Inaugural lecture with professor Christian Borch

Avalanche Modernity: On Crowd Behavior and Algorithmic Finance

Fredag, 15 september, 2017 - 14:00 to 16:00


The twenty-first century is often portrayed as being permeated by profound change and widespread disruption. In this lecture, I will caution against a notion of present-day epochal rupture and argue that current changes seem in many ways rather miniscule when compared to the European situation of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Indeed, fin-de-siècle transformations were on several counts far more drastic than those we experience today. Not surprisingly, much late-nineteenth-century social theory grappled with how to account for such landslide developments that seemed to upend the social order.

Using crowd behavior as an emblematic illustration of radical fin-de-siècle change, a host of social theorists suggested that modernity was characterized by avalanching properties: similar to how face-to-face crowds were supposedly able to sweep away people against their will, so modern society more broadly was believed to generate an avalanching of individuality – rather than making independent decisions people were seen as being subdued by external influence. I will argue that, while this particular tradition in social theory has been largely forgotten, it is worth revisiting, as it invites a reconsideration of established notions of social action. But more than that, the broader modernist experience of social avalanching that this tradition points to is an experience that may also be ours today. I will discuss this in relation to recent developments in financial markets toward algorithmic trading, in which fully automated algorithms execute orders without direct human involvement.

What is interesting about algorithmic finance is not only that new types of so-called flash crashes are often depicted in a vocabulary that echoes late-nineteenth-century discussions of social avalanching; equally important, algorithmic trading might prompt a further rethinking of the ways in which social action is theorized in contemporary sociology.



Welcome by Head of Department, Lotte Jensen, MPP
Introduction by Dean of Research Peter Møllgaard

Inaugural lecture by Professor Christian Borch

Reception at the Gallery in Ovnhallen

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Department of Management, Politics and Philosophy, CBS