Enacting Dismal Science is the new collection on performativity, edited by Ivan Boldyrev and my colleague at Leicester, Ekaterina Svetlova.
With contributions on behavioral economics experiments, naturalism in economics, game theory, incentives, description as a moral problem, hydraulic governability in postwar Keynesianism, institutions, and much more.
Philip Roscoe of this very blog is among the authors.
Table of Contents:
October 5, 2016
Call for Abstracts
Financialization and Beyond: Debt, Money, Wealth, and the Capture of Value
April 6-8, 2017, University of Iowa, Iowa City, USA. Abstracts due December 1, 2016.
Finance is hard to escape. In recent years, the increasing social impact and interconnection of ﬁnancial discourses, markets, actors, and institutions have been understood under the broad concept of financialization. Natascha van der Zwan identifies three distinct research streams that have approached financialization as 1) a regime of accumulation, 2) the influence of financial markets and instruments on non-financial corporations as well as the banking and finance industry, and 3) a discourse of risk-taking, self-management and self-fulfillment that is transforming people into investing subjects. Some anthropological skeptics, however, argue that finance has a far longer genealogy than the financialization literature has to date recognized. For example, in the context of a lengthy human history of creating hierarchy, financialization may simply be a new technology serving an old purpose.
On behalf of the Society for Economic Anthropology, and in co-sponsorship with the International Sociological Association’s Economy and Society Research Committee, we aim to put in dialogue divergent visions of what constitutes finance and financialization, and how finance and financialization impact our societies. The program committee especially welcomes scholarship from anthropologists (in all sub-fields), sociologists, scholars in the social studies of finance, and other social scientists who do not necessarily self-identify as financialization scholars, but whose work provides comparative, historical, ethnographic, or quantitative insights into the workings of finance and financialization.
As an initial organizing tool we have divided areas of potential contributions into three categories of inquiry. These are not exclusive categories and we welcome contributions that don’t readily fit in what we outline.
- Finance predates capitalism. Therefore, what are relevant cross-cultural, historical, and archaeological cases which help illuminate our current moment?
- Tracing who owes what to whom is as old as the discipline of anthropology. Do new financial instruments such as credit default swaps share forms and logics with older kinds of reciprocities?
- Are the new instruments of finance comparable to those found in the cultural and archaeological record, and especially to other forms of debt?
- Numerous scholars have argued that financialization is creating new subjects and selfhoods, accompanied by a shift of risk from states to households. What are the material objects, spaces, and infrastructures that translate financial abstraction into new ways of understanding personhood?
Wealth, Money, and Financial Instruments
- Does financialization alter our comprehension of what kind of social organization goes with what type of wealth—a leitmotif in the comparative study of human societies, particularly since the rise of agriculture?
- How can we interpret potentially novel forms of financial innovation, such as Islamic finance and banking?
- How do ideologies such as shareholder value or social finance transform economic practices?
- How do non-elites use new forms of money (such as phone cards, paypal, gift cards, local currencies) to alter hierarchies or seek alternative forms of wealth accumulation? How and with what consequences are elites transforming money’s materiality?
Depoliticization and the Capture of Value
- Many have noted that financialization promotes a depoliticizing process, in which state services, formerly held accountable to government, are now being replaced by private markets. How do these processes compare to other instances of political drift and shift that have come with new modes of abstraction?
- How is finance racializing and gendering?Where can we observe moments of openness, where finance can be emancipatory?
- What kind of ethics, politics, and social goals do financial elites envision? How do these compare to those brought into being by classes that dominate the wealth and financial systems in different cultural or economic contexts? What new forms of informality are promoted by financialization?
- The supply chains of financial products connect different places and political projects across the globe. How do such financial instruments transform social life?
We request abstracts for both papers and posters on these topics. Please indicate whether your abstract is for a paper, a poster or either. Proposed papers must pertain to the meeting theme. SEA also welcomes poster abstracts on any aspect of economic anthropology.
The Society for Economic Anthropology publishes Economic Anthropology, a peer reviewed journal published electronically via the American Anthropological Association (AAA). Each year Economic Anthropology dedicates one of its two issues to the theme of the SEA meeting. A special issue on financialization will be developed from select conference presentations.
How to submit an abstract
Abstract deadline is December 1, 2016.
Abstracts of proposed papers and posters should be no more than 500 words. Abstracts are advised to include the following information: problem statement or theoretical frame, methodology, findings, and implications. If you submit a paper abstract, please indicate your willingness to present a poster if the organizers are unable to accommodate your paper in the plenary sessions. Poster sessions at SEA are taken very seriously, and most conference participants attend these sessions. In order to be considered for inclusion in the journal issue tied to this theme, please plan to have a complete, publishable-quality version of your paper ready at the time of the conference. Additional information for potential authors will follow.
To submit an abstract, you must first register for the conference through the AAA. At the moment, the registration site is not yet available on the AAA web site. SEA is working with AAA to get the registration site up; this will occur shortly.
- Go to americananthro.organd log in. If you don’t have a login id and password, create one (you do not need to join the American Anthropological Association).
- Once you are logged in, look to the left hand column, click on Meeting registration.
- Click on register under the SEA 2017 Annual Meeting then follow online prompts to register for the meeting (if we do not accept your abstract and you decide not to attend, you may request that your registration fee be refunded and we would be happy to do so).
- Once you are registered, AAA will automatically send you an email inviting you to submit an abstract. Click the link and follow the instructions.
September 26, 2016
University of Edinburgh, 4-5 May 2017
This international meeting will focus on a set of important, related issues:
- The role of intermediaries in financial markets.There are increasingly lengthy chains of intermediation between savers and the end-users of their savings, and a plausible hypothesis (to be explored at the meeting) is that intermediaries’ situations in those chains strongly shape what they do and the influence they have. Also of interest is the sheer cost of intermediation, highlighted by the recent findings by Thomas Philippon and Guillaume Bazot that the unit cost of financial intermediation has not declined (in the US since 1886, in Europe since 1950), despite the huge advances in finance’s key technology, computing.
- How market participants estimate the economic worth of the financial instruments that they trade.Valorisation and evaluation have become major topics in recent economic sociology and related fields, and at this meeting we will explore how this exciting new literature can best be extended to understand evaluation in finance.
- Machines as mediators or intermediaries within financial markets.For example, in many markets, most trades now pass through the ‘hands’ of machines, and there is now, for instance, a growing literature on high-frequency trading (HFT). How do machines perform their roles as mediators/intermediaries? How, for example, do HFT algorithms evaluate the financial instruments that they trade?
The meeting will be held in Edinburgh’s George Square, much of it in the top floor of the Chrystal Macmillan Building, with its panoramic views over the Pentland Hills and Edinburgh Castle. The meeting will open with a keynote address by the economist and financial commentator John Kay, author (for example) of Other People’s Money: Masters of the Universe or Servants of the People? (London: Profile, 2015). Keynotes on the second day will be given by Ann-Christina Lange (Copenhagen Business School) and Gregory Jackson (Free University of Berlin).
We encourage submissions on any of the above three topics, especially from early-career scholars (modest funds will be available to provide partial support for travel expenses for those who have no other source of funding). Although we welcome submissions from economists with sociological or political science interests, the meeting will primarily be focused on ‘social studies of finance’, the application to financial markets of wider social-science disciplines such as anthropology, gender studies, human geography, political economy, politics, science and technology studies and sociology.
Please send a summary (in no more than 300 words) of your intended contribution to the meeting organisers, Arjen van der Heide and Julius Kob (email@example.com; J.J.Kob@ed.ac.uk) by 15th December 2016. Say which of the meeting’s themes your paper will inform, and if it is an empirical paper please also make clear what material it is based on. Selection of papers will be by a little scientific committee (Lange, Jackson, Iain Hardie, Donald MacKenzie).
Financial support for this meeting comes from the European Research Council project EPIFM (Evaluation Practices in Financial Markets, GA291733).
September 13, 2016
With the SEC’s recent approval of the Investors Exchange (IEX), a new national securities exchange has been added to the US financial-markets landscape. IEX is the first exchange to openly challenge the rise of automated, high-frequency trading (HFT), where computer algorithms buy and sell within seconds, and without any direct human intervention. Over the past decade, HFT has gained a foothold as a significant trading mechanism, and HFT firms are now estimated to be behind over half of the trading volume in U.S. equity markets. But like every hi-tech innovation intended to supplant human actors, HFT has triggered a fierce debate between its proponents and adversaries.
HFT’s proponents see it as a much welcomed rationalization of financial markets. HFT will take the emotional urges out of human traders. It is touted as being a cooler, more rational approach to trading. Indeed, HFT’s champions proudly claim that it will finally put an end to the human emotionality of financial markets. Critics of HFT, however, highlight the unfair advantage it gives fast market participants. HFT is also seen as a kind of techno nightmare where the wrong algorithm could cause new types of market crashes. Critics often cite the so-called Flash Crash of May 6th 2010, in which trading algorithms produced a dramatic drop on US markets until trading was suspended. Should investors welcome the entry of high frequency trading? Who benefits? And who shoulders the risks?
Part of the confusion lies in the lack of transparency in the HFT industry. Surprisingly little is known about the people who develop, program, and deploy these superfast algorithms. The industry is intensely secretive, and high-frequency traders prefer to operate under the radar of public scrutiny. This is understandable: in a field where the competitive edge of a new trading algorithm can rapidly dissolve if others copy it, who would want to disclose the source of their profitable trading? The problem, though, is that the lack of knowledge about what these traders are actually doing can easily lead to an overemphasis on the more spectacular aspects of HFT, whether it be its alleged crash-prone nature or the ostensible transformation of financial markets into an elite of HFT firms dominating an underclass of exploited non-HFTs. Of course, avoiding financial crashes is in everyone’s interest, and we also need to prevent any unfair or illegal market practices. However, we can only do this by truly understanding how HFT works and what it does.
In order to better understand HFT, and to provide a more complete picture of this new reality of financial markets, we have spent the past few years studying high-frequency traders and their work in especially Chicago and New York. Doing research among the HFT tribe is challenging, not only because of its secretive nature, but also because the field is rapidly changing. Despite these challenges, we have been able to gather some valuable insights into the world of algorithmic finance – some of which we discuss in a new article entitled ‘High-frequency trader subjectivity: emotional attachment and discipline in an era of algorithms’, just published in Socio-Economic Review.
In our research, we focused on HFT as a workshop where traders and programmers develop, test, monitor, refine, and deploy their trading algorithms. Despite their project to take the human emotions out of trading, our research reveals a complex relationship between rational-scientific analysis and emotional commitments. Successful traders are those who can navigate this relationship between the algorithmic and the emotion.
The emotionality of HFT is revealed in the way traders become attached to their algorithms. Similar to many other types of work, high-frequency traders invest a lot of themselves in their algorithms. It is not uncommon for traders to describe their algorithms as extensions of themselves, as babies in need of constant care and attention. As a result, traders are inclined to let their algorithms run longer than is strictly rational – in the hope that, while seemingly ‘misbehaving’, their ‘babies’ will eventually straighten up and yield the expected profits. Traders’ emotional attachment to their algorithms is in stark contrast to HFT’s own self-understanding as a means of avoiding the dreaded ‘emotional interference’ in financial markets. However, our research has shown that human emotions do not disappear with HFT. Rather, high-frequency traders deal with their emotionality in novel ways.
One way is to emphasize a strictly scientific ethos, seeing themselves as researchers in a discovery process rather than ordinary traders with yet another new magic bullet (several of our interviewees have PhDs in physics, computer science, engineering, etc.). This emphasis on the scientific approach entails an emphasis on the need to be able to explain profit and losses. Our traders are not afraid of losses. Rather, they accept losses if they are explainable. Likewise, high-frequency traders are not content with random profits; they only want the kind of profits that follow strictly from their algorithmic strategies.
The scientific ethos of high-frequency traders is also revealed in their continual back-testing of algorithmic strategies against historical market data. The challenge they face here is not only to demonstrate that a particular algorithmic strategy was viable in a historical market data. It is to ascertain whether future market situations adequately reflect the past ones on which the strategy was tested, giving rise to what they refer to as the ‘Heisenberg uncertainty principle in finance’. It seems that intuition and a (humanly emotional) feel for the market are required in such circumstances, which contrasts with the high-frequency traders’ faith that algorithmic trading is purely rational.
Like all traders, high-frequency traders must deal with the scale and risk of their investments. If an algorithm proves successful, traders, and especially their managers, will often be inclined to put more money behind it. But traders realize that such scaling up increases risk exponentially. Consequently, and testifying to the continuing role of human emotions in finance, several of our interviewees cautioned against being too euphoric about profitable algorithmic strategies; like all successful market actors, they balanced their risk-taking by advising careful and incremental steps forward.
While the SEC was carrying out its approval process of IEX over the past several months, Ernst and Young, one of the world’s largest financial service firms, has been running an advertising campaign with the slogan ‘How human is your algorithm?’ We can answer in the words of the German philosopher Nietzsche: ‘Human, all too human’. While high-frequency traders strive to develop algorithms that appear scientific and rational, purged of human emotion, the daily work of high-frequency traders has more in common with Nietzsche’s dictum than with a computer program. HFT is also High-Feelings Trading.
August 24, 2016
In the previous post, Suhaib Riaz posed an important question, “how critically aware are we that finance is also on a mission to socialize us?” The post demonstrates an earnest effort at self-reflection. Such efforts are not nearly as common as one (I) would hope or expect from our various institutions of knowledge.
I come to social studies of finance by way of science and technology studies/ science and technology policy. I study the science and politics of insurance ratemaking including, the role of technological experts in the decision making process. So, truth be told, I am more familiar with policy scholars and climate scientists than the relevant scholars in organizational studies and management. But I generally learn quickly and I have found that a select few have made a journey similar to mine.
After reading Riaz’s post, I commented.
I likened the concerns expressed in the post to those regarding the politicization of science. As I have watched such politicization unfold and the impacts it has on society’s ability to cope and ameliorate its problems, I responded to Riaz’s post by urging collaboration and continuous self-reflection.
Just after my comment, as I was going through emails at the time, I learned that a notable American science policy scholar, Dan Sarewitz, published an eloquent essay geared towards ‘Saving Science’… mostly from itself. His work, indeed much of his work, aims to lift the veil from science by encouraging scientists and non-scientists to more critically consider the production of science and technology in the context of societal needs, hopes and fears.
I thought more deeply about Riaz’s concern.
Science, much like finance, has benefited and suffered from the myth that ‘unfettered’ production inevitably leads to societal benefit. In this way, one only needs to be armed with curiosity and all that results will be glorious.
A free scientific enterprise is a myth because it simply isn’t so, at least not anytime remotely recent. Government steps in often to offer a hand and establish rules of the playing field. Technology gives science applicability and in turn, drives certain areas of knowledge over others. In a myriad of ways, we see that societal benefit is not inevitable. Advancements in science and technology have resulted in new risks, severe inequalities, and challenges to our sense of morality.
Yet the myth acts to demarcate the boundary between society and scientists and insulate the institution of science from the critical lens of accountability. I dare say the myth has served economics and finance in much the same way.
When scientists believe their work occurs separate from the rest of everyone they have no choice but to be self-serving. I have met countless scientists who believe their work is not about politics. But, their scientific efforts support their worldview and their worldview supports their scientific efforts. In either direction the nexus is politics because the justification for inquiry is based on personal visions of what ought to be. There is always politics. I think that is ok. But one has to be aware of it, check in with the rest of society to see how it’s going and honestly consider the role one play’s in guiding the fate of others.
There is much for social studies of finance scholars to glean from the existing science policy literature from both sides of the Atlantic.
In the closing of his essay, Sarewitz notes the “tragic irony” of long standing efforts by the scientific community to shield itself from accountability to ideas and curiosities beyond itself thereby, resulting in a stagnant enterprise detached from the society it claims to serve. As a means forward, he encourages improved engagement between science and the “real world” as a means to stir innovation, advance social welfare, and temper ideology.
The same suggestion can be made to the world of finance and its growing cadre of prodding social scientists.
To be held on 3-4 November 2016 at City University London, UK
Recent years have seen a growth in innovative research on finance across the humanities and social sciences. Following on from the success of the ‘social studies of finance’ approach and the new literature on ‘financialisation’, scholars are taking up the challenge of theorising money and finance beyond the conceptual constraints of orthodox economic theory, with different research agendas emerging under various new monikers. This two-day conference aims to bring these approaches into closer dialogue. In particular, it seeks to identify new synergies between heterodox political economy and various sociological, historical, and philosophical perspectives on the intersections of finance and society.
The conference is organised by the journal Finance and Society (with support from the Department of International Politics at City University London), together with the Social Studies of Finance Network at the University of Sydney (with support from the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, University of Sydney).
Money, utopia, and dystopia – Nigel Dodd (London School of Economics)
Pricing the future – Elena Esposito (University of Modena-Reggio Emilia)
Financialisation and its discontents – Perry Mehrling (Columbia University)
Financial innovation and the meaninglessness of money – Anastasia Nesvetailova (City University London)
Finance and social theory
Lisa Adkins (University of Newcastle Australia)
Melinda Cooper (University of Sydney)
Yuval Millo (University of Leicester)
Finance and political economy
Dick Bryan (University of Sydney)
Marieke de Goede (University of Amsterdam)
Ronen Palan (City University London)
Themes on which we encourage contributions include
Money and/beyond language;
Performativity and affect in finance;
Finance and social theory;
Engaging orthodox economics and finance theory;
Central banking and shadow banking;
Historicity and futurity;
Gifts and debts;
Financial crises, past and present;
Finance and neoliberalism;
The politics of finance.
Contributions are invited in two formats
Papers; abstract of up to 300 words
Panels; panel proposal plus paper abstracts
Please submit abstracts and proposals by 8 August 2016 to both Amin Samman (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Martijn Konings (email@example.com).
The conference organisers aim to publish a selection of the papers as special issues in Finance and Society and other prominent peer-reviewed journals. Participants who would like to be considered for these should aim to submit a draft of an original paper by 1 October 2016.
We have limited funding, with priority given to graduate students. Please indicate in your email if you want to be considered for this.