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Financialisation of Valuation

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This article shows that forms of analysis and calculation specific to finance are spreading, and changing valuation processes in various social settings. This perspective is used to contribute to the study of the recent transformations of capitalism, as financialisation is usually seen as marking the past three decades. After defining what is meant by “financialised valuation,” different examples are discussed. Recent developments concerning the valuation of assets in accounting standards and credit risk in banking regulations are used to suggest that colonisation of financial activities by financialised valuations is taking place. Other changes, concerning the valuation of social or cultural activities and environmental issues are also highlighted in order to support the hypothesis of a parallel colonisation of non-financial activities by financialised valuations. Specifically, the language of finance appears to gradually being incorporated into public policies, especially in Europe—and this trend seems to have gathered pace since the 2000s. Some interpretations are proposed to understand why public policies are seemingly increasingly reliant on financialised valuations.

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  1. The notion of subjectification is part of a Foucauldian heritage and concerns the fabrication of subjects.Çalιşkan and Callon (2009: 389) make the following comment on the importance of this concept in the study of economisation: “Subjectification implies that, if some modes of valuation are seen as economic and if they are related to behaviours also considered as economic, it is because agents have been configured and formatted as subjects who are technically and mentally equipped to enact these valuations”.

  2. Decoupling is when “the audit process becomes a world in itself, self-referentially creating auditable images of performance” (Power 1997: 95). Colonisation is when “the values and practices which make auditing possible penetrate deep into the core of organizational operations, not just in terms of requiring energy and resources to conform to new reporting demands but in the creation over time of new mentalities, new incentives and perception of significance” (1997: 97).

  3. Boltanski and Thevenot’s (2006) model makes it possible to identify the plurality of possible judgement principles, the worth attribution operations, and the different “tests” to which things and people are subjected in order to reach an agreement on relative worth.

  4. That is how the earliest users of the method for assessing non-financial investments in the late 19th century justified discounting cash flows (Doganova 2014). Nowadays, scholars would put the emphasis on opportunity cost, which is more general than only considering savings in banks.

  5. Fair value is defined in IFRS 13 as “the price that would be received to sell an asset or paid to transfer a liability in an orderly transaction between market participants at the measurement date”.

  6. IFRS 13, released by the IASB in 2011 and endorsed by the EU in December 2012, adopts the three-level valuation logic of the 2006 US standard FAS 157.

  7. Regarding derivatives, which played a very important role in the 2008 crisis, it should be noted that it is very unusual for them to have a level 1 valuation.

  8. The conceptual frameworks of both the American and international accounting standard-setters consider that accounting must primarily satisfy investors (Zhang and Andrew 2013; Young 2006); the needs of other users of accounting information are considered to be met if investors’ needs are met.

  9. The impact of these standards on corporate accounting image and calculation of profits is clearly enormous for firms with large financial portfolios, i.e., banks and insurance companies. Other provisions also based on a financialised approach to financialised valuation have affected non-financial firms through other channels, but there is not enough space here to discuss this further.

  10. The methods and instruments for calculating credit risk introduced under Basel II were not changed in Basel III, and are still the standard regulatory rule for computing credit risk today.


  12. SROI was invented in this milieu and then spread to Europe via the United Kingdom. “A Guide to SROI” was published by the Cabinet Office in 2009. A new version has been issued in 2012 (see on line).

  13. The famous Business school launched the Social Enterprise Initiative in 1993.

  14. According to an ongoing analysis of the history of OECD debates by Pestre (2014), economicisation appears to result from a clear political aim pursued since the early 1970s to make environmental questions secondary to the question of economic growth, as a reaction to the Club of Rome, which sees the environmental question as an obligation to slow down economic growth.



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A previous version of this article was first presented in 2014 at two research seminars in Paris (LIRSA, CNAM Paris; Research Center for Capitalism, Globalization and Governance, ESSEC Paris) where it attracted a certain amount of pertinent criticism from attendees. I have had the opportunity to discuss part of this article at the “Numbers from the Bottom” workshop organized at Wiko in Berlin (March 2014) and with C. Baud and C. Walter. The comments of one anonymous reviewer and the two special issue guest editors were also very valuable. My thanks are extended to all. I am also indebted to Ann Gallon for her much appreciated editorial help.

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Correspondence to Eve Chiapello.

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Chiapello, E. Financialisation of Valuation. Hum Stud 38, 13–35 (2015).

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