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The Values of Strategy: Valuation
Practices, Rivalry and Strategic
EM Lyon, France
University of Edinburgh Business School, UK
WU Vienna University of Economics and Business, Austria
The concept of value is held dear by strategy theorists and practitioners alike as they share a concern
about value creation, value propositions, value add, value chains, shareholder value and a plethora of other
value constructs. Yet, despite its centrality, the concept of value has attracted limited attention in strategy
scholarship. Most commonly, notions of value as profit or utility, inherited from economic theory, are
assumed rather than analyzed. This paper advances the discussion of value in the strategy discourse by
conceptualizing value as a correlate of valuation practices. Following this view, value is neither understood
as the property of an object nor as a subjective preference; rather, values are constituted through valuation
practices including rankings, ratings, awards, reviews and other valuation mechanisms that bestow values
upon things in the first place. The paper explores this idea through analyzing valuation practices and their
constitutive mechanisms; and it exploits this idea for the conceptualization of rivalry and strategic agency.
The learnings are two-fold: because goods are ordered, hierarchized and “appreciated” by consumers,
critics, competitors and others through mediating valuation practices, it follows that (1) rivalry takes place
at the level of valuation practices as they constitute the spaces in which accounts of worth are constructed
and contested; and that (2) strategic agency may be understood in relation to an actor’s capacity to cope
with and influence these valuation practices.
agency, power, practice, rivalry, strategy, valuation, value
Value creation, value proposition, value add, value chain, shareholder value and a plethora of other
hyphenated value-terms form a prominent part of the rhetoric of strategy. Despite the centrality of
value, however, in much of the strategy literature to date value is assumed rather than analyzed. In
their exhaustive content analysis of 2125 strategy articles, Furrer, Thomas, and Goussevskaia
Martin Kornberger, EM Lyon.
2 Organization Studies
(2008; see also Ramos-Rodríguez & Ruíz-Navarro, 2004) identified 26 dominant concepts, value
being not one of them. In reviews of social-science oriented strategy research, such as Strategy as
Practice (Vaara & Whittington, 2012), cognition (Eggers & Kaplan, 2013) and behavioral strategy
(Gavetti, 2012), the concept of value is equally absent. Even critical approaches that advocate an
opening up of the research agenda have taken the notion of value for granted rather than turning it
into an object of inquiry (e.g., Cummings & Daellenbach, 2009). The few contributions that do
discuss value explicitly (e.g., Maurer, Bansal, & Crossan, 2011; Porter & Kramer, 2011; Prahalad
& Ramaswamy, 2004) expose a narrow, simplified notion of value: they either equate value with
financial profit or they understand values as subjective preferences residing in consumers’ minds.
Whereas the former assumes value creation to take place within the firm, the latter understands
value creation as a function of utility and hence exogenous to organization.
The motivation of this paper is to address this somehow surprising blind spot in strategy
research. In order to do so this paper draws on insights form economic sociology and valuation
studies, as well as inspiration from the pragmatist John Dewey. Dewey suggested understanding
value not as a noun but as a verb, as an act of valuing. Valuation is accomplished through practices
that constitute, as their correlate, values. It is the contention of this paper that such a valuation
perspective will help rethinking the concept of value and its relation to strategy. Putting the novel
idea pursued in this paper in the old form of the syllogism: if strategy is concerned with the creation
of value; and if value is the correlate of valuation practices; then it follows that strategy has to be
understood in relation to valuation practices. Hence this paper is about exploring the concept of
valuation practices and exploiting the idea in order to advance our understanding of rivalry and
strategic agency in response.
A valuation perspective may sound complicated; yet, in practice, it is not. Take the example of
the value of research (see Karpik, 2011). How do we know whether a paper is valuable or not? One
way to analyze its value would be to look for characteristics such as truth or objectivity in the
paper. Dewey would argue that all we find is ink on paper. Truth and objectivity can be more ade-
quately analyzed by investigating those valuation practices that make a paper worthy. This includes
studying valuation mechanisms such as peer reviews, journal rankings, citation indexes, download
statistics, search algorithms and other valuation practices to which we resort to in order to deter-
mine the value of a paper. Note that truth and objectivity are still important values. But the valua-
tion perspective understands them neither as intrinsic properties of a paper nor as preferences of a
subjective mind, but rather as effects of valuation practices that organize the encounter between
paper (world) and reader (mind).
This analytical strategy can be applied to more than just paper(s). Valuation practices structure
consumer markets through categorizing, ordering and hierarchizing goods, enabling consumers
and others to make decisions (Antal, Hutter, & Stark, 2015; Kornberger, Justesen, Koed Madsen &
Mouritsen, 2015). Even a commodity such as gold (the perhaps most universal and abstract of all
goods) takes on new values through novel valuation practices. For instance, “conflict free” is a new
value that attaches itself to something as stubborn as gold, forcing producers to rethink where and
how to “create value” – as “conflict-free gold” is not to be found underground but is forged in
conversations between states, NGOs and others about standards and classifications (Reinecke,
2015). In the wine industry, critics act as powerful intermediaries that consecrate tastes and shape
preferences (Bessy & Chauvin, 2013). Similarly, in financial markets, rating agencies provide
valuations that function as critical mediating devices, constituting the value of investment objects
and hence facilitating strategic investment decisions (Ouroussoff, 2010). In the public sector,
bureaucracies rely on valuation practices such as audits, assessments, cost-benefit analysis, etc. to
plan and justify policy decisions (Espeland, 2001). These examples illustrate what this paper sets
out to explicate: that the value of a scientific paper, a consumer good, gold, a stock or a public
investment is neither “in” these objects, nor is their value simply a function of subjective prefer-
ence or utility; rather, following Dewey, in order to understand their values we need to study the
valuation practices that constitute these objects as valuable in the first place. Therein lies the first
contribution this paper makes.
The second contribution this paper seeks to make is to bring this novel theoretization of value
to bear on strategy research and to derive some implications, perhaps even conclusions, in regards
to the ongoing conversations around strategic agency (Rasche & Chia, 2009) and rivalry as cogni-
tively framed, socially constructed phenomenon (Porac, Thomas, Wilson, Paton, & Kanfer, 1995).
This is potentially significant because the study of valuation focuses on those practices through
which goods are evaluated and ordered, mediating between producers and consumers, investors,
and others, allowing them to compare and make decisions. Hence, this paper suggests that rivalry
shifts from the level of competition between goods to the level of competition within and between
valuation practices because it is at the level of valuation practices were things are made valuable in
the first place (Karpik, 2010). This includes struggles over competing claims in regards to the
legitimacy of different valuation practices, devices and criteria, and the resulting categorizations of
what is valuable. To use the example of the value of research again as an illustration, valuation
practices such as government-sponsored research assessments, global accreditations, university
rankings, the Financial Times list of the top 45 journals, the h-index and a myriad of other valua-
tion mechanisms, are strategically important because it is through these practices that the world of
research is valued and ordered, and competition between universities, schools and sometimes
researchers is engendered. Perceived as real, the league tables, ratings and indexes that come into
existence as a corollary of valuation practices are real in their consequences (Thomas & Thomas,
1928). Thus, strategic agency may be understood in relation to an actor’s capacity to influence and
cope with valuation practices.
By way of reverse colonialization, the third contribution of this paper is to provide some reflec-
tions from a strategy perspective for students of valuation. To date, much of the new, inspiring lit-
erature on valuation has focused on the consumption side of valuation (Karpik, 2010; Vatin, 2013).
Bringing into focus the work of strategizing and its relation to valuation might encourage research-
ers to put as much attention towards production than they have in the past towards consumption.
More specifically, this paper might spur valuation scholars’ interest in tracing how valuation struc-
tures the intentionality of decision makers and patterns rivalry.
The argument unfolds as follows. First, the paper critically discusses the notion of value as
deployed in three strands of recent strategy research that explicitly focus on value, arguing that
they leave important questions of value and its creation unanswered. The paper then explores the
concept of valuation practices before elaborating on the implications of valuation practices for
strategic agency and rivalry. The paper concludes with reflections on further research opportuni-
ties, and with some speculations about possible inferences for practice.
Theoretical Context: Tracing Value in Strategy Research
Provisionally we can define strategy’s goal as an attempt to “deliver greater value to customers or
create comparable value at a lower cost, or do both” (Porter, 1996, p. 62). While different strategy
schools would disagree on how to accomplish this goal, most would implicitly agree with the fun-
damental idea that strategy is concerned with value creation (Bowman & Ambrosini, 2000).
Yet, despite its centrality and significance, value has attracted limited attention in strategy schol-
arship (see the cited meta-analysis by Furrer et al., 2008). Only few contributions in strategy explic-
itly reflect on the notion of value. Notable exceptions include Porter and Kramer’s (2011) influential
paper on shared value; developments towards a culturally informed resource-based view (RBV)
4 Organization Studies
(e.g., Maurer et al., 2011); and studies on the co-creation of value (e.g., Prahalad & Ramaswamy,
2004). These contributions represent the (albeit small) state of the art in discussions of value within
the strategy discourse. In analyzing them we cannot claim an exhaustive review of the notion of
value (which would be a paper in its own right); instead we identify three strands of strategy theory
in which value is explicitly discussed, and the otherwise taken-for-granted assumptions about the
nature of value come to the fore. Moreover, the three strands of strategy research reflect the overall
“pendulum” movement of the strategy field (Hoskisson, Hitt, Wan, & Yiu, 1999) from an outside-in
approach towards a resource based view and, more recently, a co-creation perspective. As the analy-
sis will show, these contributions give testimony to the narrow, simplified notion of value within
strategy scholarship, conceptualizing value either as economic construct or subjective utility. While
these contrasting notions of value echo debates between Smith, Bentham, Marx, Menger and other
political economists (see Robinson, 1962), our paper suggests to utilize a different analytical stance:
with Dewey we propose to disentangle the concept of value by theorizing it as produced in ongoing
practice. But before doing so let’s rehearse how strategy studies have conceptualized value.
In their much-discussed Harvard Business Review article, Porter and Kramer (2011) introduced
the concept of shared value. In an attempt to bring business and society back together, the concept
of shared value describes an approach “which involves creating economic value in a way that also
creates value for society by addressing its needs and challenges” (Porter & Kramer, 2011, p. 4;
emphasis in original). According to the authors, shared value creation unfolds along two dimen-
sions. First, shared value recognizes that “social harms or weaknesses frequently create internal
costs for firms – such as wasted energy or raw materials, costly accidents, and the need for reme-
dial training to compensate for inadequacies in education” (Porter & Kramer, 2011, p. 5; emphasis
in original). Second, shared value “recognizes that societal needs, not just conventional economic
needs, define markets” (p. 5). Hence, shared value follows a two-prong strategy. It advocates
growth by reconceiving possible markets and products and by increasing productivity internally
(p. 7). While central to their argument, the concept of value receives little attention and even less
analysis. The authors emphasize that shared value does mean “economic value creation” (p. 17),
which equates to profit defined by revenues minus costs. Through the concept of shared value, the
authors argue, this economic definition of value is merely extended and applied to societal issues
(p. 6). Porter and Kramer clearly write in the tradition that defines economics as the universal lan-
guage in which human concerns are to be debated and decided (Becker, 1993; von Mises, 1949).
For Porter and Kramer, this idea translates into the imperative to focus on shareholder value (Jensen
& Meckling, 1979) with the slight modification that shareholder value can also be pursued by
addressing social needs. Porter and Kramer’s shared value remains a one-dimensional economic
value, created inside the firm and objectified in profit using the “measuring rod of money” (Coase,
1978, p. 210). The suspicion that there are values that are in tension, perhaps even in conflict with
economic value, does not occur to Porter and Kramer. While much remains to be contested in
Porter and Kramer’s account of shared value (see Barman, 2016; Crane, Palazzo, Spence, &
Matten, 2014), the important point for this paper is to emphasize the singular, purely economic
conceptualization of value in the shared value framework.
The culturally informed resource-based view
Recent contributions to RBV have argued for a stronger focus on the role of social and cultural
values as critical resources for strategy making (Maurer et al., 2011; Ravasi, Rindova, & Dalpiaz,
2012; Rindova, Dalpiaz, & Ravasi, 2011). For instance, Maurer et al. (2011) use the example of
Walmart’s support of the gay and lesbian movement, which led to a number of adverse conse-
quences, such as employees and conservative groups threatening with boycotts. Walmart withdrew
its support, which then enraged the gay and lesbian community. As Maurer et al. (2011, p. 443)
explain, “social movements can undermine the economic value the firm is trying to create by asso-
ciating social issues to the firm’s strategy.” In response, the authors suggest a “culturally informed
RBV” that shares with the traditional RBV (Barney, 1991; Wernerfelt, 1984) the idea that eco-
nomic value “is the net benefit calculated by aggregating the perceived benefits of a firm’s prod-
ucts and services by purchasers and subtracting the associated costs” (Maurer et al., 2011, p. 434).
The culturally informed RBV departs from “[c]onventional RBV [which] suggests that if firms are
able to identify VRIO resources and capabilities, they will create economic value. However, this
conventional view understates the challenges firms face in balancing their own internal capabilities
with the values held in the institutional context.” (Maurer et al., 2011, p. 443). It is the focus on
social values which allows understanding the formation of perceived benefits – something that
traditional RBV has assumed to be exogeneous to the firm. To remedy this blind spot, the culturally
informed RBV focuses on “how individuals form their perceptions of whether something is valu-
able” (Maurer et al., 2011, p. 434). This approach calls for a concern with social and cultural values
that shape preferences: “Firms that recognize the dynamic interplay between their resources and
their institutional context in the face of social issues can engage in important cultural work, and
thereby preserve their strategy’s economic value” (Maurer et al., 2011, p. 432). Following this
view, values are understood as a plural construct: economic value is embedded in cultural, social
and other values. The issue with this conceptualization is the assumption that these non-economic
values are given and exist outside the organization in the consumer’s mind as preferences. The
organization can bring them “inside” by making them part of its “cultural toolkit” (Rindova et al.,
2011; citing Swidler, 1986). But how do these plural values come into existence? And if they are
exogenous to the firm how can these values become part of the strategist’s toolkit?
Co-creation of value
The literature on co-creation is based on the assumption that the locus of value creation shifts from
the individual organization to an ecosystem in which it is embedded (Normann & Ramirez, 1993).
In ecosystems, consumers (among other actors, such as suppliers, peers, intermediaries or even
competitors) play an active role in the creation of value (Prahalad & Ramaswamy, 2004). Because
of its intellectual ancestry in the marketing field, the co-creation literature focuses predominantly
on one specific external co-creator: the consumer (Vargo & Lusch, 2004). The literature empha-
sizes the co-creative aspect of consumption:
aficionados of rugby or cricket experience more entertainment utility when attending these games than
would an out of place baseball fan. Therefore, the benefit experienced through the same product or service
is different for each consumer, and each consumer’s human capital determines how much value he or she
actually experiences. (Priem, 2007, p. 224)1
Rather than analyzing the value add of a firm, Priem suggests speaking of “value aid,” emphasizing
that a good is only the mediator of value, not its sole source. As he argues, the consumer’s ability
to make sense is constitutive of the value of the good, service or (as in the case of sport) the experi-
ence. Co-creation extends to other important stakeholders in the value creation process. Consider
once more the example of “conflict-free gold” (Reinecke, 2015). In this case, the value of gold is
not contingent on its material qualities but on other values such as its mode of production or the
6 Organization Studies
utilization of revenue derived from its sale. These new qualities are ushered into existence co-
creatively by NGO’s, governments, investors, markets, as well as consumers and other actors. For
instance, ethical investors looking for opportunities to invest in socially responsible bonds will
appreciate the value of “conflict-free gold” in a different way than a more traditional financier.
Consequently, a variety of actors are “arbiters of value” as they “validate the value of products and
services” (Priem, 2007, p. 219). But if value is not “in” the product that leaves the assembly line
(or the gold mine), how do investors, regulators, consumers and other arbiters of value go about
doing their job to “validate the value of products and services” (Priem, 2007, p. 219)? If values,
like beauty, are in the eye of the beholder, a mere expression of her subjective preferences, how can
the strategist create value in the beholder’s eye?
The question to be addressed
The discussion of value in the three strands of strategy research remains caught up in a dilemma:
value is either supposed to be created inside the firm and measurable as profit or defined as an
expression of utility (subjective preferences) external to organization. In Porter and Kramer’s
world, value is a singular, economic construct that equates to shareholder value and is articulated
using the measuring rod of money. The culturally informed RBV gestures towards institutional
theory (Lawrence & Phillips, 2004), social movement research (Weber, Heinze, & DeSoucey,
2008) and other more sociologically inflected literature that focus on “multiple orders of worth”
(Boltanski & Thévenot, 1999/2006) as a precondition for economic value creation. In so doing it
challenges central tenets of the RBV such as the assumption that organizations are engaged in
value creation by deploying their assets, know-how and competences more effectively than their
competitors do. Yet despite acknowledging that values are a plural construct, and that non-eco-
nomic values matter for strategizing, the culturally informed RBV rather simplistically assumes
values to be “out there” akin to other contingencies or forces. Cultural work becomes de-facto a
form of (qualitative) market research identifying consumer preferences. The literature on the co-
creation of value is an uneasy marriage of the two: while value creation inside the organization is
understood (in line with traditional strategy thought) as profit, value creation of external actors is
conceptualized as their ability to interpret, adapt and appropriate the “value aid” the firm provides.
In the co-creation literature, value leads a double-life as subjective preferences and as shareholder
value measured in monetary terms.2
In sum, strategy scholarship locates value on the balance sheet or in the eye of the beholder;
value is either conceptualized as reductionist economic construct inside the organization or as
atomistic subjective preference “out there.” The focus on valuation practices suggests an alterna-
tive: it disentangles the concept of value in order to understand the concrete practices and processes
through which something is constituted as valuable in the first place. This paper’s promise is that
such a theorization of value as correlate of valuation practices provides an analytically fruitful way
to understand strategic agency and rivalry. This implies extending practice theory (and especially
Strategy as Practice) as it has neglected valuation as influential practice; and expanding upon valu-
ation studies as it has not reflected in depth on valuation practices and how they pattern rivalry and
structure the intentionality of decision makers.
Valuation Practices and Their Mechanisms
As if anticipating the strategist’s dilemma, Dewey argued that the difficulty of analyzing values
lies in their ambiguous ontological status. On the one hand, values are seen as “emotional epithets”
that are merely articulations of subjective preferences; on the other hand, values should hold up as
a-priori, rationally defined principles providing a sound basis for morals, politics, science and
other domains of life (Dewey, 1939, p. 191). How to avoid the dilemma? Dewey (1913, 1939) sug-
gested an approach that understands value as a correlate of valuation practices. He defined valua-
tion as “activity of rating, an act that involves comparison” (1939, p. 195). In practice, so Dewey,
this means that if someone claims that x is more valuable than y, the analytical task consists of
investigating through which valuation practices x is constituted as more valuable than y. In other
words, every value judgment is contingent on a “weighing process” – and it is this weighing pro-
cess itself that Dewey suggested analyzing (Dewey, 1939, p. 211; Muniesa, 2011).
We follow Dewey and focus on the concrete practices and processes through which goods are
valued. We suggest the concept of valuation practices to capture this process. Following Orlikowski
and Scott (2014, p. 869) we define “valuation as produced in ongoing practice. Such a practice-
based view shifts attention to the specific everyday activities that constitute valuation processes
and the outcomes generated as a result.” The practice-based perspective does not understand valu-
ation as conditioned through specific technological devices (Callon, Millo, & Muniesa, 2007;
Callon & Muniesa, 2005) nor determined through abstract norms, logics or “regimes of valuation”
(Boltanski & Thévenot, 1999/2006; Friedland, 2009). Rather, the practice perspective focuses “on
everyday activities and their structural contexts and outcomes” (Orlikowski & Scott, 2014, p. 872).
In line with much of the practice literature, including Strategy as Practice (SaP; Carter, Clegg, &
Kornberger, 2008), we posit that practices are constitutive: this means that valuation practices do
not merely mirror or bring to the fore pre-existing values, but that valuation practices are actively
involved in the constitution of values.
Take the example of two prominent valuation practices in the hospitality industry – the website
TripAdvisor and the British Automobile Association’s (AA) guide (Orlikowski & Scott, 2014).
These different valuation practices engender different orders of worth. Orlikowski and Scott’s
(2014) practice study focuses on the actors involved in valuations (who is authorized to count:
experts, consumers or an algorithm?), commensuration and categorization techniques, the redefini-
tion of what counts (who to trust, professional expertise or subjective experiences: one person
sleeping in one hundred hotels; or one hundred people sleeping in the same hotel?), the way valu-
ations structure consumers’ search, and the effects of TripAdvisor and the AA guide’s different
visualizations. The two valuation practices constitute a set of different values: TripAdvisor ranks
hotels based on customer reviews and its own algorithm; the AA guide confers stars, merit scores,
silver, gold, breakfast and dinner awards, etc. These different valuations result in different catego-
rizations of hotels constituting different market orders which have, in turn, significant impact on
the travel industry, including strategic agency of actors, and the structure of competition on the
field level (Jeacle & Carter, 2011; Orlikowski & Scott, 2014).
How can we disentangle the workings of valuation practices? There are four interrelated mecha-
nisms that bring about valuation practices’ effects: first, who is engaged in valuation practices;
second, how are goods deconstructed so to make them comparable (commensuration); third, how
are they reassembled into new orders of worth (categorization); and finally, how are valuations
visualized to ensure mobility and assure impact?3
Distributed agency and cognition. Who is actually doing the valuing? The strategy as practice litera-
ture assumes that behind (or above) a practice, there is in the final analysis a practitioner (Whit-
tington, 2011). Studying valuation practices extends this view because valuation involves a series
of different actors, including intermediaries and non-human actors who warrant special attention.
Intermediaries, including experts, critics, consultants, matchmakers and others, play an important
role in valuation practices (Karpik, 2010). Bessy and Chauvin (2013) described them as third par-
ties that organize supply and demand because their actions affect the perceived value of goods or
8 Organization Studies
whole organizations: in their words, intermediaries “are all engaged in activities of valuation that
shape the market” (2013, p. 84). For instance, art critics (Karpik, 2010), credit scoring agencies
(Poon, 2007) or investment bankers (Beunza & Garud, 2007) are traditional intermediaries who
provide valuations (about the value of an artist; the creditworthiness of a person; the prospect of an
investment) that shape preferences and act as guideposts for others’ deliberations and decisions.
These intermediaries are “frame-makers” (Beunza & Garud, 2007) that define conventions and
structure third parties’ cognition; frame-makers are always also engaged in constructing others’
But not only human actors have agency in valuation practices; rather, valuation practices may
include non-human actors: TripAdvisor uses a secret algorithm to produce its rankings (Jeacle &
Carter, 2011). Online dating websites are matchmakers (digital intermediaries) that establish valu-
ations based on computing profiles, preferences, etc. User behavior, algorithms, protocols, and
organizations whose raison d’être it is to turn information into income form an entangled web in
which cognition is distributed. This means that cognition is not located in the individual mind;
rather it is the corollary of the collective action of distributed actors who are connected with each
other in socio-technical networks (Callon & Law, 1997; Hutchins, 1995). Experts, critics, but also
non-human agents, such as algorithms, are involved in practices of valuation. Analytically, this
focus on distributed cognition suggests understanding valuation not as static information on and
assessment of objects but as dynamic process, flowing through networks of people, intermediaries
and machines (Giere, 2002).
Commensurating. Valuation practices are not neutral means of representation but mechanisms of
commensuration. Levin and Espeland (2002, p. 124) defined commensuration as the construction
of “relations among disparate things by uniting them based on their shared relationship to a third
thing – a metric.” Commensuration is an act of introducing a measure that makes hitherto incom-
parable things comparable. It is a process by which individual qualities are bracketed in favor of
one common dimension that allows comparison. This process is accomplished through techniques
that translate qualities into quantities. For instance, in their study of US law school rankings Espe-
land and Sauder (2007) showed that a ranking is a commensuration apparatus that transforms
messy, heterogeneous and hard to judge qualities into neat orders. Law schools differ in many
important aspects and fulfill different functions: specializing in an important sub-field concerning
minority rights or educating lawyers for Wall Street, for instance. Just like lighthouses, these law
schools play their own, important roles and can hardly be compared, let alone be understood as
competing with each other (Espeland & Sauder, 2016). Enter commensuration: it “flattens” the
idiosyncratic, individual characteristics of different institutions and relates them to standard meas-
ures (research output of staff measured in A star journal publications, salary of graduates, etc.). As
a result law schools can be brought into a hierarchical relationship to each other and can be com-
pared with each other. Hence, commensuration exercises power: it defines what counts and what
does not count. Commensuration is always based on (implicit or explicit) assumptions about what
matters (inclusion), and what does not matter (exclusion). It is a double act of highlighting and
hiding (Espeland & Lom, 2015). For instance, the ranking of law schools cannot account for a
particular strength that has grown from a historically close relationship with local industry. The
ranking systematically edits out context-specific information. The ranking measures instead rele-
vance and engagement, using indicators such as external fund raising, which can make a school
with strong ties to local industry but no donated chairs look like an ivory tower.
This process of commensuration is based on quantifications through numbers (Miller, 2001).
Numbers are powerful “techniques of inscription” in which “the collection and aggregation of
numbers participate in the fabrication of a ‘clearing’ within which thought and action can occur”
(Rose, 1999, p. 212). Commensuration is such a deconstructive “clearing”: it flattens and formats
the world, rendering it an object for intervention. Only because a business school’s rank has been
identified on a league table, a Dean can identify her rivals and put measures in place to climb the
ranks of the league table. Her strategic map of the world is shaped by rankings: they make her
strategic position visible, they define her competitors, they suggest goals and measures of success,
and they legitimize strategic change programs. In fact, there is a “tight coupling” (Sauder &
Espeland, 2009) between flattening of the world through commensuration and the possibility of
strategic agency – an important relation we will have to revisit in the concluding section.4
Categorizing. While commensuration deconstructs and flattens its objects, categorization is a pro-
cess of re-organizing them based on externally imposed criteria that engender relations between
them. Categories work as collective evaluative schemata that make it possible to “sort things out”
(Bowker & Star, 1999). To use the example of rankings again: once objects are commensurated,
rankings order them in league tables. Things are counted, added, and multiplied, ratios are estab-
lished and assessments made. Through comparison over subsequent years, trajectories are identi-
fied and prognosis extrapolated.
Categorization has important effects. It links certain elements (the top five business schools)
while becoming a marker of difference in relation to others (not included in the Financial Times
top 45 list). Thus, rankings create a space for things to be situated next to each other, to relate to
each other, and to differentiate themselves from each other (Kornberger & Carter, 2010). In this
sense, rankings, and more generally, valuation practices are generative processes that give rise to
new qualities. In Espeland’s words, rankings have the capacity to create “new objects, new catego-
ries, and new relationships between things and people” (2001, p. 1840). For instance, rankings are
suggestive of new identities, such as the best European business schools or the best “new” univer-
sities. As Glynn and Navis (2013) suggested, organizational identities are negotiated and legiti-
mized through categorizations. Such categorization processes are inextricably entangled with the
work of legitimation (Lamont, 2012) as categorizing implies including and excluding elements,
consecrating some while leaving others to oblivion (or worse).
Categorizations have also important mediating effects. Categorizing is a frame-making activity,
establishing cognitive schemata that guide the distribution of attention (Espeland & Sauder, 2016).
Through doing so categorizations structure the encounter between producers, buyers, critics, regu-
lators and others (Durand & Paolella, 2013). Frames might be contested as they are being con-
structed; but perceived as real (e.g., through league tables presented in media), the league tables,
ratings and indexes that come into existence as a corollary of valuation practices are real in their
consequences (Thomas & Thomas, 1928). This alludes to the next and final mechanism that
accounts for the workings of valuation practices: the socio-materiality and more specifically: the
visualizations of valuations. For as Strathern (2000b) cautioned, there is nothing innocent about
making the invisible visible.
Visualizing. Valuation practices are not mere abstractions. Rather, valuations are organized through
practices, and practices need a material base, concrete technologies and visualizations that enable
and amplify their operations (Feldman & Orlikowski, 2011; Lê & Spee, 2015). Consequently, valu-
ation practices are neither individual cognitive schemata nor societal norms, but concrete, material
forms with specific aesthetic qualities. Valuation practices consist of lists, matrices, stars, diagrams
and other forms of visual representation. The power effects of valuation practices are partly based
on this aesthetic dimension. For instance, Pollock and D’Adderio (2012) studied the aesthetic
design of a rating tool in the IT industry. The 2x2 matrix Pollock and D’Adderio analyzed, Gartner’s
magic quadrant, is chiefly an aesthetic phenomenon. In order to persuade, only a certain amount of
10 Organization Studies
companies may populate the matrix, and their distribution must result in what Pollock and
D’Adderio’s interviewees referred to as “a beautiful picture” (2012, p. 78). In fact, visualization
matters: TripAdvisor’s motto “Get the truth, then go” is premised on the design of its interface (its
socio-material make-up, its visualizations), through which it becomes a powerful intermediary.
Amazon relates searches to other people’s interests, creating imaginary libraries configured not
around disciplinary subject areas or established categorizations but around collective buying deci-
sions and preferences. Again, it is Amazon’s visualizations that create new categorizations, engen-
dering new forms of comparison and competition. Sure, it is still a person with a mouse in his
hands that clicks books into his virtual shopping basket; but the virtual bookshelf on his screen
guides his attention, structures his curiosity and influences his decision-making process. Conse-
quently, the visualizations that valuations result in should not be brushed aside as mere illustra-
tions; rather, they are forms of demonstration (Latour, 1986; Rosental, 2005; Stark & Paravel,
2008) that have one goal: to mobilize people. Like demonstrations on the street, visualization of
valuations offers a mix of proof and power to convince others to follow them, attach themselves to
them, and join them. This power resides in aesthetics: the visualizations of rankings are appealing,
travelling speedily through mainstream media and in so doing they become globally powerful
phenomena (Wedlin, 2006).
Taking stock, where does the focus on valuation practices lead us? For the study of valuation the
appropriate unit of analysis shifts from individual behavior (preferences) and social macro-struc-
tures (norms) to the material and discursive practices through which valuations are accomplished,
and, as their corollary, values are constituted. These valuation practices feed on distributed agency
including intermediaries and non-human actors; they are mechanisms of flattening the world,
making things comparable and translating qualities into quantities; of re-organizing things into
categories, establishing new collective cognitive frames for comparison, and of engendering new
qualities; and they are mechanisms of visualizing valuations to ensure global mobility and impact.
These mechanisms do not represent a neat sequential order, however: rather the four mechanisms
work dynamically and in concert to bring about the effects of valuation practices to which we turn
next (see Table 1).
Valuation Practices and Their Effects: Rivalry and Strategic
Valuation practices and the structuring of rivalry
Valuation practices have important effects on the structuring of rivalry. First, they influence cogni-
tion of consumers, critics, regulators and others who are faced with the task of evaluating compet-
ing goods or entire organizations. How? Valuation practices rank, order and hierarchize the universe
of goods. Only once this ordering is accomplished one can compare A with B, deliberate about
their pros and cons and develop a preference for one or the other. They act as “cognitive prosthe-
ses” (Cochoy, 2008) helping consumers, rivals, critics, regulators, investors and others reduce their
difficulties in comparing and evaluating products, and in making decisions. Which book to buy,
which hotel to choose for a relaxing holiday, or which wine to purchase for a special dinner, these
choices confront consumers with daunting challenges – unless they are equipped with a bestseller
list, TripAdvisor ratings or the local wine club’s pick of the month. These valuation practices facili-
tate the sensemaking and decision making of consumers, critics, collaborators and others. They
provide cognitive support for boundedly rational actors, acting as “guideposts for individual and
collective action” (Karpik, 2010, p. 44).5 In this sense, valuation practices are the a-priori of com-
petition: only after a good has been evaluated and categorized, rivalry can occur (Kornberger &
Carter, 2010). The key point: only because valuation practices make up rankings, ratings, assess-
ments and so on, we can make up our minds.
Second, valuation practices do not only structure cognition through categorizing goods; they also
draw boundaries around industries, locate individual firms within peer groups and enable managers
to orient each other towards peers, consumers, competitors and collaborators (Durand & Paolella,
2013; Glynn & Navis, 2013). In so doing, the categorizations of valuation practice constitute field-
level identities and consecrate them through symbolic boundary work (Zhao, 2005). For instance,
Wedlin (2006, p. 39) observed that business school rankings “help to create, protect or reform sym-
bolic boundaries for the field – as perceptions of who is in, what is legitimate, which characteristics
are valued, who compares to whom and so on.” Put differently: since identity emerges out of rela-
tions between oneself and relevant others, and since valuation practices create new relations between
oneself and others, valuation practices are an important source of identity construction.
Third, valuation practices do not only structure demand (cognitive prosthesis for consumers,
etc.) and supply (firm level and industry identity) but also structure their encounter. Take the
Table 1. Analytics of valuation practices and their constitutive mechanisms.
of valuation practices
Analytical focus Exemplary study
Distributed nature of
agency and cognition
Role of intermediaries in valuation
Role of non-human actors (such as
algorithms) in valuation practices
Agency and cognition distributed across
TripAdvisor as an example of
distributed agency and cognition
with users, experts and algorithms
involved in valuation practices
(Jeacle & Carter, 2011)
Commensuration Introducing common metric to make
Translation of qualities into quantities
Power to define what counts, and how to
count what counts
Law school rankings as
that makes different schools
deconstructing (flattening) them
and translating qualities into
(Espeland & Sauder, 2007)
Categorization Collective evaluative schemata that
sort things out and re-organize
commensurated elements into categories
Categories as collective frames that
mediate encounter between producers,
Generative power to give rise to new
qualities and source of legitimacy
In the case of city rankings,
categorizations order (rank)
cities based on novel criteria that
engender new qualities
(Kornberger & Carter, 2010)
Visualization Aesthetics and socio-materiality of
Visualization makes valuation
mobile, ensuring its (potential) global
Visualizations as a form of demonstration
(proof and power) that focus attention,
structure intentionality and mobilize actors
Gartner’s magic quadrant as
valuation translated into a globally
powerful visualization (“beautiful
picture”) that shapes market
perception and behavior of
producers, consumers and others
(Pollock & D’Adderio, 2012)
12 Organization Studies
example of law school rankings (Espeland & Sauder, 2007). They are a novel medium (interface)
that organizes the encounter between organizations and their external constituencies. On the demand
side, students use rankings to make decisions about study programs; potential employees compete
for jobs at highly ranked places; funding agencies take positions on league tables into consideration
(as part of factors such as “research environment,” for instance); philanthropists donate money to
those schools that are doing well; and so on. On the supply side, resources might be allocated to
those areas that rankings measure; internal performance management is aligned with external indi-
cators used by rankings; hiring policies, recruitment practices and staff development are organized
towards ratios and standards expected by rankings; questions of identity and future strategic devel-
opment are contingent upon the peer group that is established via the ranking; and so on. In short,
what we see in this example is mediation between supply and demand through a specific valuation
practice (Sauder & Espeland, 2009). Put simply, valuation practices organize markets: they connect
the law school dean’s desk with the breakfast table of the student deciding where to study.
Such conceptualization of valuation practices as medium marks the departure from the assump-
tion that there are producers of valuable goods on the one hand, consumers, investors and other
stakeholders endowed with subjective preference on the other, and markets that neutrally facilitate
their encounter. What this paper suggests is that valuation practices act as mediators between them;
that they organize their encounter; and that their organizing work is of strategic significance
because it constitutes what counts, and what not, and who is in competition with whom, for what.
Depending on whether a smartphone is evaluated as a miniature mobile office, a social networking
device, or a gaming console, it will “perform” differently and end up in different categories, appeal-
ing to different market segments. Since competing valuations occur simultaneously, a product’s
value is fundamentally unstable. Hence, for the strategist, one of the main sources of uncertainty
might not result from the next move of perceived rivals, but from the unpredictability of the valu-
ation practices a product might be subjected to and the resulting categorizations that in turn form
the space for rivalry to occur.
Consequently, competition takes place on the level of valuation practices as they exercise the
power to categorize and consecrate goods as worthy. It is not an abstract “market” but the league
tables of rankings, the bestseller lists, ratings, accreditations and other valuations that represent the
condition and medium for rivalry to occur. The focus on valuation practices suggests a shift of the
unit of analysis: rather than studying competition between goods, the analysis is concerned with those
valuation practices that mediate and structure the encounter between producer and consumer.
Competition is understood as the ongoing political maneuver of claiming value and contesting com-
peting value claims, struggling over the authority and legitimacy of valuation practices (see Figure 1).
Valuation practices, structuring of intentionality and strategic agency
What are the implications of our theoretization for strategic agency? If competition is engendered
through valuation practices, then strategizing has to be understood in relation to an actor’s capacity
to influence and navigate these practices of valuation. Put simply (and referring back to the syllo-
gism introduced at the beginning of the paper), if the task of strategists is to create value, and if
value is constituted through valuation practices, then strategic agency equates to attempts at coping
with and shaping of those practices through which valuations take place and through which, ulti-
mately, values come into existence.
Analytically, there are three ways in which strategy practice might relate to valuation: first, the
strategist might internalize the criteria and mechanisms that underpin specific valuation practices.
For instance, in their analysis of TripAdvisor, Orlikowski and Scott (2014) observed that hotel
managers incorporated TripAdvisor’s valuations (including reviews, comments, etc.) as bench-
marks for their strategic planning. Note that an algorithm might show similar behavior, adapting its
actions to others’ valuations (think of automated high frequency trading). On an organizational
level, internalization strategies confirm and perform to the criteria put forward by rankings (Gioia
& Corley, 2002), engendering isomorphism.
Second, managers might engage in gaming strategies, manipulating individual indicators that
are used in valuations. Espeland and Sauder’s study (2007) illustrate such gaming behaviors. They
show how rankings entice those being ranked to alter their behaviors strategically which might
improve the positioning in the ranking but not overall performance (Espeland & Sauder, 2007).
What we observe here are the perverse effects of performance management systems writ large on
an organizational or even field level.
A third response might be that strategists seek to impose their own valuation criteria onto a field,
with the aim to establish their criteria of what counts as standard for the field. Studies on social
movements provide illustrations of how groups lobby to establish such standards (for green energy,
organic food, etc.). For instance, Dubuisson-Quellier (2013, p. 683) demonstrated how the strategy
of an environmental movement organization “consist[ed] of attempts to change the most prevalent
valuation criteria within the market by introducing principles of worth that rely on products’ envi-
ronmental performance. This involves activist organizations suggesting new product valuation cri-
teria, and then seeking to convince firms that consumers’ preferences are changing.” Whether
internalizing, game playing or imposing one’s own criteria, in all three instances valuation prac-
tices represent the locus of strategic agency because it is there that orders of worth are constituted,
that values are attached to goods, and that the mediation between producers and consumers (as well
as investors, regulators, etc.) is organized (see Table 2).
This focus on valuation practices as a locus of strategic action raises questions about mana-
gerial agency. In much of the literature, social and cultural values are instrumentalized as ele-
ments of the “cultural toolkit” (Swidler, 1986) at the disposal of the manager (Glynn & Navis,
2013). Researchers advocating a cultural turn in the RBV share this functionalist approach
Figure 1. Valuation practices organizing the encounter between producers and consumers using the
example of the FT Global MBA Ranking.
14 Organization Studies
(Maurer et al., 2011; Rindova et al., 2011). In contrast, neo-institutional research argues that
categories exercise disciplinary effects on organizations (Zuckerman, 1999), which leaves the
strategist little room to maneuver. We encounter a not unusual impasse: an over-individualized,
managerial approach clashes with an over-structuralized, sociological account of the conditions
of the (im-)possibility of agency. The valuation approach suggests an alternative view bringing
into focus managerial agency while keeping an eye on structural constraints. Using the example
from Dubuisson-Quellier (2013) again, strategic practice consists of the actors’ ability to
develop and circulate mediating valuation practices that bring environmental criteria to con-
sumers’ consideration and encourage them to make environmentally friendly choices. This
point touches upon the question of how the strategist might actually engage in “cultural work”
– answer: she influences, perhaps even authors, valuation practices that include how to count
(commensurate), how to order (categorize) and how to promote (visualize) a specific order of
worth. The test of her ingenuity and creativity is whether she can develop valuation practices
that circulate and become mediators between producers and consumers. Consequently, strategic
agency is engaged in an ongoing struggle to challenge and change existing valuation practices
and introducing new ones. It is the ability of the strategist to impose criteria of evaluation that
is the hallmark of her strategic power.
This paper set out to provide ways and means for rethinking the concept of value as a correlate of
valuation practices and explore implications for rivalry and strategy practice – with the aim to alter
the ongoing conversation in strategy scholarship: if goods are ordered, hierarchized and “appreci-
ated” by consumers, critics, competitors and others through mediating valuation practices, it fol-
lows that (1) competition takes place at the level of valuation practices as they constitute the spaces
for rivalry in which accounts of worth are constructed and contested; and that (2) strategy has to be
understood in relation to an actor’s capacity to influence and cope with these valuation practices.
In consequence, the locus of strategic action is neither the firm or its resources; nor is its success
contingent upon environmental conditions. Rather, the locus of strategic action shifts towards the
interstices between producer and consumer, where their encounter is mediated by valuation prac-
tices. The ultimate stress-test for this conceptual proposition is whether it instigates novel, promis-
ing research questions?
Table 2. Strategic agency in response to rivalry engendered by valuation practices.
Strategic response Strategic action Exemplary study
Internalizing Strategist internalizes criteria and
mechanisms of valuation practice
Hotel managers translating TripAdvisor’s
valuation mechanisms into internal key
performance indicators (Orlikowski &
Gaming Strategist manipulates specific
indicators that underpin valuation
College deans manipulating admission and
graduation numbers to increase score in
ranking (Espeland & Sauder, 2007)
Imposing Strategist introduces new valuation
practice with the aim to make a
specific set of qualities (values)
Activist movements introducing new
certifications with the aim to alter
consumers’ decision-making criteria and
hence force producers to adapt to new
standards (Dubuisson-Quellier, 2013)
I believe it does. First and foremost, this paper puts the important, yet undertheorized concept
of value (back) on the agenda of strategy scholarship. It suggests doing so through analyzing val-
ues as correlate of valuation practices. Valuation practices can be studied as recurring interactions
between actors, technologies and structures that constitute, as their corollary, values. The practice
approach invites scholars to shift the focus from valuation devices or norms towards the ongoing
practices and processes of commensuration, categorization and visualization as mechanisms of
valuation. Moreover, the suggested approach suggests studying valuation as accomplished by a
multitude of distributed actors, including intermediaries and non-human actors – an idea that strat-
egy scholarship has recently shown interest in (see Kaplan, 2011).
This conceptualization of valuation as practice does not aim to replace extant scholarship but to
provide a refined conceptual tooling for ongoing strategy research. The culturally informed RBV
could utilize the concept of valuation practices to understand how values emerge, what valuations’
effects are, and how strategists can practically engage in “cultural work.” The above mentioned
VRIO framework and other RBV analytics could use the valuation perspective to inquire how a
resource is being defined and calculated as valuable in the first place. Extending the mediating
aspect, the co-creation literature could focus on how valuation practices organize the encounter
between producers, consumers and others and in so doing structure the possibilities for co-creation.
For example, co-creation could study how evaluative infrastructures (Kornberger et al., 2015)
usher into existence trust, quality standards, reputation and other values that form the basis of col-
laborative consumption, peer-to-peer production, sharing models and other co-creative ventures.
The Strategy as Practice (SaP) literature could be enriched by a focus on valuation practices as they
represent a hitherto neglected strategic practice. Such a focus on valuation practices invites the SaP
researcher to shift her unit of analysis from practices inside firms (where much of the current SaP
studies focus) and towards valuation practices that organize the encounter between producers,
consumers and others. The reflections on strategic responses to valuation practices (internalizing;
gaming; imposing) might extend the heuristic repertoire of future SaP studies.
Our approach might also contribute towards the rejuvenation of critical strategy studies (Knights
& Morgan, 1991). Valuation has important power effects, shaping the objects it supposedly reports
on. Strategic (gaming) behavior induced by valuation practices (such as rankings) may result in
goal displacement (Merton, 1940) and may contribute to the normalization of pathological organi-
zational behavior. A further fruitful avenue for critical inquiry could be to analyze the struggles
between different valuation practices about what counts and how to count, scrutinizing the mecha-
nisms through which valuations become consecrated and authoritative. This agenda could high-
light forms of valuation that resist quantification (such as brands) and that might result in a different
relationship between valuation, strategic agency and rivalry.
In regards to studying rivalry, this paper suggests that competition takes place on the level of
valuation practices that mediate the encounter between producers and consumers. This view might
add to existing debates on competition. Porac et al. argued that managers socially construct a
“mental model of the market and how one’s firm is placed within it” (1995, p. 205). Their approach
stresses the role of managerial cognition, providing a somehow over-individualized account of
rivalry. From a neo-institutional perspective categorizations are the collective evaluative schemata
that allow firms to orient each other to each other and hence to compete. For instance, Durand and
Paolella (2013) resort to “institutions” and “cultural features” as sources of new categorizations.
This prompts the criticism of an over-socialized account of rivalry in which abstract notions of
“culture” or “institutions” are evoked to explain categorization processes that structure competi-
tion. Following our approach, rivalry is not the result of a managerial mind nor is it the result of
categorizations derived from an abstract notion of “culture”; rather, the proposed theoretization of
valuation puts emphasis on the concrete practices through which the work of valuing, weighing,
16 Organization Studies
comparing, ordering and categorizing is accomplished. Valuation practices represent the concrete
mechanisms that engender competition, providing the analytical “missing link” between manage-
rial cognition and cultural categorizations. Hence, valuation practices provide an analytical strat-
egy for studying the interlacing of interactionist and institutional dimensions – something that has
been recently called for by practice strategists and institutional theorists alike (Suddaby, Seidl, &
Finally, this paper also encourages students of valuation to engage with strategy research. To
date, much research on valuation, and in fact economic sociology, has focused on markets and
consumption (Vatin, 2013). Karpik’s (2010, p. 54) magisterial discussion of judgment devices and
valuation practices explores their effects in the sphere of consumption while he acknowledges that
he only offers a “simplified conception of the production sphere.” Callon, Méadel, and Rabeharisoa
(2002) talk much about competition but do not reflect on strategy. This paper complements this
focus on consumption and markets by offering reflections on the effects of valuation practices on
the sphere of strategizing and organizing. It offers an invitation for economic sociologists and stu-
dents of valuation to analyze how valuation practices engender rivalry and how they structure the
intentionality of decision makers.
Last but not least, what evaluative claims derive from this essay? A critical reading would empha-
size that valuation practices come at a significant cost. They reduce qualities to quantities, they
flatten the world, making values (qualities) disappear in the process. They establish comparisons
between otherwise idiosyncratic entities and engender competition between them. Valuations force
hitherto co-existing entities into playing zero-sum games; scarcity is introduced where it did not
exist before. Valuations’ probity needs interrogation as it turns individual traces and decisions
(clicks) into resource for (data) mining and exploitation. Following this critical reading, valuation
practices are but the debris of the audit explosion (Power, 1997; Strathern, 2000a).
A slightly more upbeat reading might suggest that new valuation practices in the form of tests,
accreditations, audits, rankings and so on give rise to novel, hitherto unarticulated values. Conflict-
free gold, a fair-trade T-shirt or a CO2 neutral flight are differentiated goods that result from novel
valuation practices. Practically, the strategist’s (as well as the activist’s) task includes exploiting,
perhaps even developing new valuations as they provide the opportunity to position a good differ-
ently. One could see this as an inherently positive development of giving voice (in a Hirschmanian
sense) to yet unarticulated, silenced societal needs and concerns (Lamont, 2012), making valuation
practices the critical infrastructure for participation, collaboration and democracy.
For a stance inspired by practice philosophy, both armchair-claims seem of limited usefulness
as they seek to identify a-priori reasons for praising or condemning valuation practices; rather,
echoing Foucault (1983, p. 231) we argue “not that everything is bad, but that everything is
dangerous, which is not exactly the same as bad. If everything is dangerous, then we always have
something to do.” Hence our evaluative claim is less definite, more inquisitive then the two out-
lined above. No doubt, valuation practices do give rise to new voices and engender new values,
such as for instance new forms of reputation borne out of TripAdvisor or new personal profiles
engendered through LinkedIn’s valuation practices. But these practices filter, alter voices in the
process of articulating them. Emphasis has to be put on the processes and practices through
which voice is identified, amplified, and reproduced. Here comes the dangerous part: for
LinkedIn or TripAdvisor reputation is not a residual societal or cultural phenomenon lingering
above or below their operations. Reputation is not an exogenous “object” that they try to capture
or account for. Reputation does not underpin their business; the creation of reputation is their
business. Hence we should not think of economic activity being “embedded” in some pre-exist-
ing socio-cultural context; nor does economic activity solely respond to given preferences. What
TripAdvisor and a plethora of other valuation practices do is to generate social, cultural and
other values as inputs for economic processing. TripAdvisor does not embed (“bed down”) its
business in a ready-made social, cultural world; rather, it defines what reputation is, what it
means, how to attain it, how to act on it, etc. In the final analysis, this necessitates that we rethink
the relation between economy and society: Weber’s model of spheres of life (including its incar-
nation as orders of worth) or Granovetter’s embeddedness thesis presume separate value spheres
each characterized by their own origins, rules, rituals, and effects. This narrative is coming
undone as in valuation practices the economic and the social are constituted as correlate of one
and the same practice. To like a blog post for its political content or a picture for its aesthetic
qualities on Facebook means simultaneously producing a resource for economic exploration and
exploitation. Valuation practices play a pivotal role in this new political economy. This hints at
the fundamental question that we need to ask with Dewey, and through him, Nietzsche: what are
the values of valuation practices, and through which powers, at what costs, do they consecrate
the value regimes we live and work by?
This research received no specific grant from any funding agency in the public, commercial, or not-for-profit
1. This point has been discussed in depth in the literature on the co-creation of brands (see Arvidsson, 2006;
Kornberger, 2010; Zwick, Bonsu, & Darmody, 2008).
2. Does it matter that strategy as a field harbors two conflicting notions of value? Perhaps yes, because
some of the dominating debates in the field such as the competency trap (Levitt & March, 1988) and
the innovator’s dilemma (Christensen, 1997) result from this conceptual slippage. While value defined
as internal profit might increase over time, value defined as utility might decrease simultaneously (see
Lopdrup-Hjorth, 2011). Following this argument, the innovator’s dilemma is not a consequence of a
relentlessly working market logic but the result of the epistemological slippage of the researcher.
3. This use of the concept of mechanisms is inspired by Foucault suggesting that practices work with and
through mechanisms: for instance, the exam as one practice of disciplinary power brings about its effects
through mechanisms such as comparison, hierachization, ordering, etc. The four mechanisms that this
paper analyzes represent the mechanisms through which valuation practices’ effects come about.
4. This tight coupling has a long history: General Jomini, one of Clausewitz’s contemporaries, defined
“strategy as making war on a map.” Here the possibility of strategy rests on the flat representation of the
world as map.
5. Hence the notion of a “cognitive prostheses,” describing valuations as cognitive aids that help peo-
ple making sense and decisions through offering comparisons, recommendations, etc. Prosthesis is not
understood narrowly as a technical device but in the sense of Freud (1930/1961, p. 39) who wrote: “Man
has, as it were, become a kind of prosthetic God. When he puts on all his auxiliary organs he is truly
magnificent; but those organs have not grown on to him and they still give him much trouble at times.”
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Martin Kornberger received his PhD in Philosophy from the University of Vienna in 2002. Prior to joining
EM Lyon he worked at the University of Technology Sydney as Associate Professor in design and manage-
ment, and as research director of the Australian Creative Industry Innovation Centre; and at Copenhagen
Business School as Professor for strategy and organization. He is also a visiting professor at the University of
Edinburgh Business School and a research fellow at the Vienna University of Economics and Business. His
research focuses on the ideas that inform strategy practice and new organizational designs, with the aim to
stretch the imagination of practitioners and scholars.