Cents and Sensibility: Economic Valuation and the Nature of “Nature” in France and America
Marion Fourcade, University of California, Berkeley
How do we attribute a monetary value to non-market goods? This presentation offers a general sociological approach to this question.
Fourcade argues that a full-blown sociology of economic valuation must solve three problems: the “why,” which refers to the general place
of money as a metric for subjective value in society; the “how,” which refers to the specific techniques and arguments laypersons and
experts might use in order to elicit monetary value where value is hard to produce; and the “then, what,” or the feedback loop from
monetary valuation to social practices and representations including, of course, subjective values. She uses the case of the valuation
of the natural environment to demonstrate how this sequence works empirically. Relying on an empirical investigation of three major
environmental pollution legal cases – the maritime oil spills caused by the tankers Amoco Cadiz and Erika in Brittany in 1978 and 1999,
respectively, and by the Exxon Valdez in Alaska in 1989 – that shows how French and American plaintiffs and institutions sought to produce
monetary valuations for the damage to the marine environment, Fourcade shows how the valuation processes implemented in each country ended
up, by and large, reproducing the particular conceptions of nature that had motivated their elaboration in the first place.
Marion Fourcade is Associate Professor of Sociology at the
University of California, Berkeley. She is a comparative sociologist, specifically interested in variations in economic and political knowledge
and practice across nations. Her first book, Economists and Societies (2009), explored the distinctive character of the discipline and profession o
f economics in three countries. Her second book, tentatively called Measure for Measure: Social Ontologies of Classification, will investigate the
cultural and institutional logic of "national classificatory styles" across a wide range of empirical domains. Recommended reading:
Economic Valuation and the Nature of "Nature" (2011), American Journal of Sociology 116(6), 1721-1777.