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Journal of Cultural Economy

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Franck Cochoy

Online publication date: 04 September 2010

To cite this Article Cochoy, Franck(2010) ''HOW TO BUILD DISPLAYS THAT SELL'', Journal of Cultural Economy, 3: 2,

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HOW TO BUILD DISPLAYS THAT SELL The politics of performativity in American grocery stores (Progressive Grocer, 19291946)
Franck Cochoy

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Instead of looking at performativity in economics and politics, this paper proposes to explore the economic politics of performativity. More precisely, it focuses on the politics of Progressive Grocer, a trade journal which from the early 1920s thrived by promoting new ways to modernize the grocery business for a readership of small independent grocers. This journal faced a dilemma: while it had to bring some new thoughts, behavior and objects into the real world, it could achieve this goal only through paper means. Progressive Grocer shows how thoroughly such a dilemma can be overcome. This magazine does almost everything that can be done through the mediation of simple paper. Progressive Grocer implements a true politics of performativity. This politics consists of introducing a new kind of text, distinct from economic theories and managerial textbooks. Instead of just putting words into its pages in the hope that they would ultimately shape the external reality, Progressive Grocer relies on a language that mixes what is said and what it does, signs and artifacts, reports of actual practices and dreamed states of commerce. KEYWORDS: retailing; language; objects; performativity

If the notion of performativity met such success when applied to economic issues (Callon 1998; MacKenzie & Milo 2003; MacKenzie et al. 2007), it is partly because the economic field is one of the best examples of a clear relationship between a set of words and a set of things: while economic models may be seen as pure literary fictions, economic matters can be taken as highly tangible entities. These models are part of the political game; they compete with each other and equip public policies (Callon, this issue). As such, they call for a study of the political dimensions of performativity. In this paper, I propose to study Progressive Grocer, a trade journal which from the early 1920s thrived through its promotion of new ways to modernize the grocery business to its readership of small independent grocers. As we will see, the journal helps shed a different light on the three key elements: performativity, economics and politics. As far as performativity is concerned, focusing on the grocery field moves us beyond the simple notions of language and practice. Of course, semioticians and linguists long anticipated the blurring of such entities: Austin (1961) focused on the material conditions and practical effects of language acts; while well before Austin, Pierce (1934) envisioned icons, symbols and indexes as part of an extended language. But as we will see Progressive Grocer pushes this blurring even further: it produces a universe where words and images

Journal of Cultural Economy, Vol. 3, No. 2, July 2010

ISSN 1753-0350 print/1753-0369 online/10/020299-17 2010 Taylor & Francis DOI: 10.1080/17530350.2010.494380



on the one hand, and things on the other, rather than being the origin and result of action, are combined to produce some different meanings and practices.1 Studying Progressive Grocer is also a means to focus on another aspect of the performative dimension of the economy. Up to now, the stream of research initiated by Michel Callon (1998) has postulated rather than demonstrated that economics is performative. The supposed performativity of economics played the role of an axiom from which it becomes possible to study how, and under what conditions, economic concepts shape social practices. In other words, the idea was not so much to study the linguistic aspects of the language of economics, but rather to take it seriously and describe its power and impact. Significantly, the main effort in this research area has probably been to trace the variety of equipment and social processes that make calculation possible; in Austinian terms, this meant focusing on the conditions of felicity of the language at stake, rather than on its distinctive features. In brief and as Christian Licoppe notes it in his contribution to this issue, the focus has been on performation rather than performativity, or, to put it in technical terms, it has been on perlocution rather than illocution (Callon, this issue). In this paper I propose to complete the picture by focusing on both dimensions of Progressive Grocers politics of performativity. This is of course because empirically, studying a journal is not enough to fully account for its effects (although the journal is very clever at staging and representing what it does). But this is also because illocution and perlocution are closely linked, so that the latter is better understood when considered alongside the former. Finally, Progressive Grocer is a good field to introduce another view of politics. The classic view of politics is that of a macro realm and a specific matter, distinct from other regions like society or the economy. In this paper, I will rather take politics as power, as strategy, as local instant political discourse.2 My intention is to show that sometimes politics is not beyond the market and far away, but at the heart of it, in situated scenes and actions. Of course, classical economists conceived the market as an alternative to politics, hence as a domain external to economic matters (Hirschman 1977). But since the visible hand of managers replaced the invisible hand of the market (Chandler 1977), we know that markets are fully political (Fligstein 1996). In this paper, I will focus on the visible hand of marketing actors, but also on what leads the hand (the journal) and what it handles (the shopping equipment). The politics of Progressive Grocer is all about managing visible hands, visible tools and visible talks. The challenge at stake is about bridging the gap between lay grocers and new economic ideas to transform the consumption arena (and make Progressive Grocer grow!). On the one hand, the promoters of the journal wanted to bring some new concepts like open display and self-service into grocery business (see below). On the other hand, they knew that they had to convince a readership of hard-working men, carrying boxes and caring about money, without much time for reading and thinking, and who were wary of words and ideas as against experience and practice. In order to impose its own mediation, Progressive Grocer had to overcome the anti-intellectualist prejudice of its readers through the invention of a language that could bring reflexivity into commerce and be practical at the same time. It is precisely the politics of such a language that I would like to describe. In order to investigate these processes, I will begin with the analysis of a cartoon How to build displays that sell. The analysis of this cartoon and its implications will help me explore further the politics of performativity, i.e. the particular techniques and rhetoric Progressive Grocer uses and mixes to successfully promote the building of displays that sell. Finally,

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I will stress the implications of this exploration of Progressive Grocers politics for the theory of performative knowledge.3

I. How to Build Displays that Sell: The Magic (and Aporia) of Performativity
To my knowledge, there is no better illustration of the problem of performativity than this cartoon published in 1946 (Figure 1). The cartoon stages a clerk seated on a soap case, and immersed in a book entitled How to build displays that sell. The clerk is fascinated by the promise of the new tricks of self-service that enable him to act without ment 2008). But his boss interrupts him to acting, to sell without any salesman (Grandcle show with a large gesture the almost empty shelves that can be seen all around. He thus signifies that all the performative stuff embodied in the book may not be enough to perform anything. The cartoon reminds us that sometimes, performative utterances like I promise displays that sell do not work, and even worse, they may divert people from action. To put it in technical terms, illocution (an enunciation open towards action) in no way guarantees the realization of a perlocution (an action that stems from the enunciation). At first glance, the merchandising textbook is to the grocer what a book of magic spells is to the sorcerer:4 it is a true book of magic sales, in that it proposes to build things that are capable of acting like magic, all by themselves (Latour 1999). Thanks to particular devices, such as self-service arrangements, open shelves and large gondolas, the tasks and expertise required for selling and merchandising are delegated to material artefacts. In the very same way that the barrier can keep the sheep in while the shepherd sleeps (Latour 1996a), the new displays can sell goods while the grocer is absent. In this respect, non-verbal elements are more reliable and more powerful than ordinary talk. But most of the time, the grocers original script is not strictly executed but transformed or rather,

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FIGURE 1 Progressive Grocer (1946, 08, 97)5.



translated (Callon 1986) by the device to which the latter delegates it. As Latour (1991) showed, the heavy key-fobs of the hotel keeper do not exactly convey the latters message that calls for altruistic behaviour (please share the hotels viewpoint and return the key to the desk); rather, it converts this message into an egoistic worry (I dont want my pockets distorted). In a very similar way, displays may sell, but when they do, they dont proceed exactly like the grocer would have: self-service devices may sell more, and more continuously, than human clerks. Devices are always there, but they cannot answer questions and selectively adapt the information and commercial offerings to each customer; rather, they universally promote brand names, fixed prices, detailed information, and so on, thus transforming both retailing business and consumer behaviour (Strasser ment 2008). Therefore, the performativity of the book of magic sales 1989; Grandcle conveys two lessons for performativity theory. First, this book shows that performative effects are often indirect and mediated: performative speeches, instead of transforming the world directly, may do things through delegating their power to some mediations like market devices for instance (Callon et al. 2007; Cochoy 2007). Second, because of this delegated character and because of the translating power of any mediation, what is performed is not exactly what was initially meant. But performing the world indirectly and/or differently are not the worst problems that the book of magic sales has to face. More importantly, it has to perform something. And performing something does not depend on the books power only. The boss who questions the clerk as well as the persons who wrote the book know very well that there will never be any magic without the help of a magician (Canu 2010), that words cannot do anything by themselves, that theories are enacted only as far as action give them direction and meaning. Now, the title How to build displays that sell suggests the particular alchemy of make do patterns identified by Bruno Latour (1999) in his account of situations where agency belongs neither to human beings nor to technical devices, but is distributed among them. Latour gives the example of cigarette smoking: the smoker cannot say that he controls his smoking action, since he finds it so hard to stop; but he cannot say either that the cigarette smokes him, since obviously the cigarette cannot do anything without him. Rather, the cigarette makes him smoke. Merchandising theories and equipments work along the same type of pattern: building displays that sell is obviously aimed at making things that make us do things. By means of merchandising knowledge and techniques, by means of devices like open shelves instead of opaque counters, the selling agency is shared between the grocer who sets the displays, the selling affordance of the shelves, and the knowledge which brings the grocer and the shelves together. In the performative utterance I promise displays that sell, the I is immediately spread among three instances: the clerk who builds the shelves, the shelves that do the selling job, and of course the textbook which provides them with both the necessary ideas and techniques. But if one of these instances happens to fail, there is a good chance that nothing will be performed at all.6 This framework reminds us that, according to Austin himself, there is nothing like pure performative utterances: the success or failure of such utterances is linked to their conditions of felicity. When the book says: I promise displays that sell, there is no certainty that either the retailer or the consumer will believe the promise and act accordingly. Performing the book may depend, for instance, on the coincidental presence of the boss, who wisely proposes to connect theory and action. Without him, it is highly possible that nothing would have happened (the clerk may not be able to read or act; the consumer may refuse self-service and rather visit competitors, etc.).

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The perlocutionary property of language is not a property of words, but rather a potential inscribed between words and action. This difficulty may be presented as the aporia of performativity: performativity is a linguistic theory whose complete success is abandoned to hazardous extra linguistic circumstances. But what is a problem from the linguistic standpoint is a windfall for sociologists . . . and ordinary actors. Words create occasions that have to be seized and reworked. And creating and handling such occasions is precisely what the book of magic sales, i.e. Progressive Grocer, tries to successfully master. It is important to stress that the cartoon I started from appeared in Progressive Grocer, a trade press journal, which is precisely oriented at doing things with words, at building displays that sell. In my example, Progressive Grocer is both around and inside the cartoon. It is inside, since How to build displays that sell is just a generic way to name what Progressive Grocer, the National Magazine of the Grocery Trade and the monographs it publishes Better Grocery Stores, Getting Down to Real Facts in the Grocery Business, The Modern Grocery Store, etc., do. Progressive Grocer is full of performative-like titles such as Pick Older Men for Butchers (1929, 10, 54); Treat Ladies with Biscuits and Honey (1930, 01, 90); Uses Billboards to Advertise Specials (1930, 02, 35); Boosts Fancy foods for Summer Profits (1930, 06, 42); Pop Keener Explains How Small Stores Do a Big Business (1930, 09, 24), etc. But Progressive Grocer is also and more importantly around the cartoon, since the latter is published in the very journal it figures. The cartoon and the journal question but also displace and enrich the performativity framework. Firstly, they astutely question the performativity logic in widening up the gap between language and action. While on the one side the language is fully concealed on the book cover, and somewhat trapped in the whirl of its self-referential content, material configurations and real action are so to say suspended on the other. The dualistic staging of the cartoon nicely underlines that managerial and economic forms of knowledge are always half-performative only: they introduce a rupture, a suspension, a detour of economic action. Things are said, and then done, rather than said-done as it is supposed in the pure theory of speech acts. Rather than ignoring this problem it had better be taken into account and dealt with, since it plays a crucial role in suspending the fluidity of markets and the performativity logic. But the cartoon and journal also extend the performative logic they happen to suspend. They do so in paradoxically neutralizing its central speech feature. Significantly enough, there is no utterance in this cartoon, except the mute title of the book. No words are uttered, no one is talking, no caption is written. Like in a silent movie, only gestures are telling the story: the simple gestures of reading and showing something that has to be done are opposed to the missing gestures of working and talking. One could have thought that in the absence of any speech, words would be replaced by force, meaning by violence, right by might (Latour 1997), since in sociology understanding is often opposed to objective causes. But what the cartoon shows is very different. What is done is physical, but not violent; it is objective but also very delicate and subjective: the intervention of the boss is not authoritative and forceful but interrogative and meaningful. This intervention articulates two light gestures: the first one is just a tiny pressure of the bosss finger on the clerks back to attract his attention; the second one is a large gesture of the other hand aimed at showing where the clerks focus should be rather placed. The combination of the two gestures forms a true language, which bridges the gap between theory and practice, but also promotes practice as the main (if not exclusive) theory. This language suggests that only talking or talking too much, like the book, sometimes leads to doing nothing;

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conversely, it says that to do something one sometimes better not speak or read; but do things without words. We thus understand that in the cartoon, language and meaning are not deleted, but rather displaced. In subtracting almost all the features of classical speech from the scene, the cartoon sheds light on another form of language, where human behavior and material entities such as the box of soaps, the cans and the shelves could be combined just like verbs, nouns, adjectives, etc., in order to develop both a meaningful sequence and a proper action. Thus, the cartoon proposes to move from speech acts to the language of acts. Thirdly, the cartoon and Progressive Grocer are wonderfully reflexive. In allowing itself to be represented in this cartoon, Progressive Grocer looks at itself in a mirror and poses the very problem it faces: that of a journal aimed at selling how to build displays that sell, but a journal which is far from being sure of succeeding in such a project. Yet in showing the problem the way it does (through the cartoon), Progressive Grocer finds the means to solve it. Indeed and as we just saw, doubting a pure linguistic performativity is a means to find a broader and more efficient language. As we will see, Progressive Grocer is not only a journal about words, theories and ideas, but it is also a journal about real action, live testimonies, tangible equipments and cash money. The journal is not only a set of formal performative utterances addressed to an outer material world, but it is also a more or less articulated collection of propositions, shows, ideas, pictures, concepts, commercial ads, drawings, photographs, etc. Progressive Grocer gathers, hybridizes and articulates all these resources in a complex and multidimensional language which looks as if it was aimed at performing performativity. In the remaining sections of this paper, I propose to explore these politics of performativity which are suggested in the cartoon, but which take much more varied and sophisticated forms in the journal at large.

II. Field and Methodology: An Archaeology of Present Times

We cannot fully understand the politics of performativity of Progressive Grocer without presenting the journal itself in more detail; the method I propose to use is to trace its features.

A. Progressive Grocer: The Very Best of Displays that Sell

Progressive Grocer is not the bulletin of a professional association, but rather an independent trade press business. It was founded in 1922 by journalists who thought that there was a niche, in the America of the roaring 1920s, for a publication oriented towards the modernization of small retailing, along the modernizing rhetoric of the Progressive Era (see the journals title), at a time when independent grocers were fighting against the rising threat of chain stores (Haas 1979; Seth 2001).7 In its very beginnings, Progressive Grocer appeared as a booklet in pocket format8 financed through advertising, issued on a monthly basis, with tens of thousands of copies sent for free to American grocers (1929, 09, 1). If Progressive Grocer was oriented towards grocers, its clients were rather the advertisers, i.e. all the companies which sold store furniture, cash registers and other commercial equipment, but also all the popular magazines (Companion, Ladies Home Journal, Life . . .) which advertised in Progressive Grocer to sell their own public and advertising space, and of course all the food manufacturers, who tried to convince grocers



to display their products. Progressive Grocer was a business per se, trying to impose its mediation between manufacturers and retailers. It was rather successful in this respect, if we refer to the rise of its readership, the variety and number of its advertisers, and the continuous growth of its size, first in number of pages, and later in terms of format. Progressive Grocer explicitly celebrated this kind of accomplishment. In 1930, with a double page advertisement entitled MORE MONEY EVERY YEAR, it proudly displayed a chart showing the exponential rise of its advertising turnover from 1922 to 1929, accompanied with the following message:
During each succeeding year, more and more money is spent in the advertising of food and grocery products. And every year a constantly growing share of this expenditure goes into advertising that reaches the grocer and his jobber through THE PROGRESSIVE GROCER . . . this increase . . . is really far more than a prideful boast of growth. Its steady upward trend traces a great industrys realization of the value of promotion at the point of sale. It indicates, too, a mounting confidence in THE PROGRESSIVE GROCER as a medium for such promotion, a confidence supported by an advertising investment that has nearly tripled since the publication was founded in 1922. (1930, 01, 23)

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This argument shows how efficient Progressive Grocer was, well before the cartoon I started from, in building and promoting itself as the best display that sells, and moreover in linking this reflexive display to the building of the real selling displays it tried to sell (see the comment: [the charts] steady upward trends traces a great industrys realization of the value of promotion at the point of sale). What was striking, and what Progressive Grocer eagerly wanted to outline, was that the magazine made progress at a time when the general economy, but also and more importantly its public, experienced the Great Depression. Without waiting for the tangible effects of the crisis (and their possible impact on the journal itself), Progressive Grocer took the discrepancy between the general economic slump and its particular success as an argument that should not be missed: on the very first page of its November 1931 issue, Progressive Grocer published a full page advertisement which proudly proclaimed, in large bold characters: In spite of the welladvertised business depression, manufacturers have again invested more money in The Progressive Grocer in the first 11 months of 1930 than in any previous 11 months period (1930, 11, 1). The idea was to show that one could win at a time when everybody was losing (or at least afraid of doing so) . . . provided one read and applied i.e. performed Progressive Grocers solutions. This strategy, which is highly similar to the rhetoric used by the founders of the Journal of Marketing in 1936 (Cochoy 1998), consists of substituting one performance for another: the money manufacturers invested in Progressive Grocer to advertise displays that sell was presented as the proof of the practical efficiency of the same displays.

B. An Archaeology of Present Times to Study Displays that Sell

As we can see, Progressive Grocer does not rely on words only, but also on money, economic facts, advertisements, and so on. The magazine takes care to insist on its material character: in most of its self-advertisements, it represents itself as a logo where it is placed in the pocket on an anonymous reader (Figure 2). The pages of the magazine are dog-eared and the hand ready to draw it like a gun. This suggests the willingness of Progressive Grocer not to be reduced as a set of abstract, theoretical and floating



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FIGURE 2 Progressive Grocer (1930, 05, 2).

messages, but rather to be used as a real and practical tool, always situated and ready for action, like Roland Canus in use advertising booklets and flyers (Canu 2009). The advertisements themselves (but also all the papers) are both intellectual and practical: they combine images and text, they mix the direct display of objects, facts and scenes with the comments and discourses aimed at giving them meaning and commercial appeal. How can we account for such a rhetoric which closely mixes the intellectual and the practical, the linguistic and the materialistic, the performative and the performed? In order to cope with this particularity, I have proposed elsewhere to supplement the traditional literary socio-historical approach with an archaeology of present times (Cochoy 2009). Indeed with Progressive Grocer, one cannot rely only on the classical historical method. This method relies on handwritten or typed documents which themselves privilege the facts that matter from the actors point of view. Such facts attract the attention of persons and thus they entice the use of writing practices. But writing often neglects the flux of gestures, the ordinary events of daily life, all the matters that are done instead of being said or written, all the things that are made rather than thought, all the objects that we use but do not talk about. These many elements thus face the risk of being forgotten, of escaping the recollecting work of history. By chance, Progressive Grocer precisely brings the two together: it is aimed at showing a set of things a priori without



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great importance and giving them force and meaning. The journal articulates text and images; it writes papers on small and great stakes; it also gathers a whole series of illustrations, drawings, advertisements, photographs that help us to seize often indirectly these objects and behaviors that make up the real life of trade but on which it is often hard, if not impossible, to find some written sources.9 Progressive Grocer does words with things, and the other way around: along the way it supplements symbolic language (and its performativity) with a theater of objects (and their performance). Hence, if we want to account for what the journal does, we really have to cross the methods of history and archaeology: we have to be as attentive to discourses as to the mute objects of the past. The journal displays both a linguistic and pictorial rhetoric, and the real effects of it. It does not exactly utter words that do things; rather, it articulates some tangible words with some meaningful things, in order to transform the state of business thinking and practices. More precisely, it aims to show that business thoughts and actions are already transformed and that one cannot but act accordingly. In the following section, I would like to present some of the most striking features of these politics of performativity.

III. How to do Business with Things and Words: The Tricks of Performativity

A. Scale Models
As the cartoon How to build displays that sell indicates (Figure 3), modernizing the grocery business is delicate: one has to find the means to rely on a symbolic language, since for a journal such a language is the only way to describe and perform new merchandising solutions (which do not necessarily exist). But at the same time one has to avoid relying on words only, since even if words are capable of transporting or inventing the world from a distance, they also may be accused of being too abstract, too rhetorical and theoretical, too far away from the stakes of real practices and material settings that are of prominent importance to ordinary business actors. In its early years, Progressive Grocer found that one of the best solutions to overcome this difficulty was the use of scale models. The first devices of this type were developed in 1927, when Progressive Grocer worked hard to promote open display, then a new concept in merchandising developed especially to modernize the independent stores in the face of competition from the chains, while still preserving their owners strong attachment to service (1930, 06, 24). The idea was thus to design an intermediary solution between counter and self-service: open display was meant to give customers better visual access to the products, so that they may get extra ideas and buy more than they planned. But it was also aimed at preventing the same customers from touching the products on the one hand and at preserving service on the other, so that the grocers could keep full control on what was going on in their shops. Open display, far from being just a concept, was also a real technology. In order to implement the idea, the long counter of the ancient store had to be replaced with a small desk, so that customers may circulate in the shop; new furniture had to be introduced, such as island show cases. This furniture, fully equipped with windows, widened the sight of the customers while preventing them from touching the products. In order to put this idea to work, Progressive Grocer thought that showing it was better than just talking about it: the magazines staff built a scale model,



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FIGURE 3 Progressive Grocer (From top to bottom: 1930, 06, 24; 1941, 07, 67; 1945, 02, 36).



photographed it, and circulated millions of copies of this picture among retail professionals. With the scale model, the displays that sell are not, as in our cartoon, around the book of magic sales, but right inside it (when reproduced in Progressive Grocer) or an extension of it (when circulated in a separate form). Moreover, these displays are not any displays, like those photographed in many pictures. Indeed, there is a big difference between the picture of a shop and a scale model. A picture has the big advantage of being much more real than the model, but it has also the inconvenience of referring to a particular shop. And what is particular, in terms of size, equipment, organization, etc. is not flexible at all: it is easy to show wonderful modern shops (as Progressive Grocer often does!), but grocers may object that the shops shown are obviously not like their own shops, and that it is quite impossible for them to transform the latter into the former. Conversely, the scale model has the drawback of being much more abstract than real ones, but this flaw is also its main advantage. The scale model helps moving from this rigid particular case to a much more flexible generic type. Scale models are both material and symbolic, theoretical and practical; they are less abstract than words, but more abstract than things, as we just saw: this ambivalent character helps them to work as a bridge between language and practice. They are embodied theories, concepts changed in objects, words made things, but also signifying matters, meaningful artefacts, displays that talk. Just like the business plans of today that simulate the business to come (Giraudeau 2008), scale models present themselves as some plans of possible businesses which work as already performed performative proposals; they arrange the different things spread in the journal not only as a meaningful narrative, but as a convincing practical exhibition. Moreover, and in so doing, scale models suggest that a shop may be considered from a distance, in a reflexive manner, and that any grocer can play on its components to improve his business. With the scale model, the grocer moves from his routine settings and stable identity to the new position of the experimentalist working on a machine-like store. Through the reduction of their scale, shop equipment looks much more mobile than before; scale models give the idea that one can play with displays, like a dolls house, or rather like a scientist with his rats. Scale models are not only examples of possible shops, but a true pedagogy of modernization, which brings new ways of thinking and acting. It is no surprise, given these properties of models, that the firms selling new commercial equipment or business solutions used Progressive Grocers politics of the scale model to promote their own affairs, as the advertisements of Steiden (an equipment manufacturer) and the National Cash Register show (see Figure 3). From one advertisement to the other, the status of the grocer changes as the scale narrows: in Steidens ad, a first reduction helps transform classic grocers into expert ones, working with their shop like scientists with their lab experiments. In NCRs ad, a second reduction of a bigger store transforms the laboratory grocers with their white coats into a more remote and abstract type of scientist: sitting with his suit and glasses, the chin on his hand, this man is obviously studying rather than acting, surveying his business to figure out how to answer this delicate question: How well do you know your own business? As the grocery is modernized, so is the grocer; by means of scale models, one moves from displays that sell to grocers that think about building displays that sell more. The loop is closed: with scale models, there is no longer a gap between theory and practice; thoughts and things become just one and the same.

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B. Testimonies
But it would be misleading to think that models completely replace ordinary words as a means to perform the new ways of selling groceries. In fact, Progressive Grocer did not hesitate to use mundane language. It did so of course because as a press outlet, its core business is to write papers and promote ideas. But the magazine used classical language also because it knew that words could paradoxically be made as hard as real things. This is evident in the widespread use of reports, testimonies and quotes. Some Progressive Grocer articles are nothing more than collections of (supposedly?) true-life experiences which appear like the readers mail. One of the best examples of this is a 1943 paper entitled 12 Food Merchants Say: Self-Service Solves Many of Our Wartime Problems. In this paper, one finds statements like the following:
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Since I changed to semi self-service we dont need a lot of help. Customers are their own clerks. Sales the last week of 1942 were more than double the sales of the last week in 1941. All information I received came from THE PROGRESSIVE GROCER and your book, Selfservice and Semi-Self-Service Food Stores. T. W. Smith, Tom Smith Grocery, Miami, Fla. (1943, 05, 58)

At first glance, such information is made of nothing else than words, meaning, ideas, opinions. But a closer examination shows that it is much more than that. The brackets and the signature (see the italics) make a big difference. The quote is made of words, but these words come from the outside and from real grocers. In her ethnography of the ment (2008) recently showed that supermarkets jungle of paper, Catherine Grandcle prices are not only abstract symbols and economic variables, but also, and more importantly, colorful and material artefacts, with their own appeal and affordances. In a very similar way, testimonies like the one quoted above are not only words, but portions of the real grocery world. They are materialized and circulating discourses. Now, if we look closer at what such discourses say, we discover that everything looks as if the readers were themselves filling the book of magic sales they are supposed to read. The selected testimony conveys a strong formula Customers are their own clerks that gives flesh to/complements the very ideas of building displays that sell and self-service. This formula is not a magic but an accounting one, as evidenced in the weekly sales which more than double[d] from one year to the other. Finally, the testimony acknowledges the selling power of the book of magic sales it received, in closing once again the loop going from the reader who writes to Progressive Grocer (All information I received came from The Progressive Grocer and your book). Progressive Grocer and the testimonies it carefully selects function as a double mirror: on the one hand, the magazine is reflected in the readers discourse, while on the other hand and by means of this first mirror, the readers see and recognize themselves, both as a collective and as some new professional identification. At last, one mirror reflects into the other, so that it becomes impossible to trace the origin of what is said and what is done, of opinions and facts, of what is performative and what is performed.

C. Photo Novels
If words may be transformed into things with scale models and testimonies, they may also be reinforced with pictures. See some papers which, instead of illustrating



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FIGURE 4 Progressive Grocer (1946, 09, 78; 1946, 02, 72).

words with images in the classical way words on the one side and pictures on the other rather mix and combine them, as if they were belonging to one single extended language, where real things may be articulated with symbolic meanings. These excerpts of two articles one entitled: Checkers are important people; the other How to lose customers without talking wonderfully mix the real and the artificial, the human and the non-human, the discursive and the objective. These papers present themselves as true photo novels. They feature a set of shelves, words in upper and lower cases, two female clerks, many questions, a cash register, several suggestions, a consumer, smiling packages, a paper bag, four captions, many different products, four pictures, a shopping cart, cartoon-like narratives, and so on. These elements are both naturalistic and staged. The grocery settings are real, but the characters are extras: the two women and the devices are playing the roles of smiling cashiers and faulty artefacts to illustrate the relevance of a retail technique and the importance of a technical detail (respectively). In staging the reality, Progressive Grocer combines the power of performativity with that of performance: like in theater plays, the words said are directly put in motion. This process goes through the use of cartoon bubbles, which moves what the captions suggest directly into the action, so that the gap between the how to build and the displays that sell (or dont sell!) closes. The generic performative utterance which subsumes the four scenes I declare the store self-service is doubled with a corresponding generic performance: I show you what a real self-service store should be . . . or should not be. Indeed, two different ways of building the right discourse and action may be seen in our photo novels: the one proposes what to do (suggesting additional purchases); the other does the same by antiphrasis: it suggests doing things that prevent people doing their shopping (putting rubbish in the aisles, placing products almost at the ground level, etc.). In this latter case,



the idea is to paradoxically reinforce performativity in anticipating its failures or misfires (see Butlers and Callons contributions to this issue). Last but not least, these cartoons fully generalize the universe of performative logics. Instead of reproducing the great divide between words and things, meaning and force, human beings and material things, the photo novels extend thinking and talking abilities to mute things and, conversely, they give some objective-like properties to human actors: while rubbish and shelves ironically shout at the consumer, the female cashiers are meant to deliver their professional smiles and scripted speeches in a repeated and mechanical manner to the clients.

Conclusion: An ANT Reading of the Politics of Performativity

Progressive Grocer is just a particular occurrence of the more general category of market devices it belongs to: that of trade press. Trade press is often used as a primary source of information for socio-historical studies of business practices rather than studied per se. As we have seen, a trade press journal is wary of pure words and speeches, which may be too abstract, too complex and too remote from the real action and actors it tries to impress. Trade press faces a severe dilemma in this respect: while it has to bring some new thoughts, behavior and objects into the real world, it has no other choice than to achieve this goal by means of distant paper only. Progressive Grocer shows how such a dilemma could be overcome. As we have seen, this magazine does almost everything that can be done with a simple paper mediator. Instead of just putting words into its pages, Progressive Grocer rests upon a new kind of language, different from economic theories and managerial textbooks, where it is often difficult to distinguish what is said from what is shown, signs from artifacts, etc. Many elements that Progressive Grocer puts forward are neither words nor objects, but rather a hybrid form of the two that could be called wordjects, and which is best illustrated with cartoons, scale models, testimonies, photo novels, and so on. The sociology of Progressive Grocer not only shows that we can do things with words but that we can also do words with things, and of course more things and words with these word-things, or wordjects. Words, things and people are in fact working together. In this respect, the idea of conditions of felicity is both instructive and questionable. It is instructive, since it indicates that words are always indexed to some real situations; what words mean and do is deeply rooted in their objective counterpart (Latour 1996b). But the idea of conditions of felicity is questionable, since this expression connotes a given situation distinct from the words which refer to it. Progressive Grocer rather shows that such conditions can be made, transformed, uttered, articulated in the language itself see the testimonies and pictures. Words and things do not belong to two separate universes language on the one hand and the world on the other. Some actors are clever enough to mix and articulate them in a broader language, along a continuous circularity: things build words that build things that build words-things (or wordjects), etc. In Progressive Grocer, what is performed is both before and after the speech: the reality is the starting point as well as the horizon of Progressive Grocers rhetoric, and the other way around. As soon as language is extended to the world itself, as soon as signs are taken in their full materiality, as soon as one focuses on the grammar articulating words and things, as soon as one takes the cultural and the economic as two intertwined sets of vocabulary and/or artefacts (McFall 2008), performativity is performed. This is the great lesson of
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Progressive Grocer. The journal shows that in order to bring performativity back to its original inspiration and make it efficient, one had better focus on performativity as performance, in the theatrical sense (Butler 1988). Building displays that sell is all about playing the economy. What is at stake in the book of magic sales of our cartoon and journal is the recovery of the lost link between knowledge and practice. But recovering this link goes through language as well as through objects; it is a matter of signs and meaning as well as voice and gestures; it rests on socio-technical agencements (Callon 2005). There is no privilege of speech. We may utter or read words that do something (or nothing: see the clerk of the cartoon), but we may also show some things that work like words (see the boss). Now, even when something is done which corresponds to what is said, we will never be certain that the words are fully responsible for the action at stake. Performativity always entails a problem of causal imputation. One thing is to point at the speech acts and their indexation to practice; another is to attribute the observed transformations to the speech at stake. In the case of Progressive Grocer, however, this problem may be overcome if we conceive the action of the journal as aimed towards the management of a flow.10 Organizing the commercial innovations along the stream of the twentieth century is close to having blocks of wood go down a river. Progressive Grocers discourse will neither reverse the direction of the stream nor hamper its flow. However, its action can impact the speed of what the river carries: the journals job, like wood conveyors on large rivers, is to align things as they should be, in the proper order and direction, in order to prevent any bad arrangement to hamper the flow of the moving elements and make them progress efficiently.

1. In this respect, one may say that in so doing, Progressive Grocer foreshadows a process described by Barbara Czarniawska in her forthcoming book on press agencies. According to Czarniawska, news producers introduce an ongoing circularity between facts and literary accounts; the loop which connects facts and news and make them circulate combines constative and performative statements and thus invalidates the distinction between two separate worlds: the media on the one hand and the reality it is supposed to account for or target on the other (Czarniawska forthcoming). On the relationship between performativity and powers operations, see Bell (2006). This study is the result of a research trip to the University of California at Berkeley which ment for the idea took place from 14 July to 8 August 2006. I thank Catherine Grandcle and the Education Abroad Program for funding the research. I am also very grateful to Jutta Wiemhoff, Martha Lucero (NRLF), Steve Mendoza (main library) and three other anonymous librarians of the Business/Economics Library and Environmental Design Library at Berkeley. I am indebted to David Vogel for his support, the Haas School of Business for its material help and Carmen Tapia for her administrative assistance. I thank Anni Borzeix, Roland Canu, Laure Gaertner, Martin Giraudeau and Liz McFall for their comments on an earlier version of this paper. I am very pleased to include the Progressive Grocer material used with the permission of Nielsen Business Media, Inc. When writing this text, I beneted from the material and intellectual support of the School of Business, Economics and Law, University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, Sweden. For an argument about the relevance of the witchcraft metaphor for a better understanding of grocery practices, see Cochoy (2008a).

2. 3.



FRANCK COCHOY 5. Throughout the paper, I use the code yyyy, mm, ppp-ppp where yyyy designates the year, mm the month and ppp-ppp the pagination of the quoted documents of Progressive Grocer. On performativity failures or misres see Judith Butlers and Michel Callons contributions to this issue. Progressive Grocer is an offensive rather than a defensive publication: it was founded in 1922, three years before Chain Store Age, the magazine of chains that grocers were supposed to counter-ght, and 14 years before Supermarket Merchandising, the magazine of large self-service stores, which was launched in 1936. The number of pages of each issue exceeded 200 in the 1930s. Half of these pages were devoted to advertising. The other half was dedicated to articles about merchandising, the evolution and current state of retailing, etc. ment (2006) succeeded in See the history of shopping carts: if Catherine Grandcle documenting the industrial history of these devices, their ordinary use may be more difcult to seize, except if we rely on other sources than texts, for instance on all the pictures where they can be seen in action (Cochoy 2009). As it is the case of any press outlet (Czarniawska forthcoming)

6. 7.


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Franck Cochoy, Professor of Sociology, University of Toulouse II, CERTOP Maison de la es l. recherche, bureau C 437, 5 alle Antonio Machado, 31058, Toulouse Cedex. Te 05 61 50 39 77. Email: