Thursday, 15 October 2015

Track Proposal: 2016 4S/EASST Conference

NB: This proposal has now been accepted as an open track for next year's 4S/EASST Conference

See here for more information.

4S/EASST Conference, Barcelona, 31st August - 3rd September 2016

Track Proposal: Turning Things into Assets 


Kean Birch, Department of Social Science, York University, Canada 
Fabian Muniesa, Centre de Sociologie de l’Innovation, Mines ParisTech, France


An increasing number of STS scholars are engaging with assets as interesting objects of inquiry, worthy of our analytical gaze. Scholars of the bio-economy – e.g. Birch and Tyfield (2013), Cooper and Waldby (2014), Lezaun and Montgomery (2015), Martin (2015) – have sought to differentiate asset from commodity markets in order to analyse the resulting socio-ethical implications, while scholars in the social studies of finance – e.g. Doganova and Karnøe (2015), Doganova and Muniesa (2015), Muniesa (2012, 2014), Ortiz (2013) – have sought to understand how assets are constituted by and come to constitute, in a performative fashion, valuation processes. By asset, we mean a thing – e.g. patent, business model, technology, land, forest, skills and experience, CV, bodily function, personal popularity, pollution emissions, building, infrastructure, life form, molecule, etc., etc. – that can be owned, traded and capitalized as a revenue stream, often involving the valuing of discounted future earnings in the present. 

In the recent STS literature mentioned above, one key question emerges: how do things become assets? What this question requires us to do is tease apart the (techno-economic) configuration of assets and capitalization; that is, the tangible materiality and intangible knowledge that enable things to be turned into assets (or not). It leaves us with many more questions about where to take any critique of capitalism and technoscience more generally. First, this might be the threat of assetization stifling innovation, promoting the pursuit of rentiership (i.e. extraction of value through property ownership) over entrepreneurship (i.e. creation of value through development of new products and services). Second, it might be the implications of capitalization in reshaping how we think about things (including ourselves), turning them into a purely financial calculation of costs and benefits over other concerns (Chiapello 2015). 


In light of these issues, we invite contributors to address but not limit themselves to the following questions: 
  • How might we conceptualize the difference between commodities and assets? What does this difference mean for our understanding of value and valuation? 
  • How are things turned into assets? How are they capitalized? What sort of techno-economic configurations does this involve? What are the implications? Does this entail new or old forms of rentiership? 
  • How might we use concepts like assetization and capitalization in place of dominant terms like commodification, marketization, privatization, neoliberalization, etc. as a critique of capitalism? 
  • How does capitalization differ with different materialities? How can we recognize the material traits of assetization? 
  • How is the logic of the asset transforming science and technology? What is driving science and technology policy in the era of the business model?


Birch, T. and Tyfield, D. 2013. “Theorizing the Bioeconomy: Biovalue, Biocapital, Bioeconomics or… What?” Science, Technology and Human Values 38(3): 299-327.
Cooper, M. and Waldby, C. 2014. Clinical Labor: Tissue Donors and Research Subjects in the Global Bioeconomy. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. 
Lezaun, J. and Montgomery, C.M. 2015, “The Pharmaceutical Commons: Sharing and Exclusion in Global Health Drug Development,” Science, Technology and Human Values 40(1): 3-29.
Martin, P. 2015. “Commercialising Neurofutures: Promissory Economies, Value Creation and the Making of a New Industry”, BioSocieties, doi:10.1057/biosoc.2014.40
Doganova, L. and Karnøe, P. 2015. “Clean and Profitable: Entangling Valuations in Environmental Entrepreneurship”, in A. Berthoin Antal, M. Hutter and D. Stark (Eds.). Moments of Valuation: Exploring Sites of Dissonance. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 229-248.
Doganova, L. and Muniesa, F. 2015. “Capitalization Devices: Business Models and the Renewal of Markets”, in M. Kornberger, L. Justesen, J. Mouritsen and A. Koed Madsen (Eds.), Making Things Valuable. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 109-215.
Muniesa, F. 2012. “A Flank Movement in the Understanding of Valuation”, Sociological Review 59(s2): 24-38.
Muniesa, F. 2014. The Provoked Economy: Economic Reality and the Performative Turn, London: Routledge.
Ortiz, H. 2013. “The Limits of Financial Imagination: Free Investors, Efficient Markets, and Crisis”, American Anthropologist 116(1): 38-50.
Chiapello, E. 2015. “Financialization of Valuation”, Human Studies 38(1): 13-35.

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