Call for papers: Crisis, Critique and the Construction of Normality: Exploring Finance Capitalism’s Discursive Shifts
February 25, 2010
Crisis, Critique and the Construction of Normality:
Exploring Finance Capitalism’s Discursive Shifts
Culture and Organization
Christian De Cock (Swansea University), Leanne Cutcher (University of Sydney), and David Grant (University of Sydney)
“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master – that’s all.”
(From Through the Looking Glass)
If ever anyone still needed convincing that the present-day organizational world is increasingly dominated by finance, the events of 2007-2009, where welfare on ‘Main Street’ was seen to be utterly dependent on a thriving ‘Wall Street’, surely settled that doubt once and for all. Yet, this finance-dominated world has proven to be a very strange place over the past three or so years; a place with an Alice-in-Wonderland quality where words, things, and people seemed to hold together in rather tenuous ways. We have heard the German president, a former head of the IMF, describe the financial markets as “a monster that must be put back in its place” and we have seen the French president being photographed reading Marx’s Das Kapital and announcing the “death of capitalism”. Alan Greenspan, former chairman of the Fed, and accorded by some the status of a mystic with unparalleled insight into the inner workings of the economy, frankly admitted in 2008 that “The whole intellectual edifice collapsed”. But perhaps the abiding memory of the crisis late 2008 was an apostate faction of Republicans on Capitol Hill accusing Hank Paulson, George W. Bush’s Treasury secretary and former CEO of Goldman Sachs, of leading the US down the “road to socialism”.
No less baffling given the sheer scale and cognitive disorientation of the crisis – it was described as “the greatest crisis in the history of finance capitalism” in a report by the UK Financial Services Authority published in early 2009 – has been the speedy return to business-as-usual. The space for critique, democratic debate and public accountability has proven to be extremely circumscribed, if non-existent. To quote a Financial Times journalist: “To listen, as I have done recently, to executives of institutions such as Goldman Sachs is to realise that history is being rewritten even before the ink is dry on the first draft” (October 16th 2009). Already there exists the danger that we fall victim to the same ‘cognitive capture’ – comprising a strange mixture of belief in the official economic discourse and the ‘too-complicated-to-care attitude’ – which contributed to the economic world spinning out of control in the first place (Tett, 2009).
These recent disorientations both raise serious questions and open up interesting avenues of research. They offer, for those interested in political economy and discourse analysis, an ideal critical moment. Many powerful people, both in business and politics, talked and wrote profusely as they justified their actions in a world that suddenly refused to be contained within the parameters of the trusted financial theories and models. This in turn presents a wealth of material to analyse, critique and re-think the relationships between rhetorical justifications and the empirical realities of modern markets. In doing so the opportunity arises for researchers to identify, scrutinise and critique relationships between words, people and things – what Latour (2002) called “the strange specificity of human assemblages” – in ways that challenge dominant, taken-for-granted financial, organizational, and economic discourses. A Cultural Political Economy (CPE) perspective, aiming to integrate the contribution of the cultural turn (a concern with discourse and meaning-making) with the analysis of the articulation between the economic and the political and their embedding in broader sets of social relations, seems particularly pertinent in this respect.
This special issue aims to offer a timely opportunity to bring together academics from a range of disciplinary backgrounds to revisit the various discourses of finance that have recently emerged and are still emerging. We invite contributions that explore some of the following questions without necessarily strictly prescribing the avenues contributors wish to explore:
– What vocabularies, theories or models could offer “radically new imaginings of exactly how things are, but under a new aspect that we can currently only glimpse…” (Thrift, 2006: 302)? In other words, how can we add to the “appropriate repertoire of semiotic and material resources and practices that can be flexibly and reflexively deployed in response to emerging disturbances and crises” (Jessop, 2004: 162)?
– Can we help develop new discourses that “condense moments of the social process so that the ‘imaginaries’ they project… are grounded in actual constructions of space and time as they are practically experienced through people’s engagement in the world” (Fairclough, 2006: 23)?
– What is being left unstated or silent? What is being repressed or suppressed in the discourses emerging post-crisis? How precisely have ‘normality’ and the status-quo been constructed again? How have narratives been selected as the basis for private and public attempts to resolve the crisis? What does this tell us about the power of political and organizational elites?
– What can we learn from the way that discourses about past financial crises are being used to construct the impact of the present crisis? How is the past and history being invoked to promote a return to business as usual approach?
– Has the narrow discourse of finance within the academy contributed to the crisis? If so, how might this discourse be opened up to more critical perspectives?
– How might the sense of unease that exists amongst the public and policy makers be translated into a coherent discourse that promotes engagement and attachment as an alternative to the ‘too-complicated-to-care’ attitude that is often coupled with a blind faith in the ‘magic of markets’?
– Can we prepare the ground (cultural, organizational, and social) for future crisis-induced strategic interventions? Can we construe our recurring problems in terms of future possibilities? How can we recreate a space for democratic debate, critique and action? What kind of economic and organizational imaginaries could emerge as alternatives?
– To what extent have discursive shifts occurred concerning the roles and identities of key players in the financial crisis such as business leaders, consumers and politicians?
To be considered for publication, papers must be submitted electronically to Christian De Cock: (firstname.lastname@example.org). A covering email must specify that the paper is to be considered for this special issue.
The submission deadline is December 1st 2010.