ReImagine Value

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May 10, 2019  

(3) Finance Capital and the Ghosts of Empire: Franziska Müller, Rebecca Bramall, and Nick Bernards

May 10, 2019

On April 5-6, 2019 RiVAL was among the hosts of a two-day symposium at the University of Sussex on the topic of "Finance Capital and the Ghosts of Empire" which brought together artists, activists and academics. For more information, visit:

In this recording you'll hear from the following:

  • Nick Bernards (University of Warwick) “Colonial legacies and the limits of financialization in sub-Saharan Africa

    • Promoting access to financial services for the poor, or ‘financial inclusion’, has emerged as a major policy objective in international development in the past decade. Critics have often linked the agenda of financial inclusion to wider dynamics of ‘financialization’. Yet, little attention has thus far been paid to the fact that these initiatives have, by many measures, failed. Access to financial services remains highly uneven, and financial institutions across the global south continue to primarily serve urban, middle-class borrowers. This paper investigates the roots of these contemporary failures in the enduring legacies of colonial financial systems. In particular, I explore the limits to contemporary market-building interventions posed by the shortcomings of financial systems built up around the needs of colonial economies oriented towards primary export products, and shaped profoundly by racialized ideas about the capacities of colonial subjects to manage debt, money, and participation in ‘modern’ economies. The paper examines debates about agrarian credit in colonial Senegal in order to make this argument.
    • Nick Bernards is Assistant Professor of Global Sustainable Development at the University of Warwick. He is author of The Global Governance of Precarity: Primitive Accumulation and the Politics of Irregular Work (Routledge, 2018).
  • Rebecca Bramall (University of the Arts London) “The colonial meddling never stopped’: stories about Empire and responsibility in contemporary tax justice discourse
    • It is widely recognized that British colonialism played a critical role in the establishment of the UK’s Overseas Territories as tax havens, and that a second ‘financial Empire’ was resurrected ‘out of the ashes of the first’ (Palan, 2015). Stories about this foundational moment are not over and done, but are constantly reworked and remade, not least in the current political moment. This exploratory paper will map and discuss some of the ways in which the history of the UK’s Overseas Territories as British colonies has been mobilised and animated by different actors in the context of efforts by the tax transparency movement to expose the structures that permit tax avoidance. It will focus on the narratives that circulated in the reporting of the impact of Hurricane Irma in September 2017 on the British Virgin Islands, Anguilla, and the Turks and Caicos Islands, and subsequently after the Mitchell-Hodge amendment to the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill in May 2018, which required British Overseas Territories to create public registers of businesses registered there. I will explore how these events provided opportunities for diverse actors to assert narratives about the former colonial status of the Overseas Territories in order to describe, affirm and contest relations of power and responsibility.
    • Rebecca Brammall is Senior Lecturer in Media and Communications at London College of Communication, UAL. Rebecca’s research explores the interpenetration of culture and economy, with a current focus on taxation imaginaries. Key publications include The Cultural Politics of Austerity: Past and Present in Austere Times (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013) and a special issue of New Formations on Austerity (2016).
  • Franziska Müller (University of Kassel, Germany) “Greening the anti-politics machine: De- and repoliticizing Africa’s renewable energy transition
    • Green finance has become a game changer. The Sustainable Development Goals have set an ambitious agenda, which cannot succeed without the generous support of private capital. To achieve the 7th SDG – stable and reliable access to clean energy – an estimated US$ 308-333 billion has to be channelled into power infrastructures. This requires establishing new green funds and promotion programs as much as implementing special derisking instruments for green investors. In this regard private actors increasingly seek to tap Africa's renewable energy potential. Yet, while countries as for instance Uganda or Zambia have abundant resources, their political and economic infrastructures do not match the standardized investment conditions expected by foreign investors.
      Recently, “derisking” has advanced as a new political technology that aims at creating attractive level playing fields for incoming FDI, with international banks offering special insurances and stepping in as lenders of the last resort. Derisking has become a powerful tool for rendering states and economies accessible to foreign investors and for creating green economies literally from scratch, yet it may interfere into sovereignty and create new economic and political dependencies. So far, derisking activities have seldom been subject to critical research, and especially the role of green funding structures promoted by inter- and transnational institutions and insurance companies, (e.g. African Trade Insurance, Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau, World Bank, Munich RE) has only scarcely been acknowledged. My paper discusses the (anti)political and possibly neocolonial qualities of ‘derisking’ instruments for renewable energy transitions in Subsahara-Africa, based on empirical research done in Uganda and Zambia. For doing so, I draw back on critical accounts of postcolonial finance (LHM Ling, Branwen Gruffydd Jones) and green governmentality (Robert Fletcher, Tanja Li, James Ferguson).
    • Franziska Müller is a political scientist and leader of a research group on African energy transitions at the University of Kassel ( Rooted in the fields of International Relations theory and Global Environmental Governance, her work focuses on the intersections of international relations and political ecology under circumstances of liberal governance and in postcolonial contexts. Her current research concentrates on energy transitions, global carbon governmentality and the anthropocene. She holds a Ph.D. in political science and a M.A. in political science and cultural anthropology.

At the event itself, the following presentation was made, but has been excised from the audio recording at the request of the presenters.

  • Sarah-Jane Phelan and Jenny Hewitt (University of Sussex) “Playing with Experiences of Displacement: Complexity,  Accountability, Global Reach Ambitions and the Toy Industry

    • Children shape and reshape subjectivities through play. The UN Refugee Agency estimates there to be over 11 million refugee children worldwide and ‘Play’ for these children has the potential to support the processing of experiences, as they grapple with understanding loss, new languages, isolation, racism, and potentially changes in family roles. Research has explored how refugee children use play to process, including using it as a way to perform resistance (Marshall: 2015). Recently, the Lego Foundation has pledged £100 million to support The Sesame Workshop’s work with refugee children to “provide critical new insights into effective models of learning through play for children affected by crisis” (Lego Foundation, 2019).  Mapping out the scope of this project’s philanthropic and research agenda, we will consider the potential impact of play and knowledge production when enacted in relation to toys and methods rooted in Euro-centric genealogies, and explore the issues inherent in holding such brands accountable.
    • Jenny and Sarah-Jane are doctoral researchers at the University of Sussex with ESRC-funded projects exploring political identity formation and agency among young people in the UK and the everyday expertise of market vendors during a period of deteriorating security in Burkina Faso respectively. Supported by joint funding from the ESRC Business Boost Funding, this project brings together their interdisciplinary frame to children’s experiences of the emergent political economy shaping the products and programmes created for them.