Our monthly ‘SPERI Spotlight’ series showcases the work of a researcher at SPERI to give an insight into their research. This month we talk to Dr Caroline Metz, Postdoctoral Research Associate at SPERI.
What does your research focus on?
I am interested in the politics of finance, the ways in which the financial and banking sectors operate, and how they’ve changed since the global financial crisis. I am particularly interested in how everyday actors participate in these financial mechanisms and in what ways they are impacted.
What led to you becoming interested in these issues?
I first began to critically think about the politics of finance during the financial crisis, as I began to see the impact it was having upon society. I wanted to understand the causes of the economic crash and although I started studying political sciences, international relations and economics, I found that these modules — and mainstream economics in particular — were frustrating me in the sense that they didn’t really help me to understand how the world was working. That became even more evident in the wake of the Eurozone debt crisis. I remember being on holiday in Portugal in 2011, and seeing lots of graffiti saying “IMF I love you”. I was surprised to see these international organisations appearing as the subject of graffiti, and I didn’t understand why this could have been the case. Not long after that, someone mentioned political economy to me, and I took a general textbook on political economy out of the library. It immediately spoke to me, as it showed how political and economic issues were actually connected, in that economics was really about politics, and in that you can’t really understand ‘politics’ without an understanding of material conditions and structures. I wanted to find out more specifically about the sovereign debt crisis in Europe which led me to write my MA thesis on that topic, and later to apply for an internship at Finance Watch in Brussels. Colleagues there were very helpful in terms of teaching me about the European banking sector, and the lobbying and politics around it, and that’s how I started engaging with these issues.
What are the challenges involved in researching these areas of interest?
As a young woman doing a PhD on finance, I found myself in a rather male-dominated environment, which had its own specific challenges, for example in terms of feeling legitimate with the way you approach your topic, and research in general. Another challenge in researching the politics of finance is the technical jargon of finance. But while many financial mechanisms appear quite technical and difficult to understand, I realised that in fact a good share of it is pretty basic, and that the appearance of complexity has operated to the advantage of the sector.
What are the key future research questions in your area of study?
Whilst my PhD explored the ‘high end’ of finance — looking at lobbying, interaction with the state, and the regulatory environment — I’m now turning to examine the question of non-performing loans in the EU in the aftermath of the crisis, and the ways these defaulting debts are being marketised into profitable financial products. For me, understanding and demonstrating how everyday debtors (EU citizens) are the unknowing source of profit for finance is key, because that also shows that there is a significant potential for resistance there. I am particularly interested in how the creation of non-performing loan markets conflicts with debtor protection rights. Looking forward, I am interested in better understanding (and ideally, challenging) how contemporary finance reproduces inequalities along the lines of class, race and gender.
What does being a member of SPERI mean to you?
SPERI is a great place for me to transition from a PhD environment to an academic workplace. I really appreciate getting to know each other and engaging with each other’s research which covers a wide range of topics. I’m also really happy and grateful to be part of a group of postdoctoral researchers at SPERI, and to work alongside inspiring and supportive people.