Paper 3: Finance in Contemporary Culture and Society

Due Date: Class 26.

Length: 1,200–1,500 words, double-spaced with standard margins (1in) and font (12pt).

Grade: 15% of your final course grade.

Setting The Scene

The final "chapter" of the course focused on finance in the contemporary moment. We have looked particularly at how various social-science perspectives—collectively, "Social Studies of Finance"—can be brought to bear to understand finance, often in ways that go beyond idealized, purely economic models of finance. This final paper asks you to explore finance as a social, cultural, and / or political phenomenon in modern life.

You have a few different options you might pursue for the final paper. Compared to previous assignments, these are pretty "open-ended." You have more choice, but consequently the burdens on you as a writer are higher. Two things are especially critical. First, you must make an argument in your paper. Make sure you formulate a clearly-stated thesis, and justify it with evidence. Be precise, and be sure to define any key terms in your paper. Second, you must completely cite all sources, following the "Chicago-style" footnotes described below.

For all of these options, you are not required or expected to do any outside research; there are many ways to write an "A" paper for this assignment using only materials on the syllabus. However, you may choose to draw upon outside sources: newspaper and magazine articles, additional scholarly articles, popular financial books, etc. If you choose to draw upon outside sources, they must be properly-cited. This is not expected to be a "research paper," so please limit yourself to no more than 3–4 outside sources.

Assignment Options

  1. Was the financial crisis of 2007–'08 a "normal accident," as defined by sociologist Charles Perrow? If so—or if not—what does that say about what we should do to build a safer financial system in the future?
  2. Select one cultural artifact—a novel, work of popular non-fiction, television show, film, etc.—that offers a depiction of finance in the modern moment (from roughly 1980 or later). Craft a paper that analyzes and critiques the way your chosen source represents modern finance and the financiers who participate in it. Texts that you might consider include works of fiction (Tom Wolfe's Bonfire of the Vanities, Brad Easton Ellis's American Psycho), films (Wall Street, The Big Short, Wall Street 2, Margin Call, or Inside Job), or television (season 1 of Billions).
  3. Questions you might consider: How does the text you choose depict financiers? Are they sympathetic characters? Does your text offer moral judgments about specific individuals, institutions, or about the financial "system" in general? What does your text suggest motivates the behaviors and actions of financiers and financial institutions? Does your text make an argument about what the "problem" is with modern finance?

  4. In 2005, Chairman of the Federal Reserve Alan Greenspan proclaimed: "Hedge funds have become increasingly valuable in our financial markets." Looking from the year 2016, defend or reject this statement. Do you agree that hedge funds play a valuable role in modern financial life? Be sure to bolster your argument with specific evidence.
  5. Formulate, and answer, your own question about finance in modern society and culture. (If you choose this option, you must provide a clear statement of the question you propose to answer.)