Are there politics in a market device?

August 14, 2009

The recent Politics of Markets workshop seems to have woken up the anti-performativist volcano. The event advanced a new conception of politics by pointing to the role of market devices in shaping controversies. Tools, formulae and other artifacts –the organizers argued– can direct power, advance interests and shape debates as much as traditional approaches such as streets demonstrations, boycotts or government regulation.

The claim has ignited the passions of the institutional sociologists. At the workshop itself, keynote speaker Neil Fligstein threw a fastball to the organizers: with its exclusive focus on financial tools, Fligstein argued, the sociology of finance has missed the larger picture of the credit crisis. The crisis actually occurred because of the interests of Wall Street bankers, who grew their bonuses by switching from prime to subprime mortgage bonds once the quality mortgages had run out. And by the way, he added, it was the US government, not Wall Street, that came up with securitization in the first place.

Whew. It is not everyday that workshop organizers are blessed with intellectual challenges by their guest speakers. So we count ourselves lucky for the opportunity to restate our case with more resonance.

Not to be outdone, the Brayden King and Fabio Rojas at Orgtheory.net have expressed their skepticism (or just plain befuddlement) at the claim.

Watch out this space for a longer reply…

4 Responses to “Are there politics in a market device?”

  1. brayden Says:

    Hi Daniel,

    Wish I could have been at the conference and then I wouldn’t feel like I’m speaking out of ignorance. You and I talked about some of this before the conference though…

    My question wasn’t meant to refute the claim that “market devices are political.” I can see that point. I guess I am a little disturbed though that so much “politics” was left out to the exclusive focus on technology.

  2. danielbeunza Says:

    Your point is entirely legitimate. One does not have to sit through a workshop to have an opinion. Yours is welcome.

    The post you read (mine) was half of what I actually wanted to put up… but I hit “update” and it went up without my knowledge.

    Will be filling out the blank in my next post.

  3. Chris Jefferis Says:

    Sounds like an interesting debate. Will conference papers be published?

  4. danielbeunza Says:

    Chris — the conference papers are already available online at the conference website. Am working on podcasts, posted PowerPoints and further editions. If you want to receive emails and updates, send me an email and I’ll put you on my email list.


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