Columbia workshop brings MacKenzie to mainstream economists

November 29, 2009

Bruce Kogut has done it again. My ex-colleague at Columbia Business School, known for his grasp of intellectual revolutions in the making, is bringing Donald MacKenzie to an audience of finance economists at Columbia. The encounter might fundamentally change how academic economists think about models.

Something happens when people are exposed to brilliance. “I was there at the time of the derivatives revolution,” Kogut used to tell me over coffee, reflecting to his years of the PhD at MIT. “And I was there again,” he would add, “when the strategy field was developed at Wharton with Sidney Winter and others.” This repeated exposure to the birth of big concepts left a mark in him.

Kogut learnt the lesson. Ideas advance in sudden pushes. One wants to be there when they happen. In the past three decades, Kogut applied the maxim to himself, and developed crucial contributions to the theory of the firm, international business and the strategy literature — becoming, in the process, one of the most highly cited social scientists.

The latest big thing, Kogut believes, is the sociology of finance. “You’re sitting on a goldmine,” he would often tell me of my sociology of finance research in the many conversations we had in the past two years at Columbia. Consistent with this thinking, Kogut used his pulpit at the Bernstein Center for Leadership and Ethics at Columbia to promote debate over quantitative models. Here at Socializing Finance, we have publicized his thoughts over the issue, published in the European Management Review.

In his most ambitious conference to date, Kogut is flying Donald MacKenzie from Scotland to New York for an introduction to financial economists, journalists and practitioners.

Now, such inter-disciplinary dances are very difficult to pull out. But the topic of the conference could not be more timely: “The Quantitative Revolution and the Crisis: How Have Quantitative Financial Models Been Used and Misused.” In it, Donald will be presenting his notion of performativity, and his latest work on the credit crisis. Other notable speakers will discuss it.

The academics include Emanuel Derman and Paul Glasserman, among others. Just as importantly, the conference will include key practitioners (Kent Daniel from Goldman, Adam Parker from Sanford Berstein). It will also have top journalists such as Floyd Norris from the New York Times. That I will be speaking among this exclusive crowd is both a testament to how far the sociology of finance has come… and to the fact that Kogut is a risk-taker.

(For those interested in attending the conference, I have heard from Sandra Navalli that are still a few open seats. See here)


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