The Financialization of Food: An Inquiry into the 2008-2011 Food Price Spikes
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This dissertation investigates the question: has financial speculation contributed to global food price volatility since the mid 2000s? I problematize the mainstream academic literature on the 2008-2011 food price spikes as being dominated by neoclassical economic perspectives and offer new conceptual and empirical insights into the relationship between financial speculation and food. Presented in three journal style manuscripts, manuscript one uses circuits of capital to conceptualize the link between financial speculators in the global north and populations in the global south. Manuscript two argues that what makes commodity index speculation (aka ‘index funds’ or index swaps) novel is that it provides institutional investors with what Clapp (2014) calls “financial distance” from the biopolitical implications of food speculation. Finally, manuscript three combines Gramsci’s concepts of hegemony and ‘the intellectual’ with the concept of performativity to investigate the ideological role that public intellectuals and the rhetorical actor the market play in the proliferation and governance of commodity index speculation. The first two manuscripts take an empirically mixed method approach by combining regression analysis with discourse analysis, while the third relies on interview data and discourse analysis. The findings show that financial speculation by index swap dealers and hedge funds did indeed significantly contribute to the price volatility of food commodities between June 2006 and December 2014. The results from the interview data affirm these findings. The discourse analysis of the interview data shows that public intellectuals and rhetorical characters such as ‘the market’ play powerful roles in shaping how food speculation is promoted, regulated and normalized. The significance of the findings is three-fold. First, the empirical findings show that a link does exist between financial speculation and food price volatility. Second, the findings indicate that the post-2008 CFTC and the Dodd-Frank reforms are unlikely to reduce financial speculation or the price volatility that it causes. Third, the findings suggest that institutional investors (such as pension funds) should think critically about how they use commodity index speculation as a way of generating financial earnings.