Social patterning of economic subjectivities and the digital transformation of retail finance in Switzerland
While economic theories of the homo economicus assume an innate, universal sense of rationality, sociological and anthropological research suggests that economic subjectivities and actions are shaped by socio-cultural and material processes. Rationalities, in the plural, are produced, rather than innate. Indeed, a long tradition of economic sociology theorizes the processes that produce differences in economic subjectivities (economic habituses, to use Bourdieu’s term) across social groups and over time. In the context of everyday financial practices, recent studies in the financialization of everyday life, market studies, the French sociology of conventions, digital sociology, economic anthropology and geography have suggested that contemporary economic subjectivities are increasingly co-produced by digital devices (such as financial apps, websites, and the algorithms that underpin them), by prefiguring rational subjects and even making ‘rational’ choices on their users’ behalf. While these studies provide key insights into how digital financial devices perform specific economic subjectivities, they have paid less attention to how they shape social patterns of economic subjectivities - a question that has been central to the sociological tradition on the topic. One notable exception is sociological research on credit scoring and eligibility algorithms, which suggests that by delineating who gets access and who is denied particular credits, mortgages and investments, these devices produce social groups with different objective financial chances – and thus become a new structuring force of society. This research explains how digital financial devices structure society by producing groups with different financial opportunities; however, it says little about how they shape groups with different economics subjectivities, habituses and rationalities. The proposed project fills this important gap by unpacking the processes – not limited to eligibility - through which the digitalization of financial services reproduces, deepens, flattens or rearranges social differences in economic subjectivities.