The Sociology of Financial Markets

The Sociology of Financial Markets

The Sociology of Financial Markets

The Sociology of Financial Markets

Synopsis

Financial markets have often been seen by economists as efficient mechanisms that fulfill vital functions within economies. But do financial markets really operate in such a straightforward manner? The Sociology of Financial Markets approaches financial markets from a sociological perspective. It seeks to provide an adequate sociological conceptualization of financial markets, and examine who the actors within them are, how they operate within which networks, and under which cognitive and cultural assumptions. Patterns of trading, trading room coordination, cognition and emotions, and global interaction are studied to help us better understand how markets work and the types of reasoning underlying these institutions. Financial markets also have a structural impact on the governance of social and economic institutions. Until now, sociologists have examined issues of governance mostly with respect to the legal framework of financial transactions. Contributions in this book highlight the ways in which financial markets shape the inner working and structure of corporations and their governance. Finally, the book seeks to investigate the symbolic aspects of financial markets. Financial markets affect not only economic and social structures but also societal cultural images and frameworks of meaning. Barbara Czarniawska demonstrates how representations of gender relationships are a case in point. Arguing that financial markets are not simply neutral with respect to questions of gender but enhance certain images and interpretations of men and women. Addressing many important topics from a sociological perspective for the first time, this book will be key reading for academics, researchers, and advanced students of financial markets in Business, Management, Economics, Finance and Sociology.

Excerpt

This book is about the social and cultural study of finance, of the markets and institutions used for financial transactions, and the trading of assets and risks. The financial system controls and manages credit; in contemporary societies, the ultimate users of real capital rely heavily on others (investors) to provide the funds with which to acquire the resources they need. Investors make the transfers of money to those seeking credit in the hope of reaping profits at later points in time; the debts the receivers of the funds incur are claims investors can make on future income and on economic output and development. Characteristically, these claims (which take the form of company shares, governments bonds, etc.) and their derivatives are marketed and traded on financial markets—with the help of financial intermediaries (e.g. banks, brokerage houses, insurance companies) who package the deals, assume some of the risks, and facilitate the trading of claims and risks among market participants. The existence of such markets allows participants to sell claims and risks they no longer want, and to pursue additional profits through clever trading. Financial markets, then, are a major, if not the most important component of the credit mechanism in risk-based economies. Economists regard them as constituting an efficient mechanism that fulfills vital functions of, and for, the financial system: for instance, they pool and transfer wealth for capital use, decrease the costs of finance (through the elimination of banks as direct lenders), and spread and control risks—risk being more widely distributed when credit is obtained in financial markets through the splitting of shares and through derivative products that can be used for hedging risky investments (e.g. Merton and Bodie 1995: 4f, 13–15).

In contemporary Western societies, financial activities are a defining characteristic not only of the corporate economy, but also of politics, the welfare and social security system, and general culture. For example, the corporate economy has long depended on credit to finance production and investments. A Robinson Crusoe with nothing to invest could not hope to produce much. He would first have to invest his own time and labor in order to build the rudiments of a productive capital structure (Shapiro 1985: 77). As Susan Strange argues (1994: 30), if we had had to wait for profits to be accumulated there would have been none of the economic growth of the past decades in industry and agriculture. The state has long needed credit and borrowed vast amounts of money. From the seventeenth century onward, states systematically financed costly military interventions by issuing debt (government . . .

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