The sociology of conventions and regimes of engagement (26-28 May, 2014)


Professor Laurent Thévenot, EHESS, Paris
Professor Stefano Ponte, Department of Business and Politics, CBS

Professor Ann Westenholz, Department of Organization, CBS

Assistant Prof. Anders Blok, Department of Sociology, University of Copenhagen
Associate Prof. Søren Jagd, Department of Communication, Business and Information Technology, Roskilde University

Course coordinator 

The PhD student is expected to be working on a research project involving convention theory and/or the sociology of regimes of engagement, or at least to be considering the possibility of applying such approaches to his/her project. At the minimum, the PhD student is required to present a five-page paper in which the curriculum literature in the course links to his/her project. PhD students at more advanced stages of their projects are invited to present full papers on the topic – these can be theoretical in focus or empirical applications with theoretical roots in convention theory and/or regimes of engagement.

Deadline for submission of presentations is Monday 28 April 2014.
The student papers will provide material for group discussion during the course, and all students are expected to have read all papers and to actively participate in the discussion of other papers. It is a precondition for receiving the course diploma that the student attends the whole course.


Since the publication of De la justification by Luc Boltanski and Laurent Thévenot in 1991, large literatures in sociology and political economy have applied the concepts of justification and of conventions to examine a variety of social and economic phenomena. In the past decade, Laurent Thévenot has developed this approach further, arguing that justification is only one of the ways people engage with their environment. The qualification of a common good (‘justifiable engagement’) involving a ‘moral subject’ is thus now considered one of a plurality of ‘regimes of engagement’, including one of ‘functional and strategic engagement’, where the environment is dominated by stakeholders asserting interests, and of ‘familiar engagement’, where people can operate by maintaining personalized attachments and relations.

The course will provide participants with deep knowledge of justification, conventions and the plurality of regimes of engagement, and will explore points of contact and friction between these approaches and other traditions, such as institutional sociology and actor-network theory. Finally, the course will cover applications of these theories in branches of international political economy, such as global value chain analysis, and help participants to develop their capacity to use these approaches in their own work.

Learning objectives 

Participants will build in-depth knowledge of justification, conventions and regimes of engagement and their contemporary application in a variety of disciplines and empirical fields. The participants will also test the use of these approaches in their own projects.

Lecture plan 

Monday 26 May 

Presentation of the course program
Presentation of participants

Laurent Thévenot: The plurality of regimes of engagement - Lecture

10:45-11:00 Coffee break

11:00-12:00 Discussion
Chair: Stefano Ponte

12:00-13:30 Lunch and walk in the park

13:30-14:30 Presentation and discussion of PhD paper 1 (full paper) (responsible for feedback AW)

14:30-15:30 Presentation and discussion of PhD paper 2 (full paper) (SP)

15:30-16:30 Presentation and discussion of PhD paper 3 (full paper) (AW)

16:30-17:00 Plenary discussion:
Chair: Ann Westenholz

Tuesday 27 May    

Ann Westenholz: Ambiguity, conventions and institutional logics
Lecture and discussion
Chair: Anders Blok

10:30-10:45 Coffee break

10:45-11:45 Presentation and discussion of PhD paper 4 (full paper) (SP)

11:45-12:45 Presentation and discussion of PhD paper 5 (full paper) (AW)

12:45-14:00 Lunch

Anders Blok: Pragmatic sociology as political ecology: On the many worths of nature(s)
Lecture and discussion
Chair: Laurent Thévenot

15:30-15:45 Coffee break

15:45-17:15 Presentation and discussion of PhD papers 6, 7 and 8 (short papers) (SP)

17:15-17:30 Plenary discussion
Chair: Stefano Ponte

18:00 Dinner

Wednesday 28 May    

Stefano Ponte: Conventions and the governance of global value chains
Lecture and discussion
Chair: Søren Jagd

10:30-10:45 Coffee break

10:45-12:15 Presentation and discussion of PhD papers 9, 10 and 11 (short papers) (AW)

12:15-13:15 Lunch

13:15-14:15 Presentation and discussion of PhD paper 12 (full paper) (SP)

Søren Jagd: Exploring Justification Processes in Organizations
Lecture and discussion
Chair: Ann Westenholz

Laurent Thévenot and Stefano Ponte: What have we learned?
Plenary discussion and final remarks

Course literature 

All papers and chapters (but not whole books) will be uploaded in a shared Dropbox folder accessible only by participants

Assigned readings

Blok, A. (2013) ‘Pragmatic sociology as political ecology: On the many worths of nature(s)’, European Journal of Social Theory, doi: 10.1177/1368431013479688

Blok, A. and M. L. Meilvang (2013) ‘Picturing urban green attachments: civic activists moving in-between familiar and public engagements in the city’, mimeo, University of Copenhagen, Department of Sociology.

Blokker P. (2011) Pragmatic sociology: Theoretical evolvement and empirical application. European Journal of Social Theory 14: 251- 261.

Boltanski, L. and L. Thévenot (2006) On Justification – Economies of Worth. Princeton: Princeton University Press.  

Cheyns, E. (2011) ‘Multi-stakeholder initiatives for sustainable agriculture: limits of the “inclusiveness” paradigm’, in S. Ponte, P. Gibbon and J. Vestergaard (eds) Governing through standards: origins, drivers and limitations, Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 210-35.

Cloutier, C. and A. Langley (2013) ‘The Logic of Institutional Logics: Insights From French Pragmatist Sociology’, Journal of Management Inquiry 22(4): 360-380.

Guggenheim. M. and J. Potthast (2012) ‘Symmetrical twins: On the relationship between Actor-Network theory and the sociology of critical capacities’, European Journal of Social Theory 15(2): 157-178.

Jagd, S. (2013) ‘Exploring Justification Processes in Organizations’, mimeo, Roskilde University.

Ponte, S. (2009) ‘Governing through Quality: Conventions and Supply Relations in the Value Chain for South African Wine’, Sociologia Ruralis, 39(3): 236-257.

Ponte, S. and T. Sturgeon (2013) ‘Explaining Governance in Global Value Chains: A Modular Theory-building Effort,’ Review of International Political Economy, DOI: 10.1080/09692290.2013.809596

Taupin, B. (2012) ‘The more things change ... Institutional maintenance as justification work in the credit rating industry’, Management 15: 528-562.

Thévenot L. (2013) ‘Making commonality in the plural on the basis of binding engagements’, in P. Dumouchel and R. Gotoh (eds) Social Bonds as Freedom: Revising the Dichotomy of the Universal and the Particular. New York, Berghahn: Oxford (forthcoming).

Thévenot, L. (2011) 'Conventions for measuring and questioning policies.
The case of 50 years of policies evaluations through a statistical
survey', Historical Social Research 36(4): 192-217.

Thévenot, L. (2009) ‘Governing life by standards: A view from
engagements’, Social Studies of Science 39(5): 793–813.

Westenholz, A. (2013) ‘Exploration of Organizing in Chinese High-Tech Companies located in Denmark,’ paper presented at the ‘China Goes Global’ conference, Bremen, Germany 26-27 September.

Westenholz, A. (2013) ‘Ambiguity, Conventions and Institutional Logics’, mimeo, Copenhagen Business School.

Other relevant readings

Blokker, P. and A. Brighenti (2011) ‘An interview with Laurent Thévenot: On engagement, critique, commonality, and power’. European Journal of Social Theory 14: 383-400.

Boltanski, L. (2011) On Critique: A Sociology of Emancipation. Wiley.

Boltanski, L and L. Thévenot (1999) ‘The Sociology of Critical Capacity’, European Journal of Social Theory 2(3): 359-377.

Boltanski, L. and L. Thévenot (2000) ‘The Reality of Moral Expectations: A sociology of situated judgement’, Philosophical Explorations: An International Journal for the Philosophy of Mind and Action 3:208-231

Latour, B. (2007) ‘To Modernize or to Ecologize, that is the Question’, in N. Castree and B. Willems-Braun (eds) Remaking Reality: Nature at the Millenium. London and New York: Routledge, pp. 221-242

Ponte, S. and P. Gibbon (2005) ‘Quality standards, conventions and the governance of global value chains’, Economy and Society 34 (1): 1–31.

Thévenot, L. (2001) ‘Organized Complexity – Conventions of coordination and the composition of economic arrangements’ European Journal of Social Theory 4(4): 405-425.

Thévenot, L. (2002) ‘Conventions of co-ordination and the framing of uncertainty’, in E. Fullbrook (ed.) Intersubjectivity in Economics, London: Routledge, pp. 181-197.

Thévenot L. (2002) ‘Which road to follow? The moral complexity of an 'equipped' humanity’. in J. Law and A. Mol (eds) Complexities: Social Studies of Knowledge Practices. Durham and London: Duke University Press, pp. 53-87.

Thévenot, L. (2006) L’action au pluriel. Sociologie des régimes d’engagement. Paris: La Découverte.

Thévenot, L. (2007) ‘The Plurality of Cognitive Formats and Engagements: moving between the familiar and the public’, European Journal of Social Theory 10(3): 413-427.

Thévenot, L. (2011) 'Powers and oppressions viewed from the sociology of engagements: in comparison with Bourdieu's and Dewey's critical approaches of practical activities', Irish Journal of Sociology 19(1): 35-67.

Thévenot, L. (2011) 'Conventions for measuring and questioning policies. The case of 50 years of policies evaluations through a statistical survey', Historical Social Research 36(4): 192-217.

Thévenot, L. (2012) 'Law, economies and economics. New critical perspectives on normative and evaluative devices in action', Economic Sociology 14(1): 4-10.

Thévenot L. (2013) 'Community-Engaged Art in Practice', in T. Zembylas (ed.) Artistic Practices. London: Routledge (forthcoming).

PhD School 
PhD School in Organisation and Management Studies
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