Book Review – Market Rebels

MR Hayagreeva Rao‘s book, Market Rebels – How Activists Make or Break Radical Innovations, presents a series of case studies of the ways social movements shape and influence markets by promoting certain products (like the car, in the late 19th century) or campaigning against them to the point of derailing their production (like some companies in the biotech industry).

This book is a very good example of the ways in which sociology should be treated more seriously by business because it has a lot if insights to offer when it comes to collective behavior, social movements, institutional realities and their complex relationships to other institutions and the larger social context.

What Rao demonstrates through a variety of case studies, from the early age of the car, to the emergence of microbrewing, through the birth and success of French nouvelle cuisine (is there a cooler sociological topic than that?), through the shareholder’s right movement, the anti-chain store movement to anti-biotech activism, is that market do not function magically on their own, making or breaking products based on market factors alone.

Businesses as diverse as brewing giants or biotech companies as well as chain stores of before the Big Box era (but not unrelatedly) all, at one point or another, have to integrate non-market factors in their analysis of the perception and reception of their product by society. Similarly, in the case of the new car industry, Rao shows that it is not the industry that promoted its new product (the car, that is) which was considered a barbaric contraption in some circles, but early car users. These users, through automobile clubs, were the ones who promoted the car as safe and reliability through (aptly named) reliability contests. In other words, these activists facilitated the cultural acceptance of the car. In another case, anti-biotech activists were able to influence cultural perception (negatively) against the biotech industry.

So how do social movements (be they automobile clubs or anti-biotech activists) manage to make or break products regardless of market mechanisms? Through what Rao calls hot cause and cool mobilization . These two concepts are at the heart of Rao’s book and they stand as major explanatory factors of the success of social movements, for or against the market. And in the process, it is nice to see a little sociological jab directed at economists:

"Since Adam Smith wrote his treatises in the late eighteenth century, economists have tended to see markets as guided by an invisible hand wherein individuals acting in their self-interest enhance collective welfare even if it is not their intention to do so. In this focus, economists have largely neglected to understand how the joined hands of activists and their recruits make or break radical innovation in markets. Ironically, although sociologists have pioneered the study of social movements, the bulk of their research concerns social movements directed against the state or movements designed to change popular culture, such as large-scale revolutions, civil rights movements, and the women’s movement. For the most part, students of technological innovation have treated them as shocks to a market rather than as the outcomes of collective action." (5)

What is largely ignored from the economic and also political scientific perspectives is the importance of activism’s capacity to mobilize for action through the production of identity. And identity is indeed central to Rao’s analysis. Here is Rao’s central thesis, in my view:

"Social movements are collective endeavors to initiate social change, and they arise to reshape markets when normal incentives are inadequate and when actors are excluded from conventional channels of redress to address social costs. The challenge for market rebels becomes how to forge a collective identity and mobilize support by articulating a hot cause that arouses emotion and creates a community of members, and relying on cool mobilization that signals the identity of community members and sustains their commitment." (7)

[Emphasis mine] For instance, to illustrate this, Rao uses the examples of the failure of the cochlear implant. In this case, this case, the hot cause was the re-definition of the implant as a tool of cultural genocide (the deaf culture) in attempts to "normalize" deaf peoples. The cool mobilization was the use of unconventional demonstrations and techniques to generate mobilization and public interest on the side of the activists.

What is central in this is emotion. For Rao, emotions are central in the definition of hot causes and shaping people’s beliefs on a given issue or regarding a particular product but they are also central in the shaping of a collective identity that will move people into cool mobilization and action. In Rao’s terms

"Hot causes promote unfreezing and change because they emit new cues that awaken new feelings that interact with the emotions tied to old but relevant beliefs and induce dissonance. Cool mobilization contributes to moving and refreezing because it promotes new behaviors, creating new social experiences and affirming new concepts, identities and commitments. Hot causes and cool mobilization overcome the "B2B" [belief versus behavior] dilemma; hot causes mobilize passions and engender new beliefs, and cool mobilization triggers new behavior and allows new beliefs to develop. Together, they foster the development of new identities and the defense of old ones." [8]

The identity component is central and partially explains, for instance, the success of the Toyota Prius and the miserable failure of the Segway.

Hot causes frame a certain state of affairs that triggers specific emotions:

  • high power emotions that give people a sense of power (that they can and should do something about it) as opposed to low power emotions that promote withdrawal;

  • reciprocal emotions (feelings of movement members for each other such as friendship and solidarity); and

  • shared emotions (feelings that movement members have toward an external object).

Cool mobilization foster the development of shared identities and commitments so that members are ready to engage in unconventional collective behaviors.

"Together, then, hot causes and cool solutions power collective action, and collective action creates or constrains markets. Hot causes intensify emotions and trigger new beliefs. Cool mobilization also evokes emotions, but by engaging participants in new collective experiences that transform beliefs. Hot causes are highly defined, and their definition gives them emotional resonance. Cool mobilization has lower definition and requires conscious participation – indeed, participants have to "fill out" the experience through their actions and experimentation. Both underlie the formation of new identities." (13)

And the more hot causes and cool mobilization are aligned with cultural narratives, the more likely they are to succeed in generating new identities, experiences and commitments.

For each case he discusses, Rao then examines what were the hot causes and cool mobilizations with mention of lightning rod events:

  • In the case of the microbrewing movement, the hot cause was the bad taste of mass produced beer and the cool mobilization was microbrewery and small brewpubs using artisanal and authentic techniques, promoting a narrative of cultural authenticity and diversity. The identity of true beer aficionado was promoted.

  • In the case of the rise of French New Cuisine, the hot cause was freedom from Old Cuisine as represented by Escoffier tradition and the cool mobilization was the use of fresh and exotic ingredients combined in original, unconventional and improvisational ways. The identity of the chef as artist and creator rather than script follower was central.

  • In the case of the shareholder movements, the lightning rod events were a variety of scandals involved grossly overpaid CEO (such as Home Depot’s Robert Nardelli) despite poor performance. Investors’ rights then became the hot cause and the cool mobilization involved anti-management activism as well as unconventional forms of protests such as corporate blacklists and vote-no campaigns.

  • In the case of the anti-chain stores movements (its more recent iteration being the anti-Big Box movements as illustrated by Robert Greenwald’s films, Wal-Mart – The High Cost of Low Prices), the hot cause was the demise of small businesses and the loss of community identity (and therefore cultural diversity) and the cool mobilization involved non-market tactics such as using zoning laws and local / state legislatures to restrict chain stores.

  • In the case of the anti-biotech activism that started in Germany, the lighting rod was the discourse of the possibility of genetic engineering, portrayed as similar to Nazi eugenic. The hot cause was then the manipulation of life in a broad sense and damage to the environment. The cool mobilization involved a variety of tactics such as unconventional demonstrations and protests that were sure to attract media attention, use of state legislature where the Green party was strong to curtail the activities of biotech firms located there (which is why firms located in rural, more conservative districts where activism levels were lower were more successful than firms located in urban and more liberal districts… also, the bigger the firm, the bigger the target… smaller firms were below the radar of activists).

In all these cases, Rao finds recurrent dynamics:

"The detailed histories of several markets presented in this book show that collective voice shapes markets by activating new identities through hot causes that arouse emotions and create a community of members, and through cool mobilization that allows participants to realize collective identities. (…) Hot causes and coo mobilization overcome the B2B dilemma; hot causes mobilize passions and engender new beliefs, and cool mobilization triggers new behaviors and allows for new beliefs to develop. (…) Thus, both hot causes and cool mobilization are gut things. What makes a cause hot is the emotions it awakens and the beliefs it disturbs, and what makes mobilization cool is that it signals insurgency and a distinctive identity. Market rebels are not cool-hunters selecting the next cool thing; instead, they produce cool – out of shared emotions and actions." (172-4)

[Emphasis mine] The dilemma, then, for activists, is one of being able to select a cause and make it hot and find the appropriate cool mobilization techniques that will engender common identity and shared commitment. For that, Rao uses Saul Alinsky’s typology of what makes a cause hot (lightning rod issues are icing on the cake and make the cause all the hotter):

  • Pick a target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.
  • Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon.
  • Never go outside the experience of your people
  • Whenever possible, go outside of the experience of your enemy.

And to determine what makes mobilization cool, Rao uses Charles Tilly’s WUNC typology:

  • Worthiness (mobilization technique that improves the sense of self-worth and identity of participants)
  • Unity (mobilization techniques that fosters common collective identity and share behavior)
  • Numbers (the more the merrier)
  • Commitment (mobilization techniques that elicit commitment from the participants… which might be the ultimate issue for the CauseWired movement, incidentally)

So, cool mobilization arises from the formula W x U x N x C.

There is no doubt that the twin concepts of hot cause and cool mobilization have powerful explanatory and predicting power when it comes to social movements. It is very clear that they can be applied to many more examples than the few cases presented in the book, as the diversity of these examples illustrates. Using these concepts, one understands definitely better why some movements succeed while other fail.

At the same time, the depth of analysis presented in the book also bring to the table the power of a variety of non-market institutions on market success or failure depending on how activists are able to use these institutions in the context of cool mobilization.

To be frank, I was not sure I would be interested in a book like that but I was completely taken in by the analysis and its implications.

Gee… What a Surprise! Women More Affected By Economic Hard Times

And add another factor pertaining to gender inequalities:

It would be nice to see something like that implemented in the US as part of whatever stimulus program the new administration is considering.

What’s In Store for 2009

Grab a magnifying glass, it’s worth it, via Webilus again (click on the image for a larger version, you’ll still need a magnifying glass though, but hours of fun too!):


The Rise of The Global Corporate Sport Media Complex

Barry Smart, "Not Playing Around: Global Capitalism, Modern Sport and Consumer Culture", Global Networks , 2007, Vol 7, No 2, pp. 113 – 134.

In this article, Barry Smart retraces the steps through which sport became both a phenomenon of "unique local appeal" and "global significance" (113). Indeed, according to Smart,

"Sport is an economically significant, highly popular, globally networked cultural form." (114)

What Smart tries to do with this article is to delineate the different threads that make sport both a local and global phenomenon. These threads are composed of transnational corporations, media, global sport institutions and organizations as well as the phenomenon of the sport star. What Smart’s analysis reveals is the progressive corporatization (TNCs), commercialization (TNCs + media), professionalization / institutionalization (global sport organizations and institutions) and starrification of sport (accompanied by its increasing popular appeal) as part of the global consumer culture.

All these processes emerged and gained momentum starting in the late 19th century and culminated, I would add, with the opening ceremony of the Olympics in Beijing. In this sense, sport, as a social institution, is thoroughly embedded in the culture and economic interests of global capitalism in the form of corporate sponsorship, consumerism promoted by global events and sport stars.

As Smart puts it,

"The popular appeal of sporty increased significantly during the course of the twentieth century, becoming truly worldwide in scope and intensity with the growth of international sporting bodies, competitions, tournaments, migratory flows of competitors and associated globally extensive forms of media representation, especially in the form of terrestrial (later satellite) television and the internet (Maguire, 1999). Its closer lings with the corporate world over this period transformed the institution of sport. It was not just a case of business values intruding into sport, of sport being turned into a business, and sport events and participants becoming commodities. It was also a matter of recognizing that the distinctive qualities sport and its participant possessed, notably its popular cultural appeal and unrivalled aura of authenticity, were of potential value in the increasingly competitive process of capital accumulation on a fully-fledged consumer society. It was about its unique value in enhancing corporate brands, global marketing, and the promotion and sale of products associated with popular sport events and iconic celebrity sporting figures. " (114)

In the rest of the article, Smart goes through the details of these different developments, from what he calls the take-off stage of the globalization of sport, from the 1870s to the 1920s with a rise in international competitions, spectatorship, and initial forms of global standardization through the example of the first truly global sport, tennis.

Later, Smart also notes the importance of the development of jet travel to the globalization of sport as it became faster and easier for competitors and athletes to be transported across the globe to participate in a variety of competitions. Global competition, air travel and global television coverage were central.

In parallel with tennis, the revival of the Olympic Games by the Baron de Coubertin (never mind de Coubertin’s racism and colonialism) also contributed to the standardization, commercialization and popularization of sport. Later, specific events such as the World Cup (football for us Europeans, soccer for Americans) would also constitute a central global sporting event with massive commercialization and consumerism.

"Paralleling developments in this take-off phase of international sporting events, matches and tournaments were increases in the number of spectators paying to attend events, the formation of international governing bodies exercising jurisdiction over international competitions, and far more media interest exemplified by the emergence of sports magazines, press coverage and radio broadcasting. A significant commercial market for sport goods also began to emerge as  ‘falling real prices and rising wages brought an increase in prosperity’ and innovations in sporting equipment and specialized sports clothing attracted growing consumer interest (Flanders 2006: 435)." (118)

Sport goods companies are essential to the corporatization of sports and the rise of the consumerist culture. The increasing popularization of sports meant that there would be a demand for diversified sport goods and equipments. So are born the first big names of corporate sports, such as Slazenger, Dunlop or Wilson and the first sponsorship as marketing tools followed by the initial crushing dominance of Adidas that would be then dethroned in the 1990s by Nike. By then, sport had been thoroughly commercialized.

Consumer culture and sporting celebrity go hand in hand. It is multidirectional of course: sports celebrities are sponsored by sporting goods companies and these same celebrities endorse goods and products, thereby vouching for the quality of the products and the authenticity of the brand. The professionalization of sports and of the athletes is indissociable from corporatization. As a result of such sponsorships and endorsements, Smart notes the rise of a specific class of professionals: managers and agents who take charge of the commercial and business aspect of athletes’ careers. The athlete becomes a product to be promoted, marketed and made profitable beyond sporting contracts.

The final piece of the puzzle then is the media.

"The growth in global television coverage and the increasing commercialization of sports has provided the corporate sponsors of sports event with a compellingly persuasive platform to achieve a global profile for their brands. Press radio and television have not only communicated information and images about sport to the fans, they have also served to promote sport to a wider public. They have increased its popularity and made the names and, in the case of the visual media, the faces of sporting figures known even to those with little real interest in sport (Smart 2005). Developments in television technology, particularly the emergence of satellite television broadcasting, have contributed significantly to the globalization of sport. Worldwide live coverage of events, and digitalization and pay-per-view, along with the emergence of new media delivery platforms, including the Internet and mobile phone, have contributed further to the global diffusion of sports information and images." (124)

One only has to look at the exorbitant costs of broadcasting rights to realize the economic significance of global sport events for the media. International organizations such as the IOC and FIFA rely  mainly on broadcasting and advertising revenues. At these prices, only major transnational corporations such as News Corp can play. Indeed, as Smart notes, sport broadcasting was News Corp’s entry ticket into different markets as sport events were then broadcast as pay-per-view or through subscription. There is indeed a sport-media complex that is highly concentrated and highly globalized.

And as illustrated with global sport events such as the World Cup or the Olympics, global television coverage and diffusion is central to the economy of modern sport. These events provide enormous audiences to advertising and marketing companies. At the same time, these vast audiences are attracted and retained through the use of the sporting celebrities embedded in the consumerist culture, making sport thoroughly part of the entertainment industry.

"Global sports events and iconic global sporting celebrity figures have become increasingly important to the promotion of commodity consumption. This is achieved through dispaying corporate logos and marketing campaigns at sports events, deploying sporting imagery and prestigious global sporting event trademarks in corporate advertising in the media, involving high-profile products of sports celebrities like Tiger Woods, David Beckham, Venus and Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova in product and brand promotion (Smart 2005)." (131)

Personally, this ad is still my favorite although it looks really corny now:

Compare that to the much more recent Sharapova ad

As Smart concludes,

"Sports are universal signifiers, they ‘travel across borders’, rise above differences in politics, culture and religion, and promote a positive feeling of shared experience and a sense of common meaning. They achieve this through the rituals of competitive play, themselves rendered universal by the formation of a global sporting network, to which the growth of media coverage and corporate sponsorship has made such a decisive contribution (Aris 1990). The association of corporate logos, products and services with global sports events and iconicglobally popular sporting figures increasingly accords a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country." (131)

The Latest Meme – 6 Books That Represent You

So, Denis Colombi has tagged me with the latest meme *shakes fist in impotent rage at Denis*… Anyhoo, like Denis, I like memes, and I like books (and I have the same relationship of possession with books). I am not sure what "represent" means… in French, "représente" means more "reflect" but this is a sociology blog, so, I’ll go with sociology books that really solidified my vocation as a sociologist. So, here goes:

LoC I have always considered Harvey Sacks to be the James Dean of sociology: lived fast, died young, so rebellious and insurgent that Erving Goffman dumped him in the middle of his Ph.D only to be "rescued" by Aaron Cicourel. At the Sociology Department of University of Manchester where I completed one of my Ph.Ds, Sacks was considered a genius among the ethnomethodologists there.

And indeed, I read most of the Lectures" as I was writing my doctoral dissertation and each and every one of them was like unwrapping some little corner of the social structure. It is, I think, a mistake to consider ethnomethodology and conversation analysis some forms of microsociology. What the studies in these paradigms do is to reveal how the social structures are embedded within social action.

In this sense, it is no surprise that Bourdieu was actually well-disposed towards EM/CA (as well-disposed as he was towards Goffman whose books he got translated in French).

D&P I know it’s fashionable to point out all the problems with Discipline & Punish but the "births" trilogy (clinic, asylum and prison) provide powerful analysis of epistemes and their impact on social institutions and vice versa. The whole idea of "disciplining the body" finds its contemporary extension into David Lyon’s concept of the surveillance society. After the first 30 or so pages of Discipline and Punish, I was hooked.

Also, I am a big fan of various analyses of power and how it is diffused in different forms throughout the social structure all the way down to the individual body, like a capillary system. Post-structuralist analysis rocks.

Disposable Peoples I was shamefully ignorant of the state of the world’s slave until I read Kevin Bales’s book, Disposable People. This book combines rigorous analysis of the current situation on the slavery front, contrasting old-fashioned slavery with the contemporary form.

Then, the book takes the reader on a global tour of specific countries where slavery is especially prevalent. It also makes clear the connections between contemporary slavery and the global economy (well, what’s left of it, which probably won’t improve the situation on the slavery front).

Since the publication of Disposable People, Kevin Bales has continued his tireless work to abolish slavery and written more books on the topic… all proceeds go to anti-slavery work… you know what to do!

C&P Bar none, the best introduction to Pierre Bourdieu’s work. The sad part of it is that I would never have discovered it had it not been for a chance meeting with Rick Fantasia at Smith College where he works. "Bourdieu’s my man" had said Rick, before passing on to me an opportunity to write an article about Bourdieu because he had enough on his plate at the time.

Now, you have to understand that any French sociology student lives / breathes Bourdieu, especially in the first couple of years of their education in sociology. Then, you rebel against it (in my case, you go all ethnomethodological), and then, a few years, later, you re-discover him. Swartz was essential to that re-discovery for me and revealed dimensions to Bourdieu’s work that had escaped me.

SinE Ok, I will not pretend that I understand completely Studies in Ethnomethodology. My copy is all beat up and written all over, revealing the painful process of trying to figure out what the hell the guy is saying… and trust me, when you’re French, trying to make sense of Garfinkel’s English ain’t easy. No wonder that book has never been translated into French My mistake, as Xavier wrote in the comments, it did get translated in 2007… 10 years too late!

So, it is a demanding and very dense book but the payoff is well-worth the effort as you never look at social interaction and structures the same way after reading it. Basically, in this book, Garfinkel offers his own answers to the ultimate sociological question since Durkheim: how is social order possible? And do we (social actors) make sense of it?

CoC Corrosion of Character was my point of entry into the study of globalization and also to the work of Richard Sennett, which was completely left out of my sociological education. This is a short but really smart book that seamlessly weaves together the personal, the social and the global.

It is through Sennett that I discovered Manuel Castells and Saskia Sassen.

I have read more recent books by Sennett since but The Corrosion of Character still is, in my view, a powerful account of the changing nature of labor and its personal consequences, a fruitful theme that Sennett has thankfully pursued in more recent books.

There you have it, folks. Now, it’s my turn to tag: Andrew (of Union Street), New Soc Prof (who still sucks at geography), Mark Bahnisch (of Larvatus Prodeo, if his skull has recovered from yesterday’s "accident"), Jay Livingston , Christophe Foraison and Pierre Maura.

Tina Guenther, I have spared you this time!

Readers can play in the comments and come up with their own list of books that "represent" them.

Another Fun Way to Reify Gender Roles

And Phila makes mincemeat of it (thank goodness). This time, it’s the application of game theory to mating behavior, with predictable results:

And here is the main problem that always comes up when it comes to evolutionary psychological explanations of mating / reproductive behavior:

La Sociologie Par L’Image – Some Upgrades for Our Times

French Socblogger Christophe has some fun illustrations and recommendations in his latest post:

First, some re-branding for the current times:

Crisis Logos

Then, a new version of Abraham Maslow’s famous pyramid for the Web 2.0 era:

Maslow 2.0

Finally, Christophe points us to this video:

This video comes from an article (in French) from the online magazine Internet Actu on the dematerialization of money (If I wanted to be smart, I’d use Bauman’s concept of liquid money, that is when credit in the usual sense, as well as points obtained through various brand credit cards can be liquified or dematerialized and reconverted into further currency for further consumption… which is what it’s all about).

The video is actually part of a project to study the social and behavioral consequences of such deep dematerialization of money and how people navigate the resulting moneyscapes (how does this differ from Appadurai’s financescape? I see financescape as more referring to the movement of money in the global econmy whereas moneyscape refers more to the consumption level… a macro / micro difference, so to speak, but the two are interrelated, of course).

Of course, this video involves a very upper-middle class, very white society with no digital divide or real social inequalities, as is often the problem in such discussions of technology and society.

And Here I Thought Obama Was All About Openness

I don’t think it’s right, in harsh economic times, to deprive workers of potentially great sources of income.

I guess openness only applies to Nazi-loving religious fundamentalists who get to deliver the invocation:

Globalization Losers – Migrants

How much more dehumanizing can it get? And no story of globalization is complete without trafficked workers.

This is another common thread we have witnessed: the militarization of the treatment of illegal immigrants. This is something debated in the United States when it comes to who should patrol the US-Mexico border and whether the Border Patrol has the capacity for the task. These questions, of course, are muddled by ethnocentric, nationalist and racist movements who wish to impose their framing on the issues.

Illegal immigrants are at the heart of globalization contradictions: impoverished rural populations, labor-intensive industries in need of labor-made-cheap to feed Western mass consumption, rise of trafficking networks, militarization of immigration policies, rise of nationalist / racist movements.

In the end, though, the powerless are made to choose between persistent poverty (potentially slavery in the form of debt bondage), trafficking into countries where they might find work, permanent avoidance of mechanisms of social control for fear of deportation (or planned death as illustrated by the case above), or potential violence at the hands of racist groups.

Globalization Losers – Indigenous Peoples

I have blogged before about indigenous peoples as a category of populations that are the prime victims of globalization (as they were also prime victims of colonialization and industrialization) but the difference between now and the previous eras (industrial and colonial) is that now, there is some concern about their fate and their rights. Still… Case in point, the Kuchis of Afghanistan, who were constantly in the middle of the fighting during the Soviet invasion (mostly because they are nomadic traders), and now:

As a general rule, central governments have a hard time figuring out what to do with indigenous peoples who, by definition, do not fit the model of sedentarism that is the basis of social institutions and norms.

As such, they are also more likely to bear the brunt of risk society:

The impacts of any risk are amplified when they affect a category of the population that is already socially disadvantaged, as indigenous peoples are in most societies they are a part of (voluntarily or not).

Similarly, social change tends to have more adverse effects on indigenous peoples and they are more likely to have policies enacted by central governments imposed upon them… and that is in the favorable situation in which they do not stand in the way of resource exploitation by corporate interests. However, as the potential for scarcity and resource wars increases, indigenous peoples who stand in the way are more likely to be victims of violence, as has already occurred at the very same time that their livelihood is already threatened by climate change.