The Performativity Debate Rages On

OrgTheory and ScatterPlot have returned to one of the favorite bones of contention in the soc blogosphere: the performativity of economics. Here is Teppo Felin on the universality of colors (and thus the unimportance of theories or descriptions of colors) and here is Andrew Perrin’s response on ScatterPlot (though it’s worth reading the OrgTheory comments for context first).

For those keeping score, I give this round to Andy! Of course, my sympathies are well-known and somewhat elaborated. My main intervention would be to say that there are perhaps two sides to the performativity story: the MacKenzie “false theories becoming true” story and the Callon “homo economicus/calculative agencies becoming possible” story. The two are connected, but distinct, and I find the second more compelling and useful. National income accounting is not a “true” or “false” theory of anything, it is a way of seeing and acting that makes certain kinds of government action possible (e.g. self-conscious macroeconomic intervention, ala the 2009 stimulus, the 2003 tax cuts, or the Kennedy tax cuts). That, to me, is the most interesting bit in performativity.

Now, back into the fray!

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