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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of Social and Political Science : Sociology

Postgraduate Course: Finance and Society (SCIL11038)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Social and Political Science CollegeCollege of Humanities and Social Science
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 11 (Postgraduate) AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryAs the global financial crisis showed, the financial system has huge effects on the surrounding societies. This course provides a straightforward, lively, ethnographically-based introduction to the sociological analysis of the financial system, a sophisticated area of sociology that is developing rapidly. No previous knowledge of finance is required.
Course description The course will begin with an introduction to what the financial system is, what it does, and the resources it provides (and problems it causes) to the wider society. It will illustrate this with, for example, a lively account of elite bankers: who they are; the incentives they face; how they are recruited; how they "manage" their bodies in a context of often hugely-extended working hours; etc. We will also discuss the major theoretical positions in economic sociology relevant to the analysis of finance, including both long-established positions (such as "networks" and "fields") and newer forms of analysis such as the "materialist" sociology of actor-network theory.

The relationship between finance and social inequality will be examined in detail, discussing both inequalities within the financial system (such as gender and ethnic biases) and the effect of the financial system on inequality in the surrounding society. We will also examine the relationship between finance, regulation and politics, discussing, for example, the extent to which finance is constrained by regulation and the interaction between regulation, networks of policy makers, and the political system.

In each year in which the course is offered, a number of more specific topics will be selected for detailed coverage, based on the ethnographic experience of the staff available for teaching and current developments in the financial system.

The student learning experience will combine lectures (conveying key ideas and empirical information) with independent reading, and a weekly postgraduate seminar (to which each student will make a formal presentation with slides and a hand out).

There will be a small amount of overlap of empirical content with an existing course, Digital Markets and Society, and with the proposed new course, Modelling, High-Frequency Trading and the Sociology of Finance. We do not wish to make those prohibited combinations, because we want to encourage students to deepen their understanding in this area. Rather, we will tell students not to do presentations or write essays on the same topic if they are taking more than one of these courses. This will not be a troublesome constraint on students: there will be an ample choice of topics.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Information for Visiting Students
High Demand Course? Yes
Course Delivery Information
Academic year 2018/19, Available to all students (SV1) Quota:  25
Course Start Semester 2
Timetable Timetable
Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info) Total Hours: 200 ( Lecture Hours 10, Seminar/Tutorial Hours 10, Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 4, Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours 176 )
Assessment (Further Info) Written Exam 0 %, Coursework 100 %, Practical Exam 0 %
Additional Information (Assessment) 15-minute verbal and slide presentation to seminar group, with accompanying handout: 10% of mark. Will assess, and give students feedback on, their grasp of relevant readings, their critical assessment of them, and their capacity to present their arguments verbally, on-screen and via a handout.
1,500-word mid-term essay: 25% of mark. Will assess all the learning outcomes, and give the students formative feedback on their performance in this respect prior to their submission of the final essay.
3,000-word final essay: 65% of mark. Will assess all the learning outcomes.
Feedback Students will be assessed, and given feedback on, their grasp of relevant readings, their critical assessment of them, and their capacity to present their arguments (in written form, verbally and on-screen).
Essays will be returned with feedback within 15 working days of submission; similarly, students will be given feedback on their seminar presentations within 15 working days (and normally much more quickly than that).
No Exam Information
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. Have a sophisticated, integrated, critical understanding of the aspects of the financial system covered in the course and of their effects on the surrounding societies.
  2. Understand critically and at an advanced level the work of the chief sociological scholars of finance, both individually and in relation to each other, and be able to evaluate their arguments in a sophisticated way, from the viewpoints of both theoretical coherence and empirical evidence.
  3. Apply advanced, critical analysis, evaluation and synthesis to an area of sociology that is relatively new and developing fast.
  4. Have a high-level ability to present, in written and verbal form, coherent, balanced arguments concerning the financial system and the sociological analysis of that system.
Reading List
Daniel Beunza and David Stark, 'Tools of the Trade: The Socio-Technology of Arbitrage in a Wall Street Trading Room', Industrial and Corporate Change 13 (2004): 369-400.
Nathan, Coombs, 'What is an Algorithm? Financial Regulation in the Era of High-Frequency Trading',
Economy and Society 45 (2016): 278-302.
Thomas Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014). Donald MacKenzie, 'Material Signals: A Historical Sociology of High-Frequency Trading', American Journal of Sociology, in press.
Thomas Philippon, 'Has the US Finance Industry Become Less Efficient? On the Theory and Measurement of Financial Intermediation', American Economic Review 105 (2015): 1408-38.
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills ***
KeywordsNot entered
Course organiserProf Donald MacKenzie
Tel: (0131 6)50 3980
Course secretaryMr Joe Burrell
Tel: (0131 6) 51 3892
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