October 25, 2013
We started a new season of research seminars in the University of Leicester’s School of Management. Among the speakers there are many SSF-related talks.
Next Wednesday (30 Oct.), in fact, we are going to have a talk by this blog’s very own Martha Poon who will presenting her work on credit rating agencies.
October 24, 2013
In case you missed it, this article, Putting a Speed Limit on the Stock Market, was published in the NYTimes Magazine on October 8, 2013.
The rise of high-frequency trading is often told as a technology story. Hedge funds, Wall Street banks and other firms used increasing computing power to write ever-smarter, ever-faster trading algorithms; fantastically expensive fiber-optic lines were built to decrease transaction times by milliseconds. But the rise of high-frequency trading is also a result of the unintended consequences of regulation.
October 23, 2013
By Stefan Leins
The US government is accusing Raoul Weil, head of UBS’ wealth management from 2002 to 2007, of helping thousands of American clients to hide a total amount of 20 billion US dollars of untaxed money in Switzerland. Last week, Italian police arrested him in Bologna.
Weil’s case may be the most significant, but it’s not the first of its kind. Since Obama entered office, a number of Swiss bankers have been on the radar for assisting tax fraud. And among Swiss bankers, many now avoid travelling to the United States, fearing that they could be caught and put on trial for similar reasons.
Raoul Weil’s arrest offers a nice opportunity to reflect upon a remarkable transformation in the image of Swiss bankers during the last decades. Until the 1960s, Swiss banquiers were perceived as uncharismatic, secretive and mousy people. They looked more like accountants than consultants, and had all the charm of Harry Potter’s wealth-hoarding goblins.
This description lost its validity in 1964, when British Labour politician George Brown coined the expression “Gnomes of Zurich” to discredit Swiss bankers’ aggressive speculation against the British Pound. Suddenly, Swiss bankers were not only secretive and uncharismatic, they were also aggressive and greedy. This new role was quickly embodied and performed by some of the bankers themselves. As historian Chris Bowlby mentions, at that time, some Swiss bankers answered phone calls from Britain by saying “Hello, gnome speaking” (BBC online 2010).
In the 1990s, Swiss Banking went through a structural shift. The largest Swiss banks, which were traditionally successful in private banking, began to massively expand their investment banking activities. Swiss banks became investment banking houses, comparable to Goldman Sachs or Morgan Stanley. This new orientation was driven by a number of Swiss key personalities that learned about investment banking on Wall Street and in London.
For this new investment banking-oriented Swiss Banking, the accountant-like banquier – which was still an aspect of the Gnome personality – wasn’t of practical use anymore. A new type of Swiss banker – outgoing, narcissistic, risk-taking – appeared to represent a more successful model to achieve the financial gains Swiss banks were so desperately looking for. Or to put it simple: Gordon Gekko arrived in Switzerland.
In 2007 and 2008, UBS was heavily affected by the subprime crisis (most likely a direct outcome of the merger between Gekko and the Gnome). After a government bailout of sixty billion US dollars, the image of the Swiss banker as an outgoing, greedy risk-taker came under fire. Subsequently, a return to the goblin-like banquiers seemed expectable. However, this was before the US government recognized the potential of untaxed money on Swiss bank accounts. Ever since, Swiss Bankers are increasingly framed as a secretive but greedy group of persons that hides money beyond the control of states.
In addition to the banquier, this new image of the Swiss banker as the Gnome and the Gekko, seems to put emphasis on hiding money and escaping governmental control. Now, the question is: How will this recent transformation influence the framing and self-ascription of Swiss bankers in the long run? Will they become the “Swiss Scrats” (fans of Ice Age, the movie, will know what I’m referring to) or the “Gnomes of Zurich on the run”?
Stefan Leins is a PhD student at the Department of Social Anthropology at the University of Zurich. He has done two years of fieldwork among the gnomes, ahem, the scrats of Zurich.
October 21, 2013
The U.S. government’s website Healthcare.gov was launched on October 1 in the middle of the government shutdown. The site is meant to be a portal to the market for health insurance in fulfillment of the Affordable Health Care Act. It was supposed to allow U.S. consumers to brows and purchase insurance plans offered in their area.
The story here is fascinating. A market technology must be constructed for a mass consumer market, brought into being by federal law, for the provisioning of a required insurance product, that covers a complex and necessary service. The design of the insurance exchange platform will reflect relationships between insurance companies, government mandates and federal agencies, numerous sources of technical tools, as well as user demands. It will contain within it complex actuarial, pricing and profitability calculations and it will also be able a place where consumer choice is formatted and transactions happen.
So far, there’s been nothing but technical trouble. Journalists have had a field day reporting on their own inability to sign up for a plan.
Obama addressed the issue of technical failure in a press conference today. His point was to change the conversation which has so far revolved around the difficulties of implementing new internet-based mass market technology. ‘Let me remind me you the Affordable Care Act is not just a website,’ he said. He then pointed out that 85% of Americans who are already insured through their full time employer do not need to go to the exchange to purchase a plan.
Despite Obama’s pleas to stay focused on the bigger impact of US health insurance reform, the stakes of this market technology as it struggles to get off the ground are high. And unlike technologies where scholars dig deep to rediscover a history of controversy, the divisive partisan contest between Republican and Democrats will expose all the guff as the insurance exchanges develop. Every visible operating hiccough will be noted and discussed. This is a market building process that is in many ways unusually visible.
But surely there are also angles to discover that will remain unnoticed precisely because there’s so much media racket. That’s why I think these health insurance exchanges are perhaps the hottest research project social studies of finance can tackle. The challenge is not to generate a story for this technology, because there’s plenty of story already here. The problem is to use the tools of SSF to generate another story about this market that’s political salient yet original.
October 18, 2013
From Jose Ossadon
Call for Paper 5th LAEMOS Colloquium Latin American and European Meeting on Organization Studies. Havana, Cuba, 2-5 April 2014. Sub Theme 12. Valuation devices and processes of organizing –
Sub theme Conveners: José Ossandón (Copenhagen Business School & Instituto de Investigación en Ciencias Sociales, Universidad Diego Portales, Chile). Martin Kornberger (Copenhagen Business School, Denmark) Christian Frankel (Copenhagen Business School, Denmark), Tomás Ariztía (Universidad Diego Portales, Chile)
CALL FOR PAPERS
Economic sociologists, anthropologists of markets, organization theorists, accounting scholars and others have brought the notion of value (back) on the agenda. In this context value is not understood as a noun but as a specific social material practice: rather than trying to define value as essence, the focus is on valuation practices and technologies of valuing. Here it becomes central to follow the trials (experiments, sales, revenue lists) and devices (rankings, ratings, surveys) that make things – firms, consumers, goods – comparable, accountable, rankable, in short: valuable.
In formalized and standardized modes of valuation (business school accreditations; ratings of bonds etc.) valuation appears to take the form of relatively centralized power. Yet there is an increasingly distributed and heterogeneous ecology of agents producing their own valuations. To the institutions traditionally in charge of valuing (firms, states and regulation agencies, professionals and academic associations), there is an emerging set of agents including user centred review pages (like TripAdvisor), amateur blogs, or new producers of rankings, lists and other numerical modes of accounts (think for instance about GoogleScholar). In other words: valuing is not a process monopolized by technical experts (accountants, finance analysts, taxcofficers) but it also contested by “lay” users, consumers or affected groups- or disrupted by newcomers – for instance internet searchers producing new rankings- and is becoming openly political.
Valuation devices are not only sub-political – in the sense of silently performing what they appear to measure, but they also become openly political. For instance, debates about ‘the social value of firms’, ‘the social fairness of commodity chains’ or the ‘environmental damage’ of particular products are played out at the level of valuation devices.
In this stream we invite scholars to reflect on valuation devices and practices in general and speculate on their role in processes of organizing in particular. Hence the aim of the session is twofold: Push theorizing of valuation devices and reflect in implications for organization theory. Responding to the conference aim – to provide space for “research on the dynamics of development, resistance, and innovation with the aim to promote alternative forms of organization in Latin American and European societies” – we welcome papers reflecting on some of the following issues:
- Case studies about particular valuation devices and their performativity in organizational practices
- Organizing through valuation devices (e.g. Espeland / Sauder on rankings and the field of law schools)
- Strategizing through valuation devices (e.g. gaming behavior, collective action, or distributed cognition). Such strategizing may be about taking part in established valuation, about producing alternative forms of evaluation or possibly about escaping valuation.
- Controversies where social movements (consumer groups, environmentalists, affected groups) contest or produce alternatives modes of valuing organizations or economic goods
- Reflections about the potentially democratic and/or anti-democratic consequences of the new valuation ecology in decision making processes
The stream would like to provide space for conceptual and empirical papers, mobilizing different theoretical resources and / or practical cases.
Contact sub theme: email@example.com
Abstract submission (1000 words), 15 November, 2013.
Notification of acceptance, 15 December, 2013
Submission of full paper (6000 words), 5 March, 2014
Website of the conference: http://laemos.com/
To submit your abstract click here.
October 14, 2013
Thomas Bay, Stockholm University
Elton McGoun, Bucknell University
Critical Perspectives on Accounting is pleased to announce a Special Issue dedicated to Critical Finance Studies.
Although critical attention is regularly devoted to finance, it generally takes the form of a call for transparency, or the systemic repair and restructuring of a paradigm in need of a shift. While finance is clearly a societal domain ridden with crisis, our sense of critique embraces the possibility of risky confrontations with the external powers that drive finance, as well as with internal, ethical combats that impact on the commen-tator’s own situation within academic discourses on finance. We are, therefore, calling for contributions that take into account the relationship of the scholar to finance and to discourses on finance, including received values, moral codes, authoritarian knowledge, political correctness, academic manners, common sense, good will, opinion and implicit presuppositions. We also invite papers that approach finance through avenues that have been underexplored, such as theology, philosophy, art, ethics, film, subjectification, imagery, sociability, education, mediality, value, music, credit, beggary, gambling, vision, indebtedness, sustainability…. to give just a few examples.
Manuscripts should be submitted electronically as a Microsoft Word file to Thomas Bay (firstname.lastname@example.org) by March 31, 2014. All submissions should be made in accordance with Critical Perspectives on Accounting’s Guide for authors and will be subject to a double-blind review process.
October 7, 2013
‘The New Social-ism’ – 11th December 2013
What is knowable, valuable and visible in the emerging social economy?
A one-day conference hosted by Centre for Interdisciplinary Methodologies
10am-6pm, 11th December 2013
Room MS.03, University of Warwick
The era of ‘advanced liberalism’ or ‘neoliberalism’ was characterized by an expansion of economic rationalities and methodologies, beyond the limits of the market. Sociology, social policy and other forms of social expertise were amongst the victims of this ‘economic imperialism’, leading to an apparent ‘death of the social’ (Rose, 1996).
Today, however, appeals to the ‘social’ are everywhere: ‘social enterprise’, ‘social media’, ‘social neuroscience’, ‘social prescribing’, ‘social marketing’, ‘social analytics’, ‘social innovation’. This is thanks partly to the affordances of new techniques of accounting, network visualization and behavioural analysis, many of which take advantage of the ubiquitous digitization of market and non-market activity. The social world can be seen, quantified and influenced via new forms of expertise and data analytics. Managers, marketers and policy-makers make explicit appeals to the ‘social’, in order to sustain brands, rational decision-making, mental health and public goods. But the question of how the social sciences relate to this new-found interest, or contribute to it, remains an open one (Savage & Burrows, 2007).
How do we make sense of this? What is the ontology of the ‘social’ that is being appealed to, and how does it differ from the ‘social’ of 20thcentury statistics, society and sociology? What methodologies are at work in rendering this form of sociality visible, measurable and governable? Is social network analysis now performative, as neo-classical economics has been described in the past? What power relations are latent in this new notion of the social, and to what extent is it in fact reducible to the economic after all – or, perhaps, the biological?
This conference brings together scholars working in economic sociology, science and technology studies, social studies of finance, media studies, social studies of Big Data and other fields, to address these questions. Confirmed speakers include:
- Profesor Nikolas Rose - Kings College, University of London
- Professor Nigel Thrift, University of Warwick
- Dr. Adam Arvidsson, University of Milan
- Dr. Noortje Marres, Goldsmiths University of London
- Professor Yuval Millo, University of Leicester
- Dr. Liz Moor, Goldsmiths University of London
- Dr. Evelyn Ruppert, Goldsmiths, University of London
- Nick Taylor, University of Warwick
October 3, 2013
Here is another fascinating look at one of those ‘everybody knows it but no one talks about it’ subjects – how corporate profits are driven by accounting tricks. This time, again, it’s Google
September 27, 2013
The LSE’s Department of Sociology is looking to recruit an outstanding early career scholar in economic sociology at the assistant professor level (an appointment at an associate professorship is also possible). The details of the post are available at http://goo.gl/xv5zSC
The closing date for applications is 25 October 2013. This is an exciting opportunity to join and contribute to a growing London-based research community in economic sociology.
Obviously, you would apply to this job if you could not secure a place in the SSF group in Leicester…
September 13, 2013
Michael Power and Tommaso Palermo at LSE’s Centre for the Analysis of Risk and Regulation have just written a research report about ‘Risk Culture in Financial Organizations’. They’ll be holding an open event to discuss their findings September 30 from 12-2pm which will be hosted at Lloyds on Lime Street in London.