Beyond the Financialized Public?

A series of projects about democracy, economy, and how we measure value in society


Fields of Knowledge
  • Politics / Economics
  • Public culture
  • Social Justice

Organizing Institutions

Slought, Lambent Foundation, Feinstein Center for American Jewish History at Temple University


Aaron Levy, Michelle Coffey, Lila Corwin Berman

Opens to public


  • Community care
  • Mutual aid
  • Mutualism

Slought, Lambent Foundation, and the Feinstein Center for American Jewish History at Temple University are pleased to announce "Beyond the Financialized Public?," an ongoing research initiative exploring how financial idioms have transformed the nonprofit and philanthropic sector and our understanding of the public good. The initiative will unfold as a series of projects and discussions, and will feature participants including artists and activists; scholars of tax policy, political philosophy, and social movements; nonprofit, philanthropic, and finance professionals; and policymakers.

Over the past fifty years, the way that we measure value in society has shifted radically. In particular, the model of the market has altered our understanding and valuation of the public good. Can we refocus this language of finance in imaginative ways, transforming the non-profit and philanthropic sector and civic life itself?

"The Financialized Public" seeks to create a forum for discussing the moral complexity of value and the ways in which we—through law, policy, culture and behavior—delimit what is valuable and what is good. We will also be attentive to the effect of financial language and tools on these considerations and the act of giving itself. We seek to register how contemporary giving in all its forms—from donor advised funds to crowdsourcing platforms—has become a strategic form of investment and a new form of political capital. Finally, we will build upon the work of Marcel Mauss, Émile Benveniste and others as we imagine alternative conceptions of giving and receiving, including the exchange of relationships, knowledge, and labor.

Join us by engaging "Counterfeit Money / La Fausse Monnaie (1869)," a prose poem by Charles Baudelaire that explores what it means to give and to receive, and the transformative impact of economy on the act of giving itself.

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In Charles Baudelaire's Counterfeit Money, the narrator scrutinizes his friend's charitable inclinations, and his decision to give a counterfeit coin to a poor man begging on the street. "I saw clearly," he concludes, "that his aim had been to do a good deed while at the same time making a good deal; to earn forty cents and the heart of God; to win paradise economically; in short, to pick up gratis the certificate of a charitable man."

Baudelaire's narrator is appalled by the "ineptitude" of his friend's calculations and his disregard for the consequences of his actions. Though written in 1869, Baudelaire's words make legible a contemporary paradox. Our moral values are intertwined with the language of finance, and we imagine they can be reconciled.

How can we subvert this uneven relationship? This question is addressed in Kevin Young's The Grey Album (2012), in which he explores how black artists have crafted alternative systems of value "functioning both within and without the dominant" culture.

In particular, he addresses a "counterfeit tradition" within black writing that challenges traditional associations of value and finance, and confronts system of oppression more generally. In contrast to Baudelaire's friend, Young invites us to reflect on counterfeiting as means of empowerment and as a counter-hegemonic force, one that we can intentionally engage.

"Beyond the Financialized Public?" is a series of roundtable discussions that invites participants to exchange their unique perspectives on considerations such as these, and alternative conceptions of value more generally. Throughout, we will consider the ways in which we are socially-constructed by the model of the market, as well as what it would mean to move "beyond" a financialized public altogether, as the title of our project rhetorically implies, through three interrelated conceptions of value—namely, relationships, knowledge, and labor.

"Neoliberal rationality disseminates the model of the market to all domains and activities--even where money is not at issue--and configures human beings exhaustively as market actors, always, only, and everywhere as homo oeconomicus."

-- Wendy Brown, Undoing the Demos: Neoliberalism's Stealth Revolution (Zone Books, 2015)

"What emerged can be called a portfolio society, in which the investment idiom becomes a dominant way of understanding the individual's place in society. Personality and talent become 'human capital,' homes, families, and communities become 'social capital,' and the guiding principles of financial investment spread by analogy far beyond their original application."

-- Gerard Davis, Managed by the Markets: How Finance Reshaped America (Oxford, 2009)

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