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Contestation over Markets and Industries: Power Struggles, Moral Shifts and Senses of Repulsion

For the past decades, a sense of foreboding about markets and their operations has been growing in Western Societies. If it is true that market forces and their inner logic have been invasive and colonized domains traditionally assumed to remain outside the forces of rationalization and efficiency, many social actors are increasingly worried about the demoralizing or unjust consequences of the application of market principles to all realms of social life.

The contestation may be centered on the alleged consequences of commodification but also on the unethical grounds that support the existence of specific industries, contributing to violations of justice and fairness. Contestation involves the discussion of the legal/illegal boundary, as well as of the political, emotional and moral dimensions of markets.

Social movements and public opinion have been mobilized to take this contestation a step further, articulating protest action with the development of a complex rhetoric mingling traditional rights speech with views supported by enlightened catastrophism. The targeted markets and industries vary in range, scope, and nature, including, among many others, organs, blood, genetically modified organisms, adoptions, surrogate motherhood, bullfighting, meat consumption, gambling, pornography, prostitution, alcohol, drugs, guns, carbon permits, personal data, aesthetic surgery & permanent body modification, cryptocurrencies, or near-slave labor. Simultaneously, even more consensual and mainstream markets and industries have been under attack by critics due to their alleged immoral or unjust practices. A case in hand is the financial industry, that has been under close scrutiny, especially after the 2008 crisis. A common thread among the contesters is to be found on the parallel ideas of exploitation and victimization that permeate an important part of the arguments used. This contestation represents important transformations on moral conceptions of human life and reflects the contextual nature of protest movements. The existence of contestation, however, is only made possible because arguments of efficiency, inevitability or virtuous effects have been presented by the defenders of the application or continuity of market principles to these controversial domains.

Academically, the topic of contestation has also been gaining momentum, especially by an increase in the number of researches dedicated to the theme, either offering a general review of the field (Wilkinson, 2016; King and Pearce, 2010), setting agendas (Steiner and Trespeuch, 2016; Steiner, 2015) or with a focus on the empirical terrain (Dioun, 2017; Anteby, 2010, Dorobantu, Henisz,and Nartey (2017). References to stigmatized industries (Durand and Vergne, 2015), coerced exchange, contested commodities (Radin, 1996; Holland, 2001; Hughes, 2006; Loader and White, 2018), or concerned markets (Cochoy, 2014) add to the increasing importance of this research domain. The critique of mainstream markets, such as the financial one, is also on the rise (Ho, 2009; Ouroussoff, 2010; Graeber, 2011).

Taking into account these two recent evolutions — one in terms of social movements and the other emerging from the academia -, this workshop aims to foster the discussion on market contestation, bringing together researchers and scholars on a wide range of fields, and leading to the presentation and discussion of contributions framed by diverse disciplinary, theoretical and methodological lenses and perspectives. The organizers seek research papers focused not only on empirical research on contested markets, but also historical analysis and theoretical modeling of this contestation. Senior scholars, junior scholars and PhD students are invited to participate.

We expect that the workshop will open new research avenues, foster new projects and international cooperation, leading to relevant findings for both academics and policy-makers.


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Philippe Steiner is professor of sociology at the Faculté des Lettres at Sorbonne University. His recent work focuses on economic sociology, the sociology of organ transplantation, the very high and obscene incomes, the relationship between morality and market and the history of the social sciences. His current research focuses on non-market exchanges and the relationship between holidays and economic activities.

Among his last contributions we find: La solidarité à distance. Quand le don passe par les organisations (edited by Ph. Steiner and S. Naulin), Toulouse, Presses Universitaires du Midi, 2016; Donner … Une histoire de l’altruisme, Paris, Presses Universitaires de France, 2016; Marchés contestés: quand le marché rencontre la morale (edited by Ph. Steiner and M.Trespeuch), Toulouse, Presses Universitaires du Mirail, 2015; Calcul et morale. Coût de l’esclavage et valeur de l’émancipation (in cooperation with C. Oudin Bastide), Paris, Albin Michel, 2015; Les rémunérations obscènes, Paris, La Découverte, 2011.


The Workshop FINAL PROGRAM is available: HERE


The workshop will be organized by the PhD Programme on Economic and Organizational Sociology and SOCIUS — Research Centre in Economic and Organizational Sociology, ISEG — Lisbon School of Economics & Management, Universidade de Lisboa, Portugal.

Organizing Committee: Rafael Marques Sofia Bento, João Peixoto, Daniel Seabra Lopes and Sandra Coelho.


The workshop will take place at the ROOFTOP of ISEG New Quelhas Building, located in ISEG CAMPUS, with entrance by R. Francesinhas or Rua do Quelhas 6. Location map: LINK


Presenters (paper accepted by the organization): no fee

Regular fee (other participants): 160€

Students: 120€

Registration fee includes Workshop materials and coffee-breaks.

Deadline for presenters registration: August 26, 2019

Deadline for other participants registration: September 23, 2019

Online registration at: REGISTRATION FORM

For further information, please contact the local organization:

Mónica Fraga —


Anteby, M. (2010). Markets, morals, and practices of trade: Jurisdictional disputes in the US commerce in cadavers. Administrative Science Quarterly, 55(4), 606–638.

Cochoy, F. (2014). Concerned markets: Facing the future, beyond ‘interested’ and ‘contested’ markets, in Concerned markets: Economic ordering for multiple values, Geiger, S; Harrison, D.; Kjellbergand, H.; Mallard, A. (Eds.), Cheltenham, Edward Elgar, 238–255.

Dioun, C. (2017). Making the Medical Marijuana Market, in The Architecture of Illegal Markets: Towards an Economic Sociology of Illegality in the Economy, Beckert, J. and Dewey, M. (Eds.), Oxford, Oxford University Press, 159–176.

Dorobantu, S., Henisz, W. J., & Nartey, L. (2017). Not all sparks light a fire: Stakeholder and shareholder reactions to critical events in contested markets. Administrative Science Quarterly, 62(3), 561–597.

Durand, R., & Vergne, J.-P. (2015). Asset divestment as a response to media attacks in stigmatized industries. Strategic Management Journal, 36(8), 1205–1223.

Graeber, D. (2011). Debt: The First 5,000 Years, New York, Melville House.

Ho, K. (2009). Liquidated: An Ethnography of Wall Street, Durham, Duke University Press.

Holland, S. (2001). Contested commodities at both ends of life: Buying and selling gametes, embryos, and body tissues. Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal, 11(3), 263–284.

Hughes, A. (2006). Learning to trade ethically: Knowledgeable capitalism, retailers and contested commodity chains. Geoforum, 37(6), 1008–1020.

King, B. G., & Pearce, N. A. (2010). The contentiousness of markets: Politics, social movements, and institutional change in markets. Annual Review of Sociology, 36, 249–267.

Loader, I., & White, A. (2018). Valour for money? Contested commodification in the market for security. British Journal of Criminology, 58(6), 1401–1419.

Ouroussoff, A. (2010). Wall Street at War: The Secret Struggle for the Global Economy, Cambridge (UK), Polity.

Radin, M. J. (1996). Contested commodities, Cambridge, Harvard University Press.

Steiner, P. (2015). Contested markets: morality, devices and vulnerable populations. China Journal of Social Work, 8(3), 204–216.

Steiner, P., & Trespeuch, M. (2016). Controversial Markets: Moral Challenges and Vulnerable Populations. Antropolítica: Revista Contemporânea de Antropologia, (41), 46–77.

Wilkinson, J. (2016). Contested Markets: An introduction. Antropolítica: Revista Contemporânea de Antropologia, (41), 25–45.

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