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Making a drama out of a crisis: representing financial failure, or a tragedy in five acts

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Abstract

In popular representations, including journalism, film and drama, a tendency to attribute blame for the recent financial crisis to the greed and venality of individual bankers has been noticeable. In this paper, I explore some of these representations, focusing on the ways in which blame is attributed to the irrational behaviour of actors operating in a heteronormative culture in which masculinity and risk-taking were, until the crash, highly rewarded. This is a marked shift from earlier claims that the growing reliance on apparently rational mathematical methods of calculating risk would abolish the cycles of boom and bust that characterise financial markets. I argue that the analysis of story-telling, financial journalism and dramatic representations complements other ways of explaining financial crises, including structural analyses. In an attempt to mirror these representations, I present my arguments as a drama in five acts, before concluding with an assessment of the significance of different narrative representations.

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