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The Sense of Dissonance

The Sense of Dissonance: Accounts of Worth in Economic Life

David Stark
Daniel Beunza
Monique Girard
János Lukács
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 264
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  • Book Info
    The Sense of Dissonance
    Book Description:

    What counts? In work, as in other areas of life, it is not always clear what standards we are being judged by or how our worth is being determined. This can be disorienting and disconcerting. Because of this, many organizations devote considerable resources to limiting and clarifying the logics used for evaluating worth. But as David Stark argues, firms would often be better off, especially in managing change, if they allowed multiple logics of worth and did not necessarily discourage uncertainty. In fact, in many cases multiple orders of worth are unavoidable, so organizations and firms should learn to harness the benefits of such "heterarchy" rather than seeking to purge it. Stark makes this argument with ethnographic case studies of three companies attempting to cope with rapid change: a machine-tool company in late and postcommunist Hungary, a new-media startup in New York during and after the collapse of the Internet bubble, and a Wall Street investment bank whose trading room was destroyed on 9/11. In each case, the friction of competing criteria of worth promoted an organizational reflexivity that made it easier for the company to change and deal with market uncertainty. Drawing on John Dewey's notion that "perplexing situations" provide opportunities for innovative inquiry, Stark argues that the dissonance of diverse principles can lead to discovery.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3100-5
    Subjects: Sociology, Finance, Management & Organizational Behavior

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xviii)
  4. 1 Heterarchy: The Organization of Dissonance
    (pp. 1-34)

    Search is the watchword of the information age. Among the many new information technologies that are reshaping work and daily life, perhaps none are more empowering than the new technologies of search. With a few keywords at the toolbar, we can access enormous databases to find an obscure article by a long-distant colleague, identify the supplier of a critical component, read about the benefits and side effects of new pharmaceutical products or medical procedures, or find the fact that immediately settles a dispute about the performance of an opera, an athlete, or a mutual fund. Whereas the steam engine, the...

  5. 2 Work, Worth, and Justice in a Socialist Factory
    (pp. 35-80)
    János Lukács

    I have a tin can on my desk that I bought in Budapest at the end of 1989. It is considerably smaller than your standard tuna can and extremely light in weight. If you tap your fingernail on it, it gives a hollow ring. But the label, complete with a universal bar code, announces in bold letters that, in fact, it is not empty: Kommunizmus Utolsó Lehellete—The Last Breath of Communism.

    If I were so inclined, I could take my tin can as a facile metaphor for the transition in Eastern Europe. In that case, the last breath of...

  6. 3 Creative Friction in a New-Media Start-Up
    (pp. 81-117)
    Monique Girard

    Throughout the 1990s, construction sites in Manhattan grew in number; this growth accelerated to a peak in the spring of 2000. But although these new construction sites had subcontractors, they had no cement; they had architects, but no steel; they had engineers and designers who built for retail firms, financial services, museums, government, and cultural institutions, but no one ever set foot into their constructions. These architects were information architects, the engineers were software and systems engineers, the designers were interactive designers, and the builders were site builders—all working in the Internet consulting firms that were the construction companies...

  7. 4 The Cognitive Ecology of an Arbitrage Trading Room
    (pp. 118-162)
    Daniel Beunza

    What counts? Faced with an avalanche of information from many varied sources, we need to select the information we will take into account in going about our business. Nowhere is this question more demanding than when faced by securities traders in the era of quantitative finance. With unprecedented earnings fueling access to enormous databases expanding both in volume as well as in diversity, and with unprecedented risk exposure propelling demand for yet more and better sources of data, securities traders are immersed in a virtual flood of information. Faced with such information overload, the real challenge for traders is not...

  8. 5 From Field Research to the Field of Research
    (pp. 163-203)

    In the three ethnographic chapters that comprise the empirical core of this book, I observed the building of tools in mechanical engineering, software engineering, and financial engineering. I now turn attention to the analytic tools for understanding the social processes that underlie economic activity in organizations. From my field research I return to my field of research, offering several lines of inquiry for economic sociology as it faces new challenges in the turbulent twenty-first century.

    Economic sociology is arguably the newest and the oldest field in sociology. Only recently recognized by the discipline as a subfield,¹ economic sociology can claim...

  9. Reprise
    (pp. 204-212)

    Search, inquiry, discovery. This was the theme with which I began this book. In the introductory chapter, I presented a line of argument that moved through inquiry, uncertainty, diversity, ambiguity, and reflexivity to develop the concept of heterarchy. My own search took me, in subsequent chapters, to heterogeneous actors in disparate settings—toolmakers in an antiquated Hungarian factory, new-media workers in the ultracool setting of Silicon Alley, and arbitrage traders in the sleek glass hothouse the World Financial Center. My ethnographic case studies, then, were an inquiry about inquiry as I followed these disparate actors in their search for worth....

  10. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 213-216)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 217-238)
  12. Index
    (pp. 239-245)