Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Unpacking Financial Subjectivities: Intimacies, Governance and Socioeconomic Practices in Financialisation

Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Unpacking Financial Subjectivities: Intimacies, Governance and Socioeconomic Practices in Financialisation

Article excerpt


Existing studies on financialisation have used Foucauldian governmentality to examine how everyday consumers, shaped by state initiatives and proliferation of financial products, are transforming into self-reliant subjects capable of seeking out financial knowledge and products for future security. By bringing the idea of agencement into critical dialogue with governmentality, this paper incorporates lived and emotive elements of quotidian financial practices with political economic and organisational dimensions of market behaviour to uncover a broad bandwidth of financial subjectivities. The analysis is based on in-depth interviews with investors and participant observation at financial literacy events to explore financial knowledge and practices of everyday investors in Singapore. Findings reveal how intimacies, moralities and technologies are mobilised and entangled such that logics of financial governmentality could operate through multiple registers, harnessed for different means and with varied outcomes.


Agencement, financialisation, governmentality, investors, state, subjects


In analysing (Epstein, 2005), earlier studies on financialisation have sought to explain large scale economic processes in terms of the rise of shareholder value in corporate governance, accumulation of profits through financial channels rather than trade and commodity production, and increasing use of securitisation and financial derivative products as tools of risk management. More recently, other approaches to financialisation have focused on individuals and households as everyday lives and life cycles (e.g. housing, healthcare, retirement) become increasingly affected by the above large scale economic processes (Lai, in press; Langley and Leyshon, 2012). This approach reveals a much broader diffusion of financial power in which the biopolitical terrain of individual subjectivity, aspiration, and forms of conduct has become increasingly entangled with global financial markets and institutions.

Research on the financialisation of everyday life has been inspired by a predominantly (although not exclusively) (1) Foucauldian approach in explaining the shift towards financial markets for the provision of people's daily needs and long term security, especially within the context of dwindling state welfare provision (Cutler and Waine, 2001; Langley, 2006). Financial planning becomes a form of biopower whereby investor subjects are mobilised through state-sponsored narratives emphasising individual responsibility, normalisation of risk in financial management, and calculative assessment of life goals (Langley, 2008; Martin, 2002). The material outcomes of financialisation in terms of new growth markets in insurance and investment products are therefore bound up with the promotion of new financial subjects through calculative and competitive forms of economic behaviour in the contemporary neoliberal era (French and Kneale, 2009; Larner, 2012; Martin, 2002).

However, the exact constitution and positions of such financial subjects remain underspecified. How do everyday investors actually respond to government policies and campaigns, and increased marketing by financial institutions and financial advisors? Are their financial decisions and actions borne out of purposeful planning, accidental compliance or even rejection of prevailing investment ideology? Amidst uncertainty and increased anxiety, how do 'multiple practices and subject positions' (Langley, 2006: 932) emerge in the course of pursuing financial freedom and security? Moreover, understandings of financial freedom and security are constituted not only by economistic calculations of average life expectancies, but also socio-cultural constructs underpinning everyday attitudes towards money (Maurer, 2006; Zelizer, 1993, 1994). What might appear to be irrational, passive or contradictory financial practices, could well be appropriate and persuasive if one considers not just firm behaviour, organisational activities and government policies in governing financial practices, but also the more intimate and affective dimensions of socioeconomic practices (Deville, 2012; McFall, 2015; Zelizer, 2005). …

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