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Banking Across Boundaries: Placing Finance in Capitalism

ISBN: 978-1-4443-3829-4
302 pages
April 2013, Wiley-Blackwell
Banking Across Boundaries: Placing Finance in Capitalism (1444338293) cover image


This compelling contribution to contemporary debates about the banking industry offers a unique perspective on its geographical and conceptual ‘placement’. It traces the evolving links between the two, revealing how our notions of banking ‘productiveness’ have evolved alongside the shifting loci of banking activity.

  • An original contribution to the urgent debates taking place on banking sparked by the current economic crisis
  • Offers a unique perspective on the geographical and social concept of ‘placement’ of the banking industry
  • Combines theoretical approaches from political economy with contemporary literature on the performativity of economics
  • Details the globalization of Western banking, and analyzes how representations of the banking sector’s productiveness have shifted throughout the evolution of Western economic theory
  • Analyzes the social conceptualization of the nature – and value – of the banking industry
  • Illuminates not only how economic ideas ‘perform’ and shape the economic world, but how those ideas are themselves always products of particular economic realities
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Table of Contents

List of Figures viii

List of Abbreviations ix

Acknowledgments x

Introduction 1

Part I Worlds Apart: Before Keynes 25

1 The Birth of Economic Productiveness 27

2 Instrumental Internationalism 57

Part II Worlds Aligned: From the Great Depression to the Eve of the Big Bang 101

3 Enclosing the Unproductive 103

4 America, and Boundaries Breached 146

Part III Co-Constituted Worlds: The Age of Financialization? 185

5 Layering the Logics of Free Trade in Banking 187

6 Anaemic Geographies of Productive Finance 229

Afterword 275

Index 282

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Author Information

Brett Christophers is Assistant Professor in the Department of Social and Economic Geography and the Institute for Housing and Urban Research at the University of Uppsala, Sweden. He holds degrees from the Universities of Oxford, UK, British Columbia, Canada, and Auckland, New Zealand, and is the author of Positioning the Missionary: John Booth Good and the Confluence of Cultures in Nineteenth-Century British Columbia (1998) and Envisioning Media Power: On Capital and Geographies of Television (2009).
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“Christophers has produced what is sure to be one of the most widely read books generated by the still-developing subfield of financial geography. Banking Across Boundariesleaves no doubt about the centrality of geography to past debates and present anxieties about the role of finance and banking in “the economy.”  (The AAG Review of Books, 1 March 2014)

“The overall effect is a compelling geopolitical analysis of the historical development of banking that explains present banking institutions and powers, and the political impasse that has permeated Anglo-American capitalist systems since the 2008 financial crisis.”  (Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography, 24 September 2014)

“That said, Christophers has produced an impressive and ambitious piece of scholarship that demonstrates the power of ideas and epistemic communities in shaping the global economy and placed banking more centrally within this. In so doing, Banking across Boundaries will be essential reading for researchers working on the geographies of money and finance and the international financial system within economic geography and cognate disciplines.”  (Journal of Economic Geography, 5 November 2013)

"Banking Across Boundaries: Placing Finance in Capitalism [is] a probing examination of the boundaries, conceptual and geographic, at stake in financial intermediation. ... [Christophers] succeeds in uncovering fresh connections between material and discursive change, ranging across centuries of financial history, while profitably assimilating various theoretical and empirical literatures, including, but not limited to, critical accounting studies, the sociology of finance, international political economy, and Christophers’ home discipline of human geography. It is done with admirable fluency and alacrity."
Jonathan Levy, Princeton University (in Economic Geography

"Brett Christophers has written a wide-ranging, brilliant, and imaginative book about one of the most important topics in contemporary social science—the role of banks in the contemporary global economy."
Fred Block, Department of Sociology, University of California at Davis 

"BAB is an important book that gives us important correctives to established narratives."
Mark Blyth, Political Science, Brown University

"Banking Across Boundaries is a theoretically precise and empirically meticulous work of political economy that grapples seriously with the large-scale spatial patterns and dynamics of capitalist development and adds to our knowledge and understanding of them. It belongs on the shelf with works such as Harvey's Limits to Capital (1982), Henderson's California and the Fictions of Capital (1998), and Arrighi's The Long Twentieth Century (1994). ... Banking Across Boundaries should be read not just by economic geographers, political economists, or those concerned with the financial crisis, but by anyone who wants to understand key aspects of the “global” economy." (Geographical Review, 16 December 2013)

“This is a hugely ambitious, powerful and provocative book … Overall, this is an immensely impressive book. It provides a powerful demonstration of how political economic geographical analysis can operate through both the performative and material worlds of institutions, people, ideas, models and metrics … Brett Christophers has produced a compelling book that should be widely read in economic geography and across the social sciences.”
Jane Pollard, Newcastle University, UK (Progress in Human Geography book review symposium, 2013)

“Christophers displays many of the skills required of a good detective, being both forensic in his approach and resolute in his persistence: his refusal to let claims go unchallenged or data unexamined is an admirable feature throughout … Clearly a major contribution to the field.”
Andrew Leyshon, University of Nottingham, UK (Progress in Human Geography book review symposium, 2013)

“Christophers has written, first, a deeply informative and, second, a very gutsy account of the expansion, contraction, and once again expansion of international banking. The book is gutsy because Christophers challenges the common wisdom that capitalism has undergone a basic restructuring and become ‘financialized’. The challenge rests upon a foundation of quite extraordinary scholarship: it is impossible not to appreciate Christophers’ sustained engagement with banking’s centuries-long history and its extensive historical geography, too.”

George Henderson, University of Minnesota, USA (Progress in Human Geography book review symposium, 2013)

“This is an immensely impressive … [and] compelling book that should be widely read in economic geography and across the social sciences … Christophers displays many of the skills required of a good detective, being both forensic in his approach and resolute in his persistence: his refusal to let claims go unchallenged or data unexamined is an admirable feature throughout … A deeply informative and … a very gutsy account of the expansion, contraction, and once again expansion of international banking.”  (Progress in Human Geography , 1 September 2013)

“Brett Christophers’ Banking Across Boundaries is one such contribution that will surely be of interest to students and scholars across a range of disciplines, from economic geography to international political economy and economic sociology.”  (Regional Studies, 1 September 2013)

“That said, and what is of particular interest here, is the way in which Banking Across Boundaries explicitly takes aim at performativity, a conceptual mainstay of the cultural economy of finance.” (Journal of Cultural Economy, 22 March 2013)

‘An innovative, well-researched and invaluable book on the importance of banks and banking to contemporary capitalism. The vital importance of their cross-boundary activity and the controversy over whether and how they really do contribute to the wealth of nations are here illuminated in novel ways.’
David Harvey, Distinguished Professor, City University of New York

'A trenchant, theoretically sophisticated analysis of the reciprocal relationship between economic ideas and material developments in banking and finance. In a book sure to make economists and ordinary citizens rethink the recent financial crisis, Christophers demands that we take the long historical view and place national economies in a global context. This is a fresh, exciting, and probing call for more expansive frames of economic analysis and more critical reflection on the data that allow us to know what we think we know about productivity and finance.'
Mary Poovey, Samuel Rudin University Professor in the Humanities, New York University

‘In Banking Across Boundaries Brett Christophers walks us through a history of capitalism that considers the importance of how financial intermediation is counted in economic geographies. Crucial here is the evolution of banks' spatial anatomy and conceptions of banks' economic productiveness. Explained over three periods of capitalist development, Christophers does a splendid job in detailing how ideas and practices enable one another in how banks operate across boundaries and why they are considered to be productive in modern national accounting. This book is of great interest to all scholars of finance in the international political economy.’
Leonard Seabrooke, Professor of International Political Economy and Economic Sociology, Copenhagen Business School

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