Science and Technology Studies

A major influence on the methods and theoretical architecture that are used to study default and debt collection is the sub-discipline of Science and Technology Studies (STS). Originally this field limited itself to the study of scientists and scientific endeavour. Early STS scholars could therefore be found in places like laboratories, watching as scientific facts were proved and disproved, stabilised and destabilised, before then following them as they proliferated in the world, sometimes becoming challenged anew. The approaches these scholars developed have since been exported to a range of other sites including, as in this book, to the study of the stabilisation and destabilisation of the facts of economic life. One of the features of this work is an interest in material things – objects and ‘devices‘.

In the Preface, I sum up key aspects of this approach and what the book looks to contribute to the field:

A second way [the first way is described here] the book can be read is as an attempt to stage an encounter between parallel but largely disconnected fields of research. One of these is an approach to economic sociology which draws much from the diverse sets of methods and approaches that have been developed within science and technology studies (STS). Researchers working within this field have become interested in the diverse ways that markets are put together, while observing the role played within them by both people and material things. Often this has involved a focus on the role played by particular ‘devices’. Put simply, these are the cogs and wheels that drive the engines of markets, the objects and technologies involved that help to make them function. What makes this approach so important is that it has shown social scientists how essential it is to pay close attention to the ways in which the often quite mundane ‘stuff’ of markets can have significant effects. This includes shaping the ability of people to make assessments about how to proceed in a given economic situation; how to calculate, in other words.

However, perhaps because of its very enthusiasm for showing how much the material stuff of life matters to economic life, this research has often tended to provide a rather thin account of the role played by the everyday encounters between markets and people. The book thus puts it into dialogue with a largely separate field of research that, while also attentive to the material dimensions of life, has devoted far more attention to working through the precise ways in which people, their bodies, and the technologies and practices that surround them, come to be interrelated. This is a diverse set of work, with an equally diverse intellectual heritage, that can be drawn together under the category of ‘affect theory’. The power of affect theory has been to provide a way of attending to and describing some of the most intimate aspects of life. In some cases, this has included focusing on what happens when these encounter markets, although its objects of study have been widespread. The areas where it has sometimes arguably fallen short are precisely those where a STS-influenced economic sociology has excelled: providing an account of where the mundane devices and practices of markets come to matter and in what ways. I have found the encounter between these two fields productive; I hope you do too. But please, read this book in any way that you find helpful.

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