Financialization of everyday life: are we becoming homo oeconomicus?

Assistant professor Léna Pellandini-Simányi
Assistant professor Léna Pellandini-Simányi

Institutional Communication Service

24 September 2020

In the consumer and services society people are increasingly exposed to financial products of all kinds, such as credit cards, car leasing, mortgage loans, investment funds for our savings, etc. While managing one's own finances requires an adequate level of "financial literacy", on the other hand we have been witnessing a cultural-social change for some decades now that poses a series of fundamental questions relating to individual responsibility, but also to the collective responsibility of States. Léna Pellandini-Simányi, Assistant Professor at the USI Faculty of Communication, Culture and Society, addresses the issue of 'financialization of daily life' in a chapter of the recently published Routledge Handbook of Critical Finance Studies.

In an interview published in the daily newspaper La Regione, Prof. Pellandini-Simányi, who holds a graduate degree in Economics and a PhD in Sociology, sheds some light on the 'financialization of daily life', i.e. the phenomenon of the increasing use of financial products - stocks, bonds, funds, credit cards, mortgages, etc.. - by most people, leading to more involvement in the financial markets. "We notice a general cultural change, with a tendency to consider things from a financial performance point of view. To give an example, today more and more people decide to buy a house not just because they find it nice or comfortable, rather because they see it for its future value in the market".

The financialization of everyday life is an effect of economic globalisation, which, among other things, has seen the privatisation and reduction in public sector services since the 1970s and 1980s in Anglo-Saxon countries. "The downsizing of the welfare state in many countries has forced individuals to take on what the State once did, such as incurring debt in order to maintain consumption levels during crisis, or to guarantee funds in the event of unemployment or for retirement," explains Prof. Pellandini-Simányi. "Having to take care of one's finances does not mean, however, that we are becoming homo oeconomicus, the rational subject dreamed up by some economists and politicians. One thing is to have to constantly make financial choices and evaluations, another one is to know how to make them, both in terms of mentality and knowledge".

According to the professor of the USI Institute of Marketing and Corporate Communication (IMCA), the financialization of daily life can be a disadvantage for those who cannot 'manage' themselves. "Access to financial products can be discriminatory, for example if it depends on health, social background or other categories that distinguish and isolate one social group from another. This is why it would be important to go beyond the individual risk calculation and provide access to credit that is based on more universal criteria in order to avoid an increase in inequalities," says Léna Pelandini-Simányi. "One way out - which is already partly being done, for example with new EU regulations - is to take at least part of the financial risk off the shoulders of individuals, who should only be held responsible for the choices they can actually make. In this sense the role of the State is important again".

Prof. Pellandini-Simányi's work has been supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation.