Leveraging Knowledge

November 23, 2015

From Jessica Weinkle

In a financial report for the US Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, I read about their S&P Credit rating.  Among other things, the rating rests on relatively stable Federal funding.  Following the trail, I turned up credit ratings for other large research groups entire academic institutions.
Brief skims of the credit reports indicates Federal funding as a key variable for credit rating decisions.  For instance, an except from Moody’s review of UCAR (closely associated with the National Center for Academic Research):

STRENGTH: A substantial portion of UCAR’s funding is received through a cooperative agreement from the National Science Foundation.

CHALLENGE: UCAR is heavily reliant on federal funding for its research (98% of operating revenues are grants and contracts), with limited revenue diversification, exposing the organization to the risk of contract termination.

A general report by S&P on non-profit universities mentions “tuition” at least 38 times.  To the extent that tuition availability is perceived to rest on American public support for student loans, then here is another connection between Federal funding and credit ratings.
In hindsight, it seems obvious that large institutions carry debt and have credit ratings.  But, in mulling it over, this seems to add a different twist to the science- social benefit connection.
Where credit worthiness is tied to Federal support, how does an investment market for academic and research debt affect expectations of those institutions?  Are nations beholden to these institutions for sake of economic stability regardless of their ability to serve other sorts of needs?
I don’t know that these are the right questions to ask.  But, I’m curious to know any thoughts or opinions. I am also curious to know if this is a US phenomena, though I am inclined to believe that this is not likely.


We are organizing this event which may be of interest to blog readers:


Debt trails:
Mapping relations of debt and credit from everyday actors to global credit markets

with Paul Langley and Liz McFall

3-4 March 2016, Budapest, Hungary, ELTE University

The 2007-8 global financial crisis was interpreted by many as a challenge to mainstream economics and as an opportunity for social sciences to provide alternative explanations. This opportunity has hardly been realised, even though the crisis has given further impetus to studies looking at credit and debt outside the economics discipline. One of the reasons lies in the disciplinary variety and diverse theoretical lenses used by social sciences, ranging from economic sociology to economic geography, political economy and Social Studies of Finance, which arguably do not provide a uniform, let alone universal explanation as economics does.

One of the main divisions among social science takes on credit and debt is between what can be termed microscopic vs macroscopic research agendas. The application of Actor-Network Theory, Science and Technology Studies and practice-theory approaches to economic phenomena, particularly in the interdisciplinary field of Social Studies of Finance, has been celebrated for describing the very concrete, material processes that make up the Economy (cf. MacKenzie 2006; McFall 2014; Deville 2015). This work resonates with Latour’s (2005) program to follow the actors and with Christophers’ (2011a; 2011b) call to ‘follow the money’ by applying the commodity chain approach to money, and credit in particular, in order to reveal ‘the social and economic relations both underpinning and occasioned by money’s creation and circulation’ (2011a:1069-70). Critics, on the other hand, saw these accounts as merely providing ‘all cogs and no car’, getting lost in empirical detail, being devoid of politics (Winner 1993; Mirowski and Nik-Khah 2007) and ignoring the most important sites of credit and debt relations: institutions, regulation, and ultimately, social relations (Gilbert 2011). More macroscopic approaches (cf. Langley 2008; Crouch 2009; Krippner 2011), developing larger theoretical and empirical claims, in turn, were praised for actually proving the car rather than merely the cogs; and were at the same time accused by critics of missing empirical detail and filling the resulting gaps with concepts and the untraceable operation of larger forces, such as Power or the Social.

One way of approaching this divide is to suggest that different scales require different theoretical lenses. If one is to study everyday debt or a smaller local site, microscopic concepts, such as ‘practices’, and microscopic methods, such as ANT, are useful; whereas the study of the global financial system requires a ‘bigger’ lens, such as a political economy approach. Others, in contrast, see these approaches as reflecting different ontologies and choices implying trade-offs between detail and generality of the argument. According to this view, the same theoretical and empirical tools can be applied irrespective of the ‘size’ of the phenomenon; size is seen as a matter of scale. This question is one of the key concerns of this workshop.

The second concern relates to the fact that most empirical work and derived theories on credit and debt are focused on Western contexts, despite some notable attempts to counter the trend (cf. Deville and Seigworth 2015). To some extent this phenomenon is an unintended consequence of the approaches described above. If meeting the imperative of a clear ‘theoretical contribution’ is a challenge for all microscopic studies, it is all the more so for those carried out outside Western contexts, in ‘less interesting’ places. For macroscopic studies, in turn, a theory based on data on these ‘special’ cases is simply not general enough. As a result, the study of credit and debt in non-Western contexts is more developed in comparative studies (cf. Schwartz and Seabrooke 2008; Bohle 2014), and ironically, in economics, where – thanks to its universalistic ontology – context hardly matters. The second aim of the workshop is to reflect on the plurality of debt and debt trails, and to open up questions not only about local-global connectivities and variations, but also about how these variations can actually be constitutive of the nature of the debt relation itself (cf. Ossandón forthcoming).

The workshop seeks to bring these diverse theoretical lenses and area focuses into conversation and features an exchange between Paul Langley and Liz McFall exploring the challenge of practice focused studies. The aim is to foster a more thorough understanding of debt and credit and to open up theoretical exchanges across disciplinary boundaries. To do that the workshop focuses on the following questions:

1. Do we have to change our theoretical lens when we look at different actors of the credit/debt phenomenon? Or can the same theories that we use to understand everyday borrower practices be used to understand international regulation? What are the trade-offs that are involved in our choice?

2. Which analytical terms are best suited to describe the relationship between different actors? Why and how do these relations matter? What do we gain by connecting different actors of the credit and debt market compared to focusing on one or two actors?

3. What do we gain by studying contexts outside Western countries and in what ways can these studies be brought into dialogue with the existing body of knowledge? Are variations mainly interesting from a comparative angle, or are these connections and variations central to the debt relations themselves?

The workshop welcomes participants working either on a specific actor of the credit/debt market or on their interconnections, broadly conceived. Participants will be asked to send a short (3000 word) piece reflecting on the theme of the workshop based on their own research.

The workshop will take place in Budapest, and is hosted by the Department of Media and Communication, ELTE University with support from the Journal of Cultural Economy and the Hungarian Scientific Research Fund (OTKA).


To apply please send a 300-word abstract by the 14th of December 2015 to debttrails@gmail.com 


Paul Langley is Reader in Economic Geography at Durham University. His research combines cultural economy and economic geography approaches to understand financial markets, including everyday credit and savings, sub-prime mortgages, financial regulation and alternative forms of finance. He is author of the books World Financial Orders (Routledge, 2002), The Everyday Life of Global Finance (Oxford University Press, 2008) and Liquidity Lost (Oxford University Press, 2015).

Liz McFall is Head of the Department of Sociology at the Open University and Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Cultural Economy. Her research has traced the making of diverse consumer markets, including the market for

health insurance and payday loans, using pragmatic, historical and cultural economy approaches. Her books include Advertising: A Cultural Economy (Sage, 2004), Conduct: sociology and social worlds (Manchester University Press, 2008), Devising Consumption: cultural economies of insurance, credit and spending (Routledge, 2014) and Market and The Arts of Attachment (Routledge, 2016).

Workshop organizers: Léna Pellandini-Simányi (ELTE), Ferenc Hammer (ELTE), Zsuzsanna Vargha (University of Leicester)




Bohle, D. (2014). “Post-socialist housing meets transnational finance: Foreign banks, mortgage lending, and the privatization of welfare in Hungary and Estonia.” Review of International Political Economy 21(4): 913- 948.

Christophers, B. (2011a). “Credit, where credit’s due. Response to “Follow the thing: credit”.” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 29: 1089-1091.

Christophers, B. (2011b). “Follow the thing: Money.” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 29: 1068- 1084.

Crouch, C. (2009). “Privatised Keynesianism: An Unacknowledged Policy Regime.” The British Journal of Politics & International Relations 11(3): 382-399.

Deville, J. (2015). Lived Economies of Default. Consumer Credit, Debt Collection and the Capture of Affect. London, Routledge.

Deville, J. and G. J. Seigworth, Eds. (2015). Special Issue: Everyday Debt and Credit of Cultural Studies. 29 (5- 6).

Gilbert, E. (2011). “Follow the thing: Credit. Response to “Follow the thing: Money”.” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 29: 1085-1088.

Krippner, G. R. (2011). Capitalizing on Crisis: The Political Origins of the Rise of Finance. Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press.

Langley, P. (2008). The everyday life of global finance: Saving and borrowing in Anglo-America. Oxford, Oxford University Press.

Latour, B. (2005). Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory. Oxford ; New York, Oxford University Press.

MacKenzie, D. (2006). An engine, not a camera: how financial models shape the markets. Cambridge (MA), MIT Press.

McFall, L. (2014). Devising Consumption: Cultural economies of insurance, credit and spending. New York ; London, Routledge.

Mirowski, P. and E. Nik-Khah (2007). Markets Made Flesh: Performativity, and a Problem in Science Studies, Augmented with Consideration of the FCC Auctions. Do economists make markets? On the Performativity of Economics. D. MacKenzie, F. Muniesa and L. Siu. Princeton, Princeton University Press: 190-254.

Ossandón, J. (forthcoming). “Sowing consumers in the garden of mass retailing in Chile.” Consumption Markets & Culture, special issue, “consuming finance”, edited by P. Langley.

Schwartz, H. and L. Seabrooke (2008). “Varieties of Residential Capitalism in the International Political Economy: Old Welfare States and the New Politics of Housing.” Comparative European Politics 6: 237-261.

Winner, L. (1993). “Upon Opening the Black Box and Finding It Empty: Social Constructivism and the Philosophy of Technology.” Science Technology Human Values 18(3): 362-378.

From Nathan Coombs

The journal Finance and Society has issued two Call for Papers for forthcoming special issues, both scheduled for publication in 2016.

Finance and Art

The first, entitled Finance and Art, is guest edited by Suhail Malik (Goldsmiths) and Gerald Nestler (Independent artist). The issue invites historical, ethnographic, sociological, philosophical, and artistic engagement in thinking about the flood of money that is entering the art world. In particular, the issue aims to move from critique towards the construction of new theories and practices able to make sense of the production, valuation, and circulation of symbolic, pecuniary, and material responses to the logics of finance.

Please submit abstracts or proposals by 1 December 2015 to both Suhail Malik (s.malik@gold.ac.uk) and Gerald Nestler (mail@geraldnestler.net) for initial review. Once screened the deadline for complete contributions will be 15 February 2016, after which they will undergo double-blind peer review. The special issue will be published as vol. 2, no. 1 in September 2016.

Further information about the issue is available here.

Ethics of Debt

The second special issue is entitled Ethics of Debt and is guest edited by William Carter (Iowa State) and Kate Padgett Walsh (Iowa State). Building on the recent contributions of authors such as David Graeber, Kenneth Dyson, and Miranda Joseph to the enduring topic of debt, this issue seeks bold, post-disciplinary scholarship exploring how financial practices emerge from and shape the social and ethical dimensions of debt today. Potential topics include, but are not limited to, financial practices in the history of political economy and the ethics of financial innovation.

Completed manuscripts of 9,000–11,000 words should be submitted to William Carter (wcarter@iastate.edu) and Kate Padgett Walsh (kpadwa@iastate.edu) for initial review by 15 February 2016. The special issue will be published as vol. 2, no. 2 in December 2016.

Further information about the issue is available here.


The new issue of the Economic Sociology European Electronic Newsletter (ESEEN) has been published.

The issue focuses on the sociology of insurance, presenting recent research on the topic. Authors include Mike Power, Liz McFall, and Jose Ossandon, whose work is linked to the SocFinance blog in many ways.

While many blog readers are already subscribed to ESEEN, for those new to it, the journal features short research papers, book reviews, PhD research, interviews and information relevant to those interested in the field. ESEEN is a free and open access journal, published three times a year by the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies, each year with a different Editor.

This year I have the honor of serving as Editor. I wish you happy reading and look forward to your comments.

Full access to the Newsletter is available here.

You can also download the entire issue as a pdf file.

Subscription to the Newsletter is easy and enables you to receive the latest issue directly by email.



From Jose Ossandon:


Viña del Mar – Chile 6 – 9 April 2016.

Call for Papers: Sub-Theme #12 The organization of Multiple and Contested modes of Valuation

Economic sociologists, anthropologists of markets, organization theorists, accounting scholars and others have brought the notion of value (back) on the agenda (Antal et al. 2015, Beckert & Aspers 2011, Kornberger et al. 2015). In this context value is not understood as a noun but as a specific social and 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.

The sub-theme continues discussion initiated at the successfully stimulating Sub-theme 12 of the fifth LEAMOS Colloquium in Havana (“Valuation devices and processes of organizing”). This time – and responding to the colloquium’s aim: “to share empirical and theoretical research on the multiplicity of logics that shape current forms of organizing in and beyond Latin American and European societies” – we invite scholars to reflect on the co-existence of multiple modes of valuation in organizational settings. The sub-theme aims to provide space for conceptual and empirical papers, mobilizing different theoretical resources and / or practical cases. We welcome papers reflecting on some of the following issues:

–          * Case studies dealing with friction (e.g. Stark 2009) caused by the co-existence of different valuation criteria in single organizational settings

–          * Comparative analyzes of different modes of valuing (for instance, quantitative and ordinal lists, e.g. Guyer 2010)

–          * Comparative studies about similar valuation devices used to assess different entities (firms, markets, industries, non-profit organizations)

–          * Comparative studies of ‘fair value’ assessing practices

–          * Controversies where social movements, consumer or affected groups contest or produce alternatives modes of valuing organizations or economic goods (e.g. Dubuisson-Quellier 2013)

–          * Strategies used to skillfully deal with or avoid annoying metrics (e.g. Kreiner 2012)

–          * Studies about rankings that fail

–          * Comparisons of different conceptual and theoretical approach to valuing (e.g. McFall & Ossandón 2014)

–          * Reflections about the impact in existing conceptual approaches of paying attention to simultaneous and multiple objects of valuation (e.g. Frankel 2015).


Abstract submission: November 10, 2015

Notification of acceptance: December 10, 2015

Submission of full paper (6.000 words): March 10, 2016

Abstracts of about 1000 words should be submitted through the website form at www.laemos.com The abstracts should be in English, including the name and email address of the author(s)


Antal, A. B., Hutter, M., & Stark, D. (Eds.). (2015). Moments of valuation: exploring sites of dissonance, Oxford University Press.

Beckert, J., & Aspers, P. (2011). The worth of goods: Valuation and pricing in the economy, Oxford University Press.

Dubuisson-Quellier, S. (2013). A market mediation strategy: How social movements seek to change firms’ practices by promoting new principles of product valuation. Organization Studies, 34(5-6), 683-703.

Frankel, C. (2015). The multiple-markets problem. Journal of Cultural Economy, (ahead-of-print), 1-9.

Kornberger, M., Justesen, L., Mouritsen, J., & Madsen, A. K. (Eds.). (2015). Making Things Valuable. Oxford University Press.

Kreiner, K. (2012). Organizational Decision Mechanisms in an Architectural Competition, Research in the Sociology of Organizations, 36, 99-429.

Guyer, J. (2009). The eruption of tradition? On ordinality and calculation. Anthropological Theory 10 (2): 123-131.

Mcfall, L. & Ossandón, J. (2014). What’s new in the new, new economic sociology’ and should Organisation Studies care? in The Oxford Handbook of Sociology, Social Theory, and Organization Studies: Contemporary Currents, eds P. Adler, P. Du gay, G. Morgan & M. Reed, Oxford University Press, pp. 510–533.

Stark, D. (2009). The sense of dissonance: Accounts of worth in economic life, Princeton University Press.

From Ann-Christina Lange

HFT conference in Copenhagen on Monday 5 October

Dear colleagues,

We are organizing a one-day conference on high-frequency trading at Copenhagen Business School on Monday 5 October 2015. The conference will bring together leading academic and industry experts to shed light on the current state of HFT. Key questions to be addressed are: What is the current status of the HFT industry and what challenges for competitiveness does the turn to HFT entail? Are institutional investors being picked off by these faster market participants? What are the differences between the US and European markets in terms of the regulation of HFT? What does the future of HFT look like?

There are still a few available seats, so if you are interested in attending, please sign up by following this link, where the full program is also available:

Hope to see you soon in Copenhagen!

All best,

Ann-Christina Lange and Christian Borch

P.S. Futher to HFT: please check out our new Society and Space paper ‘Markets, bodies, and rhythms: A rhythmanalysis of financial markets from open-outcry trading to high-frequency trading’:http://epd.sagepub.com/content/early/2015/08/20/0263775815600444.full.pdf+html 

Dear Colleagues to whom this is of interest,

The Conference “FUTUR€$ – Prospective Money and Money’s Prospects” will take place from 24-26 September 2015 at the University of Basel, Switzerland.

In February we circulated a CfP for social-scientific contributions on the past, present, and future(s) of money, and got an overwhelming response of cutting-edge submissions. Three panels on the nature of money, the “Euro crisis”, and new monetary technologies will complement a stream of talks from leading scholars. A further highlight is the evening roundtable assembling a theologian, an anthropologist, a political economist and an investment banker (Christoph Fleischmann, Keith Hart, Dimitris Sotiropoulos, and Rainer Voss) to reflect on the problematic role played by money at our present political-economic juncture.

The speakers (from academia, practice, activism and media) are:
– Massimo Amato (Bocconi University, Milan)
– Eske Bockelmann (TU Chemnitz)
– Philipp Degens (University of Cologne)
– Christoph Deutschmann (University of Tübingen)
– Josué Quintana Diaz (University of Frankfurt)
– Nigel Dodd (London School of Economics)
– Rachel O’Dwyer (Trinity College Dublin)
– Elena Esposito (University of Modena and Reggio Emilia)
– Lorenzo Esposito (Bank of Italy, Rome)
– Luca Fantacci (Bocconi University, Milan)
– Christoph Fleischmann (Journalist)
– Keith Hart (London School of Economics & University of Pretoria)
– Joseph Huber (University of Halle)
– Klaus Kraemer (University of Graz)
– Duncan Lindo (University of Leeds)
– Bill Maurer (University of California, Irvine)
– Giuseppe Mastromatteo (Catholic University, Milan)
– Michael Rafferty (University of Sydney)
– Robert Seyffert (University of Konstanz)
– Dimitris Sotiropoulos (Open University Business School, UK)
– Ute Tellmann (University of Hamburg)
– Rainer Voss (from the film “Master of the Universe”)
– Beat Weber (National Bank of Austria OeNB, Vienna).

For more information, the conference programme, and abstracts, please visit http://www.futuresconference.info. Attendance is 30.00 CHF (15.00 CHF for students) for the full three days.

We – Axel Paul, Phil Mader, Cornelius Moriz, José Colón – would be delighted to welcome you to Basel.


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