Aspers, Patrik. Orderly Fashion: A Sociology of Markets. Princeton, N J: Princeton University Press, 2010. x + 237 pages. Cloth, $35.00.
A spectre haunts this book--it is the spectre of Comtian sociology. Here are the first two sentences of this volume: "The purpose of this book is to study social order in the global fashion industry. The issue of order entails the following question: Why is social life not in chaos?" (p. 1). Sociologist Patrik Aspers then quickly identifies the empirical focus his study takes, which is branded garment retailers, the reigning central organizational type of the fashion industry. But the author, whose academic home is Stockholm University, is truly European in his thoroughness of theoretical grounding, especially in the argument that the question of order is indeed central to sociology, even to the extent of invoking the name and work of Talcott Parsons, of whom many of us have scarcely heard since graduate school. The pervasive criticism of Parsons in American sociological circles was that his "grand theory" was of little heuristic value. It is awkward to operationalize tests of whether normative order is indeed always the result of an orderly set of norms. It may take a European-trained sociologist to fully fathom the connection between Parsonian grand theory and the detailed empirical study presented in this book.
But Aspers does not limit himself to hackneyed functionalist theoretical generalizations. By Chapter 1, he has begun a broad-ranging typology and analysis of the "affordable fashion" industry markets. Some of the theoretical language he uses is a mix of Parsonian functionalism and conflict theory. Competition and collaboration both structure changes in the relative order of the fashion market. He names four market sectors that are structures within which that interaction occurs--branded garment retailers (BGRs, his primary empirical focus), independent designers, private stores, and haute couture. Diverting further from tautological structural-functionalism, Aspers describes the formation of the rules of the market both in organized coordination and in spontaneous (symbolic) interaction.
This reviewer began to realize by...