Robert Watt, Louise Carver and Jonas Bruun attended the Symposium on Dimensions of Value at the University of Edinburgh on 17-18 April 2013. The event included a day of keynote presentations from leading scholars in science, technology and innovation studies that offered academic perspectives on the relationships between economic and socio-political value. This material was re-capped on the second day of the Symposium through an advanced training dedicated to the needs of the PhD students in attendance.
The Study of Value and Evaluation (SVE) through the lens of science and technology studies
Many of the issues raised during the Symposium had direct relevance to the aims of the Leverhulme Centre. A central discussion was about the performativity of economics, advanced notably with a presentation from Donald Mackenzie about his investigation of high frequency financial trading. Professor Mackenzie also showed the importance of discovering the moral valences of market actors, so as to understand how perceived moral boundaries affect economic practices. In a similar vein, David Tyfield outlined his view of a moral economy of value in the bio-economy and Nik Brown illustrated the importance of sign value, mediated through moral discourses, to the practice of umbilical cord banking.
Other presentations focused on the role of technologies in regulating the production of value, demonstrating the profound and on going effects these calculative technologies can have on the social relations to which they refer. Neil Pollock, for example, showed how ‘magic quadrants’ produced by market analysts have great effects on the perceived value of IT businesses, and ultimately determine the market through their results. Other presentations considered technologies and cultures of valuation in bio-medical research sites and in the bio-technology sector. Overall, the presentations gave a stimulating expression to various conceptual and empirical understandings of value.
Advanced training for cross disciplinary Doctoral Students
The advanced training for PhD students on the second day of the Symposium involved small group work where the twenty or so post-graduates were able to interact with senior academics. This allowed time for students to consider how the issues raised in the first day could be integrated into on-going PhD research.
From the Leverhulme Centre, Jonas Bruun summarised his understandings of international climate finance and as his research revolves around the hybrid forums attached to the Green Climate Fund, took particular note of Donald Mackenzie’s points on divergence in notions of value and price among market participants and institutions. Jonas also found Mackenzie’s studies on market making and subsequent moral boundary implications in his research on High Frequency Trading particularly useful for his own studies on Climate Finance Marketization.
Louise Carver, whose doctoral research is concerned with the production and circulation of new value in emerging English biodiversity markets, took away critical insights into the characteristics of SVE and its applicability across novel empirical case material, particularly that of the bio-economy and life sciences. Engagement with the STS perspectives in these cases demonstrated and supported the notion that the quantitative reduction of complex ontological phenomena into manageable shared metrics of worth has important structuring effects on institutions and domains of human activity.
Robbie Watt, working on carbon offset markets, was particularly interested in the interaction between technologies and moral discourses of valuation, and developed an improved understanding of how the analysis of moral and cultural economy links with science and technology studies.
From a Symposium to new assemblages
With its format of academic presentations and dedicated training, the Symposium provided a stimulating forum for discussion and learning. The event advanced the Leverhulme PhDs ability to analyse theoretical perspectives on value, and gave insight on methodological options for empirical research. Attending the Symposium also created important links between the Leverhulme Centre and wider networks of STS scholars and post-graduates dealing with the concept of value, and we hope to maintain good links with these researchers into the future.
Photo: L-R: Jonas Bruun, Louise Carver and Robert Watt