I am an academic who studies the social world, including the economy, and thinks about how it could work differently. While I teach primarily in sociology, my work also takes me into social theory more widely, social ontology, political economy, and the philosophy of social science.
I publish some of my key ideas on my blog: Materially Social.
My research programme has two central themes: social ontology and the economy.
My most recent book, Profit and Gift in the Digital Economy, argues that although prevailing approaches to the economy fail to look beyond the market, we are in fact surrounded by a broad range of non-market and non-capitalist economic forms. The existing approaches are incapable of making sense of this range of alternative economic forms. In their place, the book proposes a new framework for analysing diverse economic systems, in which each different economic form is analysed as a complex of practices and these forms interact to produce systematic effects. The framework is then used to analyse a number of iconic cases in the contemporary digital economy: Apple, Wikipedia, Google, Facebook and YouTube. The book advocates not only an explanatory but also a normative programme, arguing that we can move towards a better economy by shifting the mix of economic practices, rather than simply accepting the system we have or placing our hopes in revolutionary upheavals.
I am currently working on a new project, funded by the Independent Social Research Foundation, which investigates how value is established in the financial sector. Neither the mainstream theory of supply and demand, nor the Marxist theory of value, address the key drivers of financial value: the discourses, conventions and institutions that are used to construct expectations of future revenue from financial assets.
In social ontology, I advocate a critical realist approach, asking what kinds of entity are causally influential in the social world and how it might be possible for them to have emergent causal powers. The Causal Power of Social Structures addresses both the general theory of emergence and its application to the sociological concepts of social structure and human agency. In related publications and conference papers I have discussed the implications of emergence for critical realism, for the theory of structure and agency, and for the philosophy and methodology of the social sciences.
My 2012 book The Reality of Social Construction examines the ontology of language, discourse, culture and knowledge. This provides a basis for explaining how they can contribute to constructing our social reality and hence for a synthesis of realism and constructionism. The book goes on to use this ontological analysis to evaluate the potential of some specific constructionist arguments, including claims for the social construction of institutions, categories, subjects and reality itself. In the process it engages critically with the work of a wide range of important thinkers, including Margaret Archer, John Searle, Ferdinand de Saussure, Michel Foucault, Pierre Bourdieu, and Judith Butler.
My current ontological interests are focused on the possibility that critical realism and assemblage theory could both benefit by being brought into a fuller dialogue with each other. I have published constructive criticisms of actor-network theory and I am now working with Tim Rutzou on developing dialogues with other versions of assemblage theory (notably Manuel DeLanda's) and other realisms.
I am a Reader in the Department of Social Sciences at Loughborough University, where I teach sociology and an MA module on Digital Economies. I am available to supervise PhD students, particularly those with an interest in social theory, critical realism, digital social developments or economic sociology.
Address: Department of Social Sciences, Loughborough University, Loughborough, Leicestershire, LE11 3TU, United Kingdom
E-mail: d.elder-vass (at) lboro.ac.uk