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Pierre Pénet

University of Geneva
Financial prophetism and crisis anticipation: a contribution from the social history of religion
01 September 2019 -
28 February 2020

Jean-D'Alembert Paris-Saclay - IEA de Paris Chair

Pierre Pénet holds a PhD in sociology from Northwestern University and Sciences Po Paris (2014). Now a postdoctoral fellow at University of Geneva, Pénet coordinates with Juan Flores the project “Sovereign debt diplomacies” funded by the Swiss National Foundation. Pénet’s expertise straddles the boundaries of ‘law and globalization’ and ‘history of quantification’ scholarships. He has published widely on topics of credit rating agencies, the European sovereign debt crisis and austerity programs. His British Journal of Sociology article "The IMF failure that wasn’t: tournaments of conditionality and strategic ignorance during the European debt crisis” was awarded in 2018 with the “Young Talent Award” by the Swiss Academy of Humanities and Social Sciences. His book Sovereign debt diplomacies: Rethinking sovereign debt from colonial empires to hegemony (with Juan Flores) is forthcoming in 2020.

Research Interests 

History of quantification ; Sociology of U.S. financial regulation ; Sovereign debt and colonial history ; The production of knowledge and ignorance by international experts ; Economics and religion

Financial prophetism and crisis anticipation: a contribution from the social history of religion

Financial expertise is contested. Recent studies in the social sciences have sought to understand why experts (e.g. credit rating agencies, the IMF, etc) failed to anticipate the 2008 financial crisis. But this lack of foresight does not exhaust the variety of financial expertise produced before 2008. Indeed, the crisis has revealed the existence of a small group of experts who (claim to have) predicted the crisis. This IAS project focuses on these individuals who “prophesized” the crisis: What did they see? Why were their anticipations so different from the conventional and optimistic representation of financial risks endorsed by established forecasters? And how did they contribute to the reform of financial practices since 2008? To answer these questions, I borrow research tools and methods from sociological and historical studies of religion. Several analogies with religion are suggested, using a classical Weberian perspective and recent socio-historical studies of biblical prophecies. This project will expand on my prior work on financial expertise and lay the groundwork for the publication of a book on the financial prophets of the 2008 financial crisis.


Contemporary period (1789-…)
World or no region