(G04)
Beyond market attachment: differentiating and explicating the role of 'policy devices' in organising economic matters
Location Bowland Hall Main Room
Date and Start Time 25 Jul, 2018 at 13:00
Sessions 1

Convenors

  • Oz Gore (University of Leicester) email
  • Simon Bailey (University of Manchester) email
  • Adam Brisley (University of Manchester) email

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Short abstract

This panel aims to reflect on a domain of activity profoundly underrepresented in discussions of the "performativity of economics", namely the public sector. It seeks to unpack how does measurement-for-coordination differ from measurement-for-exchange, and what can be made of 'policy devices'?

Long abstract

While anthropological, sociological, and STS studies of market mechanisms have built a nuanced understanding of the practices of value production, measurement, and calculation, the "performativity of the market" programme remains controversial in other areas of the social sciences. Specifically, anthropologists have claimed that focusing on the formal institutions of capitalism has led to the emergence of a market-centric theory of value. We read this critical position as an opportunity to expand the scope of research and to understand how processes of value production and valuation take place in areas of social life not dominated by forms of exchange. Thus, we ask authors to reflect on a domain of activity which is profoundly underrepresented in discussions of the "performativity of economics", namely the state and the public sector.

Problematizing how measurement and calculation perform "policy-attachment' is equally important as examining the becoming of a measurement device in the context of, for example, consumer goods. This is evident when considering how little has been done to differentiate these tools from regimes of measurement that are found their profit-oriented areas of strategic exchange such as markets. Furthermore, forming a better understanding of measurement and valuing practices in the public sector is particularly important in the context of the recent emergence of 'Post-New Public Management' which puts a high premium on coordination mechanisms, network-working, and non-market forms of management and control. To address these developments, this panel wishes to ask: now that we understand 'market devices' what can we make of 'policy devices'?

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Revisiting Callon's Singular Statements: is public management knowledge performative?

Author: Oz Gore (University of Leicester) email
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Short abstract

This paper revisits Callon's reliance on the semiotic emphasis on Singular Existential Statements to ask about the 'scientificality' of management accounting, and by consequence the performativty of economic knowledge in the public sector.

Long abstract

The view that economic knowledge is performative has taken root in the social sciences. This paper takes as its starting point that the professions to which this has been applied to differentiate based on the type of knowledge-claims they draw on. This becomes apparent when considering Callon's own dependence on the semiotic distinction between Singular Existential Statements (SES) and General Statements (GS). As posited by Callon, "science cannot exist without the possibility of formulating statements that describe singular events localized in time and space" (Callon, 2006, p. 318). It is this reliance on SES - knowledge-claims that are indexical, explicitly referring to a particular circumstance - which grants the latter with their performative affordances. Furthermore, it is the recognition that economics is producing SESs which makes it a viable domain for application. With the dominance of management accounting in the modernised public sector, we ask: what should we make of cases where knowledge-claims, models, and techniques provided by a discipline do not constitute SESs? How should we think the performativity of models where such indexicality has been problematised? Building on critiques of accounting theory and practice and of economic forecasting, we revisit Callon's distinction and reflect on the 'scientificality' of management accounting. Doing so helps address the sort of economic performativity that happens (or not) in contemporary public management and its possible distinction from that which happens in markets.

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

Author: Lidia Chavinskaia (Institut national de la recherche agronomique) email
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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.

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".

Making up the numbers: quality improvement as a policy device for hard times

Authors: Simon Bailey (University of Manchester) email
Adam Brisley (University of Manchester) email
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Short abstract

Financialisation has reduced public management to the assembly and maintenance of financial narratives and numbers. This requires devices that can both coordinate and differentiate complex practices. We examine quality improvement projects as one such device for 'making up' numbers.

Long abstract

Studies of financialisation at work have emphasised the importance of strategic narratives constructed between senior management and external financial actors to create optimistic projections of value creation (Froud et al, 2006). These narratives shape and are shaped by valuation practices in 'the market', while management must produce the numbers to corroborate past narratives. The question of how these narratives are performed at the micro level has received less attention (Cushen, 2013), particularly when the managers and financial actors concerned are public organisations and national states. As states are enrolled as intermediaries for private capital, so their relationship to public organisations more resembles that of shareholders to corporations. In turn accounting practices gain importance and the managerial function shifts from active 'stewardship' (Perry & Nölke, 2006) to the assembly and maintenance of accounting numbers.

We examine the framing of this managerial function through the narrative of 'quality improvement' (QI), within a public health care organisation. The QI programme in question targeted a clinical syndrome called 'Acute Kidney Injury' (AKI). The programme was initiated by the introduction of an algorithm to identify possible cases of AKI. Introducing the algorithm and embedding the necessary organisational processes to support its safe and effective use demanded the quantification of complex, distributed practices.

QI programmes mobilise project logics in order to assemble numbers and maintain narratives, illuminating a relationship between projects and projection. The technical rationality of projects renders neutral the political work of quantification, while the language of QI maintains commitment on the clinical frontlines.

Smarter together? Policy assemblages and economisation in the European Union

Author: Claudia Mendes Bernhard (Technical University of Munich) email
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Short abstract

Conceptualizing the EU H2020 Smart Cities and Communities programm as a policy assemblage, this paper seeks to explore the complex entanglement of valuation, policy and economisation devices at stake.

Long abstract

In this paper I propose to examine the EU Horizon 2020 program on Smart Cities and Communities (SCC) as a policy assemblage (Ureta 2013). Policies in this conceptualisation are understood as "an ample array of heterogeneous elements, from technical standards to everyday practices" and opposed to the idea of policies as "pure application of rational guidelines" resulting in "clearly bounded single processes/objects." (304)

The SCC program mobilizes municipalities as key players in large public-private consortia, around a range of economic and non-ecnonmic goals: projects are meant to simultaneously foster "market ready technological solutions" and "viable business models" while making cities more climate friendly and inclusive. Drawing on an ethnographic case study of Smarter Together, a SCC funded project run by the municipalities of Munich, Vienna and Lyon, I will trace how multiple and often conflicting valuation practices are carried out and made to count in this policy assemblage.

While a general ambiguity - often described as value (economic) vs. values (moral) - is inherent to all processes of valuation (Cochoy 2008, Helgesson and Muniesa 2013), in the case at hand this tension seems to be source of continual overflows (Callon 1998) and reframings: What kind of devices are at stake, when public sector actors engage in economisation as well as socially inclusive and sustainable development alike? How do these devices (re)frame and are themselves (re)purposed or (dis)qualified by different actors? And how does the SCC program relate to other European policy agendas i. e. of harmonisation (Barry 2001)?

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.