Financial Phantasmagoria: Corporate Image-work in Times of Crisis

Christian De Cock*, Max Baker, Christina Volkmann

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Our purpose in this article is to relate the real movements in the economy during 2008 to the ‘image-work’ of financial institutions. Over the period January—December 2008 we collected 241 separate advertisements from 61 financial institutions published in the Financial Times. Reading across the ensemble of advertisements for themes and evocative images provides an impression of the financial imaginaries created by these organizations as the global financial crisis unfolded. In using the term ‘phantasmagoria’ we move beyond its colloquial sense of a set of strange images designed to dazzle towards the more technical connotation used by Rancière (2004) who suggested that words and images can offer a trace of an overall determining set-up if they are torn from their obviousness so they become phantasmagoric figures. The key phantasmagoric figure we identify here is that of the financial institution as timeless, immortal and unchanging; a coherent and autonomous entity amongst other actors. This notion of uniqueness belies the commonality of thinking which precipitated the global financial crisis as well as the limited capacity for control of financial institutions in relation to market events. It also functions as a powerful naturalizing force, making it hard to question certain aspects of the recent period of ‘capitalism in crisis’.
Original languageEnglish
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)153-172
Publication statusPublished - 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Cultural political economy
  • Finance capitalism
  • Global financial crisis

Cite this