Do Economists Make Markets? On the Performativity of Economics.

AuthorDequech, David
PositionBook review

Do Economists Make Markets? On the Performativity of Economics, edited by Donald MacKenzie, Fabian Munieza and Lucy Siu. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Hardcover: ISBN 9780691130163, $60.00, 373 pages.

This thought-provoking book is about the performativity of economics. The editors note in their introduction, "the notion of performativity is ... a complex one and needs to be unfolded in its many varieties" (p. 6). In general, performativity is the ability of economics to shape the economy to which it refers, but the term has other, more specific meanings. This has been a controversial issue, and most of the contributors to this volume support the notion of performativity while some oppose it, in either case in varying degrees or forms.

As I cannot discuss all the chapters here, I will mention some which in my assessment are potentially most interesting for readers of this journal. The chapter by Marie-France Garcia-Parpet (originally published in French in 1986) shows how an economic adviser tried to bring a strawberry market in France close to the textbook competitive model. It is seminal in that it inspired Michel Callon (1998) to be the first to explicitly write about the performativity of "economics," with the latter understood by Callon in a peculiarly broad sense, including accounting, marketing, etc.

Focusing instead on the academic discipline of economics, Donald MacKenzie's chapter deals with options theory and its role in shaping and legitimizing the options market. MacKenzie also contributes to clarifying the meaning of performativity. After distinguishing between "generic" and "effective performativity," he explains that the latter includes the case of "Barnesian performativity"--when "practical use of an aspect of economics makes economic processes more like their depiction by economics"--but also the case of "counterperformativity"--when the resulting processes look "less like their depiction by economics" (p. 55). MacKenzie himself refers to Barnesian performativity as "a particular, strong version of the thesis of performativity" (p. 56). I would add, however, that this is not equivalent to what I see as the strong or the strongest version of Callon's performativity thesis, i.e., Callon's (1998) claim that neoclassical economics has been capable of making its central elements--such as the maximizing homo economicus--a reality outside academia. This represents an extra strong version or case of Barnesian...

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