Social Finance, Impact Investing, and the Financialization of the Public Interest

Eve Chiapello & Lisa Knoll (eds.)(2020)

Special issue of Historical Social Research 45(3)

Abstract. Social Finance and Impact Investing took off after the 2008 financial crisis, offering alternative financing solutions for social welfare. Presented as answers to the pressing problems of the 21st century (public sector fiscal constraints, overstrained welfare states, and a lack of investment opportunities in an era awash with investment-seeking capital), they propose to combine public and private funds in complex negotiated and cascade-like credit and subsidy structures. They aim at attracting private capital by advertising potential social and financial gains to private investors. This introductory article provides an overview of the Social Finance and social impact investment phenomenon. It discusses the scope of literature, and outlines the transformative trajectory of Social Finance in terms of financialization, public sector governance reform, and welfare state policies. Social Finance and Impact Investing are important research fields for the social sciences, as they are much more than mere “financial innovations.” They transform how we govern and think of welfare and organize public sector funding. The articles assembled in this special issue provide the reader with insights into the making of a field and the establishment of new financial relations and circuits, judgement devices, and ranking schemes.


  • Eve Chiapello & Lisa Knoll: Introduction. Social Finance and Impact Investing. Governing Welfare in the Era of Financialization.
  • Emily Barman: Many a Slip: The Challenge of Impact as Boundary Object in Social Finance.
  • Antoine Ducastel & Ward Anseeuw: Impact Investing in South Africa: Investing in Empowerment, Empowering Investors.
  • Serena Natile: Digital Finance Inclusion and the Mobile Money “Social” Enterprise: A Socio-Legal Critique of M-Pesa in Kenya.
  • Jacob Hellman: Feeling Good and Financing Impact: Affective Judgments as a Tool for Social Investing.
  • Théo Bourgeron: Constructing the Double Circulation of Capital and “Social Impact.” An Ethnographic Study of a French Impact Investment Fund.
  • Davide Caselli: Did You Say “Social Impact”? Welfare Transformations, Networks of Expertise, and the Financialization of Italian Welfare.
  • Leslie Huckfield: The Mythology of the Social Impact Bond. A Critical Assessment from a Concerned Observer.
  • Manuel Wirth: Nudging Subjects at Risk: Social Impact Bonds between Financialization and Compassion.

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