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Solidarity in Strategy

Making Business Meaningful in American Trade Associations

Solidarity in Strategy

Making Business Meaningful in American Trade Associations

Popular conceptions hold that capitalism is driven almost entirely by the pursuit of profit and self-interest. Challenging that assumption, this major new study of American business associations shows how market and non-market relations are actually profoundly entwined at the heart of capitalism.

In Solidarity in Strategy, Lyn Spillman draws on rich documentary archives and a comprehensive data set of more than four thousand trade associations from diverse and obscure corners of commercial life to reveal a busy and often surprising arena of American economic activity. From the Intelligent Transportation Society to the American Gem Trade Association, Spillman explains how business associations are more collegial than cutthroat, and how they make capitalist action meaningful not only by developing shared ideas about collective interests but also by articulating a disinterested solidarity that transcends those interests.

Deeply grounded in both economic and cultural sociology, Solidarity in Strategy provides rich, lively, and often surprising insights into the world of business, and leads us to question some of our most fundamental assumptions about economic life and how cultural context influences economic.

536 pages | 7 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2012

Economics and Business: Business--Industry and Labor

Sociology: Occupations, Professions, Work


“Lyn Spillman does for trade associations what Alexis de Tocqueville did for civic ones, carefully investigating a wide range of associations in the United States—with surprising results. In describing how these associations band members together and give rise to group identities, Solidarity in Strategy breaks new ground in the discussion of the cultures of capitalism.”

Frederick Wherry | University of Michigan

Solidarity in Strategy makes a very powerful argument that if we want to understand economic phenomena, we have to look at them from the perspective of culture. Readers from many different disciplines—sociology, political science and economics—will learn from and enjoy this important book.”

Richard Swedberg | Cornell University

“This is a path-breaking study of American trade associations that significantly enriches our understanding of contemporary economic life. Based on a tremendous empirical undertaking, Spillman defies the assumption that self-interest and profit-seeking exhaustively define what business is all about, as she makes important strides in advancing both economic sociology and the sociology of culture."

Nina Bandelj | University of California, Irvine

“Lyn Spillman powerfully clarifies how ‘economic interest’ is filtered through cultural understandings of solidarity and moral obligation. Illuminating the extraordinary range and activities of business trade associations, she has created a new subject for contemporary social science. Solidarity in Strategy is a major work.”

Jeffrey Alexander | Yale University

Table of Contents


CHAPTER 1. Solidarity, Strategy, and the Meaning of Business
Culture and Economic Interests
     The Classical Origins of the Problem of Capitalist Interests
     Culture and Interests in Contemporary Economic Sociology
Investigating American Business Associations
     American Business Associations
     Census and Archive
     Evidence and Inference
A Reader’s Guide
     Part One: A New View of American Business Associations
     Part Two: American Business Associations as Cultural Institutions
     Part Three: American Business Associations and Economic Action
     Part Four: American Business Associations in Politics

PART I. A New View of American Business Associations

CHAPTER 2. “Unstable, Redundant, and Limited”: The Puzzle of American Business Associations
Max Weber and Comparative Economic Governance
     Organizational Forms
     Cultural Orientations
     Political Processes
Governance Theory
     Economic Governance and Organizational Forms
     Economic Governance and Cultural Orientations
     Economic Governance and Political Context
Associations in Comparative Economic Governance
     Strong Associational Governance—Germany and Japan
Historical Perspectives on American Business Associations
     American Business Associations in the Nineteenth Century
     Antitrust Law and Its Consequences
     American Business Associations in the Early Twentieth Century

CHAPTER 3. Stable, Diverse, and Minimal: Contemporary Business Associations and Cultural Production
Associations and the State in the Late Twentieth Century
Business Associations as Organizations in the Late Twentieth Century
     Business Associations as Voluntary Associations
Organizational Features of Contemporary American Business Associations
     Membership: Size and Type
     Staff Numbers and Types of Association
     Organizational Differentiation, Membership Size, and Membership Type
     Headquarters Location
     Founding Decades
     Sectoral Location
What Do Business Associations Do?
Orientations of Late Twentieth-Century Business Associations
     Sharing Information
     Standards and Accreditation
     Public Relations
     Lobbying or Monitoring Policy
     Broad Civic Goals

PART II. American Business Associations as Cultural Institutions

CHAPTER 4. “Meet the Movers and the Shakers of the Industry”: The Social Construction of Business Interests
The Social Construction of Business Interests
Producing Categories and Practices
Producing Networking Opportunities
Producing Fields

CHAPTER 5. “A Special Camaraderie with Colleagues”: Presuming and Producing Solidarity
Solidarity in Occupational Community
Occupational Community and “Industries”
Producing Collective Identities
     Collective Identity and Member Benefits
     Occupationally Specific Interactional Engagement
     Shared History and Symbols
Producing Norms and Status
     Making Standards
     Codes of Conduct
     “Industry” Standing
Producing Camaraderie
     Sociability in Meetings
     Insider Jokes
     Collective Responsibility: Charity and Scholarships
     Remembering the Dead
Conclusion: Interest as Totem and Alibi

PART III. American Business Associations and Economic Action

CHAPTER 6. “To Grow the Industry”: Business Associations and Economic Interests
Economic Purposes of Association
     The “Paradox” of Particularistic Economic Benefits and Theories of Transaction Costs
     Collective Economic Interests and Political Conditions of Economic Action
Intra-“Industry” Strategies of Action
     Education and Training
     Sharing Information
     Certification and Accreditation
     Variations in Intra-“Industry” Activities and Types of Associations
Strategic Vocabularies of Motive and Intra-“Industry” Strategies of Action
      Particularistic Rationales for Intraindustry Strategies of Action
      “Our Industry”: Collective Rationales for Intraindustry Strategies of Action
Particular Interests, Collective Interests, and the "Paradox" of Collective Action
      Reconciling Particularistic and Collective Interests
      Business Associations and the “Paradox” of Collective Action
Collective Interests and “Industry” Governance
     “Industry” Coordination and Technological Change
     The Politics of “Industry” Coordination
     National Business Associations and Labor
     The Politics of Industry Coordination and the North American Food Equipment

CHAPTER 7. “The Highest Level of Professional Recognition”: Business Associations and Technical Excellence
Professional Claims and Market Interests
Professional Discourse and Strategies of Action in Business Associations
     Vernacular “Professionalism” as Honorific
     “Professionalism,” Information, and Research
     “Professionalism,” Education, and Accreditation
     Blurred Boundaries: Business or Professional Association?
Business as Professional, Professionals in Business
     Business Associations and “Professional” Jurisdictional Claims
     Business Associations and Abstract Knowledge Claims
     The International Society of Certified Electronics Technicians
     Abstract Knowledge, Procedural Knowledge, and Occupational Distinction

PART IV. American Business Associations in Politics

CHAPTER 8.  “A Voice for the Industry”: Business Associations and Political Interests
Business Associations as Interest Groups
Politically Active Business Associations
      Late Twentieth-Century Evidence
      Political Orientations of Contemporary Business Associations
Politically Oriented Strategies of Action
     Systematic Policy Monitoring
     Intermittently Active Lobbying
     Coalition Formation
     Federal Agencies and Technical Issues
     The Irrigation Association
Vocabularies of Motive for Political Engagement
     The Democratic Code and the Public Good
     Democratic Virtue and Industry Voice
     Stewardship of the Public Good
     The Irrigation Association and the Language of Stewardship

CHAPTER 9.  “A Tense and Permeable Boundary”: Business Associations in the Civil Sphere
Business Associations and Public Opinion
      Orientations to Public Opinion
      Strategies of Action and the Meaning of “Public Relations”
      Vocabularies of Motive, Public Relations, and the Public Good
      The Firestop Contractors International Association
Business Associations and Civil Society
     “Civic” Orientations and “Business” Identities
     “Civic” Orientations in Business Associations
     Civic Practices in Business Associations
     Civically Oriented Vocabularies of Motive
     The National Association of Real Estate Brokers

CHAPTER 10. The Power of Business Culture
A Primer on American Business Associations
Business Associations, Cultural Production, and Occupational Community
Vocabularies of Motive for Economic Action
     Vocabularies of Motive for Intraindustry Strategies of Action
     Vocabularies of Motive for Publicly Oriented Strategies of Action
Strategy and Solidarity in Economic Life
The Power of Business Culture
Appendix: Methodological Overview
Published Studies
Census of American National Business Associations
     Data Sources and Case Inclusion
     Informational Genre and Inference
     Coding Development and Implementation
Focal Sample of National American Business Associations
     1. Case Selection
     2. Data Collection
     3. Analysis



ASA Culture Section: Mary Douglas Prize

ASA Economic Sociology Section: Zelizer Best Book Award

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