Contingencies of Value: Devices and Conventions at a Design School Admission Test
Based on a study of the admission test at a design school, this paper investigates the contingencies of aesthetic values as these become visible in assessment practices. Theoretically, the paper takes its starting point in Herrnstein Smith’s notion of ‘contingencies of values’ and outlines a pragmatist ground where cultural sociology and economic sociology meet. Informed by the literature on cultural intermediaries, the paper discusses the role of evaluators and the devices which accompany them. Whereas studies of cultural intermediaries traditionally apply a Bourdieusian perspective, recent developments within this field of literature draws inspiration from the so-called ‘new new economic sociology,’ which this paper adds to. While the admission test is easily described as a matter of overcoming “subjective” aesthetic evaluations by means of “objective” and standardized assessment criteria, the paper does not accept this storyline. As an alternative, the paper outlines the contingencies of values which are at play at the admission test, composed of official assessment criteria and scoring devices together with conventions within the world of design, and set in motion by interactions with the objects that applicants submit.
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