Sensemaking While Speculating: Collective Understandings of Financial Risk-Taking in Jamaican Online Communities

Monday, 11 July 2016: 16:14
Location: Hörsaal II (Neues Institutsgebäude (NIG))
Oral Presentation
Clea BOURNE, Goldsmiths, University of London, United Kingdom
“Deborah, it has nothing to do with being educated. Life itself is a risk and many...who made it to the top have taken great risks…”  

“...it’s up to the individual if they choose to risk THEIR money. I have decided to risk mine, if I lose so be it.”

These quotations are extracted from conversations on ‘WealthMax’, one of several online financial communities formed by Jamaicans to share information about investing in informal schemes.

Krige (2012) describes the proliferation of such schemes as part of the logic of financialisation of everyday life, transforming finance ‘into a field of dreams as well as a field of schemes’ (2012: 73), opening up spaces for financial tricksters to flourish, particularly in areas of rampant structural inequalities. 

Between 2004 and 2008, the Caribbean island of Jamaica cultivated its own field of schemes as scores of unregulated ‘investment clubs’ promoted the allure of global capital markets.  At the height of the boom, schemes delivered annual returns as high as 728% (Carvajal et al, 2009). Jamaicans from all walks-of-life risked their lifesavings to invest in the schemes. 

This paper will offer insights into how online social relationships help people collectively come to understand themselves as ‘investors’, by exploring the storied experiences of individuals marginalised by limited access to global markets. The paper draws on data gleaned from conversations posted from 2007-08 on ‘Wealth Max’, the online financial community  (http://wealthmax.wordpress.com/ ).  Investment is itself a social activity where people often make decisions collectively (Tarim, 2012). To this end, online financial communities serve as relational mechanisms where members can access and share investment information, reducing the ambiguity of diverse messages (Herrmann 2007). Through narrative analysis the paper will explore sense-making by ‘WealthMax’ members as they discuss the risks and rewards of speculating in the CashPlus scheme before its 2008 collapse.