Article published in American Journal of Sociology: Deference as a strategic behavior

Since the early days of French cinema, financiers have been mocked for their lack of culture and shortsightedness. Countless films, from Godard’s Le Mépris to more recent pieces, depict financiers as moral enemies attempting to invade the cultural world. When financiers entered the film industry in the mid-1980s to help remedy a shortage of capital, specialized investment funds, called SOFICAs, experienced the very tangible consequences of the stigma attached to their profession in the film world.

The financial fund managers soon found out that film producers were reluctant to establish relationships with organizations raising money in the market to invest in film. While there was not much they could do to dissipate the deeply-entrenched negative perception of financiers – which still persists today – some of the funds selectively invested in arthouse films. Financing these high-risk low-profit products did not make much economic sense, and in effect hurt the funds’ overall profitability. But, this investment strategy, our study reveals, helped some of the funds convert financial capital into social capital, and eventually gain a foot hold in the film industry. The funds that had more bankers on their board, were not locked in strict financial goals, and were associated with Cannes award-winning films, were more likely to engage in such a strategy.

In a world of increasing conflict and division, understanding how social actors of different standings, occupation, and status liaise and work together is critical. The work of sociologist Ervin Goffman and his followers have emphasized the role deference plays in accomplishing this goal. Investing in art house movies helped SOFICAs convey appreciation and respect to film producers, smoothing strained relationships. Engaging in deference was a costly strategy that not all funds chose to follow. But it was the price of admission to be paid to be accepted in the movie business.


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