Commentators are often dismissive of Bitcoin buyers, writing them off as naive victims of a fraudulent bubble. But if we look more carefully, we can trace the history of Bitcoin through five key narratives. Each has drawn in a different group of buyers and in doing so contributed to its long-term growth in value.
Materially Social Blog
Pierre Bourdieu’s work on symbolic value in the field of cultural production is surprisingly useful as a model for explaining the value of financial assets. As my recent posts have argued, financial value depends on symbolic narratives that claim certain qualities for the assets concerned and seek to associate them with particular theories of value. Bourdieu’s account of the art market examines similar processes of attributing value to works of art.
For mainstream economists, the prices of financial assets like shares and derivatives are determined by objective assessments of the future revenue streams that the holder of the asset is entitled to. But it is far more plausible to see them as the outcome of interactions between a variety of different financial valuation conventions, or lay theories of value as I called valuation conventions in my earlier post. This post reflects on the contributions of John Maynard Keynes, André Orléan and Jens Beckert to explaining how valuation conventions influence financial asset values.
Different people may assess the value of a thing differently, but to reach agreement on values, they need to offer explanations of those assessments in terms that other people can find reasonable. Usually this means that they will need to invoke socially acceptable standards of value to justify their assessments. I call these standards lay theories of value, and this post introduces this concept.
Roy Bhaskar explicitly identified himself as a moral realist, and offered several different justifications for this in the course of his work. Some critical realists accept all of those justifications, some are ambivalent or selective about which they accept, and others like Andrew Sayer and myself, for example, reject moral realism outright. This post focuses on one of Bhaskar’s arguments: the theory of explanatory critique.
One of the many ways in which critical realism goes beyond positivism is in rejecting the idea that social science can or should be ethically neutral. Like most critical realists, I see it as part of the role of the social scientist to criticise unjust social arrangements. But for philosophically oriented social scientists, critique cannot come from nowhere – it requires an ethical justification and that justification must be coherent with our wider ontology.
My book Profit and Gift in the Digital Economy argues that we should explain the economy in terms of complexes of appropriative practices, while my earlier work stresses that causal influence is exerted by entities – people, objects, and social entities like organisations (which are in turn composed of people and often objects too). In this post I propose to explain the relation between the two – and the explanation is of wider importance because it leads us to think about how some social structures can be built on or from other social structures.
Neither the traditional economist’s focus on firms in markets nor the Marxist political economist’s focus on exploitation of wage labour by capital is a viable way of understanding the real economy. This posts proposes some steps towards an alternative view.
This text, from the closing pages of the book, calls for a different kind of economy: an evolving diverse economy with more space for gift and alternative forms, and much less for the more oppressive forms of capitalism. If they are successful, books like this one form part of a spiral in which political arguments and political movements influence each other and develop iteratively.