B&B: Economics Nobel fools you // Moral limits, market, and science // Standardization of consumption // Capitalism cannot reform itself // Racial wealth gap // On the origin of cooperation

Economics is not a science> Glorifying economists, Nobel Prize aims to create the impression that economics is about discovering timeless truths. Don’t let them fool you — urges Joris Luyendijk

> Religious traditions toward capitalism impact scientists’ attitudes toward the commercialization of science — by Jared L. Peifer

Standardization of consumption and the senses: How cellophane changed the way we shop and buy food — by Carmen Nobel

Through trade and its norms and institutions that stabilized it, cooperative interactions between nonrelatives became possible on huge scales — by Kevin N. Laland

> “Today I have reached my conclusion,” wrote W. E. B. Du Bois in 1961, “Capitalism cannot reform itself; it is doomed to self-destruction. No universal selfishness can bring social good to all.” On W. E. B. Du Bois’ Revolutions — by Phillip Luke Sinitiere

The color of money and the racial wealth gap: the myths of the “Free Market” failed and fail black communities — a 7 min podcast with Mehrsa Baradaran

It was the failure of the imperial monetary system, not the Opium Wars, that brought China low in the 19th century — argues Werner Burger 

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The IMF’s Reconstruction of Economic Orthodoxy since the Crash

by Ben Clift*

Analysing how the International Monetary Fund (IMF) contributes to prevailing understandings of sound economic policy reveals how economic orthodoxy is historically contingent, and throws into relief the malleability of economic policy credibility. These indirect IMF attempts to exercise power are important yet understudied. Fund views evolve through a complex and political process which can be best understood by grasping the organisational and sociological dynamics of the Fund’s internal workings and its hierarchical structure. My new book The IMF and the Politics of Austerity in the Wake of the Global Financial Crisis IMF and the Politics of Austerity in the Wake of the Global Financial Crisis(Oxford University Press, 2018) delineates how the IMF uses its knowledge bank, expertise and mandate for surveillance and coordination to act as a global arbiter of legitimate policy. It finds that which economic ideas are drawn on by the IMF, and how, to inform and underpin their economic policy analysis and recommendation has important implications for governments’ economic policy space.
Those who can make authoritative knowledge claims, such as the Fund, enjoy a privileged position within the intersubjective process of constructing economic rectitude. Indeed, the IMF has long been in the business of developing and corroborating a prescriptive discourse regarding appropriate (and more importantly inappropriate) economic policy. My research analyses how the IMF’s approach to fiscal policy has evolved since 2008, and the role played by the IMF in shaping advanced economy policy responses to the global financial crisis and the Eurozone crisis. As such it makes a novel contribution to understandings of the Fund’s role within the politics of austerity.
The book is interested in the politics of austerity, and one of its central aims is to explore the assumptive foundations underpinning economic policy positions of the Fund and others since the crash. It reveals in novel depth how the premises of Fund economic policy thinking have been revisited by key Fund figures including Managing Directors and the Chief Economist– often incorporating somewhat unconventional elements from within the Fund’s repertoire of economic thinking. There has been a notable rehabilitation of Keynesian insights, economic ideas which have long been accreted into IMF thinking and practice.
The approach taken in the book pulls back the veil on the politics of economic ideas both within the IMF and in the IMF’s interactions with major advanced economy governments. It combines in-depth content analysis of the Fund‘s vast intellectual production with searching interviews with a wide range of key Fund economists and senior management involved in the development and advocacy of Fund fiscal policy recommendations. Integrating close textual analysis with extensive interviews, it comes close to inhabiting the “lived in” space of IMF debates.
In doing so, it reveals the repertoire of IMF economic ideas, accreted into its practice over many decades, to be broader than generally appreciated. Fund economists see themselves as non-doctrinaire, pragmatic policy economists – drawing a broad array on ideas and schools of thought (from the Keynesian and New Keynesian to the decidedly anti-KeynesianReal Business Cycle’ theory arising out of New Classical Economics) according to the policy context and economic conjuncture. One striking finding is the broad range of policy ideas and positions the IMF has both advocated and reconciled to (New Consensus) mainstream economics. For this reason, understanding Fund ideational evolution as paradigm change has limited explanatory value.
The book substantially revises our understanding of the IMF’s economic policy thinking and its effects on the room to manoeuvre enjoyed by governments. The IMF is not beholden to an outmoded ideology in the Washington Consensus, nor is it simply applying a one-sized fits all Neo-Classical model to macroeconomic policy debates. Rather, the Fund is engaged in pragmatic and reflexive processes of what John Campbell callsbricolage’, its ideas evolving to retain relevance to and ‘traction’ within pressing economic policy debates.
The analysis opens the ‘black box’ of internal Fund debates and practices, and situates these within internal IMF power relations to develop a novel theory of ideational change in international organisations. This delineates institutionally mediated cognitive filters – such as the Fund’s scientific and technocratic culture and its existing body of economic policy knowledge – as a precursor to specifying mechanisms of change. It highlights how these cognitive filters shape how actors make sense of their environment and their role as pragmatic policy economists. These theoretical underpinnings of the book enable it to unearth how a reflexive Fund sees itself as increasingly ‘open-minded’ and keen to learn lessons and correct short-comings of past crisis responses. Establishing the conditions of ideational evolution through mechanisms of change helps explain how prevailing economic ideas within the IMF can and do change. It also accounts for which economic ideas prevail and why.
Another theme of the book is that economic ideas, even when espoused by technocratic and self-avowedly ‘scientific’ institutions like the IMF, are always rooted in understandings of the principles of political economy – normatively-informed views of how the economy and policy work. These relate to crucial issues such as the nature, propensities and appropriate roles of state and markets, and what economic policy can and should do. It comes down taking a position on a spectrum of views about how far the market, left to its own devices, will likely deliver the most efficient outcomes, and to what extent (and under what conditions) public power should intervene to improve the growth and economic stability.
It is, broadly speaking, the same ideological debate which pitched Keynes against neo-classical economic orthodoxy in the 1930s. This underlines the political role played by the Fund in its efforts seeking to shape economic policy conduct in selecting and foregrounding particular economic ideas and insights. As noted above, economic orthodoxies and conventional wisdoms are built upon contingent social constructions of economic assumptions.
Another contribution of the book is to provide a framework for understanding the successes and failures of IMF efforts to wield influence. Fund actors were motivated by a desire to be on the ‘right side of history’ and to counter what they saw as the mistaken premises of austerity. Had their counsel been heeded more closely, the ‘Great Recession’ may not have been so prolonged or deep. Yet the IMF was limited in its ability to gain ‘traction’ amongst policy-makers, and induce changes to policy settings of governments. This led to policy approaches, in the Fund’s view, overly focused on debt and deficit reduction to the detriment of economic stabilisation, growth, and equity.
Ben Clift is Professor of Political Economy and Deputy Head of the Department of Politics and International Studies at the University or Warwick, UK. His wider research interests lie in comparative and international political economy, and he has published widely in leading politics and political economy journals on the IMF, French and comparative capitalisms, the politics of economic ideas, economic policy autonomy, and the British and French politics of austerity.

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Free to Choose: Hayek’s Road to Fascism

Friedrich Hayek – one of the protagonists and scholastic machinists of Neoliberalism, quite clearly positioned himself in regard to the following subject matter:

No doubt an American or English “Fascist” system would greatly differ from the Italian or German models; no doubt, if the transition were effected without violence, we might expect to get a better type of leaderAnd, if I had to live under a Fascist system, I have no doubt that I would rather live under one run by Englishmen or Americans than under one run by anyone else. Yet all this does not mean that, judged on our present standards, our Fascist system would in the end prove so very different or much less intolerable than its prototypes.” (von Hayek, Friedrich. 2001. The Road to Serfdom. Routledge. P. 139)

hayek neoliberalism fascism

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Great academic opportunities: 12 calls for papers, 3 jobs, 2 summer schools, PhD stipend, a postdoc, a grant, an award

Dear ES/PE community member, see below a list of great call for papersacademic opportunities: 12 calls for papers for conferences and workshops (some are fully or partially funded), 3 job openings, 2 summer schools, a postdoc position, a doctoral fellowship, a grant, and an award — in various areas of economic sociology, political economy, and related fields, with June 22July 20 deadlines. Share this post with your colleagues and students. Good luck!

Calls for Papers:

> CfP: “Systemic Risk“, Dynamics of Socio-economic Systems conference, Université Paris 1 Panthéon Sorbonne (France), 9-12 October, 2018. DL: June 25

> CfP: “Sustainable Development of our Communities: The Nexus between Scholarship, Industry and Government” conference, Knight Institute of Education, Orlando, Florida (USA), March 12 – 15, 2019. DL: June 29

> CfP: “Money, Debt, and Innovation” symposium, University of Brighton (UK), September 14, 2018. DL: June 30

> CFP: “Political Culture and the History of Knowledge: Actors, Institutions, Practices” conference, German Historical Institute, Washington DC (USA), June 6-8, 2019. Travel and accommodation costs will be covered. DL: June 30

> CfP: “10 Years after the Crash. What have we learned?“, The 22nd Macroeconomic Policy Institute and German Confederation of Trade Unions conference, Berlin (Germany), 25-27 October, 2018. DL: June 30

> CfP: “Forms of Power in Economics: New perspectives for the Social Studies of Economics between networks, discourses and fields” workshop, University of Giessen (Germany), 6-8 December, 2018. DL: June 30

> CfP: “Industrial vigilantism, strikebreaking and patterns of anti-labour violence, 1890s-1930s” conference, University of Oxford (UK), 23-24 October 2018. Funds are available for presenters to support travel and accommodation expenses. DL: June 30

> CfP for Journal of Institutional Economics’ special issue on “Institutional Analysis of Gift”. DL: June 30

> CfP: “Critical approaches to competition, market regulation and (international) economic governance” workshop, The University of Liverpool (UK), 7-8 September 2018. DL: July 2

> CfP: “Labour Market Liberalisation after the Lehman Crisis: France, Germany and Japan in Comparative Perspective” workshop, German Institute for Japanese Studies, Tokyo (Japan), December 14-15, 2018. Accepted paper givers will receive an allowance to help pay for travel and accommodation costs. DL: July 9

> CfP: “Concentrations: power, wealth, status, and information” conference, The Centre for Social Conflict and Cohesion Studies, Santiago (Chile). The keynoters are Wolfgang Streeck, Luc Boltanski, Yves Dezalay and more. DL: July 11

> CfP: “Photography, with or without capitalism” symposium,  INHA, Paris, December 18 – 19, 2018. DL: July 12

Job openings:

> Senior Research Fellow, Institute for Economics and Peace, Sydney (Australia). DL: June 22

> University Assistant (prae doc) to teach and encompass research assistance in economic sociology, the Department of Economic Sociology, University of Vienna (Austria). DL: July 2

> LSE Fellow (finishing PhD in Sociology) to teach in MSc Economy, Risk and Society programme, Department of Sociology, London School of Economics. DL: July 9

Post-doctoral positions:

> A post-doc researcher in global economic and social history, the Rural and Environmental History Group, Wageningen University. (The Netherlands). DL: June 29

PhD Fellowships:

6 PhD Positions in Slavery, Labour, and Dependency Studies, Bonn Center for Dependency and Slavery Studies, University of Bonn. DL: July 20


> The Foundation for the Rights of Future Generations and the Intergenerational Foundation award the Intergenerational Justice Prize (EUR 10,000) to essay-writers on the topic “How attractive are political parties and trade unions to young people?”. DL: July 1


The William T. Grant Scholars Program supports career development for promising early-career scholars and funds five-year research in programs, policies, and practices that reduce inequality in youth. DL: July 5; reference letters are due by June 27

Summer Schools:

> CfP: Summer School on Interest Group Politics, European Consortium for Political Research, University of Exeter (UK), July 18-25, 2018. The fee covers tuition, lunches and single occupancy en-suite accommodation with breakfast. Travel grants are available for two students who are entirely self-funding. DL: July 2

> CfP: “Smart Technologies – a New Industrial Age? Approaches to Radical Innovation and Economic Transformation“, the 6th Graz Schumpeter Summer School, University of Graz (Austria), September 9-13, 2018. The tuition fee includes course accommodation for five nights, full board, and participation in social events.  DL: July 15

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B&B: Geographies of tax evasion // Artifices of the Chicago School // Socialism in the US // Profit and Gift in the Digital Economy // German corporate entrepreneurs // Mortgage fraud

What do we know about the geographies of tax evasion and tax havens? The essence and details – by Manuel B. Aalbers

The artifices of the Chicago School of economics, the limits of  neoliberalism,  and moving beyond the laws of the market — an interview with Will Davies 

debsparty A century ago, Socialism appeared as an actual political alternative in the US. Why and how did it happen and end? — by Melvyn Dubofsky

> “An ontology for the digital age?” Jamie Morgan’s review of David Elder-Vass’ Profit and Gift in the Digital Economy

German immigrants and the promotion of corporate entrepreneurship in 19th Century America — by Robert Wright

> Nearly 25% of 2003-05 residential mortgage loans in the US contained one or more indications of fraud. The rates of mortgage fraud were higher in areas with a larger share of loans originated by independent mortgage companies and higher levels of racial segregation; it was less prevalent where government-sponsored enterprises purchased a larger share of the loans sold in secondary mortgage markets. 

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Was Karl Polanyi wrong? Land, labor, and private authority in the global economy

by Tim Bartley*

Rules without Rights Land Labor and Private Authority in the Global EconomyKarl Polanyi famously argued that land, labor, and money are “fictitious commodities.” They cannot be fully subjected to the dictates of the market without spurring backlashes that seek to re-embed them in society.  It is easy to find examples at the present moment. The project to make the world into “one big market” has fueled populist backlashes in the U.S., UK, and Europe, especially of a far-right, exclusionary variety. In parts of Asia, Africa, and South America, massive investments in agriculture, land speculation, and urban expansion are generating varied forms of resistance to “land grabs” that displace local people. And as the value of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies spikes and plummets, the fictitious character of money has taken on a new level of intrigue.
Theoretically, scholars have taken Polanyi’s basic insight in several directions. For economic sociologists, the “always-embedded market” has become the most prominent riposte to the assumptions of economics. For labor scholars, Polanyi’s diagnosis resonates with the Marxist argument that labor is a “special commoditybecause the product and the seller are ultimately inseparable. Meanwhile, scholars of land and environment have revised the Polanyian framework in making sense of nature, neoliberalism, and accumulation by dispossession.
But rarely do these lines of research meet. Workers and factories have long been the province of sociologists, as well as scholars of industrial relations, business, and political science. Land and environment have more often been the domain of anthropologists and geographers—as well as environmental sociologists and rural sociologists whose work is often geared more toward these other fields than to the rest of the discipline.
The burgeoning body of research on corporate responsibility, sustainability, and transnational governance is similarly segregated. On one side are studies of corporate social responsibility for labor standards in apparel, footwear, and electronics factories. On the other side are studies of sustainability standards for timber, coffee, seafood, biofuels, and a number of other products. There are a handful of excellent comparisons, but especially when it comes to consequences “on the ground,” most of what we know comes from studies of a single industry, initiative, or issue area.
In my new book, Rules without Rights: Land, Labor, and Private Authority in the Global Economy (Oxford University Press, 2018), I sought to get past the land-labor divide—and to show what a comparison of the two can offer to economic sociology and political economy more broadly. The book looks at the consequences of corporate responsibility and sustainability projects by comparing two fields—sustainable forestry (in the timber, paper, and furniture industries) and fair labor (in the apparel and footwear industry). This includes multi-stakeholder initiatives like the Forest Stewardship Council and Social Accountability International as well as a variety of other initiatives and company-specific codes.  In both cases, a form of “transnational private regulation” has expanded as large retailers and brands (such as IKEA, The Home Depot, H&M, and Nike) have pushed standards for sustainability or fairness through their global supply chains.
To look at the implementation of these rules, I focused on two key countries—Indonesia and China—where I interviewed a variety of practitioners and assembled or analyzed other data. This allowed me to consider how transnational standards are shaped by different forms of domestic governance—a new democracy in one case and a resilient form of authoritarianism in the other. I found some intriguing cross-country differences (described in part here) and developed a general critique of private regulation and its “hope of transcendence” (reviewed in part here). But I also found some important differences between land and labor standards.
First, despite some problems and blindspots, the Forest Stewardship Council’s standards have remained relatively stringent and challenging for forest managers to meet. These pertain not only to logging practices and protection of ecosystems but also to land rights and community claims. The closest analogue on the labor side, Social Accountability International’s SA8000 standard, suffered from weak oversight in China (allowing at least a few dismal factories to get certified and little in the way of systematic differences from uncertified factories) and a puzzling lack of application in Indonesia, where its standards should have been easier to implement. Other labor standards were either similarly compromised or narrow in their focus. The fields of fair labor and sustainable forestry, I argue, are different in ways that existing theories—including prominent forms of field theoryare not well-poised to explain.
Second, despite the Forest Stewardship Council’s comparative rigor, its standards on the rights of workers were almost never implemented or carefully audited. Auditors rarely even noted that timber workers’ rights to organize were legally restricted in China and routinely trampled in Indonesia. The difference, then, is partly about land and labor as issues, not only about initiatives or fields.
So was Polanyi wrong? Are land and labor inherently different in ways that would account for these differences in transnational governance? Some would say so, arguing that environmental issues are more “technical” or more open to win-win solutions than are labor issues, where distributional conflicts are central. But these answers are hard to sustain as one looks closely at sustainability standards, which often traverse deep distributional conflicts over land and natural resources.
Ultimately, Rules without Rights argues that the observed differences between land and labor have more to do with the power of watchdogs inside and outside multi-stakeholder initiatives, the mobility and visibility of industrial operations, and the framing of labor and environment relative to the public good. (See especially the latter half of chapter 2.) Polanyi was right to see land and labor in parallel, but we should now go further in unpacking globetrotting versus place-based industries and ask why “common good” frames have been so frequently embraced for environmental issues and rejected for global labor issues.
* Tim Bartley is a Professor of Sociology at Washington University in St. Louis.  In addition to his new book, he has an article on “Transnational Corporations and Global Governance” forthcoming in the Annual Review of Sociology and a new project on the ethics of big data analytics in the private sector.

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Gramsci on the State, the Proprietorial Class, and the Sovereign Laws of Capitalism

“In the sphere of general capitalist activity, even the worker operates on the plane of free competition, is a citizen-individual. But the starting conditions of the struggle are not equal for all, at the same time: the existence of private property places the social minority in conditions of privilege, makes the struggle unequal… The laws of history were dictated by the proprietorial class organized in the state. The state has always been the protagonist of history, because in its organs it gathers the power of the proprietorial class, in the state the proprietorial class disciplines itself and forms itself in unity, above the infighting and blows of competition, to maintain intact the condition of privilege in the supreme phase of competition itself: the class struggle for power, for pre-eminence in the direction and disciplining of society.”                                                                                                                                    (Antonio Gramsci,  The Conquest of the State, 1919)


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B&B: RIP Lynn Stout // Inequality endures // Politics and consumer behavior // Skidelsky on Keynes // Women and Wall Street // Congratulations to Patrick Le Galès

>The Shareholder Value Myth R.I.P Lynn Stout, an internationally recognized scholar, prolific writer, passionate speaker, devoted teacher.
Her path-breaking and highly compelling book The Shareholder Value Myth: How Putting Shareholders First Harms Investors, Corporations, and the Public (2012) became an influential intellectual alert. In recent weeks, she completed the manuscripts for two new books that will be published in the coming year. May her legacy live on through her scientific, educational, and public work and contribution.

In the past 700 years inequality only declined significantly after the Black Death and the two world wars — by Guido Alfani

When activism and advertising collide: “Politics and consumer behavior have never been so closely intertwined as in the last few years”, argues Brayden King

“Economics is not useless. It can either be very harmful, which it often is, or very Beneficial” — an interview with Robert Skidelsky on Keynes, Keynesianism, and Post-Keynesianism.

> Pioneering women stockbrokers and Wall Street, from the Gilded Age to the Great Depression — by George Robb

Racial underpinnings of global inequality: Reading today Walter Rodney’s classic How Europe Underdeveloped Africa — Tianna Paschel

Congratulations to Patrick Le Galès (Sciences Po) on being awarded the prestigious Silver Medal by the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS), becoming one of the few social scientists to receive this honor

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Great academic opportunities: 14 calls for papers, 9 summer schools, 6 PhD fellowships, 5 postdocs, and 2 visiting positions

Dear ES/PE community member, see below an abundant list of great call for papersacademic opportunities: 14 calls for papers for conferences and workshops (some are fully or partially funded), 9 summer schools (fully or partly funded), 6 doctoral fellowships, 5 postdoctoral positions, and 2 visiting positions — in various areas of economic sociology, political economy, and related fields, with May 15 — June 1 deadlinesShare this post with your colleagues and students. Good luck!

Calls for papers:

> CfP: “Crossing Boundaries: Economic Sociology and its Intersections“, The European Sociological Association Economic Sociology research network (RN09) Midterm Conference, Universität Konstanz (Germany), September 13-15, 2018. Five travel grants for early career researchers are available.  DL: May 15 (Extended: May 27)

> CfP: “Work, knowledge and power in contemporary capitalism”, the 4th ‘Social boundaries of work’ conference, University of Gdansk (Poland), October 2526, 2018. DL: May 15

> CfP: “The Global North – Welfare policies, mobilities, inequalities, and social movements“, Nordic Sociological Association conference,  Aalborg University (Denmark), 8-10 August, 2018. DL: May 16

> CfP: “Money, Migration, and Morality”  and “Markets and Morality” and “Political Theory and the Future of Work” workshops, The MANCEPT Workshops – an annual conference in political theory, University of Manchester (UK), 10 – 12 September, 2018. Graduate students and early-career researchers whose papers have been accepted may apply for bursaries. DL: May 18 – 31 (look at the specific CfP) 

> CfP: “Political Economy of Capitalism” conference for PhD students and junior scholars, University of Geneva (Switzerland), August 27-29, 2018. Participants will be provided with travel stipend and accommodation. The keynoters are Mary O’Sullivan and Bruno Amable. DL: May 25 

> CfP: “Studying Economics and Finance differently“, The 1st symposium of the Association to Renew Research and Education in Economics and Finance,  University of Fribourg (Switzerland), 14-15 June 2018. DL: May 29

> CfP: “10 years into the crisis – What prospects for a popular political economy in Europe?“, the 24th Conference on Alternative Economic Policy in Europe,  the University of Helsinki (Finland), September 27-29, 2018. DL: May 31

> CfP: “Welfare state under attack“, the Chamber of Labour Vienna and the Society for Pluralism in Economics conference (Austria), 8-9 October, 2018. The conference is free of charge. Participants will be reimbursed for train travel cost within Austria, and may apply for accommodation subsidies.  DL: May 31

CfP: “How to Conceptualise Financialisation in Developing and Emerging Economies?“, the Cambridge Political Economy Society Workshop, University of Cambridge (UK), 13-14 December 2018. There is no registration fee; accommodation will be provided; a small financial assistance might be provided too. DL: June 1 

CfP: The Newberry Seminar in the History of Capitalism, The Newberry research library, Chicago (Illinois, USA). DL: June 1

> CfP: “Re-imagining economic security and wellbeing in an age of precarity” workshop by TASA ‘Sociology of Economic Life’ and ‘Work, Employment and Social Movements’ Thematic Groups, Melbourne (Australia), November 23, 2018. DL: June 1

> CfP: “Obstacles to Development” the 7th Annual Sociology of Development Conference, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (Illinois, USA), 19–21 October, 2018. DL: June 1

> CfP: “All things considered… Material Culture and Memory” conference, University College Cork (Ireland), November  9-10, 2018. DL: June 1

> CfP: The Newberry Seminar in Labor History, The Newberry research library, Chicago (Illinois, USA). DL: June 1

Postdoctoral positions:

> Postdoctoral positions to join “Labor Perspectives to Human Trafficking” ERC project, Tel Aviv University (Israel). DL: May 30

Postdoctoral researcher within “State-led Capitalism and New Modes of Development Finance” project, Maastricht University  (Netherlands). DL: May 30

Postdoc position in Sociology of Labour / Socio-Economic Sociology, the Catholic University of Louvain (Belgium). DL: June 1

Post-doctoral fellowship to study the effects of the economic recession on the production and reproduction of gender and social class inequalities, DEMOSOC Research Group of the Pompeu Fabra University (Barcelona, Spain). DL: June 1

> Postdoc post in the field of social and economic history, Centre for Contemporary and Digital History, University of Luxembourg. DL: June 1

Visiting positions:

> The Jos Berghman Welfare Studies visiting stipend for junior scholars and PhD students in social policy and social work to spend a research term in KU Leuven (Belgium). DL: June 1

> Visiting positions within “Labor Perspectives to Human Trafficking” ERC project, Tel Aviv University (Israel). DL: June 1

PhD scholarships:

Doctoral position in Transnational Labor Markets, Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies and the University of Duisburg-Essen. DL: May 20

Graduate assistant (PhD student) in Social Inequality and Social Policy, University of Lausanne (Switzerland). DL: May 27

PhD scholarship in Professional and Corporate Networks, Copenhagen Business School (Denmark). DL: May 30 

> The Second Most Important Pitch: How Digital Start-Ups Must Navigate the Endorsement Economy to Scale“, PhD studentship in the area of ‘Valuation Studies’, University of Edinburgh Business School (Scotland, UK). DL: May 31

>  The Rise of the Financial Elite – Access, Integration and Spread of Power”, two PhD positions at the Institute of Social Sciences of the University of Lausanne (Switzerland). DL: May 31 

Doctoral candidate in social and economic history, Centre for Contemporary and Digital History, University of Luxembourg. DL: June 1

Summer schools / PhD workshops:

> CfA: “Social Research on Employment and Welfare Interactions“, the 3rd PROMEBI Summer School, Department of Sociology, University of Oviedo (Asturias, Spain), September  3-7, 2018. Tuition fee, board, lodging will be covered. DL: May 15

> CfA: “The changing structure of the economy and the role of the state: de-industrialization and financialization“, the 12th EAEPE Summer School, University Roma Tre (Rome, Italy), 2 – 6 July, 2018. There is no school fee. DL: May 15

> CfA: “Governance at the ‘edge’ of the state? Resources-Materiality-Governance” summer school, Ghent University (Belgium), 11-14 September, 2018. DL: May 15

CfA: “Selling (critical) finance: Getting your work published“, Early Career Researcher Writeshop, Warwick Critical Finance Group, University of Warwick (UK), September 3-4, 2018. Limited funding is available to support travel expenses for unfunded participants. DL: May 16

> CfA: “Fairness and the Economy: Theoretical, Ethical and Political Aspects”, The 21th Summer School on Economic Thought, Economic Philosophy and Economic History for PhD and young scholars, University of Thessaly (Greece), August 31- September 4, 2018. A modest fee covers hotel accommodation and meals. DL: May 21

> CfA: “Capitalism, Crisis and the Neoliberal State“, a Summer School at SOAS University of London, 2 –  20 July, 2018. DL: May 25

CfA: “The Role of the Future in Economic and Political Sociology: Between Stabilizing Expectations and Extending Crises”, PhD seminar, Max Planck Sciences Po Center on Coping with Instability in Market Societies (Sciences Po, Paris), September 24-26, 2018. No participation fees; travel and accommodation costs will be covered. DL: May 31. Recommended

> CfA: The European Association for Evolutionary Political Economy Young Scholars Pre-Conference, Nice (France), 5 – 6 September 2018. The EAEPE conference will be held on September 6-8. There is a fee waiver for a limited number of students and young researchers without other funding opportunities. DL: May 31

> CfA: “Contemporary strands of institutional theory and its application to management research” PhD course, NORD University (Bodø, Norway), August 27-31, 2018. The course is free of charge, including lunches and dinners; for participants from the Nordic countries the accommodation will be covered by organizers. DL: June 1

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Who is in Control of Markets: Humans or Financial Models?

by Ekaterina Svetlova*

The recent stock market correction raised again the question of who is in control of markets: humans or technology. Nasdaq CEO Adena Friedman said on CNBC that „humans are definitely in charge of the decisions in the market” and that “the algorithms are written basically on the back of a human decision.” At the same time, CNBC quoted influential banking analyst Dick Bove who claimed that “the United States equity markets has been captured by out-of-control technological investment systems”. My new book Financial Models and Society: Villains or Scapegoats? broadly addresses this controversy.
Financial Models and Society Villains or ScapegoatsIt challenges the accusations made towards financial models (not just algorithms) in the recent years, especially in the aftermath of the 2008 crisis. The arguments behind these accusations are familiar: financial models are abstract and unworldly constructs so that their users are predestined to be misguided. Thus, the argument goes, as insufficient models became widespread tools for decision-making in financial markets, the vast majority of market participants were seduced by their mathematical sophistication and followed them towards alleged safety.
The book argues, however, that models cannot be condemned indiscriminately. Generally, it claims that the discussion about dangers induced by financial models is based on the principal misunderstanding of models’ roles in markets. The aforementioned accusations are rooted in a conceptualization of models as “calculative tools” which directly guide investment decisions. In other words, there is an implied assumption that models tell people what to do and that the latter blindly follow models’ advice. However, this book suggests – and demonstrates using various empirical examples – that financial models do not ultimately determine investors’ decisions and actions. The role of models is subtler: they do not dictate financial decisions but make them possible in different ways.
Financial decision-making is characterized by radical uncertainty which is not calculable. Thus, calculations provided by models are unable to grasp the ever-changing, uncertain reality of markets. In other words, there is always a gap between models and (market) reality. However, financial market participants cannot allow themselves to be detached from the markets. They are a part of the markets themselves and, thus, their decisions cannot be based on model calculations only, that is, on calculations that leave out expectations, emotions, stories, judgments and – importantly – the modelling efforts of other market participants.

Models are constantly connected with markets in action-like decision-making which implies more than calculation. This connecting involves engaging with the world by simultaneously observing, deciding and taking actions and happens in various ways and styles.
The book uses qualitative research methods to investigate and systematize distinct practices of model use in financial decision-making. This analysis and systematization is an important novelty of the book. The case studies clearly highlight that there is no separation between calculation, judgment, decision-makers and markets. Rather, there are constant shifts of attention from models to markets and back as well as the constant formation of judgments and their application, of which models and markets are a subject but also a part. It is about judgment with models and about models, with markets (what do others think?) and about markets (what is my view?).
The book empirically identifies three general modes of “bringing together” models, markets and users in the process of action-like decision-making: “qualitative overlay”, “backing out”/”implied modelling” and “models as opinion proclaimers.”
In the case of “qualitative overlay”, the model results are compared with a pre-formed judgment and serve as an anchor but not as an ultimate guide for decisions. For example, fund managers often use the DCF model as a point of departure for decision-making but frequently overlay it by their judgment call rendering the model just a supportive tool.
In the case of “backing out” and “implied modelling”, models are used to observe the markets and to figure out the mistakes in model users’ estimates in order to correct the mistakes or to identify new investment opportunities. Good examples here are reverse engineering in portfolio management and “reflexive modelling” (Beunza and Stark 2012) in the field of merger arbitrage. In the latter case, arbitrageurs “back out” the implied probability of a merger, the probability namely that is assigned to the merger’s success by the market. Then, the “implied” probability is compared to the traders’ subjective views. If there is a disagreement (“dissonance”), traders start to ask: “What am I missing?” or “What do my models not see?” Hence, merger arbitrageurs use models to determine the behaviour of other investors, to compare their own views with the views of others and to establish a position based on this socially informed calculation.
Finally, models can be applied to express market participants’ pre-formed opinions about the market or a security. The book shows how security analysts form their views about a company and then identify the numerical parameters that should be inserted into a model in order to support their pre-formed views.
Furthermore, the book makes a general distinction between frontstage use of models (decision-selling and justification) and back-stage use (decision-making). In other words, it demonstrates that there are not only different styles of financial models’ involvement in decision-making but also that models play various roles in decision-selling. They provide legitimacy for decisions, perform impression management, convince others to invest and help to reach a consensus; those secondary functions can overlay the primary goals of model use (i.e. calculation) and render models less important for immediate decision-making.
The analysis of cultures of model use in the book suggests that model users are by no means “model dopes”; they do not “blind out” model deficiencies but rather consciously make “insufficient” models work in a not uniform way. The central argument is that it is exactly because the styles of model use vary that there is no way that different users derive the same results from their models and make the same decisions.
Hence, models’ influence on markets and society is not straightforward; their power is far more fragile than widespread criticism would indicate. The general claim that financial markets have become a purely analytical and quantitative place might be exaggerated. Human influence has not disappeared; rather, it unfolds in the multifaceted interplay between users and models in the practice of markets. The book demonstrates that we find large “pockets” where human judgment and stories are as important as the complicated formulas and algorithms. Hence, the general designation of financial models as the ultimate villains is questionable because their influence on markets is clearly mediated by the practices of their use.
Ekaterina Svetlova is Associate Professor in Accounting and Finance at the University of Leicester, School of Business. She also used to work as a portfolio manager and financial analyst at a big investment company in Frankfurt/Main, for six years. Professor Svetlova has published on themes such as economic sociology, social studies of finance, and economic philosophy.

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