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Department of Geography

Publication: Social Impact Bonds / Social Finance

Christian Berndt and Manuel Wirth have just published a new paper in Geoforum.

Berndt, C., and Wirth, M. 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 critical 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-a-distance”. 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.