The Institutional Foundations of Capitalism

The Institutional Foundations of Capitalism

Northwestern University and the University of Chicago - July 10-12, 2014


The Mini-Conference theme proposals were incredibly strong for our 2014 meeting. Read on to learn more about this year's Mini-Conference theme tracks...

Submissions to the SASE conference must be made through one of the Mini-Conferences below (or through a research Network). Paper and session abstracts, as well as full papers for grant, prize, and stipend applications, must be submitted to a Network or Mini-Conference by February 3, 2014. Candidates will be notified by March 3, 2014. Please note that Mini-Conferences require an extended (~1,000 word) abstract, and ask that you submit a full paper by June 1, 2014. For further information, please contact the organizer of the mini-conference to which you are submitting.

Mini-conferences are based around a selected number of focused themes, and have open submissions for panels and papers, based on an extended abstract (approx. 1000 words). Each mini-conference will consist of 2 to 6 panels. Each panel will have a discussant, meaning that selected participants must submit a completed paper by June 1st. If a paper proposal cannot be accommodated within a mini-conference, organizers will forward it to the program committee, who will pass it on to one of the networks as a regular submission. Click the title of each mini-conference for a full description of the theme.

1: Domesticizing Financial Economies: Knitting Fibers of Transaction, Algorithm and Exchange

Social scientists looking for the institutional foundations of capitalism have often missed the way in which market economies, of all sorts, rely on the particular ways in which monetary transactions are knitted together with a range of other agents. This mini conference focuses its attention on the everyday encounters with monetary devices, commercial circuits, algorithms and financial assessment and exchange. By doing so it aims to bridge two stimulating areas in current social research. The first is the move within the social study of finance away from the trading floor to the highly specific ways in which monetary transactions are made, thought about and experienced. The second includes studies following how "big" transactional data is not only becoming a means for visualizing, assessing and targeting specific groups, but is also enabling the transaction itself to become a crucial site of global economic production.

Papers with varied disciplinary backgrounds discussing the following issues are welcome:

- The intimate dimensions of monetary and financial transactions, whether in the moment of exchange itself, or before and after;

- The ways in which household finances become entangled with and affected by a range of socio-technical devices;

- Emerging financial products and services (e.g. subprime lending, credit score management services, department store credit cards, pawn shops and new way of banking) targeting domestic finance that are re-shaping the financial ecologies faced by consumers;

- New transactional technologies (e.g. algorithms, databases, payment cards) and their new ways of sorting, screening and valuing financial consumers;

- Domestic financial products and their entanglement with “high” finance and broader economic chains;

- Controversies, matters of concern, new affected groups, publics and commercial circuits being co-produced with contemporary domestic financial landscapes.

Organizers: Jeanne Lazarus, Mariana Luzzi, and José Ossandón

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2: Opening the Black Box of Financial Institutions

The recent financial crisis has furthered a growing interest in sociology of finance. Studies have focused mainly on the causes or consequences of the crisis, investigating issues related to sociology of knowledge or to the functioning of financial institutions and their regulation. In the proposed session, we would be interested in contributions that open the black box of financial institutions, studying financial actors at work. Who are those “greedy bankers” who triggered so much public anger during the crisis? How are they recruited, trained, and promoted? How is their work environment organized? What is the ethos prevailing in financial institutions and their sub-divisions? We welcome studies that illuminate financial actors’ personal and professional trajectory, their status hierarchies, their norms and modes of cooperation and restraint, and their worldviews more generally.  Financial actors could belong to different kinds of institutions, from investment banks to credit rating agencies to regulatory agencies.  We welcome both qualitative and quantitative approaches.

Papers for this session could address questions such as the following:

  • A. Value and values on Wall Street
  1. How is economic cooperation and restraint enforced on Wall Street?
  2. How do financial actors frame their obligations towards their peers, their clients, and/or society in general?
  • B. Personal and professional trajectories  
  1. How do career paths and compensation practices on Wall Street affect individuals’ conception of their work? How is compensation distributed and perceived internally?
  2. The revolving door and its consequences on regulation: myth or reality?
  • C. The organization of the work environment
  1. How is the work of valuation (in its various manifestations) organized?
  2. How do spatial and technological arrangements shape interactions and coordination?

Submissions for panels will be open to all scholars on the basis of an extended abstract. The mini-conference will be composed of 2 to 3 panels, depending on the quality of the submissions. Selected participants must submit a completed paper to discussant and organizers by June 1, 2013. If a paper proposal cannot be accommodated within the mini-conference, it will be forwarded to the most appropriate research network as a regular submission.

Organizers: Olivia Nicol and David Stark

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3: The Institutional Foundations of Distributed and Open Innovation

Like economic behavior in general corporate innovation activities rest upon institutionalized rules, norms, routines and practices. Institutions are formative for the generation, distribution and allocation of knowledge and therefore essential for understanding innovation systems. For a long time innovation systems have predominantly been characterized by companies organizing their innovation activities in-house in order to utilize their exclusive, proprietary knowledge to gain competitive advantages. On the societal level, these corporate strategies were embedded in a corresponding institutional framework. Now, for several reasons firms increasingly strive to integrate external resources into their processes of innovation and knowledge creation. Instead of concentrating on internal R&D processes they open up their innovation processes to make use of external sources of knowledge or take part in distributed knowledge production. Such innovation strategies, for instance, may include networking with other companies or cooperation with lead users in product development processes, utilization of user experience to develop new applications, or joint efforts in external communities.

The mini-conference focuses on institutional preconditions and consequences of such distributed or open innovation strategies. Open innovation strategies force companies to reorganize their innovation processes in a more dynamic and application-oriented way raising organizational challenges since established strategies are put into question. In particular, companies have to re-define the conditions for knowledge transfer as well as the interfaces between internal and a broad variety of external resources and actors, be it other companies and individuals or new actors and new contexts of knowledge production like networks and communities. The increasing relevance of distributed knowledge (production) raises the question of how companies attempt to frame and coordinate distributed innovation processes and inter-organizational knowledge transfer. This question does not only point to organizational conditions but also to the institutional foundations of innovation systems. Hence, the mini-conference invites papers – empirically or theoretically informed – that address the following questions:

  • Which new actors and forms of collaboration in knowledge production do emerge? How do internal and external actors’ roles, orientations and patterns of behavior change?
  • How does the increasing incorporation of external actors (like customers and communities) into product development affect the companies’ strategies? How do they go along with an on-going or even increasing competition between firms?
  • To what extent do existing institutions enable or constrain distributed and open innovation processes? How do they change? How do corporate as well as external actors re-define and re-interpret existing institutions?
  • Which new institutions facilitating distributed knowledge creation and transfer between internal and external actors do emerge?

Organizers: Klaus-Peter Buss, Patrick Feuerstein, Heidemarie Hanekop, and Jürgen Kädtler

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4: Young People, Precarious Work, and Trade Unionism

The transition of young people into employment is fraught with considerable difficulties in finding stable and well-paid employment when compared to older workers. Young workers have been particularly affected by the wider changes in global economic conditions, as such changes have seen an increase in employee insecurity and instability. Low-paid, low-status and insecure work is predominantly carried out by young workers and as the position of young workers in the labour market is increasingly precarious, one may expect them to join unions for protection. However, with trade union membership in a state of flux, it is important to assess union strategies to engage with and recruit young precarious workers.

We welcome abstract and paper submissions from diverse theoretical and methodological perspectives such as sociology, economics, employment relations, public policy and law on the following themes:

  • The way in which young people are affected by precarious employment across different nations, regions and sectors.
  • The roles of different labour market institutions in enabling and/or preventing precarious work.
  • Trade union responses to the rise in precarious employment particularly amongst young people.
  • Trade union engagement with young people and youth issues more generally.

Organizers: Andy Hodder and Lefteris Kretsos

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5: Green Capitalism? Re-Embedding Nature in the Age of Globalization

The perspective of a socio-ecological ‘greening’ of global capitalism has persistently gained in relevance due to phenomena such as climate change. Yet the corresponding notion of ‘green capitalism’ may seem like a contradiction in terms, given the Polanyian thesis that the prevalence of the market system is incompatible with a sustainable utilization of natural resources. Indeed, proponents of a ‘greening’ of capitalism promote the causes of sustainability and de-carbonization by hinting at diverse regulative measures. These include both market-constraining instruments and market-promoting instruments. However, such an inherently contradictious combination of market and non-market components adds to the question whether ‘green capitalism’ can be understood as a coherent and sustainable model for the organization of economic life. In view of these issues, the SASE Mini-Conference “Green Capitalism? Re-Embedding Nature in the Age of Globalization” highlights the following sets of questions and related problems in the wider domain of political economy and economic sociology: In how far is the ‘greening’ of capitalist market economies to be perceived as a feasible way out of the current undermining of the natural foundations of human society on a global scale? How may contradictions between the formation of a sustainable pattern of capitalist growth and the underlying tendencies of commodification and marketization be dealt with? What strategies and mechanisms are available to promote a re-embedding of the natural environment in non-market types of economic affairs and social relations? What is the actual relationship between market and non-market instruments in this regard? How can diverse sets of actors from the national, regional and international terrain as well as from the public and private sectors interact in proceeding with these re-embedding efforts? What kind of governance mechanisms and strategic coalitions are to be observed in corresponding processes of adaptation? In exploring these questions, the Mini-Conference calls for both theoretically and empirically oriented papers from all fields of the social sciences. Particular interest is dedicated to papers which utilize the analytical perspectives of the comparative capitalisms literature in order to explore national, regional or international endeavors in the socio-ecological transformation of capitalist market economies.

Organizer: Alexander Ebner

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6: The Political Economy of Work and Labor Markets: Workplace Regimes in Comparative Perspective

Workplace regimes are the complexes of formal and informal relations and institutions that structure the organisation of work in modern societies. A comparative understanding of their structure and significance is indispensable to socio-economics, for the organisation of work shapes not only the experience of life on the job but the material conditions and competitive prospects of workers and firms, the interests underpinning macro-level political bargains, and the prospects for social solidarity more generally. It is impossible to understand the varieties of capitalism, or their non-capitalist rivals and predecessors, without a firm understanding of the politics and practices of workplace regimes. But sociologists of work and comparative political economists tend to talk past each other, leaving potentially profitable opportunities for mutual dialogue unexploited. 

This mini-conference is designed to bridge the gap between micro analyses of the workplace and macro political economy by fostering dialogue across disciplinary and sub-disciplinary boundaries. We invite papers that address different aspects of workplace organization (e.g. working time, security, pay, career ladders, the labor process, collective action, etc), their connections with macro-political institutions and actors, and adopt a comparative perspective. Submissions may use a range of methodological approaches (including case studies, quantitative methods, and qualitative comparative analysis), operate at different levels (national, regional, sectoral, corporate, etc.),and explore a wide variety of relevant topics including:

How is ‘labor’ constructed in different industries, workplaces and worlds of capitalism (e.g. in relation to gender, age, ethnicity, race, etc.) within and across different regions such as Asia, Europe, North and South America?

How do workplace regimes enable and constrain the strategies of key actors in the political economy (employers, unions, state agencies, transnational corporations, political elites, etc.)? And, how are workplace institutions and practices shaped themselves by these macro-political actors?

How can we best understand the dynamic nature of workplace relations, using comparative analysis to go beyond the imputation of interests based on structural locations or labor market assets?

How do political, economic, and technological transformations (e.g. globalization, financialization, tertiarization, neoliberalism, etc.) change the organization of labor?

How can workplace studies contribute to our understanding of diverse macro political economies, lending insight into debates over varieties of capitalism, welfare and production regimes, and development models?

In what ways do different workplace regimes and worlds of capitalism produce different outcomes in terms of individual and institutional capabilities, inequalities, and economic performance?

Organizers: Rossella Ciccia, Seán Ó Riain, and Andrew Schrank

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7: Multi-Level Institutions and the Changing Global-Local Dynamics of Production in a Context of Crisis

This mini-conference explores institutional attempts – at supra-national, national and local levels - to mediate the effects of the changing global dynamics of production on local economies. It seeks contributions examining the interactions and tensions between globalising forces and local systems of production, innovation, labour regulation and political exchange, in the context of global economic crisis.

It promotes dialogue between different forms and levels of analysis, including: between institutional economics and societal institutionalism; analyses of global value chains and the multinational corporation; studies of innovation and of work/employment; and analyses of global, national and local institution-building.

It consists of five mini-panels.

PANEL A:  The role of institutions and policy in redesigning global production

This panel explores what policies and actions governments are considering and endorsing to re-connect their domestic productive economies to global value chains. To what extent, and how, are governments re-discovering industrial policy? What options are open to policy-makers? What are the roles of national and local spaces in attempts to pursue growth and prosperity? What are the effects of changing global balances of productive power, e.g. the changing role of China?

PANEL B: Multinational corporations and local economic space

This panel examines relations between the multinational firm and sub-national institutional actors. What resources do actors in regional business systems attempt to deploy in dealing with geographically mobile firms? What is the role of subsidiary unit managers and workers in the above relationships? Is it useful to talk of ‘embeddedness’ when discussing the relations between foreign direct investors and local economic systems?

PANEL C: The dynamic re-configuration of global production and innovative activities

This panel explores the changing relationships between the ownership and location of production and innovation. In particular: to what extent have recent changes in the global economy re-configured the locations of innovative activities related to global production? What are the roles of global and local institutions, both in shaping these reconfigurations and in attempting to respond to them?

PANEL D: Global-local dynamics of production and the eroded foundations of labour protection

This panel examines the impact of re-configurations of global production on labour agency. How are different actors (trade unions, labour activists, private multi-stakeholder groups, grass roots organizations etc) at different levels responding to the consequences of global restructuring? What accounts for successes and failures in these responses? Is there scope for institutional innovation, re-design and/or demise in the evolving landscape of production and innovation?

PANEL E: Social and territorial foundations of comparative institutional advantage

This panel asks what comparative institutional advantage means in the current global economic context. Can historically established, place-specific, patterns of coordination be defended, reconfigured, recombined, or renewed in a context of crisis, in order to permit both economic and social renewal? What is the contemporary valency of sub-national institutional variety in shaping comparative institutional advantage?

Organizers:  Phil Almond, Lisa De Propris, Maria Gonzalez Menendez, Gregor Murray, Christina Niforou, and Paulina Ramirez

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8: What Is an Exchange? The Crumbling of One Foundation of Modern Capitalism

Braudel considered the stock exchange to be a “shortcut for the merchants’ world”. There took place power struggles to organize the mobilization of capital: financing states and enterprises; controlling means of production; reaping the profits of intermediation; and, eventually, speculating. Exchanges have long functioned as local monopolies, which generally constituted hybrid extensions of the public authority and of business interests, in order to organize the circulation of capital in a given territory. The organizational features of exchanges varied across time and location, but they all aimed at making instruments tradable and operations reliable, and, in fine, they defined a space for self-regulatory organization and informal coordination among financiers, who were part of the national elites and in relations to other international financial centres. Exchanges were flagship institutions (like national anthem, armies, universities…) of nation-states’ sovereignty.

Recently, the demutualization and listing of exchanges, combined with the rise of alternative trading venues, overhauled this institutional foundation of Western capitalism. From the 1980s, stock and derivatives exchanges gradually became limited companies. Then, at the start of the 21stcentury, many of them went public and even listed themselves on the markets they operate. They started to enter into mergers with other exchanges thus weakening their connection to national sovereignty and blurring their relations to local economy. At the same time, less-regulated trading venues, often backed by internationally-operating financial institutions, were allowed to directly compete with exchanges. The banks themselves put in place in-house systems to internalize the orders of their clientele or offer their best clients privileged access to restricted pools of liquidity. Such a trend towards private transactions on privatised trading venues culminated in the mid-Noughties, when the US Regulation NMS and the European Markets in Financial Instruments Directive were both promulgated. Consequently, stock exchanges officially morphed from hybrid-institutions organizing public competition between financial intermediaries into private companies competing with one another and with their main users to provide intermediation services.

This overhaul of stock exchanges forces to tackle the following questions, which all echo this broader paradox: the financialization of modern capitalism has profoundly weakened one of its crucial institutions.

  • What are the common features of stock exchanges, beyond variations in time and locations? In what ways is an exchange different from a financial market, a trading venue?
  • Under which conditions may an exchange contribute to the financing of states, local governments, firms and small and medium-sized enterprises?
  • How come the setting-up of exchanges is still promoted to solve policy issues (i.a. Obamacare Health Insurance Exchanges, exchanges for greenhouse gas allowances) whereas their model has been seriously impaired in the financial world?
  • What does the institutional crumbling of stock exchanges tell us about the contemporary transformations of modern capitalism?

The organizers are looking for contributions that will explore the economic history of exchanges, the political economy of their emergence, past and recent changes and the study of their organizations. In short, contributions which would enlarge our understanding of these typical and yet crumbling institutions of modern capitalism.

Organizers: Marie-Laure Djelic, Paul Lagneau-Ymonet, Angelo Riva, and Matthias Thiemann

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9: The Social Dimension of State Capitalism in the BRICs: Contentiousness and New Arenas of Concertation

One often neglected dimension of the debate about the BRICS is whether these countries' rising economic power can also trigger political and social aspects of a welfare state. There is a lot of contentiousness between strategic actors concerning the role and extension of social policies and improving working conditions as part of these countries' economic development. In such a way, it is crucial to discuss the emerging new arenas of concertation and its implications for the social dimension of this new type state capitalism.   

The rationale for social dialogue between capital, labour, as well as government representatives can stem from three broad streams. One stream is related to the idea of social pacts to implement pro-market reforms in advanced industrial countries, after the crisis of fordist accumulation regime. Under the neoliberal tenets, competitiveness is enhanced mainly through labour costs reduction and labour rights retrenchment. The other stream for concertation has to do with labour rights enforcement associated to democratization processes in developing countries.  The latter is much more akin to ILO initiatives concerning the enhancement of newly democratic countries. Compliance with ILO guidelines coupled with labour market regulation has contributed to national peak level negotiations involving employers and employees organizations.

However, a third stream for this type of concertation is more prone to play a strategic role. It is related to the coordination among strategic actors to enhance economic and, sometimes, social upgrading such as what has been taking place in BRICS. Some authors mention a new type of state capitalism in these countries, especially in the cases of China, India, Russia, but we would also include Brazil and South Africa. South Africa’s National Economic Development and Labour Council (NEDLAC), and Brazil’s Conselho de Desenvolvimento Econômico e Social have contributed to the sustainability of the economic and social reform process over the past decade. NEDLAC has deepened democracy by creating new labour market institutions that have included constituencies that were previously excluded from the policy-making process. CDES played a key role in the Economic Growth Acceleration Program (PAC) and in the design of recent industrial policies in Brazil and their social implications. In both cases, neocorporatist peak level organizations were the most relevant actors.

Under a comparative capitalism framework and in the vein of the idea of a new type of organized capitalism, this mini-conference seeks contributions that examine institutional arrangements and their role in development strategies through policymaking related to industrial upgrading as well as social protection in BRICs, East Asia, Africa and Latin American countries.  What kinds of strategies and policy options have predominated and with what impact? Which factors can explain differences across countries? What has been the role of corporatist arrangements and deliberative democracy in shaping specific policy options? What role have international organizations played with regard to the state in promoting social policy reforms such as the ILO? Are there new distributional coalitions underpinning current policy arrangements?

Organizers: Cristiano Fonseca Monteiro, Flavio Gaitán, Eduardo Gomes, and Andreas Nölke

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