A Colonial Finance/Security Infrastructure Disrupted? Cryptocurrencies, Blockchain Technologies and International Sanctions
Rijksuniversiteit Groningen, Niederlande
There is growing interdisciplinary debate over whether applications of blockchain and other financial technologies ('fintechs') reinforce forms of neo-colonial extraction perpetuating North-South inequities or are contributing to decolonial ambitions across the Global South. This paper expands such discussions in situating on-going blockchain techno-experimentation within wider international infrastructural relations. We compare blockchain-based activities occurring in and across major Global South countries that have been subjected to varying types of financial sanctions (China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Russia, Venezuela) by the European Union, United States and United Nations, as well as those pursued by these sanctioning jurisdictions. Our analysis identifies how blockchain-based fintech neither forecloses decolonial possibilities, nor automatically extends colonial infrastructural relations. Instead, we argue for understanding decolonial possibilities enacted by applications of this particular set of ‘fintech’s alongside the perils of their reinforcement of a profoundly colonial finance/security infrastructure. The analysis injects nuance into emerging assessments of the implications of this particular set of digital technologies as falling between widespread hype accorded to contemporary technological change and critiques that new fintechs merely extend a colonial status quo.
Banks, exchanges, and the politics of financial market infrastructures
1FU Berlin, Deutschland; 2University of Warwick, UK
Ten years after the global financial crisis, the workings of financial markets are still subject to scholarly scrutiny. Research in International Political Economy has taken two separate paths. On the one hand, it has focused on the governance and (re-)regulation of financial markets. On the other hand, it has explored the mechanisms underpinning the power of systemic market actors. However, relatively little attention has been paid to what we call infrastructural market actors, financial institutions shaping the very infrastructures that enable trading in financial markets. This paper examines the changing roles of these actors in shaping the infrastructures underpinning financial markets, with a specific focus on banks and exchanges, historical rivals in the provisions of infrastructural arrangements. Our empirical analysis examines the abovementioned dynamics in equities and derivatives markets in Europe and the US, from 1990-2018. This study draws on interviews with relevant market participants, as well as on corporate reports, financial news and market data. We found that banks and exchanges are locked into a complex relationship of power, contestation and cooperation, whose changing equilibriums have significantly shaped the regulatory underpinnings and workings of market infrastructures. In turn, this has had severe implications for the governance and stability of global financial markets. We argue that the provision of financial infrastructures is a highly political process, built upon the contrasting interests of banks and exchanges. More broadly, this paper contributes to debates surrounding the role of financial market infrastructures in the governance of global finance.
Framing, relational work, and infrastructure in assetization processes: the case of social impact investing
Universiteit Leiden, Niederlande
The expansion of capital markets hinges upon the creation of financial assets. However, less is known about the processes of their emergence. I argue that financial intermediaries’ success to link investors and investees through relational work is key to assetization. I study the case of social impact investing in the UK, where finance had some success in penetrating the welfare state through social venture capital and social impact bonds. Finance proponents acted akin to movement organizations by providing a collective action frame to lure others into the respective relations. To achieve frame resonance, proponents relied on a group of organizations that formed a crucial rela-tional work infrastructure that lent credibility and salience to the frame. Proposing an interagentic view of financial power, this article rebalances perceptions of financial agency as framing and infrastructures render finance digestible to a reluctant and heterogeneous group of actors including institutional investors, investees and governments.
Blockchain as financial infrastructure: the dream is over
Goethe Universität Frankfurt, Deutschland, Deutschland
Infrastructure is defined by Merriam Webster dictionary as: ‘the system of public works of a country, state, or region’ and ’the underlying foundation or basic framework‘ (Merriam Webster, 2021). We often think of rail roads, streets and bridges as infrastructure. However, the definition of the term has been expanded greatly in the last years and infrastructure is researched by various disciplines (Graham and Marvin, 2001; Barlösius, 2009; Larkin, 2013; Anand et al., 2018). Scholars started to draw a picture of infrastructure that is in constant change and debate (Berlant, 2016). Likewise, infrastructure is not neutral but socially structured and simultaneously has socially structuring effects (Barlösius, 2009). Especially infrastructure that serves certain segments of society are battleground for many disputes. Work on financial infrastructure has shown how crucial and therefore contested infrastructure is (Genito, 2019; Krarup, 2019; Petry, 2020; Westermeier, 2020). I want to concentrate on a novel technology that was feared -mainly by incumbent actors- to turn the financial infrastructure upside down. Blockchain, a peer-to-peer system, promised to make all intermediaries redundant and alter the traditional financial structure. Twelve years later, the German government publishes a draft bill on electronic securities on the basis of Blockchain. I have followed this legislative process with a research question in mind: how does regulation influences the potential of Blockchain as infrastructure and what does the regulation do to the technology itself and the arrangements of actors? My findings suggest firstly, that the regulation now adopted will very unlikely lead to an alteration of any financial infrastructure element. The incumbent intermediaries claimed the regulation process for themselves and probably very few new actors will be able to enter the market. Incumbents are not weakened in providing financial infrastructure by Blockchain but can expand their focus areas. Secondly, established players adopted and transformed the innovative technology in their favor and the regulation does not stand in the way. Blockchain is used to optimize the established financial infrastructure and stripped of its visionary qualities. Not only do firms alter Blockchain beyond recognition but also the regulation does not require the innovation’s new features to be adopted.
Securing transactions in and after financial crises: On the articulation of finance and technology
Justus-Liebig-Universität Gießen, Deutschland
This presentation looks into the micro-operations enabled by financial infrastructures, which is transactions, with a view to how they became the subject of particular attention in and after severe financial crises in the 20th century. It makes a bid to reconstruct the role of transaction security in the political interpretation of historical financial crises (especially, 1929, 1987 and 2008). While there is no shortage in literature on financial crises in the 20th century, the presentation suggests a perspective that looks at those crises, and their interpretation by contemporaries, not only as crises of the financial economy but also as crises of financial infrastructures. For instance, while the latest global financial crisis has been variously analyzed under the perspective of how it was interpreted as an urge to secure payment streams that at the same time made reference to financial orders of valuation, an infrastructural consideration of these crisis is still in a rather nascent stage. While Chris Muellerleile (2018), on the example of the 1987 crash, interprets financial crises in terms of insufficient data infrastructures to organize financial mobility, what is missing so far is a focused reconstruction of how these crises were interpreted with reference to the motif of the securing of transactions – that is, so to speak, within an infrastructural imagination that interpreted the danger stemming from financial crashes not only in economic but also in technical, or socio-technical, terms. The presentation thus aims at how financial-economic logics have become articulated with financial-infrastructural logics, that is, how the financial is interpreted through the technical and vice versa. A particular emphasis lies on fleshing out the ambivalences in which financial transactions became the object of security concerns, oscillating between a concern with the highly detrimental effects of uncontrolled transaction cascades and the issue of how transactions might be made to resume after a financial crash. The methodological and empirical basis of the presentation is a discourse analysis of U.S. financial crash commissions reports (the Pecora Commission Report 1934, the Brady Report 1988, and the Financial Crisis Inquiry Report 2011).