As usual, Peter Levin’s comments are illuminating and thought provoking, and this one is not different. So, I thought that it would be better to put it here as new post (with my reaction), rather than just as a comment

Peter Levin on the ‘Performativity: will any theory do?’ post

Interesting post, addressing a concern I think about all the time. But might I suggest that there are alternatives as well. You note that if the theory ‘fails’, or if it has no ‘public experiment’ available to it, there is no possibility that it will be performative – at least in the sense you mean.

I was thinking about the cases where the theory remains, despite evidence to the contrary. My art specialists are as likely to speak of a price as ‘not yet achieving’ its market price, or that its market price is not yet in line with its cultural value, or something like that. In other words, out-of-line prices are explained not by a failure of theory (in this case, theory is that mess of valuation done by specialists), but by a failure or anomaly in the marketplace.

A second case recalls to mind that someplace (I can’t seem to recall it now) I remember a study asking whether economists were judged based on their predictive abilities. This is interesting because of economics’ claim to at least aim for prediction. I recall, though, that prediction was less important than providing ‘interesting explanation’ or somesuch. I read this, again, as some kind of bending of the world to match what theorists do, rather than the reverse.

I realize these are not exact counter-factuals, but I’m interested in your thinking about how wide a range of possibilities there might be. The idea that there is a reality out there, and that theories ‘work’ or ‘don’t work’ in explaining-then-shaping those realities, seems a bit constraining.

My reaction

About situations of ‘price not achieved yet’. Yes, we see such situations frequently in markets, when the public experiment is not delivering the results one expects them to deliver. In these cases the burden of proof is transferred elsewhere. That is, in the case of the art specialists they will need to explain why it is that the price they predict for that piece is not achieved in the market. Another example, where such burden of proof is really pressing, is the example of convergence arbitrage. There, a trader’s position is dependent on asset prices in two markets to converge, but they may diverge. In such cases, it is not uncommon for the trader to ‘defend the position’, either successfully or unsuccessfully, against his/her manager who may want to unwind it There is a very good paper about this by two finance scholars (“The Limits of Arbitrage” by Andrei Schleifer & Robert W. Vishny. The Journal of Finance, 1997). So, you are right, a one-time discrepancy between prediction and market would not fail the theory, but gradually, if such incidents mount and if these incidents cannot be defended successfully, then we should expect the performativity circle to be broken in some way.

About the second case: economists who simply produce ‘interesting explanations’. In the cases where experts do not take part in the prediction-performativity game then no public experiment (at least in the restrictive sense I am suggesting here) exist. But, of course, the claim you mention is interesting with regard to expanding the concept of the public experiment to the (relevant) realms of aesthetics of theories, their appeal to policy and so on.

About ‘reality out there’: the public experiment concept is agnostic about the existence of external reality. We follow the agents here. As long as the agents find the predictions useful in their interventions, the theory will be supported.

I was asked the question above, in different variations, many times during the workshop we did in NY in April. ‘what if, instead of Black-Scholes, the traders would have used some less-useful prediction mechanism (for example, astrology) would you then expect a performative effect to take place?’ or (the flip side of the previous question) ‘if Black-Scholes was not accurate to begin with and only became so as a result of traders using it, then why would anyone use a theoretical pricing model that was not producing accurate results?’

An answer, specific to the Black-Scholes case and how it became popular in spite of its inaccuracy during time of financial stress, can be found in this paper, that’s now making its way through a journal review process. However, the concept of performativity of expert knowledge in organisations alludes implicitly to a more general mechanism through which the process unfolds. As I did very briefly in the workshop and, as I now develop a paper version, I would like to offer here an initial set of theoretical definitions that describe the conditions necessary for performativity to take place.

To generalise performativity of predictive expertise, it is necessary to refer to reflexivity. Naturally, actors’ reflexivity is at the core of performativity: actors’ reactions to the ‘predictive content’ of a theory are the engine of performativity. What then, affects actors’ reactions to the theory?

First, given that actors are aware of the content of a theory, the actors’ ability to intervene in the field for which the prediction is made determines how effective would be the efforts to act in accordance with the theory. For example, we may have accurate theories about the rate at which the universe is expanding, but we are virtually helpless when it comes to intervening in this field. In this case, our reflexivity (after all, we are part of the universe) cannot be translated to intervention. In contrast, the public nature of financial markets makes them a field that is open to theory-driven intervention. In fact, such interventions – ‘taking positions in the market’ – are the lifeblood of the financial system.

Second, to serve as a basis for performativity, the connections between the field and the theory have to form a ‘well-designed’ public experiment. By ‘well-designed public experiment’ I mean that it is necessary for the predictive theory to provide items of information that could be confirmed or refuted unambiguously by items of information coming from the field. Again, the Black-Scholes pricing model and the early options exchange provided a nice public experiment. The model predicted a numerical item referring to a future market price and the market produced the actual price. In comparison, astrology can also be used a market-predictive methodology, but it is not likely to create to a good public experiment, as astrological predictions are very difficult to confirm or refute unambiguously.

Let us go back now to question about the predictive quality of the theory. That is, what would happen if the theory produces inaccurate predictions: is it possible that performativity would take place? Note that the two conditions above do not refer to an a priori validity of theories; they simply refer to the mechanisms through which performativity of such theories may evolve. Thus, ‘false’ theories can be performed; and that is because the second half of the mechanism described above, the public experiment, is exactly the process by which the validity of such theories is tested. Theories that produce predictions about the social, and especially ones that refer to intervention-prone areas in society, are not examined in isolated laboratories, but in public experiments.

However, a simple counter-argument can be presented here: maybe what we witness are the actions of the actors that simply activate a theory that had been correct? Such an argument, of course, does not take into account the full meaning of a predictive theory. Predictions that derive from theories do not provide arbitrary predictions of the future, but refer to a causal mechanism that stands at the basis of the predictions. So, when a theory does not incorporate the effect that its own prediction have on actors that can (and do) intervene in the predicted field, the predictive ability of that theory is reduced significantly. Of course, it is possible that such a ‘deaf’ theory would work, even for a considerable period of time, but when the actors (both human and non-human, as it were) would stop ‘supporting’ it, the theory would no longer produce accurate predictions. A good example, of course is, this is what happened (with some simplifications) to the Black-Scholes pricing model after the 1987 crash.

If we take this argument to its logical extreme then we could hypothesise situations whereby any theory could be performed, just as long as actors find its predictions useful and act in accordance with these predictions. However, the notion of usefulness underlying this argument is, in essence, a pragmatist one. That is, we know that the usefulness of a theory does not equate with its accuracy (the same way a public experiment is different from a classic laboratory experiment) and yes, we can hypothesise such a situation. But, it would be safe to assume that it is unlikely that actors would find theory that consistently produces grossly inaccurate predictions useful and thus, it is unlikely that such theory would be performative.

The Council for European Studies (CES, Columbia University), which supports the multidisciplinary study of Europe, held its 16th International Conference last Saturday in Chicago.  A panel on ‘New Perspective in Economic Culture’ organized by Karin Knorr-Cetina and Erica Coslor featured four papers, all dealing with finance related topics.


Karen Hunt Ahmed (professor of finance, DePaul University) discussed Islamic finance as a cultural industry that innovates Sharia compliant ways of structuring financial products and transactions.  Hunt Ahmed pointed to the central importance of Sharia Standards Boards as the institutional underpinning of Islamic finance.  She argues that because there are so few professional with the specialized training to serve on these boards, an important challenge to the rising demands for Sharia compliant products (particularly as these become considered a class of ‘socially responsible investments’) will be the industry’s ability to manage the circulation and supply of Sharia expertise.


Erica Coslor (graduate student, UChicago) presented a paper describing the emergence of price indexes and specialized art investment funds.  Instead of looking at simple price books, art investors now have access to complex pricing indicators which allow them to compare the return-on-investment they can expect from art as compared to other investment vehicles.  While the emergence of such instruments lowers the information costs necessary to participating in the art market and make art investment accessible to people who are not collectors, Coslor cautions that that average investors will still have access much less information on the quality of the pieces than industry experts.


Rachel Harvey (graduate student, UChicago) has traced the history of the ‘gold fix’ in the U.K.  Gold fixing began as a financial activity during which several banks would regularly meet to set a public price of gold.  Harvey traces the ritual’s gradual detachment from the markets, as it ceased to be the moment when an actual trading benchmark was produced, and evolved a general international indicator of the health of the financial system and as symbolic support for the pound sterling.  By 1960, she argues, gold fixing has become an ‘invented tradition’, a cultural product of the London Gold Market preserved for its symbolic importance rather than for any practical role in price setting. 

Martha Poon (graduate student, UCSD) presented a paper on the transition in U.S. mortgage finance from a market dominated by simple low-risk securities issued by government sponsored enterprises (GSEs), to a market for structured high-risk securities issued by private label lenders and evaluated by the ratings agencies.  In 1995, in the transition to automated underwriting systems, the GSEs issued key interpretations of commercially available credit risk scores as means of assessing the creditworthiness of individuals.  Poon argues that in diffusing throughout the industry, these interpretations reconstituted the ‘prime’ / ‘subprime’ split in home loan lending. 

The discussant for this panel was Ryon Lancaster (professor, UChicago).

From Bodies to Black-Scholes

A Two-day Workshop on Performativity and the Social Studies of Finance

Organized by Daniel Beunza (Columbia U.) and Yuval Millo (LSE)

Columbia Business School, New York, 28-29 April 2008

The Social Studies of Finance (SSF) is one of the fastest-growing and most intriguing new fields in the social sciences today. Born from the intersection of sociology of science, economic sociology, management and critical accounting, SSF offers a new vantage point for the analysis of financial markets and their dynamics.

This intensive two-day workshop is convened by Daniel Beunza from Columbia Business School and Yuval Millo from the London School of Economics. It is aimed at presenting the field to newcomers, and is directed at research students and early-career researchers in accounting, finance, management, political science and sociology.

To allow effective discussion, the group size is limited to 12 participants. The workshop’s fee is US$ 200. To apply for the workshop, please send by February 29th a CV and a one-page description of your research and how it relates to SSF to

For more details see:

This is a text that I prepared originally for an exhibition catalog, but I thought that it can also fit nicely with the eclectic spirit of the blog. So, I include it here.


We hear many different stories about where the market is to be found and, consequently, what the market should be. Many of these stories, though not all of them, are exclusionary. That is, they tell us: ‘my market is the real market’. When asked where the market is, the trader on the busy New York, Frankfurt or Hong Kong trading will spread his arms and say ‘here’. The day trader, in the basement of her suburban house will point to the computer screen and say ‘right here. This is the market’. The economics professor, surrounded by books and papers in his university office will point to a formula on a white board and explain why this is the market. ‘Well’, the sophisticated art aficionado is now saying, ‘this is not so problematic. The market simply has many representations’. Yes, quite right, but a representation of what, exactly? Where is ‘the market’?

The sophisticated art lover may revolt now: ‘why do we need a ‘real market’ that would be represented? Why couldn’t we have plurality without an obligatory original? Isn’t the artists’ re-creation of the market just as valid as that of the traders’ or as that of the securities analysts? Haven’t you heard of Walter Benjamin or Baudrillard?’ Yes. There is a faint smell of postmodernism in the air, but I think that this time the sophisticated art-lover may actually do a little better then state that ‘anything goes’.

When we state that any representation of the market is valid because there is now fundamental original that can be represented we implicitly focus on the outputs of markets. For example, the artist may take the voices of traders, graphs representing price movements or an aural translation of prices and embed these into a work of art. This brings us back, sneakily, to the apologetic position where we have to defend our ‘soft’ representations of the market against the ‘hard’ representations that analysts, accountants of finance professor produce. Isn’t there a way out?

Maybe we could shift our focus from the representation itself to the one using it and to the experience of its use. That is, what do people experience when they interact with representations of the market? An initial answer may be that these representations can help people understand where they are vis-à-vis the market and then, they can use this understanding to develop an idea of where to go next. The immediate example is of a map. You are not sure exactly where you are, but a short look at the map and a comparison with the terrain around you, may help you to estimate your location.

But, the alarm bell on our art-lover’s desk is ringing. ‘How can you look at the terrain if there is nothing ‘original’ outside? Didn’t we just say that there are only competing representations of the market?’ Well, let’s be more subtle about our examples, and maybe we will get closer to what market participants experience. You have a map, but you cannot see the terrain right now, as it’s night and it’s raining heavily. You have to rely on the map. But, the art-lover is asking, ‘is there a terrain (market) out there or isn’t there?’ Let us wait a little bit with this question. Remember, we are focusing on the experience, not the market. Let us find out what participants do with the representations.

The geographical map, like a risk map, a graphical representation of past price changes or a printout of mathematical prediction model, to name but a few, is what cultural anthropologists frequently call a ‘summarizing symbol’. Such symbols capture, in a compact informational package, numerous references to related entities. For example, the French flag may represent to a French person the sound of the French language, the beauty of a Parisian boulevard, the taste of regional food and patriotic pride. All these things, and countless others, are ‘compressed’ into a three-coloured rectangular. ‘Yes’, says our art-lover, ‘but these reminiscences are not in the flag; they are simply evoked by the flag, while the map actually includes new information. The French person is ‘smarter’ than the flag, while the market participant is not smarter than the representation of the market’.

This is true. But, the representation of the market, as smart as it may be, does not know what would be the next step that the market participant may take. Granted, the representation and the trader or analyst work together with their representations of the market, but none of them is a-priori superior cognitively to the other. Representations of the market, in their role as summarizing symbols, operate with us (and sometimes, unfortunately, against us), market participants, in our joint person-machine endeavor to make sense of where we are vis-à-vis the market and help us devise our next step.

‘Hold on’, cries the art-lover, almost dropping his espresso, ‘I am returning to the question you didn’t answer before: is there or isn’t there a market that we represent? Now you really contradict yourself. How can a representation of the market, be it a graph, an annual report or a work of art help us to find the market if there is no original market to be found? How can we position ourselves in relation to something if that something does not really exist?’

‘There is no contradiction there’ we should answer. We do not know if there is or there is not a ‘real’ market out there and neither should we care. The floor trader, the on-screen trader and the economics professor we met earlier may or may not care about the authenticity of the market whose representations they interact with. What they do care about is that the representation works. It provides them concise, compact, summarising information that allows them to make sense and make decisions.

The art-lover is now grinning cynically: ‘I like this agnosticism. It’s all very clever, but what has that got to do with aesthetic representation of the market?’ It is related to aesthetic appreciation just as much as it is related to economic, political or social evaluation and decision-making. In fact, when examined carefully, one can find elements of different realms in each market decision. It is not a coincidence that the brain sites that process emotions and logical decision-making are coupled, as recent research indicates. We think and feel at the same time. The different representations of the elusive market are all valid as long as they provide us with a valid experience. Is it interesting, moving, pleasing and insightful? Does it reverberate with your feelings and your intellect? Does it help you to understand or sense things better? If so, this is it. You found the real market.

Peter Erdelyi, wrote a very nice and accurate summary of the public symposium about the edited volume Market Devices. Peter: many thanks for this!


A recent post in the Test Society blog (whose main writer is a personal friend) discusses the publication, by Palgrave of a set of lectures by French philosopher Michel Foucault. While reading this fascinating text, with its broad historical scope and its boundary-spanning insights, I gradually noticed a thread of analytical narrative that bears an interesting insight for modern risk management. This point, which appears repeatedly in the texts (and is, as far as I know and understand, one of the fundamental building blocks in Foucault’s thought) is the process by which the individual was re-configured vis-à-vis society, or societal structures. According to Foucault, that re-configuration began taking place, in Europe, at the end of the Middle Ages; it was established and institutionalised in the following centuries and reached its peak (at least in pure conceptual terms) in the eighteenth century, with the crystallised idea of Enlightenment. In that process of reconfiguration, the individual, in its interaction with societal institutions, is turned from being a ‘subject’ to (what can be called) a ‘calculable-relational object’. That is, the individual, after the transformation, can no longer be regarded simply as a detachable part of the society, a subject that can be easily singled out, isolated and manipulated. Instead, the individual came so to be seen as integral, irreducible part of a larger phenomenon, a broader category or a temporal intra-societal structure. Hence, the new conceptual and practical unit of reference swallowed the individual into a set of binding contacts and obligation outside of which she could not exist (e.g. physically, religiously) or at least could not be detected as a meaningful entity by the society. Furthermore, the existence of the larger societal phenomenon is dependent on the establishment of various calculative agencies and practices, such as the collection of statistics, the assessment of probabilities and the creation of numerical bases for policy.

Foucault uses a set of examples through which he explains the construction of the modern concept of the plague:

Take the exclusion of lepers in the Middle Ages, until the end of the Middle Ages. …[E]xclusion essentially took place through a juridical combination of laws and regulations, as well as a set of religious rituals, which anyway brought about a division, and a binary type of division, between those who were lepers and those who were not. A second example is that of the plague. The plague regulations […] involve literally imposing a partitioning grid on the regions and town struck by plague, with regulations indicating when people can go out, how, at what times, what they must do at home, what type of food they must have, prohibiting certain types of contact, requiring them to present themselves to inspectors, and to open their homes to inspectors. We can say that this is a disciplinary type of system. The third example, is smallpox or inoculation practices from the eighteenth century. The fundamental problem will not be the imposition of discipline so much as the problem of knowing how many people are infected with smallpox, at what age, with what effects, with what mortality rate, lesions or after-effects, the risks of inoculation, the probability of an individual dying or being infected by smallpox despite inoculation, and the statistical effects on the population in general. In short, it will no longer be the problem of exclusion, as with leprosy, or of quarantine, as with the plague, but of epidemics and the medical campaigns that try to halt epidemic or endemic phenomena.

This short example (and the text is rich in such micro-analyses) shows the construction of modern risk. To act institutionally about risk, it needs to be described and analysed in systematic tools. So, for example, individuals have to be removed from the concrete events of the plague or a financial crash only to be returned to them as figures in the numerical version of occurrences. Indeed, it is vital that the specific actors are anonymized and that the events are generalised and classified as a ‘case of…’ Without such institutionalised procedures, the conceptual tools that brought about modern risk management could not have developed. That is, the ability to perform historical VaR calculations, for example, is rooted in the historical transformation that Foucault analyses where idiosyncratic individuals disappeared and calculable plagues were constructed.

The hybrid market

August 19, 2007

The ASA conference finished this week. I listened to some very good papers and attended some very interesting sessions, as you can see in a recent post in Org Theory . I will cover these in more detail when I get copies of papers from presenters. This time I would like to talk about a tour we took of the New York Mercantile Exchange . Daniel Beunza, my partner in blogging here in Soc Finance, arranged the tour and it is a good opportunity to thank him publicly for an innovative step that resulted in an exciting and memorable experience. Our guide on the tour gave a nice overview of the exchange’s history, trading practices and even gave us a little tutorial in tossing trading cards to the exchange’s clerk.

This was all light-hearted and entertaining, but there was a more sombre undertone to the visit. As went through the exchange’s little museum floor, the guide continuously mentioned the fact that the trading floor used to be much busier and that that nowadays much, if not most of trading is done ‘from home’. When we got upstairs to look at the trading floor proper, it was obvious that the guide was lamenting the immanent disappearance of open outcry trading in the exchange, a process that has already started, and soon to be replaced completely by screen trading.

This all sounded very compelling, but did we really see pure outcry trading from the visitors’ gallery? A slightly more observant look showed that all traders were using tablet computers. It turns out that trading was not done only face-to-face. In addition to trading in the pit, trades also filled orders that came through their computers. These trades, it has to be mentioned, were completed anonymously. That is, traders could fill orders from the public as well as initiate trades anonymously. That is, without the knowledge of the people standing inches from them in the pit. The existence of these two separate trading routes can be used to create interesting informational manipulations. For example, a trader can split her book of order in such a way that only a fraction of the real activity is revealed publicly, and the rest is conducted in stealth, through the handheld terminal. In fact, it would not be surprising if two traders who rub shoulders in the pit would be trading anonymously with each other.

The hybrid nature of the market does not end there. From the visitors’ gallery I could see on some of the handhelds’ screens the familiar windows of portfolio management software. Again, like the automatic order routing, this is hardly surprising: if you have to carry a computer on the trading floor, you might as well run some useful programs on it. But, where does this leave the distinction between open outcry and screen-based trading? That is, the traders see the market both with their own two eyes, watching out for the tale-telling body language, the noise level and, laterally, word of mouth. In addition, they also see the market with the help of ‘x-ray goggles’ in the form of computer-based risk management.

As Fabian Muniesa would have put it, the market was already partly folded into a machine. For the traders, this form of hybrid market seems to have the best of both worlds. They receive the unmediated and irreducible information that only a live trading pit can produce: the facial expressions of one’s trading counterparty, the reactions of the pit to news, fear and greed in their naked, and most revealing forms. In addition, the handhelds provide them with different types of information: what other markets are doing, how the last trades affected the trader’s portfolio and what is the current risk picture. Combined, these two streams of information are unparallel in their richness and scope. There is little doubt that trading this way is potentially very rewarding for the traders.

Well, then, if it’s so good, why would anyone want to give it up? The answer here, like in so many other cases, boils down to one word: privatisation. The traders don’t want to go home. Although many of them do leave the floor, trade from home and do very well, many others realise that they cannot trade facing only the screen. In the tour, our guide says that she sees some of the ex-traders in Home Depot. They don’t want to go home, but the exchange is not theirs anymore and they don’t have a say about it. The NY merc, like many other exchanges was sold and the owners moved to screen-based trading. The technological dimension of the story is well known:
price determination is done much more efficiently through computer algorithm than doing so through face-to-face trading. Higher volumes of orders are processed this way and since trading volume is the lifeblood of any exchange, the decision to move to automatic order routing and quote generation is easy.

However, the tour gave us a hint about the political dimension that it embedded in that ‘purely-technological’ transfer to screen-based trading. Our guide mentioned that thinning business on the floor mean that frequently traders walk home with a profit of a few hundred dollars, not like a few years ago when ‘a trader would make $50,000 a day and then would take the rest of the week or even the rest of the month off’. So, it is not only that electronic price determination is faster; it is also important for the exchange that computers do not take days off and take off some potential liquidity with them. It is a common saying that traders are the working class of the financial world. Indeed, many of the traders in the commodities exchanges come from working class background. The move to screen-based trading seems to complete the analogy: you are part of the working class if one day they replace you with a machine.

In the last few months an impressive variety of reactions, interpretations and buds of follow-up work regarding the notion of performativity of economics have been accumulating. It is impressive, (and satisfying personally) to see this intellectual trajectory evolving. At the same time, there are several points of misconception that seem to accompany almost every discussion I witnessed about performativity. A good example for this is a recent post in Org Theory, but this is only one example.

Let me touch two points briefly:

First, it is claimed that performativity analyses and criticises the validity and accuracy of economic theory with regard to market.

Well, one way to answer this is to say that the validity of economic theories is relevant, but it is only an intervening variable here. This is because performativity is focused on the way actors (individuals, organisational, hybrids) take into account economic theory. If actors incorporate into their decision-making an economic theory in such a way that changes the behaviour of the market or alters the way it develops, then we have performativity of that theory with regard to that market. So, the accuracy of the theory may play a role in the actors’ decision to use it, but that is not necessarily related to the emerging performativity.

Second one, and this is a very common claim, goes like this, in a generalised form: performativity only works for very specific/esoteric/exotic cases: strawberries, FCC auctions and such. What about production markets/labour markets/commodity spot markets?

The answer to this claim is two-fold, I should think. First, it is true that performativity was detected in specific markets, but this does not necessarily mean that it does not exist in other markets too. Note that performativity is devilishly hard to pinpoint empirically. One has to show causal connections between a theory and changes in the evolution of a market. The Black-Merton-Scholes model and the Chicago Board Options Exchange provided us with a ‘natural laboratory‘, as it were, because the beginning of options trading and the publication of the model took place virtually simultaneously. So, given that detecting and proving performativity is not simple, it is not surprising that it has been shown, so far, only in a handful of cases.

Second, (and this is the more important point), I believe that performativity of economics is only the tip of the iceberg. Expert bodies of knowledge affect the evolution and behaviour of markets continuously and profoundly. Areas like management accounting, risk management and information systems, to name but a few, ‘perform’ markets no less and very likely more than economic theories. It is true that, by and large, these fields do not claim to produce objective description of the markets, as neoclassical economics does. Yet, once incorporated into the institutional structure of markets, even ‘programmatic’ knowledge, such as accounting rules, become part of the taken-for-granted reality just like options pricing models do.

Market Devices

August 2, 2007


Last week Michel Callon, Fabian Muniesa and Yuval Millo (yours truly) finished editing a volume, titled Market Devices, that is due out very soon by Blackwell (we don’t have a definite date yet, but the book can already be pre-ordered on Blackwell’s web site). Hence, this post is a bit of blatant self-promotion, but then again, the book is about sociology of markets and so it is relevant to what we’ve been discussing here since we started this blog.

The collection of papers in the volume is varied and it would be improper, really, to try and summarise them in a short post. However, at this point I can identify two key concepts that correspond directly with the papers.

First, the papers refer to the important, yet easily overlooked, role of technical devices in the construction of markets and their impact on market behaviour. Naturally, stating that something is a ‘device’ refers implicitly to the status of agency attributed that thing and to actors surrounding it. We discuss this issue – the problematic agency in contemporary markets – in the introduction briefly, but I believe that a more thorough look at what agency in markets is comes from the various empirical cases analysed in the chapters.

Second, the papers discuss, illuminate and sometimes problemitise the various dimensions implied in the notion of economising. Do markets make a society more ‘economic’ or are they merely the institutional expressions of pre-existing ideas and practices? Or maybe there are performative links between markets as institutions, market behaviour and more general notions of what it means ‘to be economic’? Again, these are questions that provided challenges to sociologists since the days of Weber and Polanyi. So, here again the papers canvass various testimonies about the processes behind the creation of markets and the formation of economic behaviours.