Markets and Identities: Modeling Fine Arts and Valentines

February 11, 2005 - 12:00pm to 1:30pm

Room 140c, Harris School of Public Policy Studies

Harrison C. White, Giddings Professor of Sociology, Columbia University

View the paper: "Inventory Of Dynamics In Art Markets"

Viewed by many as the most creative mind at work in the field of Sociology today, Harrison White returns to the University of Chicago to present a refinement of an argument offered in his influential Markets from Networks: Socioeconomic Models of Production (2002). Recently reissued in paperback,Markets from Networks argues against overly theoretical accounts of market interaction favored by economists for a more empirical explanation of economic processes. White maintains that producers create market niches that increase profit and eliminate competition. Producers carve out these niches by anticipating supply and demand rather than responding to it. These anticipatory actions are based on producers’ perceptions of their competitors’ identities: to remain competitive, each producer must make itself appear similar to its competitors while retaining sufficient distinction to fulfill its own unique niche.

In this new working paper, created specifically for the Cultural Policy Center workshop series, White advances key insights from Markets for Networks, with new modeling that is tighter and more transparent to show how fine arts markets can be constituted using social mechanisms that escape traditional network limitations. For instance, according to White, dealers, gallery owners, and other operators in the art scene often serve as “mobilizers,” affecting perceptions of value in ways often more significant than supply and demand.

“Professor White’s creativity has been a beacon to his discipline. He has invented methods, concepts, indeed whole forms of analysis, with restless energy. His most recent work finds him revisiting his analyses of markets while simultaneously advancing into linguistics and other forms of cultural analysis. In his wake has come an extraordinary generation of students and colleagues, following but never catching their even more extraordinary master. Professor White is indeed an ornament to scholarly life in the social sciences. His studies of the arts have demonstrated the intimate connection of art markets with art styles and career patterns. His theoretical concept of structural equivalence completely recast the concept of social networks then current in the literature, sending the analysis of such networks in fundamentally new directions and, indeed, founding the modern field of network analysis.”—Andrew Abbott, Gustavus F. and Ann M. Swift Distinguished Service Professor, Department of Sociology and the College, University of Chicago.

White’s workshop should appeal to anyone who has benefited White’s contribution to sociology, those conversant in economic or sociological theories of exchange, students of arts markets, and anyone interested in mechanisms that regulate market forces.

About Harrison White: Harrison White is Giddings Professor of Sociology at Columbia University. A member of the American Academy of Arts and Science and National Academy of Sciences, he has served on the faculties of Harvard, the University of Edinburgh, and The University of Chicago. His publications include Careers and Creativity: Social Forces in the Arts and Identity and Control: A Structural Theory of Social Action. He holds a PhD in Theoretical Physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a PhD in Sociology from Princeton University.

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