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Seeing risks amongst the numbers: visualisation techniques in financial markets

Dr Michael Pryke
The Open University
Email: M.D.Pryke@open.ac.uk|

Date: 17 February 2009
Time: 1:00pm - 2:30pm
Venue
: CARR Seminar Room, H615

Abstract

The organs of global finance rely upon and face an avalanche of numbers. These data range from official figures published by the likes of the Federal Reserve and the IMF, real-time market data from market exchanges such as Chicago Board of Trade, to news and market reports supplied by 'secondary economy' suppliers such as Reuters and Bloomberg. While the growing availability of market data has benefits it also creates problems, most especially those relating to questions of meaning, judgment and intervention: How do financial agents make sense of these flows - how do they see the 'market', its futures and thus act pre-emptively? One solution to this cluster of problems is said to reside in the development of new technologies of representation, in particular, the design and application of visualisation software. Such software is being introduced to enable better visual imagination of and interaction with markets and the data generating market activity. This is not a case of visualising new data but centres instead on trying to understand existing data in other dimensions. The software in other words equips the agents of global finance to better track and act in relation to the seemingly abstract movements of modern financial markets.

Against this background this paper reports on recent attempts by financial institutions and software developers to develop and employ visualisation techniques in an effort to make sense of market developments and the risks and opportunities they may contain. The turn to new technologies of representation aims not only to enable better visual imagination of and interaction with markets but also to help visualise financial risks. With particular reference to how the visual turn is being employed in the management of financial organisations as such organisations seek to gain a clearer picture of just where the risks are 'hiding', the paper discusses some of the implications of the turn towards visualisation techniques and how consequently contemporary financial market practices and risks might be better understood.

About the speaker
Michael Pryke is a senior lecturer in the Department of Geography, Faculty of Social Sciences, The Open University. His current research interests focus on the cultural economy of finance and the geographies of money and finance. Papers relating to these interests have been published in journals such as Society and Space, Economy and Society, Urban Studies and Geoforum. He is an editor of the Journal of Cultural Economy. In 2007 he was a Fellow of the Institute of Advanced Study, Durham University.

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