Publication Details

Castree, N. (2010). The 2007-09 financial crisis: narrating and politicising a calamity. Human Geography: a new radical journal, 3 (1), 34-48.


The events triggered by defaults on 'sub-prime' mortgages have been widely described as constituting a 'crisis'. But a crisis of what exactly? Several different explanations of the 20 month drama that unfolded from summer 2007 have been proposed by a wide range of commentators. These include journalists, academics, politicians, business-people, pundits and public administrators, among others. This essay parses this superfluity of crisis talk into five principal accounts. It focuses on the Anglo-American scene. The interpretations presented range from the simplistic and populist to the complex and specialised. They are compared and contrasted, and in each case their diverse normative implications are sketched. As a Marxist, I argue that the fifth interpretation - which speaks to macro-economic imbalances and asymmetries of class power - is the most compelling. But I also argue that each of the other interpretations can be narrated and politicised in such a way as to advance Left arguments for far-reaching socio-economic reform. Yet, this fact notwithstanding, the Left - by which I mean those positioned left of both New Labour and the Democrats - has so far failed to use the recent crisis to its political advantage. This, I suggest, is a sign of its long-standing marginality in Britain and the US - a marginality so entrenched that even an acute economic crisis has been unable to alter it. This crisis thus reveals a seeming paradox: the continued strength of neoliberal capitalism despite itself.