Skip to content

Anna Sophie Elektra Zech

GEM-DIAMOND doctoral fellow

ESR 2 – The capitalism-democracy nexus and struggles over European governance

Fascinated by economic policy discourses in member states and EU contexts, I am curious to research the nature of discourse on the European Central Bank.

Host Institutions

Watching the Watchers

On the Expert Networks Translating European Central Bank Communication

Supervisors

  • Antoine Vauchez
  • Amandine Crespy

Research abstract

The ECB has increasingly stretched its mandate in the face of conflicting pressures arising from its responsibility to maintain both price and financial stability. Alongside the lack of a full-blown fiscal counterpart at EU level that can provide macroeconomic stabilisation, this context has encouraged monetary policy innovation. The latter, particularly when impacting sovereign debt markets, brings about recurrent political struggles and increasingly complicates the ECB’s independence. In response to growing dissensus and in line with the exhaustion of other monetary policy instruments in a zero lower bound environment, the ECB has significantly expanded its communication in the form of forward guidance and beyond, in particular with the ‘general’ public.

While there is a substantial amount of research on central bank communication (cf Blinder et al, 2001/2008/2022), the literature’s focus on ECB-owned output fails to adequately reflect the fact that close to 60% of its Eurozone audience learns about the ECB and its policies through indirect sources only (Assenmacher et al, 2021:55). Initial research on the interaction between the ECB and the media (e.g. Ferrara & Angino, 2022; Koop & Scotto di Vettimo, 2023) focuses on broad measures of quantitative text analysis such as the extent of coverage and sentiment analysis, but does not speak to actors’ backgrounds, networks or their sensemaking function about which we know little (Ibrocevic PhD Thesis 2023; Mudge & Vauchez, 2012/2016; Schmidt-Wellenburg, 2017). It therefore remains unclear how and to what end these translators engage with the ECB’s discourse, and vice versa.

Researching these actors can then facilitate an improved understanding of the ECB’s interaction with its publics, moving beyond a top-down approach that is focused on ECB output, and elucidating how the need for a unified monetary policy discourse on the one and diverse (national) audiences, on the other hand, is negotiated in practice. Learning about these expert communicative networks will furthermore yield broader lessons about the legitimacy and accountability of international technocratic actors more generally, in the Eurozone and beyond, in an era of “technopopulism” and “emergency politics” that often prominently feature technocratic and/or executive actors (Bickerton & Accetti, 2021; White, 2015).

Empirically, the project therefore proposes to study the so-called ECB Watchers, a diverse group of financial market and media actors as well as academics, in their role as translators between the ECB and its audiences as they “play an important role in interpreting central bank actions, disseminating and deciphering for the broad public the information released by central banks” and in “provid[ing] alternative opinions, lessening the monopolistics power of central banks” (Blinder et al, 2001:26). Following an initial investigation of the ECB’s approach to these translators via interviews and document analysis, the project proposes to characterise them in prosopographic and relational terms by way of two of the main conferences they participate in – the IMFS’ ECB and Its Watchers Conference and the ECB’s Forum on Central Banking. Having identified key actors in these networks via social network analysis and their attributes via multiple correspondence analysis, the project finally aims to examine these communicative dynamics in practice by studying how and what kind of inflation narratives these actors disseminated (in the media) between 2020 and 2022.

Personal Research Bibliography (So Far)

Abbott, A. 2005. Linked ecologies: States and universities as environments for professions. Sociological theory, 23(3), pp.245 274.

Beckert, J., 2013. Imagined futures: fictional expectations in the economy. Theory and society 42, pp.219 240.

Berger, P. & Luckmann, T., 1968. The Social Construction of Reality: A Short Treatise on the Sociology of Knowledge. In F. Dobbin, ed. The New Economic Sociology: A Reader. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, pp.296 317.

Best, J. 2019. The Inflation Game: Targets, Practices and the Social Production of Monetary Credibility, New Political Economy, 24 (5), 623-640.

Best, J., 2016. Bureaucratic ambiguity. In An Introduction to the Sociology of Ignorance (pp. 84-106). Routledge.

Best, J. 2022. ‘Uncomfortable knowledge in central banking: Economic expertise confronts the visibility dilemma’, Economy and Society, pp.1 25.

Blinder, A., Ehrmann, M., Fratzscher, M., De Haan, J. & Jansen, D.-J. 2008. Central Bank Communication and Monetary Policy: A Survey of Theory and Evidence, Journal of Economic Literature , 46 (4), pp.910 945.

Boin, A., ‘t Hart, P. & McConnell, A. 2008. Crisis Exploitation: Political and Policy Impacts on Framing Contests, Journal of European Public Policy, 16 (1), 81-106.

Bourdieu, P. 1994. “Rethinking the State: On the Genesis and Structure of the Bureaucratic Field.” Sociological Theory, 12, pp.1 19.

Braun, B. 2014. Why Models Matter: The Making and Unmaking of Governability in Macroeconomic Discourse, Journal of Critical Globalisation Studies, 7, 48-79.

Braun, B., 2015. Governing the future: The European Central Bank’s expectation management during the Great Moderation. Economy and Society 44 (3), pp.367 391.

Braun, B. 2016. ‘Speaking to the People?’ Money, Trust, and Central Bank Legitimacy in the Age of Quantitative Easing, Review of International Political Economy, 23, 1064–1092.

Bressanelli, E., Koop, C. and Reh, C. 2020. EU Actors under Pressure: Politicisation and Depoliticisation as Strategic Responses, Journal of European Public Policy, 27, 329–341.

Broome, A. and Seabrooke, L., 2015. Shaping policy curves: Cognitive authority in transnational capacity building. Public Administration 93 (4), pp.956 972.

Broome, A. and Seabrooke, L., 2020. Recursive recognition in the international political economy. Review of International Political Economy 28 (2), pp.369 381.

Callon, M. 2007. What does it mean to say that economics is performative? In D. MacKenzie, F. Muniesa & L. Siu (Eds.), Do economists make markets? On the performativity of economics (pp. 311 357). Princeton University Press.

Coombs, N. 2022. ‘Narrating imagined crises: How central bank storytelling exerts infrastructural power’, Economy and Society, pp. 1 24.

Culpepper, P. 2008. The politics of common knowledge: ideas and institutional change, International Organization, 62 (1), 1–33.

De Boer, N. and van ’t Klooster, J. 2020. The ECB, the Courts and the Issue of Democratic Legitimacy after Weiss, Common Market Law Review, 57, 1689–1724.

Diessner, S. 2022. ‘The power of folk ideas in economic policy and the central bank commercial bank analogy’, New Political Economy, pp. 1 14.

De Wilde, P. 2019. ‘Media logic and grand theories of European integration’, Journal of European Public Policy, 26(8), pp. 1193 1212.

Downey, L. 2021. Delegation in Democracy: A Temporal Analysis, Journal of Political Philosophy, 29, 305–329.

Dyson, K. & Featherstone, K. 1996. Italy and EMU as a ‘Vincolo Esterno’: Empowering the Technocrats, Transforming the State, South European Society and Politics, 1 (2), 272-299.

Elgie, R. 2002. The politics of the European Central Bank: principal-agent theory and the democratic deficit, Journal of European Public Policy, 9 (2), 186-200.

Entman, R. M. 1993. Framing: Toward Clarification of a Fractured Paradigm. Journal of Communication, 43(4), pp.51 58.

Ferrara, F.M. and Angino, S., 2022. Does clarity make central banks more engaging? Lessons from ECB communications. European Journal of Political Economy, 74.

Fontan, C. & Howarth, D. 2020. The European Central Bank and the German Constitutional Court: Police Patrols and Fire Alarms, Politics and Governance, 9 (2), 241-251.

Fourcade, M., 2006. The construction of a global profession: The transnationalization of economics. American journal of sociology 112 (1), pp.145 194.

Gabor, D. 2020. Critical macro-finance: a theoretical lens, Finance and Society, 6 (1), 45–55.

Gabor, D. and Ban, C. 2016. Banking on Bonds: The New Links between States and Markets, Journal of Common Market Studies, 54, 617–635.

Holmes, D.R., 2013. Economy of words: Communicative imperatives in central banks. University of Chicago Press.

Koop, C. and Scotto di Vettimo, M. 2022. ‘How do the media scrutinise central banking? Evidence from the Bank of England’, European Journal of Political Economy, p. 102296.

Leifeld, P., 2016. Discourse Network Analysis: Policy Debates as Dynamic Networks. In J. N. Victor, M. N. Lubell, & A. H. Montgomery, eds. Oxford Handbook of Policy Networks. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Lohmann, S. 2003. Why do institutions matter? An audience-cost theory of institutional commitment, Governance, 16 (1), 95-110.

Mabbett, D. & Schelkle, W. 2019. Independent or lonely? Central banking in crisis, Review of International Political Economy, 26 (3), 436-460.

Majone, G. 1994. The rise of the regulatory state in Europe, West European Politics, 17 (3), 77-101.

Marcussen, M. 2009. Scientization of central banking: The politics of A politicization. In K. Dyson & M. Marcussen (Eds.), Central banks in the age of the euro (pp. 373 401). Oxford University Press.

McCloskey, D.N., 1990. If you're so smart: The narrative of economic expertise. University of Chicago Press.

McNamara, K. 2002. Rational Fictions: Central Bank Independence and the Social Logic of Delegation, West European Politics, 25 (1), 47-76.

Moschella, M., Pinto, L. & Diodati, N. 2020. Let's speak more? How the ECB responds to public contestation, Journal of European Public Policy, 27 (3), 400-418.

Mudge, S.L. and Vauchez A. 2012. ‘Building Europe on a weak field: law, economics, and scholarly avatars in transnational politics’, American Journal of Sociology 118(2): pp.449 92.

Mudge, S. L., & Vauchez, A. 2016. Fielding supranationalism: The European Central Bank as a field effect. Sociological Review, 64(suppl.), pp.146 169.

Mudge, S. & Vauchez, A. 2018. Too embedded to fail: The ECB and the necessity of calculating Europe. Historische Sozialforschung , 43 (3), pp.248 273.

Mügge, D. 2015. Studying macroeconomic indicators as powerful ideas. Journal of European Public Policy, 23 (3), 410-427.

Rauh, C. 2021. Supranational emergency politics? What executives’ public crisis communication may tell us, Journal of European Public Policy, 29 (6), 966-978.

Schmidt, V. A. 2008. Discursive Institutionalism: The Explanatory Power of Ideas and Discourse, Annual Review of Political Science, 11, 303-26.

Schmidt, V. A. 2016. Reinterpreting the rules ‘by stealth’ in times of crisis: A discursive institutionalist analysis of the European Central Bank and the European Commission, West European Politics, 39 (5), 1032-1052.

Schmidt-Wellenburg, C. 2017. ‘Europeanisation, stateness, and professions: What role do economic expertise and economic experts play in European political integration?’, European Journal of Cultural and Political Sociology, 4(4), pp. 430 456.

Schmidt-Wellenburg, C. and Lebaron, F., 2018. There is no such thing as “the Economy”. Economic phenomena analysed from a field theoretical perspective. Historical Social Research/Historische Sozialforschung 43 (3 (165), pp.7 38.

Schmidt-Wellenburg, C. and Bernhard, S., 2020. How to chart transnational fields: Introduction to a methodology for a political sociology of knowledge. In Charting Transnational Fields (pp. 1 33). Routledge.

Schneickert, C., 2018. Globalizing political and economic elites in national fields of power. Historical Social Research/Historische Sozialforschung 43 (3 (165), pp.329 358.

Seabrooke, L., 2014. Epistemic arbitrage: Transnational professional knowledge in action. Journal of professions and organization 1 (1), pp.49 64.

Seabrooke, L. & Henriksen, L. F. 2017. (Eds.), Professional Networks in Transnational Governance . Cambridge University Press.

Seabrooke, L. & Tsingou, E. 2019. Europe's fast- and slow-burning crises, Journal of European Public Policy, 26 (3), 468-481.

Sending, O. J. 2015. The politics of expertise: Competing for authority in global governance . University of Michigan Press, ch.1.

Shiller, R.J., 2017. Narrative economics. American economic review 107 (4), pp.967 1004.

Thatcher, Mark & Stone Sweet, Alex 2002. Theory and Practice of Delegation to Non-Majoritarian Institutions, West European Politics, 25 (1), 1-22.

Thiemann, M. 2022. Growth at risk: Boundary walkers, stylised facts and the legitimacy of countercyclical interventions. Economy and Society, 51 (4), pp.630 654.

Thiemann, M., Melches, C.R., and Ibrocevic, E., 2021. Measuring and mitigating systemic risks: How the forging of new alliances between central bank and academic economists legitimize the transnational macroprudential agenda. Review of International Political Economy , 28 (6), pp.1433 1458.

Tortola, P. D. 2020. The politicisation of the European Central Bank: what is it, and how to study it? Journal of Common Market Studies, 58 (3), 501-513.

Van Doorslaer, H. and Vermeiren, M., 2021. Pushing on a string: monetary policy, growth models and the persistence of low inflation in advanced capitalism, New Political Economy, 26 (5), 797–816.

Wansleben, L., 2018. How expectations became governable: institutional change and the performative power of central banks. Theory and Society 47 (6), pp.773 803.

White, J. 2015. Emergency Europe, Political Studies, 63 (2), 300-318.

Widmaier, W.W., Blyth, M. and Seabrooke, L., 2007. Exogenous shocks or endogenous constructions? The meanings of wars and crises. International studies quarterly 51 (4), pp.747 759.
Anna is a Marie Skłodowska Curie Doctoral Fellow at Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne and the Université Libre de Bruxelles within the Horizon Europe GEM-Diamond project. Under the joint supervision of Antoine Vauchez (Paris 1) and Amandine Crespy (ULB), her doctoral project examines the processes and effects of epistemic struggles over the interpretation of monetary policy in the Eurozone.

Anna holds an MA (Hons) in Business/Management and Italian from the University of Glasgow, a Graduate Diploma in International Relations from the University of London, an MA in European Affairs with a specialisation in Economics and Public Policy from Sciences Po Paris and an MSc in Political Economy of Europe from the London School of Economics and Political Science.