Why Durability Matters? Towards a Comparative Economic Sociology of Market Organization

Alexander Dobeson, Sebastian Kohl

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What can a good's durability tell us about its market organization? This paper argues that the socially expected durability of goods is one of their most important features. It illuminates temporal and material aspects of market organization and social change across different markets. While recent literature in the sociology of markets tends to emphasize financial goods, intangible assets, and the service economy, markets for material durable and nondurable consumer goods are still surprisingly pervasive in everyday life and in the household economy, as well as in modern economies' basic infrastructure. Based on a comparison of the extreme cases of durable housing and fresh fish markets, we come to the general finding that the higher a good's expected durability, the smaller the share of its new production will be and the larger its aftermarkets. Furthermore, it will be more tightly linked to credit and insurance markets, and its market will be more volatile in the short-term, but more inert in the long-term. Beyond this static distinction, we show how socio-technical mechanisms can durabilize or dedurabilize goods and hence change their market form. By comparing markets along the durability dimension, this paper contributes to a comparative sociology of market organization that goes beyond single-market studies, while at the same time opening up space for a more dynamic understanding of social change and market segmentation over time.
Original languageEnglish
JournalArchives Europeennes de Sociologie
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)33-64
Number of pages32
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Market organization
  • Durable goods
  • Comparative sociology
  • Housing markets
  • Fish markets

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