Challenges of balancing scholarly engagement and critique: A reflection on social studies of finance

By Suhaib Riaz. *

Is finance socializing us.jpg

“Socializing finance” has become shorthand to describe the research that several scholars (including me) are engaged in related to social studies of finance. This stream of work involves: bringing finance into the realm of social studies; but also making the industry aware of other ways of thinking and doing, beyond their current status quo; this also often has an element of (social) interaction with the industry thrown in. All these are consistent with various meanings of ‘socializing’ and are much needed efforts.

But there is a flip side to this aspect. How critically aware are we that finance is also on a mission to socialize us – in the sense of influencing our thinking – even as we may attempt to ‘socialize’ it?

In my work (in collaboration most prominently with Sean Buchanan, Trish Ruebottom, Madeline Toubiana) and that of a few other scholars, this seems to be a theme too powerful and important to ignore.

Finance is indeed at work to socialize us – to influence our ways of thinking about it through various means. At the peak of the financial crisis, various categories of elite actors seemed bounded by these ways of thinking about the financial industry resulting in configurations of positions often in favor of status quo (see Riaz et al., 2011). More specifically, financial industry leadership may well see it as their task to defend the institutional framework in which the current version of their industry thrives; and accordingly work to ‘socialize’ the rest of us – all stakeholders- to accept their view of finance and its role in society as the ultimate one by claiming epistemic authority in this domain (see Riaz et al., 2016). Continue reading

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Why is it so difficult to rein in Wall Street?

Why is it so difficult to rein in Wall Street?

Suhaib Riaz, University of Massachusetts Boston; Sean Buchanan, University of Manitoba, and Trish Ruebottom, Brock University.

Reforming Wall Street has become a key issue in the ongoing presidential primaries.

Bernie Sanders in particular has used his rival’s close ties to the financial industry, including speaking fees and political donations, to suggest Hillary Clinton wouldn’t rein in Wall Street. At the same time, Sanders has tried to highlight his own independence, declaring:

If I were elected president, the foxes would no longer guard the henhouse.

Clinton has tried to dispel the notion that Wall Street donations affect her judgment or independence, claiming her regulatory plan is actually tougher than Sanders’.

These exchanges underscore a crucial point: almost a decade after the 2008 financial crisis, the reforms that many Americans have demanded remain incomplete. Claims of independence, including by Republicans such as Donald Trump, are one way for candidates to suggest that they would be able to bring about real change.

Who would be the best candidate to do so is an important question. But first we must understand this underlying dilemma: why has it been so difficult to reform Wall Street following the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression?

This led us to a more fundamental question: whose voice matters most in determining how the financial industry should be run?

Given how much anger there still is at Wall Street, the answer may be surprising. Continue reading

Bringing Gender from the Dark Side to the Light in International Development and Management

By Keshav Krishnamurty. 

A panel on Gender, International Development and Management was hosted on October 23 at UMass Boston as part of the Academy of International Business US-Northeast conference, including panelists Banu Ozkazanc-Pan (UMass Boston College of Management), Kade Finoff (UMass Boston College of Liberal Arts, Economics Department), Cynthia Enloe (Clark University, Worcester) and Deborah Jones (Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand) with Alessia Contu (UMass Boston College of Management) as the moderator.

The discussion began with Alessia Contu noting that any conversation about gender lands up with an all-female panel, and stating that it is important how scholars teach gender to their students. Some excerpts follow:

(Question) Alessia Contu: What does it mean to think about gender seriously in political economy?

Banu Ozkazanc-Pan : Gender is the complex interaction between biological sex, identity and perception of gender role/gender expression. It’s not just about women! “Genderblind” does not relate to gender-neutral outcomes. It’s like when students conduct a SWOT analysis of a company, there are assumptions being made about gender in business all the time. Who’s going to benefit from a cost-effective workforce? What are the real gender consequences of those decisions? What we research, practice and teach about international management needs to include all those. Continue reading

Of Davos, Luxury Boats and Downward Spirals

By Suhaib Riaz.

At the recently concluded gathering of world elites, also known as the World Economic Forum at Davos, one issue seemed to come up more than it has in the recent past: societal inequality. Oxfam released a well-timed report on economic inequality and directly asked for world elites at Davos to turn their attention to it.

The report highlighted how the 85 richest people in the world (who could hypothetically fit Oxfam reportinto a double-decker bus) now own wealth equal to the lower 3.5 billion people (half the world’s population). Interestingly, the Oxfam site’s link to the report had the picture of a boat, or more precisely, that of a luxury yacht – presumably the kind that those elites may own or have access to. The water all around it seems stable and beautiful as ever. It is hard to resist a metaphor here, which I will expand on through this article.

On the face of it, the call by Oxfam can be puzzling. The fact that societal elites are being asked to give attention to inequality raises a fundamental question: Why should they care?

Continue reading

Lost in Publication: Why we are losing knowledge while gaining publications in organizational research

By Suhaib Riaz.

The scenario is familiar to most organizational scholars who regularly attend academic conferences, seminars, workshops etc. in our field. You walk in to a session with seemingly interesting topics and scholars, and settle in for an inspiring scientific conversation. Except that it doesn’t happen. Something stops everyone from that conversation: Publication. What should have been a conversation about knowledge-seeking quickly turns into a conversation on publication strategies.

The problem is so endemic that it is accepted as common practice; the stark contrast is only made apparent when one compares norms with other disciplines, such as the natural sciences. When I talk to scholars in natural sciences about the importance of discussions on ‘publication strategies’ in their field, I encounter genuine surprise and a polite request to explain what I mean. Apparently, in their sessions, the primary conversation is about how to get better research done. Not how to get it published. The latter remains a distant endnote. Importantly, this distinction in conversations exists despite the fact that the natural sciences are also grappling with various pressures related to productivity.

Continue reading

UMB OSC group at conference on Inequality, Institutions and Organizations in Vancouver

By Ed Carberry, David Levy, Banu Ozkazanc-Pan, Suhaib Riaz, Mary Still.

The Organizations and Social Change (OSC) research group at UMass-Boston had a strong presence at a recently held conference on “Inequality, Institutions and Organizations” at Simon Fraser University, Vancouver. The conference was organized by John Amis (Memphis), Tom Lawrence (Simon Fraser) and Kamal Munir (Cambridge) and featured guest discussants such as Jerry Davis (Michigan), Steve Barley (Stanford) and Pam Tolbert (Cornell) among others.

Research related to inequality comprises a key area of interest for several scholars in the OSC group at UMass-Boston and their strong presence at Vancouver highlighted their various ongoing projects. The UMB OSC group had the highest number of participants from any one institution and they were also amongst those called upon to summarize the work in their respective streams. Continue reading

Carbon Fiddles While the Planet Burns

By David Levy.

A milestone on the road to catastrophic climate change was reached last Thursday, May 9th, when the Mauna Loa research center in Hawaii recorded atmospheric CO2 levels above 400 parts per million (ppm) for the first time. The level during pre-industrial times was around 280 ppm, and has been rising at an accelerating pace due to burning fossil fuels and clearing forests. For the last 400,000 years or so, CO2 levels have fluctuated between about 180 ppm, at the depths of ice ages, and 280 ppm during relatively short warm periods, or interglacials (see graphic). The last time CO2 levels reached 400 ppm was at least 3 million years ago, a much warmer world where sea levels were 60-80 feet higher. Continue reading