We often view finance as a niche area characterised by numbers, complex graphs, and professionals wielding obscure techniques, but the sector is in fact underpinned by human relationships, power dynamics and philosophical concepts that we all intuitively understand. Realising this is a great step towards keeping the financial commons open. At its core LSFA is about experiential learning, offering fun, adventurous, and experimental courses that immerse campaigners within the financial dark arts.
Workshop Series 1: A hacker approach to demystifying global finance
The financial system does not exist somewhere ‘out there’. It is everywhere around you. It exists in our own use of money, in the businesses we see on the streets, in the houses we live in, and even in the very words we speak. It’s one thing to learn about what an investment bank is supposed to do, but the heart of LSFA’s approach is to empower you to see the hidden flows of money and power that surround you wherever you may be, whether in the pub or in Goldman Sachs.
In the same way a technology hacker needs to openly explore a computer before being able to creatively jam it, so a financial hacker needs to explore and demystify the financial sector. This includes exploring 1) money 2) the financial intermediaries that steer money around the world and 3) the financial instruments they use to do that. In these courses we may visit a derivatives exchange, see how a trading platform works by using one, go through the actual manuals that a J.P. Morgan banker uses, and interact with financial models. We’ll analyse news stories in the Financial Times, taking on the persona of a fund manager, trader and corporate banker. We’ll seek to identify sources of disconnection in finance, and explore ways in which they may be reconnected.
Workshop Series 2: Hot topics in financial activism
The broader workshops aimed at generally demystifying finance are ideal for opening the door to more specific and in-depth workshops on the problems of the financial sector. These include:
- Tax Justice: Exploring the offshore world: Offshore financial centres are an incredibly important element of the global financial system and international trade system, and are deeply intertwined in corporate operations. It’s a crucial area for campaigners to engage with, and one which offers plenty of interesting opportunities for mischievousness
- Commodity speculations: Exploring commodity markets: We are constantly surrounded by commodities, and yet very few of us have any idea about the supply chains, giant commodity traders, and the financial players involved in them. This workshops will cover commodity markets, the banks and funds that dabble in them, and the enormous groups like GlencoreXstrata that dominate the physical trade in commodities
- Dirty Detective Work: Tracing fossil fuel financing: It’s becoming increasingly crucial for campaign groups to understand and challenge the investors who support major fossil fuels companies and who have entrenched interests in keeping us in the fossil fuel dark ages. This workshop explores how fossil fuel companies are funded, and how we might trace the investors behind them
Workshop series 3: Anthropology as activism
Anthropology offers interesting tools to gain access to and challenge powerful industries, but this is a comparatively under-explored area. There’s a lot of interesting work being done on financial anthropology and social studies of finance, but it all tends to be locked up in academia, rather than publicly accessible. While figures like David Graeber have raised the profile of economic anthropology as an engaged discipline, more needs to be done. These workshops are aimed at budding ethnographers who want to map out and explore the culture of high finance.
Workshop Series 4: Open source finance
Open Source culture is a useful framework through which to imagine alternatives to mainstream finance (which, in contrast to open source, is closed and exclusive). Here are some workshops exploring different aspects of this:
- Alternative economic design: Building alternatives to mainstream finance requires a pragmatic, yet creative, design mindset. Whether building an alternative currency, or creating a provocative piece of economic installation art, we need to understand what specific aspect of an economic structure we’re challenging
- Anthropology of alternative exchange: It’s only through exploration of alternative forms of exchange that we really get to grips with mainstream forms of exchange (which in turn form the basis for the mainstream financial system). Getting to grips with alternative currencies – whether cryptocurrencies, timebanks or local currencies – is a great way to explore the broader economic system
- Ecological & permacultural design principles and finance: Ecological design principles provide a great framework for thinking about building an economic system that stays within planetary boundaries. This workshop explores how we may apply the principles of movements like permaculture to economic design
- Building Noah’s Ark: Exploring the DNA of investment funds: Pension funds, endowments and sovereign wealth funds are often overlooked behemoths of the financial world, helping to define the future of our economies through their investment decisions. That’s why it’s so important to reform the way that they work, and to re-engage people with how they work. These workshops break down the structures of unsustainability built into large investment funds, and help groups think about alternative blueprints for investment