Xabier Itçaina, Antoine Roger, Andy Smith : Varietals of Capitalism: A Political Economy of the Changing Wine Industry. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2016.280 pp. $45.00, hardcover.
The empirical story analyzed in Varietals of Capitalism concerns the events surrounding the 2008 decision of the European Union to significantly change the regulations governing the wine industry in Europe. Since that year, the EU has abandoned direct intervention in wine markets (the old and long-established policy was to subsidize distillation surpluses), used EU funds to “grub out” 175,000 hectares of uneconomical vines across Europe, revoked laws that prohibited specific techniques for wine production, and created simplified categories of wine. Using primarily qualitative data—documentary materials and interviews—collected from France, Spain, Italy, and Romania, the authors provide an account of these very significant institutional changes.
The empirical story, however, is only the context for the authors’ primary purpose, which is to showcase a holistic theoretical framework that, they claim, “draws not only on original empirical research but also, more fundamentally, on a new standpoint in social science debates about economic change” (p. 2). As the authors put it, “our focus is on the efforts a wide range of socially structured actors make to build, maintain, dismantle, or even destroy the institutions that provide them with varying degrees of order and constraint” (p. 32). The framework that they offer (rather unfortunately named the “structured contingency” approach) “combines the tools of constructivist approaches to institutionalism . . . Bourdeau’s theory of fields . . . and a Weberian sociology approach to political work in industries” (p. 2). In presenting their framework, the authors repeatedly point out its superiority to four alternatives: actor network theory, sociological institutionalism, institutionalist economics, and regulationist economics. (A fifth alternative, historical institutionalism, is also mentioned.) “Put bluntly,” these “major theory-driven interpretations of change in the European wine industry are incomplete or wrong” (p. 4). So, no false modesty here!
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