This paper documents an exchange for healthy human subjects of medical experiments brokered and carried out by a labor union (The United Mine Workers of America) and the federal government (The US National Institutes of Health). The organizations legally established the exchange in a 1960 contract; jobless people took part in the exchange throughout the decade; and the exchange served as a “prototype” for additional exchanges between NIH and organizations in blue-collar communities. The exchange was successful because the organizations negotiated two “dissonant descriptions” of the same action to manage two different audiences – one legal, one vernacular. The case engages three issues in cultural sociology. First, the episode illustrates how philosopher GEM Anscombe’s concept of “action under a description” solves a puzzle embedded in studies of culture-in-action and offers a way to more systematically study symbolic action. Second, it demonstrates precisely how organizations, paradoxically, use the language of voluntarism to accomplish market goals. Third, it illuminates the terms of engagement with new commodities and markets in the age of biocapital and in doing so helps deepen understandings of moral markets.
American Journal of Cultural Sociology – Springer Journals
Published: Feb 8, 2017
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