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Financialization, Fields, and Change

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Abstract

In this chapter, Golka develops his theoretical argument on the use of field theory for the study of financialization processes. Golka compares the explanatory horizon of prominent sociological field theories, particularly neo-institutional theories and Fligstein and McAdam’s strategic action fields theory, for the case of financialization. His analysis reveals the merits of strategic action fields theory over other field theories, but also shows how its lack of a mechanism to explain the emergence of cooperative ties as a result of skilled social action severely constrains the theory’s explanatory potential. To address this void, Golka draws on recent theorizing of pragmatist mechanisms.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    I understand financial actors as those engaged in investment and speculation, in the sense of Knorr-Cetina (2009). Empirically, these are most frequently financial intermediaries.

  2. 2.

    There are two important strands in the literature that I will ignore. First, issue fields (Hoffman 1999) which provide a more discursive and thus less functionalist definition of fields in comparison to DiMaggio and Powell (1983) and Scott (1987). This way, field dynamics can be understood as closely linked to membership dynamics. Nevertheless, issue field theory relies on a similarly problematic conception of agency as much of neo-institutional theory (see below). These problems are equally prominent in institutional logics theory (Reay and Hinings 2005; Thornton et al. 2012) albeit in a slightly different coloring. Assuming relatively homogenous field-level logics that are in coherence with the rationality criteria posed by the “society as an inter-institutional system” perspective and stabilized through individual-level cognitive scripts and schemas, the theory under-estimates the continuous creative capacities of human agency (Joas 1996) and resulting conflict in favor of a rather consensualist (albeit dynamic) view of institutions and fields (Fligstein and McAdam 2012, pp. 10–12).

  3. 3.

    There are more reasons why these theories are not suitable for our endeavor. One is that, being located in organizational theory, most scholarship uses these theories to explain organizational outcomes, e.g. as changes in “templates” (Battilana et al. 2009). However, my interest is more broadly located on the field level and includes positions, relations, and resources in addition to forms of organizing.

  4. 4.

    I consider the conception of IGUs as one of the weaker parts of SAF theory, both theoretically and empirically. Theoretically, this somewhat functionalist construction partially contradicts the strict emphasis on social construction that prevails in the theory. If stable periods are achieved through mobilization and frame resonance, while at the same time all actors possess social skill, why would we then expect a norm-following organization such as IGUs constitutive of fields? Empirically, it has, for example in the case of intra-organizational equal opportunities officers, been shown how IGUs that were initially created by incumbent actors to maintain their rules in the face of growing criticism may develop an organizational interest in their own right that eventually alters the rules of the field contrary to incumbents’ interest (Dobbin 2009). Ultimately, upholding such a theoretically defined conception of IGUs would thus require us to ex ante define those as low skilled, interest-less, non-strategic actors, contradicting the theory’s assumption on the existential role of the social. For these reasons, as well as the fact that in the case of SII, trade associations can rather be considered as the very competing actors, I will disregard such a conception of IGUs for the remainder of this book.

  5. 5.

    I have two concerns with their perspective. First, assuming that we “seek out instrumental gain, social status, and power […] because we want to prove to ourselves and others that we are worthy as people” (p. 46) fails to acknowledge that the construction of worth is socially contingent (Boltanski and Thévenot 2006; Stark 2011) and thus can hardly be assumed as a motivational force. As Beckert (2003) and Joas (1996) have shown, and as the authors themselves frequently point out, ends are constructed in social processes. It thus seems incorrect and contradictory to assume the cause of these different actions in their common motivational dimension. Second, noting that “by ‘winning,’ we confirm to ourselves and others that life is not meaningless” (p. 46) incorrectly assumes a motivational basis for winning. As my previous work has shown, faced with a situation where winning coincides with losing money, the “value of winning” is highly dependent upon an individual’s hormonal testosterone levels (Van Den Bos et al. 2013).

  6. 6.

    Note that this does not imply that financializing state actions are always the result of financial actors’ strategic efforts vis-à-vis the state. Sometimes these actions are intended to achieve different goals but have led to increased financialization in markets (e.g. Krippner 2011, or Fligstein 1990, Chap. 5). That said, it seems to be the case that in the past decades, in many cases, state actions appear to be directed towards and lobbied for by financial actors (e.g. Langenohl and Wetzel 2011). As I will show in the longitudinal chapter, the growth of impact investing in the UK serves as a case in point here.

  7. 7.

    Of course, changes in nonfinancial actors’ action patterns are not based on cooperation alone: unilateral dependencies exist. My point here is twofold: first, I am only interested in situations where such unilateral dependencies do not (yet) exist, as is for example the case in field emergence or invasion by outside actors. Second, I argue that even where nonfinancial actors are critically dependent on financial actors’ resources, they do not necessarily fully subjugate to financial actors’ interests. Thus, there is room for nonfinancial actors’ agency here, which needs to be understood in more detail.

  8. 8.

    This creates the contradiction that entrepreneurship is and is not an ability of the individual. This may be resolved by assuming entrepreneurship to be an individual ability conditioned by situations on the field level. I suspect that this is what the authors had in mind here.

  9. 9.

    Tilly’s work was highly influential for the work of McAdam, particularly through his contributions to episodes of contention, the development of the challenger/incumbent model from Gamson (1975), as well as the introduction of Harrison White’s network-theoretical concept of “catnets” (White 1970).

  10. 10.

    Although the ability to learn empathy appears to be bound by biological factors such as prenatal testosterone levels: individuals with higher prenatal testosterone levels appear to be less empathetic, more motivated by money, and more successful in competitive financial professions (Baron-Cohen 2002; Coates and Herbert 2008; Eisenegger et al. 2011).

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Golka, P. (2019). Financialization, Fields, and Change. In: Financialization as Welfare. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-06100-5_3

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