vendredi 23 mai 2014

Framing & Overflowing.

J. Levy, Pourquoi l'Espace?, 2014.

Framing is an operation used to define agents (an individual person or a group of persons) who are clearly distinct and dissociated from one another. It also allows for the definition of objects, goods and merchandise which are perfectly identifiable and can be separated not only from other goods, but also from the actors involved, for example in their conception, production, circulation and use. It is owing to this framing that the market can exist and that distinct agents and distinct goods can be brought into play. Without this framing the states of the world cannot be described and listed, and consequently, the effects of the different conceivable actions cannot be anticipated. 

What economists say when they study externalities is precisely that this work of cleansing, of disconnection, in short, of framing, is never over and that in reality it is impossible to take it to a conclusion. There are always relations which defy framing. It is for these relations which remain outside the frame that economists reserve the term externalities. The latter denotes everything which the agents do not take into account and which enables them to conclude their calculations. But one needs to go further than that. When after having identified some of these externalities, the agents, in keeping with the predictions of Coase’s famous theorem, decide to reframe them – in other words to internalize the externalities – other externalities appear. Callon, in his contribution, suggests the term ‘overflowing’ to denote this impossibility of total framing. Any frame is necessarily subject to overflowing. It is by framing its property rights by means of a public patent that a pharmaceutical firm produces externalities and creates overflowing. It is by purifying the products that it markets that a chemical firm creates the by-products which escape its control. 

The impossibility of eliminating all overflowing has, in reality, a profound reason discussed by Callon in his chapter. To ensure that a contract is not broken, to delimit the actions that can be undertaken within the framework of this contract, the agents concerned have to mobilize a whole range of elements, called, to use Leigh Star’s expression, boundary-objects (Star and Griesemer, 1989). These objects allow the framing and stabilization of actions, while simultaneously providing an opening on to other worlds, thus constituting leakage points where overflowing can occur. (…) 

The framing/overflowing duo suggests a move towards economic anthropology and more specifically towards the entangled objects of Thomas and the career of objects of Appadurai (Appadurai, 1986). The latter shows that the status of goods can change, that they can be commoditized, decommoditized and recommoditized, etc.: one is not born a commodity, one becomes it. (…) 

This notion of entanglement is very useful, for it is both theoretical and practical. It enables us to think and describe the process of ‘marketization’, which like a process of framing or disentanglement, implies investments and precise actions to cut certain ties and to internalize others. The advantage is that this analysis applies to anything and enables one to escape the risk of essentialism. To entangle and to disentangle are two opposite movements which explain how we move away from or closer to the market regime. No calculation is possible without this framing which allows one to provide a clear list of entities, states of the world, possible actions and expected outcome of these actions.

M. Callon, “Introduction,” in The Laws of the Markets, M. Callon, Ed. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1998, pp.17–19.

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