In this landmark work of economic sociology, Lucien Karpik introduces the theory and practical tools needed to analyze markets for singularities. Singularities are goods and services that cannot be studied by standard methods because they are multidimensional, incommensurable, and of uncertain quality. Examples include movies, novels, music, artwork, fine wine, lawyers, and doctors. Valuing the Unique provides a theoretical framework to explain this important class of products and markets that for so long have eluded neoclassical economics.
With this innovative theory--called the economics of singularities--Karpik shows that, because of the uncertainty and the highly subjective valuation of singularities, these markets are necessarily equipped with what he calls "judgment devices"--such as labels, brands, guides, critics, and rankings--which provide consumers with the credible knowledge needed to make reasonable choices. He explains why these markets are characterized by the primacy of competition by qualities over competition by prices, and he identifies the conditions under which singularities are constructed or are in danger of losing their uniqueness.
After demonstrating how combinations of the numerous and multiform judgment devices can be used to identify different market models, Karpik applies his analytical tools to the functioning of a large number of actual markets, including fine wines, movies, luxury goods, pop music, and legal services.
"[T]his is an admirable book. It is theoretically rich, illustrated with many, many fascinating examples of real markets, and a wonderful read for all interested in how markets really work."--John L. Campbell, Administrative Science Quarterly
"Given the relative scarcity of theoretical models in economic anthropology in the last decade, anthropologists should not simply discard this very ambitious, empirically grounded model of markets of singular products. Taking into account the abundant anthropological literature on the production, circulation and consumption of singularities, it is puzzling and a bit troubling for economic anthropologists that the first theoretical synthesis on the topic comes from a sociologist. But working toward such synthesis is in itself already a great achievement of the book, one anthropologists would do well to emulate."--Marian Viorel Anastasoaie, Social Anthropology
"The reader will read this book for its precise and descriptive analysis of markets for which quality is multidimensional, incommensurable, and uncertain."--John Baffes, European Review of Agricultural Economics
"In demonstrating the role devices play in cases where markets are constructed against the odds--the book is an important contribution to economic sociology. In the best traditions of defamiliarisation, the book is also a beautiful book."--Monika Krause, European Economic Sociology Newsletter
"With his economics of singularities, Lucien Karpik has given researchers even more than a masterpiece of economic sociology. He introduces new methods, new concepts, and new results. He shows how the differences between markets are more important than their similarities, and how our approach to markets should deal first and foremost with qualities. This book puts economics back on the road toward generality!"--Olivier Favereau, Université Paris X and Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique
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This work is published with support from the French Ministry of Culture/Centre national du livre.
In addition, the work, published as part of a program of aid for publication, received support from CulturesFrance and the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs.