Pomo Periscope I: “Economics and Narrative Form”

17 October 2006 at 11:31 am 10 comments

| Nicolai Foss |

Here at O&M we try to keep a keen eye on pomo tendencies in economics and management (e.g., herehere and here). Indeed, we do this with such frequency that we, as of this post, will have a regularly occurring feature — The Pomo Periscope.

We kick off by letting the Periscope zoom in on a “Call for Papers on Proposed Panel on Economics and Narrative Form, Society for the Study of Narrative Literature, Georgetown, 03/07.” Here is the full call:

Submissions are invited for a proposed panel addressing narrative as an economic form: in what ways do narrative strategies underwrite economic relations or financial instruments such as credit, speculation, or interest? Critics have consistently suggested that the economic content of novels in particular contributed to the ideological normalization of capitalism, but have less often engaged the economic consequences of narrative form. How might narrative form(s) eventuate or contest the consolidation of financial capitalism as a system of representations? Accordingly, this panel will explore how formal features such as (but not limited to) point-of-view, character, and self-referentiality, or even realism itself, contend with economic representations or abstractions. Papers on the narrative techniques of economic thinkers like Marx and Smith also welcome.

Anna Kornbluh
Department of English
UC Irvine

I think the Call is largely mumbo-jumbo. However, it seems clear that it involves a call for clarification of the reflexive relation between economics and the subject matter of economics (to engage in a bit of pomo talk myself) — a favorite theme of recent economics-bashers in management, such as Sumantra Ghoshal and Jeffrey Pfeffer (cf. this earlier post). Hmmmm, who knows — perhaps Pfeffer will submit a paper on “the economic consequences of narrative form. How might narrative form(s) eventuate or contest the consolidation of financial capitalism as a system of representations?”

Entry filed under: - Foss -, Management Theory, Methods/Methodology/Theory of Science, Pomo Periscope.

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10 Comments Add your own

  • 1. JmW  |  17 October 2006 at 2:03 pm

    I have the deepest possible regard for the authors of this blog, but sometimes I have the impression that university life is just a reincarnation of kindergarten: You thrive the most by mocking some other (methodological) faction. But, Mr. Foss, you are probably not as extreme as you claim to be! Your attack on the “narative form” betrays that part of your own (high quality) academic work may also be said to be of a somewhat narrative character (for instance your analysis of Oticon) – at least in league with the socalled analytical narratives, promoted by the likes of Barry Weingast and Avner Greif. Furthermore, If I remember correctly, you are also the one who – in your analysis of leadership – told economists to focus on the importance of belief formation (and isn’t that a recogniction of the importance of narratives and presentation?). I acknowledge the possible fun-factor in some of the pomo-bashing, but please don’t overdo it! There are good and bad research in both economics and sociology.

  • 2. Nicolai Foss  |  17 October 2006 at 2:37 pm

    JmW, Fair enough. However, I am not sure I am attacking “narrative form” as such. Indeed, I am not sure I know what it is :-) But if you look at the Call for Papers it is NOT about “the narrative form” per se (whatever it may be). It is about something much more wide-ranging, namely the “economic consequences of the narrative form.” So it is NOT, I submit, about a style of research (and I trust you when you say that I am also “narrative”); it is about our old pomo-friend, “reflexivity.”

  • 3. JmW  |  17 October 2006 at 3:15 pm

    The call for papers mentioned is indeed “mumbo-jumbo” to me too. Sorry, if that caused me to misdirect my comment. However, talking about nonsense, this blog recently praised a famous king of mumbo-jumbo, James G. March, as one of the most “important organizational theorists of the twentieth century” (posted 12/10). I guess he would be qualified to submit a paper?

  • 4. ln  |  17 October 2006 at 4:36 pm

    Not to defend the “mumbo-jumbo” of the call for papers, but for the sake of academic conversation:
    1. Narrative form influences belief formation.
    2. Belief formation is important for economists because it has economic consequences
    3. narrative form has economic consequences.

    If one were to defend the call for papers – and I am not saying one should – one could argue that what interests an English department is how, say, a novel (a narrative) set at a bank influences the beliefs of the reader of what a bank is like. What interests the economics department is the economic consequences of this belief, which perhaps could be observed in an indicator such as the savings rate. Just a thought.

  • 5. Peter Klein  |  17 October 2006 at 10:51 pm

    Ouch! JmW, I suppose I could respond by noting that we called March “important,” “brilliant,” and “original,” which isn’t incompatible with him being a king of mumbo-jumbo as well. But I won’t respond that way, because I don’t share your assessment of March. Idiosyncratic and quirky, yes, but not unintelligible, certainly not in the 1958 and 1963 books with Simon and Cyert, respectively.

  • 6. JmW  |  18 October 2006 at 1:35 am

    Ok, that was a bit too harsh. Even if March is indeed a genius, his work on “garbage can”-theory or “new institutionalism” does suffer from a serious lack of clarity. Splendid exposure of this has been provided by Jonathan Bendor, Terry Moe & Kenneth Shotts (2001). “Recycling the Garbage can”, American Political Science Review, vol. 95, pp 169-190.
    Furthermore, with regard to the subject of “reflexivity” I suspect JGM is not unlikely to agree with his long-time collaborator, Johan P. Olsen, who has warned that studying or applying rational choice or economics is dangerous, becuase it leads to cynicism (Norsk Statsvitenskapelig Tidsskrift. vol. 8, (1992) No. 2. pp. 149-153). When Ghoshal and Pfeffer are targeted by the “pomo periscope”, then why not Olsen and March too?

  • 7. Nicolai Foss  |  18 October 2006 at 1:42 am

    JmW, Many thanks for those two extremely useful references! I am working with Teppo Felin on a paper which — among other things — discusses reflexivity, and the Johan P Olsen reference comes very handy here. Perhaps indeed the Periscope will target Olsen and March in a future edition.

  • 8. Nicolai Foss  |  18 October 2006 at 1:50 am

    ln, We may agree that ideas, propaganda, beliefs, etc etc. _somehow_ matter for relative prices, capital formation, the size of the government, etc etc., although the specific links are entirely obscure. How much has the reading of Galt’s Speech among US readers contributed to US growth rates over the last decades? Impossible to answer. Indeed, how can we say anything meaning ful about how “narrative _form_” influences beliefs, and, in turn, the economy? The exercise is pretty hopeless from the outset, isn’t it?
    Moreover, note that your syllogism is not exactly what the Call is about.  However, I would not necessarily have quarrels with a Call that adopted your syllogism as the focus (although I would doubt that much useful would come out of it) — rather than “the normalization of capitalism” and other semi-Foucaultian nonsense.

  • 9. ln  |  18 October 2006 at 9:58 am

    Prof. Foss, I certainly grant, that it is very, very farfetched that one should be able to form any meaningful link between Galt’s use of the first person narrative form and an aggregate number as the growth rate. However, I would not rule out entirely that there somewhere in some English department is a scholar, who is able to say something meaningful about how narrative forms influences belief formation also without resorting to pomo-nonsense. And perhaps some of his students have graduated and now work in advertising agencies influencing in an observable way if not the economy as a whole, then at least which consumer products we choose within it. I am, however, not sure, that the aforementioned scholar, should he exist, would choose to respond to this specific call for papers. I think the notion that there is both good and bad research in both economics and sociology also goes for the humanities, from which this call for papers is. I might, however, also be inclined to agree with you in associating this specific call with the latter category.

  • 10. bajkd  |  21 February 2007 at 5:45 pm

    I don’t think you guys really understand what the call is getting at. It refers to narrative “form,” and lists things like formal characteristics such as point of view, realism, etc. It has nothing to do with “content,” eg Galt’s speech. It that were the topic, it would be trivial. Second, it is not about economics discussing itself, or reflexivity. It is about novels, which is not economics. Also, you refer to Foucauldian nonsense such as “normalization.” But this “normalization” is perfectly understanding. Capitalism requires a work ethic, and that work ethic has to be instilled, or “normalized.” Again, perfectly understandable. Before you mock something, first try to understand it.

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Nicolai J. Foss and Peter G. Klein, Organizing Entrepreneurial Judgment: A New Approach to the Firm (Cambridge University Press, 2012).
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