Tools for thinking: a sociological take on the USS pension dispute

I teach fourth year undergraduates a module called ‘sociology of finance’. It’s a kind of mash-up of the ‘social studies of finance’, economic sociology and a little critical political economy. This semester, I had to explain to students why I was taking part in industrial action over cuts to our pension, and I tried to do using the ideas we worked with in class. If social theories are tools for thinking, as I always tell the students, we should try to use them when we can. That converstion continued on the picket line and grew into a seminar for colleagues. They liked it, and so I recorded a verson to share. The central argument is that the tools of valuation – all those ‘gilts plus’, ‘discount rates’, and ‘prudence’ – offer a space where things happen and political contestations are worked out. In every financial valuation, paraphrasing Greta Krippner, lies a history of contestation and struggle. To move towards an outcome that is satisfactory for everyone, I believe this is where we need to focus our attention; our dispute as as much about the sociology of knowledge as it is old-fashined industrial relations.

Here it is. I hope you find it helpful, informative, and not too partisan. I hope you like it too, and if you do, please pass it on.