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Valuing the Unique


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With his economics of singularities, Lucien Karpik has given researchers even more than a masterpiece of economic sociology. He introduces new methods, new concepts, and new results. He shows how the differences between markets are more important than their similarities, and how our approach to markets should deal first and foremost with qualities. This book puts economics back on the road toward generality! -- Olivier Favereau, Universite Paris X and Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique Valuing the Unique is an exciting foray onto new ground for economic sociology. In studying markets of singularities, Lucien Karpik provides a wealth of fascinating examples of judgment devices whereby we value goods and services that are incommensurable. A singular achievement! -- David Stark, author of "The Sense of Dissonance: Accounts of Worth in Economic Life" This is one of these rare books that reveals a new economic province. Far removed from the familiar domain of customary economics there lies the realm of singularities--goods and services for which the issue of quality lies beyond any question of price. By successfully integrating culture and market, and the politics of the market, Valuing the Unique has implications for general and theoretical sociology. It presents a most lively and useful read for those interested in the manner in which markets actually function. -- Philippe Steiner, Universite Paris-Sorbonne Valuing the Unique is the most important book to be published in economic sociology in many years. Karpik develops a full-fledged sociological alternative to understanding the problem of singularities, and offers conceptual breakthroughs that make hitherto puzzling issues much easier to comprehend. No debates on the issue of the valuation of goods will be able to ignore Karpik's theoretical contribution. -- Jens Beckert, director of the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies This is a wonderfully stimulating book--evocative, provocative, ambitious, and certain to spark debate. It poses important questions and offers new conceptual tools for economic sociology. There is a lot to think about here. -- Bruce Carruthers, Northwestern University

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations and Tables ix Preface xi Part One: An Overlooked Reality Chapter One: The Problem 3 Chapter Two: Singularities 10 What Are Singularities? 10 A Preliminary Journey 13 The Market of Psychoanalysis 15 Two Models of Singularity 16 Chapter Three: Do We Need Another Market Theory? 21 What Mainstream Economics Could Only Ignore 21 What the "New Economics" Chose to Ignore 23 Part Two: Tools for Analysis Chapter Four: Judgment 35 Can Economic Analysis Ignore Information? 35 Decision and Judgment 36 What Is Judgment? 39 Chapter Five: Judgment Devices 44 Devices Are Representatives 46 Devices Are Cognitive Supports 49 Devices Are Active Forces 51 Chapter Six: Trust Devices 55 Formal Analysis 57 Substantive Analysis 58 Chapter Seven: Homo singularis 67 Value and Instrumentality 68 Shopping 73 The Red Michelin Guide: A Paper Engine 77 How Many Ninth Symphonies Did Beethoven Compose? 80 Chapter Eight: The Metamorphosis of Singularities 87 The Weight of Words 88 Can Sameness Engender Incommensurability? 89 Chapter Nine: The Regimes of Economic Coordination 96 A Classification of the Economic Coordination Regimes 97 Consumer Commitments and Coordination Regimes 103 Interlude 106 Part Three: Economic Coordination RegimesImpersonal Devices Regimes 131 Chapter Ten: The Authenticity Regime 133 The Market of Fine Wines 135 The Hachette and the Parker Guides to Wine 138 The Intelligentsia, Connoisseurs, and the Layman 141 Vulnerability of the French Fine- Wines Market? 144 Chapter Eleven: The Mega Regime 148 Megafilms 148 The Luxury Megafirm 157 The Megabrand 163 Chapter Twelve: The Expert- Opinion Regime 167 Literary Prizes 167 Trendsetters and Gatekeepers 170 Public Quality- Rating Devices 171 Chapter Thirteen: The Common- Opinion Regime 174 Songs 175 Adjustment by the Charts 177 Personal Devices Regimes 181 Chapter Fourteen: The Network- Market 183 The Personal Network 183 The Trade Network 185 The Practitioner Network 186 Chapter Fifteen: The Reticular Coordination Regime 188 Coordination by Shared Convictions 188 Coordination by Belief in Miracle Workers 191 Chapter Sixteen: The Professional Coordination Regime 195 Professional Regime Variants 196 Legal- Services Coordination Regime Variants 203 Chapter Seventeen: Prices 209 Concordance 211 Disproportion 219 Part Four: Finale Chapter Eighteen: The Historicity of Singularities 229 The Rule of Product Renewal 232 Desingularization of Personalized Services 236 Desingularization of Pop Music 242 Chapter Nineteen: Conclusion: Economics of Singularities and Individualism 255 On Individualism 256 Singularities and Individualism 261 Index 265

About the Author

Lucien Karpik is a sociologist at the Ecole des Mines and the Centre Raymond Aron (EHESS) in Paris. His books include "French Lawyers: A Study in Collective Action, 1274-1994" and, with Terence C. Halliday and Malcolm M. Feeley, "Fighting for Political Freedom: Comparative Studies of the Legal Complex and Political Liberalism".


"[T]his is an admirable book. It is theoretically rich, illustrated with many, many fascinating examples of real markets, and a wonderful read for all interested in how markets really work."--John L. Campbell, Administrative Science Quarterly "Given the relative scarcity of theoretical models in economic anthropology in the last decade, anthropologists should not simply discard this very ambitious, empirically grounded model of markets of singular products. Taking into account the abundant anthropological literature on the production, circulation and consumption of singularities, it is puzzling and a bit troubling for economic anthropologists that the first theoretical synthesis on the topic comes from a sociologist. But working toward such synthesis is in itself already a great achievement of the book, one anthropologists would do well to emulate."--Marian Viorel Anastasoaie, Social Anthropology "The reader will read this book for its precise and descriptive analysis of markets for which quality is multidimensional, incommensurable, and uncertain."--John Baffes, European Review of Agricultural Economics "In demonstrating the role devices play in cases where markets are constructed against the odds--the book is an important contribution to economic sociology. In the best traditions of defamiliarisation, the book is also a beautiful book."--Monika Krause, European Economic Sociology Newsletter

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