The Institute for Public Knowledge and NYU Sociology's Applied Quantitative Research Master's program are hosting the IPK's first ever datathon, a workshop bringing together academics, journalists, and data engineers to explore a big question in a short amount of time. The theme of the March 9th event is "Social and Meteorological Data," which will encourage teams to play with different ways to combine these often disparate forms of data in configurations that illuminate the relationship between society and climate.
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Call For Participation
Cultures of Finance Summer Institute
June 10-21, 2013
Convened by IPK's Cultures of Finance Working Group members Arjun Appadurai, Ben Lee, Edward Lipuma, Randy Martin, Bob Meister, Robert Wosnitzer.
The Wealth of Society: A Politics For Derivatives
This two week intensive residency will trace a derivative sensibility—a way of thinking, feeling, measuring--across dimensions of economy, polity and culture. Our founding premise is that derivatives are a new form of social wealth whose mechanisms, material forms and social relations can be rethought as a means to achieve a generalized social benefit. To grasp the derivative as a prevailing means of wealth to which social life itself is expansively indebted, we will engage some of the foundational treatments of capitalist society—Marx’s analysis of total social surplus; Weber’s consideration of decision-making under uncertainty; Durkheim’s intimations of the liquidity of the social; and Bourdieu’s approach to a corporeally situated sensibility.
The first week will feature a series of seminars facilitated by the six conveners on a progressive sequence of themes: 1) derivatives and the social; 2) logics of the derivative: volatility, spreads, liquidity, and arbitrage; 3) social wealth, regulation, and governance; 4) the rise of financialism: regimes of measure, 1971-2008; 5) derivative directions for social life. These morning sessions will be followed by thematically-linked roundtables in the afternoon on such topics as algorithms and financial modeling; public finance; higher education; alternative finance and entrepreneurialism; arts, design, and social media; mobilizations and interventions.
Based on these sessions, participants will write short statements that engage concrete sites, instances, and expressions of this larger derivative sensibility. These applications or apps, linked to the participants’ own interests and research, will then provide the basis for discussion and workshop during the second week, to be capped by summative and speculative reflections.
Ultimately, the aim of our intensive ten day institute is to come to terms with the significance of the pervasiveness of derivatives; trace their sensibility to a grasp of certain fundamental societal dynamics; generate a comprehensive view of contemporary capitalism that opens to a way of re-imagining political alternatives and re-valuing critical practices. A major focus will be developing a future program to disseminate these ideas and analyses.
Tuition $1000 (We are hopeful that graduate students have access to departmental support for this workshop. However, limited financial aid will be available to students who lack this support—please include a separate request for financial assistance for consideration for this aid.)
Housing $350-$700 (Beds in NYU dormitories will be arranged at this approximate cost depending on room configuration, number of roommates, and availability. Participants are also welcome to arrange their own housing.)
Cultures of Finance Summer Institute Prospectus
The booms and busts of the last several decades and more recent catastrophes such as 9/11, Katrina, Fukushima, and Sandy mark ours as an age of radical uncertainty. Our responses to these uncertainties have ranged from deregulated financialization to the political hedging strategies of both the reactionary right and radical left. The most visible forms of managing these risks have been in the financial sector in the explosive development of financial engineering, driven by the outsized corporate profits that financialization has produced. The breakthroughs have been in pricing risk but what has been overlooked is that at a deeper social level uncertainty has always been a motivating force in the development of capitalism, whether it be in the form of the existential uncertainty that drove Weber's ascetic Calvinists, Schumpeter's 'creative destruction', the Knightian uncertainty of entrepreneurs, or Fischer Black's ‘noise’ that makes trading possible. By placing it in a larger socio-historical and cultural context, our contention is that the development of financialism is more like that of a social movement than a purely economic phenomenon; its understanding requires drawing upon not only financial concepts such as arbitrage, risk, and volatility but also uncertainty, ritual, charisma, aura, and play.
The rise of financialism can be traced to a series of shocks in the early seventies--the dismantling of Bretton Woods, the oil crisis, the 1973 bear market, what was then called ‘democratic overload’, and soaring inflation--coinciding with the development of the Black-Scholes equations and the founding of the Chicago Options exchange, which form the crucible for the rise of contemporary risk management and financial engineering. Black-Scholes presents a way of looking at risk and uncertainty through measuring volatility and spreads, which will become a foundation for the new finance capitalism. It was the culmination of a line of thinking about risk and return that starts with the axiomatization of expected utility by Von Neumann and Morgenstern and is refined by Harry Markowitz’s development of portfolio theory and Modigliani and Miller’s formalization of arbitrage. This trajectory within finance also captures a transformation in the way we think about risk outside of finance, from focusing on what might be called ‘directional risks’ to the analysis of volatility and spreads.
Investors have long had an informal sense that the payoff of their bet on the direction in which prices will move depends on the magnitude by which prices have historically varied around their average. Portfolio theory formalized these intuitions as a theory of maximizing returns relative to risk through diversification (“not putting all your eggs in one basket”) and went on to develop techniques (using the concept of ‘arbitrage’) for determining how much an investor should expect to be paid for variance in the value of an asset or portfolio regardless of the direction in which it moves. Fischer Black and Myron Scholes combined these insights in their formula for pricing options that is now seen as the foundation of modern finance. In the Black-Scholes formula an option on an asset is priced as the cost of hedging (for a limited time and within a defined range) the risks associated with the movement of the asset’s prices above or below their historical average. The most important variable in the formula is volatility, which is technically defined as the square root of the variance of prices, and the investor's expected return on the asset drops out altogether. An option’s Black-Scholes price thus reflects the historical cost of shedding directional risk—whether underlying prices will go up or down—and assuming instead the risk that the volatility (historical spread) of those prices will change as the option itself is traded. This way of thinking about volatility has become so fundamental to the practice of finance itself that the market price at which an option is actually traded is routinely used to calculate what the historical volatilities used to calculate the Black-Scholes price will have been going forward.
The technical literature on finance is, thus, based on measuring the relative spreads between the volatilities of different assets—how these spreads change (co-vary) over time. This measurement becomes the key to the production and pricing of new, financial, assets that can be used to lock-in (preserve/(accumulate) the value of pre-existing assets notwithstanding the turbulence of underlying markets. The creation of a market in these financial spreads thus captures in the form of asset prices the level of uncertainty that exists in society over whether past volatilities will continue into the future. But perhaps more importantly, volatility is indifferent to the directionality of risk: therefore creating tradable assets that allow the market to price volatility itself becomes one of the key components in the derivative creation of wealth that can survive the upturns and downturns in underlying markets. Financial derivatives, such as options, thus allow people to secure risk by locking-in otherwise volatile spreads for limited periods of time so as preserve and accumulate wealth in the form of a predictable stream of revenue.
Finance, as a form of thought, exploits constantly changing levels of uncertainty/anxiety about the future to create a market for products based on volatility spreads that can be bought and sold to realize or preserve a present gain. These gains can be economic or symbolic—from the economic profits of riding implied volatility waves in derivative trading to the symbolic capital and social recognition of 'shooting the curl' in extreme surfing or the mixed gains of going ‘all-in’ in no-limit Texas hold'em—each presupposes its own distinctive form of liquidity or sociability, whether it be that of the traders in the derivatives market or the social recognition of one’s peers. In our age of uncertainty, becoming a better 'risk manager' under conditions of fundamental uncertainty has become well nigh obligatory despite highly disparate conditions of opportunity to do so.
The more exposed we feel, the more we seek ways to calculate the observed volatilities of the eventualities we fear. The relative distance between what we expect and what we observe, the gap between our aspirations and our experience, the patterns of movement between variations brought into relation with one another—define what is meant by a spread. Spreads are evident in all walks of life: bond markets, tax exemptions and electoral campaigns; poker, baseball and extreme sports; efforts to deal with disaster, reparation, and with terrorism. Each has its attendant protocols of measure with corresponding algorithms of deficit and gain, justice and fairness, which govern when to hold and fold, buy and sell, wound or heal, drop in or bail out.
The fact that derivatives can in theory be created to price spreads of all sorts makes these financial products a new form in which wealth can be accumulated and upon which claims can be made. As we have seen in the past forty years, but especially since the corporate bailout of 2008, huge transfers of wealth have already happened and continue to happen in the form of derivatives. These transfers dwarf those that are possible through traditional methods of redistributive politics such as taxation of GDP (individual, corporate). The political challenge is to redirect these schemes away from the apparent necessities of scarcity, austerity, debt and deficit for the many toward social claims on this wealth that direct it toward common needs for investment in infrastructure, expansive social goods, and creatively, critically-engaged cooperative knowledge.
The quandary we face is that the massive wealth presented by derivatives appears inaccessible; either because it is seen as the restricted province of those who are entitled to make a proprietary claim upon it, or because it seems overly daunting to enter the technically obscure world of derivatives and yield a language for apprehending how they move our own. Generating this critical language is the task of disclosing what could be called a derivative sensibility. This entails treating a comprehension of the world from the perspective of spreads in motion. But putting spreads in motion requires the addition of two additional concepts taken from finance but given a social twist: liquidity and arbitrage. Liquidity means that as long as the spreads remain in motion, some value can be realized because there is a social demand for it. But if that movement gathers too much force, becomes excessive beyond the point of tangible gain, the intensity of change or volatility will overwhelm the capacity to maintain a stream of worth.
Liquidity in the face of volatility is the generalized context within which risk is managed and momentary fixity in the form of price, scoring, ranking or some other measure can be applied. This action of moving into an opening between spreads in order to close them in an act of pricing, measure, or movement is termed arbitrage. Arbitrage is familiar in trading, but also evident among forecasters of elections like Nate Silver, or among the most accomplished practitioners of extreme sport such as big wave surfers. Arbitrage acts on the spread to close it, but also open it again to the next opportunity. A derivative sensibility then accounts for what recurs socially and materially across these various sites and practices and allows us to recognize the pervasiveness not only of accumulable wealth that could be held in common, but a generalizable sociality that could drive action together. This at least is the analytic framework we are seeking to develop.
This derivative sensibility suffuses or is immanent to our present moment. Yet to begin to describe what that moment is, where its potential lies, and how it came to be, given all the directions that the movement of society might take, requires a re-engagement with some of the most persuasive and extensive accounts of social theory. This is our speculative turn. Our opening gambit is to place the derivative in a conception where it was only tacit, and then to see how this opportunity to theorize the sociality of derivatives allows us to bring to notice what is difficult to value in our current conjuncture. This move allows us to see in the social logic of the derivative the contours of what might be called the ‘social valuation problem’: how do the things that money couldn’t buy become commodities that can be priced, bought, and sold? Economists focus on pricing things that are already assets, thus drawing a line between the social and the economic.
Our question focuses on the social production of finance capitalism; how does contemporary finance transform social uncertainty into manageable risk? What might be called a ‘pre-capitalist valuation problem’ has been at the heart of the anthropological studies of exchange from Durkheim’s Arunta to Bourdieu’s Kabyle and David Graeber’s ruminations on value and debt. But a more modern version of it appears in both Marx and Weber, which allows us to see their accounts of the development of capitalism as complementary rather than antagonistic. In the opening chapters of Volume I of Capital, Marx shows how something that had never been priced before, i.e., labor-time, becomes a commodity that creates a new source of wealth in the form of capital. Weber finds the spirit of capitalism exemplified in Benjamin Franklin’s excursus on how “time is money”, which brilliantly utilizes the opportunity cost of idleness to demonstrate the productivity of time. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism shows how a religious movement transforms an existential uncertainty over salvation into an ethos and world-view that gives birth to modern capitalism. Temporal spreads are at the heart of Marx’s account of relative surplus value and Weber’s existential tension between the sacred and the profane; these will become objectified as arbitrage and decision-making under uncertainty in finance capitalism.
To accomplish this move, we turn to Marx’s account of the total social wealth, which he abstracted from its most simple expression, the commodity. What would it mean to read the derivative into his critique of capital and to see in the tendency for profits to fall a condition whereby social capital or finance emerges to price these various spreads? Weber, in turn, provides a compelling account of decision-making under uncertainty, where the calculating attitude threatens to unmoor the underlying values introduced through the rationalizing regime of measure that drove the spread of capitalism. What would it entail to insert the figure of the arbitrager in the phenomenology of action implied through Weber’s account of charisma? Durkheim’s notion of the collective effervescence sustains the recurrent collective representations that are enacted by sacrifice and ritual. His insights allow us to see how preserving liquidity in the face of changing volatility can itself be taken as a generative social process. Finally, Bourdieu’s work on the habitus extends this treatment of ritual and play to a corporally and spatially situated sensibility. His presentation of this spread of dispositions in Distinction might now be rethought in an era of cross-identification with the outliers, extremes, and exceptional bodily practices that circulate in our midst.
Reading the derivative back into classical social theory allows us to move forward with an understanding of what has brought us to the present. These principles of industrial capitalism, modern society, progressive development have been selectively re-arranged in the past forty years in which finance and derivatives have come to prominence. All that was solid might once have been dissipated in some gaseous state but now is recouped and liquefied. Risks that might have escaped valuation have now become priceable. Volatility that would have seemed to bring history to an end now appears as the condition of possibility for further mobilization and transformation. The forward drive to growth and expansion on an ever receding horizon is now re-oriented as a lateral slide that nestles in the intimate nooks and nanostructures we locate in the spaces between us.
Capitalism had once based its promise and prospects on the conquest of other spaces and new times. Now it has already enveloped the globe and seems to have abdicated its utopian investment in a future that is better than and different from the present. Under conditions of fundamental uncertainty the pricing of historically measurable risk seeks to harvest value from the already occupied spaces within, to realize the gains of a future brought into the present—suffusing accumulation with the internal dynamics of liquidity and volatility. Clearly not all is new with the capitalism of our day; but figuring out what events and movements compel us to rethink and how to enter the body of the moment to see what might be figured otherwise remains the challenge for any serviceable critique of our lives in the contemporary cultures of finance.
Superstorm Research Laboratory Internships Available
The Superstorm Research Laboratory (SRL) at NYU is looking for interns during the spring and summer semesters for hands-on social and environmental justice research. Our goal is to explore narratives about three substantive topics of contemporary concern—inequality, climate change, and urban governance—and their relationships to one another within the context of Hurricane Sandy. Our principal method will be to interview stakeholders from across the city—policy actors in different state agencies, engaged business people, members of relevant NGOs and other civil society institutions, professional and volunteer first responders, and residents in Zone A, especially in the Coney Island Area.
As a mutual-aid research collective bound by a community agreement, SRL is a unique group whose interactions with fellow researchers, interns, and interviewees reflect a commitment to social justice. Depending on the scope of interns’ involvement, they will gain valuable experience within SRL's unique research collective environment, including research methods, how to collaborate with other researchers using social justice values, interpretation of data, events planning, web design, curriculum design, the preparation of public reports, and other forms of outreach to the NYU community. We strongly encourage you to apply before January 25, though we will also accept applications on a rolling basis.
Interns will be trained in various research roles, depending on the semester hired, including:
- interviewing stakeholders
- methods for taking research notes at public meetings and other events
- coding interview transcripts and public documents
- interpretation of interview data
- ethics of research for environmental and social stakes
- facilitating research meetings using social justice protocols
In addition to research, interns may participate in other key aspects of the project, such as the following:
- the design and construction of an online archive of the data and public reports that we produce
- planning public events for stakeholders from around New York City
- consultation and planning of mini-curricula on Sandy’s aftermath for use in classroom settings
- assisting in the production of a public report featuring our group’s data, as well as data gathered and analyzed by other research projects around New York City
- making and tracking contacts with key stakeholders in New York City
- cowriting research articles
Desired skills (please specifically address these in your cover letter (note, we do not require one applicant to possess them all!):
- experience coding data
- experience interviewing
- excellent interpersonal and communications skills (written and verbal)
- established interest and experience with environmental and/or social justice work and/or Hurricane Sandy
- experience with event planning
- experience with curriculum
- experience with website creation and maintenance, whether via platforms like WordPress or via code
Dates and Time commitments:
January 26, 2013 - May 2013, and summer of 2013 if desired.
We welcome interns at any point during this time frame. Note that interviews will occur mainly in January and early February, and coding and other tasks will occur afterwards.
Interns will work 1-10 hours a week, with some weeks having much heavier work loads than others. We will attempt to accommodate your schedule. Note that heaviest workloads will be at the beginning and end of the spring semester.
Please send us your application by Jan 25th (though we will also accept interns during the semester if we have space and work available). In your cover letter, specifically detail which of the above skills you have, what your main area of interest or research is in relation to Hurricane Sandy, and your earliest available start date.
This is an unpaid position, though travel and other needed resources will be covered. Pending future grants, interns may potentially to become part of the paid research team.
**Please forward widely**
We are pleased to announce that Eric Klinenberg, Professor of Sociology at New York University, has been named Director of the IPK by NYU's Office of the Provost; he replaces our founding director, Craig Calhoun, who has become the Director of the London School of Economics.
Professor Klinenberg has served as a Senior Fellow of the IPK since its founding, and has been an active participant in a variety of our activities. Under Professor Klinenberg's leadership, IPK will continue to support a wide range of research projects, convenings, and collaborations. Our ongoing initiatives include the Craft of Ethnography, NYLON, the Cultures of Finance, and Belonging Today, and this year we will be adding substantial programming on the future of cities as well.
We are delighted to announce that the acclaimed journal Public Culture is now being edited by Eric Klinenberg and produced here at IPK. Since its founding in 1988, Public Culture has become a premier outlet for international research on cultural globalization, cosmopolitanism, and the public sphere, and it will continue publishing work on these topics. Public Culture will also feature innovative scholarship and moving images from authors and artists who want to engage ideas that transcend academic disciplines and reach beyond the university as well. It will be a venue where strong writing and clear argumentation are recognized as craft virtues, where the wide dissemination of specialized research is an overriding goal.
We are also excited to announce that today marks the official launch of a new IPK publication, Public Books, which is edited by John Jackson (University of Pennsylvania), Sharon Marcus (Columbia University), and Caitlin Zaloom (NYU). Like its sister publication, Public Culture, Public Books supports an international community of emerging and established intellectuals and artists committed to vigorous debate about works and ideas that deserve timely, intensive discussion. The online journal's contributors are scholars who write accessibly without sacrificing sophistication or depth; artists energized by research; and activists engaged with serious ideas. Our goal is to make reading Public Books feel like sitting in on a great seminar, or being at a party where people are talking about books they have read and enjoyed. The title Public Books encapsulates our intent to combine the liveliness, timeliness, and communality of public life with the craft, reflection, and care associated with books at their best. The site is gorgeously designed and easy to navigate. Please take a moment to visit, and help us get it out into the world.
Finally, we're pleased to announce that this year IPK will host a series of conversations on cities: City Talks. The meetings, which are open to NYU faculty and selected doctoral students, will feature presentations of new research by faculty from all parts of the university, and ample time for debate. We hope that City Talks will become a vibrant forum for discussions about the fate of the metropolis, and that it will promote the development of collaborative, multidisciplinary projects by NYU's extraordinary roster of urban specialists.
What are cultures of circulation, and how can they be understood in ways that inform critical scholarship and relationships between academic work and public engagement in globalized settings? This special issue takes up the dialectics of circulation and the programmatic of culture as practice, proposing avenues for further research as well as opportunities for self-reflexive uses of the concept within academic debates and via wider public engagement.
The articles that make up this special issue took shape in a workshop on the sociology of culture held in Ottawa, Canada in April 2011, hosted with the generous support of the Institute of Public Knowledge, Carleton University, and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. Contributors to the issue are former members of the academic collective NYLON, and are now professors and professionals (“NYLUMs”) working in institutions across the United States, Canada, and Europe.
NYLON is a transnational research group founded in 2001 by Craig Calhoun and Richard Sennett. The group’s motive force was the desire for “bridge-building” – not only between British and North American scholars and scholarly traditions but also between sociology and cultural studies and what we saw as unproductive divisions between social organization, social action and the production of meaning more generally. We are indebted to these intellectual roots in terms of both our collective orientation to the study of culture and our commitment to fostering similarly collaborative and interdisciplinary work among our colleagues and students.
Guest editors: Melissa Aronczyk (Carleton University) and Ailsa Craig (Memorial University)
Introduction: Cultures of Circulation
Melissa Aronczyk and Ailsa Craig
How Facts Travel: The Model Systems of Sociology
Michael Guggenheim and Monika Krause
Care and Value at the End of Life
Free to Those Who Can Afford It: The Everyday Affordance of Privilege
Noah McClain and Ashley Mears
The Pirates of Nevskii Prospekt: Intellectual Property, Piracy, and Institutional Diffusion in Russia
Ways of Owning: Towards an Economic Sociology of Privatization
Philanthrocapitalism and Its Critics
Conflictinator: Media, Metaphors, and Citizen Audiences
Dissertation Workshop, Call for Papers
Globalizing Class: Spaces, Places, and Networks of Power
Institute for Public Knowledge
20 Cooper Square, 5th Floor
8-9 June 2012
Deadline for Applications: 15 April 2012
This interdisciplinary dissertation workshop is concerned with class identities, formations, genealogies, cultures, and power relations in processes of globalization, past and present. It seeks to globalize class in three distinct, connected ways.
1) We seek to open up spatial frames for the study of class, as widely as possible, using the term “globalize” to signal immeasurable spatial possibilities and also to evoke the many contested meanings of the term “global” that are in circulation today.
2) We seek to complicate and specify the spatial framing of class, so as to move beyond assumptions of methodological nationalism, which (mostly invisibly) identify class status and power with national culture, society, and political economy. How this might work in practice appears when we consider the spatial framing of E.P.Thompson’s Making of the English Working Class (Vintage, 1963), which covers a period in history when English class formations were travelling the seas and extending their reach among continents. In a mobile spatial framing of class, we may also find that cultural meanings of “class,” in the sense of ”classiness,” may require access to transnational commodity chains and participation in extensive class relations, informed by cultural capital on the move, in the guise of Orientalism, nationalism, or neo-liberalism.
3) We want to analyze the practical work of globalizing classes in expanding capitalism, from early days of mercantilism to the present. Trans-Atlantic, trans-Pacific, and Indian Ocean migrations and transplantations of capital and labor move along specific networks, from place to place, forming distinctive sites of class relations, inter-connected and inter-dependent, but also imbued with their own cultural character. We can use mobile spatial lens to follow interlaced migrations of capital and labor, the trans-national formation of middle classes, and the productivity of consumer-class cultures amidst the flow of values and commodities, such as those that define the iconic character portrayed in The Modern Girl Around the World: Consumption, Modernity, and Globalization (Duke, 2008).
Professor of Sociology and IPK Senior Fellow Eric Klinenberg speaks with Brian Lehrer on WNYC today about his new book Going Solobased on interviews with 300 people who live alone.
Living alone is a rising trend in America and abroad, but common conceptions of single dwellers as lonely or socially isolated are inaccurate. Klinenberg's research reveals that singletons are more likely to get out of their homes and participate in the social scene at restaurants and neighborhood groups than are their counterparts who live with others.
** Update: Going Solo was reviewed in The New Yorker's 16 April 2012 issue by Nathan Heller. **
Critical Social Studies of International Health
June 7-8, 2010
Institute for Public Knowledge at NYU
Issues of international health regularly command enormous attention in academia, government, and indeed on the world stage. The increasing centrality of international health, as evidenced by the recent panic around the H1N1 epidemic, invites critical reflection from the social sciences. However, no one academic discipline within the social sciences provides all the theoretical and methodological tools to study the multifaceted features of international health.
On June 7 and 8, 2010, the Institute for Public Knowledge at NYU will host an intensive two-day dissertation workshop to help Ph.D. students who are working on local, national, and global aspects of health from various theoretical and methodological perspectives. It will offer the students an opportunity to share their material with instructors and other participants from different disciplinary backgrounds. The workshop will be chaired by Dr. Manjari Mahajan, Visiting Scholar at the Institute for Public Knowledge and Program Officer at the Social Science Research Council.
Students from all fields of the social sciences and humanities who have started writing their dissertation are encouraged to apply. While students in any Ph.D. program at any university are able to participate, please note that the program is organized for NYU students, and we are unable to provide funds for travel and lodging. Each student will be expected to share a chapter or an article, and will receive detailed feedback from the instructors and other participants on methodological, theoretical, and substantive issues. The workshop will additionally facilitate building a network among students who are in the writing phase of their dissertation, a period that can often be isolating.
Manjari Mahajan’s research interests include science and technology studies, public health, law and science, and humanitarian emergencies. Her work focuses on the politics and sociology of the AIDS epidemics in India and South Africa. She earned her doctorate from the Department of Science and Technology Studies at Cornell University in 2008, and holds a BA from Harvard University.