques of the sort that globalization was supposed to render obsolete.

Statistical infrastructures facilitate the circulation of capital that, with the rise of financialization, has become increasingly central to daily life. The BIS is one of the world's premier financial monitors, and nations are integral to their classification of multinational banks. This article analyzes two sets of distinctions in BIS banking statistics: first, between bank nationality and residency, and second, between domestic, international, local, foreign and/or cross-border claims.

These distinctions change depending on who observes them (Esposito 2013) and where they are reported. So, rather than a view from nowhere (Haraway 1988) or a deterritorialized space of flows (Castells 1998), BIS statistics rely upon a grounded view of capital as a substance that flows through discrete passages (P. Peters, Kloppenburg, and Wyatt 2010) or channels (Tsing 2000). The globalization that emerges can be viewed as a form of infrastructural globalism (Edwards 2006) that complexly incorporates the nation-state.

Social Return on Investment (SROI) as a new practice of (e)valuation in the built environment

Author: Kelly Watson (University of Manchester)  email

Short Abstract

The implications of Social Return on Investment, a social impact methodology, as an alternative post-occupancy (e)valuation practice in the built environment are discussed. Rather than measuring technical building performance, SROI valorises the outcomes experienced by the end users of design.

Long Abstract

A distinct set of valuation practices have developed in the built environment over the last 15 years, concerned with capturing user experience in occupied buildings. Associated methodologies employed by professional design experts typically measure building performance from a user perspective. However, the findings of such practices, being qualitative in nature, are repeatedly marginalised in the learning loops of sustainable design behind economic and environmental priorities. The transfer of alternative valuation practices from the social impact sector represents an opportunity to drive user-centred learning, whilst broadening the notion of "value" in design. Social Return on Investment (SROI) is a popular framework in the third sector for the quantification and financialisation of complex social outcomes. Originally designed for non-profit organisations to evidence the wider impact of their work, it has a stakeholder engagement focus and produces qualitative narratives, quantitative summaries, and financialised social returns. Representing a new development in (e)valuation practices in the built environment, it directly challenges the accepted technical representation of value propagated by post-occupancy methodologies that measure building performance. Instead, SROI measures outcomes experienced by building users and, in so doing, legitimises a different type of non-expert value and its significance for learning about the design and occupation of buildings. The implications of its ability to evaluate the social value of the built environment, in consort with the accessibility of its methodology and transferability of its results, suggest that SROI is well-placed as a tool for the end users of design, as much as professional design experts.

Valuation as self-fulfilling prophecy? Fictionalising scientific metrics in the humanities

Author: Alexa Färber (University of Vienna)  email

Short Abstract

The valuation regime of the sciences has reached the humanities and questions its marginality. The problematization of this “intrusion” articulates valuation’s fictional character in form of futurity (young scholars’ career-chances) and the capitalisation of inconsistencies (ranking system).

Long Abstract

The metric valuation regime of the sciences reached the humanities in the last ten years. Problematizing the price of the humanities anew (Färber et al 2015) may be read as a struggle for its "prophecy" to be fulfilled. The introduction of its techniques and technologies in form of ICT-processed peer review and generalised journal rankings (see Pontille/Torny 2015) were problematized in two dimensions: Not participating in this kind of scientific metric meant to be marginalised a) in the academic field mostly with respect to the social sciences, b) within the disciplines compared to those who do account for their research in this valuation regime. In the proposed contribution I draw on two German journals in the humanities to show how marginality was articulated and negotiated regarding this "intrusion" of scientific metrics. Fiction (see Meinicken/Sjögren 2015) in form of futurity play/ed a major role in this problematization: The introduction of the new valuation regime with its very techniques would improve the future of young scholars. Not being able to give proof of being evaluated within this regime would lead to their professional marginalisation. This moral argument stresses the futurity that is encapsulated in the valuation regime. While the CV as account of these values materialises this fictional quality editors negotiated their agency at the margins of the regime in different ways: peer review was declared an individual choice of authors; or the inconsistencies of the European ranking system were capitalised and the fictional character of this valuation regime put into action.

Negotiating Good Research Questions, Proper Methods and Trustworthy Results

Authors: Torben Elgaard Jensen (Aalborg University Copenhagen)  email
Astrid Jespersen (University of Copenhagen)  email

Short Abstract

The paper examines how valuation is achieved when multidisciplinary research projects negotiate research questions, methods, data quality and results. It explores a series of cases and attempts to develop a typology of the ‘value added’ to valuation by social scientists.

Long Abstract

Despite all the demands in science policy for multidisciplinarity, 'strategic research', 'integration of approaches' and collaborative engagement, it would be no overstatement to say that the formats for collaboration between different scientific fields and disciplines are still very much on the margins. When researchers from different disciplines collaborate there are no universally accepted recipes for reaching agreement on the relevance of a research question, the quality of dataset, the appropriateness of a method, or the trustworthiness of a prediction of the outcome. But valuations nevertheless take place; decisions are made, procedures are chosen, matters are organized, and claims of knowledge are stated.

In this paper we examine how marginal valuation practices are achieved in multidisciplinary research.

First, we review some of the literature on how qualitative social science may be combined with other research endeavours (Law 2004, Sherman & Strang 2004, Bryman 2006, Balmer et al. 2016)

Second, we examine a series of practical attempts to frame and organize a particular format of collaboration between social scientists and other contributors. These cases include qualitative screening interviews in randomized clinical trails (Jespersen et al., forthcoming), digital ethnography (Elgaard Jensen, forthcoming), and exploratory 'data sprint' workshops (Munk et al. 2016). In each case we explore the politics of inclusion and exclusion, the crafting of devices, and the emerging division of labor and roles.

Third, we take some preliminary steps towards a typology of the 'value added' to valuation practices by social scientists.

"Scientists on stage". How social performances of biologists make values.

Author: Sarah Schönbauer (Technical University of Munich)  email

Short Abstract

Stage performances of life scientists impact on the way scientific communities and their values are made. Through the analysis of theatre, orchestra and festival performances by biologists, this study shows how valuations are practiced and negotiated as part of newly emerging social performances.

Long Abstract

As academia is undergoing various transformations as part of its entrepreneurial turn, social practices constituting scientific communities are changing as well. While there is substantial research analysing how transitions in the life sciences affect how and which knowledge gets produced, there is less attention for the ways in which personal and communal values become provoked, maintained or established as part of changing socio-scientific communities.

During my fieldwork in the United States, I observed stage performances of life scientists during a 'cultural diversity festival', in which researchers were embracing their passion for science by acting, dancing, and singing while referring to their cultural heritage. By relating these presentations to performances of the molecular biology chamber orchestra and the drama club of an Austrian life science research campus, I will analyse how these newly emerging stage performances impact on social and scientific value systems of the scientists and their respective research departments.

By using both narrative interviews and fieldwork observations, I critically engage with these performances, conceptualising them as ways of mediating values in negotiation.

Thus, my work focuses on the understanding of valuations at the margins, through stage performances of life scientists as value systems in the midst of entrepreneurial and more conservative ideals of academia.

Valuation - at the margins of research evaluation procedures?

Author: Aline Waltzing (École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales)  email

Short Abstract

Valuation practices have been enacted in institutionalised evaluations of research and higher education with different techniques and objects of valuation: two European case studies in the 1980s allow us to explore their marginality or centrality in the evaluation procedures.

Long Abstract

Evaluation of research and higher education is a form of valuation: it defines and assesses the value(s) of sciences and their organisation. This paper suggests investigating two historical case studies of the emergence of institutionalised evaluation procedures that target public institutions for research and higher education, in France and the Netherlands since the 1980s. A detailed analysis of these cases allows us to raise the question of the marginality of certain valuation practices.

The type of evaluation that, as we argue, emerged in the 1980s, could today be considered as a quite dominant form of (e)valuation, whereas, historically, peer review has been in such a position for (e)valuating science. When evaluation agencies were installed, they introduced themselves as an extended type of peer review, but they also mobilised valuation techniques previously less common and subsequently criticised in science, such as explicitly defined quality criteria and indicators.

In both case studies in the 80s and 90s, evaluation presented itself as a management tool, while its function as a valuation tool never appeared at the forefront. Evaluation was essentially self-reflection, for better management, for the sake of improvement and insuring better quality; the main announced objective was not to launch a redefinition of quality. Hence, valuation practices could be described as taking place "at the margins" of institutionalised evaluation procedures. The definition of evaluation criteria nevertheless conveyed certain values that didn't necessarily generate consensus among scientists: valuation practices have regularly been taken out of "the shadows" of evaluation procedures by their critiques.

Exploring a curious form of academic assessment: The case of blurbs on the back cover of scholarly books

Authors: Claes-Fredrik Helgesson (Linkoping University)  email
Steve Woolgar (LInkoping University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper approach endorsements on the back cover of scholarly books as a serious and multifaceted phenomenon that say something about academic practice more broadly. Our examination of blurbs relies on interviews as well as through the detailed analysis of 150+ blurbs on books related to STS.

Long Abstract

Signed endorsements on the back cover of scholarly books are hardly taken to represent a core form of academic assessment. While scholarly assessments such as the blind article review or the grant proposal evaluation are generally considered to be core activities in academia, the endorsements are easily seen as somewhat marginal qua assessments. Colloquially, endorsements signed by esteemed individuals are often referred to as blurbs. In publishing terms, they form part of the promotional copy, and are seen as the result of an unsolicited academic assessment. They represent a genre susceptible to pastiche and caricature. Yet, for all their possible marginality, blurbs are strikingly prevalent on academic titles.

Rather than dismissing blurbs as representing an insubstantial, insincere and inconsequential practice, we approach blurbs as a serious and multifaceted phenomenon. The important point with blurbs is not what they say about the book they endorse, but what they say about academic practice more broadly. Analysing blurbs from this vantage point means exploring what they do, how they do it, and how they are done. Our examination of blurbs relies on interviews with editors and authors as well as through the detailed analysis of 150+ blurbs on books related to STS. The paper explores: What are the concerns at play when soliciting and authoring a blurb? What registers of "goodness" are evoked in endorsements? How may sincerity and substantiality be enacted in endorsements? How do endorsements perform a community?

This track is closed to new paper proposals.