5th December 2013

Devising or agencing markets?

Valparaiso in Chile, where Joe Deville and I were taken by Charisma folk Tomas Ariztia and Jose Ossandon in the summer of 2012, is built around an amphitheatre looking towards the Pacific Ocean and north towards the neighbouring hills. It is a city constantly growing towards higher land.

The urban fabric … adapting to the slopes, generates its own language: one on top of another, the buildings position themselves to ensure command over the view, the sun, and proper ventilation. The volumes climb, rotate, or hang from streets that draw any degree of horizontal elevation, or on a slope, and take over the hillsides, the banks, or the encounter of the hills with the plain.  

This geo-architecture makes for some challenging market encounters since sharp corners and steep rises constantly fracture lines of sight (as you can’t quite see in the photo). Valparaiso endures as a city with a mercantile imagination to match its history but the adaptive ingenuity of this device still fascinated me.

The Lipigas van is a perfect example of a ‘quaint device’. It recognizes that in the particularities of its location, no one can see it coming. To solve this the musical affordances of gas drums are discovered. So the van is a device that helps make its own market. Then again it’s not the van so much as the delivery guy on the back and the way he applies that drumstick. And he’s not a lone frustrated musician. This is what happens in Valparaiso across the whole fleet of Lipigas vans.[i] I don’t have numbers but I’m guessing that these vans are a major player in the fuel supply infrastructure since the city’s features are as ill adapted to piped mains supply as they are to exclusively visual signs. So the delivery guy has been trained, cultivated or organized to make his sounds.

These sorts of issues motivated the ESF Agencing Markets workshop organized by Franck Cochoy and Pascale Trompette and held in Corsica in September (I know how that sounds but we worked very hard in the sunshine). Agencing Markets was an attempt to get away from the mechanistic and static connotations of the words ‘agencement’ (or equally device) and work out something that better expressed the dynamic nature of ‘agencement’ as always arrangements and action, action, action.

In the first chapter of my slowly forthcoming book I use the term ‘devising’ for similar reasons. I want to mark the importance of practice and change in the vast markets for low finance that the book describes. But devising suits me better than agencing for a few other reasons. Devising is something that people know they do. Like the noun form devices, devising has connotations that combine the technical with something less accountable, some trickery or deception. The devising of consumer markets is full of tricks, puzzles and mysteries in just how people are attracted, recruited and even incorporated into the products on sale. Some of that can be described and some of that just escapes.

Chapter 1 Unearthing the very dirt of private fact

Agencing Markets Programme



[i] Valparaiso is not entirely unique in this; similar things happen throughout Chile but Valparaiso may be in the lead in the musical techniques used. Noisy street promotion historically has come in all shapes and sizes (see Liz McFall The Language of the Walls in CMC (2004) for more on this) what’s interesting is the subtle adaptations to different regulations and infrastructures that takes place.