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Zelizer or Callon ? Moral Concerns, Social Relations, and Household Budget Calculations
lundi 29 juin 2015

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Conférence de Frederick Wherry lors du colloque "Pricing, Practices, Ranking" organisé par le département de Sciences Sociales et le département d’Économie

 Zelizer or Callon ? Moral Concerns, Social Relations, and Household Budget Calculations

Première session:  Prices and Markets

I will use the case of household financial practices to contrast how Viviana Zelizer and Michel Callon differ in their studies of calculating practices. How do we make sense of calculations performed by individuals on behalf of their households? I begin with their diverging approaches to the role of power in calculation, how moral concerns structure sequential calculations, and how monetary value is utilized as secondary to relationship concerns for Zelizer in anchoring household calculations.

Power and calculation

Caliskan and Callon (2009), Steiner (2009), and others use Polanyi’s The Great Transformation to demonstrate the importance of power struggles for analyzing markets, economization, and marketization. They generally see too little power analysis in Zelizer, especially with regards to politically charged questions. By contrast, I argue that Zelizer goes beyond Polanyi’s depiction of the double movement of laissez-faire market forces being met by counter measures for social protection. She identifies, instead, a triple movement: a large-scale cultural shift making the movement of laissez-faire possible and thereby setting the terms of the counter-movements that follow. The career of the market-like calculation begins as different groups of actors confront pre-existing meaning structures not merely born of materially motivated struggles.

Moral concerns and decision trees

The cultural shifts Zelizer identifies rely on commitments to the sacred in its material and ephemeral forms, sometimes oriented to this world or the next. While the sacred is largely absent from the discussions of economization/marketization, its emphasis in Zelizer helps us understand decision sequences in household budgeting. While Zelizer does not specify how actors use decision trees sequentially to make one decision after another in their household budgets, she does detect the “bright lights” and “bright lines” (Hitlin 2007) that direct the flow and modify the speed of calculation. In recent work from experimental philosophy and cognitive science, we find that strong moral concerns can collapse the branch of a decision tree. Joshua Knobe, for example, argues that “people’s moral judgments actually have an impact on their representations of the fundamental geometry of the action tree itself, affecting their intuitions about the basic elements of the tree and the ways in which these elements are interconnected” (2010, p. 556). Values structure decisions upstream, affect the qualculation of maneuvers happening downstream (Callon and Law 2005), and generate a commitment to the co-production of the calculation scene, even for the losers in the transaction.

Performance materials

To calculate is to engage in a partially scripted performance where talk of money, monetary objects, and calculation devices are among the objects used in the performance. These social performances (Alexander 2011) often take place in specific, meaningfully marked sites, but in these spaces of calculability (Callon 1998) monetary value is not the fundamental benchmark ex ante. Instead, the meanings encoded in pair-wise relationships (and that manifest themselves as symbolic binaries outside of institutions) are the fundamental benchmarks that offer stable points of reference for the measure of calculation and its dramaturgical review.

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Frederick Wherry
Yale University
Professeur de Sociologie

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Frederick Wherry est professeur de sociologie et co-directeur du Centre pour la sociologie de la Culture à l'Université de Yale.

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Dernière mise à jour : 06/11/2015