Theory, Culture and Society 21 (6):23-42 (2004)

This article examines the financial technology of derivatives. Derivatives are financial products whose values are based on possible fluctuations in the values of underlying assets. Hence derivatives markets are markets that trade in the risks of other markets. In order for derivatives markets to function, forms of prognostication that can assess the possible future fluctuations of the underlying markets are necessary. What such prognostications do, the article argues, is to create information out of future possibilities. Building upon a notion of virtuality derived from Gilles Deleuze, Ulrich Beck and Niklas Luhmann, the article shows how market risks and uncertainties, by means of prognostications, cease to be mere possibilities and instead come to have virtual existence. Through the technology of derivatives, uncertainty and risk can be rendered virtual and be traded. The article suggests that this technology is an example of a new way in which capitalism is now expanding self-referentially as it creates markets out of markets; and of how it is colonizing the future by developing new technologies for ‘hyper-speculation’, that is, speculation not in the possible developments of a given asset but simply in the risk of such speculation
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DOI 10.1177/0263276404047414
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