9th Conference European Sociological Association

RN09 Economic Sociology

2009-09-05 13:30:00 2009-09-05 15:00:00 Saturday, 5 September 13:30 - 15:00 The Financial Crisis, Risk and Trust Building AA, AA.229

Financial Agents with reduced liability - Powerless investors' - towards a critical sociology of economy

After years of a booming global economy, when not only investment funds and banks, but also private investors profited, recently the speculation bubble burst again. Slowly we are beginning to discover the extent of this global crisis. The investment funds - initiated by the banks - have become an important agent on the financial markets and exert a rising influence on society as a whole, e.g. through pension organisation or the management of fortunes (Windolf 2005). Apart from investment funds private investors also play a central role. From the perspective of a critical sociology of economy we perceive two tasks which, so far, have not been covered systematically.

1. In the first step our contribution focuses on the structural reasons for the crisis. Deutschmann (2008) mentions these: extreme accumulation of private fortunes in a socio-structural pyramid which demands upward societal mobility, while the chances of advancement for young people are sinking. Thus it is possible to suggest that the bonus system of the banks, which relies on the short-term maximization of profits in combination with reduced liability of these and similar institutions, purposely encourages the "implosion of fortunes". Our approach attempts to integrate into our analysis the highly prevalent indifference of the investors towards this injustice.

2. In a second step it is possible and necessary to inquire about the causes and the actors of the crisis. We consider two fruitful fields of analysis: Relating to the concept of collective (Halbwachs 1925, 1950) and cultural memory (Assmann 1995) we have to ask how the medial focus on "infotainment" (Postman 1985) hinders or even prevents the sedimentation of "memes" (Dawkins 1976). On the other hand we have to determine how exactly the investors are being influenced: Through the suggestion of the need to invest in specific financial products the banks manoeuvre themselves and the investors into a dilemma of ethical responsibility. With its popularization of financial topics mass media influence the insecure investors (Stäheli 2007).