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.
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