Finance past, finance future: a brief exploration of the evolution of financial practices

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Kavanagh, Donncha
Lightfoot, Geoff
Lilley, Simon
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As we work our way through the latest financial crisis, politicians seem both powerless to act convincingly and unable to craft from the welter of diverse and antagonistic narratives a coherent and convincing vision of the future. In this article, we argue that a temporal lens brings clarity to such confusion, and that thinking in terms of time and reflecting on privileged temporal structures helps to highlight underlying assumptions and distinguish different narratives from one another. We begin by articulating our understanding of temporality, and we proceed to apply this to the evolution of financial practice during different historical epochs as recently delineated by Gordon (2012). We argue that the principles of finance were effectively in place by the eighteenth century and that consequent developments are best conceptualized as phases in which one particular aspect is intensified. We find that in different historical periods, the temporal intensification associated with specific models of finance shifts, over history, from the past to the present to the future. We argue that a quite idiosyncratic understanding of the future has been intensified in the present phase, what we refer to as proximal future, and we explain how this has come to be. We then consider the ethical consequences of privileging an intensification of proximal future before mapping an alternative model centred on intensifying distal future, highlighting early signs of its potential emergence in the shadows of our present.
Time in finance , Industrial revolutions , Proximal future , Future timescapes
Kavanagh, D., Lightfoot, G. and Lilley, S. (2014) 'Finance past, finance future: a brief exploration of the evolution of financial practices', Management & Organizational History, 9(2), pp.135-149.
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© 2014 Taylor & Francis. This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Management & Organizational History, on 07 April 2014, available online: