On the transformation of children at-risk into an investment proposition: A study of Social Impact Bonds as an anti-market device

Neyland, D.. 2017. On the transformation of children at-risk into an investment proposition: A study of Social Impact Bonds as an anti-market device. The Sociological Review, 66(3), pp. 492-510. ISSN 0038-0261 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

Following the financial crisis of 2008, the UK government accelerated a number of market-based interventions into public problems. Experimenting with new forms of intervention provided a moment to effectively problematize the public sector as a whole and its budgets, opening up for discussion the basis for making an intervention, and the methods and costs involved. Questions were posed of the apparently irreducible costs associated with supposedly intractable problems of government (such as homelessness, vulnerable children or crime). In particular, crisis and austerity became a means to give new momentum to a series of experimental ways to shape the social investment market that had been under discussion in various forms since at least 2000. Social Impact Bonds form one particular type of intervention. They involve drawing together investors with delivery agencies, the third sector and national and local government, coordinated by a commissioner. In the recent move by the UK government to set up and use Social Impact Bonds, much has been made of the opportunity they represent to introduce competition, efficiency, efficacy, private sector thinking and investment to a range of different social problems. As the first results of these experiments are now emerging, this article reports on a study conducted into a market-based intervention that experiments with the transformation of ‘children at-risk’ into an investment proposition through a Social Impact Bond. The article suggests that the Social Impact Bond can be usefully explored by drawing on Science and Technology Studies (STS) treatments of markets as collective, heterogeneous assemblages. However, in contrast to scholars who focus on market devices, the article argues that the Social Impact Bond in practice operates as something akin to an anti-market device. The article begins with an introduction to Social Impact Bonds. It then explores the means through which market-based competition and an investment proposition were anticipated, but did not emerge through the composition and enactment of the Bond. It concludes with an assessment of the anti-market device and the future of Social Impact Bonds.

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Additional Information:

This research was funded by the European Research Council under grant no. 313175


anti-market device, children at-risk, Science and Technology Studies, Social Impact Bond, social investment

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Sociology > Centre for Invention and Social Process (CISP) [2016-]


23 November 2017Accepted
23 November 2017Published Online

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Date Deposited:

27 Nov 2017 17:04

Last Modified:

29 Apr 2020 16:42

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.



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