Reposted from Estudios de la Economía at the request of José Ossandón

Call for Papers: Market Situations – Situated Markets. 5th Interdisciplinary Market Studies Workshop, Copenhagen Business School, June 6 – 8, 2018. Keynote speakers: Jens Beckert (Professor of Sociology and Director at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies, Cologne) & Eve Chiapello (Professor of Sociology at the Centre d’Étude des Mouvements Sociaux at EHESS Paris). We invite contributors to submit an extended abstract of 2-3 pages (incl. references) to Proposals should indicate topic, theoretical positioning, methodology and outline findings, if appropriate. The deadline for submissions is Monday, January 29, 2018. Inquiries about the workshop can be made to any of the workshop organisers. We will notify contributors about acceptance by early March, and full papers will be due early May.

The Theme

The 5th Interdisciplinary Market Studies Workshop will take place in Copenhagen, a city which derives its name from the harbour and the associated place of commerce that existed there from the 11th century. Købmannahavn translates as ‘chapman’s haven’ and ‘merchants’ harbour’ (portus mercatorum), and as such the city is a living example of how markets and cityscapes have always tended to co-create each other. Copenhagen’s history reveals another insight. Recent critics of the neoliberal city have argued that the privatization of public spaces and the redefinition of the built environment as the object of speculation have led to a privileging of the needs of wealthy investors, for whom shopping malls and luxury hotels matter more than affordable housing and places of recreation (Sassen, 2014). From that perspective, Copenhagen seems to have been a city of speculators, projectors and investors long before we started to speak of neoliberalism: a metropolis thriving on risk, expansion, and even appropriation, of geography and temporality.

From its very beginnings, Copenhagen existed as a market: the place was permanently settled by fishermen and traders, and it developed around the needs of traders and merchants. In the early 17th century, the now famous district of Christianshavn was built by King Christian IV to accommodate a new generation of global merchants who needed modern docks for their ocean-going ships that transported goods between China, India, Africa and Northern Europe. More recently, Copenhagen has become one of Europe’s largest consumers of steel because of the building of Nordhavn, a harbour area that is home to ferry and cruise-ship berths, a container terminal, marina, and industrial companies. With its various harbour areas, canals and inner-city bridges, ‘Merchants’ Harbour’ shows that it was planned from the beginning to enable market-based interactions.

With this in mind, the workshop organizers invite participants to reflect on the ‘situatedness’ and the ‘sitedness’ of markets. It has long been recognized that it is only within specific historical, spatial, cultural and power-mediated contexts that market actors are able to construct, negotiate and contest the meaning of their actions (Aspers, 2011: 40-56; Tucker et al., 2015). But what is it precisely that makes a social situation ‘a market’; what infrastructure – formal and informal – is needed to bring about and stabilize markets; and what kind of new social situations in turn are brought about by those who take part in markets? While papers on all aspects of market-related phenomena, both empirically and conceptually, are welcome, we invite participants to consider the idea more closely that markets exist in the form of concrete situations, zones and sites (Finch and Geiger, 2010). When approaching market situations and situated markets, we also encourage participants to reconsider recent changes in the nature of political language in North America and in Europe, and in particular the continuous production of homelands and strangers in response to the ongoing migration crisis. Finally, 2018 will mark the tenth anniversary of the collapse of Bear Stearns and Lehmann Brothers. This should raise questions as to the contributions of market studies to the analysis of the financial crisis (Mackenzie, 2011). The conveners therefore particularly welcome papers dealing with any of the following three aspects of the situatedness of markets and of market situations:

  1. Language and Imaginations.Market actors need and produce their own genre of concepts, metaphors and rhetoric. Like the term ‘crisis’ (originally denoting a fork in the road), ‘liquidity’, ‘capital’, ‘finance’, and ‘bubble’ are not just economic terms, but also metaphors. We are interested in research that studies the market-building work that economic and managerial concepts are involved in (Chiapello and Gilbert, 2014). What do the changes in the language used by market actors reveal about market-related imaginations, strategies and disappointments (Bakhtin, 1984: 145-195; Tribe, 2015)? This question also points to the fact that markets are not just situated in a concrete site understood as space, but also within the framework of language, that is within word plays, metaphors and allegories.
  2. Strangers and Borders.There exists of course a long-standing debate whether markets need, produce or ameliorate estrangement. According to Max Weber, economic action turns even closest friends into calculating strangers (Weber, 2013: 80-93; Roscoe, 2014). By contrast, Viviana Zelizer and Eva Illouz have argued that even the most intimate relationships are often market-mediated. According to both Zelizer and Illouz, love outside the market would be grey and lifeless (Illouz, 2007; Zelizer, 2007). Following on from that, we are interested to hear about work that studies more closely the kind of borders that markets require and erect; and in turn, what kind borders – physical and metaphorical – do markets undermine, and why and how do they tend to do so.
  3. Time and Fortune. Developing visions and imaginations of future events are key aspects of all economic action (Beckert, 2013). This insight points to the fact that markets also exist in time as a form of context and situation. What’s more, the temporal nature of markets extends from the present into the appropriation of the past (Samman, 2012). Historical projectors and contemporary entrepreneurs enrol future possibilities into present value, employing narratives of possibility (Parker and Hamilton, 2016) and sophisticated accounting techniques (Muniesa et al., 2017) to capitalise on these imaginations. Market time zooms through the material, the technological, rhetorical and the social. We are therefore interested in receiving proposals that employ time as an analytic category.

Our Keynote Speakers

Jens Beckert is Professor of Sociology and Director at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies, Cologne. His research interests include the sociology of illegal markets, wealth and inequality, and the role of imaginaries and narratives in the economy. His most recent book, Imagined Futures: Fictional Expectations and Capitalist Dynamics (Harvard University Press, 2016), received an Honourable Mention for the 2017 Zelizer Award for Best Book in Economic Sociology.

Eve Chiapello is Professor of Sociology at the Centre d’Étude des Mouvements Sociaux at EHESS Paris. Her research examines the phenomenon of the financialisation of our economy and the tools used for said financialisation. She became widely known for her study (with Luc Boltanski) of The new Spirit of Capitalism (2006). Currently, she leads an international research project on financialisation and the fabrication of intangible assets, funded by the Humboldt Foundation in collaboration with the University of Hamburg.

How to Submit

We invite contributors to submit an extended abstract of 2-3 pages (incl. references) to Proposals should indicate topic, theoretical positioning, methodology and outline findings, if appropriate. The deadline for submissions is Monday, January 29, 2018. Inquiries about the workshop can be made to any of the workshop organisers. We will notify contributors about acceptance by early March, and full papers will be due early May.


The Workshop will be organized in collaboration between the Department of Management, Politics and Philosophy (Stefan Schwarzkopf) and the Department of Organization (Trine Pallesen, Christian Frankel, José Ossandón) at Copenhagen Business School. It will take place at the Kilen Building of CBS, right next to the Metro Station ‘Fasanvej’, which is a convenient 20-minutes underground train ride from the airport. For further information see:

Organizing Committee

Lotta Björklund-Larsen, Linköping University (

Alexandre Mallard, Ecole des Mines ParisTech (

Philip Roscoe, University of St Andrews (

Stefan Schwarzkopf, Copenhagen Business School (

Local Arrangements

Stefan Schwarzkopf, Copenhagen Business School (

Trine Pallesen, Copenhagen Business School (

Christian Frankel, Copenhagen Business School (

José Ossandón, Copenhagen Business School (


Guest blogpost by Ekaterina Svetlova, Diane-Laure Arjaliès and Philip Grant

Book by Diane-Laure Arjaliès, Philip Grant, Iain Hardie, Donald MacKenzie and Ekaterina Svetlova (2017), Chains of Finance: How Investment Management is Shaped, Oxford: Oxford University Press,

We may be entering ‘the age of asset management’, suggested the Bank of England’s Director of Financial Stability (now Chief Economist), Andrew Haldane, in an April 2014 speech. Investment management firms control assets equivalent in value to around a year of total global economic output—ca. $100 trillion. Yet the media and academic attention has been focused far more on banking or various types of ‘traders’ than on the investment management industry – despite the large impact of the latter on the economy and society more broadly.

Chains of Finance – How Investment Management is Shaped, published at the Oxford University Press, aims to address this gap. The book explores the inner workings of the industry, shedding light on the known but above all the unknown of investment management practices. The key message of the book is simple: The investment management industry is better understood as a chain of multiple intermediaries linking savers to the companies and governments that issue financial instruments, rather than as an addition of professional groups tied to a specific set of expertise, such as fund managers, securities analysts, and investment consultants. The investment industry today has actually little to do with individual savers choosing which shares or bonds to buy directly. Rather, most of their money flows through the investment chain, an often extensive sequence of interdependent go-betweens.

For example, savers’ decisions are frequently guided by financial advisers and ‘wealth managers’; they may also be influenced in their choices of mutual funds by specialist firms such as Morningstar and Standard & Poor’s that award these funds ratings. Furthermore, most ‘savings’ in fact take the form of contributions to workplace pension funds. These funds, with some variations across jurisdictions, usually have trustees responsible for investing the assets, an activity which they generally delegate to investment managers. Trustees’ decisions about which investment management firms to use are often guided by investment consultants. Following the chain in a different direction, fund managers (and traders in their firms acting on their behalf) need to choose where to execute their orders to buy or sell shares or bonds, and these decisions are strongly affected by fund managers’ relationships with brokers or dealers, in particular to those who work for big investment banks.

Chains of Finance explores how the intermediaries of the investment chain shape each other’s practices, channel the flows of savers’ money, and ultimately form audiences for each other’s performances of financially competent or expert selves. This performance of expertise is all the more important in an industry where performance is everywhere measured by putatively objective numbers, and where it is statistically almost impossible for an investment manager to consistently deliver above market returns—and yet where firms continue to charge clients substantial fees and individual fund managers are generally well remunerated. This generates a situation where links in the chain act as critical observers of others with whom they are linked—consultants and trustees critically observing and measuring fund managers, for example—and at the same time need these same others—trustees generally feel legally obliged to delegate investment management functions to professional firms, and consultants need managers for their own profession to exist.

We thus picture the investment chain as a series of relations that both constrain and enable. We show that investment managers’ decisions cannot properly be understood by focusing simply on a fund manager’s beliefs about particular securities or markets, but are co-shaped by clients, brokers, investment consultants, securities analysts, and even unions and politicians.

Importantly, the arguments and case studies presented in the book are built on ethnographic and auto-ethnographic work in the investment industry spanning several years in four cities (Paris, Zurich, Frankfurt, London) and 451 in-depth interviews with investment management industry employees in those locations as well as Edinburgh, New York, and other places in the US and Canada. Our ethnographic field research allows us to provide a thorough analysis of the asset management industry from a social science perspective and brings insights that could not be obtained by a purely theoretical work.

For example, one part of our study focuses on attempts by a number of links in the chain to pressure the US subsidiary of a French automotive manufacturer to recognize unions at its plants and improve working conditions there. In unprecedented meetings, fund managers, pension fund trustees, representatives of different French unions, French politicians, and US workers came together to try to work out a way to use a shareholding in the car company to bring about meaningful change in line with responsible investment objectives. What ensued, however, was a demonstration of the difficulty of moving the chain due to the constraints intermediaries impose on each other through their relationships. The fund managers would only act on instructions from the clients; the clients, as represented by the pension fund trustees, did not want to do anything that might contradict their legal duties; the politicians were unsure whether they could bring about pressure on an American subsidiary; the unions were focused on getting the best deal for French workers.

In another chapter we show how the investment management division of a Frankfurt bank formed a new ‘quant’ team. Reacting to the external expectations set by clients, investment consultants and competitors, the division’s managers decided they need a new, quantitative, ‘rigorous’, ‘scientific’ approach alongside their existing ‘fundamental’ method. In other words, the establishment of this quantitative department was driven by marketing, precisely because it could help to present the fund managers’ work as more rigorous and scientific. Clients such as pension funds, and the investment consultants who advise them, want to hear about rigour and ‘process’, a theme we came across time and time again in our research.

Elsewhere in the book we demonstrate that the client–fund manager relationship is not a simple principal–agent problem, but a multi-faceted, contextually dependent, malleable matter. Institutional investor clients such as pension funds have the power to set the terms of investment to constrain fund managers. Simultaneously, fund managers can also reshape what their clients imagine their interests to be, influencing their clients to align their goals with those of the managers. Moreover, relationships between clients and fund managers (and also brokers/traders and fund managers) are often characterized by reciprocity, loyalty and even amity, not by control and punishment.

Our analysis of an investment chain comes at a time when the view of financial markets as networks is influential. We do not see this as a rival theory. The chain is, however, a way of thinking about financial markets that helps make clearer the character of the various interactions. The concept of the investment chain also allows a complementary approach to the question of where influence resides within finance. The book shows that power lies in the chain and its multiple influences on investment decisions. Last, the book shows that the chain matters to outcomes in financial markets. These include a range of issues with broad societal consequences. Despite the investment chain’s importance, and its ubiquity in official reports across a variety of concerns with financial market operations, the chain is rarely the subject of explicit academic enquiry. It is even less often the subject of public debate. If a poorly functioning investment chain contributes to lower growth, inequality, poor workers’ rights, and a hotter planet, its functioning should be a matter of urgent academic and political enquiry. This book is a first step towards this direction, one we hope more researchers and practitioners will follow.


Dear colleagues,
If you study financial markets from an OMT perspective, the following EGOS sub-theme may be interesting for you (see below). The submission deadline for short papers is January 8, 2018, see Feel free to contact us if you have any questions.
All the best,
Paula, Emilio and Daniel

Sub-theme 38: Social Studies of Finance: Implications for a Financialized Economy

Paula Jarzabkowski
University of London, United Kingdom
Emilio Marti
University of Oxford, United Kingdom
Daniel Beunza
Copenhagen Business School, Denmark

Call for Papers

Since the 2008 financial crisis, organization theorists have become increasingly interested in the social studies of finance. The social studies of finance use insights from economic sociology and science and technology studies to explore how financial markets are socially constructed through actors, norms, and material devices. Existing research within the social studies of finance has developed a detailed understanding of the inner workings of financial markets. For example, Beunza and Stark (2004) explored the organization of derivatives trading rooms and MacKenzie and Pardo-Guerra (2014) examined the role of trading algorithms.

Scholars within the social studies of finance, however, still need to draw out the implications that their research has for the “big questions” (Jarzabkowski et al., 2015: p. 185) that arise around the financialized economy that has emerged over the last 40 year. We define a financialized economy as an economic system in which financial firms (e.g., banks or hedge funds) play an increasingly important role and non-financial firms increasingly focus on financial markets in their business decisions (Tomaskovic-Devey & Lin, 2011, p. 539). In what follows we outline three avenues for research that link micro-level practices to macro-level implications.

The engagement and valuation practices of shareholders
First, the social studies of finance can contribute important insights on how shareholder engagement creates pressure on corporations. For example, quantitative studies show that active and short-term investors, such as hedge funds, increase the likelihood that companies take shareholder-friendly business decisions (Cobb, 2015). However, we know little about the engagement practices through which shareholders create pressure on corporations. Similarly, quantitative studies document that securities analysts have difficulties in evaluating radical innovations of corporations (Benner, 2010). Such findings raise questions about the valuation practices of market participants that researchers could address by building on research that examines how value is socially constructed (e.g. Helgesson & Muniesa, 2013). Exploring these valuation practices could inform bigger debates about the informational efficiency of financial markets, the emergence of speculative bubbles, or shifts in valuation regimes toward more sustainability. – We thus invite contributions that address questions such as:

  • How do engagement practices vary across different types of investors?
  • How do different engagement practices create pressure on corporations?
  • How does financial regulation (e.g., Sarbanes-Oxley) and self-regulation (e.g., GRI) shape the valuation practices of investors?
How financial products and trading practices mitigate and create risks
Second, the social studies of finance can advance our understanding of risk in financial markets. Today’s financial markets enable investors and companies to mitigate more risks than ever before. For example, investors and companies can now buy financial products linked to the weather, terrorism, or other new “risk objects” (Smets, Jarzabkowski, Burke, & Spee, 2015). However, the increased interlinkage between different asset classes and new financial innovations also creates new risk, such as instances when high-frequency trading leads to so-called “flash crashes” in which stock prices drop substantially within seconds (Marti & Scherer, 2016). That is, secondary risks arise from using financial innovations. – Given these developments, we welcome contributions that address questions such as:
  • How do actors in financial markets create new risk objects?
  • How do companies use financial markets to deal with risks?
  • Do new trading practices or new financial products create new risks?
Investment practices and the growth of the financial sector
Third, the social studies of finance can expand our knowledge of how institutional investors—such as pension funds or mutual funds—invest their money. Existing research within the social studies of finance has focused mostly on the providers of financial services (banks, etc.) and intermediaries (brokers, etc.), while paying less attention to investment practices. Analyzing investment practices could provide a detailed understanding of different types of investors operate. Such an analysis could also help explain why investors in the United States spend more than $500 billion per year on financial services (Bogle, 2008) despite consistent evidence (e.g., French, 2008) that a simple buy-and-hold strategy would generate higher returns for most investors. Understanding why investors pay billions for financial services matters because these fees lead to an ever-growing financial sector. – We therefore invite contributions that address questions such as:
  • How do new investment practices gain legitimacy over time?
  • How do the investment practices of new types of investors – such as sovereign wealth funds or socially responsible investors – differ from established investment practices?
  • Can the social studies of finance help explain the growth of the financial sector?



  • Benner, M.J. (2010): “Securities analysts and incumbent response to radical technological change: Evidence from digital photography and internet telephony.” Organization Science, 21 (1), 42–62.
  • Beunza, D., & Stark, D. (2004): “Tools of the trade: The socio-technology of arbitrage in a Wall Street trading room.” Industrial and Corporate Change, 13 (2), 369–400.
  • Bogle, J.C. (2008): “A question so important that it should be hard to think about anything else.” The Journal of Portfolio Management, 34 (2), 95–102.
  • Cobb, J.A. (2015): “Risky business: The decline of defined benefit pensions and firms’ shifting of retirement risk.” Organization Science, 26 (5), 1332–1350.
  • French, K.R. (2008): “Presidential address: The cost of active investing.” Journal of Finance, 63 (4), 1537–1573.
  • Helgesson, C.-F., & Muniesa, F. (2013): “For what it’s worth: An introduction to valuation studies.” Valuation Studies, 1 (1), 1–10.
  • Jarzabkowski, P., Bednarek, R., & Spee, P. (2015): Making a Market for Acts of God: The Practice of Risk Trading in the Global Reinsurance Industry. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • MacKenzie, D., & Pardo-Guerra, J.P. (2014): “Insurgent capitalism: Island, bricolage and the re-making of finance.” Economy and Society, 43 (2), 153–182.
  • Marti, E., & Scherer, A.G. (2016): “Financial regulation and social welfare: The critical contribution of management theory.”Academy of Management Review, 41 (2), 298–323.
  • Philippon, T., & Reshef, A. (2012): “Wages and human capital in the U.S. finance industry: 1909–2006.” Quarterly Journal of Economics, 127 (4), 1551–1609.
  • Smets, M., Jarzabkowski, P., Burke, G.T., & Spee, P. (2015): “Reinsurance trading in Lloyd’s of London: Balancing conflicting-yet-complementary logics in practice.” Academy of Management Journal, 58 (3), 932–970.
  • Tomaskovic-Devey, D., & Lin, K.H. (2011): “Income dynamics, economic rents, and the financialization of the U.S. economy.”American Sociological Review, 76 (4), 538–559.


Paula Jarzabkowski is a Professor of Strategic Management at Cass Business School, City, University of London, UK. Her research focuses on strategy-as-practice in complex contexts, such as regulated firms, third sector organizations and financial services, particularly insurance and reinsurance. Paula’s research in this regard has been foundational in the establishment of the field of strategy-as-practice. Her work has appeared in a number of leading journals including ‘Academy of Management Journal’, ‘Organization Science’, ‘Strategic Management Journal’, ‘Journal of Management Studies’, and ‘Organization Studies’.
Emilio Marti is currently a visiting scholar at Saïd Business School, University of Oxford, UK, on a scholarship from the Swiss National Science Foundation. He received his PhD from the University of Zurich. His research interests include corporate social responsibility, financial regulation, performativity, and socially responsible investing. Emilo’s work has been published in the ‘Academy of Management Review’ and the ‘Journal of Management Studies’.
Daniel Beunza is an Associate Professor at the Copenhagen Business School (CBS), Denmark. His research in sociology explores the ways in which social relations and technology shape financial value. Specifically, his research focuses on financial analysts, algorithmic trading, and shareholder engagement. His articles have been published in journals such as ‘Industrial and Corporate Change’, ‘Organization Studies’, and ‘Socio-Economic Review’.

CFP: Interpreting and questioning finance as social relationships. Toronto 15-21 July 2018. Deadline 9/30, 24:00 GMT.

Dear Colleagues,

I am organizing a panel of possible interest to readers of this listserv, entitled “Interpreting and questioning finance as social relationships” at the International Sociological Association’s World Congress next summer in Toronto, Canada, 15-21 July 2018 (details below).  This will be one of 23 sessions organized by the Economy & Society research committee (RC02).  Although the conference is next summer, the deadline for submitting abstracts is fast approaching:  September 30, 2017, 24:00 GMT.

You can find Economy & Society’s Call for Abstracts here:

And below is the CFA for “Interpreting and questioning finance as social relationships”

Sociologists frequently understand finance in essentialist terms—as the creation and brokerage of capital.  However, in line with other relational approaches in sociology, numerous scholars have investigated debt, credit, bonds, and other debt-like financial instruments as social relationships.  And of course, equity relationships have long been understood in transactional terms.

Building on sessions at the ISA Forum in Vienna in 2016, this open call for papers seeks theoretically-driven empirical research that investigates finance as social relationships, as well as papers that directly refute this framing.  For example, if financial instruments, products, and services are social relationships, how are they embedded in racial and gender systems, and with what consequences?  If financial products are conceived of as commodity chains—a string of interorganizational relationships stretching across time and space—how is finance racialized and gendered?  Conversely, how is financialization changing racial and gender systems?  More broadly, how does culture, moral beliefs, norms, habit, imitation, strategic behavior, social networks, or social institutions shape ongoing financial relationships?  At the level of organizations, how does viewing debt and equity as relationships alter our understanding of the behavior of households, firms, corporations, municipalities, states, or transnational regions?  At the level of financial instruments and markets, how are bonds, mortgages, and equity products created, marketed, and consumed?  These broad questions are merely indicative of the wide range of research welcome in this panel.

Two types of theoretically-driven empirical papers will be given preference.  First, research that addresses gender and/or racial systems.  Second, research conducted outside of the North Atlantic.

To submit an abstract, go to:

If you have any questions, please contact the organizer:
Aaron Z. Pitluck, Illinois State University,


CFP: Price, value and worth: conceptualizing social practices of (e)valuation. Toronto 15-21 July 2018. Deadline 9/30 24:00 GMT.

We are organizing a panel entitled “Price, value and worth: Conceptualizing social practices of (e)valuation” at the International Sociological Association’s World Congress next summer in Toronto, Canada, 15-21 July 2018 (details below).  This will be one of 13 sessions organized by Research Committee 35 Conceptual and Terminological Analysis, and one of 23 sessions organized by the Economy & Society research committee (RC02).  Although the conference is next summer, the deadline for submitting abstracts is fast approaching:  September 30, 2017, 24:00 GMT.

Price, value & worth: Conceptualizing social practices of (e)valuation

Valuation and evaluation are widespread social practices. Investigating these practices is essential to understanding how social order comes about and changes over time. With the spread of capitalism, (e)valuations have come to be understood primarily in economic terms. And with the spread of neoliberalism and market fundamentalism, governments and organizations are increasingly turning to valuation mechanisms to quantify the worth of people, processes, and outcomes. For example, credit rating agencies evaluate individuals’ creditworthiness, bank stress tests evaluate banks’ stability, and stock markets evaluate corporations’ worth. One of the striking characteristics of such market valuations is that they create commensurations that are interpreted as objective, informed, depersonalized, apolitical and expert. Despite such apparently successful abstracting, a leitmotif in a number of research programs (e.g., the New Economic Sociology, and current reformulations of Critical Theory) is that the economy and social life are not separate spheres with distinctive values and practices. Exploring this productive tension, this joint session of RC02 and RC35 calls for conceptual as well as theoretically-informed empirical papers that investigate the beliefs, values and practices embedded in diverse social practices of (e)valuation and the role and functions of (e)valuations as well as devaluations for the reproduction and development of contemporary society.  We particularly encourage papers that unpack social processes of price formation, valuation, and the assessment of worth.

To submit an abstract, go to:

If you have any questions, please contact either of the organizers:

Aaron Z. Pitluck, Illinois State University,

David Strecker, University of Jena,






For the final installment of this series, we’ve asked Alexandra Lippman, Whitney Trettien, and Jane Guyer, contributors Paid: Tales of Checks Dongles, and Other Money Stuff, to respond to the book as a whole. Lippman’s section includes a link to the playlist she created for the book.


Alexandra Lippman on the Art of Money

Money is the most commonly circulating art form. At the same time, payment objects are unstable and excessive, frequently transforming their status from money to trash to art (and back again). Argentinian artist, Máximo González—who I write about—weaves out-of-print Mexican pesos and discarded scraps of currency into fabrics like The World’s Garbage (2012) and creates collages from out-of-circulation currency into Landscapes with Landfill (2003, 2005) transforming the trash of cash into art (potentially convertible to cash).

Through our repeated handling, however, the art of money stuff becomes unremarkable. U.S. dollars—through their uniform color and dimensions—appear particularly adept at fading into the background. By curating payment objects in Paid: Tales of Dongles, Checks, and Other Money Stuff, Bill Maurer and Lana Swartz take these things out of circulation. Each of the chapters sets a particular type of “money stuff” aside and asks the reader to take a moment with it. The chapters reveal the personal stories, history, memories, and beauty bundled up in diverse objects of payment. We, the readers, must pause to consider the complex ways in which we keep track, tally, make jokes, create art, and remember through objects of payment.

Money stuff also inspires art. While Square may have killed the signature—how can we take our finger-painted “signatures” seriously? —it also gave birth to electronic signature art. When asked for their e-signature, artists, as Bill Maurer relays, instead draw scenes such as “the sun setting a house on fire and people running away and one guy on fire.” Not only are these “signatures” accepted by merchants, but also collected in ‘zines devoted to this new art form. More than 250 years prior, Benjamin Franklin pressed foliage—raspberry leaves, fern fronds—into the printing press to prevent the counterfeiting of bills. Printing from nature—as beautiful and seemingly whimsical as it is hard to replicate——Whitney Trettien suggests, “authenticated the strange materiality of money” (2017:163).

Inspired by Maurer’s and Swartz’ remarkable work editing Paid as if curating an imaginary exhibition of money stuff, I ask what the possibilities for curation are within scholarship. To mark the publication of Paid, I have experimented as a collaborative scholar-selector by curating an unofficial soundtrack to the book. I asked chapter writers to send their favorite songs about money to mix with my own. The playlist [] explores some of the ways in which payment is represented and debated in different genres, time periods, and places. From Horace Andy’s dubby repetition of “Money, money, money is the root of all evil,” to Wu-Tang Clan’s “Cash Rules Everything Around Me,” money stuff inspires music. Not only that, but money—as the sampled clink of coins or whir of bills being counted—becomes music.

Money—or often the idea of if—is also sonified. On YouTube, a two-hour-long track of water bubbling, rain, and whirring, “Sleep Programming for Prosperity-‘Millionaire Mindset’ -Attract Abundance & Wealth While You Sleep!” boasts 2 million hits. Hundreds of other (very popular) tracks promise to attract money to the listener through subliminal binaural beats, hypnosis, or spoken affirmations in various languages. In a very different vein, artist and writer, Jace Clayton, is planning a project to sonify the data of financial markets. Gbadu And The Moirai Index, which will take place on Wall Street, by using an algorithm to translate the financial market’s movements into a musical piece for four voices. Each singer plays a mythological character — the Moirai are Greek goddesses of fate and Gbadu is a Dahomey fate deity, and the performance will reflect on the history and architecture of Lower Manhattan.


Whitney Trettien on Print and Money

I’m a book historian, which tends to raise eyebrows when I say it; but it simply means I study the history of print and other text technologies. I’m particularly interested in the ways people have used reading and writing technologies to create communities.

As part of this research, I think a lot about words like “publication,” “circulation,” and “value.” Publishing simply means to make something public; but who gets to make information public any given time fascinates me. For instance, one of my primary research projects right now addresses a set of cut-and-paste biblical concordances — essentially radically “remixed” collages made from fragments of printed bibles and engravings. They were produced by a group of women at the religious household at Little Gidding in the 1630s and 1640s, a time when women had limited access to traditional print publication. How does one get around the injunctions for Renaissance women to remain chaste, silent, and obedient? If you’re at Little Gidding, you “print” with scissors and paste. This clever book-hack (literally!) has the added bonus of making their concordances into boutique, speciality objects, available only to powerful patrons. Et voila: ideological restrictions have become a strength. It’s not a bug; it’s a feature.

I didn’t think of my work as having much to do with the history of money or finance until working with the editors of Paid and reading the other contributions. Across our various fields, we share an interest in circulation as a social process, and value as contingent on some sense of a public. We also share an interest in the objectness, the brute materiality, of cultural transactions. In my own short chapter, I drew on book historians’ research on nature printing in the eighteenth century to show how trust in colonial currency was tethered to innovations in printing technology — innovations that were not themselves the natural outcome of the history of printing but which in fact happened in tandem with social and financial pressures. I’m thrilled to see this work alongside chapters on dongles and Bitcoin. In this fabulous tangle of interdisciplinary interests lies the future of the humanities, and I’m honored to be a part of it.


Jane Guyer on Trust and Money

Materiality is the central, and inspirational, theme across all these contributions. It provoked me to search into the rich details to explore the socio-spiritual properties imbued into these materials. Not unlike the classic “spirit in the gift”, its hau, the trust in monetary transactions, which lives in these objects, seems to have a life of its own. In God We Trust was first stamped into the American currency, a coin, in 1864, and onto every paper bill after 1956. Does this convey to the users that what we do with cash/money is under the oversight of God? “Trust” also pervades the financial vocabulary: as trust funds and trustworthy partners, whose qualities can also be nuanced from the Old Norse term for confidence, traust, into the Latin-origin fidelity, from fides, for faith. There has been a continual nuancing of these terms and their referents, and here we have material forms that are infused with their qualities. Does a “token of value”, as Maurer and Swartz put it in their Introduction, have a “life” of its own, and, if so, what is understood by this “life”, especially – perhaps now – when “part of their job is to be invisible”? Maurer suggests that signatures evoke “wonder”. Hau, trust, what words now circulate for the inner qualities of money materials? The papers about the past – Graeber, Trettien and others –  and about elsewhere – Urton, Hart and others – invoke, or imply, older, and non-European, terms. The articles about new technologies bring us into a new linguistic world: “ether” (O’Dwyer), the transfer of “trust” to “trust in yourself’ through the cryptocurrencies (Brunton). By ending with a current experience with silver (Brunton), which can take us back to the past, this collection prompts the reader to return to every paper, bringing close attention to the infusion of immaterial qualities into the Money Stuff of the title. The whole book deserves reading with close attention, inviting each reader to enter their own unfolding monetary experiences and perceptions into the collective conversation.


In our first post in this series, we argued that even if cash is disappearing (which it may not be, at least not completely, and at least not any time soon!), it’s important to analyze the stuff of money, its material infrastructures and entailments. In this post, we look at one example. In keeping with our museum catalog concept, we’ve selected an example that is particularly difficult to curate.

The Automated Clearing House (ACH) is the electronic backbone of the payments system in the United States. It is the network that clears and settles transactions between member banks whenever an employer directly deposits a paycheck into an employee’s account, whenever a mortgage payment or utility bill is automatically deducted, or whenever you use PayPal linked to your bank account to make a payment. It is one of the core systems of the payments industry, the vast, vital yet little understood network of government, corporate and nonprofit entities that helps the money move in physical and digital space. In fact, over the past couple of years there’s been a revolution in how the ACH operates, so that payments can move faster, approaching real time settlement. It’s a big deal but something you probably don’t think about every day, if ever.

You can’t “see” the ACH. There are servers and cables and electronic files and file transfer protocols; there are rulebooks and codes. Codes like:

R14 Representative payee deceased or unable to continue in that capacity The representative payee authorized to accept entries on behalf of a beneficiary is either deceased or unable to continue in that capacity


Imagine you are a museum curator from the future. You have been tasked with creating a gallery about this thing called “money” that people used to use to keep track of debts and to pay taxes to support the common welfare through the institutions of the state. You look into the history records and find that this ACH thing was really, really important: accounting for over 80% of the electronic value transferred in the United States in 2016 (Federal Reserve Payments Study 2016).

Now how are you going to curate that?

The Atlanta Federal Reserve has tried to imagine how our future curator would capture the ACH. Off to the side of its main money gallery is its slightly tongue in cheek “Museum From the Future of Money”—you are greeted by a large flat screen on which appears a woman in full body unitard who intones the story of how people in the distant past of the 20th and 21st centuries paid for goods and services using different tools and techniques. Slightly tongue in cheek side. Objects are reverently displayed on black velvet under glass—a coin, a paper check, a credit card… and a laser printed piece of paper illustrating an actual ACH transfer.

This object would normally be a piece of sensitive garbage headed for the shredder. Lost to history forever.

What does its curation inspire?

Fieldwork story: We are at a bar in Las Vegas during Money2020, an annual payments industry conference. We are with a new friend, drinking and debriefing on the day’s presentations of the latest in fintech, developed by financial and payment technology startups as well as the dominant players (Visa, PayPal, but also FirstData, Fiserv and other not-so-household names that operate behind almost all electronic payments). There had been a lot of griping on the day’s panels about the US Federal Reserve’s slowness in embracing fintech, and about the ACH’s slowness in advancing “faster” payments—as close to real-time settlement as possible.

We were getting a little drunk. We asked our new friend:

“The ACH is a) good; b) bad; c) awesome!”

Without missing a beat, she replied: “AWESOME!!”

Why is the ACH so awesome? As we said, it’s the backbone of payments in the US. Almost all new payment systems use it in one way or another. Federally mandated and majority owned by the Fed, it is managed by a consortium of banks and governed by a not for profit association, NACHA (formerly, the National ACH Association).

Is it a public good? It certainly behaves like one. Is it a utility? Hard to say. It’s ubiquitous in the US payments landscape even if it is hidden from view. It’s awesome!

One of our hopes in assembling Paid is to shed light on payment infrastructures, their weirdness, their politics, their awesomeness, in all senses of the word.


At SocFinance we have invited Bill Maurer and Lana Swartz, the authors of Paid, a fascinating book on money published recently, to write a few posts with us. This is the first of three series.

The Coming Cashlessness?

On 16 November 2016, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made the surprise announcement that all 500 and 1000 rupee notes were being demonetized—they would become worthless paper within 30 days and people had a short window of 50 days (it was later shortened) to exchange their existing notes for new ones. The initially stated purpose was to stifle “black money,” corruption and tax evasion. Over the ensuing weeks, however, Modi spoke more and more of ushering in a digital economy, and digital payment platforms saw a brief uptick in demand for point-of-sale devices.

Modi’s move is one example of a growing anti-cash consensus, based on the idea that cash is linked to crime, terrorist financing, money laundering and the like. The Better Than Cash Alliance is a consortium of governments, nonprofits, philanthropic organizations, and corporations all united in the goal of moving the world away from physical cash and coin and toward digital payments. Sweden, ever the vanguard of modernism, is, we’re told, well on its way to a cashless society.


CAPTION: The Better Than Cash Alliance argues that by moving away from cash, we can offer greater financial inclusion to millions.

Is Cash Still King?

Of course, many readers of this blog already live in a near-cashless state. Our paychecks are automatically deposited; we use credit and debit cards at brick and mortar stores; we shop online with PayPal or send money to friends using Venmo. When we need cash, we have to go to an ATM and get it. Cash is not just there waiting for us to use it the way it might have been when our mothers or grandmothers went to the bank every month to take out a huge wad of bills that they stored in envelopes in the kitchen cabinet next to the flour jar.

But is cash actually going away? Maybe, but probably not completely, and certainly not anytime soon. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco’s Cash Product Office, cash continues to be the most frequently used payment instrument for American consumers. This is true across a variety of contexts, but especially small value payments.

Consider another 20th century digitization dream: “the paperless office.” Many of us work in “paper light” offices, but rare is a workplace with no printers, no filing cabinets, no signs reminding us that the communal fridge will be cleaned out on Friday. A character in Jim Butcher’s 2010 novel Changes compared the paperless office to Bigfoot, “Someone says he knows someone who saw him, but you don’t ever actually see him yourself.”  Cash, like many paper technologies, will likely linger.

And yet we are seeing an explosion of innovation in the money technology of everyday life. Since 2012, according to the Fed, cash’s share of transactions in 2015 dropped from 40% to 32%. According to that same Fed data, preference for cash as a primary form of payment is declining across all age groups. In our research and from our students, we are always hearing about the fascinating—sometimes terrifying ways—that person-to-person payment apps like Venmo are shaping friendships and romances. Cashless need not be total to have an impact on our everyday lives.

Cash and Stuff

With all this talk of cashlessness, we’re often asked about the “dematerialization” of money. What will it be like when all transactions are “frictionless”?

But where others may see dematerialization, we see all sorts of new stuff. The world of digital payments depends on vast and variegated infrastructures, many interacting agencies and entities, and material stuff in the form of cables, wires, microchips, servers, air conditioners, boxes of all shapes and sizes full of circuitry, magnets, camera lenses, light-emitting crystals and plasmas, glass, metal and precious elements.

What are the cultural meanings and politics of these new technologies? How do they map onto existing social problems and opportunities? How do they create news ones?

Witness, for example, this image that circulated on Twitter the aftermath of Modi’s demonetization. Of course, a mobile money system would be happy to see paper bills pulled out of circulation. Does it matter that a private company was now doing the work that cash—a public infrastructure produced by the government—has long performed?

In Paid: Tales of Dongles, Checks, and Other Money Stuff, we asked scholars across fields, journalists, practitioners, and other folks interested in the future (and past!) of money to consider the meaning and politics of money stuff. Each chapter is robustly illustrated, like a museum catalog—indeed, the impetus was to imagine a catalog for an exhibition that never took place. We imagined a book about objects that, in their time, might have been considered trivial or trash, things that, once their network had died or their internal gizmos had worn out or their empire collapsed, would have gone to the dust heap of history. Not like the traditional objects of numismatics—gold and silver coins, hoarded, collected, and counterfeited for millennia. But physical things like the magnetic stripe credit card; digital things like the cryptocurrency Dogecoin; ephemeral things like the signature. The e-waste of money. Thinking about money stuff also opened the door to objects you might actually find in a museum, because money stuff is so often about record keeping and accounting. So, you will find point-of-sale devices alongside Inkan khipu, throw-away receipts next to Ben Franklin’s banknotes. This collision of objects creates a wonder cabinet: rather than sparking insight into Creation, we hope it sparks conversations about value, transactions, and transience—even the transience of the dream of a cashless society.