The Movement and Countermovement of Finance

Ethnographic Explorations and Conceptualizations

Convenors: Zaira Tiziana Lofranco (University of Bergamo) & Fabio Mattioli (University of Melbourne)

Classical theories of capitalism and market economy had been focused on capital’s peculiar ability to expand. Colonial projects, unpayable debts, and other mechanisms of social and geographical interdependence allow capitalism to bind together present and future, center and peripheries in a constant movement–fuelled by contradictions and fixes that move in space as well as time.

With the multiplication of financial products, markets, and crises that has occurred since World War II, discussing the speed, extent, and characteristics of how capital moves have become a crucial topic of debate among social scientists interested in understanding the characteristics of financial expansion. Scholars working in the heterodox Marxist tradition of David Harvey argued that finance provides new, fictitious circuits where capital can temporarily offset its own contradictions–a forward motion that offers endless opportunities for accumulation and dispossession.

But capital does not only follow its own internal logics. Instead, it can encroach on other cultural processes. In his famous treaty on the cultural history of debt, Graeber (2011) suggests it is precisely when financialized logics infiltrate social life and abstract it from its relational component that violence escalates. The movement of XXI century capitalism, in other words, excludes as much as it includes, operating with heterogeneous forms of extraction and labour that submit but at the same time mobilize its multiple outsides (Mezzadra and Nelson 2015).

As capital’s movements become increasingly more complex, entangled to a variety of social and cultural spaces, do they still follow a rigidly hierarchical and internal logic? If financialization encroaches onto social life, can social life encroach back onto financialization–derailing it towards new, unplanned outcomes? Building on the booming ethnographic research on financialization, the panel suggest to rethink the analytics of capital’s movement in order to contribute to a better reading of financial dynamics in everyday life.

We invite submissions that, rather than accepting a singular and functionalist understanding of financial expansion as a vertical abstraction or a forward motion, debate how extraction, rent, and exploitation move in practice. To understand how finance moves, the panel seeks ethnographic contributions that explore a multiplicity of forms of movements–outwards, as well as inwards, forward but also backward, and engage in broader political and economic debates. Focusing on ethnographic takes on finance’s movements and countermovements will stimulate interdisciplinary conversations, and attract interests from scholars interested in the interplay between economic and political logics and sedimented and peculiar life trajectories.

Open Questions

Indicatively the proposed contributions should reflect on the following issues:

- How do specific local histories shape, derail, or reaffirm the expansive movement of finance?

- What do gender, racial, or class hierarchies interact with financial expansion?

- What new social forms are generated by non-orthodox movements of finance?

- How can we describe analytically financial movements without assuming its (vertical, forward) direction?

- How can new theories of financial movements integrate both ethnographic and quantitatively robust understanding of financial processes?

- How does financial expansion generate commensurate countermovements/reactions shaped by specific political and historical sensibilities?


Financialization, capital expansion, value extraction, social relations, ethnography of capitalism.

Fields of Study

Social and cultural Anthropology, Sociology, Cultural Studies, Geography, Political Economy, Political Science, Economics.

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