Cfp_EGOS Sub-theme 33: In the Eye of the Beholder: The Beauty and Necessity of Market Imperfections

[Quizás alguien por ahí se anime. Sub-Theme 33, EGOS, 2021. Fechas y todo eso, acá: ]

Sub-theme 33: In the Eye of the Beholder: The Beauty and Necessity of Market Imperfections

Convenors: Philip Roscoe, University of St Andrews, Susi Geiger, University College Dublin, José Ossandón, Copenhagen Business School

Call for Papers

The EGOS Colloquium 2022 call invites reflection on the beauty of imperfection and the possibilities it invokes. This sub-theme takes up that challenge as it works towards an account of imperfections in markets. Of course, we do not expect our track participants to simply repeat what economists have already said about market failures, imperfect competition, externalities and so on. Our call is to make market perfection and imperfection a problem to study organizationally.

Economics has an aesthetic fascination with markets. Neo-classical economists conceived of a ‘perfect market’ informed by the beauty of a mathematical formula (Morgan, 2012; Mirowski, 1989). This was a model – an artifice for thought, full of strange assumptions and fictive characters. For thinkers such as von Mises, the market of economics was also an ideal, an utopia that pointed to the most efficient means of distributing resources. Later in the 20th century, Hayek (1973) divined another kind of ideal, the ‘catallaxy’, where markets had the beauty of astronomical or biological systems: complex systems with an intelligence that no planner could match. Most recently, in the growing area of market design, economists such as Alvin Roth (2002) have found yet another type of aesthetic ideal. Their market has the elegance of well formulated computer programming: sleek, parsimonious algorithmic systems that can be ever re-designed. Economics has become a ‘cyborg science’ (Mirowski, 2002).

Researchers in the social sciences have not remained untouched by these ideals, even while exploring the ‘uglier’, imperfect aspects of actually existing markets. The ‘new economic sociology’ sought to complicate the economic actor, embedding economic agents into networks of information flow, valuing trust and social contacts (Uzzi, 1996; Granovetter, 1973). But its embedded economic actor is still (beautifully) rational, simply in an enriched context. The ‘new new economic sociology’ (McFall & Ossandón, 2014) saw homo-oeconomicus as ‘performed’ (Callon, 1998), inscribed in the tools and devices used to organize markets, which opened up the analysis of really existing markets to include politics, misfires, contestations and the manifold others of market ideals’ real-life manifestations. Yet, unlike research coming from economics, organisational scholarship on markets lacks an aesthetic relation with markets and its imperfections. While moving from a view of markets as emergent social dynamics (White, 1981) to a view of markets as the product of formal organization (Ahrne et al., 2015), institutional rivalry (Fligstein, 1996), and socio-technical devices (MacKenzie, 2009), a full reflection of the many dynamics relating market design to markets’ organizations has not taken place in our area. This is, precisely, the gap this sub-theme expects to cover.

The sub-theme asks organizational scholars to face the problem of market perfection and imperfection organizationally. These are some of the issues we would expect our contributors to cover:

Market designers as market organizers

Inspired by development at the intersection between science and technology studies and economic sociology, recent scholarship has made the efforts required in maintaining markets as perfect its object of study. It is work that is starting to trace the aesthetic labour of market designers, those who made their work to put markets to work as solutions for a vast range of clients and private and collective problems (Frankel et al., 2019; Neyland et al., 2019a): markets for the generation of sustainable electricity (Pallesen, 2016) and even loving relationships (Roscoe & Chillas, 2014). We call for studies that pay attention to the work of market designers. How do markets designers organize?

The organization of market imperfection

Research has only recently begun to explore the vital role of imperfections in organizing, governing and shaping markets. Studies have shown how market overflows, or ‘misfires’ (Bamford & MacKenzie, 2018; Callon, 2010), far from ugly deviations from an ideal market, provide opportunity for market actors to challenge and reorganize markets (Geiger & Gross, 2018; Geiger 2021, Ossandón & Ureta; 2019; Neyland et al., 2019b), and how market imperfections can offer a powerful means of market governance (Roscoe & Willman, forthcoming). Yet the literature lacks a coherent account of the importance of imperfections in the generation and maintenance of markets – and of their ontological importance to the very idea and possibility of market perfection. What is the role of markets’ imperfections in their organization? This questioning may also extend to genealogies of market imperfection in theory or in practice.

How organizational scholars engage in market design and repair

We also invite reflections on our own positionalities as researchers of markets. A focus on the ideals of market designers, however failing, runs the risk of entrenching or even exaggerating existing structures of domination (Christophers, 2014). As critically inclined scholars of markets have become aware of the performative consequences of their own ‘marketographies’ (Roscoe & Loza, 2019), the sub-theme posits that a focus on imperfections could open up new ways of thinking and doing market scholarship. We invite contributors to reflect about their own roles in the organization, design, and (crucially) attempted repair of markets.

Markets and organization after market design

An important development in recent studies of markets in organization theory is that the previously taken for granted sharp distinction between market and organization is in question. Markets are the outcome of socio-material organizing (Callon & Muniesa, 2005) and markets in fact share many of the aspects attributed to formal organizations (Ahrne et al., 2015; Brunsson & Jutterström, 2018). Interestingly, with the recent expansion of market design in policy making and of platforms in the economy more generally, practitioners are also beginning to act upon markets as if they were objects of engineering, design, and organization (Frankel et al., 2019), akin to and often in parallel with other organizational efforts. We invite contributors to re-assess the status of the relationship between organization(s) and markets as reflected in practitioners’ attempts to transpose organizational tools from one space to another.

Conceptual and empirical submissions are equally welcome from a range of perspectives.


Ahrne, G., Aspers, P., & Brunsson, N. (2015): “The organization of markets.” Organization Studies, 36 (1), 7–27.

Bamford, A., & Mackenzie, D. (2018): “Counterperformativity.” New Left Review, 113, 97–121.

Brunsson, N., & Jutterström, M. (eds.) (2018): Organizing and Reorganizing Markets. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Callon, M. (1998): The Laws of the Markets. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Callon, M. (2010): “Performativity, misfires and politics.” Journal of Cultural Economy, 3 (2), 163–169.

Callon, M., & Muniesa, F. (2005): “Peripheral vision: Economic markets as calculative collective devices.” Organization Studies, 26 (8), 1229–1250.

Christophers, B. (2014): “From Marx to market and back again: Performing the economy.” Geoforum, 57, 12–20.

Fligstein, N. (1996): “Markets as politics: A political-cultural approach to market institutions.” American Sociological Review, 61 (4), 656–673.

Frankel, C., Ossandón, J., & Pallesen, T. (2019): “The organization of markets for collective concerns and their failures.” Economy and Society, 48 (2), 153–174.

Geiger, S., & Gross, N. (2018): “Market failures and market framings: Can a market be transformed from the inside?” Organization Studies, 39 (10), 1357–1376.

Geiger, S. (ed.) (2021): Healthcare Activism: Markets, Morals, and the Collective Good. Oxford: Oxford University Press [forthcoming November 2021.

Granovetter, M. (1973): “The strength of weak ties.” American Journal of Sociology, 78 (6), 1360–1380.

Hayek, F.A. (1973): Law, Legislation and Liberty. London: Routledge.

MacKenzie, D. (2009): Material Markets: How Economic Agents Are Constructed. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

McFall, L., & Ossandón, J. (2014): “What’s new in the ‘new, new economic sociology’ and should organisation studies care?” In: P. Adler, P. du Gay, G. Morgan, & M. Reed (eds.): Oxford Handbook of Sociology, Social Theory and Organization Studies: Contemporary Currents. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 510–533.

Mirowski, P. (1989): More Heat than Light. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Mirowski, P. (2002): Machine Dreams: Economics Becomes a Cyborg Science. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Neyland, D., Ehrenstein, V., & Milyaeva, S. (2019a): Can Markets Solve Problems? An Empirical Inquiry into Neoliberalism in Action. London: Goldsmiths Press.

Neyland, D., Ehrenstein, V., & Milyaeva, S. (2019b): “On the difficulties of addressing collective concerns through markets: From market devices to accountability devices.” Economy and Society, 48 (2), 243–267.

Morgan, M.S. (2012): The World in the Model: How Economists Work and Think. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Ossandón, J., & Ureta, S. (2019): “Problematizing markets: Market failures and the government of collective concerns.” Economy and Society, 48 (2), 175–196.

Pallesen, T. (2016): “Valuation struggles over pricing – Determining the worth of wind power.” Journal of Cultural Economy, 9 (6), 527–540.

Roscoe, P., & Chillas, S. (2014): “The state of affairs: Critical performativity and the online dating industry.” Organization, 21 (6), 797–820.

Roscoe, P., & Loza, O. (2019): “The -ographies of markets (or: The responsibilities of market studies).” Journal of Cultural Economy, 12 (3), 215–227.

Roscoe, P., & Willman, P. (forthcoming): “Flaunt the imperfections: Information, entanglements, and the regulation of London’s Alternative Investment Market.” Economy and Society.

Roth, A.E. (2002): “The economist as engineer: Game theory, experimentation, and computation as tools for design economics.” Econometrica, 70 (4), 1341–1378.

Uzzi, B. (1996): “The sources and consequences of embeddedness for the economic performance of organizations: The network effect.” American Sociological Review, 61 (4), 674–698.

White, H.C. (1981): “Where do markets come from?” American Journal of Sociology, 87 (3), 517–547.

Philip Roscoe is Reader in Management at the School of Management, University of St Andrews, United Kingdom. Philip is interested in markets, morals and organizing, and he has published in leading sociology and management journals, with books published by Oxford University Press and Penguin.

Susi Geiger is a Full Professor of Marketing & Market Studies in the College of Business, University College Dublin, Ireland. Her research focuses on how complex markets are organized, with specific interests in social justice concerns. Susi has published numerous articles on these issues and edited the volumes “Concerned Markets” (Edward Elgar, 2014) and “Healthcare Activism: Markets, Morals and the Collective Good” (Oxford University Press 2021).

José Ossandón is Associate Professor in the Organization of Markets, Department of Organization, Copenhagen Business School, Denmark. His current collaborative research efforts focus on two main areas: the work and techniques deployed in the organization of markets designed to deal with collective problems; and on the different actors and practices involved in managing households’ finance.

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