Society for Economic Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
A 2014 estimate suggested an annual US$1-2 trillion investment in renewable energy was required to prevent destabilizing climate change. At the time the global investment management industry controlled US$87 trillion of assets. This latter sum has since increased; climate change is increasingly problematized as an ‘emergency’. Given its size, investment management should be part of the solution. Drawing on fieldwork with investment managers in the UK and the US, I ask what it is about the practice of investment management that has prevented its mobilization in response to the crisis. Extending research showing that behind everyday notions of ‘investors’ and ‘markets’ lie investment chains and sociotechnical assemblages, I suggest that a series of technologies, at once bureaucratic and of self-formation, from fund performance quantification to formalized investment processes designed to generate ‘rational’ decisions, restrict the ethical field in which investment managers operate to one of mere accountability. A technocratic ‘cut’ separates them from the socio-political consequences of their activities, and therefore from assuming responsibility for them. Attempts to repoliticize this ethico-technical space, whether modest (corporate governance reform) or more ambitious (socially responsible, ethical, or gender lens investing) are yet to generate any fundamental shift in the locus of responsibility. External movements such as decarbonization campaigns show more promise given their potential for democratic mobilization, although challenged by the temporal mismatch between slow politicization of technocratic problems and the shorter time horizons of financial market participants, policymakers, and even the climate itself.