Economic sociology

Financialization and social justice

June 29, 2021 13:15
June 29, 2021 14:45

Lena Ajdacic (University of Lausanne), Felix Bühlmann (University of Lausanne), Fabien Foureault (University of Lausanne), Noé Kabouche (University of Neuchâtel) and François Schoenberger (University of Lausanne)


Stefan Leins (Universität Konstanz)

Léna Pellandini-Simányi (Università della Svizzera Italiana)

Fabien Foureault, Lena Ajdacic and Felix Bühlmann (Université de Lausanne)

In the last decades we have witnessed an increasing importance of finance over the economy and, more broadly, over the society. Since the pioneering sociological works in the United States in the 1980s and 1990s, finance has been studied as a social fact. In the 2000s the subfield structured around the expressions of “social studies of finance” or “sociology of finance” and from the 2010s onwards, it kept consolidating and became a very dynamic field of sociological research (e.g. Knorr-Cetina and Preda 2012). The term financialization has been coined to describe the growing importance of finance in social life and could be defined as “the increasing role of financial motives, financial markets, financial actors and financial institutions” (Epstein 2005:3). The aim of this semi-plenary is to take part in these intellectual perspectives by federating social science researches on finance in Switzerland. What are the implications of financialization for procedural, distributive and social justice in contemporary Switzerland and beyond?

For addressing these critical issues, the semi-plenary will benefit from valuable insights coming from different disciplines and orientations.

Keywords: Sociology of finance; financialization; responsible investment; class; patrimonialism

‘Responsible investment’: ESG and the post-crisis ethical order

Stefan Leins (Universität Konstanz)

This paper looks at recent forms of ‘responsible investment’. It follows the use of ESG within a large global bank. ESG is a valuation technique that takes into account environmental, social and governance issues. Drawing on ethnographic data, the paper explores how ESG has become an accepted concept among financial analysts, and looks at how they implement it in their everyday calculations. It argues that ESG enables financial analysts to understand factors related to corporate responsibility as market signals and to use them to support their investment narratives. It concludes that the application of ESG has transformed ‘responsible investment’ from a normative attempt to increase the morality of investing into a speculative practice of valuation. This creates profit from current social contention and crises of capitalism.

Keywords:  Ethnography; ESG; financial analysis; responsible investment; speculation; valuation 

Stefan Leins is assistant professor in anthropology at the University of Konstanz.

Studying the financialization of everyday life through the lens of class

Léna Pellandini-Simányi (Università della Svizzera Italiana)

It is an old sociological insight that different social classes hold different economic subjectivities: different relations to money, savings, rationality and so on. As recent work in economic sociology and market studies showed, this is not only because different objective conditions create different tastes for necessity (as Bourdieu’s Distinction would suggest), but also because financial rationalities are shaped through interactions with financial institutions – which interactions themselves follow a classed pattern (as Bourdieu also noted elsewhere). Financial institutions segment the population into different categories based on a wide range of socio-demographic attitudinal parameters as well as past economic actions to decide eligibility and to provide customized marketing and product offerings – including high and low cost mortgages, credit and investment opportunities - for these segments. So much so that Fourcade and Healy (2013, 2017) argued that eligibility processes are the new vehicles of class, producing different objective life chances. However, the role of financial institutions in shaping social groups, and specifically, the social pattern of economic subjectivities, goes beyond eligibility. If we take seriously the claim of interdisciplinary market studies, financialization of everyday life, market studies, the French sociology of conventions and digital sociology that suggest that market devices often prefigure rational subjects and even make ‘rational’ choices on their users’ behalf, this claim can be extended even further. The class pattern of economic subjectivities and financial behaviours is increasingly co-produced by these segmenting, eligibility and product design processes. In this theoretical paper, I connect four main theoretical currents that are necessary to integrate in order to understand how these processes shape classed economic subjectivities: the Foucauldian study on the financialization everyday life; Zelizerian economic sociology; the marketization research program involving Callonian, STS-inspired and performativity studies; and more traditional sociological approaches to inequality. This paper shows how waiving these research streams together can contribute to a better understanding both of contemporary processes of social stratification and of the formation of economic subjectivities.

Keywords: Class; stratification; everyday life; economic subjectivities 

Léna Pellandini-Simányi is assistant Professor in the Institute of Marketing and Communication Management at the University of Svizzera Italiana

Financialization as recombination: Bureaucracy and neo-patrimonialism on Wall Street

Fabien Foureault, Lena Ajdacic and Felix Bühlmann (Université de Lausanne)

Finance is widely seen as a driving force of modern capitalism, a progress of organizational rationalization, and scaffolding for meritocratic elite reproduction. Using Orbis data on over 28,000 US financial firms, and sociodemographic data on 806 founders and managers in key firms, we show that neo-patrimonial elements, such as hybrid legal forms and trust relationships, are spreading within finance. Our findings show that hedge and private equity funds rely heavily on secretive hybrid forms in which “elite white men” benefit from baked in advantages. Financialization is not a modernization process but a recombination of bureaucracy and neo-patrimonial logics.

Keywords:  Elites; organizations; Neo-patrimonialism

Fabien Foureault is a postdoctoral researcher in sociology at the University of Lausanne, Lena Ajdacic is a Ph.D candidate in sociology at the University of Lausanne and Felix Bühlmann is associate professor of sociology at the University of Lausanne.