This project takes as its object of study the Norwegian Government Pension Fund Global, which currently is among the largest sovereign wealth funds in the world. The fund is owned by the Norwegian people and managed by a division of the central bank on the basis of a mandate issued by the Ministry of Finance. On this basis, the project investigates what it means to manage great wealth on behalf of current and future generations of a nation-state, and the role a large sovereign wealth fund plays in a well-functioning democracy. It explores how the fund conducts a 'custodial finance', as it meets a multiplicity of social commitments and acts with a multitude of others in mind.
As part of this, we study how ethical arguments and concepts are used to shape international capital, and how these arguments are justified with reference to social, political, and environmental concerns. The project thus aims to investigate how notions and practices like 'custodial finance' and 'responsible investment' are constituted and carried out. It moreover hopes to shed light on how these notions and practices extend out of longstanding economical concepts, such as 'the public good','fiduciary responsibility', 'commonweal', and 'prudence'. In this way, the project will analyse the ways in which the economic and the ethical are mutually defining entities.
The project has hired an international top-rate researcher as a postdoctoral fellow, and has so far resulted in six scientific publications, one popular scientific article, eleven seminar and conference presentations and four op-ed article in Norwegian. The project has also organised two international conference panels its own seminar series with renowned international guest-speakers.
The past year has seen a range of efforts that appeal to 'the common good' or invoke moral notions to act upon and transform the global economy, with a view to facilitate societies, futures, and worlds of particular kinds. These efforts echo and extend from economic discourses regarding 'the public good' or 'the public interest', which points to a broader articulation and inflection of economic and ethical concerns. The objective of this project is to investigate how ethical forms shape finance to create new iterations of the economy; and conversely, how financial forms entail ethical considerations. The project will do so through a study of the Norwegian Government Pension Fund Global (GPFG), which is the world's largest sovereign wealth fund, whose operation involves a complex configuration of constraints. In addition, its fiduciary responsibilities entail a form of ethics and foreground questions regarding the future, as they involve a duty of care to act with the interests of the Norwegian public in mind. Finally, GPFG is at the forefront of 'responsible investment', and seeks to develop and conduct what one can call 'custodial finance'. Questions regarding the limits of capital and the ethical forms of finance are thus built into GPFG in multiple ways. The project will pursue these questions through four Project components that will 'study through' GPFG in an enhanced manner. Through document analysis, open-ended semi-structured interviews, and participant observation, the components will investigate ethnographically how ethical forms create, enact, and redefine fiduciary standards, and how fiduciary duties entail forms of ethics. The study breaks new ground for the anthropology of finance, where no one so far has studied a sovereign wealth fund; no one has investigated how finance 'is done' in the relative periphery of northern Europe; and no one focuses on the roles of ethics and limits for how finance is constituted, implemented, and shaped.