Strategies of valuation: repertoires of worth at the financial margins
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This article draws upon thirteen months of ethnographic research in a Chicago pawnshop to show how prices of objects in pawnshops are actively, socially negotiated using what I term discursive strategies of valuation. Three kinds of discursive strategies of valuation emerge repeatedly in the data: a. references to the specific material attributes of the objects, b. references to the unique biographical histories of the objects, c. reference to the financial need and (relative) social positioning of the customer involved in the negotiation. Examining these strategies reveals the relationship between socially contingent and culturally constructed perceptions of value and the production of price. I find that rhetorical strategies can and do affect price, within limits. Perhaps most surprisingly, the data show that discursive strategies emphasizing a lower socio-economic status can inflate the value, and ultimately the price, of an object during negotiations.
KeywordsCultural objects Discursive strategies Fringe banking Pawnshops Pricing Valuation
This article would not have been possible without the cooperation and understanding of the owner and employees of Second City Pawn; I cannot thank them by name, but I am indebted to each of them. The article benefited from the feedback of the Editors and reviewers at Theory and Society. I also wish to thank Bruce Carruthers, Mary Pattillo, and Wendy Griswold for their insightful comments on earlier iterations of this project and article, and Mat Elmore for first bringing my attention to such a rich site for sociological inquiry.
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