AUCTIONS: The Social Construction of Value by Charles W. Smith

AUCTIONS: The Social Construction of Value

Email this review


More than most readers will probably want to know about auctions, even in this era when multimillion-dollar sales are headlined around the world. As a sociologist (Queens College, CUNY), Smith is less interested in producing a "how-to" guide for prospective bidders and sellers than in investigating the "communal structures" that influence the participants: the reserves, the bidding, the interplay between buyers and sellers, and the part played by the auctioneer. Value, Smith contends, is determined by these involved social processes rather than by the mechanistic law of supply and demand. He divides auctions into three main categories: commodity/exchange, collectible/dealer, and art/one-of-a-kind. Subcategories proliferate along the way: English, Dutch, Japanese, and "round-robin" auctions; sealed-bid and charity auctions. Sales of thoroughbreds, tobacco, fish, as well as the more highly publicized fine-arts and collectibles auctions and the peculiarities of each are also discussed. "Reserves," "rings" of dealers, "off-the-wall" bids and similar insider information are dealt with in extenso. Some of the practices, Smith admits, may be "unethical, if not illegal." It's all enough to send the novice bidder scurrying from the salesroom. Smith's prose style is detailed and relatively colorless, much like that found in instruction manuals. Finally, then, this will be of greater interest to socioeconomists than to the run-of-the-mill auction buff.

Pub Date: March 20th, 1989
ISBN: 02-929530-0
Publisher: Free Press
Review Posted Online: