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"Dashed hopes, bruised egos": Professional identity in investment banking in the context of the 2008 financial crisis

Twardowska, Magdalena (2015) "Dashed hopes, bruised egos": Professional identity in investment banking in the context of the 2008 financial crisis. PhD thesis, University of Essex.

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The financial crisis of 2008 and the subsequent economic collapse has helped bring scholarly attention on a sociological dimension of financial markets (Mackenzie 2009, Stark 2009, Knorr Cetina and Preda 2012). Despite recent research advancements in this area, however, the understanding of how financial markets are organised and reproduced remains limited. In particular, there is very little about the individual actors in the markets, how they think and act, and how they make sense of social context or how their experience is within it. This thesis contributes to addressing these questions by focusing on how investment bankers construct their professional identities and in particular, how did this process look like during the financial crisis of 2008. Three main areas are investigated: (i) what resources investment bankers draw on to construct their professional identities, (ii) what motivates them to do so, and (iii) how the process has been demonstrated through bankers’ lived experiences of the crash. To this end, the research integrates literature from the field of sociology of financial markets and identity. I argue that looking at professional identity construction through the lens of Honneth’s (1995) theory of struggle for recognition allows for a better understanding of the political nature of the intersubjective relationships in markets, alongside some of the pathologies that may develop in the periods of enhanced uncertainty. Methodologically, I conceptualise identities as narratives, in particular drawing on Ricoeur’s ( 1988) work on narrative identity. The analysis rests on the investment bankers’ accounts of their experiences of the crisis. By exploring how they have constructed their subjective understandings of reality and how they incorporated these into their professional identity narratives, the thesis advances the understanding of markets as political arenas of values, emotions and power games. I explore a number of frames the bankers used in order to position their identities within the workplace; including smartness, sacrifice, ambivalent status of money and temporality. I demonstrate that identity construction is inherently political and based on a fragile structure of systemic trust and interpersonal trust relationships. Threatened by the crisis, the bankers responded by creating liminal spaces in an attempt to re-align the identity narratives. The findings bear theoretical implications. Firstly , I argue that trust is a missing component in the theory of recognition when it deals with social cooperation. Secondly, I argue that as recognition normatively regulates social interactions in markets, actors are first and foremost power maximisers. I show that influencing expectations becomes, therefore, a central task for actors in the markets, leading to the development of reified identities. As a result, the emergent liminal spaces are shown to be arenas of the inherent struggle for recognition.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Uncontrolled Keywords: sociology of financial markets, identity, recognition, crisis
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HD Industries. Land use. Labor > HD58.7 Organizational behavior, change and effectiveness. Corporate culture
H Social Sciences > HG Finance
H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
Divisions: Faculty of Social Sciences > Essex Business School
Faculty of Social Sciences > Essex Business School > Centre for Work, Organisation and Society
Depositing User: Magdalena Twardowska
Date Deposited: 30 Jun 2016 15:30
Last Modified: 30 Jun 2016 15:30

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