Mediating instruments and making markets: Capital budgeting, science and the economy

Peter Miller, Ted O'Leary

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We examine in this paper how certain instruments link science and the economy through acting on capital budgeting decisions, and in doing so how they contribute to the process of making markets. We use the term "mediating instruments" to refer to those practices that frame the capital spending decisions of individual firms and agencies, and that help to align them with investments made by other firms and agencies in the same or related industries. Our substantive focus is on the microprocessor industry, and the roles of "Moore's Law" and "technology roadmaps". We examine the ways in which these instruments envision a future, and how they link a multitude of actors and domains in such a way that the making of future markets for microprocessors and related devices can continue. The paper begins with a discussion of existing literatures on capital budgeting, science studies, and recent economic sociology, together with the reasoning behind the notion of "mediating instruments". We then address the substantive issues in three stages. Firstly, we consider the role of "Moore's Law" in shaping the fundamental expectations of an entire set of industries about rates of increase in the power and complexity of semiconductor devices, and the timing of those increases. Secondly, we examine the roles of "technology roadmaps" in translating the simplified imperatives of Moore's Law into a framework that can guide and encourage the myriad of highly uncertain and confidential investment decisions of firms and other agencies. Thirdly, we explore one particular and recent example of major capital investment, that of post-optical lithography. The paper seeks to help remedy the empirical deficit in studies of capital budgeting practices, and to demonstrate that investment is much more than a matter of valuation techniques. We argue, through the case of the microprocessor industry, for greater attention to investment as an inter-firm and inter-agency process, thus lessening the fixation in studies of capital budgeting on the traditional hierarchical and bounded organization. In addition, we seek to extend and illustrate empirically the richness of the notion of "mediating instruments" for researchers in accounting, science studies, and economic sociology. © 2007 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)701-734
Number of pages33
JournalAccounting, Organizations and Society
Issue number7-8
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2007


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