Accepted paper:

Keep diversity - make standards! Interbull as a space of international commensurability for cattle breeding standards


Lidia Chavinskaia (Institut national de la recherche agronomique)

Paper short abstract:

This socio-historical study shows how the uncertainty of the product quality on the genetic resources market was captured by political and scientific actors to create a technical international order of cattle breeding based on the principle of the diversity of commensurable evaluation standards.

Paper long abstract:

With the propagation of the Holstein cattle from USA to Europe in the 1960's, the question of comparability of cattle breeding values became an important issue for the international genetic resources market. Our socio-historical analysis of Interbull shows how the market problem of the uncertain product quality was captured by scientists and brought up to the techno-political level of transnational coordination ensuring the co-existence of different national evaluation standards against the hegemonic American standard. We use this example as a contribution to the theoretical work of sociology of standards especially in its analytical dimension of the relationship between standardization and diversity which seems understudied by STS scholars. Loconto and Demortain (2017) have suggested considering the standardization as "a process of controlling and framing diversity, rather than one of only reducing it." Agreeing with that general assumption against the traditional reductionist vision of standardization, we go further and maintain that it can intentionally target the preservation and even the enhancement of the diversity, especially when it takes a form of commensuration (Espeland and Stevens 1994, Desrosières 2014). Defined as a socio-technical process providing a common metric to make things comparable, classifiable, rankable and thus able to play a societal role of governance the concept of commensuration helps us to understand the regulatory role of the International Bull Evaluation Service constructed with and around a technical tool of an international evaluation model accounting for the biological nature of the marketed animals translated into genetics terminology by "genotype by environment interaction".

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Measurement, commensuration, markets and values
Beyond market attachment: differentiating and explicating the role of 'policy devices' in organising economic matters