Performing Sales: Material Scripts and the Social Organization of Obligation

Asaf Darr, Trevor Pinch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Can a dramaturgical analysis of sales encounters further our understanding of the social organization of selling and buying in contemporary markets? The main argument of this paper is that limiting economic action in markets to the formal and often stylized and abstract properties of the exchange, as economists suggest, misses the material and social organization of this endeavor. Employing ethnographic methods, we apply our dramaturgical approach to three research sites in three different countries. We show how an often overlooked fundamental ingredient of economic transactions, the situated constitution of social obligation, is achieved locally on the sales floor. Social obligation allows the sellers and the buyers to move from one stage of the sales encounter to the next, and enables the closing of deals. As part of the constitution of obligation, market actors appeal to scripts which are observable, recurrent activities and patterns of interaction characteristic of a particular setting. Scripts are presented here as a basic unit of analysis in social studies of markets. We place most emphasis upon what we call "material scripts", and show how they are organized to produce an escalating scale of obligation which helps buyers and sellers to produce and reproduce the underlying social and material logic of markets.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1601-1621
Number of pages21
JournalOrganization Studies
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2013

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Part of this study was supported by a two year grant from the Israel Science Foundation (grant no. 934/07).


  • market performances
  • materiality
  • obligation
  • sales work
  • scripts
  • sociology of markets

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Strategy and Management
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management
  • Management of Technology and Innovation


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