RN09_08: Theoretical Perspectives in Economic Sociology II
"Versuchsstation des Weltuntergangs": Viennese Origins of the Debate on Capitalist Decline in Schumpeter, Polanyi and Hayek
Goethe University Frankfurt, Germany
This paper addresses the Viennese intellectual origins of the debate on the decline of contemporary capitalism in the key works of Joseph A. Schumpeter (1883-1950), Karl Polanyi (1886-1964), and Friedrich A. von Hayek (1899-1992). Their contributions stand for specific paradigmatic visions in the social sciences. In reiterating crucial commonalities, one might outline the parallel publication of their most popular works, namely Schumpeter’s “Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy”, Polanyi’s “Great Transformation”, and Hayek’s “Road to Serfdom”, during World War II. Each of these books addressed the crisis of Western societies with its key ingredients of the interlinked domains of market and democracy under attack by authoritarian forces. Moreover, in terms of their intellectual biography, Schumpeter, Polanyi and Hayek originated from the former Austro-Hungarian Empire. All of them experienced their academic education under the critical influence of the Viennese School of economics, they were exposed to the contemporary ideological challenges of Marxism, and they witnessed the political dissolution of the Empire after World War I. All of them went on to seek academic positions in the United States, by doing so bridging the intellectual worlds of European traditionalism and American modernity. Their cultural scepticism was characteristic of the Viennese intellectual milieu of the late Austro-Hungarian Empire, resonating with a contemporary Zeitgeist of the Austrian epoch of early modernity that has informed the labelling of Vienna between the turn of the century and World War I as “Versuchsstation des Weltuntergangs” – experimental station of world demise – by Viennese satirical writer Karl Kraus (1874-1936). This term was meant to address a certain mindset that would view the long-run perspective of cultural decomposition and demise as an inevitable outcome of modern affairs.
Markets, Liquid Modernity, and the Crisis of Moral Embeddeness
Goethe-University Frankfurt, Germany
The normative embeddedness of markets is not simply a pertinent topic in Economic Sociology but one of the defining concepts of the discipline as a whole. Economic sociologists, however, have made this convincing argument during a time when it was still safe enough to suppose a coherent and comprehensive set of norms and values in society. At most, they had to admit differences between a small number of competing, "agonistic," yet clearly distinguished value spheres, "orders of worth," or milieu-specific "habitus." The question is, what does the Economic Sociology of moral embeddedness make of the challenges that recent social change is undoubtedly posing? The point is that late capitalist societies are characterized by trends of "hyper-individualization" wherein subjects drift between local, sometimes contradictory epistemologies and normativities. The most basic criteria of scientific evidence lose their legitimacy and the distinction between fact and fiction is being blurred in contemporary "post-truth" or "post-fact" political-cultural space. Norms and values come and go "ad hoc," elusively, and irrationally - the strength of anti-vaccine movements despite robust evidence from epidemiology is just one case in point. The presentation thus discusses possibilities for Economic Sociology to conceptually come to terms with the fact that markets are decreasingly "embedded" but, if late capitalist social structures are indeed "liquid" (Bauman), drifting in individualized, "post-truth," post-moral currents.
What is Value in the Higher Education Industry: Commodification, Assetization and Enclosing Universities’ Future
Lancaster University, United Kingdom
This paper focuses on the higher education industry consisting of diverse, multiple and variegated markets in which universities are both, sellers and buyers of things and services. The number of different actors, markets, commodities and transactions in this industry is fast growing. Much has been written on marketisation, commercialisation and privatisation of universities as sellers. Less has been written on these processes considering other actors in relation to whom universities are buyers. This paper will examine markets in higher education in two moves. First, it will compare market-making processes in these two sides of the higher education industry (universities as sellers and universities as buyers). Recognising that this comparison still contributes to thinking about valuation processes in the context of ‘commodification’, the paper then moves on to analyse the ‘assetization’ processes in these new markets. Particularly, it will examine what kind of future is constructed for the sector via (new) companies and (changing) universities’ assets defined in the way as they are. Moreover, the contribution will discuss the various and often contradictory processes of value construction and management in higher education markets.
Pricing Activities: Bridgeing the Performativity - Coordination Divide in Economic Sociology
Linnaeus University, Sweden
A fundamental question for economic sociology is: how are prices set? In economic sociological theory, a price is generally conceptualized either in terms of the performative construction of economy (e.g. a market device), or in terms of co-ordinational effects of power relations between buyers and sellers (e.g. the effect of social structures and institutions). In this paper, I set out to show how these two theoretical approaches may complement each other, making the argument that the practical activities involved in pricing are constitutive of intertwining products, values, and power-relations in market contexts. Prices are, in other words, both performative and co-ordinational outcomes. Pricing activities are therefore more informative than prices themselves when it comes to explain how specific markets work.
The argument rests on extensive ethnographic materials from three interlinked markets in the Swedish meat supply chain. These materials are used to highlight the relevance of both performative and coordinative (or, structuralist) theories of pricing, distinguishing “pricing activities” as an explanatory concept for how prices configure, and are configured by, social reality. The paper further suggests two types of pricing activities: vertical and horizontal. The papers contribution is, in short, an empirically grounded, theoretical conception of price formation, which solves a number of problems embedded in existing sociological theories of pricing.