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Navigating the world of finance, credit and debt has become a normalised and unavoidable feature of young people’s lives. Financial technologies (fintech) represent a significant shift in the economic landscape, and the rapid pace of their development has outstripped both research and regulatory efforts. While some of the regulatory challenges posed by fintech have been mapped out, little is known about how people engage with fintech, including the specific financial information that they access and how fintech shapes their financial practices and sense of wellbeing.
Digitisation is changing how everyday finances and services are organised and experienced. Buy now pay later (BNPL) services have changed modes of payment and (mis)understandings of debt, but also opened young people to be able to engage with financial instruments easily. Share trading apps such as Raiz and Robinhood, Crypto platforms CoinSpot and Binance, Gambling companies like Sportsbet and bet365 are readily accessible after a few clicks. Algorithms are making decisions about who can access housing or insurance, and these decisions result in the perpetuation of geodemographic, socio-demographic and racial inequalities. Algorithms and artificial intelligence are performing much of the sorting – that is, excluding – of who can and cannot use these products.
Social science research needs to be at the forefront of understanding the intersection between the frontstage consumption of fintech and the backstage data-fied processes of evaluation and sorting of access to financial instruments in order to understand how inequality will be shaped in the future; specifically, who can access the financial and credit services that are crucial for young people to create a future. In terms of who is defined as a person of value, not all financialised subjectivities will be equal.
This seminar will critically interrogate different aspects of fintech, from data-fied digital decisions to how value is created and extracted from platforms, and from gamified debt to the sociality of gambling. In so doing it will position social science research at the forefront of understanding fintech futures.
Please join us in X101 on Level 1 of NUSpace, at the University of Newcastle’s City Campus.
Steven Threadgold, Julia Coffey and Julia Cook (University of Newcastle, Australia)
The Gamification of Debt: Gimmicks and young people’s ambivalent financialised subjectivities
In many countries Buy-Now-Pay-Later (BNPL) services have rapidly become a pervasive option to pay for consumer products both online and instore. Under-regulated and specifically marketed at young people, BNPL services use gamified and social media-like features to create frictionless user interfaces that resonate with the way young people engage online and in digital spaces, producing specific financialised subjectivities. In this article, we draw upon Sianne Ngai’s theory of the gimmick to analyse young people’s experiences with these credit products within an Australian context. Importantly, we emphasize how engagement with BNPL services feels and the many ambivalences and antimonies this surfaces about the blurry lines between production and consumption, and the precarious economic positions of many young people. We contribute to research on the financialization of everyday life and the consumption of credit by analysing the everyday practices of young people’s indebted subjectivities within a public discourse that positions youth as financially irresponsible while debt is ubiquitous and unavoidable for all but the most privileged.
Roger Burrows (University of Bristol, UK)
Digital Risk Profiling Technologies as Housing Market Intermediaries
This paper offers a schematic overview of the myriad ways in which digital risk profiling technologies are now functioning as housing market intermediaries. The paper examines the historical development of such technologies from the 1970s onwards, credit scoring and geodemographic profiling in particular. It then considers how these well-established approaches have been radically disrupted in recent years by a plethora of developments in big data, predicative analytics, open banking and the emergence of various digital property platforms. It considers how what has emerged is impacting: home ownership and access to mortgage finance; the private rented sector and tenant referencing systems; and the social housing sector and housing allocation processes. The paper concludes by considering how these cross-tenure developments are, together, fundamentally altering access to housing as an obligatory passage point in life course of young adults.
Steven Threadgold, Julia Cook, Julia Coffey and Jonathan Curtis (University of Newcastle, Australia)
Betting with mates: Gambling apps and young men’s social practices
Whilst problem gambling is known to be a gendered issue predominantly impacting men, how young men use and relate to gambling apps is not well understood. This paper discusses the role that recently developed ‘bet with mates’ features on gambling apps play in the social lives of young men. ‘Problem gambling’ represents a critical health issue for young men, and the emergence of new digital technologies makes gambling more accessible than ever before. There is limited research on gambling in Australia, and most is conducted from a psychological perspective that does not account adequately for gambling as a social practice. In this paper we will present preliminary findings that discusses what role gambling plays in young men’s social lives, especially in relation to sport; how does the relationship between gambling, leisure and finances affect young men’s well-being; and how do potential financial pressures associated with gambling impact upon young men’s friendships?
Beverley Skeggs (Lancaster University, UK)
Designing inequality: Capturing attention, dividing users
Ten years ago when we began a software project on tracking and tracing people’s use of Facebook we were shocked to find that we could access ALL their browser use (Skeggs and Yuill 2015, 2018; ESRC Values and Value). With ethical permission of research participants and the development of a) a heuristic device to track advertising language placed on people’s browsers and b) a software admonitor to monitor frequency, we were able to see how participants were targeted by advertisers and social media via placement and position. Our data showed very different types of targeting. Advertising exchanges, using programmatic marketing, made clear distinctions in attention/exposure given to users. “High net worth” (persons of value) individuals were frequently and repeatedly exposed to a huge range of adverts, some specific to revealed (by search) interests, as were younger participants with potential (PG students) and those connected to networks of influence. Agencies showed a far more restricted range of interests to what marketing companies call “low hanging fruit” (LHF). These LHF research participants, working class, older, more likely female, were only consistently targeted by two advertisers: debt agencies and budget supermarkets. Note this was ten to five years ago. Since then, machine language learning (eg ChatGPT), speed and server power have rapidly increased. New gimmicks and gaming techniques have been adopted, different platforms and devices are used, including Fintech. This paper will argue that we need to return to the design/ers of software to understand how their initial demographic categorisations are programmed into machine learning to concretise the targeting of specific categories of people, designed in specifically to draw attention to make people do things.
Roger Burrows is Professor in Global Inequalities at the University of Bristol, UK. He also holds an Honorary Professorial Fellowship in the Centre for Cities at the University of Melbourne. He previously worked at Newcastle University, UK, Goldsmiths, University of London and, for many years, the University of York. A sociologist by training, his most recent published research has been concerned with the impact of the global superrich on neighbourhoods in London and the implications of digital risk profiling technologies for global housing markets.
Julia Coffey is a Senior Lecturer in Sociology at the University of Newcastle, Australia. Her research focuses on youth, gender, affect, and the body with particular interests in gendered body work practices and impacts for wellbeing. She is currently leading an ARC Discovery Project which explores how young people understand and navigate digital self-editing technologies. She has authored a number of books, most recently Everyday Embodiment: Rethinking Youth Body Image (2021, Palgrave Macmillan). Her other books include Body Work: Youth, Gender and Health (2016, Routledge), co-edited collection Learning Bodies: The Body in Youth and Childhood Studies (2016, Springer), co-authored Youth Sociology (2020, Red Globe Press).
Julia Cook is Senior Lecturer in Sociology at the University of Newcastle, Australia. Her research interests include the sociology of youth, time and housing, and the intersections of each of these topics and economic sociology. Her most recent research addresses the role of family financial assistance in young adults’ pathways into home ownership and young adults’ navigation of debt and financial assistance, with a particular focus on buy now pay later services. She is a current ARC DECRA Fellow (2022-2025), and a chief investigator on the current phase of the ARC-funded Life Patterns longitudinal research program (2021-2026). She is co-editor in chief of Journal of Applied Youth Studies, and she was recently selected as a 2022 ABC Top 5 scholar.
Beverley Skeggs is Professor of Sociology and Director of the Centre for Alternatives to Social and Economic Inequality at Lancaster University. Previously she was Director of the Atlantic Fellows Programme at the LSE, Professor of Sociology, at Goldsmiths, University of London and Manchester University. She has published The Media; Issues in Sociology (1992); Feminist Cultural Theory (1995); Formations of Class and Gender (1997); Class, Self, Culture (2004); Sexuality and the Politics of Violence and Safety (2004)(with Les Moran) and Feminism after Bourdieu (2005)( with Lisa Adkins), and with Helen Wood, Reacting to Reality TV: Audience, Performance, Value (2012) and Reality TV and Class (2012). And ran an ESRC project on “A Sociology of Value and Value” based on software research.
Steven Threadgold is Associate Professor of Sociology at University of Newcastle, Australia. His research focuses on youth and class, with particular interests in unequal and alternative work and career trajectories; underground and independent creative scenes; cultural formations of taste, and financial practices. Steve is the Director of the Newcastle Youth Studies Centre, an Associate Editor of Journal of Youth Studies, and on the Editorial Boards of The Sociological Review, DIY, Alternative Culture & Society, and Journal of Applied Youth Studies. His latest book is Bourdieu and Affect: Towards a Theory of Affective Affinities (2020, Bristol University Press). Youth, Class and Everyday Struggles (2018, Routledge) won the 2020 Raewyn Connell Prize for best first book in Australian sociology. His latest edited collection with Jessica Gerrard is Class in Australia.
Jonathan Curtis is a casual academic at the University of Newcastle, Australia. His research interests include affect, youth, risk-taking, digital media and lifestyle sports sub cultures. His PhD research focused on the entanglement of these topics to explore how digital media and technologies impact the practice and experience of backcountry ski and snowboard touring. For this research he won the 2021 UON School of Creative Industries and Social Sciences best thesis prize.