Network N: Finance and Society


The goal of this network is to promote cross-disciplinary dialogue on the study of finance and include perspectives from social sciences outside of economics. Specifically, we encourage research that highlights the social embeddedness of finance (for instance, the continuing importance of social networks and the role of ideas, theories and devices in shaping financial practices), or examines the links between finance and a number of other topics including public policy, legal and economic development, inequality, and corporate governance, inspired particularly by the recent financial crisis; investigates historic origins of modern financial instruments, analyzes regional or international differences in financial markets, or focuses on the social and cultural consequences of the redistribution of resources through financial markets, the financialization of everyday life and the expansion of credit. We welcome a wide range of methodological approaches, including but not limited to archival research, ethnography, interviews, formal network analysis and survey research.

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The following interview with Network N organizers Alya Guseva and Akos Rona-Tas was conducted by Emma Greeson, a PhD candidate in Sociology at UC San Diego.

When was your Network founded?

It was founded in the fall of 2010 on the heels of a successful mini-conference on The Global Rise and Spread of Consumer Financial Services organized at the summer SASE meeting in Philadelphia. The idea for the mini-conference on finance was suggested to us by Marc Schneiberg, who introduced us to then- president Jonathan Zeitlin. We briefly talked and later wrote a short rationale for the mini-conference. In the fall, SASE asked us whether we would like to launch a Network focused on finance, and we enthusiastically said yes.

Were you among the founders? Briefly, what was the genesis of the Network?

Yes, we both were. We also invited Bruce Carruthers to join the Network, reasoning that three would be the magic number: better visibility and more opportunities to spread the work organizing the panels. We have known Bruce and his work for many years and enjoyed working with him in other formats. The time following the global financial crisis was ripe for a Network focused specifically on finance. Prior to 2010, papers with a focus on finance would most likely go to the Markets, Firms, and Institutions Network, the catchall for economic sociology at SASE. But because there was an explosion of interest in finance, it made sense to give it a separate home. We put our three heads together and came up with a name and a description.

What academic disciplines are most represented in your Network?

Several disciplines are represented (including economics and management, with occasional anthropologists and historians), but economic sociology dominates.

How has the focus of the Network changed over time?

The focus has not changed as we purposefully set the confines of the Network pretty broadly – Finance and Society – though the range of topics certainly expanded. For instance, when we started there was barely one panel out of ten or twelve that dealt with household or consumer finance, most of them focusing on financial markets and regulation. Last year we had three or four, plus panels devoted to morality, inequality, and responsible banking/social impact investing.

What are some of the most important issues or themes that have guided your Network in recent years? What do you think will be central in the next few years?

One significant trend that we followed is the reversal of globalizing processes. When we got into research on finance in the late 1990s and early 2000s, finance seemed to be moving towards the U.S. model partly by integration of local practices on U.S. terms and partly by imitation of U.S. practices. It is clear now that financial globalization has been fracturing along the national lines, and the trend will likely only strengthen in the future. A second important trend is the growing surveillance of consumer financial behavior and its integration with other instruments of governmentality. Not only are the data generated from the digitalization of consumer financial transactions monitored by states and market actors, but consumer financial information can also be merged with other types of data (phone and internet records, commute and travel data, etc.) making consumers more ―transparent‖ than ever before. A related development is the growing importance of computer algorithms and information infrastructures that may appear neutral but, in fact, are powerful mechanisms of ―social sorting‖. Consumer finance data already play a significant role in the accumulation of social advantages and disadvantages, for instance, when credit reports and credit scores guide the decisions of landlords, employers, and insurers. These processes create new sources of power and inequality.

What do you get from SASE and this Network in particular that you do not get at other conferences that you attend?

We are big SASE fans. What you get is an incredible sense of community interested in similar issues, but often approaching them from diverse disciplinary perspectives and refracted through different national traditions. You also get to hear about empirical developments in many other countries and regions. This is a great learning experience because you have a chance to find out more about your particular topic in other contexts. These meetings are conducive to thinking about your research comparatively, which the international and interdisciplinary crowd helps to foster. This is a very different experience from the one we get when we attend large disciplinary meetings like the ASA where topics are more segmented and the perspectives are more consistent.

Is there anything about this Network and its dynamics, frameworks, orientations, or central issues that make it different from other Networks?

This Network is possibly a bit less oriented toward purely descriptive work and has a stronger engagement with theoretical and policy issues.

What would you want people to know about your Network?

Our Network believes deeply in methodological diversity and equally welcomes qualitative and quantitative, theoretical, empirical and experimental, cultural, institutional, historical, and structural approaches.

What is your most recent book?

We recently co-authored Plastic Money: Constructing Markets for Credit Cards in Eight Postcommunist Countries (Stanford, 2014). While a lot has been written about how markets work once they are built, our book explains how markets are engineered from the ground up – by selecting key players, ensuring cooperation, and providing conditions for the valuation of a product. We do this through a historical comparison of how banks constructed markets for credit cards in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Bulgaria, Russia, Ukraine, China, and Vietnam in the two decades following the fall of communism. The book was the result of ten years of research that included fieldwork in all of these countries.

Anything else you’d like to add?

We are very happy to see great interest among young researchers in the field of finance.