Good news! The LSE is launching a new executive summer course in the sociology of finance. 

The course, titled “Culture, Networks and Performance,” is a first of its kind. For the first time, an academic program is putting to use the award-winning concepts of the sociology of financemarket devices, embeddedness, performativity— to give professionals in finance an advantage in trading, banking or risk management. 

This course is premised on one simple idea: that there is a new and distinctive way to think sociologically about financial markets. Different from orthodox economics and its emphasis on rational choice. Different as well from behavioral finance and its focus on individuals and mistakes (or “biases”). The sociology of finance incorporates technology like formulae and machines in our understanding of markets. It conceptualizes markets as controversies, where there is often no right and wrong. It explains why management, culture, practice, are critically important to the calculative processes of a bank. And it provides a balanced take on markets – in between the “markets always get it right” approach from economics, and the “this is how people get it wrong” from behavioral finance.  

Participants can expect to:

  • Understand the relational aspects of finance
  • Acquire skills to manage the culture of financial firms
  • Understand the impact of technology on financial markets
  • Discover the limits of economic and financial models 
  • Explore the ways in which by financial communication shapes value

The course is organized by Nina Andreeva and myself. But the instructors will include a broad set of heavyweights from the LSE, including Michael Power (LSE Accounting), Paul Willman (LSE Management), Jean Pierre Zigrand (LSE Finance) and Juan Pablo Pardo-Guerra (LSE Sociology).

For more information, dates and a longer description, see here. And for even more information, just drop me a line at d.beunza@lse.ac.uk

Before we delve any further into this exchange, I think it is important to make our question explicit: The question I had originally raised was not about whether our work on finance is or is not political .  As Yuval points out, micro-scholarship movements such as ethnomethodology (literally the methods of the people) were inherently political. By extending the definition of what should be considered political to every day practices, 1960’s micro-scholarship sought to remove politics from big (state) institutions and re-conceive of it as a distributed property happening everywhere (the personal is political). These statements were simultaneously descriptive (shifting the object of study) and performative (intended to be a persuasive argument for the greater inclusion of more groups into formal political processes).

Laboratory studies like trading floor studies adopted the ethnomethodological position to politicize esoteric spaces: scientists and traders are people doing situated and contingent work: their work involves messy politicking. The charge of elitism towards lab studies and trading floor studies is really quite misplaced, for this work puts expert and non-expert groups on par. These studies make it possible to treat a group of say, laboring migrants, with the same analytic tools as Nobel prize winning bio-chemists. So why don’t we talk more with scholars of laboring migrants? Because ironically, many scholars of non-elite groups do not appreciate the equalizing effects of a micro-politics for everyone when pushed to its logical conclusion. When everyone is symmetrically engaged in meaningful practice and politics the traditional basis for critique drops out the bottom.

Exploring the similarities of how the trader uses the spread plot just as migrants might use cell phones to creatively assemble new forms of opportunity is distinctly distasteful to many of our colleagues. When talking about how these groups relate to one another in the world, they shift gears, preferring to talk abstractly about how ‘our’ traders are participants in a global capitalism that suppresses ‘their’ laboring migrants. And they sincerely wonder why we don’t do the same. I have to say, although I don’t find that form of argument particularly useful, I increasingly have sympathy for the question – for the desire to understand how the micro-activities of some groups seem to spill out as a force onto those of others. Not just how, say, one scientific group trounces another in the race to sequence the genome, but how genomic research might produce a forms of commercially developed HIV treatment whose application are unaffordable for the vast majority of people.

That micro-studies are political – because they certainly are – no longer seems to be enough. The question is: To what extent are these studies up to the task of answering other types of questions. Are we able to open up our finance oriented research program to include global questions of inequality and disparity in global resource provisioning and allocation? Are we able to show how these are not the problems of imperfect (financial) markets but to precisely trace how these are the very properties of extant market systems? Instead of ideologically condemning market systems as, on the one hand, impossible fictions, or, on the other, naked exercises of power, the idea is to ask a micro-empirical question about how these systems have been developed technically to produce the specific geo-political situations we know today. 

It seems to me there are other politics and other political questions to the ones that have been tackled.  I definitely do think our methodological approaches are elastic enough to examine a broader range of questions. But this will require active ‘translation’ and an adaptation to new data, and new kinds of research sites. These are not problems that can be inductively solved base on the research that has already been done…

Thanks for engaging in this conversation, Yuval.