EASA2014: Collaboration, Intimacy & Revolution
Generating value and valuation as collaborative practice
Date and Start Time 01 August, 2014 at 11:00
This panel focuses on consumption practices and explores how interaction, collaboration or challenging action generates or mobilizes perceptions of individual or collective value, and informs an anthropological study of valuation as practice.
Since the early days of anthropological scholarship, anthropologists have recognised that notions of value are entangled in economic, moral, spiritual and social codes. In this workshop we wish to probe the social practices by which people, things and services are accredited, compared, deemed worthy, or judged. Designed commodities, recycled goods, institutional services and artistic performances are not only 'situational entities' (cf. Wengrow 2010, Kopytoff 1986) but are active in generating ongoing notions of individual or collective worth, and mobilising valuation practices.
Rather than maintaining a perspective where values are the cause or explanation of social logics, this panel invites papers exploring how value emerges and accretes through collaborative or challenging action. Relevant topics include consumption rationalities (e.g. domesticity and ideas of citizenship and family; vintage clothing or recycled goods and notions of fashion, social participation and environment); corporations (the co-option or consumer co-authorship of brand, corporate presence in everyday life, concerns regarding fair trade or the environment); governmental action (delivery of private or public owned welfare services, political opinion-making) or institutional actors (theatre repertoires, museum exhibitions or for that matter academic knowledge for sale).
We welcome papers that explore how everyday interactions evoke, generate or congeal perceptions of 'good things' or worthy practices within specific contexts, ultimately informing an anthropological study of valuation as practice.
Chair: Lotta Björklund Larsen & Pauline Garvey
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.
Craftspeople and tempters: the making of value
Tuareg craftspeople, called Inadan, monopolise craft in Tuareg society and make possible most public social activities as agents and musicians. Beyond that, Inadan not only make valuables, but pronounce value by praising or denouncing their counterparts.
In order to succeed, Inadan do not advertise their crafted objects but rather court potential clients. They praise the generosity, beauty and noblesse of their counterpart and profess how one could gain in reputation through the offered object. The hand-crafted object merely seems to be a means to encounter. Not only because of being in need of a certain product, but because of generousity and noblesse one shall engage in exchange with craftspeople. That way of negotiation can be traced back to the longstanding relation between Inadan and the social group of nobles in Tuareg society. With the words 'Noble man, how can you bargain?!', craftspeople tempt to buy with them. And the client who buys, confirms his noblesse. 'The nobles want the world!' And that is what they get in dealing with Inadan. As an endogamous professional group they provide crafted and value-charged objects, and furthermore praise generousity or denounce dishonourable behaviour in public.
In my presentation and on the basis of ethnographic research I will link craftpeople's work to a diversified social environment in which valuables and values are created, received and applied in social action.
Making good respondents: market researchers' practices of valuation and elimination
The paper explores how market researchers are generating and determining valuable consumer subjectivities, by focusing on the recruitment and study of research subjects. Evaluation of the appropriate respondent is studied as a case of market/knowledge-making and market research as epistemic culture.
Market research is an industry that engages makers, buyers, subjects and sellers of information about markets. This paper discusses how market researchers are producing consumer knowledge out of respondents and interview persons. More specifically it deals with local practices and ideas about evaluating appropriate research subjects, drawing on artefacts like screening forms, as well as other ethnographic material from on-going fieldwork with one of Sweden's large market research firms (see also Lien, 1997).
The paper contributes to new anthropological perspectives on consumers that stress their status as objects of knowledge (Cetina, 1999) and marketing action (Knorr Cetina, 2010; Lien, 2004), created by, among others, market researchers (Grandclément, 2011). My own focus is on the tools they use to be able to speak about, and on behalf of, consumers and markets. While techniques of surveillance such as CRM databases, and tracking of online behaviour is increasingly important, market research still heavily relies on the post-war promise of Motivational research: To get the marketer, advertiser or businessman a view of how consumers act or think (Berghoff, Scranton, & Spiekermann, 2012).
This access into consumer subjectivity relies on market researchers locating people who can offer appropriate views, suiting the needs for consumer representation (Lezaun, 2007). Market researchers take great care to enrol good subjects of study and to alternately then dismiss them (in much qualitative research) or keep them enrolled (in online panels). This paper is interested in the processes and principles of selection, connecting selection practices to the local epistemology of market research.
Haggling over values: contesting and unintentionally collaborating on price-creation in Manchester
This paper uses ethnographic data collected in shops in Manchester UK to explore ideas about and practices surrounding haggling, discussing how it fits with local ideas about 'fairness' (cf. Smith 2012) and often constitutes unwitting collaboration between shopper and shop staff.
Anthropological research on, for example, stock exchanges (e.g. Zaloom 2006) illustrates the complex ways in which new technologies can alter how those who work professionally with markets both assign value to commodities and deal with changing hierarchies and temporalities in day to day life. Less attention has been placed upon how 'amateurs' use increasing access to new technologies, and new uses of older technologies, to contest the prices and values of things whilst shopping. This paper addresses this gap by detailing and unpacking the increasingly common practice of using smartphone-enabled access to online shops such as eBay and Amazon to compare online prices with those in high street shops, and attempting to 'haggle' the price of goods down when they are cheaper online. The paper describes how this transgressive practice can be aligned with recent work on the centrality of 'fairness' (Smith 2012) to class and kinship in Manchester. Further, it argues that subversive practices can unintentionally give rise to collaboration, as haggling constitutes the co-creation through speech acts of an item's price (see Clark and Pinch 1994), because of - rather than despite - the actuality that the two haggling parties are usually opponents.
"That was cheap anyway": textile evaluation from favourite thing to waste
The talk explores the evaluation, calculation and saving practices that are carried out in everyday decisions about consuming, caring or disposing clothes in the household.
An endlessly growing mountain of rubbish in European households consists of clothes. Once sorted out, there is several ways what to do with it: give it to friends or family (Wagener-Böck 2012), use it as cleaning rag, bring it to a charity collection (Norris 2012), a second-hand shop (Tranberg-Hansen 2000), to the recycling-container or simply put in in the dustbin. But even before sorting out, an everyday valuation in the household helps to decide what becomes waste sooner or later.
Apart from stylistic decisions (e.g. Ege 2013, Lehnert 2013, Vinken 2005) there are important material implications (Miller 2004) and a reservoir of skills that help to understand the decision what to do with ones clothes. Do I still wear it? What to do with stains? Can I mend it? What time does this take? Do I need a tailor's shop? Is it worth the effort and money? Is it good enough to ask friends if they would like to have it? A foundation of these decisions lays in evaluating former price, material state, attached memories and emotions but also style and an overall situation. Once these values are formulated - whether rationalized or not - different resources and values are calculated which maybe ends in a decision for saving.
The talk will draw on empirical material from a fieldwork in a German neighbourhood (Hamburg 2014) that inquired everyday textile practices in the household.
Mobilizing through spatial values: an example in Lisbon
Based on an example located in Lisbon, Portugal, this presentation proposes a reflection around the concept of value applied to urban space and how such value can contribute to mobilize collective strategies of identitary reinforcement.
If consumer goods have become essential elements to identify, differentiate and negotiate social belongings between individuals and groups, the space that support daily life experiences of these individuals and groups can also be seen as a commodity to be consumed and used as valuable strategy to mobilize and claim such belongings.
This presentation proposes a reflection around the concept of value applied to urban space and its consumption. A value that can be objectively regulated through an economic frame, but beyond that, it's socially produced and collectively claimed and negotiated. Based on a specific urban space located in Lisbon - Parque das Nações - it is intended to demonstrate how a set of values associated with it were, simultaneously, the collective mobilizing issue to request a change in the administrative territorial limits and an important factor in individual negotiations of social identities.
The best of the best: positing, measuring, and sensing value in the UNESCO World Heritage arena
This paper analyses how "Outstanding Universal Value" – the indispensable quality of a World Heritage site – is constructed by the UNESCO agencies. The myth persists that "OUV", however resistant to definition, it is a tangible quality that can be felt on site.
The UNESCO World Heritage Convention of 1972 is one of the most widely ratified international treaties, and the World Heritage label has been conferred upon almost one thousand cultural and natural sites in 160 countries, with substantial consequences for tourism, national and local pride, the flow of development funds, and conservation efforts. Central to the World Heritage project is the idea that some sites have "outstanding universal value" so that they rightfully belong to, but must also be taken care of by, humanity as a whole and therefore deserve a place on the illustrious World Heritage List. How have World Heritage institutions gone about detecting universal value, particularly for the cultural sites where our cultural relativism of anthropologists would expect any such effort to fail?
Based on participant observation of World Heritage Committee sessions and interviews with key actors, the paper will show that none of the considerable efforts to capture OUV more precisely has produced a truly operational definition. Instead, a relative angle is encouraged by prescribing a comparative analysis for each candidate, showing it to be as worthy as already listed sites and superior to possible similar candidates. None of these logics is consistently applied, however, and when a case is not decided by political lobbying anyway, expert bodies and Committee delegates often resort to intuition. Ethnographic observation reveals key actors as subscribing to a mystical ideology - at least at some sites, everyone can feel the presence of OUV.
"Sensible" borrowers: constructing "peers" in peer-to-peer lending
Combining ethnographic work with critical analysis of web design and content, this paper examines the rhetorical construction of “peers” within an emergent financial system of peer-to-peer lending.
Recently peer-to-peer ("p2p") lending systems have emerged as a popular vehicle for unsecured consumer and small-business lending. Where crowd-funding systems operate as a mixture of charitable donation and pre-purchase, p2p lending involves the exchange of funds at commercial rates of interest, competing largely in the personal-investment market on price, by "disintermediating" banks with high overhead costs. Instead, p2p lending companies operate on a small scale, without investment in physical branch offices or legacy infrastructures, evaluating borrower credit risk and ensuring a close match between supply and demand for investment funds.
P2p finance distinguishes itself from traditional investments by stressing financial flows as running between ordinary individuals and small businesses, rather than to and from faceless and distrusted global financial institutions. Zopa Limited, a UK p2p finance company and the subject of an ongoing ethnographic study, draws this distinction through the rhetorical creation of "peers," constructing a narrative through its website, the exclusive point of contact with the p2p lending process for most of its users. This narrative focuses on two words particularly resonant with Zopa staff and customers: "sensible" and "fair." These terms are mobilized to construct lenders (primarily professionals near retirement age) and borrowers (primarily young families) as intergenerational equals, united in financial prudence.
Combining ethnographic work with Zopa staff and customers with critical analysis of Zopa web design and content, this paper examines the construction of borrowers and lenders as "peers" uniting in an alternative to an obscure, distant and untrustworthy global banking system.
The politics of evaluation: jurying a ceramic art exhibition in Japan
This paper gives an ethnographic account of the jurying of a major ceramics exhibition in Japan. It examines the role of judges and prizes in creating and sustaining artistic reputations as they engage in a politics of evaluation that embraces aesthetic, social, institutional, and economic values.
Prizes and awards are interesting anthropologically for several different reasons. For a start, they represent the outcome of an engagement with creative products on the part of people who, as jury members, are deemed to be aesthetic specialists. They are also economic instruments well-suited to achieving cultural objectives along social, institutional and ideological axes. Jurying involves an engagement with creative products, and an evaluation of their appreciative or aesthetic value, as well as of their overall worth. However, jurying has repercussions that ordinary consumer evaluations do not, for the decision to award a particular pot or other 'artwork' a prize of some kind usually reflects back upon and inflects the prize-winner's future output in one way or another. In other words, they create a tendency towards 'cumulative recognition' (or the 'Matthew effect').
This paper gives an ethnographic account of the jurying of a major ceramics exhibition in Japan. In tracing judges' selections, voting patterns, and ensuing discussions as collectively they endeavour to pick out a 'winner', the paper discusses the role of critics whose task is to develop an aesthetic vocabulary acceptable to the general public, while also acting as guides, teachers, and high priests in the evaluation of artistic quality in the ceramic art world. The paper outlines the role of prizes and awards in the creation and maintenance of relational reputation that is based on produced contrasts between competing artworks, rather than on 'inherent' aesthetic qualities.
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.