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The Plurality of Cognitive Formats and Engagements Moving between the Familiar and the Public

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The plurality of cognitive formats and engagements: moving between the familiar and
the public
Laurent Thévenoti
European Journal of Social Theory, 10 (3), 2007, p. 413-427.
Emile Durkheim and Marcel Mauss’s thinking on categories of thought, a cognitive sociology
before the term existed, appears today both a fruitful and limited heritage. Clearly it was an
essential resource for the sociology of Pierre Bourdieu and the anthropology of Mary
Douglas, which have impacted on broad areas of both continental European and Anglo-
American research. In contrast to the tradition derived from economics, which posits a
rational individual acquiring available information, this sociological tradition makes clear the
importance of cognitive categories in the constituting of society.ii Its limitations have to do
with the extremely strong relation it establishes between collective cognitive categories and
the collectives to which people are assumed to belong.iii Categories are understood to derive
from people's membership in social groups and to strengthen that membership, thus
maintaining a given order and ensuring its reproduction. In this understanding, the difficulties
of coordinating actions, difficulties that greatly preoccupy human beings in their social life,
are excessively simplified: they come down to the distinction between collectives due to the
disparate representations they are informed by. Bourdieu could thus inscribe the
understanding inherited from Durkheim and Mauss in an agonistic relation inspired by Marx,
with the idea that the class struggle was prolonged at a cognitive level by the classification
struggle between agents disposed to and “self-interested” in different categories.
While originally trained in Bourdieu’s school, Luc Boltanski and I developed an entirely
different sociological approach in the late 1980s. Over and against a sociology of agents
understood to be marked by membership in particular social groups and perennial, structurally
reproduced dispositions (namely habitus and ethos), we chose to explore a “perpendicular”
hypothesis about life in society: the same persons are induced to change in accordance with
the way situations are disposed and the way conduct is judged. This move brings with it not
so much a change in roles, social norms, or social worlds as a dramatic shift in ways of
experiencing the world. This shift in turn subjects both the person and the community at large
to critical tensions.
Our approach contributed to the “pragmatic turn,” as it has been called, wherein a structural
theory of reproduction was rejected in favor of a social theory attentive to the dynamics of
action. In the way we analyzed the plurality of ways people submit their action to critical
judgments which are legitimate, we moved away not only from the Durkheimian tradition but
also the American pragmatism understanding. Instead of understanding the collective via
membership in a social group (Durkheimism) or the consequences of action (pragmatism), we
envisaged it in terms of forms of generalization that are both cognitive and evaluative and that
confer legitimacy on persons and things—what we have called their ‘qualification’ in
accordance with orders of worth (Boltanski and Thévenot 2006 [1991]). These orders are as
follows: domestic’ worth, evaluated from the perspective of anchored tradition; the worth of
fame,’ understood as visibility in public opinion; ‘market’ worth, determined by competition;
industrial’ worth, understood as technical efficiency; ‘civic’ worth, pertaining to the general
interest and egalitarian solidarity; the worth of ‘inspiration,’ as figured by the creative break
or difference. This model of plural orders of ‘worth’ does not refer to an individual choosing
frames’ or other cognitive ‘tools’ to be used opportunely given the circumstances. Rather it
links up with the issues of fairness and procedural requirements for the public space that have
fueled John Rawls’ theory of justice and Jürgen Habermas’ theory of communicative action
(Boltanski and Thévenot 2000). And because it deals with plural orders of worth, our
undertaking is in line with authors who identify different orders of systematic coherence in
social life (Weber, Parsons, Luhmann, Walzer). In contrast to those authors, however, we
identified the underlying grammar of the orders endowed with the greatest legitimacy, and
thereby the demands that weigh on human beings in society when they are called upon to
"commonize" on the basis of a form of equivalency and common goodiv. In contrast to Niklas
Luhmann’s systems theory, attentive to systematic coded forms and the autopoiesis of such
forms, we are interested not only in the encounter between coded worlds and their
environment but the difficulties that human beings run up against in the process of coding
events and behavior—a question that is not relevant for biological ‘coding.’ In
contradistinction to Habermas’ social theory, concerned with the pragmatics of discursive
communication in public space, we analyze a kind of pragmatic testing which is only partly
discursive and implies a duly qualified reality. While fully meeting common grammatical
demands that express a sense of what is fair, our plural orders of worth attest to a number of
historical and social constructions that have specified the common good by integrating the
material environment in various ways, each developing a new, legitimate capacity that works
to empower human beings in society.
In the first development of this political and moral sociological approachv, we thus
deliberately limited ourselves to those forms of commonizing that enjoy the greatest
legitimacy, forms that channel uncertainty into coordination frames appropriate for public
judgment and that imply a dynamic of critique and justification. Later, I extended the analysis
to action conceived as plural, seeking to handle the variety of cognitive and evaluative
formats—formats which cannot commonize cognition to equal degrees—by relating them to a
set of regimes of engagement with the world that I identify in terms of dependency between
the human being and his or her environment (Thévenot 2006a). Approaches in terms of
systemic cognition, cognition networks, distributed cognition and situated cognition have the
great value of drawing attention to interdependencies, whether they be between a person and
others or a person and the environment, interdependencies that were not taken into account by
strictly mental analysis or the first representational models of artificial intelligence. But they
present the disadvantage of flattening out the different levels at which people commonize that
are presupposed by community life, and of leveling the difficulties that such a community
architecture raises for its members, not to mention for researchers seeking to account for those
difficultiesvi. It seems crucial to take into account the effort deployed by the human animal
unremittingly called upon to commonize on the basis of highly personal, local experience of
the world. The fact is that cognitive forms vary considerably as the human being detaches
herself from what is closest and most personal and moves to communicate across increasing
relational distances. I use the verb ‘communicate’ here with its original meaning of taking part
in a common matter. Today, unfortunately, the sense of the word has been limited to the idea
of transmitting information or, at most, a discursive exchange. The move I mean to make in
this article is from information back to participation in common matters. The two questions
seem thoroughly separate in our day. Current research on cognition has rarely to do with
research into the political and moral goods implied in life together and what is expected from
coordinationvii. And yet the relation between the two questions is at the heart and even the
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origin of our pragmatic sociology program and its concern with how politics and morality are
related to coordination of human actions.
The move to consider a plurality of cognitive and evaluative formats has implications of a
more than merely theoretical order. It is a condition for handling the many new governing or
coordination arrangements that are being devised to make it possible to consult and make
decisions on matters affecting the common good, arrangements that integrate a wider variety
of voices than those of officially recognized representatives. Some of these arrangements are
associated with the idea of decentralized, diversified participatory democracy of a sort that
cannot be reduced to parliamentary representation, democracy that encompasses multiple
voices within civil society. But I also include arrangements often considered technical or
economic, less visible than the preceding ones (standardization and regulation bodies, for
example), as they too are components of common matters and should be identified as major
loci of ‘the political’. After presenting how cognitive forms are handled in our research
program, I will indicate the new insight this can offer into the metamorphoses of
contemporary societies, pulled back and forth as they are by the current positive valuing of
both the global and the most intimately personal.
Forming, informing, investing in forms: information formats in the making
My research took off from critical questioning of the notion of ‘information’ as it is widely
used in the cognitive sciences. When the term is used to designate data collection and
transmission of data through appropriate channels, the general suggestion is that the
information is in a standardized enough state to be widely diffused and to serve as a resource
for anyone who might wish to use it. Information is called ‘private’ to indicate that its
diffusion is to be restricted, not to signify some difference between a personal cognitive
format and a standard one. Because it involves transforming the results of various cognitive
operations into a flow of basic units and even refers, in standard economics theory, to a costly
commodity, the notion of information presupposes forms of representation and coding aimed
at producing common knowledge. Thus used, this notion flattens all differences between a
general cognitive format and one that is personal and familiar. The only difference recognized
in this usage is degree of diffusion; that is, number of individuals who have acquired the
information in question.
Information comes from ‘inform’ which originally meant give form to‘enformer’ in Old
French, ‘enforme’ in Middle English. Our program was first developed in a national
institution that 'enforme' in order to inform. It produces public statistics,viii i.e., information in
its most public form, fully prepared to be made common use of. Though most actors in this
institution work almost exclusively from scientific and policy data in this formalized state, a
more reflexive attitude and specific investigations made it possible to be attentive to the entire
line of information production, from respondent all the way to the statistic commented on in
print and including the interpretive work done by interviewer, data encoder, and the
statistician who forged the nomenclature. This remarkable observatory made it possible to
look at the information production line as a line that transforms information from one
cognitive format into another. Our exploration led us away from the standard view of how
data is collected and transmitted, as well as of flawed or missing information and the biases
involved in information use—all questions that presuppose information already in due form. I
looked into the means that people use with the purpose of constituting cognitive forms that
can be abstracted from situated things and people, generalized and circulated. Instead of
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taking for granted the solidity of collective forms of social objectivity or, inversely, calling
that solidity into question in the name of situated negotiation or indexicality, I linked the
diversity of ways of forming information to different possibilities of coordination.
Information here refers back to neither objectivizing collectives or cognizant individuals, but
to coordination, with the understanding that coordination is always problematic. This
approach means we are attentive to information concretions and material supports involved in
the forming of information. This way of studying information in the making works in favor of
realism, a quality often lacking in the way the term ‘information’ is used.
With respect to the pioneering ethnomethodological research on coding practices and to
Aaron Cicourel’s cognitive sociology, concerned with the way the actor perceives and
interprets his or her environment by recognizing what is ‘familiar’ and ‘acceptable’ (Cicourel
1974), I shifted research in two new directions. First, I analyzed the pluralism of cognitive
forms brought to light by study of how categories are elaborated and used. By observing
persons in action on the information production line, I was able to identify cognitive forms
that do not display the characteristics of the coded form prepared for both scientific study and
state policy implementation and evaluation. What became clear from this perspective was the
benefits offered to actors by each cognitive mode, as well as the costly labor of transformation
involved in moving from one to another. Second, I was attentive to the role of material
arrangements in equivalency-making since these arrangements are what spare actors the work
of crafting equivalencies in each situation; attentive also to the equipment used to support
generalizations, to the role of objects in procedures of constructing similarities between
human beings,ix and to the investments of forms that prepare the environment to facilitate
action coordination.
These orientations gave rise to a research program that I first developed at INSEE called the
‘economics of conventional forms’, focused on the methods and instruments used to forge
resemblances and craft equivalencies. ‘Investing in forms’ makes it possible to increase the
scope of coordination by facilitating general treatment of persons and things (Thévenot 1984).
Such investments imply costly construction operations that in return yield coordination output
that varies by three characteristics: time span, spatial extension and the solidity of the related
material equipment. The idea was to show that the required ‘enforming’ of information is
linked to actors' coordination modes.
The relation between cognition and coordination was first explored in terms of the relation
between statistics and policy. This relation became even more important with the construction
of the European Union, namely through the Open Method of Coordination (Affichard and
Lyon-Caen 2004). In the social sciences, coded data and statistics are constantly colliding
with other types of knowledge designated monographic and referring to studies of exemplary
cases; in some instances the latter kinds of knowledge are mistakenly called qualitative. We
showed that these two knowledge modes involve not a relation of general to particular
(statistics are assumed to be more general than monographic studies), but rather two distinct
cognitive formats, both of which readily allow for generalization. We were examining a
plurality of ways of generalizing as ways that actors involved in a communizing process
attribute significance. This led us to relate cognitive representation—which, in a cognitive
economy, is a means of replacing many with one—more closely to political representation,
which proceeds from a comparable operation and is likewise characterized by a variety of
representing modes. We showed that the relation between the political and the cognitive is a
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closer and more fundamental one than that of political forces influencing the production of
knowledge. Sociologists often treat this influence in terms of subjection of knowledge to
interests and manipulation. It is of course beneficial to public debate to denounce those kinds
of direct influences. But if we understand the problem in those terms, we leave aside the more
profound relationship between political and epistemological representation, a relation that
cannot be reduced to manipulation strategies. To this inquiry into ‘the politics of statistics’
(Thévenot 1983, 1990, 1994), Alain Desrosières made a considerable contribution
(Desrosières and Thévenot 1988; Desrosières 1998 [1993]), and Luc Boltanski’s reference
study of the category cadres” (1987 [1982]) was particularly helpful in the project of
relating cognitive and political representations.
Information and evaluation formats of three regimes of engagement unequally ready to be
commonized
In the next phase of the program, Boltanski and I moved on to an experimental study of lay
and expert social categorizations (Boltanski and Thévenot 1983). This helped bring into relief
the difference between, and move from, mere category rapprochement on the one hand, and
ordering categories in such a way that the ranking is inscribed in a valuation system. This
brings to light the broader issue of what makes a valuation legitimate; namely, its
compatibility with a certain sense of fairness. Our study of this question opened the way for
analysis of the relation between cognition and evaluation, which in turn led us to link forms of
cognitive generalization to grammars of the common good underlying a plurality of orders of
worth. The political apparatus strictly speaking is not the only place where the question arises
of what qualities should be attributed to persons to make them good representatives who are
capable of generalizing issues, or where inequality in the representativeness of persons who
are nonetheless equal to each other in human dignity raises the question of what is just and
good for the community. Ordinary disputes raise the same kind of issues when the level of
generality in the cognitive treatment of people rises. At such moments, public qualifications
are used to criticize and justify, and those qualifications fit into constructions of the common
good. In our work on legitimate orders of worth, we proposed an analysis of the legitimacy of
these orders as based on a grammar of the sense of fairness common to them all (Boltanski
and Thévenot 2006 [1991]). After considering the investments required by cognitive formats
aimed at the broadest-scope generalizations, and the benefits anticipated from those formats,
we thus moved on to examine the relation between cognition and evaluation that had appeared
when cognition was considered in terms of its role in coordinated action. When cognitive
generalization seeks to be valid for a kind of coordination that may potentially extend to
humanity at large, evaluation takes on the format of the common good. Clearly, however, this
extremely broad-scope level of coordination, while it may account for the relation between
cognitive and political demands does not exhaust inquiry into the cognitive and evaluative
formats used in social life. I therefore pursued this investigation by distinguishing formats of
smaller scope.
But what exactly was to be distinguished? Cognitive formats characterize the actor’s access to
reality, and the way he grasps it so as to coordinate his behavior within a certain apprehension
frame. These formats are thus an integral part of a human being’s active relation to her
environment, in engagements between them which are not equally ready to be commonized. I
chose ‘engagement’ rather than a vocabulary of action or practice, as these focus attention
exclusively on the human agent. My reasons were twofold. First, ‘engagement’ emphasizes
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the person’s dependence on the environment he relies on while grasping it by means of a
certain cognitive format. Second, the term refers to a quest for a guaranteed good (as in the
engagements of marriage or a contract) that makes it possible to assess what is relevant to
know. Relevant things are the equivalent of pledges that guarantee the good that fuels each
regime as it follows its own dynamic. Characterizing engagements enables us in turn to shed
light on the figure of the agent, instead of positing it. The guarantee particular to each regime
specifies a kind of mastery or power that characterizes the agent thus engaged. It is now
possible to summarize the components of a regime of engagement within its own dynamic.
The good that engagement with the world aims to guarantee orients how reality is grasped
and specifies the format of what constitutes information. An engagement lends itself to
communication to varying scope depending on the format; the place and use of language also
vary by format. It is from his dependence on an engaged environment that the agent derives
his capacity, understood as the power to maintain that engagement.
My first objective in distinguishing between engagements was to escape the confusion that
results from a series of two-term oppositions: collective and individual, public and private,
social norms and the lifeworld. These oppositions, often used to understand change in
contemporary societies, suffer from two major defects. The sciences of society tend either
explicitly or implicitly to favor the first term over the second. Meanwhile the second term
works to perpetuate a confusion that impedes understanding social transformations and the
tensions they create, particularly their cognitive aspects. The unifying but ultimately
confusing vocabulary of the second-term variations—individual, individualization,
individualism—encompasses ways of being an agent that are in fact very different from each
other. That vocabulary works to characterize an individual valued for her project, plan,
interests, decision-making, will, autonomy, responsibility—all properties that are of concern
to others when they seek to take the individual’s action into account. But the vocabulary of
the individual is also used to characterize a person’s authenticity in his most personal life, his
fundamental attachments, his particular ways of doing in a familiar environment—all
properties that others can hardly take into account if they are not close to the person. Having
identified this confusion, I was led to make minimal distinctions between three regimes of
engagement, the point being to distinguish two other smaller-scope formats, in addition to the
convention format aimed at grasping common things and goods by commonizing them
publicly.
The regime of familiar engagement maintains a personalized, localized good: feeling at ease.
The well-being experienced in comfortable because familiar human and material surroundings
is heavily dependent on the person who has come to accommodate himself in and feel
comfortable in them, and on the path by which he familiarized himself with a milieu shaped
by continued use. This good is more than a fixed habit because it involves a dynamic relation
with an immediate milieu that is experienced. This type of engagement is linked to local,
personal clues in the immediate surroundings. The touchstones by means of which reality is
apprehended in the information format specific to familiar engagement are fragmentary and
specific to a customized thing and do not identify standard objects in their entirety. They do
not allow for grasping objects integrated by a function but only specify certain access keys,
particular points of attachment whose beneficial effects turn them into attachments. On the
path of gradual familiarization, in the dynamics of trial-and-error learning, the way my body
accommodates to the familiar environment is itself a response to prior unease. It leads me to
mark out my immediate surroundings to guarantee from then on the comfort of my
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movements and gestures. This kind of reliance explains why information here hardly lends
itself to extended communication, even through discursive language, which has in fact been
replaced by the language of the body. The spoken word itself, in communicating the intimacy
of the familiar, is considerably inflected. These markers serve as a kind of engagement
guarantee. This regime configures the person in a kind of personality that is distributed across
his immediate surroundings in accordance with a personal disposition that inclines him to act
by turning to and making use of familiar, appropriated things and inhabited places. Familiar
attachments to material surroundings are inseparable from the person at her most deeply
personal; they affect whether that person is well- or ill-disposed and ensure (or fail to ensure)
that he or she has ‘a good seat’ in the saddle, as it were. Nor can they be separated from the
milieu to which they adhere. Interlaced attachments of this sort specify an extremely different
type of engagement from private property of an alienable good.
The regime of engagement in a plan corresponds to a level of engagement so frequently used
that the specificity of this means of apprehending the relation between the human being and
surrounding reality may well remain invisible. This is why we can also speak here of “normal
action,” or the “normal format” of action. The good in this engagement also tends to get lost
in the ordinary idea of an accomplished action, especially since the widely used vocabulary of
‘needs’ and ‘utility’ neutralizes the form of evaluation specific to this engagement. The
satisfaction generated by an accomplished action should be assessed in terms of a crucially
important good for human social life: it refers to felicitous exercise of the will by an
individual endowed with autonomy and capable of projecting herself successfully into the
future. Such satisfaction is very different from the feeling of ease procured by the familiar
engagement, an engagement that offers no such foothold for individual, autonomous projects.
The good of this engagement gives rise to a mode of assessment focused on plan execution—
what is often called very simply the actor’s realism’ though this designation fails to take into
account the specific format for apprehending reality that produces information in this
engagement. Reality is grasped with respect to successful realization of the plan, which
implies that it takes shape as a function instrumentally appropriate to the plan of action. The
ordinary notion of object often presupposes this functional treatment of means, though it
remains implicit unless it is the object of an action verb. The plan intention cannot be
experienced without recognition that environmental components have a functional capacity—
this is what ensures the type of guarantee particular to this regime. The object thus grasped
confers its solidity on the plan intention while facilitating agent’s control of plan execution.
Analysis of this regime of engagement brings out the complementarity between agent’s power
as an individual engaged in realizing his project and a grasp of the object in functional terms.
This complementarity brings into view a form of dependence that does not at all figure in
most ideas of individual autonomy. In contrast to approaches centered on the actor and her
mental states, her will, her intention and her desire, analysis of this engagement shows how
recognition of the person as an individual endowed with the afore-mentioned capacities will
not hold up without the pledges that support the plan engagement, without the guarantor in
the form of an environment shaped into means or instruments—objects utilized in terms of
functions.
The justifiable action engagement regime is oriented by demands of a public order, since the
evaluation must be valid for a third party and characterized by generality and legitimacy. This
is the level which is most demanding with regard to the equivalency required by
commonizing. Luc Boltanski and I (Boltanski and Thévenot 1991) brought to light the
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demands made by the sense of justice common to all orders of legitimate worth involving
specification of a common good (these are, as mentioned, market competition, industrial
efficiency, public renown, civic solidarity, domestic trust, inspiration). In justifiable action
engagement, the relevant reality is grasped according to a cognitive format grounded on the
conventional qualifications of persons and things. As suggested, information differs from one
level of worth to another by qualification: market value, statistical measuring of performance,
fame, etc. And communication is effected by means of these conventional indicators. When
discursive language is used in this regime, it is sharply distinct from the ordinary language
used to communicate planned action. It implies controlled use of reference terms that
constitute so many conventional benchmarks and apprehend objects in terms not of their
functions but their legitimate qualities. Language here links together conventional beings
only, in texts that are more like a systematic table than a narrative; it thereby becomes
conventional itself, not unlike the language of law, which is to be used to the letter. The use of
conventional terms gives the language of this engagement its rigid, official quality. The agent
capacity recognized in this engagement is not that of an individual borne forward by a willed,
autonomous plan, but of a person of qualified worth whose legitimate power derives from the
fact that this qualification partakes of specification of the common good. This power, derived
from social esteem for authority, does not lie in the person or any kind of capital he or she
might use. Rather it inheres in the person’s engagement with a surrounding world that has
been duly qualified by a good. Just as the personality takes support from his familiar
attachments and the individual achieves autonomy by using functional supports to project
herself into the future, so the human being can only be ‘worthy’ within the community by
engaging with an arrangement of duly qualified things, as this is what allows him or her to
guarantee this engagement.
The double plurality of recognition formats that compose persons and communities
While the plurality of orders of worth distinguishes cognitive and evaluative formats which
are involved in justifiable action engagements, the three regimes just outlined bring into the
picture a second kind of plurality that I would qualify as 'vertical' and differentiates the
engagement which relies on the most familiar closeness from the one that relies on the most
public guarantees. These formats specify the capacity of the person as she is engaged with her
environment. Moreover, they sustain the kind of recognition of the person which is involved
in mutual engagements : in the intimacy of love or friendship, in joint plans or contracts, in
coordination that requires public qualifications. This 'double plurality' of recognition formats
allows us to tackle the dynamic composition of both the person and the community, bringing
to light the tensions that arise from the plurality of engagements that have to be integrated. Let
us consider two domains that we have been investigating collectively from this dual
perspective of the composition of the person and the composition of the community. In the
first domain, what is at stake is the economic organization of work whereas, in the second, the
focus is on welfare policies and political arrangements for democratic participation. Yet due
to the current transformation of capitalism and governance structures, these two questions are
intertwined.
Former Taylorist and Fordist ways of organizing work mostly relied on two formats :
engagement in a plan and the 'industrial' worth engagement. The implementation of both these
formats requires heavy investment in functional and even standardized forms (Thévenot
1984). They do not allow any recognition of the familiar format which is so crucial in
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supporting the personality. Moreover, in Taylorist plan engagements, the only individual
agents that are fully recognized are engineers; the subordinate shop floor worker is 'reified'
and reduced to a kind of functional equipment.x The crisis and critique of Taylorism led to a
new kind of management which was supposed to alleviate the hierarchical constraint in favor
of horizontal interactions and individual responsibility. The network vocabulary has been
extensively used to account for this new way of organizing work, and the notion of a new
'connectionist' order of worth was proposed to designate this unifying evaluation mode based
on multiple connections (Boltanski et Chiapello 1999). Although the idea of network is quite
helpful because it emphasizes the intertwining of dependencies between people and even
between people and things, it does not say much in itself about the formats of network
relationships, which vary considerably from one use of the notion to another. Analyzing
network components in terms of cognitive formats helps us to clarify the variety of these
relationships and the unequal degrees they are recognized within the organization. The
cognitive format of market price information (market worth) is deeply implicated in most
justifiable action engagements nowadays, at the expense of other justifiable action formats
formerly used to evaluate work, such as the 'domestic' worth qualification, which places value
on experience and seniority, or even the industrial worth qualification which values
occupational expertise as operative in efficient execution of a task. Project management
explicitly points to joint planned actions, but it pushes workers to engage in uncertain and
open exploration in the designing of each new project. Such exploration constantly reopens
the dynamics of familiarization and deprives the person of the ease of already familiar
attachments to the surroundings. Familiar accommodation is also implied by the kind of close
mutual relationships involved in being in contact and keeping in touch with multiple
connections. However, none of the familiar engagements generated by the new organization
of work are either acknowledged or paid for by the firm, and this leads to a situation of
exploitation. The characterization of this situation as an overlapping of and confusion between
private and occupational life (Hochschild 1997) can be further developed if we consider the
plurality of formats and the different degrees to which they are acknowledged by the firm.
French welfare policies concerned with social integration and housing partake of a sense of
solidarity that aims to reduce the most extreme inequalities, and they imply treating persons
and the environment in a format that is justifiable in terms of civic worth. This civil state
presupposes grasping people and things in a categorical generality that guarantees equality of
treatment for all. Can the individualization of social services, which in turn gives these
policies the character of supplying services to clients, be reduced to slippage toward a
cognitive format appropriate to 'market' worth? As in the earlier case of the economic
organization of work, analyzing these arrangements in terms of various regimes allows us to
see the more complex architecture of these policies. As in the case of work organization, the
criticism that led to welfare policy reform targeted a hierarchy—'domestic' worth—and
denounced it as paternalist because it provided a kind of assistance that rendered the recipient
passive. The increasingly strong injunction to be an autonomous individual is based on
engagement in a plan, which is in turn the basis for possible responsibility-taking and
engaging in a contract. But the welfare policy system integrates more than the civic worth
engagement format and the engagement format of an individual responsible for her plan or
project. In the policy extensions aimed to 'accompany' welfare recipients, the social worker or
youth guidance coach is expected to be extremely attentive to the person’s familiar
attachments, including to his home, and personal convictions, as these constitute the
grounding of a personality (Beviglieri, Stavo-Debauge and Pattaroni 2003). Analysis of plural
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formats shows the delicate composition of policies and legal imperatives as they move closer
to persons when implemented. This analysis allows for apprehending the movement in the
opposite direction that is required by participatory democracy, i.e., advancing along a path
that leads from one engagement to another and enables the person to make his voice heard in
public. The opening up of public debating spaces, which developed particularly during
disputes about the environment (Moody and Thévenot 2000), calls for more than
compromising with stakeholders or even with persons seeking to promote a plurality of orders
of worth so as to qualify the question to be debated. What is now required in those recently
opened spaces is testimony of familiar experiences of the world, testimony that does not lend
itself immediately to a public format. Because the participation procedures characteristic of
conventional public spaces are not receptive to the familiar format, they may prove oppressive
and humiliating for persons.
At the very time that the globalization imperative is intensifying, economic and political
organizations are coming closer to persons, in the sense that they are mobilizing increasingly
more engagements in the local and familiar. Thus conjoining the most strongly global and the
closest and most familiar increases the tensions that affect the composition of communities as
well as personsxi. Governance structures are opening up to this kind of heterogeneity. I have
mentioned participatory deliberation bodies, but standardization bodies may be said
themselves to be opening up to a plurality of cognitive formats when, for safety purposes,
they take into account normal functionalities and personalized uses in addition to
conventional features of things that have been justified by public qualification (Thévenot
1997). These arrangements cannot be reduced to negotiation between bearers of divergent
interests or a hybridizing of intéressements’ (Callon 1986). They extend to actors and
experiences of the world that are less immediately connected with the public sphere, less
prepared for it. They require integrating a plurality of cognitive and evaluative formats, so as
to integrate the moral complexity of an ‘equipped’ humanity (Thévenot 2002). As for persons,
they are induced to slip back and forth between that which is most personal and that which is
most public. Communication techniques facilitate this slipping from one engagement to
another by facilitating arrangements favorable to exposing that which is most personal in
public and commonizing customized uses in user groups. The vocabulary of individualization
and autonomy that is often considered to capture the essence of modernity does not fully
grasp this complexity, these tensions and demands for coping. This can only be done by
situating the individual agent of plan action in relation not only to the public regime but also
the familiar one, a move that leaves aside the monolith of the individual and brings to the fore
the image of a person quite otherwise engaged and engaging.
(trans. Amy Jacobs)
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Boltanski, Luc and Chiapello, Eve (1999) Le nouvel esprit du capitalisme. Paris: Gallimard.
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12
i Groupe de Sociologie Politique et Morale (Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Paris,
and Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique); Département de la Recherche (Institut National
de la Statistique et des Etudes Economiques, Paris).
ii For a view of how the projects and conceptual instruments of these economic and sociological
traditions are related, see Thévenot 2006, chap. 2, ‘Economie et sociologie de l’action coordonnée:
rationalité et normes sociales’.
iii For a critical appraisal of this heritage, see Conein (2005). For a pragmatic orientation towards
cognition, see Conein and Thévenot (1997).
iv The verb 'commonize,' modeled on 'publicize,' is used to refer to the operation of making things
common, shared.
v Our social science program was developed within the Groupe de Sociologie Politique et Morale
(Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales and the Centre National de la Recherche
Scientifique, Paris). It was created by Luc Boltanski in 1984, and I directed it from 1992 to 2001.
The many articles and books generated by the program are listed on the GPSM site:
http://www.ehess.fr/centres/gspm. Since our purpose was to handle the economic as well as the
social order, the program was also involved in developing the current of institutionalist economics
known as “economics of conventions”; for a brief introduction see Thévenot 2006b.
vi For a comparison of these approaches to cognition, see Thévenot 2006a, ch. 7 ‘La connaissance
dans l’action.’
vii Among remarkable exceptions, see Law (1986), Law and Mol (2002).
viii Reference is to the Institut National de la Statistique et des Etudes Economiques (INSEE).
Compared to most national statistics bureaus, this institution has always attributed great importance
to survey analysis and research; it was the locus of significant sociological and historical research
on statistical tools and social categorization during the 1980s. See in particular Affichard 1987 and
Desrosières 1998 [1993].
ix See Bruno Latour’s groundbreaking research into the place of objects in human relations (1987).
x For more details on the characterization of 'reification' that our framework implies, see Thévenot
(2006: 244-249).
xi On these tensions viewed in an biographical perspective relating to May 68 generation, see
Thévenot (2005).
... In addressing the research need, this paper investigates the everyday food consumption practices of 41 familieshenceforth denoted as informants or participantsacross seven European countries (France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Norway, Serbia and the UK) through a multimethod qualitative research design including ethnographic fieldwork (Amilien et al., 2018). To unravel the complexities associated with everyday consumption (Evans, 2018), food sustainability, and the world of FQS, we adopt a pragmatic sociological approach by drawing on the concept of 'regimes of engagement' to illustrate the complexity of different products, situations and discourses on consumption of FQS products (Thévenot, 2006(Thévenot, , 2007Evans, 2011;Ponte, 2016;Swaffield et al., 2018). The regimes of engagement developed by Thévenot comprise three forms of thinking and behaving ('cognitive format' in Thévenot's terminology) in which people engage depending upon the situation, namely the regime of familiarity; the regime of planned action; and the regime of justification (see section 3 for a full explanation). ...
... These sections are followed by the methodological approach and key findings. The latter is structured around the main phases of food consumption, i. e., planning, purchasing, cooking, eating, and disposing (Desjeux, 2006;Gronow and Strandbakken, 2015), and contextualised in light of the regimes of engagement and pragmatic sociology (Thévenot, 2007). The article concludes with final considerations, highlighting the limitations of the study and directions for future research. ...
... In doing so, we contribute to an emerging body of literature that explores the attitudebehaviour gap through qualitative approaches to illustrate the multiple moral engagements at play within everyday consumption (Carrington et al., 2014;De Pelsmacker et al., 2005;Freestone and McGoldrick, 2008;Grunert and Aachmann, 2016;Shaw et al., 2006). Second, we undertake theory building regarding everyday food practices, applying the 'regimes of engagement' approach of Thévenot (2007), to interpret and provide a better understanding of the complexities of households' everyday choices related to FQS. ...
Article
Full-text available
While European consumers generally support the principles underpinning Food Quality Schemes (FQS) sales of certified products remain modest. This phenomenon is known as ‘attitude-behaviour gap’ and considerable scholarly and policy efforts have been geared towards ‘filling’ or ‘bridging’ the gap. This study aims at casting new light on this ‘discrepancy’ between consumers' sayings and doings through a study of everyday food practices connected to FQS. We used a qualitative, multi-method research design comprising extensive ethnographic fieldwork data, gathered from 41 households across seven European countries, including interviews, walk-along tours, and food diaries, in order to understand consumers' perceptions of FQS in relation to their everyday food consumption practices. Building on convention theory and Thévenot's work, we showed that food practices can be understood through different ‘regimes of engagement’, namely different ways of thinking and behaving, following different logics corresponding to varying levels of knowledge and interest. We thus argue that the ‘attitude-behaviour gap’ should be reconceptualised as the co-existence of multiple regimes of engagement, namely a dynamic and always evolving process of adjustment through which consumers understand and engage with FQS in everyday food practices.
... Ecological arguments that are based on visions of the ecosystem and biosphere and that thus valorize the planetary scope of ecological problems, their interspecific or more-than-human dimensions, and the impact of today's decisions on future generations, radically question the model of polity on which orders of worth historically rely. Moreover (see section 4), ecological arguments that highlight the importance of "familiar attachments" (Thévenot 2007) also undermine the modern construction of justice because they claim that the singular ways in which humans and their environments interweave and interpenetrate are politically important. This interconnection gives rise to embodied and emplaced reasons to attribute value to something or someone that challenge publicly justifiable definitions of worth (see Centemeri 2017Centemeri , 2018). ...
... A group of French scholars (including Janine Barbot, Daniel Cefaï , Nicolas Dodier, Claudette Lafaye, and Danny Trom) have been drawing on conceptual and methodological tools from the sociology of critical capacities since the late 1990s to critically discuss the framework perspective, thus demonstrating their relevance for the study of social movements. In particular, these authors have highlighted the importance of Luc Boltanski's and Laurent Thévenot's works on justification (2006( , originally published in French in 1991 and the plurality of regimes of engagement (Thévenot 2007; cross reference Hansen and Meilvang). The justification approach, in fact, highlights the existence of "grammars of the res publica, the common good, and the general interest (...) architectures of the ordinary sense of equality and justice that actors must comply with in order to produce acceptable performances in public" (Cefaï and Trom 2001: 17). ...
... Blok thus stressed the need for "a new ecology of collective passions" (Blok 2013: 507) to deal with environmental issues and acknowledged that "environmental movements should be credited with reopening crucial questions of the proper 'equipment' of our good common world" (Blok 2013: 496). The regimes of engagement approach developed by Laurent Thévenot (2007) is in line with this. From a regimes of engagement perspective, environmental issues are interpreted as situations that provide insight into the conditions of access to the public space based on "engagements of proximity". ...
... Um auch die Handlungsebene der Akteure analytisch zu fokussieren, bietet sich das Konzept der Regime der Engagements von Laurent Thévenot (2007Thévenot ( , 2010 an. Dieses Konzept richtet den Blick auf die Handlungsebene, auf der kein Rechtfertigungszwang vorliegt, da die Handlungen weder auf ein kollektives Gemeinwohl ausgerichtet sind, noch den Anspruch auf Generalisierung erheben. ...
... Dies können Handlungen mit Rechtfertigungscharakter sein, gleichzeitig aber auch private Entscheidungen, wie beispielsweise Alltagsroutinen bei Themen der Ernährung, Sport, Beruf oder Freizeit, die keiner Legitimation bedürfen. Um auch diese privat gestalteten Aktivitäten zu erfassen, unterscheidet Thévenot (2007Thévenot ( , 2010 drei Regime des Engagements. Damit führt er neben einem Koordinationsmodus der Rechtfertigung drei weitere unterschiedliche Koordinationsmodi ein, mit denen sich Akteure in eine Beziehung mit ihrer Umwelt setzen können. ...
... Interessanterweise können solche Objekte, kognitive Formen oder auch Personen auch auf mehrere Regime hindeuten oder diese parallel stützen, indem sie diese in ihrer Mehrdeutigkeit fundieren. Thévenot (2007Thévenot ( , 2010Thévenot ( , 2014 ...
Chapter
Full-text available
Zusammenfassung In diesem Beitrag werden die aktuellen Datafizierungsprozesse im Gesundheitsfeld als eine neue Form der digitalen Alltagsgesundheit vorgestellt. Die methodologische und konzeptionelle Grundlage des Beitrags bildet ein neopragmatistisches Denken, maßgeblich geprägt durch die „Ökonomie der Konventionen“ (EC). Dabei wird deutlich, dass es sich bei den Datafizierungsprozessen im Gesundheitssystem und der Vermessung von Alltagspraktiken vor allem um eine Zukunftsvision handelt, welche die Hoffnung weckt, Gesundheit besser kontrollieren und optimieren zu können. Ziel des Beitrags ist es, die aktuellen Auswirkungen dieser Mobilisierungsprozesse zu analysieren und zu zeigen, dass mit den Datafizierungsprozessen ein neuer Koordinationsmodus einer digitalen Alltagsgesundheit eingeführt wird. Diese digitale Alltagsgesundheit wird konzeptionell als neue Forminvestition eingeführt, wozu einerseits ihre Eigenschaften charakterisiert werden und andererseits ihre Relevanz für Koordinationsprozesse aufgezeigt wird. Abschließend werden die Wechselwirkung zwischen dieser neuen Form und der individuellen Gesundheit aufgezeigt und ihre Konsequenzen auf der Ebene der politischen Ökonomie beschrieben.
... Both of these conceptual tools, we argue, provide crucial starting points for understanding civic urban green engagement as well. However, for our analysis, the concepts also need to be extended, first by way of pragmatic sociology (Thévenot 2007(Thévenot , 2014 and second via the more (sub)cultural component of interactionist work. The latter can be traced not least to Irwin's (1977) work in urban sociology and, later, Becker's (e.g., 2004) inquiries into jazz and other artistic social worlds as emplaced within dynamic urban scenes. ...
... However, our own notion of group style combines Eliasoph and Lichterman's with additional conceptual layers. These are derived from the pragmatic sociology of Thévenot (2007Thévenot ( , 2014 and are meant to capture more of the moral-political specificity and the placebased character of civic urban greening as collective practice. 1 Here, as we document elsewhere (Laage-Thomsen and Blok 2020), following Thévenot's notion of how actors engage with their surroundings according to different basic regimes-of familiar, planned, or justifiable engagement-allows us to distinguish six recurrent styles of civic greening (see Table 1). ...
... Doing so is likely to further our understanding of the placebased dynamics of civic engagement, as well as its contingent intersections with the contentious activity of social movements. Moreover, the approach suggested here will allow for certain theoretical cross-fertilizations, not only within the various strands of interactionism, but also extending, most notably, to the pragmatic sociology of engagement regimes (Thévenot 2007). This will apply even as both schools of thought will have to learn, in turn, from dedicated work on place and emplacement (Gieryn 2000). ...
Article
As elsewhere in Europe, cities in Denmark have witnessed a surge in civic urban nature engagement, such as place- and practice-based initiatives (e.g., public-access community gardens, organic food collectives, and grazing associations that enhance biodiversity). While this expansion of urban green communities, as we call them, is widely noted in the literature, less attention has been paid to the comparative variability of their local civic expression. In this article, we use digital methods to map out the group styles, the spatial intergroup networks, and the cultural-political value landscapes of 130 urban green communities across the four largest cities in Denmark. To compare results, we develop the concept of “civic engagement scenes” as a way of responding to recent developments in cultural and political sociology. Overall, we show how this notion allows for interpreting civic greening groups: they are neither neighborhood-based endeavors nor hubs of social movement mobilization, but rather geographies of co-engagement that span cities while also forge new senses and practices of place.
... We favor the concept of public problem, starting from the sociology of public problems (Boltanski, 2004;Cefaï, 1996Cefaï, , 2013Gusfield, 1981;Thévenot, 2007) 29 and the discursive analysis of the public space (Chouliaraki, 2008;Fairclough & Fairclough, 2012). Public problems reveal a process of symbolic negotiation of the definitions and interpretations of socially problematic situations and phenomena, which are considered to necessitate collective action and public policies. ...
... 29. In the sociology of public problems we can distinguish approaches that are interrelated to some extent, such as the symbolic analysis of public problems (starting with Gusfield's seminal work, 1981) and the pragmatic analysis of public problems of the French school (Boltanski, 2004;Thévenot, 2007;Cefaï, 1996). ...
... Comparing France and USA, Storper & Salais (1997) focus on the plurality of conventions of the state on what people agree on the reciprocal roles and actions of citizens and state institutions with regards to defining, quantifying and contributing to common goods (see also Salais, 2015;Salais & Storper, 1993). The economics of convention approach is interested in the pluralism of (different) modes of evaluation (and quantification) constituted by conventions, orders of worth, modes of coordination, worlds of production and regimes of engagement (Boltanski & Thévenot, 2006; Eymard-Duvernay, 1986, 1989Salais, 2006;Salais et al., 1986;Salais & Storper, 1993;Storper & Salais, 1997;Thévenot, 2001Thévenot, , 2007. ...
Book
This paper uses the case of prison privatization in England and Wales to scrutinize what it means to “economize the social” through numbers. It argues that we ought to be careful not to equate quantification with economization. To uncover the multiple effects of economization and quantification brought about by new public management reforms and prison privatization, one needs to set presumed dichotomies between the public and the private aside and turn instead to the multiplicity of economizing practices (curtailing, marketizing, financializing) and their implication in different forms of quantification. Ironically, numbers and state contracts governing privately managed prisons also shielded these establishments from economization (e.g. budgetary savings requests); and it is the public prisons that have been exposed the most to measures of government austerity.
... Comparing France and USA, Storper & Salais (1997) focus on the plurality of conventions of the state on what people agree on the reciprocal roles and actions of citizens and state institutions with regards to defining, quantifying and contributing to common goods (see also Salais, 2015;Salais & Storper, 1993). The economics of convention approach is interested in the pluralism of (different) modes of evaluation (and quantification) constituted by conventions, orders of worth, modes of coordination, worlds of production and regimes of engagement (Boltanski & Thévenot, 2006; Eymard-Duvernay, 1986, 1989Salais, 2006;Salais et al., 1986;Salais & Storper, 1993;Storper & Salais, 1997;Thévenot, 2001Thévenot, , 2007. ...
Book
This chapter sets out what is “new” in the politics of numbers and this volume’s approach to their study. Rather than asking what quantification is, this volume is interested in describing and analysing what quantification does, tracking and unpacking various quantification practices and their manifold consequences in different domains. The book revisits the power of numbers, and examines changing relations between numbers and democracy. It engages, for the first time, Foucault inspired studies of quantification and the economics of convention in a critical dialogue. In so doing, the volume seeks to account more systematically for the plurality of the possible ways in which numbers can come to govern, highlighting not only disciplinary effects but also the collective mobilization capacities quantification can offer.
... Thévenot (2015) criticises existing analytical tools for their narrow view of social phenomena based on 'Western understanding of modernity'. His sociology emphasises upon a plurality of types of human actions-"publically justifiable actions, individually planned actions, and familiarly habituated actions" (Thévenot, 2001(Thévenot, , 2011b, a plurality of mechanisms of personal identity-based on the type of engagement with the environment, a plurality of 'formats of information'-like formalised public formats, extremely intimate and informal clues etc. (Thévenot, 2007a), and a plurality of 'modes of evaluation', based on their unequal preparation for commonality. The orders of worth framework (Boltanski&Thévenot, 2006) refers to the plurality of stipulations of the common good, whereas the regimes of engagement framework (Thévenot, 2001(Thévenot, , 2011b refers to the plurality of kinds of good based on their different level of preparation for commonality. ...
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Most of the studies on the labour market integration of migrants in Europe have hitherto focused on host countries' efforts to foster integration and the consequent effectiveness of these efforts. This study, however, emphasises on the much-needed migrant-side of the integration process to explore migrants perceived cultural challenges and their corresponding ability to deal with these challenges. With the help of a series of in-depth interviews targeted at exploring the lived experiences of highly skilled Muslim migrants settled in Innsbruck, this study shows that the religious beliefs and value systems, rather than the ability to speak and understand the local language, mainly hinder Muslim migrants from fully integrating into the Austrian society. Using the framework of French pragmatic sociology of conventions, the study further articulates that in order to be perceived as 'included' migrants use the instrument of compromise at three levels of extent, i.e., liberation, selective adaptation, and simulation. Some migrants are able to get liberated and they bring themselves closer to the local value system at the ontological and ideological level (liberation). Others change a few selective principles (values) to make use of most of the integration opportunities (selective adaptation). And yet at another level of compromise, some migrants pretend in the public as if they are very close to the local norms while in actual continuously believing in their originating belief systems and keep disliking the value system of the host country from deep within (simulation).
Conference Paper
Full-text available
In European countries like France and Germany, civic and citizenship education are widely and controversially discussed in the public and in social science research. A range of educational policies are proposed and implemented which try to exploit citizenship education for the betterment of societal integration and cohesion and for the appeasement of political and socio-economic conflicts. Schools in general and citizenship education in particular are under pressure of high societal and political expectations. Although education and schools in general are classical topics of the économie des con-ventions since decades, the more specific field of citizenship education has been largely ignored until recently. Against this backdrop, the paper gives a brief outline of a genuine conventionalist approach for analysing citizenship education in schools in a transnational perspective. The key elements of this approach are situations as the key units of analysis, the plurality of situations and of persons who refer to plural orders in these situations, the controversial character of situations and the striving for establishing compromises with regard to certain orders of worth. The concept of interlinked situations will be introduced as an alternative to the customary multi-level analysis. The paper argues that methodological situationalism allows overcoming the systematic shortcomings of international comparison. It is a conceptual paper based on common research with Andrea Szukala and Claude Proeschel (Hedtke, Proeschel and Szukala 2017, Hedtke, Szukala and Proeschel 2019). The key questions are: (1) What characterises a comparative conventionalist approach? (2) What can be better observed and analysed with the help of a conventionalist-situationalist approach? (3) Is a conventionalist approach appropriate with regard to the always conflict-laden area of citizen-ship education? (4) How should seemingly similar situations be compared which are embedded in different institutional contexts across national borders?
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