Over the course of my PhD, I had the great pleasure of taking part in the NYLON network, organised by Craig Calhoun and Richard Sennett at NYU and LSE. And thanks to Melissa Aronczyk and Ailsa Craig, there was an excellent alumni meeting in Ottawa last year, with papers presented within the general theme of 'cultures of circulation'. We even got to use one of Carleton University's log cabins:
My contribution is called Ways of Owning: towards an economic sociology of privatisation (open access pre-print here) looks at why economic sociology has been so preoccupied by the institution of markets, at the relative expense of property. My argument is, firstly, that it has inherited certain idioyncratic liberal preoccupations from the 19th century, of examining the separation of 'economy' from 'society', which can be interpreted as an effect of markets. But as a result, sociologists have implicitly bought into a worldview that believes goods spontaneously move around of their own accord, without recognising the huge amount of work that goes into facilitating this (or preventing it), in the form of property rights.
What I've tried to do - probably over-ambitiously - is to then set out a framework through which normative arguments over property can be analysed at work within the economy. Building on the pragmatic sociology of Boltanski, Thevenot et al, I identify three conflicting 'orders of appropriation': socialist (the critique of privatisation), neoliberal (the critique of socialisation) and liberal (justifying the separation of private and public). The point is to try and move away from the conceptual disagreements between scholars and theorists, and towards those going on 'in the wild' amongst economic actors themselves.
Hence, a single institution (e.g. an investment bank) might be riddled with its own conflicting philosophies of what does or does not constitute 'property'. For example, value is both a shared social asset within a firm (such as 'tacit knowledge'), but a private piece of 'property' to its shareholders; there is a necessary contradiction here. During the finanial crisis, the banks' capacity to shift from a rhetoric of neoliberalism (risks could and should be entirely privatised) to one of socialism (risks could and should be entirely socialised) represented a key political asset, as many have pointed out. I make the possibly implausible argument that bankers displayed a Marxist sensibility at the crucial moment. But this then leaves the question hanging of how we might restore a liberal critique, of separating what ought to be private risk from what ought to be public risk; this problem is unresolved.