How to write after performativity? (part 1)

[Este es una prueba de un nuevo tipo de post en este blog. El nombre de la sección por ahora es “artículos en cuotas”. La idea es, como en una novela por entregas, ir subiendo partes de papers a medida que vayan saliendo. El texto abajo es un primer intento. Es un borrador de la primera parte de un capítulo para el libro A Routledge Companion to ANT, editado por Anders Blok, Ignacio Farías & Celia Roberts. Por cierto, sugerencias sobre como debería seguir la historia son muy bienvenidos]

How to write after performativity? José Ossandón.

First installment of a chapter prepared for A Routledge Companion to ANT, edited by Anders Blok, Ignacio Farías & Celia Roberts. Non-proof read draft.

I. The question

The editors of this volume confronted each invited contribution with a question. The question posed for this chapter is ‘how to write after performativity?’ What is this chapter about?


This chapter is not about performativity at large. It is not about the ‘performativity turn’ (Muniesa 2014) in the social sciences and humanities. It is not about the philosophy of language of Austin and Searle, it is not about Butler or Derrida, and it is not about Lyotard. It is about the particular extension of Actor-Network theory initiated by Michel Callon to the study of markets, movement which is normally associated with the word performativity[1]. The chapter does not deal with all the different theories Callon has successfully introduced in the study of economic problems. The chapter only tangentially touches issues such as Callon’s particular approach to the qualification of goods (Callon et al 2002), hybrid forums, affected groups and technological democracy (Callon 2009, TCS), and innovation (Akrich et al 2002). The chapter focuses on what Callon has – in part in order to distinguish his own emphases from the many other branches of the performativity turn – termed ‘performation’[2]: his theory to explain the ‘emergence and logic of calculative agencies’ (Callon 1998a: 24).

After performativity

After, writes Peter Sloterdijk, ‘is the name for a break, an epoche, in the traditional sense of the word, which indicates both the caesura and also the time following it’ (Sloterdijk 2016: pp[3]). After performativity is, then, not against, versus, or even beyond performativity; it refers to the possibilities that have been opened and were not before the breach introduced by the theory of interest here. It is, as it were, about the performativity of performativity.

Some famous lines by Callon read:

homoeconomicus does exist, but it is not an a-historical reality; he does not describe the hidden nature of the human being. He is the results of a process of configurations […] beyond the material procedures, legal and monetary elements which facilitate the framing and construction of the space of calculability, there is a capital, yet rarely mentioned, element: economic theory itself’ (Callon 1998a: 22)

In Callon’s view, theories are like technical infrastructure. In the same way that, for instance, the design of a new bike path prefigures that its users will bike on the right side of the lane, and not in zig-zag, theories mobilize scripts with particular distributions of agencies. The success of a theory (Callon 2007), from this perspective, depends on its ability to enrol or to make those involved in their use to act as they are expected to act in the mobilized scripts. Homoeconomicus is the particular type of economic agent performed with economic theory; economic actors become homoeconomicus as they act the roles prefigured in the theories used to organize markets.

This chapter is about the success of Callon’s theory. The chapter, though, does not inspect the ways in which economic agencies have been transformed after they have been analysed or intervened with tools that mobilize concepts proposed by Callon. New theories are successful not only as they transform their object of study, what they want to explain, actually, most of the times they don’t even reach them. Social theories are successful too, they perform, as they transform the researchers that use them. To use the term Callon borrows from Deleuze and Guattari, theories are agencements. Theories distribute agencies, but not only in the sense that they mobilize scripts prefiguring the actions of those whose actions are explained, but as they prefigure the particular characters that will use them. Economic theories do not only construct the homoeconomicus, they also create the economists. To paraphrase Sloterdijk (2014) again; new theories in the social science are like secessionist movements; they are anthropotechnic programme that transform those that exercise them. Callon’s work, the object of interest here, is not an exception in this regard. This theory has been, no doubt, immensely successful, but not in the sense of callonizing the economy (see Farías 2016 though), but, mostly in the sense of producing a secessionist movement. It has been successful because it has been enacted by an army of converted researchers.

To write after performativity

New concepts, Deleuze and Guattari explain (1994), do things: they open new horizons for thought and the conceptual personae that inhabit them. Conceptual personae are not the theorists, but their alter-egos: they are characters; they are the actants that enunciate the statements that constitute a theory. Of course, not all theories are explicit in this regard. Some philosophies, such as those of Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, as analysed by Deleuze (1968), are like movie scripts, sets of instructions about how to represent their conceptual personae. Social theory is rarely so explicit. There are, of course, important exceptions. An excellent example is Garfinkel’s Studies in Ethnomethodology, which is as much a theory about its objects as a set of procedures researchers should follow in order to become etnomethodologists. There are also those works that directly address future researchers as potential converts. Exemplars cases are: Weber’s lecture ‘Science as Vocation’, Becker’s Tricks of the Trade, and Latour’s Re-assembling the Social. Most of the times, however, the characters featured in social scientific narratives, such as in Callon’s main texts, are those whose actions are to be explained or modelled. The conceptual persona that enunciates the explanations can remain tacit[4]. To write after performativity is to write social research that enacts the conceptual personae created with Callon’s theory about the emergence of calculative agencies.

This chapter is not the first text that asks these types of questions in relation to Callon’s economic sociology. This issue has preoccupied Paul Du Gay (2010) and Rasmus Jenle (2015) before. In the context of his broader critique to what he has called ‘the moment of theory’ in contemporary social science, Du Gay (2010, see also Du Gay & S Vikkelsø 2016) has identified a tension in the work of Callon. Sometimes, this work is descriptive and empirically oriented and other times it is populated by broad metaphysical and non-testable arguments. Jenle (2015) picks the label Du Gay uses, the ‘theoreticist’, to characterize the research persona performed with Callon’s performativity programme. He identifies this position with two main features: ‘a primary commitment to or prioritization of the development of generally applicable conceptualizations of markets’ and ‘a lack of concern with the object of study as constituted by an empirical state of affairs’ (Jenle 2015: 216). Du Gay’s and Jenle’s analyses have been, in turn, greatly influenced by Ian Hunter’s critique of cultural theory. Hunter’s (2006) argument is that some of the most influential cultural theories of the past century, such as deconstructivism and phenomenology, share a particular type of intellectual stance: they conduct an intellectual practice that prioritizes spiritual exercises oriented to transform the researchers over empiricists or positivist inquiry.

The exercise here conducted is certainly influenced by these discussions. It will be argued, for instance, that Callon’s theory does not produce a single conceptual persona, but personae, and these are not always consistent. The point here, however, is not to evaluate whether the orientation of Callon’s theory is empiricist enough. It is not either identifying this theory’s overall stance. The point is rather identifying the type of conceptual personae, the implicit characters that enunciate the statements, in the sets of texts that constitute this theory, and, by doing that, to problematize the type of researchers enacted when this theory is used.

The remaining text is split in two parts. The first part attempts to identify the conceptual persona constructed in Callon’s landmarks texts of 1998 (Callon 1998a, 1998b). In order to do that, the analysis focuses on the way in which Callon transformed Garcia’s famous analysis of the strawberry market at at Fontaines-en-Sologne. The second part analyses texts written by Callon and colleagues (Callon 2007, 2009, 2013; Muniesa 2014, Muniesa et al 2017; MacKenzie & Millo 2003; Stengers 2014) in order to identify the personae that had emerged with the use of Callon’s theory about the emergence of calculative agencies. All in all, five different personae are identified: the Actor-Network theorists of the 1998 texts; the science scholar detective of Mackenzie and Millo, the speculative-comparator in Muniesa’s text, the market-reformer-enthusiast in Callon’s more recent texts (Callon 2009, 2016), and the idiot Stenger mobilizes as a response to the market-reformer-enthusiast.


Akrich, M., Callon, M., & Latour, B. (2002). The Key to Success in Innovation Part i: The art of Interessement, International Journal of Innovation, 6(2), 187–206.

Becker, H. S. (2008). Tricks of the trade: How to think about your research while you’re doing it. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Callon, M. (1998a). Introduction: The Embeddedness of Economic Markets in Economics. In M. Callon (Ed.), The Laws of the Markets (pp. 1–57). Oxford: Blackwell.

Callon, M. (1998b). An Essay on Framing and Overflowing: Economic Externalities Revisited by Sociology. In M. Callon (Ed.), The Laws of the Markets (pp. 244–69). Oxford: Blackwell.

Callon, M. (2007). What Does it Mean to Say that Economics Is Performative? In Mackenzie et al. (Eds ) (pp. 311–57).

Callon, M. (2009). Civilizing markets: Carbon trading between in vitro and in vivo experiments. Accounting, Organizations and Society, 34(3-4), 535–548.

Callon, M., & Latour, B. (1997). ‘Tu ne calculeras pas’ ou comment symétriser le don et le capital. Revue du Mauss, 9, 45–70.

Callon, M., Meadel, C., & Rabeharisoa, V. (2002). The Economy of Qualities. Economy and Society, 31(2). 194–217.

Deleuze, G. (2004). Difference and repetition. London: Continuum.

Deleuze, G. and Guattari, F., (2014) What is philosophy?. NYC: Verso.

Farías, I., 2016. Devising hybrid forums: Technical democracy in a dangerous world. City, 20(4), pp.549-562.

Garfinke, H. (1999) Studies in Ethnomethodology, Cambridge: Polity Press.

Fourcade, M. (2007). Theories of Markets, Theories of Society. American Behavioral Scientist, 50(8), 1015–34.

Garcia-Parpet, M-F. (2007) [1986]. The Social Construction of a Perfect Market: The Strawberry Auction at Fontaines-en-Sologne. In Mackenzie et al. [Eds].

du Gay, P. (2010). Performativities: Butler, Callon and the moment of theory. Journal of Cultural Economy, 3(2), 171-179.

du Gay, P. and Vikkelsø, S. (2017). For Formal Organization. The Past in the Present and Future of Organization Theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Jenle, R. P. (2015). Engineering Markets for Control, PhD Thesis. Frederiksberg: Copenhagen Business School.

Latour, B. (2005). Reassembling the Social. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Mackenzie, D., & Millo, Y. (2003). Constructing a Market, Performing Theory: The Historical Sociology of a Financial Derivatives Exchange. American Journal of Sociology, 109(1), 107–45.

Muniesa, Fabian Fabián (2014). The Provoked Economy. Economic reality and the performative turn. London, Routledge.

Muniesa, F., Doganova, L., Ortiz, H., Pina-Stranger, Á., Paterson, F., Bourgoin, A., Ehrenstein, V., Juven, P.A., Pontille, D., Saraç-Lesavre, B. and Yon, G., Muniesa, F., et al (2017). Capitalization: A Cultural Guide. Paris: Mines Press.

Ossandón, J. (2015). ¿Cómo escribir lo social después de la performatividad y sus obstrucciones?. Cuadernos De Teoría Social, 2(1), 8-32.

Ossandón, J. & Pallesen, T. (2016). “Testing ‘The Provoked Economy”, Journal of Cultural Economy, 9(3),310-5.

Sloterdijk, P. (2016). Not Saved: Essays After Heidegger. John Wiley & Sons…

Sloterdijk, P. (2014). You must change your life. John Wiley & Sons.

Stengers, I. (2014). La propuesta cosmopolítica. Revista Pléyade, 14, 17-41.



[1] Fourcade (2007), for instance, labels ‘the performativity perspective’ the work in economic sociology influenced by Callon. Others (REFS) have called the socio-economic work inspired by Callon ‘performativity programme’.

[2] ‘Emphasizing the role of materialities – or of what I call sociotechnical agencements– leads to the notion of performation’ (Callon 2007: 329).

[3] The full quotation reads: “After Luhmann- that is the name for a break, an epoche, in the traditional sense of the word, which indicates both the caesura and also the time following it” (Sloterdijk 2016: PP).

[4] Callon’s writing is in this sense very different to Latour’s, who craftily uses rhetorical figures such as polemics, dialogues, or diagrams to highlight the particularities of his social scientific research position. This chapter continues previous reflections about how performativity challenges traditional ways of using texts to demonstrate social scientific theories and findings (Ossandón 2015, see also Ossandón & Pallesen 2016). The analysis in Ossandón (2015) compares rhetorical strategies used in texts by Serres, Latour, Bolstanski and Muniesa. In the terms used here so far, while the current chapter is about the type of researcher prefigured in the analysed theory, the analysis focused on the prefigured reader. Unlike the current chapter, whose aims is to study the research personae constructed in order to enunciate the theory analysed here, the analysis focused on how these texts are constructed in order to act on their potential readers.

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  • marheredia  On September 11, 2017 at 2:43 pm

    Muy interesante la idea de tener posts en cuotas! Sobre esta primera entrega del artículo de José, me parece un excelente ángulo para pensar en la investigación social en economía después de la performatividad de Callon. Quedo ansiosa por leer las personae que identificaste y tal vez una vuelta final de tuerca podría ser cómo se corresponden esas figuras con las que dominan en otras aproximaciones dentro de la economía y la sociología que llevaron a la vez a armar a los “investigadores convertidos a la causa” pero también a abrir un espacio relativamente separado de las otras disciplinas.


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