Blog readers may be interested in this new work available from the Presses des Mines (both in paperback and PDF) and from online booksellers. From the book’s jacket:

What does it mean to turn something into capital? What does considering things as assets entail? What does the prevalence of an investor’s viewpoint require? What is this culture of valuation that asks that we capitalize on everything? How can we make sense of the traits, necessities and upshots of this pervasive cultural condition?

This book takes the reader to an ethnographic stroll down the trail of capitalization. Start-up companies, research centers, consulting firms, state enterprises, investment banks, public administrations: the territory can certainly prove strange and disorienting at first sight, with its blurred boundaries between private appropriation and public interest, economic sanity and moral breakdown, the literal and the metaphorical, the practical and the ideological. The traveler certainly requires a resolutely pragmatist attitude, and a taste for the meanders of signification. But in all the sites in which we set foot in this inquiry we recognize a recurring semiotic complex: a scenario of valuation in which things signify by virtue of their capacity to become assets in the eye of an imagined investor.

A ground-breaking anthropological investigation on the culture of contemporary capitalism, this work directs attention to the largely unexplored problem of capitalization and offers a critical resource for current debates on neoliberalism and financialization.

The authorial collective is composed of Fabian Muniesa, Liliana Doganova, Horacio Ortiz, Álvaro Pina-Stranger, Florence Paterson, Alaric Bourgoin, Véra Ehrenstein, Pierre-André Juven, David Pontille, Başak Saraç-Lesavre and Guillaume Yon, contributing research carried out at the Centre de Sociologie de l’Innovation (CSI) of the École des Mines de Paris.

An introductory excerpt is available from the publisher.

Blog readers may be interested in “Capitalizing on Performativity: Performing on Capitalization”, a symposium to be held at the Ecole des Mines de Paris on 16-17 October 2014. Details on purpose, content and form here.

The Provoked Economy

June 6, 2014

Plug: some blog readers may be interested in The Provoked Economy: Economic Reality and the Performative Turn (Routledge, 2014), which contains some bits on finance. See more details (including some forthcoming chapter-by-chapter snippets) in the companion blog From the book description:

Do things such as performance indicators, valuation formulas, consumer tests, stock prices or financial contracts represent an external reality? Or do they rather constitute, in a performative fashion, what they refer to?

The Provoked Economy tackles this question from a pragmatist angle, considering economic reality as a ceaselessly provoked reality. It takes the reader through a series of diverse empirical sites – from public administrations to stock exchanges, from investment banks to marketing facilities and business schools – in order to explore what can be seen from such a demanding standpoint. It demonstrates that descriptions of economic objects do actually produce economic objects and that the simulacrum of an economic act is indeed a form of realization. It also shows that provoking economic reality means facing practical tests in which what ought to be economic or not is subject to elaboration and controversy.

This book opens paths for empirical investigation in the social sciences, but also for the philosophical renewal of the critique of economic reality. It will be useful for students and scholars in social theory, sociology, anthropology, philosophy and economics.

Fabian Muniesa is a researcher at the Centre de Sociologie de l’Innovation, École des Mines de Paris. He looks at calculation, valuation and organization from a pragmatist standpoint, with a focus on the problems of business pedagogy, managerial performance, financial innovation and economic reasoning.

The blog of the ERC Research Project PERFORMABUSINESS (“Performativity in Business Education, Management Consulting and Entrepreneurial Finance”) is now online at The blog is meant to report on the team’s ongoing research and ideas. From the project’s summary:

“The world of business is a world of culture: a world of rituals, artefacts and idioms which is fit for anthropological and sociological analysis. The notion of performativity serves as a useful vehicle to analyse the culture that do characterise business schools, consultancy firms, corporations, investment banks, start-up companies and other sites of business life. This notion refers to performance in the sense of efficacy in the achievement of tasks, but also to the institutive capacities of knowledge and to an idea of practice as acting and staging. This research project seeks at providing sound social-scientific knowledge on the performativity of business through a theoretical clarification of the concept and a set of empirical investigations in three relevant areas. The first area is education in business administration. The project analyses the performativity of the case method of instruction and of similar pedagogical techniques that emphasise singularity, exemplarity and realism in the provision of meaningful and effective narratives. The second area is management consulting. The project analyses the performativity of consultancy missions and management devices, with a focus on the practices of presentation and communication used by consultants in order to construct convincing realities. The third area is entrepreneurial finance. The project analyses the performativity of business models, business plans and business cases in the orientation of investment and financing in entrepreneurial settings. Empirical investigation in all three areas is grounded in a qualitative, case-based approach. The research project aims at generating detailed and original factual evidence of the performativity of business in all three areas, and also at providing a coordinated and rigorous assessment of performativity as problematic reality in today’s risk-oriented global business culture.”

Measure and Value

June 21, 2012

Of possible interest to blog readers is Measure and Value, both available as a stand-alone edited book (Sociological Review Monograph Series) and as a special issue of the Sociological Review: an exploration of how issues of measure and value are emerging as central in current social-scientific debate, edited by Lisa Adkins and Celia Lury. For a snapshot of the introduction, see here.

The piece “After Inside Job: consequences, problems and perspectives”, (Debating Innovation, 2012, 2(1), 25-32), features an interview with Charles Ferguson, the director of Inside Job (2010, Sony Pictures Classics), the acclaimed documentary film on the meanders and responsibilities of the financial crisis of the late 2000s (see also this recent post in the blog the Observatory for Responsible Innovation).

In the interview, Charles Ferguson reflects on the impacts of Inside Job (for example in the regulation of conflicts of interests among academic economists), and signals a few fundamental problems that need to be addressed today, especially the role money plays in politics in the United States and the economic pressure for regulators to move to the private sector. From the interview:

“A very high fraction of regulators in the United States are former bankers. And many regulators, whether or not they were already former bankers, go into the banking system after they have spent in regulatory institutions. […] If you look at the people who are running the Obama Administration now […] an important fraction of them are former bankers, bankers of some kind, either in hedge funds or commercial banks.”

The interview was carried out in Paris, in October 2011. A companion book to Inside Job is forthcoming from Random House.

French-reading blog visitors may be interested in the last Politix special issue on “politiques d’économisation” (“politics of economization”). From the introduction:

“Politics of economization: the expression comes from Michel Foucault’s account of the role of ordoliberal economic theory in the reconstruction of post-war Germany. That’s no clear-cut concept (he just uses it in passing) but renders well the idea that motivates his account: observing situations in which economic frames are promoted as alternatives to political ones. The papers assembled in this special issue tackle these sorts of configurations.”

Of direct connection to the social studies of finances is for example “Marchés efficients, investisseurs libres et États garants : trames du politique dans les pratiques financières professionnelles”, an analysis of fund managers investing in credit derivatives.


This is a follow-up on the initiative recently advertised here: the Observatory for Responsible Innovation is organizing a conference titled “Debating Responsible Innovation in Finance” to be held at Mines ParisTech (the Ecole des Mines de Paris), 30 November 2011. A short announcement is available at the Observatory’s blog. The full program and the registration form (limited seats!) are available here.

From the program:

“The story of the 2008 financial crisis is a story not only of hubris, greed, and regulatory failure, but one of these deeply troubling problems of social silence and technical silos. If we do not use the crisis as an occasion to seriously tackle these problems, then it is a crisis we may well be doomed to revisit, albeit in an innovative new form.” (Gillian Tett, in Fool’s Gold, 2009)

The lack of debate and publicly expressed concern, combined to the machinery of complex methods understood only by a handful of experts, was certainly at the center of the recent financial catastrophe ‑ and can be also at the center of the next one. Mines ParisTech (the Ecole des Mines de Paris) is hosting a collective discussion on this problem with the participation of investment banking professionals, regulators, members of the political arena, researchers from a variety of backgrounds, and media professionals. The initiative is part of the Observatory for Responsible Innovation, a project based at Mines ParisTech which aims at thinking and debating new measures, concepts and methods to foster responsibility in innovation. The conference program has been elaborated by a group of associate members of the Observatory for Responsible Innovation, in collaboration with actors from the industry. Attendance requires reservation and confirmation.

Back-Office Intricacy

June 9, 2011

Of possible interest to blog readers is “Back-Office Intricacy: The Description of Financial Objects in an Investment Bank” (just available from Industrial and Corporate Change Advance Access). The paper is an attempt at exploring how the problem of the description of complex financial products, trades and circuits cristalizes in the back offices and middle offices in large investment banks. It draws from qualitative materials gathered in 2003 in an international investment bank and indentifies how back-office structures deal with the problem at several levels: clearing and settlement, tracking of products, also valuation.

Hat tip to IPK Cultures of Finance: the website of UCSC Rethinking Capitalism offers a nice webcast series. I would like to recommend for example Bill Maurer’s excellent talk here.