Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Marion Fourcade

UCSD Department of Sociology
Culture and Society Workshop Presents
Sponsored by Comparative Historical Workshop & IICAS European Studies

Associate Professor of Sociology, University of California, Berkeley
Marion Fourcade
“Cents and Sensibility: Economic Valuation and the Nature of 'Nature' in France and America"
Friday, November 20, 2009
12:00pm - 1:30pm
Social Sciences Building, Room 101

How do we attribute a monetary value to "invaluable" things? In this presentation, I offer a general sociological approach to this question, using the value of nature as a paradigmatic case. I first propose a theoretical analysis of the cultural and institutional conditions through which the relationship between subjective value and objective (monetary) value gets constructed in society. I argue that a full-blown sociology of valuation must solve three problems: the “why,” which refers to the general place of money as a metric for subjective value in society; the “how,” which refers to the specific techniques and arguments laymen and experts might use in order to elicit monetary value where value is hard to produce; and the “then, what” or the feedback loop from monetary valuation to social practices and representations including, of course, subjective value. I use the case of nature to demonstrate how this sequence works empirically. I rely on an empirical investigation of three major environmental pollution legal cases –the maritime oil spills caused respectively by the tankers Amoco Cadiz and Erika in Brittany (France) in 1978 and 1999 respectively, and by the Exxon Valdez in Alaska in 1989– to study how French and American plaintiffs and institutions understood the damage done to nature and sought to turn it into monetary value. I then show how these processes of monetary valuation ended up, by and large, reproducing the very conceptions of nature that had motivated them in the first place.

Marion Fourcade (PhD Harvard University) is associate professor of sociology at the University of California, Berkeley. A comparative sociologist, she is interested primarily in investigating and theorizing about how individuals in different countries think about the world and act in it, where these differences come from, and what their macro-social consequences might be. She has worked comparatively on the formation of knowledge, disciplines and professions; the making of economic policies; the forms of political organization; and international processes and dynamics. Her first book, "Economists and Societies" (Princeton University Press 2009), explores the institutions and cultural forces that have shaped the professional identities, practical activities and disciplinary projects of economists in the United States, Britain, and France in the twentieth century. The place of economic expertise and measurement technologies across cultures is also at the core of her next book project on the roots and consequences of social classifications (tentatively titled "Measure for Measure: Social Ontologies of Classification"). Professor Fourcade’s work has appeared in numerous professional outlets, such as the American Journal of Sociology, the American Sociological Review, and Theory and Society.

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