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STEPS Uncertainty series: Ilene Grabel – When Things Don’t Fall Apart

7th May 2019 @ 1:00 pm - 2:30 pm

Ilene Grabel
Professor of International Finance
University of Denver

Free entry, all welcome

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About the lecture

In When Things Don’t Fall Apart, Ilene Grabel makes a simple but controversial claim, based on the work of the eminent social scientist Albert O. Hirschman. Grabel argues that as concerns global financial governance and development finance we are now in a period that she calls productive incoherence.

Unlike the Keynesian period of the middle 20th century and the neoliberal period that followed, the current conjuncture lacks an overarching theoretical framework to guide financial governance.  In its absence, Grabel maps the proliferation of institutional innovation at the national, regional, and transregional levels. These experiments are grounded in a spirit of Hirschmanian pragmatism rather than Keynesian or neoclassical dogmatism. They are ad hoc, often limited in scope, and even inconsistent with each other. They are in that sense incoherent.

The book’s novel normative claim is that this incoherence is productive. It is allowing for new institutional and policy innovations that are contributing to a pluripolar financial governance architecture that is more robust and offers greater opportunities for problem solving and experimentation than the coherent architecture it is displacing.

Grabel substantiates these claims with empirically-rich case studies that explore the effects of recent crises on established and new networks of financial governance (such as the G-20); transformations within the IMF; institutional innovations in liquidity support and project finance from the national to the transregional levels; and the “rebranding” of capital controls. Grabel acknowledges, however, that the incoherent transformations underway also pose grave risks. She considers these risks in the concluding chapter of the book.

About the speaker

Ilene Grabel is Professor of International Finance and co-director of the graduate program in Global Finance, Trade, and Economic Integration at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver (USA).

She has published widely on financial policy and crises, developmental financial architectures, regional and transregional financial arrangements, international financial institutions and global financial governance, international capital flows and capital controls, international financial policies, currency boards and central banks in emerging market and developing countries, and remittances.

Her recent book, When Things Don’t Fall Apart: Global Financial Governance and Developmental Finance in an Age of Productive Incoherence (The MIT Press, 2017) was awarded the 2018 British International Studies Association International Political Economy Group Book Prize, and the 2019 International Studies Association International Political Economy Best Book Award.

More information can be found at Ilene Grabel’s website.

Uncertainty event series

This is part of a series of events on the STEPS Centre’s Uncertainty theme in 2019.

UncertaintyUncertainties can make it hard to plan ahead. But recognising them can help to reveal new questions and choices. What kinds of uncertainty are there, why do they matter for sustainability, and what ideas, approaches and methods can help us to respond to them?

Find out more about our theme for 2019 on our Uncertainty theme page.


7th May 2019
1:00 pm - 2:30 pm
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Convening Space, Institute of Development Studies
Library Road, Falmer
Brighton, BN1 9RE United Kingdom



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