The Economic Molecule – chain reaction

June 9, 2007

Reacting to a previous post by Peter Levin:

My own impulse is to take on how and why these particular atoms glom into these particular molecules to begin with […] the circumstances and conditions of the atoms-to-molecules transformations.

This is a legitimate agenda, of course, but it somewhat misses the radical message of the EM (or that of Agencement, as presented by Callon and Muniesa). Let me state the claim again: the Economic Molecule is the basic economic unit of agency. That is, only the economic molecule is capable of making decisions and carrying out in a meaningful way. Hence, talking about how the molecules are created is fine, as long as we understand that when we do so, we talk about the very creation of economic agents.

[W]hy stop at finance theory and software as prostheses? It quickly becomes everything, […] but then at some point it gives less rather than more empirical traction on markets and economic sociology.

Yes. We see such molecules, or such humns-mahchines-procedures clusters in many areas. This makes the claim more relevant as the multiple occurrences show us how deeply ingrained is the illusion of individual agency. In fact, there are a few areas where notion of individual agency is more critical than economics: the discipline of law and the legal arena, for example.  So, why focus on Economic Molecules? This relates to the agenda of economic sociology and its struggle with the dominant discipline of economics. Economics is based on assigning agency to individuals and then analysing the aggregate effect of the actions of those ‘agents’. Hence, questioning the nature of that agent and offering an alternative is central to economic sociology.

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