Research Seminar: Liz McFall

Devising futures: on the orchestration of technique and sentiment in market situations

Liz McFall, University of Edinburgh

Thursday 1st November 4pm T-Room, 1st Floor Evolution House (1.09), ECA

There is an irreducible element of future-casting mystery in the relationship between data showing what consumers have done, even in the immediate past, and what they might do next. What it is that allows the market to ‘have’ us, that turns a product into ‘the thing’ that enables us, becomes us, that already in someway is us, before slowly, or sometimes suddenly, it is not – is not wholly explainable. The epistemological chutzpah of big data is that it will solve this mystery to allow markets to imperfectly, but more finally, have us. It can’t and it won’t. (McFall and Deville, 2017)

It is a bit sassy to quote yourself in an abstract. I’m doing it here to signal that the problem it refers to, how the consequences of data driven innovations in market situations are represented, still bothers me. There is a pronounced tendency toward overstatement, of both dystopian and utopian kinds, of the transformations being wrought that underplays the routine and stubborn character of everyday market transactions. It is as if a leap is being made between the affordances of data driven innovations, what I call technique, and lived experience or sentiment. But there is a space between technique and sentiment that is not resolved by innovation. In this talk I want to focus on this middle space, the space of orchestration. This middle space is something of a blank theoretically. What goes on there? What does it take to bring about a durable alignment between the technical affordances of the devices and the lived experience of their bearers? One way to think about this is by referring to a specific empirical market situation. This case involves the integration of wearable devices in individual health and life insurance markets. It has been heralded as everything from a solution to the public health problem posed by chronic, preventable disease and an instance of biopolitical hypersurveillance. Yet a ‘successful’ orchestration, one that could achieve either its own targeted outcomes, has proved elusive.

Liz McFall is Chancellor’s Fellow based in Sociology and the Edinburgh Futures Institute at the University of Edinburgh. She co-edited Markets and the Arts of Attachment with Franck Cochoy and Joe Deville (Routledge 2017) and is author of Devising Consumption: cultural economies of insurance, credit and spending (Routledge 2014) and Advertising: a cultural economy (Sage 2004). She is Co-Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Cultural Economy.


Design Informatics Studio, ECA, 1.09 Evolution House, 78 Westport, Edinburgh, EH1 2LE