The Logic of the Supply and Demand for Authenticity

A conference with Ezra Zuckerman Sivan, Alvin J. Siteman (1948) Professor of Entrepreneurship and Strategy; Professor, Technological Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and Strategic Management and Work and Organization Studies, MIT Sloan School of Management.

Introduction by Olivier Godechot, CNRS Researcher Fellow at Sciences Po’s Observatoire sociologique du changement and Co-Director of the MaxPo.

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Presentation by Ezra Zuckerman Sivan:

« The paradoxes pertaining to the demand for authenticity, as well as how and why it is may be supplied, are numerous: Whereas conformity with group norms and standards can elicit attributions of authenticity, so can original expressions of individuality or craft. Whereas evidence of extrinsic motives (money, status) often lead to attributions of inauthenticity, the open embrace of such motives can also make an actor seem authentic. Whereas authenticity sometimes comes from reproducing past cultural expressions as faithfully as possible), authenticity may also be achieved via innovative breaks from the past. Whereas insincerity would seem to entail inauthenticity, obvious lies are sometimes credible signals of authenticity. Finally, whereas authenticity is often described as having moral foundations, flagrant violations of established moral codes may be perceived as authentic.

In my lecture, I will share a theoretical framework (developed in collaboration with Jaekyung Ha, Oliver Hahl, and Minjae Kim) for elucidating the logic that underlies these paradoxes. The foundation for the framework is Ralph Turner’s classic essay which distinguishes between two opposing ways (“impulse” vs. “institution”) for identifying what is “real” about an individual self. This framework is then developed by showing how the salience of the demand for authenticity and the logic by which it is assigned depends on a) the nature of the (usually implicit) claim that is made; b) the visibility of the “backstage” process by which the claim is advanced; and c) the goals of the audience that is evaluating the item in question. I will conclude by sketching how the framework helps us identify exciting avenues for future research ».