Creating Social Ontology: On the Performative Nature of Economic Experiments
The paper analyses the methodology of economic lab experiments on human behaviour in the light of Barad’s ‘agential realism’. Experimenters conventionally think that experiments identify properties that human individuals have, independent from the experimental setting (the ‘preferences’ or ‘values’, etc.), so that lab results generalize for the entire reference population (cultural groups, species, etc.) in the field. To the contrary, I argue that economic experiments are performative, which means that experimenters, experimental subjects and experimental designs are entangled in one performative setting, following earlier analyses by Guala, Callon and others. I discuss the performativity of experiments in considering the mandatory use of monetary incentives as an instance of ‘priming’ and ‘framing’ with money, as established in psychological experimental research. I take this analysis one substantial step further in demonstrating that this view corresponds to Barad’s reconstruction of Niels Bohr’s philosophical evaluation of experiments in quantum physics, which eschew the notion of an independent ‘object’ having stable properties in favour of an ontology of ‘phenomena’. I suggest that this view is congenial to the conventional economic theory of ‘revealed preferences’. Then, Bohr’s principle of complementarity can be shown to apply also for economic phenomena, in particular the duality of individual and social preferences, which I relate to Tuomela’s philosophical analysis of ‘I mode’ and ‘We mode’ in human action. In this view, it is meaningless to ask whether experiments can finally provide evidence on which kind of preferences human beings have in general (even for one single individual); economic experiments can identify certain performative mechanisms that generate a specific kind of preferences in a particular context.
KeywordsPerformativity of economic experiments Money priming Agential realism Niels Bohr Principle of complementarity Social preferences
JEL codeB41 C90
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