Room 2:21 Research Beehive Newcastle University
Donald is Professor of Sociology at the University of Edinburgh. He has undertaken widely-cited work on topics ranging from the sociology of nuclear weapons to the meaning of 'proof' in the context of computer systems critical to safety or security. His current research is on the sociology of markets (especially credit-derivatives markets and carbon-emissions markets).
Professor MacKenzie has authored books including An Engine, Not a Camera: How Financial Models Shape Markets; Do Economists Make Markets? On the Performativity of Economics, co-edited with Fabian Muniesa and Lucia Siu, and Material Markets: How Economic Agents are Constructed. His work has been awarded a number of international prizes and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 2001 and a Fellow of the British Academy in 2004.
A number of scholars have recently been applying perspectives from the social studies of science and technology to financial markets, an activity sometimes called 'social studies of finance'. Amongst the questions this work throws up is how market participants evaluate financial instruments, an issue which is (amongst other things) a problem in the sociology of knowledge.
This talk will present a historical sociology of the clusters of evaluation practices surrounding three classes of financial instrument (CDOs, i.e. collateralised debt obligations; ABSs, asset-backed securities; and a fateful concatenation of the two, ABS CDOs) that together account for more than half the losses that triggered the near-collapse of the global banking system in autumn 2008. (These clusters of evaluation practices are loosely analogous to Knorr Cetina's 'epistemic cultures' and to other uses of the term 'culture' in social studies of science, but one of the issues to be debated is whether the term 'culture' is appropriate here.) He will suggests ways in which those clusters of practices, the interactions between them, and the ways in which they became organisational routines (especially in the rating agencies that awarded credit ratings to CDOs and ABSs) help explain the crisis.
The talk will not assume any prior knowledge of finance, and will explain what CDOs, etc. are. It will be based on a set of 90 predominantly oral-history interviews (29 conducted before the crisis and 61 after it), mainly with the constructors, traders and modellers of instruments of this kind and with employees of the rating agencies.