Remaking capitalism

Workaround: In current version of Panels 3.8, it seems this body field needs to be populated in order for title above to appear. This note is hidden by custom CSS style. Jack Latimer.

Overview

  • This theme analyses restless capitalism in a way that is timely and relevant when we have lived through an unforeseen and unwanted transition from the “great moderation” of the 1990s and 2000s into ongoing finance led crisis since 2007. Instead of taking the diffusion of capitalist prosperity for granted, we now have to come to terms with capitalist instabilities and inequalities;  immediately, the crisis has wrecked public finances in ways which affect all our jobs and public services. These changes also reframe our policy choices and our concept of policy because technocratic management choices and claims to expertise are challenged by events and the question now is whether and how it is politically possible to control a  finance sector which privatized gains and socialised losses.

    CRESC’s profile in public debate on these issues comes from our pro bono work for non academic audiences in Britain and other high income countries.  Our recent major interventions, have been widely discussed in newspapers and broadcast media and continue to influence political debate. 

    • The Alternative Banking Report (CRESC, September, 2009) presented empirics which challenged arguments about the socially valuable contribution of finance to tax revenues and job creation; and also raised questions about the unconstructive and inflationary bias of finance sector lending towards property and financial assets.
    • Problems of the UK National Business Model (CRESC Working  Paper 75, December 2009)  provoked political debate by providing the first robust measures of the extent of state funded employment by private employers and showed the limits of private sector job creation when 80% of the jobs created since 1997 were dependent on public funding.
    • How the Banks Won ( Channel 4 Dispatches, documentary originally transmitted 14 June 2010) CRESC theme 1 collaborated as researchers and consultants with Quiksilver Media on this hard hitting documentary which represents our work with and for the media.
    • Other highlights include a multi interview segment on the politics of international finance for the Thomson Reuters Insider channel which has 500.000 business subscribers.

    This public engagement builds on previous academic successes, especially our pioneering  academic work on financialization. This was brought together in  two major books by a team of theme 1 researchers from Manchester Business School: Julie Froud et al Financialization and Strategy ( 2006) and Ismail Erturk et al Financialization at Work (2008). These books, which were written before the onset of the current crisis, gained in reputation afterwards because they uniquely related the narrative promises of story driven capitalism about shareholder value and such like to the numbers about unforeseen and unintended consequences.

    This research needs to be set in the context of a theme which offers more than such highlights because of its diversity. Theme 1 brings together more than a dozen researchers from diverse disciplinary backgrounds including anthropology, geography and sociology as well as several  business school specialisms including sociology of work and labour process studies. From this view point, CRESC theme 1 can be characterised more broadly as a productive conversation between individual researchers and several  overlapping teams who have shared interests in the links between new forms of capitalist organisation and the emergence of cultural performances and knowledges.

    In terms of academic conceptualisation,  we draw on a long tradition of work on capitalism from Marx and Weber onwards. But our interest in the forms and the spirits of capitalism aligns us with the re-conceptualisations of capitalism recently advocated by Thrift or Boltanski and Chiapello. Thus, theme 1 researchers use the term  capitalism but reject reified ideas of general capitalist logic which seem to comprehend process and outcome before the event. Instead we focus, empirically, on the remaking of capitalism as an active process involving many different ways of generating hierarchies and sub-dividing resources around changing logics. These logics are often represented, mistakenly in our view, as epochal change. 

    Our emphasis is on the undisclosed and uncertain in the processes of remaking capitalism. These uncertainties are partly the results of discrepancies between theories, systems and discourses on the one hand and the contradictions, compromises and inconsistencies of actual practices on the other. These discrepancies have not been satisfactorily explained by earlier organising accounts using concepts of neo-liberalism or varieties of capitalism which have tended, rather prematurely, to identify coherent political projects and stabilising economic forces. 

    These positions may seem abstract and programmatic but they are important because, for example, they frame our account of the post 2007 crisis as an example of the undisclosed in action and discrepancies at work. Thus, the unforeseen financial crisis after 2007 embarrasses  mainstream finance theory derived narratives about the benefits of financial innovation, just as the tech stock crash after 2000 embarrassed those who had talked of “ the new economy” . Thus, capitalist history irregularly performs the limits of knowledge or illustrates the problem of recurrent massive knowledge failure. 

    Such episodes raise fundamental questions about the heroic view of knowledge current across much social science which assigns engine or camera roles to (mainly  formal) knowledges like economic theory. If the processes of remaking capitalism are plural and uncertain we aim to deploy multiple, diverse and pragmatic approaches to the analysis of these processes and their unexpected outcomes. We encourage a range of different approaches to actors, calculations and spheres of activity and aim to concentrate our theme 1 effort on four strategic sets of empirical questions concerning financialization, borders, money and elites which are described below. 

    This structure is designed to enable interdisciplinary research by those working on clusters of related projects and contributing to an internal conversation. This enables us to analyse the multiple logics of finance, borders, money, markets and power while fostering new methods to broaden the field of the visible, identify predictable and undisclosed outcomes and open up new possibilities for action. We are committed to extending this conversation beyond CRESC by international collaborations with other researchers from mainland Europe, USA and Australia; and also committed to opening this converstion by welcoming practitioners and researchers to our rogramme of workshops and conferences, including the theme 1 organised 2010 Manchester conference on Finance in Question/Finsance in Crisis.

    1) What are the conditions and outcomes of financialization and financial innovation? 

    Our research on the upswing period leading up to 2007 continues to focus on the discrepancies between the discourse and practice of financial innovation which “marketised risk”. Bricolage created a latticework of fragile circuits  which enriched new financial elites before inevitably collapsing as circumstances changed.  Our research is equally  concerned with explaining the paradoxical outcomes of a big crisis which has so far produced small reforms of the finance sector despite a massive socialization of losses. The  outcome (so far) is the resumption of business as usual for financial elites who have not been constrained by re-regulation while the masses suffer a  new public austerity. The cluster of projects here, and in the CRESC organised International Working Group on Financialization, continue our methodologically innovative stream of research on how narrative and numbers are combined to justify corporate and social practice. In addition, we will also take up new issues about finance and the environment, analyse the role of new actors such as sovereign wealth funds; and connect with debates about the performative role of management knowledges and the disruption of national specificities.

    2) How do shifting locations, borders and movement interact with the multiple logics of capitalism? 

    We regard the spatial dimensions of economic and political relations as critical in a restless capitalism which pays little attention to received ideas about centre and periphery. Hence, our research continues to explore locations and borders through an empirical focus on the Eastern peripheries of Europe, India and metropolitan/regional relations in the UK. The redefinition of Europe at its Eastern peripheries is a central concern in ongoing ethnographic research on the circulation of money in the Aegean on the Greek-Turkish border, and in companion work with the recently COST-funded network, EastBordNet (www.eastbordnet.org), which brings together researchers working across the entire eastern periphery of Europe. The logics of business outsourcing to India remains a focus of enquiry and future work will extend to include competition between Mumbai and other established, but currently restructuring, financial centres and sectors around the world. The geographies of metropolitan capitalism will be explored through new work on the spaces of financial disruption, including work on sub prime by several theme researchers. Within the UK, the problems of old industrial regions like the West Midlands as well as intra regional issues about London will be analysed using the concept of undisclosed business model which highlights the importance of politics and state expenditure in sustaining social compromises.

    3) How do money, marketing and things operate as active social relations? 

    We conserve the classical insight that money operates not simply as a token but as an active social (as well as political and economic) relation. Our primary concern here is with social relations and outcomes and their connections to the material and technical processes of money and marketing. Work on the means by which credit and debt have become an accepted complement to the primary distribution of welfare through waged employment in the post 1980 period will continue. Research here emphasises the long history of marketing financial services, to the poor as well as the better-off, with the aim of better understanding and contextualising the relations between consumer practices, market devices, governmental regulation and welfare provision. At the same time as acknowledging precedents and long trajectories we aim to identify what is new and different in the growth of revolving debt and the extension of mortgages to new social groups in the last conjuncture. Unregulated credit creation led, in one way and another, to the financial crisis of 2007 which wrecked public finance in the UK and USA.  Our research anticipates major struggles about public expenditure cuts and public services provision which will become a central political issue in the UK from 2010 onwards. 

    4) What role do controlling elites play in the remaking of capitalism?  

    CRESC has already taken a leading role in the current revival of elite studies through the essays collected in Savage and  Williams (ed.) Elites Remembered  In our view, this is a necessary move to correct the ways in which social research methods and concepts, notably the dominance of sample survey methods, have rendered elites invisible. Our work on new modalities of power now focuses on the capacity of elites to reinvent themselves and the continuing difficulties about political control of elites despite the popular antipathy roused by the financial crisis and the upwards redistribution of income and wealth which preceded it. This requires a mixing of old and new methods, including ethnography and new ways of mapping elite networks and careers which we will apply to a more systematic investigation into City financial elites.  One important  new element in our work after 2009 is a much stronger emphasis on the politics of elite power in Britain and America both through a major study of the articulation and representation of big business interests and an upcoming study of the interpenetration of old and new American political elites which complements ongoing work on governing and public service.

    Theme Convenor: Karel Williams
    Theme Researcher: Johnna Montgomerie

     

     

Projects

Below is a list of the projects run by this research theme. Click on the title of the project for more information.

  • Financialization and financial innovation

    This area of investigation examines the conditions and outcomes of financial crisis. On the upswing before 2007, the focus is on the discrepancies between the discourse and practice of financial c innovation which “marketised risk” through the creation of long fragile chains which enriched new financial elites as mass saving and borrowing provided the feedstock for securitization. On the downswing in 2009 and after, the outcome so far is not a different kind of capitalism but the resumption of business as usual for elites whose profitable private sector business models are not constrained by re-regulation. The cluster of projects here, and the relation to the CRESC organised International Working Group on Financialization, continue our methodologically innovative stream of research on how narrative and numbers are used to justify corporate and social practice, but also take up new issues about finance and the environment, analyse new actors such as sovereign wealth funds; and connect with debates about the performative role of management knowledges and the disruption of national specificities.

  • Shifting locations, borders and movement

    'Shifting locations, borders and movement' are important because the spatial dimensions of economic and political relations remain critical in a capitalism of multiple logics which subverts received ideas about centre and periphery. Hence the importance of our continuing research on the redefinition of Europe at its Eastern peripheries, not only through ethnographic research on the circulation of money in the Aegean on the Greek-Turkish border, but now also through the COST-funded network, EastBordNet (www.eastbordnet.org), which brings together researchers working across the entire eastern periphery of Europe, including a group specialising in money. This is complemented by ongoing work on the logics of business outsourcing to India which is now being extended to include competition between Mumbai and established financial centres and sectors which are themselves restructuring. The geographies of metropolitan capitalism are explored through new work on the spaces of financial disruption, including work on sub prime by several theme researchers. Within the UK, the problems of old industrial regions like the West Midlands as well as intra regional issues in London are analysed using the concept of undisclosed business model which highlights the importance of politics and state expenditure in sustaining social compromises (see Area of Investigation 'Money, Marketing and Things').

Publications

Below is a list of the publications produced by this research theme.

Working Paper

Research Briefings

Book Chapters

Refereed Journal Papers

Events

Below is a list of the events organised by this research theme.

News

Below is a list of the news items associated with this research item.

  • Tue, 28/01/2014

    John Law and Karel Williams have just published a new Working Paper, a State of Unlearning? Government as Experiment. For full details please click on the link below.

  • Thu, 05/12/2013

    Karel William's wrote a piece in the Guardian on 5th December 2013 on the future of investment in infrastructure in the UK. To read the article please click here

  • Mon, 04/11/2013

    CRESC research made the front page of the Guardian when Aditya Chakraborrtty (link to article here) wrote up a story around some of our data on the distribution of output between regions and distribution of income between household groups. The evidence shows that London and the South East accounted for nearly 48% of output growth from  2007-11 and the top fifth of households by income ( Q5) took 37.5% of income growth (after benefits and taxes), The overheads are attached and the manchester capitalism blog (link to blog here) features a blog of 13th November which presents our own interpretation of the figures.

  • Wed, 11/09/2013
  • Sun, 01/09/2013

    The train operators have countered CRESC’s Great Train Robbery, a critical TUC sponsored research report. Richard Branson defended Virgin’s record in a Guardian column and ATOC, the train operators’ Trade Association, weighed in with its own report Growth and Prosperity based on KPMG research.

    CRESC’s rejoinder “The conceit of enterprise” now argues that the result is dispute without debate. Because the train operators defend themselves by restating  a “trade narrative” about how private operators deliver social benefits. This is part of a much larger political problem about how privatisation and out sourcing entrenches corporate players with self- serving narratives that overestimate their contribution. The train operators do not confront the existential issue of why we need private train operators which receive large subsidies, invest almost no capital and take very little risk because they are able to walk away from loss making franchises with modest penalties and no claw back.

  • Sun, 21/07/2013

    The UK has lost much of its manufacturing. But it retains its 'Foundational Economy'. This is the network of institutions and employees that work in health, education and welfare, and in 'mundane' but essential activities such as  infrastructures, utilities, food processing and retailing, and distribution. And it's vital for employment - and the future of the UK

    Catch up on our new work on the Foundational Economy by visiting our project page. It's going to become very important.

  • Mon, 24/06/2013

    The debate about railway finances rumbles on. Richard Branson defends the record of Virgin Trains by saying that the turnaround rests on the hard work of his train operating company. But there's an alternative story. This is that direct cash subsidies for the Train Operating Companies have been replaced by low track access charges. Network Rail's debt is currently £30bn and it's going up by £5bn a year. Is this a hidden subsidy for the Train Operating Companies? And how long can it be sustained?

    The argument is made in our public interest report at

    http://www.cresc.ac.uk/publications/the-great-train-robbery-the-economic-and-political-consequences-of-rail-privatisation

    We add to it in our new supplementary report, 'Turnaround or Churnaround on the West Coast Line' at

    http://www.cresc.ac.uk/publications/turnaround-or-churnaround-on-the-west-coast-line

    For press coverage see

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2013/jun/07/privatised-rail-higher-fares-older-trains

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2337205/High-fares-old-trains-big-railway-rip-Damning-study-says-privatisation-failed-deliver-passengers.html

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/jun/24/richard-branson-defence-virgin-trains

  • Thu, 06/06/2013

    Rail privatisation promised to reduce public subsidy and bring in private investment but has failed on both counts according to a new TUC commissioned research report from the CRESC.  For the first time this report tracks the flow of public money through a dysfunctional rail system which creates artificial private profits and huge concealed taxpayer liabilities.

    Since 2002 not for dividend Network Rail has financed large scale new investment in rail infrastructure through a massive increase in debt which is an (off balance sheet) public liability. By 2012, the tax payer was liable for £ 30 billion of NR debt mainly in the form of public guarantees on NR’s private bonds and the cost of servicing this debt has risen so that is now larger than the cost of annual maintenance.

    Worse still, Network Rail is inflating the profits of the Train Operating Companies by lowering the track access charges or the rents it charges for using infrastructure.Their decline from £3.18 billion in 1994 to £1.59 billion in 2012 creates an indirect and hidden subsidy which gives the Train Operating Companies low cost options to distribute profits created by public subsidy. This is lucrative when it comes good, as on the West Coast main line. Here Virgin and Stagecoach have, in return for a £21 million initial investment (and helped by more than £2.5 billn. of direct subsidy) found £519 mill of profits and, in line with general TOC practice, almost all of this was distributed as dividends.

    Many franchises are not so lucrative. But they are all low risk because contracts give every TOC the option to walk away from obligations like future premium payments by paying a modest penalty and with no claw back of previously distributed profit. As in the case of First Greater Western which walked away in 2011 so as to avoid an estimated £ 800 mill in payments due over the next three years. This behaviour is embedded because the DfT has allowed TOCs to game the system by accepting optimistic passenger forecasts and “back loaded” bids for franchises where most of the premium payments are due in the last few years of the franchise. The real scandal of the First West Coast main line bid of 2012 was not that civil servants miscalculated but that the DfT was prepared to accept another back loaded bid.  

    The TOCs trade association confuses matters by claiming the credit for the 60% increase in passenger numbers since 1994-5. But this increase is driven by external economic factors such as rising GDP growth which the TOCs admitted when lobbying for changes in the franchise system. When a state owned operator like Directly Operated Railways performs commendably on the East Coast Mainline, why not abolish the TOCs at no cost as their franchises expire?

     That would end the TOCs hi- jacking of the reform agenda with demands for “fixing the franchising system”. And allow a focus on long standing problems about how fares do not cover operating costs and investment; about the need for extra revenue from taxes on land and property prices; and about the case for separating operations from investment because operations need to be cash constrained while investment should be generously funded.

    We have written three reports on trains.
    For supporting evidence and more argument see our Great Train Robbery report

    http://www.cresc.ac.uk/publications/the-great-train-robbery-the-economic-and-political-consequences-of-rail-privatisation

    And most recently our further report on The Conceit of Enterprise

    The Conceit of Enterprise: train operators and trade narrative

    For media coverage please see

    Press reports on the franchising system in the Guardian and the Daily Mail:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2013/jun/07/privatised-rail-higher-fares-older-trains

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2337205/High-fares-old-trains-big-railway-rip-Damning-study-says-privatisation-failed-deliver-passengers.html

    Richard Branson's response to the Guardian's Aditya Chakrarborrty:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/jun/20/virgin-trains-handouts-track

    A lively riposte to Branson: 

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/jun/24/richard-branson-defence-virgin-trains

  • Sun, 20/11/2011

    CRESC's new book After the Great Complacence: Financial Crisis and the Politics of Reform was published in September. Now the authors have summarised the argument in a new CRESC Working Paper, Groundhog Day: elite power, democratic disconnects and the failure of financial reform in the UK. For details of this please see our press release

    The book, co-authored by Ewald Engelen, Ismail Erturk, Julie Froud, Sukhdev Johal, Adam Leaver, Michael Moran, Adriana Nilsson and Karel WIlliams, takes a long hard look at the consequences of the 1986 'Big Bang' deregulation by Mrs Thatcher's Conservative administration. Did the dergulation lead to the 2008 financial crisis? Yes say the authors in a tightly argued thesis.

    But the real issue is the relationship between finance and politics. How can - and should - financial transactions be regulated in a democracy? This becomes difficult when financial bricolage leads to the creation of long chains, circuits of transactions and instruments that allow bankers to earn fees, but fail to take account of uncertainties in part because the risks have become opaque even to those who create them. And then it becomes doubly difficult when regulators and politicians detach themselves from these processes in a 'light touch approach'. And then, the problem is lethally compounded when decision about regulation are captured by interested parties. 'In the authors' view the financial crisis was neither an unfortunate accident, nor an irresponsible conspiracy, but an elite political debacle.' The answer? Social scientists, governments and citizens will need to re-engage with the political dimensions of finance.

    As the world economy struggle with further financial crisis and moves towards a double dip recession, this book is an exciting, timely and vitally important contribution to debates about the economy.

    The book is now available from Amazon - and see also post publication press coverage in the Observer and the Yorkshire Post.

  • Mon, 18/07/2011

    In today's Financial Times, columnist Tony Jackson explores the decision to award the new Thameslink train contract to Siemens rather than Bombardier. In debating the new CRESC Report Knowing What to Do? How Not to Build Trains he writes: "it may be, as Professor Karel Williams of CRESC puts it, that while the UK was bad at old-style corporatism, it is not very good at neoliberalism either." Jackson adds: "Sadly, it is in the nature of economic paradigms that until a whole new paradigm is presented, the old one will be defended to the death. I have no simple answers to that. The argument needs to be pursued just the same."

     

  • Tue, 12/07/2011

    CRESC has released a new Pubic Interest Report: Knowing What to Do? How not to Build Trains. This argues that the UK government's June 2011 decision to award the contract for new Thameslink trains to Siemens in Germany rather than the Bombardier rail works in Derby was based on a narrow, Which? style 'best buy' logic that ignores wider considerations including the tax revenues from UK employment, and is distorted by PFI considerations.

    The Report

    For the report, a press release, and a pdf download of both please visit this page.

    Press Coverage

    To follow press coverage of the Bombardier controversy and the CRESC report please click here.

  • Wed, 16/03/2011

    CONFERENCE REPORT Encountering Markets: consumers, credit and devices

    10-12 March 2011, Copenhagen Business School

    Convenors: Liz McFall (Open University, UK); Paul du Gay (Copenhagen Business School); Christian Frankel (Copenhagen Business School); Franck Cochoy (University of Toulouse/CERTOP) and Joe Deville (Goldsmiths, London)

    Delegates: Andrew Fearne (Kent Business School);  Torben Elgaard Jensen (Technical University of Denmark & Said Business School); Shaun French (Nottingham) Hans Kjellberg, Johan Hagberg (Stockholm); Bill Maurer (UC Irvine) Paul Langley (York); Martha Poon (NYU) Celia Lury; Liz Moor (Goldsmiths); Pascale Trompette (Grenoble); Elena Esposito (Emilia-Romagna) Alexandre Mallard (CSI, Paris); Donncha Marron (Robert Gordon, Aberdeen); Zsuzsanna Vargha (LSE) Sonja Narunsky-Laden (Johannesberg); Jose Ossandon, Stefan Schwarzkopf (CBS)

    The conference was opened by Alan Irwin, CBS Dean of Research, in the impressive granite of the Kilen Building.  Andrew Fearne offered the first keynote with a discussion of the gap between perceptions and purchasing behaviour and the challenge of sustainable consumption based on Tesco’s Dunnhumby clubcard data. Despite his anxiety at being a supply chain management specialist surrounded by social scientists his lecture was received by an immediate show of hands from the majority of delegates when questions opened. This level of enthusiasm, energy and lively debate was to be a feature of the next two days with a diverse group eager to work out what shape empirical, interdisciplinary, international and inclusive studies of consumer markets might take. Bill Maurer’s discussion of encounters in the market of payments offered a provocative account of the virtues of US exceptionalism and the Federal Reserve in maintaining that the means of payment transfer stay outside of private ownership. This position might have opened him to the charge of ‘fedophilia’ but his account nevertheless persuaded Paul Langley of the importance of ‘style’ if not quite satisfying Langley’s standards of political analysis. The final keynote by Celia Lury and Liz Moor triggered an athletic debate with Martha Poon on the question of whether or no brand equity could be valued if it was not legally owned. Sustained by the culinary standards demanded by Copenhagen Business School, after a demanding schedule of papers over three days, the delegates still had enough in the tank for a serious discussion of the challenges posed by the establishment of an international, interdisciplinary virtual community of researchers interested in consumer markets. This may, or may not, turn out to be what CHARISMA means in the context of consumer markets!

  • Fri, 11/02/2011

    Committee room 10 at the House of Commons was packed on Thursday 10th February 2011 for the CRESC and NPEN co-organised debate on ‘How shall We Rebuild the British Economy’. CRESC co-director Karel Williams joined Brendan Barber (General Secretary, TUC), John Denham (Shadow Secretary of State for Business Innovation and Skills), Paul Everitt (Chief Executive, The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders) and Sir Alan Rudge (Chairman, ERA Foundation) in a stimulating debate chaired by John Cruddas MP.

    During a lively discussion with important contributions from the floor there was a broad consensus among the participants that ‘rebalancing’ was an empty trope and that manufacturing is still important because of its role in producing internationally traded goods.

    While all the speakers differed on ‘problem definitions’ they agreed that Britain’s manufacturing sector problems were serious and required government intervention to arrest decline, rebuild supply chains and build capacity. The key difference amongst the speakers was on policy where Karel Williams argued for specific not generic interventions that privileged the manufacturing sector by offering targeted (and earned) corporate tax cuts in return for increasing capacity, apprenticeships, employment and behaving in a socially useful way.

    Karel Williams spoke to CRESC's new report on Rebalancing the Economy (or Buyer's Remorse). For further details see the press release on the report, and a related Guardian podcast.