Resident at the Forschungskolleg Humanwissenschaften:October 2023–July 2024
Research topic at the Forschungskolleg Humanwissenschaften:»Markets, power and social practices«
My postdoctoral research project is a critical republican investigation into the nature of social power, in particular focussing on how social power is manifested and held in market economies. Rainer Forst has argued that the critical theorist’s task is to identify »structures and relationships that are not reciprocally and generally justifiable, and those which render a practice of justification impossible as a political process«. This project intends to address a key feature of Forst’s account of power, which finds that power is reproduced even where no agent is reinforcing a particular social order. This project does so by placing emphasis on systems of coordination, structured by agents, relying on social practices. This project takes the coordination of market players as central for analysis.
It is often said that markets hold power. In 2022, the UK Prime Minister Liz Truss was forced to resign after markets coordinated in a way that condemned her. Similarly, excessive risk-shifting in the pre-2008 securitisation market led to a financial crisis in which many lost their homes and livelihoods. How, though, can we understand the nature of this power? Who, if anyone, is exercising power over whom in these cases? Coordination in markets may amount to an exercise of power, but no one agent alone could control or effect such an exercise. At the same time, as markets are made up by a collection of agential (in)actions, a metaphysically strained idea of structures holding power appears inadequate.
This project proposes to address these questions by investigating the centrality of coordination in markets through social practices. Social practices are sustained by agents and can produce a form of structural domination. These practices, I will argue, arise not as moral, social or legal prescriptions but in the conceptual space left between their interaction. They are driven by incentives to coordinate. Once practices are centralised in analysing the market economy, I seek to argue that regulation aimed at changing individual incentive structures, rather than revolutionary structural change, may be a solution to redress normatively problematic markets.
Research partner:Hannah McHugh follows the invitation of Rainer Forst, Professor of Political theory at Goethe University Frankfurt am Main, and the Justitia Centre for Advanced Studies funded by the Alfons and Gertrud Kassel Foundation.
Scholarly profile of Hannah McHugh Hannah McHugh received her PhD in Political Theory from University College London in January 2024, which was passed without corrections. The title of her PhD thesis is Power to the People: Agent’s Role in and Responsibility for Domination. Hannah holds an MA in Legal and Political Theory at UCL (distinction, awarded for highest graded dissertation amongst cohort) and an LLB (Hons) University of London, International Programmes.
Main areas of research:Neo-republican political theory, theories of political responsibility, feminist political theory.