642.2 The analytics of economic ethnographies

Saturday, August 4, 2012: 9:15 AM
Faculty of Economics, TBA
Oral Presentation
Frederick WHERRY , Sociology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI
This paper outlines a new analytical strategy for ethnographies of economic life. This paper emphasizes timing and temporal order as well as dramaturgical scripts and real-time enactments of economic understandings. The paper reformulates Viviana Zelizer’s concept of circuits in order to generate a framework that is most appropriate for ethnographic investigations. The reformulated concept of performance circuits takes seriously the dress, affect, and demeanor of buyers, sellers, suppliers, and distributors. Depending on how the economic situation is defined, there are sets of scripts that actors perform to accomplish the meanings of economic transactions. Zelizer defines circuits as 1) involving individuals with distinct social relationships with one another; 2) as sites where individuals participate in common economic activities through their social ties; 3) as accounting systems shared by members of the circuit to evaluate and categorize the transactions within the circuit; 4) as sites where similar moral evaluations of the transactions are generated; and 5) as sites where symbolic boundaries are erected through the dynamics of give-and-take among the different transactors.  The concept of the performance circuit extends and reformulates Zelizer’s original concept in order to capture three key elements: 1) Collective representations and local evaluative “frames” that help actors define the situations they are in and the appropriate behaviors for those types of situations; 2) the temporally ordered actions and protocols that the actors themselves often take-for-granted for specifically defined situations; and 3) the dynamic unfolding of situations as well as the props, costumes, and exchange media (such as money, chips, chits, bonus points, amulets, cloth, shells, nails, clothing, food, etc) that enable performers to accomplish their economic tasks. The paper presents three concrete examples of how the concept of performance circuits improves the analytical power of ethnographies that examine economic life.