Programme

(T003)
Mundane Market Matters: On the ordinary stuff (and actions and sometimes people) that make markets
Location 118
Date and Start Time 02 September, 2016 at 09:00
Sessions 3

Convenors

  • Daniel Neyland (Goldsmiths) email
  • Véra Ehrenstein (Goldsmiths College) email
  • Sveta Milyaeva (Goldsmiths, University of London) email

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Short Abstract

This session will explore the ordinary, taken for granted stuff that goes toward making markets. Abstracts are invited which explore mundane market matters through: methodologies; empirical studies; new theories; experiments; the challenges of drawing together distinct approaches to markets.

Long Abstract

Markets continue to be a matter of concern for both STS scholars and the public at large. Financial trading and meltdowns, public sell offs and regulation, demands for intervention and access to trade, markets as problem and solution, continue to fill headlines. But what of the stuff of markets - the ordinary, taken for granted things that go toward making markets what they are? Drawing on notions of the mundane (Pollner, 1974; Woolgar and Neyland, 2013; Hawkins, forthcoming; Star, 1995), how do market things come to be both ordinary, pervasive, every day and profound - helping to establish and hold in place the very nature of market matters? What can a focus on the mundane tells us about how markets come into being and are maintained over time? Under what conditions do these mundane market objects come to matter? Or conversely, for whom and in relation to what is this market stuff ordinary, how do things come to be pervasive and taken for granted? How do STS scholars and forms of science and technology come to participate in markets through such mundane matters?

Abstracts are invited which address any of the above themes or explore mundane market matters through: methodologies; empirical studies; new theories; experiments which propose radical re-orderings of market things; the challenges of drawing together STS approaches to markets with ideas from other disciplines or drawing together ideas from different research areas within STS (market studies and science and technology policy, or issues of public participation).

SESSIONS: 4/4/4 (Keep Jose Ossandon, he'll register later).

This track is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

The ordinary and profound in market-based interventions to solve public problems

Author: Daniel Neyland (Goldsmiths)  email

Short Abstract

This paper offers a comparative analysis of the ordinary and profound stuff that enable market interventions to happen. It compares attempts to solve public problems in online data and children at-risk of going into care.

Long Abstract

This paper offers a comparative analysis of the ordinary and profound stuff that enable market interventions to happen. First it explores the role of data in the constitution of interventions in the online data market. We suggest that data becomes a focal point for the arrangement of Data Protection legislation which now explicitly looks to recompose the online data market, what counts as privacy, property rights in data, who and what gets to control who and what. Second, data is contrasted with care, in particular residential care for children at-risk. In interventions that seek to shape the social investment market toward low cost solutions to public problems, transforming children at-risk into an investment proposition, care becomes part of a new financial assessment device: days of care averted. While attempts to regulate the online data market struggle to shift data from an ordinary, trivial, taken for granted matter to something worthy of renewed attention, care moves in the opposite direction. From a profound, dedicated and personal matter of practice, care is transformed into a routine indicator of success; a means to quickly see if expensive care has been averted and costs saved. In analysing both the move from pervasive to profound and profound to trivial, the paper opens up opportunities for exploring mundane market matters. The paper adds to the current interest amongst Science and Technology Studies (STS) scholars in markets by drawing together market studies with STS science and technology policy and literature on the mundane.

The 's' in markets

Author: Christian Frankel (Copenhagen Business School)  email

Short Abstract

Markets have become naturalized as an object of research and also as an object or a tool with which specific collective concerns can be handled. Both rely on the ‘s’ in markets. But how is the ‘s’ put there? What (mundane) stuff allows markets to be singled out, studied, intervened in … and made mundane?

Long Abstract

Markets have become naturalized as objects of research and as areas of social life. Both rely on the 's' in markets. But how is the 's' put there? This paper inquires into two areas. One is market studies as found within STS. The other is what can be termed 'markets for collective concerns', i.e. instances in which a market is used to handle a specific collective concern (e.g. carbon markets). Focus is on how these two areas single out and specify what counts as one particular market. What often mundane stuff is relied upon in order to tell the scope or boundary of a market? Such specifications can result in quite different markets being singled out as well as in differing assessments of the particular market. Raising these questions this paper undertakes a methodological inquiry into how markets are made into objects of knowledge, which is believed to be increasingly relevant. Not least with the advent of market design, specific markets are made to fullfil specific purposes (Roth 2002; Frankel, Ossandon & Pallesen 2015). Consequently, economists, policy-makers and others, after having largely ignored the 's' (Mirowski 2007), have become invested in markets as particular constructs. It is, in other words, not for market studies any more (if it ever was) to offer a focus on particular markets otherwise not offered. Rather market studies enter into fields or ecologies already populated with notions of (specific and general) markets used in the work of constructing, organizing and operating markets.

Eating versus Treating: U.S. FDA regulation of diet foods

Author: Xaq Frohlich (Korean Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST))  email

Short Abstract

This historical case, regulatory challenges posed by new diet foods in the U.S. in the 1960s, explores the ways law, science, and markets invest certain objects (in this case foods) with an embodied normativity that in turn shapes or enlists consumers in particular political economic movements.

Long Abstract

In this talk I describe how the appearance of three new diet food markets in the 1960s, and more generally a growing consumerist movement of "healthism", created problems for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in how it regulated food and drug markets through product classification. Each diet product would raise different concerns for regulators. Vitamins and vitamin-enriched foods were "surplus health", but potentially economic trickery known as "nutrition quackery". The second, low-calorie products with new artificial sweeteners, were associated with vanity-dieting and risk-taking with new food additives. The last, low-fat foods, raised a modern medical question of whether preventive care was just for the sick or for everyone. I look at arguments between FDA officials, industry lawyers, and medical professionals over whether these novel foods should be labeled "special dietary", with restricted marketing similar to prescription drugs, or opened up to the broader public for mass consumption. In part, the stakes were institutional: should consumers be empowered to take dietary decisions into their own hands, or would this subvert the role of doctors in treating patients? But the debate was also an argument about what was meant by "ordinary" consumer and "risky" food. Was an ordinary consumer "healthy" and not to be bothered about this hypothetical, future risk? Or, as would become what Dumit calls a "drugs for life" paradigm, did all consumers have some right or obligation to know about the potential that eating certain foods carried for developing future illness?

Contentious interfaces: exploring the junction between collective provision and individual consumption

Authors: Elizabeth Shove (Lancaster University)  email
Alain Nadai (CNRS - Centre national de la recherche scientifique)  email
Magali PIERRE  email
Catherine Grandclement (EDF R&D)  email

Short Abstract

This paper analyses the production of boundaries between collective provision and individual consumption. It does so by investigating two critical and contentious junctions: the home charging point of electric vehicles and the data-display of smart meters.

Long Abstract

This paper takes a distinctive approach to the task of analysing and understanding changing relations between supply and demand, between producers and consumers, and between the realms of state and market-based provision. It does so by investigating a selection of critical and contentious junctions or interfaces at which multiple interests and actors meet. The sites on which we focus - one being the plugging in of electric vehicles, the other being the design and positioning of smart metering systems - provide different but complementary insights into the ongoing 'making' of roles and categories around which infrastructures are organised. In taking this approach we show that such distinctions are reflected and also reproduced in the design and operation of material objects and networks around which infrastructures are formed. In most discussions of electricity supply and consumption there is a clear separation between questions that pertain to infrastructures typically managed by large organisations, and those that relate to the world of consumption, characterised by seemingly private choices made by millions of individual customers. The examples with which we work are unusual in that they represent instances in which the respective roles of consumer and provider are momentarily unsettled, uncertain and unclear. These blips allow us to 'see' the active production of boundaries that are commonly taken-for-granted. As such they provide relevant insights into how distinctions between collective provision and individual consumption are constructed.

On the digitization of price tags: looking at the mundane fingers of the invisible hand (1922-2015)

Authors: Franck Cochoy (University of Toulouse / CERTOP)  email
Johan Hagberg (University of Gothenburg)  email
Hans Kjellberg (Stockholm School of Economics)  email

Short Abstract

Based on the etymology of term “digital” (from digitus, finger or toe), we show that the display of prices in retail settings rests on a mundane digitization process (retailers’ handwriting practices, consumers’ “sticky fingers”, “trigger fingers” of price guns, “digits” of electronic devices).

Long Abstract

Our focus is on the long-term process of price tag digitization, ranging from manually written prices to contemporary electronic shelf labels. Based on the etymology of term "digital" (from digitus, finger or toe), we intend to show that the display of prices in retail settings surprisingly rests on a digitization process right from the beginning. We show that price setting was first a practice involving the coding of prices by hand so that only the retailer could read them and then adjust prices to individual customers. Later, price setting focused on hand writing techniques used to produce displays with standardized fonts and show cards. The advent of self-service played a dramatic role in this shift by forcing the retailers to disclose prices, but also by raising new problems and threats, like the risk of "sticky fingers" that could steal goods or displace the price tags on the shelves. In the fifties, the invention of price "guns" introduced a new game of "trigger fingers". It also opened new risks of "sticky fingers" that could move price stickers from one good to another. These risks were addressed by a new movement of price digitization, in the modern sense this time, using barcodes and electronic shelf labels, and making use of trigger fingers to activate handheld or checkout scanners. Retracing these mundane evolutions of price display illuminates the role of the concrete fingers of the invisible hand that animates the market, so to say.

Devising Wellbeing Markets: how wearables track, marketise and financialise movement

Authors: Liz McFall (Open University)  email
David Moats (Linköping University)  email

Short Abstract

Over the last decade tracking of individual movement has become a heavily hyped new market. Insurers and employers see ‘quantified self’ data as a new way of pricing health, wellbeing and risk. This paper considers the consequences of the marketisation of wellbeing for the provision of healthcare.

Long Abstract

Over the last decade, what was once the preserve of professional athletes and hobbyists, the systematic tracking of individual movement and exercise, has turned into one of the most hyped new markets. The adaptation of a number of technologies, including GPS and accelerometers, for individual use, created a generation of devices used first for sports and what became known, as the 'quantified self' movement, enabled by smartphone sensors, apps and purpose built devices like Fitbit and Jawbone. This market for 'wellbeing' is beginning to be recognized by insurers and employers who see in movement data the prospect of new ways of quantifying health, wellbeing and pricing risk and even public providers like the NHS have taken notice. This paper, which draws on a Wellcome Trust funded project on Insuring Digital Health, reflects on the challenges, both technical and social, facing the move to marketise mundane bodily movements - including the ways in which wellbeing itself comes to be enacted differently through different calculative devices and algorithms like step counters, how this can or cannot be translated into financial terms and the consequences this may have for how healthcare is paid for and by whom.

My Story Has No Strings Attached": Credit Cards, Market Devices, and a Stone Guest

Author: José Ossandón (Copenhagen Business School)  email

Short Abstract

This paper conceptualises credit cards by combining stories gathered at two fieldwork sites, credit transactions carried out by the inhabitants of low income areas in Santiago de Chile and risk and marketing strategies of consumer credit lenders in Chile.

Long Abstract

In the retail industry, consumer credit is sometimes seen as a dangerous parasite that can become bigger than its host. Credit cards are marketing devices that aim at easing the attachment between consumers and goods. Credit cards are also value meters that trace every single transaction. Credit cards can even be "gardening" tools. Sowing is the name used in Chile's retail industry to call the data management strategy that consists of extending the credit limit of low income customers depending on their payment behavior. Data on previous transactions and behavior replaces collateral. Credit cards are not only used by the persons whose names are on the cards; People borrow and loan their cards, or, more precisely, their cards' credit limits. Credit cards do not trace behavior but hidden networks. Can social relations act as parasites on credit - uninvited guests whose host is already a parasite? This article tells the story of a study that started in the middle - credit cards - and slowly became a Serresian economic anthropology.

It's only a matter of time: automated queue management and the constitution of market in post-socialist mass services

Author: Zsuzsanna Vargha (University of Leicester)  email

Short Abstract

How do queues constitute markets if they symbolize socialism? The operation of queue management systems in post-socialist banking configure mass service as mundane market order, without customers' visual policing but as rationalized performance control for employees.

Long Abstract

What makes a market economy? The queue symbolizes the shortage economy and state power over time in socialism (Verdery 1996). Meanwhile, for ethnomethodologists, queuing is the prime example of how social-moral order is constantly produced by participants of situations. Queues appear out of thin air, a "designed enterprise" of small utterances and bodily gestures, accomplishing ordinariness (Garfinkel and Livingston 2003). We modify this approach by raising three questions. First, if queues also symbolize socialism, how do they constitute markets specifically? Second, automating technologies are deployed to make queues occur. With no visible line to join, what are queues' spatial, temporal, and social properties? Third, how are queues accomplished on the other side of the service (en)counter? Post-socialist queue management systems let us explore these questions empirically, while the notion of formatting market actors (Callon and Muniesa 2005) allows us to see queuing as material pre-trans-acts. Based on the observation of a call number system in Hungarian bank branch services, the paper argues that electronic queuing "funnels" customers to match standardized products. Queue management shows how mundane stuff matters for markets in four ways. First, in post-socialism it re-orders mass banking as a distinctly market-based service, by indexing fair access (non-discrimination and accountability). Second, these systems advocate impersonal markets by displacing the personal-physical work of forming lines. Third, the market-as-automated-allocation system ironically produces an obscure order, as it lacks witnessably fair turn-taking. Fourth, for bank employees, however, queuing becomes a rationalized workflow, and a surveillance and performance measurement device.

Missing Matter: Rain and Risk in Micro Markets

Author: Marc Boeckler (Goethe-University Frankfurt)  email

Short Abstract

Based on ethnographic fieldwork in West Africa, the paper explores how mundane devices and economists in the wild intervene in the design, setup and eventual failure of an insurance market at the borderlands of global finance

Long Abstract

At weather stations, rain is measured with a rainfall gauge - a cylindrical copper container with a collecting can and a copper funnel. Rain falls over the funnel and trickles into the can. At regular intervals, an officer pours the water into a graduated glass jar. With the help of the jar, water is translated into numbers, numbers that are written into tables, tables that travel from remote areas to national centers of calculation. Here, rainfall data is digitized and appears in a powerful spreadsheet. Why does this practice matter? Rain in the form of a spreadsheet column is one of the basic elements of an experimental insurance market in West Africa. To manage climate change related risks, African smallholders are expected to purchase a weather index insurance. The insurance contracts are tied to rainfall at particular weather station. In cases of drought or excess rainfall, a payout is triggered. This simple market comes with complex problems. First, copper gauges are stolen, glass jars are broken and rain is "lost". Second, farmers do not easily value insurances as technologies of risk to master time and govern uncertain futures. Here behavioral (development) economists intervene with behavioral engineering measures to turn farmers into calculative agencies capable of evaluating the commodified risk.

Based on ethnographic fieldwork in West Africa, the paper explores how mundane devices and economists in the wild are fundamental elements of the design, setup and eventual failure of an insurance market at the borderlands of global finance.

Sensitive interventions? Germs, fridges, and forms in the regulation of global vaccine markets

Author: Véra Ehrenstein (Goldsmiths College)  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores the notion of sensitivity to analyse a ‘global health’ market intervention (the large-scale purchase of pneumococcal vaccines for low income countries). In particular it examines the dynamic of attention whereby mundane stuff becomes the focus of (re)action.

Long Abstract

This paper explores the notion of sensitivity to analyse a 'global health' market intervention: the large-scale purchase of pneumococcal vaccines aimed at reducing the incidence and mortality of bacterial pneumonia and meningitis in low income countries. Financed by donors, like the UK, the transaction is implemented by GAVI, an organisation specialised in collecting overseas aid to help health administrations buying vaccines for their immunisation programmes. The paper understands mundane as a situated property. Things and processes are mundane when their pervasiveness is relevant to an action but remains unnoticed from its point of view. The paper is interested in how the taken for granted becomes worthy of attention and examines moments when the mundane resists. These, it argues, are trials revealing the degree of sensitivity of an intervention, how quickly it notices recalcitrance, reacts, and adjusts its own terms. Two moments are chosen. First, the paper describes how pneumococcus, a germ lacking the symbolic value of malaria and the political activism of HIV, was targeted by a market initiative. Focusing on prices, it ignored supply chain issues until vaccine delivery started, making fridges noticed. Second, the paper describes an epidemiological survey in an African country meant to evaluate the impact of pneumococcal vaccines made available by the initiative. Devoting much effort to the verification of forms, it neglected some redistribution matters until laboratory technicians went on strike, making their everyday work conditions noticed. These examples show a dynamic of attention, whereby different mundane stuff becomes alternatively the focus of (re)action.

The Skin of Commerce: Establishing the Ontonorms of Plastic Food Packaging

Author: Gay Hawkins (University of Western Sydney )  email

Short Abstract

How did plastic food packaging became mundane? Thévenot’s account of ‘reality testing’ is used to trace various ontologies of packaging. A key focus is how the functional agency of plastic is enacted in markets, and how this functionality is both technical and moral - and often contested.

Long Abstract

This paper examines the processes whereby plastic food packaging became mundane. Rather than tell this story via the logics of technical innovation or inexorable market expansion the aim is to investigate exactly how this material changed the ontological status of food, markets and consumers and how it became unnoticed and ordinary. Using Thévenot's account of 'reality testing' or the complex processes whereby what counts as 'good' or 'real' emerges through everyday pragmatic engagements with the world, the development of various social grammars or ontologies of packaging is investigated. A key concern is to understand how the functional agency of plastic packaging was enacted in specific market arrangements, and how this functionality was always both technical and moral. In the early history of wrapping previously unwrapped food in plastic a key market challenge was to explain to consumers what this material change was good for. These justifications were essential to generating forms of agencement for packaging, and to configuring new and common practices around it. They were also often contested leading to food markets having to develop new standards and rhetorics that would justify the practical in moral terms. Using examples from the early history of plastic food packaging, and more recent contestations of it, the mundane status of packaging is revealed as a complex and always contingent achievement.

Potato Movements: market matters and the Greek crisis

Author: Andreas Streinzer (University of Vienna)  email

Short Abstract

The paper present ethnographic material on the making of a market by the activist Potato Movement in Volos, Greece. It explores the "breeding and looking after" the relational arrangements that connect stuff, people and ideas as matters of the market.

Long Abstract

The Potato Movement is a group of volunteer activists organising no-middleman sales in Volos, Greece, creating a market as a vehicle for social change. In the paper, I will present ethnographic material on the mundane practices by which they connect stuff, people and ideas in what I will describe as a platform business model. In the arrangements of this market making, the selection of products, dates of their sale and the processing of orders is done as volunteer work by the organisers. The final market transaction takes place between buyers and sellers.

The paper explores the mundane "breeding and looking after" (Rottenburg et al. 2001) of these markets through monitoring harvests and negotiating prices, assessing product qualities and establishing exchange relations. It presents ethnographic material about the mundane governance (Woolgar and Neyland 2013) of the relational arrangements in which transactions are organised, processed and terminated. The paper will focus on the subtle techniques invoked to create a relational arrangement that masks its own market-ness. In doing so, the Potato Movement manages to attract a significant amount of consumers and create a stable network of buyers and sellers. In concluding, the immersed study of the mundane through ethnographic fieldwork is brought forward as both an epistemological and conceptual approach towards the everyday.

This track is closed to new paper proposals.