More on the Performative Condition, Strategically

Do you know the one about the business strategist that stands on the table and shouts “performance”? Read “Grappling with the performative condition”, now available from Long Range Planning. But you have to listen to this first.

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Stranded Review

Discovered this week (but actually published in 2015) another review of The Provoked Economy: long, thorough and detailed, authored by Bruno Ambroise, a specialist on Austin, speech acts and the pragmatics of language, but alas controlled by the author’s will to find in these pages an instance of his specialty. He rightly complains about the fact that the book does not care about that. “Who cares about Austin” could indeed have been a fair subtitle for a book that, yes, has the P word in it but that certainly does not abide by Austinian rules and certainly does not use the word as a concept (Ambroise does not want to engage with the concepts that are actually proposed in the book, which are certainly located elsewhere). Ambroise suggests that it is wrong to collapse language into technologies, things into signs, but, as it is clear from page one, that is unfortunately not a conceptual error but the exact purpose of the book. Too bad! But it is therefore quite understandable, as Ambroise signals, that the empirical investigations at the core of the book do just that.

Speculative Review

A follow-up on this: José Ossandón took the test on The Provoked Economy further and dared to compare it with Boltanski’s Mysteries and Conspiracies and Latour’s Reassembling the Social in a piece titled “¿Cómo escribir teoría social después de la performatividad y sus obstrucciones?” (“How to write social theory after performativity’s obstructions?”) as part of a special issue of Cuadernos de Teoría Social on the problem of “writing the social”. The key hypothesis there is that The Provoked Economy is, in fact, exercising a lesson learned from Lars von Trier‘s obstructionist methodology (e.g. The Five Obstructions). Totally. Perhaps.

Rabbit Review

The Provoked Economy bows before the Journal of Cultural Economy. The journal assembled a review symposium in which Aaron Z. Pitluck (here), José Ossandón and Trine Pallesen (here) and Alberto Toscano (here) very seriously and very generously engage with the book’s drawbacks, limitations and anxieties. In an attempt at using all this as fuel for more explicitness, the author provides in a piece titled “You must fall down the rabbit fall” a few constructive suggestions: to drop economics, to breach critique and to squash performativity.

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).