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Sociology: People


Arjen van der Heide

Arjen van der Heide
Arjen van der Heide
Edinburgh UK
Research Interests
Social Studies of Finance, Economic Sociology, Insurance markets, Science and technology studies, Financial regulation, Sociology of Quantification, Political Economy, Life Insurance, Sociology of Knowledge

PhD research

Evaluation Practices In UK Life Insurance, 1971-Present

In 1993, David Wilkie, one of the UK's most prominent actuaries of the past decades, described a widely cited 1952 paper in actuarial science by Frank Redington as being 'rather like the Cutty Sark, one of the last great sailing ships in an age that was already being taken over by steamships.' The paper, Wilkie suggested, was not based on rigorous statistics, but rather continued the venerable tradition of actuarial expertise in which mathematics and statistics only played the role of the supporting actor. In the age of steamships, however, actuarial expertise would be based on a solid mathematical and statistical foundation, not least through the application of such techniques from financial economics to the valuation and risk assessment of insurance firms. 

In this project, I examine how the evaluation practices of UK life insurance companies have changed over the course of the past decades by conducting oral-history interviews with those involved. The project seeks to achieve two things. On the one hand, it seeks to explain how and why financial economic techniques were appropriated in actuarial science. To do this, I see the evaluation practices of life insurance companies as 'cultural phenomena' that are shaped by the social, political and economic conditions in which they are deployed. On the other hand, it examines the consequences of this turn in terms of what private life insurance is and does, how it relates to capital markets, and how they feed into more general societal questions, e.g., about 'intergenerational fairness'. 


Donald MacKenzie

Iain Hardie


MscRes. Cultures of Arts, Science and Technology, Cum Laude (Maastricht University)

Bsc. Economics and Business, with specialisation in Economics (University of Amsterdam)

Bsc. Political Science, with specialisation in Public Policy and Governance (University of Amsterdam)

Peer-reviewed publications

Financialization as mathematization : The calculative and regulatory consequences of risk management. Forthcoming (2019) in Mader, P., Mertens, D. and van der Zwan, N. (eds.) International Handbook of Financialization. Abingdon: Routledge (with Nathan Coombs).

Doctoral Dissertation Defenses: Performing Ambiguity Between Ceremony and Assessment. 2016. Science as Culture 25 (4): 473-495 (with Alix Rufas and Alexandra Supper). 

Book Reviews

A History of British Actuarial Thought, by Craig Turnbull. 2017. Journal of Cultural Economy, 10 (6).

Wages, Bonuses and Appropriation of Profit in the Financial Industry: The Working Rich, by Olivier Godechot. 2017. Economic Sociology: The Electronic European Newsletter, 18 (3).

Imagined Futures: Fictional Expectations and Capitalist Dynamics, by Jens Beckert. 2017. Acta Sociologica, 60 (2): 191–193. 

Conference Papers and Presentations

Big Data Analytics and the Moral Regulation of Price Differentiation in Insurance, Trust in FinTech?: disruption, distribution and power in finance and technology, May 11, 2018, University of Manchester.

Value, Risk and the Modernisation of UK Life Insurance, BSA Annual Conference, April 10-12, 2018, Northumbria University, Newcastle.

Hybridity, 'Rough Edges', and Politics: British Actuaries and the Ontologies of Modelling,  Performativity and the Governance of Actuarial Models, February 13-14, 2018, FMSH, Paris. 

Regulation as a driver of changing financial market expertise: The case of UK life insurance, Intersections of Finance and Society, November 2-3, 2017, City, University London.

Value-at-risk: Infrastructural devices and the obduracy of financial market practice (with Julius Kob), Intersections of Finance and Society, November 2-3, 2017, City, University London.

Embracing Financial Economics: Regulation and the Changing Knowledge Infrastructures of UK Life Insurance Markets, Warwick Critical Finance Workshop, September 25,  2017. 

Turning Towards the Market, SASE Annual Conference, Lyon, June 29, 2017. 

‘Entering the Age of Steamships’: The Spread of Financial Economics in British Actuarial Evaluation Cultures, New Directions, Edinburgh, April 21, 2017. 

Reinventing the piano for the 21st century: A case study of the Una Corda piano, Bending Baroque Symposium, Amsterdam, June 5, 2015. 


2017 - Honourable Mention, Internet Thesis Prize, for master dissertation: 'Money Matters: Disentangling Materiality in the Social and Political Life of Bitcoin'

2016 - Economic and Social Research Council +3 Studentship

           - Graduate School of Social and Political Science Special Award