Cultures of inequality: labor, social finance, and the swinging pendulum of trust in capitalism

Elisabetta Magnani*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Social finance, an arena of international finance comprising social banking, impact investing, and microfinance, offers a powerful conceptual lens through which to interrogate the interface of finance and labor in financial capitalism. This article investigates social finance’s development at the crossroad of two processes. Social finance emerged in the context of a process of laboring finance, an often-coercive inclusion of workers and households into financial circuits of accumulation and expansion made possible by labor market changes that began in the 1970s. The global financial crisis occasioned the growth of social finance, which, by means of financing labor, placed the reproductive needs of labor—the needs of society’s most disadvantaged agents, the poor, the homeless, the marginal, and unemployed workers—at the center of financial accumulation. By informing an oscillatory movement between laboring finance and financing labor, and, affectively, between trust and distrust, social finance primes and cultivates financial market participants’ belief in purported solutions to the social problems financial capitalism has contributed to create. As a critical investigation of the complex interface between finance and labor that animates social finance’s operations, this article aims to provide conceptual resources that can contribute to releasing labor’s social cooperation from finance’s hegemony.

Original languageEnglish
JournalSocial Currents
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 27 Feb 2024


  • capitalism
  • financialization
  • inequality
  • social finance
  • trust


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