A Debt to Society? The Politics of Austerity in an Age of Abundance

Presented by the Social Studies of Finance Group in partnership with the Australian Working Group on Financialization (AWGF), the University of Sydney

13 August, 2014

Earlier this year the Abbott government delivered an “emergency budget” designed to end universal health care, deregulate university fees, further reduce an unemployment benefit that already condemns its recipients to an impoverished existence, and intensify policies of workfare. The budget was similar in scope and scale to the austerity programs rolled out across Europe in the wake of the global financial crisis.

Yet alongside the so-called “debt crisis” and persistent calls for fiscal austerity, financial markets are again growing and nearly every asset class is booming. Thus, even as governments have engaged in an unremitting struggle against income inflation, assets such as homes and housing have continued to appreciate with no discernible limit. In principle, the phenomenon of “financialization” encourages even the most precarious workers to borrow cheaply and accumulate assets, even while the social wage continues to decline.

This combination of fiscal austerity and financial abundance has become an enduring feature of Anglo-American economies since the 1980s. This panel reflects upon the recent history of austerity and its paradoxical relationship to financialization. How can we account for the political and affective force of austerity and how can we challenge it?

The panel wil be chaired by Professor Dick Bryan, Department of Political Economy at the University of Sydney.


Nina Boy is a Senior Researcher at the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO). Her research interest lies in financial security, credit and crisis, credit narrative and fictionality, and Liberalism and epistemology. She is the co-ordinator of the Credit, Crisis & Culture Working group as part of the EU COST Action 'System risk, financial crisis and credit' and organiser of the Understanding Financial Security in an Age of Uncertainty Workshop series.

Paul Crosthwaite is a Lecturer in the Department of English Literature, University of Edinburgh. He was a Lecturer in English Literature and member of the Centre for Critical and Cultural Theory at Cardiff University for four years before joining Edinburgh in 2011. Paul’s research focuses on the life and afterlife of Anglo-American modernism, critical and cultural theory (primarily Marxism, poststructuralism, psychoanalysis, and the 'new economic criticism'), and the representation of financial markets.

Miranda Joseph teaches feminist, Marxist, poststructuralist and queer theory, cultural studies methods, and LGBT Studies at the University of Arizona. Her research explores the relationship between economic processes and social formations. Her forthcoming book, A Debt to Society, examines various modes of accounting- financial, juridical and managerial-as they are deployed to create, sustain or transform social relations. Joseph is currently Director of Graduate Studies in Gender & Women’s Studies.

Professor Philip Mirowski, known for his 1989 book ore Heat Than Light: Economics as Social Physics, holds the Carl Koch Professor of Economics and the History and Philosophy of Science, University of Notre Dame, Indiana. He is also a fellow of Notre Dame’s John J. Reilly Center for Science, Technology, and Values and has served visiting academic appointments at universities around the world, including All Souls College at Oxford University; the Universidad de la Republica, Uruguay; the University of Aix-Marsailles, France; Erasmus University, Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste: How Neoliberalism Survived the Financial Meltdown (2013) has been heralded as an important and distinctive contribution to debates around the politics and economics of the economic crisis which began in 2007-8.

Professor Ronen Palan is Professor of International Political Economy in the Department of International Politics at the City University London. Palan's work lies at the intersection between international relations, political economy, political theory, sociology and human geography. He has written extensively on the subject of Offshore and Tax havens, state theory and international political economic theory. He was a founding editor of the Review of International Political Economy (RIPE) and member of the Fellow and Promotion Committee at the Institute of Development Studies, Brighton.