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Rethinking Money, Debt, and Finance after the Crisis

by Martijn Konings on April 27, 2015

Announcing a special issue of South Atlantic Quarterly: “Rethinking Money, Debt, and Finance after the Crisis”, edited by Melinda Cooper and Martijn Konings – with contributions from Lisa Adkins, Fiona Allon, Dick Bryan, Marieke de Goede, Randy Martin, Chris Jefferis, and Mike Rafferty.

The origins of the financial crisis of 2007-08 have been widely understood in terms of the financial system having transgressed the boundaries of its proper role and place in society; and the response has been driven above all by a concern that key dimensions of the social order had become imbalanced, unstuck or dis-embedded. From left to right, the crisis has given rise to demands for the reinstatement of proper foundations and limits.

2.coverAmong progressively inclined academic commentators, this has typically taken the form of an insistence that the crisis has vindicated their critique of neoliberal governance. Such perspectives see the project of market deregulation and financial expansion as fundamentally incoherent and contradictory, principally incapable of securing the political and social preconditions of well-ordered human life; and they have viewed the crisis in terms of the contradictions of neoliberalism coming to a head. This line of reasoning is continuous with a distinctive style of critique that has accompanied the growth of financial markets since the 1970s, one that portrays financial expansion in terms of the unstable growth of fictitious money and the subordination of social relations and institutions to the irrational logic of casino capitalism. This narrative is at the core of interdisciplinary fields of study such as political economy and economic sociology, which, as scholarly movements, are virtually defined by the negative evaluation of financial speculation, portraying it as an irresponsible and corrosive divergence from foundational values.

These critical perspectives on money and finance are often more concerned to position themselves in overly literal opposition to the surface-level claims of orthodox theory than to critically penetrate the imaginary they express. The critique of neoliberal politics accordingly tends to focus on its presumed inability to recognize the proper limits of the market: the failure to embed the market in the substantive rationality of communally decided political objectives, it is argued, has resulted in a buildup of fictitious claims that lack foundation in material production or value. In other words, the project articulated by such disciplines as political economy and economic sociology, whose rise has been concomitant with the financial expansion of recent decades, is to argue that the orthodox conception of market neutrality and efficiency is based on an irrational fantasy of immanent self-regulation that ignores the non-economic foundations of market exchange. This has entailed a tendency for theory to take on a strongly normative character. And as a consequence, political economy and economic sociology have not so much rethought the character of economy but instead circumscribed its relevance by pointing to the importance of externally conceived social, political and cultural factors.

This special issue approaches the current conjuncture not as a confirmation of what we already thought we knew but rather as an occasion for much-needed conceptual innovation. It is in this spirit that each of the essays in the volume seeks to rethink the core economic categories of money, speculation, measure, and value.

Martijn Konings
Martijn Konings works in the Department of Political Economy at the University of Sydney. He is the author of The Development of American Finance (Cambridge University Press, 2011) as well as The Emotional Logic of Capitalism: What Progressives Have Missed (Stanford University Press, 2015). He is currently working on changing patterns of financial governance with specific reference to the role of the Federal Reserve.
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