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Institute of Advanced Study

Dr Michael Pryke

IAS Fellow at St John's College, Durham University (October - December 2007)

Dr. Pryke is a senior lecturer in the Department of Geography in the Faculty of Social Sciences, at the Open University. Before joining the Open University he held research and teaching posts at Universities of Manchester, Cambridge and Queen Mary. He has held visiting Fellowships at the University of Melbourne, UNSW and Swansea University.

Dr. Pryke is an editor of the new Journal of Cultural Economy. With Professor Paul du Gay (Warwick) he edited Cultural Economy (2002, Sage), and with Professors Gillian Rose (Open) and Sarah Whatmore (Oxford) Using Social Theory (2004, Sage). He has refereed for international journals and research councils, and published in a number of leading social science journals such as Economy and Society, Society and Space and Urban Studies.

His research falls under the umbrella of cultural economy and geographies of finance and ranges from work on the social and cultural development of the City of London; ESRC funded projects on the UK's commercial property markets and the redevelopment of Berlin's Potsdamer Platz; and Joseph Rowntree funded research on the development of new financial instruments for social and private sector housing markets in the UK (with Professor Christine Whitehead (LSE).

There are two interrelated strands to his current work which he will progress whilst at the IAS. First, there is a focus on the use and impact of the latest forms of visualisation software in key financial markets, such as US Treasuries and global equities. Initial work in this area was funded by a British Academy small grant and entitled ‘Money's eyes'. This project examines in particular the effects on market formation and outcomes of these new tools of representation and simulation as they are employed to help market participants to interpret and manipulate data. Early findings have been presented at a number of invited seminars at ‘Envisioning Finance', a workshop organized by the Department of Sociology, University of Basel (2006), and ‘Money, location and visibility', a seminar organized by Department of Anthropology and CRESC, University of Manchester (2007). The second strand builds on earlier work published in Economy and Society and Geoforum on financial derivatives, to examine the growing integration of capital markets and ‘nature' through for example the shaping of a market is so-called weather derivatives and catastrophe bonds. The aim here is to explore the social-cultural technical processes involved in the framing of such markets.

IAS Fellow's Public Lecture - Money’s eyes - seeing risks and opportunities in global financial markets

How do the agents of global finance see risks and opportunities amongst the avalanche of numbers they face on a daily basis? While the growing availability of market data has benefits it also creates problems, most especially those relating to questions of meaning, judgment and intervention: how to make sense of these flows – how to see the ‘market’, its futures and thus act pre-emptively. One solution to this cluster of problems is said to reside in the development of new technologies of representation, in particular, the design and application of visualisation software.

Such software is being introduced not only to enable better visual imagination of and interaction with markets, but also to help visualise new financial products; that is, the software equips the agents of global finance to better track and act in relation to the seemingly abstract movements of modern financial markets. This lecture explores how many financial agents are now turning to the latest forms of visualisation software to improve impaired vision and speculates on some of the implications of the growing place of visualisation software in the preparation and workings of some of the key global financial markets. Dr. Pryke is a senior lecturer in the Department of Geography in the Faculty of Social Sciences, at the Open University. He is an IAS Fellow during Michaelmas term 2007.

Dr Michael Pryke Publications

Pryke, M (2010) 'Money's Eyes: the visual preparation of financial markets', Economy and Society, 39(4), pp. 427-459 

Pryke, M (2007) 'Picturing Financial Markets' Business Guide, 6, pp. 48-49

Pryke, M (2008) 'Seeing Risks Amongst the Numbers: visualization and the use of qualitative techniques to quantify financial risks' International Sociological Association Conference, Barcelona, 5-9 September 2008. 

IAS Insights Paper


Computation lies at the heart of finance, making numbers the ‘natural representation' of financial markets. While of course not displacing numbers, new techniques of visualisation that turn number into pattern are currently being explored by financial actors in an effort to make better sense of financial market developments. This paper reports on initial research into how such techniques are being developed and employed in various market settings. It begins by locating the increasing requirement for such visual techniques in the context of today's markets where financial instruments and their associated risks are increasingly entangled, thus making the task of figuring out just what is going on that much more difficult. The paper then offers a brief review of the key work to date by social scientists on visual techniques and financial markets as a way into thinking about how present techniques to re-visualise market data can also be thought of as working to shift the ‘contours of financial knowledge.' The penultimate section draws on interview material to explore the example of visualisation techniques developed recently for use in the US Treasuries markets. It sets out how the software is being designed to enable market participants to excavate key market developments visually in a search for added and valuable insights into unfolding market action, thus turning numbers into actionable knowledge. The paper ends by suggesting a number of issues to be investigated further if social scientists interested in the making and preparation of financial markets are to gain a fuller appreciation of just why, and with what consequences, there is, in contemporary financial practices, a turn to techniques of visualisation.

Insights Paper