Assembling value(s): What a focus on the distributed agency of assemblages can contribute to the study of value

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This paper explores the question of what a focus on the distributed agency of assemblages (agencements) can contribute to the study of value(s) and valuation processes. A starting point here is the claim that processes of valuation and the production or performance of value(s) are not reducible to human agency or exclusively human social relations, but instead depend on dense entanglements of distributed agency within assemblages involving humans as well as nonhuman actors – entities that can do things, affect others and produce effects through their implication in heterogeneous assemblages. Calculative devices are one such nonhuman actor that many of the LCSV case studies are exploring in detail, but there are others, including the various objects of our studies themselves. This leads to the question, following from Jane Bennett (2010), of what difference would it make to the study of value if the objects of our various projects – carbon, land, nonhuman species, antiretroviral meds – are not taken only as resources, commodities, or services, but ‘also and more radically’ as actors? The paper argues that such a focus on the material ‘agency’ of things entangled in assemblages is a fruitful site for thinking through what Callon (1998) calls ‘overflows’, that is, those things that are framed out of initial value calculations only to force their way back in as ‘counterperformativities’ unsettling the orders of initial valuation projects. Similarly, a focus on material specificity lends itself to identifying what Tsing (2012) calls the ‘nonscalable’ elements of those orders of value that have been made ‘scalable’ through the precarious work of obscuring or framing out difference and specificity with similarly unsettling potential. It is suggested that identifying the overflows, counterperformative entities and nonscalable elements in the LCSV case studies can open up potential spaces for productive interventions into systems of valuation that rely on, perpetuate or exacerbate unjust social relations and the destruction of nonhuman nature.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationThe University of Manchester
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2014

Publication series

NameLCSV Working Paper Series
PublisherLeverhulme Centre for the Study of Value


  • values
  • valuation
  • assemblages
  • vital materialities
  • scalability
  • overflows
  • counterperformativities

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Global Development Institute


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