The Moral Contestability of Finance: Embodying the financial markets in the City of London

Dr Alexander Simpson1
1University Of Brighton, Brighton, United Kingdom

Drawing on a three-year ethnographic study of financial life in the City of London, this paper critically explores the cultural legitimation of market practice to examine the way in which financial actors neutralise the harms of their occupation. By embodying practices of speed, intelligence and discipline, market actors compete to become the market and, in doing so, culturally neutralise the harms of financial action. The unending trial of market competition forms a naturalising force of economic progress and social development that ensures that the ‘the most intelligent individuals’ are ‘continually selected’, while weakness is punished. Financial life, therefore, becomes a trial in controlling and embodying the unpredictabilities of the market. Those who succeed become part of a ‘separate, sacred group’ that ritualises their own exclusivity and adherence to the embedded values of the market. Specifically, this manifests itself as a common internalisation and embodiment of a ruling system of market capital; speed, intelligence and discipline. As a set of embodied strategies, market actors are able to fine tune their skills to hone in on and control the rapid fluctuations of the market. Embodying the market in this way (re)produces the symbolic violence of market capitalism, in which the dominant are dominated by the rules of the game to establish an ‘immediate submission to order’ (Bourdieu, 1990, p. 54). This paper contributes to a deeper understanding of how the market enters the body to instil a tacit complicity insofar as individuals remain unconscious to the violence of their actions.


Dr Alex Simpson is a Senior Lecturer in Criminology at the School of Applied Social Science. Having joined in September 2015, his work focuses on the criminology of harm, issues of elite deviance, cultural marginalisation and the sociology of political economy. Alex undertook his PhD at the University of York. Supported by an ESRC studentship, this ethnographic study examines the culture of finance and the neutralisation of deviance within the City of London.


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