The financial industry’s invention of complex products such as credit default swaps and other derivatives has been widely blamed for triggering the global financial crisis of 2008. In Codes of Finance, Vincent Antonin Lépinay, a former employee of one of the world’s leading investment banks, takes readers behind the scenes of the equity derivatives business at the bank before the crisis, providing a detailed firsthand account of the creation, marketing, selling, accounting, and management of these financial instruments—and of how they ultimately created havoc inside and outside the bank.
"The first in-depth anthropological study of how banks invent new financial products. . . . Lépinay spent nearly two years in a huge French bank . . . And his study is both highly revealing and slightly farcical."—The Guardian
"Codes of Finance is an unusual, provocative, and compelling account of today's structured financial products, from their inception at the desks and computer screens of financial engineers through their evolving agency in the world of trading, to their marketing, sale, and explosive afterlives. This is a tour de force merging science and technology studies with the new social studies of finance, and essential reading for anyone seeking to understand the codes and pragmatic unfoldings of contemporary financial capitalism."—Bill Maurer, University of California, Irvine
"We have not seen an ethnography like Codes of Finance in a long time. Through the prism of innovative financial services designed in a French bank, Vincent Lépinay asks us to revise our conception of organizations, innovations, profit, and speculation, and makes clear why the issue is not so much how to get rid of derivatives as why we need to understand them."—Michel Callon, école des Mines de Paris
"Investment banks are enormously important, yet few social scientists have been inside them. Lépinay's fine ethnography takes us into trading rooms and back offices, examining machines as well as people, and investigating the variety of specialized languages needed to capture the properties of financial products. His book is a vital introduction to a style of economic sociology very different from that dominant in the Anglo-American world."—Donald MacKenzie, author of An Engine, Not a Camera: How Financial Models Shape Markets
"Codes of Finance sets a new standard for the ethnography of finance. This is the first ethnographic study to focus directly on financial formulas (or "products"), without caricaturing them or domesticating financial reasoning to well-trodden academic debates. It powerfully communicates the detail of financial knowledge—detail about the formulas, their production, and their interpretation by various human and nonhuman actants—from an astonishing range of vantage points within the knowledge production process. The book is a must-read for anthropologists of knowledge and for creative thinkers within the financial markets alike."—Annelise Riles, author of Collateral Knowledge: Legal Reasoning in the Global Financial Markets
"In this rich and fascinating ethnography, Vincent Lépinay takes the reader through the front and back offices of derivatives trading. Lépinay understands the codes—the secrets, the software, and the silent frames—of finance. This is must reading for economic sociologists as well as for anyone interested in the forefront of new research on organizations and technology. A wonderful book."—David Stark, author of The Sense of Dissonance: Accounts of Worth in Economic Life
"We are the masters of what we create—that is the myth. The reality is that we often do not even understand what we create. As Lépinay shows, this is the case with today's engineered financial products. This book is an important step toward solving the mystery of the lack of mastery in the world of finance."—Bruno Latour, coauthor of Laboratory Life