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Dylan Cassar

Dylan Cassar
Name
Dylan Cassar
Address
Edinburgh United Kingdom EH8 9LD
Email
Research Interests
Economic Sociology, Social Studies of Finance, Science and technology studies, Global financial markets, Central Banking, Government bond markets, Sociology of Knowledge, Political economy
URL
http://www.sociology.ed.ac.uk/people/research_students2/dylan_cassar

I am an economic sociologist interested in economic life in general and financial markets in particular. I have an academic background in sociology and have also gained experience as a researcher within a national development agency and later on in a central bank, two entities at the interface between the state and markets.

My current research investigates the socio-technical and political processes that shape both global financial markets and central banks' monetary policy. It relies mainly on in-depth interviews, together with an element of ethnography, in investment banks, hedge funds and asset managers, as well as the Bank of England and the European Central Bank. I am currently conducting fieldwork in the financial centres of Edinburgh, London and Frankfurt.

About my PhD 

My PhD project focuses specifically on an epistemic object sitting at the heart of government bond markets and monetary policy - the yield curve. I am firstly  interested in the ways in which this object, as a representation of interest rates, functions as a material semiotic object in epistemic and calculative practices in trading rooms and central banks. I look at how it (re-)enforces elements of standardisation and classification in the valuation of government bonds by way of processes of disentanglement and framing, and how as a result it allows space for calculative practices underlying financial decisions - for instance, relative value. I am also interested in shedding light onto the socio-technical process behind knowledge construction around the yield curve. Because it is taken as a representation of the market, actors watch it closely in order to construct knowledge about the market and other market actors' actions and expectations. Do actors take a quant(itative) approach to its analysis - "slicing and dicing the yield curve" -  in which actors dissect and model the yield curve, or do they employ it as a qualitative heuristic device - "eyeballing its shape and movements" - in which the visual nature of the curve allows actors to make judgements and take a view on the market? And were does it reside in the epistemic and material infrastructures of trading rooms and central banks?  A further matter of interest in this regard is how elements of social structure, organisational rules and practices, as well as actors' own interests and goals, condition the employment of the yield curve in processes of knowledge construction and decision-making.

Secondly, I am interested in the role of the yield curve within the interaction order between the central bank and the market. Ever since central banks turned to inflation targeting and price stability as explicit targets of their monetary policy, they have been increasingly reliant on influencing expectations via communication as a means by which policy is implemented. Because the yield curve embodies market expectations, central banks have used it as a tool to make sense of these expectations and to analyse the market's reaction to central bank's announcements of policy decisions. Central banks thus keep a watchful eye on the yield curve as they communicate with markets, while markets in turn watch the yield curve - in a distributed cognition manner - as a collective view of the likely path of future interest rates. The yield curve thus becomes a central locus in and through which the interaction between central banks and markets is structured.

Finally, following the financial crisis of 2007/08 central banks have resorted to a number of unconventional montary policy tools. Quantitative easing, in particular, arguably marks a temporary departure from influencing the yield curve via expectations. By purchasing large volumes of bonds on the market, central banks attemp to influence yields (and prices) directly by targeting bonds with longer maturities. My project explores the extent to which this largely material process of influencing the yield curve risks weakening the latter's semiotic powers, particularly if it is increasingly seen to be less of a representation of market action and expectations than of a representation of the state's hand in the market. This may ultimately pose a threat to the yield curve's role as a central mediating object in the (fragile) interaction order between central banks and the market.

Supervision

Donald MacKenzie

Nathan Coombs

Education

PhD in Sociology, University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom (ongoing)

MA by research in Sociology (Economic Sociology), University of Malta, 2016

BA (Hons.) in Sociology, University of Malta, 2014

Conferences and Lectures

'Inscribing markets, shaping policy: A sociological investigation into the yield curve'. New Directions Conference, April 18, 2019, Department of Sociology, University of Edinburgh.

'Fordist or Post-Fordist?',  Work in Progress in the Social Studies
(20th Anniversary Year Public Lecture),
January 10, 2017, University of Malta.

Publications

Cassar, D (2019). Book review: The Growth of Shadow Banking: A Comparative Institutional Analysis, by Matthias Thiemann. Economic Sociology: European Electronic Newsletter, 21(1), 61-63.
http://econsoc.mpifg.de/archive/00_Compl_Econsoc-NL_21-1_Nov2019.pdf

Cassar, D (2019). Book review: Financial Models and Society: Villains or Scapegoats?, by Ekaterina Svetlova. Journal of Cultural Economy
https://doi.org/10.1080/17530350.2019.1668824

Cassar, D (2019). Book review: Uncertain Futures: Imaginaries, Narratives and Calculation in the Economy, Jens Beckert and Richard Bronk (eds.). British Journal of Sociology, 70(2), 650-653.
https://doi.org/10.1111/1468-4446.12648

Awards and Funding

2019 - Graduate School of Social and Political Science PhD Award, University of Edinburgh.

2018 - Endeavour Scholarship. Endeavour Scholarship Scheme (Malta); part-financing European Social Fund (EU).

Teaching

Tutoring and marking: Sociology 1a: The Sociological Imagination: Individuals and Society (SCIL08004), 1st year Sociology undergraduate course, School of Social and Political Science, University of Edinburgh

Tutoring and marking: Sociology 1b: The Sociological Imagination: Private Troubles, Public Problems (SCIL08005), 1st year Sociology undergraduate course, School of Social and Political Science, University of Edinburgh

Academic Affiliation

European Sociological Association 
RN: Economic Sociology (RN09), Critical Political Economy (RN06) 

Malta Sociological Association  

International Association for Political Science Students 

Professional Research Experience

Social Researcher, Central Bank of Malta, (ongoing since June 2017)

Researcher, Economic Research and Policy Review Unit, Malta Enterprise (2015-2017)