SSF & ICTs

In the Social Studies of Finance literature, that shares a certain amount of common ground with ANT, there has – unavoidably – been a greater engagement with ICTs. There have been studies of the introduction of ICTs to the Paris Stock Exchange [12, 14, 15], the use of the telephone in OTC trading rooms [13], the importance of ICTs in arbitrage trading [1], and changes in trading practices brought about by the virtualisation of trading through electronic displays and screens [8, 7].

While there is a focus on settings where ICTs are involved in the trading and price-production aspects of market transactions and on the importance of ICTs in terms of their ability to “allow physically distant and desynchronised entities to meet [in order to transact] and constantly renew that encounter” [5], there are also points made regarding the involvement of ICTs on the framing and configuration of financial interactions. Beunza, Hardie, and MacKenzie [1], for example, show how ICTs participate in the conceptualisation of a trading strategy:

“… human actors in financial markets are not ‘naked’: their equipment goes beyond their bodies, consequential as the latter sometimes are. This equipment is part-technological, part-conceptual. The 14s/40s [Brazilian government bond] trade, for instance, was not just an idea thought up by partners A and B. It was prompted by the physical traces of prices on a computer screen, checked by constructing a material representation (the assistant’s price chart), and circulated in the form of the bits encoding an Excel file.”

Building on the study of the computerisation of the Paris stock exchange and drawing parallels between computers and markets as “organised social spaces” that circumscribe a group of agencies, organise their encounters and connections, and establishes the rules and conventions that govern the resulting interactions, Callon and Muniesa develop the notion, also put forward by Mirowski [11], of markets as algorithmic configurations and point out how “with new information technologies, the power and diversity of encountering technologies are amplified” to the extent that “configurations become objects in their own right” [5]. They point out that the design and realisation of these configurations are not simple technical issues, but sites of “an intense struggle” between market participants and designers in which ICTs are also implicated [5].

“[Market designers] continuously face ‘trials of explicitness’, i.e. situations for which a course of action requires the display of empirically articulated problems and solutions, situations that are particularly common with computers.”

It is through such struggles that the — often eliptical — competing configurations proposed by market architects and other interested stakeholders are put to the test of ‘explicitness’ provoked by the certainty required by computer-based systems. ICTs, therefore, and the need for algorithmic certainty they demand are seen as playing a central role in rendering explicit the politics of particular market configurations.

Bibliography
1. Beunza, D., I. Hardie, et al. (2006). "A price is a social thing: towards a material sociology of arbitrage." Organization studies 27(5).
2. Callon, M. (1998). The embeddedness of economic markets in economics: Introduction. The Laws of the Markets. M. Callon. Oxford, Blackwell Publishers/The Sociological Review.
3. Callon, M. (1998). The laws of the markets. Oxford, Blackwell Publishers/The Sociological Review.
4. Callon, M., A. Barry, et al. (2002). "Technology, politics and the market: an interview with Michel Callon." Economy and society 31(2): 285-306.
5. Callon, M. and F. Muniesa (2005). "Economic markets as calculative collective devices." Organization studies 26(8): 1229-1250.
6. Callon, M., Y. Millo, et al., Eds. (2007). Market Devices. The Sociological Review Monographs. Oxford, UK, Blackwell.
7. Knorr-Cetina, K. (2005). How Are Global Markets Global? The Architecture of a Flow World. The Sociology of Financial Markets. K. Knorr Cetina and A. Preda. Oxford, UK, Oxford University Press.
8. Knorr-Cetina, K. and U. Bruegger (2002). "Global Microstructures: The Virtual Societies of Financial Markets." American Journal of Sociology 107(4): 905-950.
9. Knorr-Cetina, K. and A. Preda (2001). "The epistemization of economic transactions." Current sociology 49(4): 27-44.
10. Knorr-Cetina, K. and A. Preda (2005). The sociology of financial markets. Oxford, Oxford University Press.
11. Mirowski, P. (2007). "Markets come to bits: Evolution, computation and markomata in economic science." Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization 63(2): 209-242.
12. Muniesa, F. (2000). "A Walrasian robot: exchange automation and the accuracy of price discovery." Politix 13(52): 121-156.
13. Muniesa, F. (2002). Reserved anonymity : on the use of telephones in the trading room.
14. Muniesa, F. (2004). "Assemblage of a market mechanism." Journal of the centre for information studies 5(3): 11-19.
15. Muniesa, F. (2007). "Market technologies and the pragmatics of prices." Economy and society 36(3): 377-395.
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