‘What are you working on’… Benedikt Lehmann

After the previous three pieces by Rob Creasy, Matt Spokes and Jack Denham – the latter of whom passed his PhD viva with the usual minor corrections earlier this week – it falls to me to say a few words about my current research and activities. Unlike Jack’s, my viva has not been scheduled yet, so I am still some time off that monumental, but as I am told, frequently anti-climactic event. So for the time being, I will have to remain slightly jealous of my colleague’s recent success.

That said most of the last few months have been occupied with writing my own PhD, so I should perhaps provide a bit of an overview of the thesis at this stage. The project deals with high-frequency and algorithmic trading, which have been linked to a number of destabilising market events in recent years. This includes the so-called ‘Quants Meltdown’ in 2007, a misbehaving algorithm which cost Knight Capital $400+ million in August 2012, and most famously, the ‘Flash Crash’ on 6 May 2010, resulting in a nine percent drop of the Dow Jones in the course of a few minutes. While devised primarily as a theoretical endeavour, the research draws on a mixture of ethnographic and more traditional interviews to examine the emergence of high-speed algorithmic trading in financial markets. Employing a specifically criminological perspective concerned with the critique of an unethical society and its political economy – as opposed to an analysis of crime defined in socio-legal terms – the study highlights a deeper systemic drive for ‘frictionless’ capitalism unburdened from marked barriers of capital accumulation. It is argued that the manifestation of this drive in the advancement of computerisation and algorithmic automatisation creates complex organisational arrangements and networks which work to cultivate and deploy ‘strategic ignorance’ in regulatory knowledge practices, while reaffirming the power and influence of neoliberal economics and disavowing its harmful dynamics.

In autumn 2016 I also submitted an article to the German criminology journal Kriminologisches Journal titled ‘High-frequency trading and the technological constitution of anomie’. This was part of a special issue on Sociotechnical Perspectives for Criminology and it was finally published earlier this month (07/2017).

As with most academics, I have several projects on the back burner and a few others floating around at the ‘idea stage’. One of these is a joint project with Matthew Spokes and Jack Denham, which explores the contested memorialisation of deviant spaces on the basis of three individual case studies selected for their infamous history. For my own contribution, I will investigate the role of Dresden’s history, as the site of extensive Allied bombings towards the end of World War II, in the often nostalgic symbolism of right-wing protest movements. More than this, recent attempts to prevent such protests on the anniversary of the Dresden bombing by deploying a human chain around the city centre, are looked at, not as a sign of solidarity, but instead interpreted as working to repress the desire for political change.