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'Feeds and Speeds': Producing Product Qualities, Entanglements and Mediation in the Personal Computer Industry

Dr Justin Spinney, Cardiff University
Tuesday 25th February 2014 - 4:00pm
Glamorgan Building Council Chamber

Event hosted by the Environment Research Group.

Michel Callon, alongside various collaborators offers a theory of market exchange which seeks to overcome the tendencies of previous explanations to both over-state the agency of the individual and over-determine the power of capitalisms. Central to this theory are processes of qualification and re-qualification through which ‘qualification professionals’ continually de-stabilise and align product features to consumer interests in the hope that attachment can take place (Callon et al, 2002:200-1). Thus whilst Callon et al theorise the consumer as thinking and active, they also suggest that in many instances the tools of calculation which are used by consumers to evaluate products are proposed by manufacturers and retailers. As this suggests a central concern of the economy of qualities is the extent to which the purchase process is rendered economic or remains socially embedded. However, current theories regarding product qualification and entanglement fail in two related respects that this paper sets out to empirically.

Through an ethnographic study of qualification professionals and consumers in the laptop PC market, the first concern this paper addresses is the degree to which the performances of qualification professionals are successful in their aims: to what extent are firms successful in rendering the social ‘economic’ through processes of mediation, translation and framing? The second point that this paper seeks to address is a lack of differentiation between different product sectors in theories of qualification: are consumer assessments of value more formalized in the realm of technological acquisition than in other sectors?