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Institute of Advanced Study

Dr Paul Langley

IAS Fellow, (January - March 2010)

Dr Paul Langley, a social scientist of financial markets, has degrees in Politics and History and International Political Economy, and a PhD from the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. He has been Senior Lecturer in Politics in the Division of Politics and History at Northumbria University since 2001. He has served as Convenor of the International Political Economy Group of the British International Studies Association between 2005 and 2008, and is a co-editor of the Review of International Political Economy book series (Routledge).

Dr Langley has published extensively on historical and cultural developments in financial markets, having previously undertaken research into globalization, sustainable development, global governance and civil society. His first book, World Financial Orders (Routledge, 2002), explored the rise and fall of the dominant centres of modern world finance and illustrated the historically unprecedented features of the contemporary multi-polar order in which Wall Street, the City of London, Tokyo and so on are all key places in the integrated markets of ‘global finance'. World Financial Orders continues to be widely-cited in social scientific debates about the globalization of finance and American financial power.

Dr Langley's recent research has played a leading role in stimulating and shaping interdisciplinary inquiry into the relationships that bind the capital markets of global finance, on the one hand, with everyday saving and borrowing in America and Britain, on the other. Between 2004 and 2007 he published academic journal articles that addressed such topics as the embodied transformation of saving and the making of investor subjects; the crisis of final salary occupational pension schemes; the ethical investment movement; the securitization of mortgage finance; and the consumer credit boom. Langley's second book, The Everyday Life of Global Finance: Saving and Borrowing in Anglo-America (Oxford University Press, 2008), is being widely read in the context of the present financial crisis, and he has recently made invited presentations to conferences in Britain, Canada, Sweden and America.

In his current research, and developing out of The Everyday Life of Global Finance, Langley has published academic journal articles on the contribution of a cultural economy approach to understanding the sub-prime mortgage crisis, and on foreclosure and forbearance in sub-prime mortgages. He is also currently a partner in the Economic and Social Research Council's (ESRC) ‘Changing Cultures of Competitiveness' Seminar Series, and will host ‘The Credit Crunch: A Public Debate' during the ESRC Festival of Social Science week in March 2009.

During his time at the Institute of Advanced Study, Dr Langley will be researching and writing on the performance of liquidity in wholesale financial markets. While the volatile movements of contemporary markets are often captured through watery metaphors such as ‘flow' and ‘circulation', concerns with ‘liquidity' and ‘illiquidity' mark the present crisis. Langley will also organize two linked workshops during his time at the IAS, bringing together arts, sciences and social sciences to explore the ways in which the naming of a set of practices (e.g. a market) through watery metaphors (e.g. liquidity) produces that which it names through the emotions and aspirations of practitioners, and how such naming also serves to render those practices amenable to management.

Fellow's Home Page


Dr Paul Langley Publications

Langley, P. (2014) Liquidity Lost: the governance of the global financial crisis. London: Oxford University Press

IAS Insights Paper


This paper contributes to the Institute of Advanced Study's 2009-10 theme of Water by exploring the power of the watery metaphor of ‘liquidity' in the recent global financial crisis. For at least 12 months or so from the outset of the crisis in August 2007, serious disruptions in markets were represented as a ‘liquidity crisis' in practitioner, academic, media and policy discourse. The paper disaggregates and explores three sets of representations of the crisis that all feature the notion of liquidity, but which each carry forward quite different meanings. These representations view liquidity as cause of, condition for, or cure for the crisis. The paper then begins to address a conceptual puzzle: how was it possible for starkly contrasting meanings of liquidity to contribute towards the rendering and governing of the crisis as a liquidity crisis? Two related conceptual avenues are highlighted for approaching this puzzle. First, once conceived of as holding performative power, liquidity can be understood to have produced a de-politicising visualisation of the crisis that brought together an array of developments as a single problem to be acted on, but to have operated contingently through the reiterative naming of the crisis in which the contrasting meanings of liquidity were not particularly significant. Second, once the apparatus through which the ‘liquidity crisis' was governed is conceived of as a distributed form of agency, interventions can be understood to have been enabled by relations between discursive and material elements that worked in conjunction but which also entailed tensions and frictions. Liquidity may have appeared, at once, as the cause of, condition for, and cure for the global financial crisis, yet this watery metaphor was nonetheless crucial to how the crisis came to be imagined and tackled in seemingly coherent and consistent ways.

Insights Paper