Risky Behaviour: Social Impact Bonds and the Financialization of Rehabilitation

Rosamond, Emily. 2016. 'Risky Behaviour: Social Impact Bonds and the Financialization of Rehabilitation'. In: Risking Everything: The Computational Politics of Prediction, Security and Secrecy. Goldsmiths, University of London 20 May 2016. [Conference or Workshop Item]

Risking Everything-Everything.pdf - Supplemental Material

Download (107kB) | Preview

Abstract or Description

The emerging social impact bonds (SIB) market encourages investors to back privately operated social service schemes, which aim to improve a specific “social impact” outcome that could save governments money. Financial intermediaries collect investor capital, which they then funnel to service providers (often non-profits), who work with at-risk populations. If the desired social impact outcome is achieved, governments pay investors at a fixed rate of return. In 2010, the UK- based financial intermediary company Social Finance, Ltd. launched the world’s first social impact bond in a pilot program conducted by the Ministry of Justice. This SIB aimed to reduce recidivism among male short-term prisoners in the Peterborough prison north of London by at least 7.5% over six years. Although the British government cancelled the third phase of the pilot, the Peterborough SIB nonetheless launched a burgeoning international market in social impact. This market often focuses on rehabilitation by addressing, at least in part, the habits, beliefs and attitudes of vulnerable populations. (In this milieu, a change in an ex-prisoner’s worldview might directly line investors’ pockets.) Further, it mobilizes complex social diagrams of risk, secrecy and calculation, which congeal to produce a “double bottom line:” an investor’s term for a positive social outcome coupled with a reasonable financial return.

In this world of double bottom lines, who bears what form of risk – and how is secrecy redistributed? In many cases, at-risk populations might receive better support through an SIB- backed service than they would through an underfunded government program or a traditional Payment By Results contract. Yet in receiving such support, they unwittingly become investment- images in social impact, their very life changes calculated, bet upon, played. This paper argues the need for a politics of the investment-image: an acknowledgment of the new forms of invisible risk at-risk populations have been asked to undertake as unwitting indices of another’s investment, in an age of financialised social impact.

Item Type:

Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)


social impact bonds (SIB), Risk, Rehabilitation

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Visual Cultures


20 May 2016Accepted

Event Location:

Goldsmiths, University of London

Date range:

20 May 2016

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

16 Jan 2019 11:45

Last Modified:

29 Apr 2020 17:05



View statistics for this item...

Edit Record Edit Record (login required)