Flat Review

Oh, The Provoked Economy got the chance of being reviewed for a reputable, plain sociology journal — here in the European Journal of Sociology — by the astute sociologist Dan Hirschman! Disappointing, though. Disappointing for the reviewer, first and foremost, who visibly got pretty bored: “Has performativity lost its punch?”, he asks, dreaming of last decade’s hits (here and here) and hoping for a nice “return-of-the-son-of” sequel. But even more disappointing this is for the book itself, who did not find there an engagement with its content proper. Here are the two sentences that actually talk about what’s in the book:

“Performativity, Muniesa argues, is not exclusively, or even primarily, about finance, nor the activities of professional economists. Rather, performativity is about how economic things must be described, provoked, simulated, and made explicit in order to function as such.”

But that’s pretty much all. What the book means by that (and what the reviewer may think about it) is for the reader to guess. Hirschman warns indeed the reader so thoroughly about “a relatively high barrier to entry” (Chapter 1) that we just do not know what the entry is the entry of. The reviewer is more concerned with the book’s enigmatic “lack of engagement with political economy”, which is enigmatic indeed, perhaps even more enigmatic than the widespread use of this classic and elegant synonym of “economics” — “political economy” — that the progressive academic literature is, oddly enough, clinging to. True, The Provoked Economy couldn’t care less about political economy (and the book is certainly not about economics, as the empirical studies clearly show). If at all, it would care about “the critique” thereof: that is, about a frontal questioning of the categories of economic reason (Chapter 2). And it certainly insinuates a preoccupation about the consequences of that. As Hirschman goes on to cite his favorite authors on financialization — Greta R. Krippner and her brilliant Capitalizing on Crisis — or the economic drive in university science — Elysabeth Popp Berman and her remarkable Creating the Market University — one could perhaps fail from noticing that the book’s empirical parts are very much preoccupied, indeed as these authors are, with the spread of a culture of capitalization, which is considered as something quite problematic (Chapter 6), and with the managerial drive in public science, which is analyzed in the terms of a fatal tension between, precisely, the economic and the political (Chapter 7).