The notion of fictional expectations is used here in contrast to the concept of “rational expectations,” which proposes that actors’ expectations, at least in the aggregate, equal the statistically expected value for a variable. According to rational expectations theory, actors make use of all available information, which suggests that outcomes do not differ systematically from the forecasts made by the dominant economic model.
Conversely, the concept of fictionality points to the openness of the future, which makes expectations contingent. Contingency negates the idea that expectations are correct in the aggregate: the notion of fictional expectations contrasts with rational expectations in that it posits that very different expectations can exist under conditions of uncertainty, and that no one is able to predict which of them will be accurate. In other words, the future is “an ambiguous canvas capable of multiple interpretations” (DiMaggio 2002: 90).
Fictional expectations have four sets of implications for the dynamics of capitalist economies. First, fictional expectations can help economic actors work in concert in the face of uncertainty: if they share a conviction that the future will develop in a specific way and that other actors will thus behave in foreseeable ways, they may use these expectations to coordinate their decisions.