Marion Fourcade and Kieran Healy, “Seeing Like a Market.” Socio-Economic Review.


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What do markets see when they look at people? Information dragnets increasingly mine huge quantities of individual-level data, which is analyzed to sort and slot individuals on the basis of taste, riskiness, or worth, with the goal of improving customer experiences and increasing the profits of firms. This article presents a new theoretical framework for understanding these changes. We argue, first, that modern organizations follow an institutional data imperative to collect as much data as possible; second, that as a result of the analysis and use of this data individuals accrue übercapital, a form of capital owing from their positions as measured by various digital scoring and ranking methods; and, third, that the facticity of these scoring methods make them organizational devices with powerfully performative effects. For organizations they create new opportunities to structure and price offerings to their consumers, and for individuals they create classification situations that identify shared life-chances in various product and service markets. We discuss the empirical implications of these processes and argue that they tend to give rise to a new economy of moral judgment, where stratified outcomes are experienced as morally deserved positions, based on one’s prior good actions and good tastes, as measured and classified by this new infrastructure of data collection and analysis.

Revised version forthcoming in Socio-Economic Review.

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I am Associate Professor of Sociology at Duke University. I’m affiliated with the Kenan Institute for Ethics, the Markets and Management Studies program, and the Duke Network Analysis Center.



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