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Market, metrics, morals: The Social Impact Bond as an emerging social policy instrument


Berndt, Christian; Wirth, Manuel (2018). Market, metrics, morals: The Social Impact Bond as an emerging social policy instrument. Geoforum, 90:27-35.

Abstract

Our paper engages with Social Impact Bonds (SIBs) as an emerging social policy instrument in the Anglo-American world with particular emphasis on the UK. Starting from the observation that systematic theoretically driven empirical engagement with SIBs is still only in its infant stage, the paper has two aims: First, we seek to map the particular way in which SIBs emerged at the crossroads of state, (financial) market and philanthropy. Second, we question representations of the role of the state as absent, pointing to the disciplining force of calculative devices as a key means allowing government control “at-adistance”. The paper starts with a brief overview of SIBs as a social impact investing tool and a review of the existing scholarly debate on this phenomenon. The following three sections engage with dominant discursive representations that ambiguously position SIBs between “state”, “market” and “philanthropy”, thereby offering a malleable frame that allows interested actors to legitimize the implementation of this policy instrument. This is followed by a discussion of the material side of SIBs: the crucial role of various devices of measurement, evaluation and evidence-production in making SIBs possible. We conclude that it is with the help of these calculative devices that SIB-arrangements are realized, being illustrative of the vital role that the state continues to play in the social policy realm despite representations of weakness and absence.

Abstract

Our paper engages with Social Impact Bonds (SIBs) as an emerging social policy instrument in the Anglo-American world with particular emphasis on the UK. Starting from the observation that systematic theoretically driven empirical engagement with SIBs is still only in its infant stage, the paper has two aims: First, we seek to map the particular way in which SIBs emerged at the crossroads of state, (financial) market and philanthropy. Second, we question representations of the role of the state as absent, pointing to the disciplining force of calculative devices as a key means allowing government control “at-adistance”. The paper starts with a brief overview of SIBs as a social impact investing tool and a review of the existing scholarly debate on this phenomenon. The following three sections engage with dominant discursive representations that ambiguously position SIBs between “state”, “market” and “philanthropy”, thereby offering a malleable frame that allows interested actors to legitimize the implementation of this policy instrument. This is followed by a discussion of the material side of SIBs: the crucial role of various devices of measurement, evaluation and evidence-production in making SIBs possible. We conclude that it is with the help of these calculative devices that SIB-arrangements are realized, being illustrative of the vital role that the state continues to play in the social policy realm despite representations of weakness and absence.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:07 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geography
Dewey Decimal Classification:910 Geography & travel
Uncontrolled Keywords:Sociology and Political Science
Language:English
Date:2018
Deposited On:08 Mar 2018 19:31
Last Modified:19 Aug 2018 14:30
Publisher:Elsevier
ISSN:0016-7185
OA Status:Closed
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.geoforum.2018.01.019

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