Financialisation and Social Class
New financial elites spanning the private and public sectors, new categories of first-time home buyers, new segments of the working poor suffering foreclosure for unpaid debts or whose pensions or health insurance has been financialised, new social movements protesting the finance sector: How has modern finance changed the relations between social classes? According to some economists and sociologists, class identities have disintegrated worldwide due to the effects of financialisation, which has transformed workers into capital owners and built entirely new class alliances (Aguilera and Jackson, 2003 ; Höpner, 2003). For others, class violence has intensified and grown more complex on a global scale (Aalbers, 2008, Sassen, 2014). Financialisation is now a process that has been clearly identified and documented by social sciences (Van der Zwan, 2014) — the sociology of finance, history, heterodox economics and political science — whether it is analysed as a form of capital accumulation (Krippner, 2005), understood as the imposition of ‘shareholder’s value’ (Rappaport 1986) or assimilated to a strengthening of the role of financial institutions in domestic economies (Erturk et al., 2007). However, less attention has been paid to the effects of financialisation on the reshaping of social classes — their construction, objectivation or, inversely, their decomposition — and the competition, struggle or alliances between classes and their constituent groups. This issue aims to redefine the social classes and the criteria that distinguish them. Among the approaches under consideration, contributions can focus on the place of financialisation in the antagonism between labour and capital, in the appearance (or lack) of class consciousness, in the rise or undermining of the ‘middle class’, or in the loss of legitimacy of the ‘working class’, as well as the role played by the increased public focus on intermediary categories such as the ‘management class’. Given the burden of debt weighing on certain segments of these classes, notably women and immigrants, the dividing lines are shifting. The contributions should specify the meaning of sometimes vague notions such as financialisation, which blurs and reshapes the boundaries between social classes.
This issue, open to economics and other social sciences, aims to grasp how the financialisation process — understood as ‘the growing share of the financial sector (banks, insurance companies and investment firms) in gross domestic product, in terms of profit and payroll’, as well as ‘the way in which [the rationale of financial markets] permeates social universes outside their original sphere’ (Godechot, 2016) — contributes to the transformation of the social and political order. Considerable research has focused on the increased poverty or wealth related to financialisation (Perrin-Heredia 2009), or the subsequent increase in job market insecurity (Fligstein and Shin, 2004). Yet few studies have clearly and systematically combined economics, sociology and political science in order to grasp how financialisation transforms and restructures the relations between social classes or social and political groups (Boltanski, 1982). The goal here is to provide both a description of the operations whereby the social world is broken down — a description made possible by sociological analysis and based on the fact that these divisions are never a foregone conclusion (Bourdieu, 2015) — and a perspective that examines how these social components enter into conflict (or do not enter into conflict, and if not, why), while also showing how their constitution ‘as classes’ is tested by balances of power, types of competition and techniques of objectivation.
Contributions can adopt three main analytical angles:
1. Social fragmentation, division and demobilisation
A description of various universes and situations – the political behaviour of those who own significant financial assets, the ways in which the legal system copes with illegal financial practices, or the new divisions between workers in the real estate sector in Spain, for example – can lay bare the ways in which the financial sector’s devices build and strengthen social groups. Articles adopting this perspective might show how financial practices test social struggles and class consciousness, fracture the wage-earning class, and build broad ‘middle classes’ that are at times ethereal and rhetorical, but at other times firmly rooted in reality.
2. Financialisation, mobilizations and political change
The birth of a ‘popular finance culture’ (Aitken, 2007) can be approached in two ways. On the one hand, there is a growing trend towards conservative values among populations that, because of financialisation, are drawn to behaviours associated with entrepreneurs or investors, even though these populations often belong to the working poor. The obligation to pay back debts, the development of employee share ownership, or even the acceptance of investment choices in terms of retirement or health insurance are, for example, fertile ground for working class voters to move to the right. However, while financialisation has successfully imposed a moral authority with political effects, this same authority also triggers protests (Pollilo, 2011) that change the forms of conflictuality. When widespread mortgage defaults thwart the formation of a small middle class of homeowners, new forms of mobilisation may appear, as with Occupy Wall Street in the United States or Los Indignados in Spain. Thus, the new financial players attempt to ‘definancialise’ by legal means (e.g. class action lawsuits) or through forms of direct intervention, such as escraches, a kind of neighbourhood demonstration aimed at changing financial legislation, which originated in Argentina before being exported to Spain.
3. Financialisation as a state project and a scheme for structuring the social order
This issue will present papers analysing the bureaucratic field and its contribution to setting up financial infrastructure. We will see how certain upper echelons of the public sector (such as treasury departments, financial market authorities, European Commission DGs, regulatory bodies, etc.) promote and commit to the financialisation of the social world. The development of savings can be apprehended, at different periods (at the turn of the 1980s but also in the 19th century), as a state project to build a social order that is ‘fairer’ or understood as more ‘democratic’, of finance shared by everyone and serving the entire population – with savings being promoted hand in hand with household debt.
How do these representatives of the public sector act as the guarantors for certain ‘state promises’ and contractual obligations of the sovereign state towards particular social segments (i.e. the holders of financial capital) to the detriment of other segments of society?
As such, this issue also opens up methodological perspectives for a political sociology of the economy, based on localised empirical case studies, which grasps the more or less consistent social and political texture that supports (or could undermine) a macroeconomic accumulation regime that has been described as ‘post-Fordist’ (Aglietta, 2000, Boyer, 2000) and whose main driver is the financial sector.
Revue de la régulation seeks to provide a forum for research in the field of regulationist studies and, more broadly, for the full spectrum of institutionalist approaches in economics and beyond. The journal seeks above all to foster a broad discussion that includes other social sciences such as economic sociology, history, political science, management, etc. Indeed, a historicized and socially grounded understanding of political economy appears more necessary than ever for a deeper understanding of the alternatives for economic policies and the strategic evolution of business, as well as their effects at the micro, meso, and macro levels. Sustaining global thinking about the transformation of capitalism, given the scales and diversity of its reconfigurations, means bringing together work from a variety of horizons. The journal welcomes research articles in English or French that focus on descriptions of the structural forms of contemporary capitalisms and on investigation of the new dynamics that are involved, as well as on the theoretical and methodological tools that enable these phenomena to be better understood.
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1st October 2016