Manuel Wirth
Manuel Wirth, Dr.
Teaching and research assistant

Economic Geography

Tel.: 044 635 52 45
Room number: Y25 L 54

Research project

Impact investing and the shift towards measurement and behaviorism in UK social policy making

This project investigates the rising importance of alternative funding schemes for the third sector in the United Kingdom in the light of austerity politics, advancing neoliberalization of welfare and the financialization of poverty alleviation. Social policy innovations such as impact investing or financial instruments like Social Impact Bonds draw on financial market actors as new funding sources and delivery partners for social organizations. By introducing market logics, entrepreneurial mindsets and financial valuation techniques in to the third sector, the government aims to make social service delivery more efficient and cost-effective. In this context, measurement devices, outcome metrics and experimental trials play a crucial role in order to evaluate the quality of social interventions.

The aim of this project is to shed light on the effects of these financial innovations on the way social welfare is addressed by third sector organizations. More concretely, it explores how financial valuation techniques, measurement and the drive towards “hard evidence” unroll on the ground and how they affect organizational practices, support workers and beneficiaries of social interventions. In my empirical case, I look at a group of Social Impact Bond-funded charities in the field of youth homelessness and unemployment where I conducted semi-structured interviews with support worker and beneficiaries, and participant observation. The thesis builds on a conceptual framework that involves a geographies of marketization approach (Berndt & Boeckler, 2012) as well as theoretical literature on the political economy of variegated neoliberalism (Peck & Tickell, 2007)



In-vivo-Experimente und Live-Monitoring: Digitalisierung und Finanzialisierung des Wohlfahrtsstaates am Beispiel der Social Impact Bonds – NKG Konferenz, Bonn – 30. Januar


Local solutions to local problems? Geography of austerity governance in the UK - International Conference of Critical Geography, Athens - 20. April 2019

SIBs and the gig economy: (re)producing casualized jobs in the UK - AAG, Washington - 7. April 2019


Der Britische Sozialstaat unter dem Einfluss von Finanzmarkt, Verhaltensökonomie und big data - Open Doors Event des Geographischen Institut der Universität Zürich, September 2019

Nudging subjects at risk: impact investing between financialization and compassion - Global Conference of Economic Geography, Cologne - 27. July 2018

Struggling for the market: Marketization, market borders and the social economy (with Christian Berndt) - Interdisciplinary Market Studies Workshop, Copenhagen Business School - 6. June 2018


Financialised evaluation in the third sector: early findings of my study on SIBs in the UK - Critical Management Studies Conference, Liverpool - 3. July 2017

Behavioural turn and the financialization of social policy - WINK, The Nudge Conference, Utrecht University - 24. June 2017

Impact investing, SIBs and the shift towards measurement in the UK's social policy making - RGS Postgraduate Conference, Cardiff - 20. April 2017


A post-neoliberal policy? A study of Social Impact Bonds as an example for the emergence of "market-state hybrids" - AAG, San Francisco - 29. March 2016


Since 2016: University of Zurich: PhD Candidate in Economic Geography

2015: University of Zurich: MSc in Human Geography

Current Teaching

in HS21: GEO364 - Wirtschaftsgeographien der Globalisierung

in FS22: GEO362 - Plattformen, Gigs und Crowdwork: Formen und Auswirkungen der Digitalisierung von Arbeit (more info: Syllabus GEO362 FS22)