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Price display technologies and price ceiling policies: governing prices in the WWII and postwar US economy (1940–1953)

Journal article
Authors Franck Cochoy
Johan Hagberg
Hans Kjellberg
Published in Socio-Economic Review
ISSN 1475-1461
Publication year 2019
Published at Centre for Retailing
Department of Business Administration, Marketing Group
Language en
Keywords Price Level, Inflation, Deflation, Economic Sociology, Economic Anthropology, Social and Economic Stratification
Subject categories Business Administration


This article explores the politics and technologies of price fixing and price display in US grocery stores in the mid-20th century. Drawing on the literature on market devices and policy instruments, it complements previous studies focused on price setting processes by stressing the importance of price display. Through a systematic reading of the trade journal The Progressive Grocer, the article shows how displaying prices during World War II and the postwar inflation period combined the mastery of Government authorities at the federal level, and the expertise of retail professionals at the shelf level. It demonstrates that the regulation of prices is linked to mundane policies, technologies and practices, in particular the technique of ‘stereoscopic prices’ aimed at linking a reference price (the ceiling price set by the government) and the selling price (the actual price set by the retailer). Such technologies proved able to reinvent prices and price competition through their ‘bifurcated agency’, i.e. their propensity to both enact the scripts delegated to them (conveying price ceilings) and produce major side effects, like generalizing the practice of price display and linking prices to new values and qualitative dimensions of grocery products.

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