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Money, Meaning and Crisis

For hundreds of years, financial capitalist production has been punctuated by crashes, panics and crises. Each is associated with some object of speculation—tulips, tech stocks, mortgages. Each leads in some way to behavioral, institutional or regulatory changes. Major crises, like those of 1929 and 2008, seem to spell capitalism's final end, but the institutional reflexes of states and businesses have proven remarkably elastic: not only has capitalism survived, but capitalists seem in fact to do quite well during crises.

In this course we study financial crisis from multiple angles. Following the insights of Hyman Minsky, we observe the basic structural and mechanical similarities shared by most financial crises (financial innovation, monetary expansion, central-bank intervention). We consider crisis as occurring not only in the financial plumbing, but also in capitalism's symbolic dimension as a narrative of the urgency of a return to normalcy overwrites more radical alternatives. We try to understand capitalism's resilience to crisis by looking at the connection between financial crises on the one hand, and crises of rationality, legitimation and motivation on the other.

The course will draw from texts by Hyman Minsky (1957), Charles Kindleberger (1978), David Tuckett (2011), Anitra Nelson (1999), Viviana Zelizer (2000), Clyde Barrow (1993), Martijn Konings (2018) and others.

Plan of the class

  1. Turning points and key institutions of the 2008 crisis

  2. All financial crises are the same

  3. Discursive crisis

  4. Financial crises and other crises


Barrow, Clyde W. 1993. Critical Theories of the State. Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press.

Kindleberger, Charles P. 1978. Manias, Panics, and Crashes: A History of Financial Crises. London: Macmillan.

Konings, Martijn. 2018. Capital and Time.

Minsky, Hyman P. 1957. “Central Banking and Money Market Changes.” The Quarterly Journal of Economics 71 (2): 171–87.

Nelson, Anitra. 1999. Marx’s Concept of Money: The God of Commodities. London: Routledge.

Tuckett, David. 2011. Minding the Markets: An Emotional Finance View of Financial Instability. Hampshire, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.

Zelizer, Viviana A. 2000. “Fine Tuning the Zelizer.” Economy and Society 29 (3).