My experiences at Asian floating markets have included constant conversations between me and merchants, and thereafter between me and myself, such as: “How much is it?” — “How much do you want to give me?”, he replies. “How much was it worth?”, I was then wondering while sailing down the Mekong river, “Is it worth returning?” Think about this — these questions are essentially different. So, what are the relations between framing the value of something and determining its price?
Let us zoom out. Why do we entrust the market economy and economics with a task of (e)valuation of goods, deeds, benefits and costs? Studying economic history and critically reviewing accounting, business and economic writings and practices repeatedly demonstrate us how problematic and doubtful this approach could be. On the other hand, sociologists and anthropologists have been occupied mainly with understanding values such as those with a cultural or religious basis.
The insightful book Making Things Valuable (Oxford University Press, 2015), edited by Martin Kornberger, Lise Justesen, Anders Koed Madsen, and Jan Mouritsen, poses and tackles a core question: What if value is neither an intrinsic quality of an object, nor a reflection of a subjects preferences but rather something that is organized and brought into existence through mechanisms, technologies and practices of valuation?
The theoretical inspiration of this very interesting volume is interdisciplinary; it brings together scholars from economic sociology, organization studies, science and technology studies, and accounting with the aim of scrutinizing through which practices and processes things are made valuable. The argument arises from this book is that valuing should be understood as a plural activity where pricing things is just one way of signifying value. It supports a processual view of valuation that suggests moving the analytical gaze from things towards the network of elements and the evaluative infrastructure that makes them valuable. Socio-economic reality is constituted through different orders of worth that are grounded in the way people praise and prize things. The book’s chapters address the question of valuation theoretically and through empirical analyses of diverse objects of valuations, such as insurances, gold, university ranking lists, sport games, wind power, big data, and more.
Adding to the important work done within economic sociology during recent decades, this recommended volume contributes to, and stimulates, rethinking the common perception of (monetary) value and reexamining the dominant perspective of economistic valuation.
Now, back to my personal deliberation while I was amazed by the beauty and the misery of the markets in the Mekong Delta: “To have or not to have”, that was the question. The answer is that various goals and features embodied in valuation, this is not just about pricing or calculation.
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