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Materiality and Performativity of Economic Calculation

Dr Herbert Kalthoff
European University Viadrina, Frankfurt Institute for Transformation Studies
Email: kalthoff@euv-frankfurt-o.de| 

Date: 7 October 2003
: 1:00pm - 2:30pm
: CARR Seminar Room, H615


No matter what kind of activity actors in the economic field are engaged in they are always confronted with specific risk factors which may all result in loss of money and loss of market potential. In a different vein, economic actors portray themselves as using standardised representation devices. Within the assessment of risk as well as within the context of practices of economic self-representation calculation plays a major role. Two different layers of calculation have to be taken into account. One layer is the role of technological instruments (e.g. computer networks and software) and the other one the role of representation devices, that is writing (e.g. formulas and models). Therefore, economic sociology combines the analysis of technology with the analysis of operative writing.

Instrumental accounts of technology focusing on social, political and economic domination have stressed that technological artefacts transform human actors into their appendages, manipulating them constantly and to their own discretion. Studies in the field of "Science and Technology Studies", on the other hand, have focused on the social construction of technical artefacts, showing that the forms of knowledge underlying these construction processes are themselves socially constructed and have evolved through a long historical process within which they come to prevail over other technical artefacts. The main question concerning the relationship between nature and society and, furthermore, between human and non-human agency has been shifted by the actor-network theory, arguing that social life cannot be explained by arguments referring to social aspects alone. The paper broadens this picture by referring to the later work of Martin Heidegger and his philosophy of technology (the Gestell [enframing]). Its aim is to raise the question of how economic sociology has to conceive the activities of framing which constitute calculation and which are performed by different agencies and practices.

If the analysis of technology constitutes one part of the analysis of calculation, the analysis of the medium - operative writing - by which calculation is performed constitutes the second part. The architecture of writing produces and presents coherence and constitutes the perception of empirical objects by the interplay of cognitive processes and the production of visibility. The constitution of empirical objects by visualisation means that the written visualisation actually produces the objects. This is to say that what is represented by financial models or formulas is brought into existence by the representation itself because operative writing produces and suggests a certain view on the social or economic activities observed. In this sense the connections are not between financial objects, but between theoretical objects which are brought into a distinct relation and expressed by mathematical, algebraic language.

Thus, the aim of the paper is to describe the frame and activities of framing performed by technological artefacts and the medium of calculation.