Thursday, January 30, 2020

More on social studies of markets--from José Ossandón

José Ossandón writes, in response to my earlier post about social studies of markets:

" I was very glad to find the post in your blog that mentions an special issue we edited in the journal Economy & Society (January 6th ). I was less happy though when I read that you found the whole thing too abstract and hard to follow.

Of course, the type of research-problem that motivate us are very different. While your object is the design of markets, we are trying to find out how to study market designers. But, I would hope you and your colleagues can also understand what we do. With this in mind, I wrote a summary, that ended in the five points below, trying to be as clear as possible. Hope these – certainly very sketchy - notes will make what concern us more understandable.

  1. Policy makers around the world increasingly rely on markets as solutions for the most various collective issues. We denominate markets that are also policy instruments ‘markets for collective concerns’. The increasing reliance on markets for collective concerns opens relevant questions for researchers in different social scientific disciplines.

  1. Historians of economic ideas, for instance, have pointed out that there has been a crucial transformation in the concept of market in economics. Few decades ago, markets were understood in opposition to organization and design. There was, on the one hand, the market as a form of spontaneous coordination, and, on the other, planned designed formal organization. Today, instead, markets are seen as object of design. This is not only a conceptual change. To use Ian Hacking’s categories, there has been a transition from description to intervention. Today, economists see the market as an object of engineering.

  1. To sociologists of work, it could be argued that what we see is the consolidation of a new profession. The historical intersection that generated the niche for the market designer is, perhaps paradoxically, not the success but the failure of markets. When markets originally created as policy instruments did not work as well as those who developed them expected to work (for example, school choice and competition didn’t simply increase quality of learning), decision makers didn’t go back to non-market instruments. Instead, they turned to experts in market repair. Market designers’ claim of professional jurisdiction, to use Andrew Abbott’s term, is that, to work properly markets require them.

  1. For economic sociologists, these developments trigger new problems. Traditionally, economic sociologists assume that one of their roles is to produce sociological definitions of the concept of market (i.e. if markets are a type of social formation: what are the basic elements that delimit markets as a particular social form?). Studying the market of market designers, however, requires a different stance. When studying market designers, the concept of markets is not something sociologists can define in advance, it becomes an empirical variable. Market designers are practitioners that mobilize different and varying conception of markets, and those who study them have to follow these modifications case to case.

  1. Finally, for scholars in science and technology studies, it becomes relevant to know more about the practice of market designers. Today, crucial matters of collective concern (for instance, a fairer and better school system, a solution for electronic waste, or how to build a more sustainable energy grid), depends, at least partially, on the work of experts on market design. As market designers are tasked with crucial collective responsibilities, it becomes very important to understand better issues like how these technical scientists conceive their vocation, the type of ethic of their work, and how they understand responsibility and collaboration.

Hope this helps and thanks a lot for keeping an interest in our work,

Best regards


He also pointed me towards his paper

 Ossandón, José (2019) : Notes on market design and economic sociology,economic sociology_the european electronic newsletter, ISSN 1871-3351, Max Planck Institutefor the Study of Societies (MPIfG), Cologne, Vol. 20, Iss. 2, pp. 31-39,

which considers parallels between the social studies of markets and the growth of market design in economics.

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