Ordinary finance

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2022-07-08

Authors

Yang, Nel

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Abstract

In the present of late capitalism, “finance” describes all manner of economic activity from the moneyed traders of Wall Street to banal activities of household budgeting and accounting. Financial institutions and, more recently, the wide accessibility of financial technologies like apps for banking, investment, commerce, and payment have made financial practice ubiquitous. The process by which financial logics, behaviors, and knowledges proliferate beyond their native realm of “high finance” (of exchanges, traders, and banks) has been called “financialization.” While financialization and its study has richly explained the development of “low finance” in ordinary life, it is less effective in describing activities that contradict narratives of economic rationality and accumulation.

Here, I articulate a finance aesthetics to extend the social studies of finance. To do so, I bring together three fields of sociocultural phenomena: the erotic fetish-practice of financial domination (findom), the massive popularity of Taiwanese claw machines, and the industry and disciplinary field of user experience research. These seemingly disparate sociocultural contexts demonstrate the intricate relations between economic, political, technological, and sexual modes of life. In these in-betweens, value transformations (Munn 1986) occur on a plane of aesthetic and sensory experience. Rather than explaining these “non-rational” behaviors, like winning cute garbage or eroticizing monetary loss, the logic of quantities is coopted and repurposed in the exchange and circulation of qualities.

The body of this text is organized in three major parts, each frame by a different mythology about contemporary finance (Barthes 1957): that finance capital is fictitious or speculative, that it requires and extracts modes of human attention, and that the finance industry scams the wider public of resources and value. Borrowing from the social studies of finance, conceptually and thematically, this study describes ordinary finance, not as an ordinary infiltrated by the financial, but as the emergence of aesthetic experiences in productive tension with financialization.

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