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Markets as interpretation systems

Dr Laure Cabantous, Warwick Business School
Prof Paula Jarzabkowski, Cornell University and Aston University
Dr Rebecca Bednarek, Aston University

Date: 5 March 2013
Time: 1pm - 2.30pm
Venue: KSW 3.01


Organization scholars and sociologists have developed a rich array of insights about how markets function, and shown that organizational actors enact the market environment in which they operate. Not enough attention, however, has been devoted to the interpretative dimension of markets and to role of organizational interpretative processes in market functioning. In this paper, we examine the functioning of the global reinsurance market – the insurance market for insurance companies – drawing on the interpretative literature in management to offer a renewed conceptualization of markets as meta-interpretation systems. This paper thus contributes to the development of a more comprehensive approach to the functioning of market that extends prior conceptualizations of markets as socially constructed, or enacted. In doing so, this paper broadens the reach of sensemaking and interpretation studies beyond the scope of organizational boundaries. The paper also contributes to the sensemaking literature by documenting ordinary sensemaking and by linking interpretation activities to organizational routines. Finally, the paper complements existing sociological studies on market functioning by revealing the organizational and interpretative basis of markets.

About the speakers

Paula Jarzabkowski is a Professor of Strategic Management at Aston University and, from 2012-2014, holds an EU Marie Curie Fellowship at Cornell University. Paula’s research focuses on strategy-as-practice in complex and pluralistic contexts, such as regulated infrastructure firms, third sector organizations and financial services, particularly insurance and reinsurance. She focuses primarily on qualitative and ethnographic research methods as a means of studying business problems. In this endeavour, she has been fortunate in winning a series of prestigious fellowships that have enabled her to conduct detailed ethnographic studies in different industries. For example, in 2006-2007, funded by an AIM Ghoshal Fellowship, she conducted an audio-ethnographic longitudinal study of the paradoxical tensions involved in implementing a major strategic shift in a regulated telecommunications firm. From 2009-2012, she held the inaugural Insurance Intellectual Capital Initiative (IICI) fellowship, under which she and her research team conducted a 3-year audio and video ethnography of the global reinsurance market, which extended her skills from organisational to industry-level ethnography.  She 'enjoys' the challenge of publishing such work in leading journals. Her work has appeared in a number of such journals including Academy of Management Journal, Organization Science, Journal of Management Studies and Organization Studies and in 2005, she published the first book on strategy-as-practice, Strategy as Practice: An Activity-Based Approach (Sage). 

Rebecca Bednarek is a Research Fellow at Aston University. Her research interests include organizational legitimacy and strategizing within pluralistic contexts, and draws from practice, paradox and institutional perspectives. She has conducted research into the knowledge intensive science and reinsurance sectors, using qualitative and ethnographic methods. She is currently part of a research team exploring market functioning and the socio-material nature of financial risk-taking within the reinsurance industry.

Dr. Laure Cabantous is Associate Professor in the Strategy and International Business Group at Warwick Business School. Her research agenda is organized around two core questions: (1) how do theories – and in particular economic theory – influence practice; (2) how organizational actors' cognition shapes their choices. She has a specific interest for the (re)insurance industry and decision-making under uncertainty. Laure holds a PhD in Economics from the Toulouse School of Economics (University of Toulouse, France, 2006), and is a former student of the Ecole Normale Supérieure (Cachan). She visited the Wharton Risk Management and Decision Center during the Summer 2007 (Fulbright Fellowship) to pursue her research on the impact of ambiguity and conflicting expertise on insurance pricing. Her research has been published in reviews such as Organization Science, Organization Studies, the Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, the Journal of Behavioral Decision-Making, Theory and Decision.