The Influence of Financial Capitalism on Social Worlds

September 06, 2018

On 10–12 September a conference entitled “Financialisation Beyond Crisis: Connections, Contradictions, Contestations” will take place at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology. It will examine how global financial capitalism influences not only international politics and economy but also nearly every aspect of people’s lives. The conference is organised by Chris Hann and Don Kalb together with the research group ‘Financialisation’ in the Department ‘Resilience and Transformation in Eurasia’ at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology. The conference language will be English.

Powerful financial markets, endangered livelihoods
Ten years after the 2008 financial crisis, the global financial economy remains as powerful as ever. Supranational organisations, individual states, banks, corporations, and even private households are increasingly subject to the influence of financialised capitalism. This process, which started in the 1970s and was accelerated by the liberalisation of the financial sector by Reagan and Thatcher in the 1980s, is often referred to by scholars as “financialisation”,. Actors in the financial sector such as banks and other credit institutions no longer restrict their activities to their role as privately organized public utilities but have transformed themselves into speculative market-makers. Through doing so they are now able to influence politics and the economy to a previously unheard-of extent. “But there is also increasing resistance to this influence,” notes Prof. Chris Hann, Director at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, “for it has triggered numerous international crises and endangered the livelihoods of millions of people.”

Transformation of natural resources into financial products
Drawing on anthropological field studies, conference participants will explore the many ways in which the lives of people around the world are affected by the logic and dynamics of financialisation. For example, international carbon credit trading has resulted in large areas of forest in China being designated as carbon sinks and treated as a financial product. The success of forestry projects is thus no longer measured by the preservation of ecosystems, the protection of livelihoods, or timber production, but rather by the profits that can be made on international carbon markets. The profits from carbon trading do not benefit the primary producers, but rather financial traders and large forestry corporations. “This multiscalar study by our own postdoc Charlotte Bruckermann shows how even nature reserves are now being produced as speculative financialised products that are traded worldwide rather than serving the interests of local populations,” explains Hann.

Loans as poverty traps
Another consequence of financialisation that interests anthropologists is the proliferation of loans and consumer credits to financially insecure households. Heavily indebted households are often unable to keep up with their payment obligations and must face the continual threat of the seizure and loss of their homes. In Croatia and Greece, as other members of the Halle team have shown, significant societal problems have arisen because many families grossly underestimated the unpredictability of international financial politics and the high private risk they were taking.

Growing resistance worldwide
“At this conference we are interested in tracing the more subtle consequences of financialisation in all spheres of life; we are also interested in whether and society is resisting this penetration of life-worlds,” says Hann. Several conference participants demonstrate how tenants in many cities in Europe are organising to assert their individual and collective interests in opposition to investment funds. On the Balearic Islands, for example, as Marc Morell shows in his contribution, the local population is fighting back against the international investors who are buying up neighbourhoods for use as holiday rentals, thereby turning entire urban and rural districts into objects of speculation. “Here, too, we can see how the interests of the local residents have been disregarded. And they are making it clear that they will no longer tolerate this,” says Hann.

Studying global social change
The Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology is one of the world’s leading centres for research in socio-cultural anthropology. It was established in 1999 by Chris Hann and Günther Schlee, and moved to its permanent buildings at Advokatenweg 36 in Halle/Saale in 2001. Marie-Claire Foblets joined the Institute as Director of the Department ‘Law & Anthropology’ in 2012. Common to all research projects at the Max Planck Institute is the comparative analysis of social change; it is primarily in this domain that its researchers contribute to anthropological theory, though many programmes also have applied significance and political topicality. Fieldwork is an essential part of almost all projects. Some 175 researchers from over 30 countries currently work at the Institute. In addition, the Institute also hosts countless guest researchers who join in the scholarly discussions.

Conference programme and abstracts

More information on the research group ‘Financialisation’

Contact for this press release
Prof. Dr. Chris Hann
Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology
Department ‘Resilience and Transformation in Eurasia’
Advokatenweg 36, 06114 Halle (Saale)
Tel.: 0345 2927-200

PR contact
Stefan Schwendtner
Press and Public Relations
Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology
Advokatenweg 36, 06114 Halle (Saale)
Tel.: 0345 2927-425

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