The Sense of Dissonance:

Accounts of Worth in Economic Life

Search is the watchword of the information age, but in this study of innovation David Stark examines a different kind of search – when we don’t know what we’re looking for but will recognize it when we find it. Drawing on John Dewey’s notion of collaborative inquiry, Stark uses ethnography to study the perplexing situations in which actors search for what’s valuable. His cases include machine tool makers in Hungary, new media workers in Silicon Alley, and derivatives traders on Wall Street. In coping with uncertainty, organizations benefit from the friction of competing criteria of worth. The dissonance of diverse principles can lead to discovery.

Chapter 1 | Table Of Contents

 


 

Reviews:

Review in the American Journal of Sociology
Review in Socio-Economic Review
Review in Administrative Science Quarterly
Review in the Journal of Evolutionary Economics
Review in the European Economic Sociology Newsletter
Review in Sociologica

Endorsements:

"In this book, Stark takes the reader on a fascinating journey of discovery…The Sense of Dissonance is equally a book about how organizations really work and how we should think about the problem of organization--a great accomplishment."--Duncan Watts, author of Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age

"At a time when global crises have shattered standard accounts of economic life, David Stark's The Sense of Dissonance offers powerful alternative explanations of economic activity along with specific prescriptions for twenty-first-century economic survival. This book instructs and inspires."--Viviana A. Zelizer, author of The Purchase of Intimacy

"This wonderful, lively, and personal book is packed with insights for economic sociology and general sociological theory. A mature statement by a leading sociologist, it is also a delight to read."--Walter W. Powell, Stanford University

"This is an important book about an important topic--and it has a strong narrative and impressive, engaging ethnography."--Michèle Lamont, Harvard University

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Princeton

Japanese Version of The Sense of Dissonance

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This collection emphasizes that valuation takes place in situations. Valuation is spatially localized and temporally marked. First, valuation takes place in situ -- and the papers provide detailed accounts of various sites and settings (or, more accurately, setups) in which it occurs. Second valuation takes place in discrete moments of time -- and the papers provide rich accounts of the critical moments when evaluative attention is particularly acute: the attentive moment when a dinner guest first sips a glass of wine, the instant when a luxury perfume is sprayed into a special device allowing the customer a sense of its sillage (the scented trail left by a fragrance wearer), or the moment when the professional art appraiser is cross-examined in the courtroom witness box. As such, the book might just as well have been titled Sites of Valuation: Exploring Moments of Dissonance.

Endorsements:

"Through its focus on moments of valuation, this edited collection radically broadens the range of sites in which the unfolding of value can be observed, from a Chinese art village to Danish pig farms, an AI newsgroup, Berlin restaurants and social housing design. Bringing together key international representatives from sociology, accounting, science and technology studies, and organization studies, the book demonstrates that valuation does not necessarily signal the domination of one regime of worth - economy, politics, aesthetics - over others, but happens at the intersection of different registers. In so doing, Moments of Valuation returns to the all-too-familiar question of the new a much needed sense of puzzlement and surprise."

—Noortje Marres, Goldsmiths, University of London, author of Material Participation: Technology, the Environment and Everyday Publics


"How do we value? There could hardly be more fundamental social process. The recent, global resurgence of scholarly interest in valuation suggests that there is not. It has captured the attentions of researchers in fields ranging from accounting to science studies. The idea that value is somehow inherent in things has been taken apart, subverted by the contingencies of context, form, and cultures. But the question of innovation, of how new things, places, or expertise are deemed valuable, and how the value of old things is revised or re-appropriated has been relatively neglected. Until now. The editors and authors of Moments of Valuation have accomplished much by demonstrating crucial patterns in that which is provisional in valuation: valuing as situated in time, subjected to translation, testing, demonstration, and genre; sparked by dissonance. In doing so, they show us the value and ubiquity of a pragmatist epistemology. John Dewey, I think, would have approved."

—Wendy Espeland, Professor of Sociology, Northwestern University


"Moments of Valuation is an essential contribution to the rich literature on evaluation which is attracting a great deal of interest in North America and Europe alike. The editors have assembled a splendid cast of stars and younger researchers who each shed light on different micro-situation where evaluation unfolds. This important volume shows paths for future inquiries and thus makes a crucial contribution to our understanding of one of the most fundamental social processes."

—Michèle Lamont, Harvard University, author of How Professors Think: Inside the Curious World of Academic Judgment

"Moments of valuation are certainly critical moments. They determine the fate of whatever it is that is appraised. They also alter the traits of whatever it is that is appraising. The contributions gathered here rightly take these moments as the crucibles in which reality is brewed. These are the sites where an apt vocabulary for the appraisal of valuation shall be developed."

—Fabian Muniesa, Ecole des Mines de Paris, author of The Provoked Economy (2014, Routledge)

"This collection of brilliant essays suggests that a cacophony of work within cultural sociology can be understood more fully within the frameworks of valuation of dissonance. Not only do these works give scholars important ideas to contend with, they suggest a path for more fruitful conversations about our social world."

—Shamus Khan, Columbia University, author of Privilege: The Making of an Adolescent Elite

This Place, These People:

Life and Shadow on the Great Plains

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"The photographs and the words so beautifully preserved here evoke powerful—and indeed, painful—memories of the homes left behind when millions of rural Americans packed up, said goodbye to all they had known, and relocated to the nation’s cities and suburbs. The memory of that transition continues for many of us, tearing at our hearts." —Robert Wuthnow, author of Remaking the Heartland: Middle America Since the 1950s

 

purchase here

Columbia University Press
November 2013
Clothbound, 10X10 inches 128 pages
62 duotone reproductions

Reviewed in Rural Sociology 2015, 80(1):144-46.

Featured on Slate, April 2, 1014.

Click the image for self-timed slideshow:

The numbers of farms and farmers on the Great Plains are dwindling. But disappearing even faster are the farm places -- the houses, barns, and outbuildings that made the rural landscape a place of inhabitation. Nancy Warner's photographs tell the stories of buildings that were once loved but have now been abandoned. Her evocative images are juxtaposed with the voices of Nebraska farm people, lovingly recorded by sociologist David Stark. These plain-spoken recollections tell of a way of life that continues to evolve in the face of wrenching change. 

As you contemplate Warner's spare, formal photographs, you are invited to listen to the cadences and tough-minded humor of everyday speech in the Great Plains. Stark's afterword grounds the project in the historical relationship between people and their land. In the tradition of Wright Morris, this combination of words and images is both art and document, evoking memories, emotions, and questions for anyone with rural American roots.

David Stark is Arthur Lehman Professor of Sociology and International Affairs at Columbia University, where he directs the Center on Organizational Innovation. His most recent book is The Sense of Dissonance: Accounts of Worth in Economic Life.

Nancy Warner is a fine-art and portrait photographer based in San Francisco. Many of the photographs in this book were first exhibited at the Great Plans Art Museum as Going Back: Midwestern Farm Places (2008). The photographs are avialable for sale, exhibit, or licensing. Contact Nancy Warner at warnerphoto.com

click the image for a sample spread:

Postsocialist Pathways:

Transforming Politics and Property in East Central Europe

Is there a distinctly East European capitalism? This volume analyzes democratization and economic change in the postsocialist societies of East Central Europe. It demonstrates that the collapse of communism was not the same across the region and that the differences in how the pieces fell shaped the building blocks used for reconstructing political systems and restructuring economies in the region. Among the key concepts are the importance of social networks in the economies and of deliberative institutions in the polity that include the interests of subordinate groups in policymaking.

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Endorsements:

"This book is a huge breath of fresh air. Stark and Bruszt defy many conventional understandings about the transition processes and their societal consequences in Central Europe, undertake careful and innovative research, and come up with solid conclusions about the unique shape that these countries are acquiring. This, in turn, provides the basis for truly comparative work, one that benefits students of this and other regions: gaining detailed knowledge of the specificities of each set of cases and deriving from them rich theoretical implications. This is an important and original book, of great value for anyone interested in the present and future trends of newly democratized countries." Guillermo O'Donnell, University of Notre Dame

"Originality, intellectual innovation, inspiration derived from sharp observation, and courageous theoretical generalizations--these are rare qualities in transition economics, and characteristic of Stark and Bruszt's book. Some of their propositions are certainly controversial, but that also helps to make Postsocialist Pathways exciting and thought-provoking reading." Janos Kornai, Harvard University and Collegium Budapest

"Stark and Bruszt have opened the 'black box' on privatization in EasternEurope -- and they have discovered circuitry that differs radically from one country to another. Moreover, these emerging patterns of public/privateownership, control and collusion have serious implications for such things as economic growth, international competitiveness, Euro-compatibility, the role of foreign capital, the legitimacy of capitalism itself -- even the type and quality of democracy." Philippe C. Schmitter, European University Institute

"Postsocialist Pathways is suitable for research collections covering economic reforms in Central Europe." Choice

Restructuring Networks in Post-Socialism:

Legacies, Linkages and Localities

This book is about change in Central and Eastern Europe, and about how we think about social and economic change more generally. In contrast to the dominant 'transition framework' that examines organizational forms in Eastern Europe according to the degree to which they conform to, or depart from, the blueprints of already existing capitalist systems, this book examines the innovative character, born of necessity, in which actors in the post-socialist setting are restructuring organizations and institutions by redefining and recombining resources. Instead of thinking of these recombinations as accidental aberrations, the book explores their evolutionary potentials.

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Endorsements:

""[These] papers counter the neoclassical prescriptions for the post-socialist economies with an alternative conception of development drawn from new insights in evolutionary theory and network analysis."--Journal of Economic Literature "The 14 essays assembled in this volume convey the rich ironies of history, powerfully reminding us that politics do not suffer political theory gladly...expert and novice alike will find much of interest here."--Social Forces "This book is a major contribution to the debate on postcommunist economic transition, but should be read by anyone interested in economic sociology."--American Journal of Sociology

Remaking the Economic Institutions of Socialism:

China and Eastern Europe

Economic reforms in China and Eastern Europe have undermined much past thinking about state socialism. These papers represent some serious, though often piecemeal, efforts to find new models and approaches.

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