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Timothy J. Sinclair

Associate Professor of International Political Economy

Ph.D (York, Toronto) E2.15 Social Sciences building

Advice & feedback hours 2019/20:

Terms 1 & 2: Thursday 2.15-3.45 pm.

Term 3: by appointment.

No advice and feedback hours in reading weeks or university vacations.

About me

I am a world leader in research on the politics of global finance. My work has focused on the major bond rating agencies, Moody's Investors Service, Standard & Poor's, and Fitch, founding the social science literature on the agencies with an article in the first issue of Review of International Political Economy, and authoring the first monograph on the agencies, published by Cornell University Press. My published research has been cited more than 4500 times by eminent political scientists and other social scientists: Tim Sinclair's Google Scholar Profile of Citations

What I do

I think politically about what are generally assumed to be purely economic or technical matters. See the interview with me in Theory Talks. I investigate things, people, history and institutions. Then I postulate the existence of mechanisms which must exist for the phenomena I am interested in to assume the forms they do. The phenomena may be structural (say, the growth of capital markets) or collective (witch hunts; bank runs; financial panics). I call my way of thinking a social foundations approach to the politics of global finance. My findings support the view that politics - broadly conceived - infuses the institutions and processes normally thought to comprise 'the economy.' Here is a talk on my research I gave at Oxford University.

Influences on me

Scholars who have influenced me via their teaching, supervision, and research include, James W. Lamare, R.P.G. 'Rob' Steven, Cary J. Nederman, Stephen R. Gill and Robert W. Cox. I have read widely in the classic writings on the political economy of capitalism, its emergence, forms, and problems. Karl Polanyi called this approach to material life substantive. He contrasted this with formalism, which he thought was preoccupied with identifying and measuring spurious law-like behaviour in markets, asserted irrespective of time or place. Sadly, much of contemporary social science can be characterised as formalism and is therefore in my view fundamentally flawed.

These comments should not be interpreted to mean I reject modernity or science, and choice of method (qualitative or quantitative) is not the issue. Both can be equally bad. In my view, much of contemporary social science is a weak and unconvincing effort to generate systematic knowledge which does not go beyond generalization. Sadly, the trend in social science is clearly in this direction despite the repeated failure of this approach, for example, in predicting the UK EU referendum result, and most recently, the outcome of the 2016 US presidential election. 'Big data' is a manifestation of this mentality. I agree with John Kay's criticism of the "modern curse of bogus quantification" (Kay 2010: 71). Although mainly interested in social facts such as states and markets, I recognise these interact with what John Searle called brute facts such as gravity, earthquakes and demography, and that no analysis is complete without considering them.

My commitments

Given all this, I am a critic of behaviouralism, and efforts to create empiricist laws of human behaviour premised on observation and generalization. I am interested instead in non-positivist empirical methods, especially retroduction and the use of counterfactuals, the historicist approach of Robert W. Cox, the significance of collectively held ideas as the basis of social action, and most recently, the social theory of philosopher John R. Searle. Although I have no regional or country focus I have largely been concerned with rich country issues because of their hegemonic significance. I am increasingly interested in emerging market problems now, to the extent that these are of global or systemic relevance.

My research and writing

My political science research is concentrated in the field of international relations and the sub-field of international political economy. My work focuses on thinking about puzzles in the politics of global finance, rating and evaluation systems, and emerging concepts of global governance. My interests include the disintermediation of credit and the growth of securitization. By securitization, I follow usage in the financial markets, where the term refers to the transformation of illiquid bank loans and other debts into tradeable securities such as bonds, and the implications of this revolution for the character of the financial system, including the influence of credit rating agencies.

My government service

Before undertaking a Ph.D at York University in Toronto I worked as an official in the New Zealand Treasury on public expenditure of US$600 million per annum, and the privatization of a New Zealand Government agency. I wrote Treasury reports on policy proposals to Cabinet from spending departments, drafted correspondence for the Prime Minister David Lange, the Minister of Finance Roger Douglas, and David Caygill after Douglas was sacked by Lange in December 1988, and for the Minister of State-Owned Enterprises Richard Prebble (and others, including Deputy Prime Minister Geoffrey Palmer, after Prebble was sacked), prepared the Parliamentary Estimates of public expenditure for two 'Votes', managed a privatization, liaised with the Minister of Finance's office and attended Cabinet committees with other officials as required by ministers. This service was an intense experience as the Treasury was at the very centre of policy-making and government management (as is typically the case with government treasury departments). These experiences have made me somewhat critical of the writings of political scientists about policy-making and 'governance.'

The Ph.D supervision I offer

I am interested in supervising energetic and able Ph.D candidates working on the politics of global finance, especially the growth of capital markets, the problem of financial regulation and the role of private institutions of market governance; credit rating agencies; private authority and international affairs; theories of global governance; collective ideas and social action; and institutional change and development in market and emerging market societies. Please email me to discuss your ideas.