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Economics, Politics

Markets in the Making: Rethinking Competition, Goods, and Innovation

Michel Callon

Translated by Olivia Custer
Edited by Martha Poon

512 pp

Published: 2021

6 x 8



ISBN: 9781942130574

If you’re convinced you know what a market is, think again. In his long-awaited study, French sociologist and engineer Michel Callon takes us to the heart of markets, to the unsung processes that allow innovations to become robust products and services. Markets in the Making begins with the observation that stable commercial transactions are more enigmatic, more elusive, and more involved than previously described by economic theory. Slicing through blunt theories of supply and demand, Callon presents a rigorously researched but counterintuitive model of market activity that emphasizes what people designing products or launching startups soon discover — the inherent difficulties of connecting individuals to things. Callon’s model is founded upon the notion of “singularization,” the premise that goods and services must adapt and be adapted to the local milieu of every individual whose life they enter. Person by person, thing by thing, Callon demonstrates that for ordinary economic transactions to emerge en masse, singular connections must be made.

Pushing us to see markets as more than abstract interfaces where pools of anonymous buyers and sellers meet, Callon draws our attention to the exhaustively creative practices that market professionals continuously devise to entangle people and things. Markets in the Making exemplifies how prototypes, fragile curiosities that have only just been imagined, are gradually honed into predictable objects and practices. Once these are active enough to create a desired effect, yet passive enough to be transferred from one place to another without disruption, they will have successfully achieved the status of “goods” or “services.” The output of this more ample process of innovation, as redefined by Callon, is what we recognize as “the market” — commercial activity, at scale.

The capstone of an influential research career at the forefront of science and technology studies, Markets in the Making coherently integrates the empirical perspective of product engineering with the values of the social sciences. After masterfully redescribing how markets are made, Callon culminates with a strong empirical argument for why markets can and should be harnessed to enact social change. His is a theory of markets that serves social critique.

“ In a book that will fascinate economists as well as sociologists, [Callon] introduces us to a new vocabulary to help us think about markets” —Alvin Roth, Nobel Prize-Winning Economist

“With compelling arguments and fascinating empirical evidence, the brilliant Callon dares us to rethink stale assumptions about how markets work. His Markets in the Making sets out a thrilling research agenda that will shape investigations of economic activity across disciplines.” —Viviana A. Zelizer, Lloyd Cotsen ’50 Professor of Sociology, Princeton University

“In Markets in the Making, Michel Callon explains the unique view of markets he has distilled from his long career observing markets, in detail, from the perspective of an engineer-sociologist. In a book that will fascinate economists as well as sociologists, he introduces us to a new vocabulary to help us think about markets whose participants may be collectives, and whose infrastructure helps participants determine what they want, and calculate what they need.” —Alvin Roth, Winner of Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences and Craig and Susan McCaw Professor of Economics, Stanford University

“Instead of vainly fighting capitalism, Callon employs his thirty years of sociology of economics to explore how market devices could be collectively redesigned to fulfill more progressive functions. No better way to focus attention on concrete fights.” —Bruno Latour, Professor Emeritus, MédiaLab and SEAP, Paris Institute of Political Studies

“Callon has revolutionized our thinking about markets. Here, for the first time, is a full, definitive statement of the views of one of the most influential social scientists of our time.” —Donald Mackenzie, Professor of Sociology, University of Edinburgh

“This rich, deep exploration of the processes by which economic exchanges are constructed and reconstructed is essential reading for anyone seeking to understand the operations of markets and their embedding within platforms.” —Julie E. Cohen, Mark Claster Mamolen Professor of Law and Technology, Georgetown Law

“This remarkable book upends not only the model of the market offered by economists but most of the alternative ways of thinking about market processes developed by sociology and anthropology. In Callon’s hands, the concepts of buyer and seller, goods and platforms, innovation and competition, and money and property are all transformed or replaced. This is a profound and important work.” —Timothy Mitchell, William B. Ransford professor of Middle Eastern Studies, Columbia University