Historical Social Research

Brian Moeran,Trade Fairs, Markets and Fields: Framing Imagined as Real Communities [Abstract]

This article describes how trade fairs act as a framing mechanism that enables participants to come together for the exchange of goods and services and to perceive themselves as acting in a social field. This way, trade fairs make markets possible. Based on ongoing participant observation at book fairs in Frankfurt, Tokyo and London, the paper discusses central features of fairs in the light of theoretical categories like networks, institutions and cognitions that are commonly employed in economic sociology. In this context, it highlights that participants negotiate the technical/material, social, situational, content/appreciative, and the use value of goods, values which are then equated with a commodity exchange value in the form of price. Trade fairs frame order, but they are also events where the respective field might be re-configurated. The contingency of personal interaction, the lightness of “talk” and the carnival-like setting of fairs make them a site where disorder might be created that in turn can lead to change of field and market.