School of Social and Political Science

Dr Nathan Coombs

Job Title

SPS Director of Undergraduate Programmes, Senior Lecturer in Economic Sociology, Co-Director of Centre for Science, Knowledge and Policy

Photo
Nathan Coombs photo

Room number

6.20

Building (Address)

Chrystal Macmillan Building

Street (Address)

15a George Square

City (Address)

Edinburgh

Country (Address)

UK

Post code (Address)

EH8 9LD

Research interests

Research interests

Research grants and consultancies

Background

I am an economic sociologist working at the intersection of political economy, science and technology studies, and social theory. Inspired by the sociology of scientific knowledge, my research addresses contemporary transformations in economic and financial governance and interrogates the implications of scientized knowledge and expertise for public accountability and democracy. I have an emerging research interest in the financial dimensions of public health governance, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.

After receiving a PhD in Political Theory, published as History and Event (2015) by Edinburgh University Press, I was awarded a research grant from the Leverhulme Trust (2014-17) to investigate the regulation of financial trading algorithms. Drawing on these bodies of research and earlier work, I have published 14 peer-reviewed articles in journals such as Economy and Society, The British Journal of Sociology, Theory & Event, The European LegacyJournal of Political Ideologies, and International Review of Economics Education, among others. In 2015 I co-founded Finance and Society, which is today a leading journal in the interdisciplinary field of finance studies and is published by Cambridge University Press from 2024. In 2023 I became a Director of Finance and Society Network Limited, which oversees the journal as well as the Network's annual conferences. With Matthias Thiemann, I guest edited a special issue of Economy and Society in 2022 titled 'Recentering central banks', which breaks new ground by exploring how the governance techniques of central banks condition the limits of state sovereignty. I am co-director of the Centre for Science, Knowledge and Policy (SKAPE) from 2022-25 and co-principal investigator on the project Scoping Impact: Mapping, Evaluating and Learning from Contemporary Trends in Research Impact Definition (2023) commissioned by the ESRC to advise on its future defintion and conceptualisation of research impact. I am the course organiser for two undergraduate honours courses (Economic Sociology and Sociology of Freedom), Sociology's Academic Advisor, and the School of Social and Political Science's incoming Director of Undergraduate Programmes (from January 2024). I have supervised 3 PhD students through to their awards and currently supervise 3 PhD students working on topics as varied as platformisation, macroeconomic expertise networks, and evidence and truth construction in judicial processes.

I am currently writing a second book, provisionally titled The Impossible Performance of Financial Stability. My book is organised around the thesis that financial stability governance, on the model established after the 2008 financial crisis, cannot realise the stable financial system it aims to secure. Despite adopting an institutional machinery modelled on the performative power of monetary policymaking, this scientized approach to financial stability governance is marked by constitutive exclusions such as an inability to recognise how the actions of states and central banks have played a key role in the financialization of the economy. As a result of this failure of reflexivity, regulatory authorities struggle to anticipate and mitigate the financial instabilities provoked by their own interventions.

Positions

  • Lecturer in Economic Sociology, School of Social and Political Science, University of Edinburgh (2017 - 2023)
  • Leverhulme Early Career Research Fellow, School of Social and Political Science, University of Edinburgh (2014 - 2017)
  • Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities, University of Edinburgh (2013 -2014)
  • Doctoral Researcher with Reid Studentship, Department of Politics and International Relations, Royal Holloway, University of London (2009 - 2013)

Selected Publications

(see full list on Google Scholar)

Book
Edited collection
Articles, reports, chapters and review essays

PhDs supervised to award

  • Zehner, N. (2023) Envisaging dataist modernity: The construction of Edinburgh's innovation apparatus (supervised with Nicholas Prior)
  • Julius K. (2022) Realising catastrophe: The financial ontology of the Anthropocene (supervised with Donald MacKenzie)
  • Cassar, D. (2022) Inscribing markets, shaping policy: A sociological investigation into the yield curve (supervised with Donald MacKenzie)

Current PhD students

  • Wen, S. (4th year) Governmentality, platformisation and governance in urban China : A case study of “taxi village” in Shenzhen (supervised with Donald MacKenzie)
  • Gaillardou, F. (2nd year) Varieties of “left turn”: the relationship between the government and the Economics profession in Argentina and Brazil, 2003-2016 (Supervised with Tod Van Gunten)
  • Choi, Y. (1st year) How can truth-claims become truth in criminal courts? (Supervised with Stephen Kemp)

Works within

Staff Hours and Guidance

By appointment, Wednesday 3-5pm (during term time)

Publications by user content

Publication Research Explorer link
Coombs N, Rodrigues E, MacDonogh H. Scoping Impact: An International Study of Contemporary Definitions and Conceptualisations of Impact by Funders of Social Science Research. 2024. 37 p.
Coombs N. Central bank power without central bank autonomy? Finance and Society. 2023 Aug 30;10.
Coombs N. Infrastructural power in financial governance: Its meaning, applications, and varieties. In Brandl B, Campbell M, Westermeier C, editors, Cambridge Global Companion to Financial Infrastructures . Cambridge University Press. 2023
Coombs N. The democratic dangers of central bank planning. Accounting, Economics, and Law: A Convivium. 2023 Feb 3. Epub 2023 Feb 3. doi: 10.1515/ael-2022-0063
Samman A, Boy N, Coombs N, Hagar S, Hayes A, Rosamond E et al. After the boom: Finance and society studies in the 2020s and beyond. Finance and Society. 2022 Nov 30;8(2):93-109. doi: 10.2218/finsoc.7761
Coombs N, Thiemann M. Recentering central banks: Theorizing state-economy boundaries as central bank effects. Economy and Society. 2022 Nov 1;51(4):535-558 . Epub 2022 Oct 8. doi: 10.1080/03085147.2022.2118450
Coombs N. Narrating imagined crises: How central bank storytelling exerts infrastructural power. Economy and Society. 2022;51(4):679-702. Epub 2022 Oct 25. doi: 10.1080/03085147.2022.2117313
Coombs N. Financial regulation. In Borch C, Wosnitzer R, editors, The Routledge Handbook of Critical Finance Studies. 1 ed. Abingdon: Routledge. 2020. p. 137-153 doi: 10.4324/9781315114255-9
Cairns D, Coombs N, Devine T, Hearn J, Jarvie G, MacLeod G et al. Letter concerning the David Hume Tower. 2020.
Coombs N. What do stress tests test? Experimentation, demonstration, and the sociotechnical performance of regulatory science. British Journal of Sociology. 2020 Jun;71(3):520-536. Epub 2020 Feb 12. doi: 10.1111/1468-4446.12739
Coombs N, Van der heide A. Financialization as mathematization: The calculative and regulatory consequences of risk management. In Mader P, Mertens D, van der Zwan N, editors, The Routledge International Handbook of Financialization. Routledge. 2020. p. 358-68
Coombs N, Frawley A. The value in 'value': An exercise for pluralising economics instruction. International Review of Economics Education. 2019 Jan;30. Epub 2018 Jul 18. doi: 10.1016/j.iree.2018.07.001
Coombs N. Macroprudential versus monetary blueprints for financial reform. Journal of Cultural Economy. 2017 Mar 4;10(2):207-216. Epub 2016 Oct 28. doi: 10.1080/17530350.2016.1234404
Coombs N. Bringing financial regulation back down to earth. Work, Employment And Society. 2016 Jul 11. doi: 10.1177/0950017016653041
Coombs N. Underlabouring for Science: Althusser, Brassier, Bhaskar. In Avanessian A, Malik S, editors, Genealogies of Speculation: Materialism and Subjectivity since Structuralism . London: Bloomsbury Academic. 2016
Coombs N. Did Lenin refound Marxist dialectics in 1914? The European Legacy. 2016 Jan 2;21(1):1-18. 1. Epub 2015 Sept 11. doi: 10.1080/10848770.2015.1085676
Coombs N. What is an algorithm? Financial regulation in the era of high-frequency trading. Economy and Society. 2016;45(2):278-302. Epub 2016 Sept 20. doi: 10.1080/03085147.2016.1213977
Coombs N. History and Event: From Marxism to Contemporary French Theory. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2015. 224 p. (Taking on the Political). doi: 10.3366/edinburgh/9780748698998.001.0001
Coombs N. For a post-disciplinary study of finance and society. Finance and Society. 2015;1(1):1-5.
Coombs N. Speculative Justice: Quentin Meillassoux and Politics. Theory and Event. 2014 Dec;17(4).