The School of Geography, Politics and Sociology

Student Profiles

Gemma Bone

The Politics of Debt and the possibilities for socially useful banking

Description of Research Project

My ESRC funded project examines the re-conceptualisation of “social utility” in the UK banking system through an analysis of the debt-credit relation, with a specific emphasis on current attempts to increase social utility by new forms of finance - in particular crowdfunding. The research will focus on the debates surrounding the theory and practice of money, debt and banking, with primary research carried out in collaboration with the Finance Innovation Lab.

The theoretical approach taken by the research project is that in contrast to standard economic theory, debt is a social, political, and moral construct. Over periods in history the debt-credit relation has been constituted in different ways with different consequences for social utility, and that in modern history debt has been used as a political tool with specific measurable consequences. The economic crisis has opened up theoretical space both in academia and in the public consciousness to question the banking system and it’s usefulness for society. Debt is both a key function of banks and the stated raison d'être for mass austerity, yet there does not exist a thorough understanding of the persistent tensions and possibilities of debt.

In order to gain new knowledge of the reconceptualization of social utility, the research will compile primary data through case studies of the Finance Innovation Lab and crowdfunding platforms including peer-to-peer finance and reward based crowdfunding. The Lab is a collaboration between non-governmental organisations including the World Wildlife Fund, banking sector professionals including the Institute for Chartered Accountants in England and Wales, and innovators and social entrepreneurs who are creating a new banking sector. It has recently been named one of NESTA and The Observers “50 new radicals” for its innovative approach to change in the financial system with the aim of increasing the value created for people and planet.

The knowledge created in this project will be of importance to those with a stake in the reform of the financial system, but especially to practitioners seeking clarity on the possibilities of ‘socially useful debt’.


  • Author of ‘Chapter 2: Principles of Green Finance’ in ‘Fundamentals of Green Finance Certificate’ Chartered Banker Institute (forthcoming 2018)
  • ‘Banking for the Common Good: Laying the foundations for safe, sustainable, stakeholder banking in Scotland’ (2016)
  • ‘Book Review Symposium: The democracy project: a history, a crisis, a movement, by D. Graeber’ Global Discourse: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Current Affairs and Applied Contemporary Thought, Routledge (2014)
  • ‘The Copenhagen Global Summit on Climate Change: A View from the Ground’ Globalizations: Globalization and Crisis, Routledge (2010) Vol. 7, No. 1, pp. 299- 303


  • Oct 2016 Investing in Scotland’s future: Laying the foundations for sustainable banking in Scotland Roundtable workshop sponsored by George Kerevan MP at the House of Commons. Presented my report ‘Banking for the Common Good’, outlining a vision for how Scotland could move towards a new kind of banking ecosystem.
  • Mar 2016 Banking for the Common Good: how banking reform could reinvigorate Scotland Launched my report at a parliamentary reception at the Scottish Parliament hosted by Lesley Brennan MSP.
  • Apr 2015 AAG Panel - Making Other Worlds Possible V: The Role of Disruptive Innovation and New Political Imaginaries I organised the panel and presented my paper ‘How do we create a socially useful banking system? A case study of the Finance Innovation Lab’.
  • Nov 2014 Guest Lecture, Newcastle Business School Delivered a presentation on financial innovation in the UK to a visiting delegation from Tianjin Province, China.
  • Sept 2014 Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change Annual Conference Academic paper presented entitled ‘How do we create a socially useful banking system: A case study of the Finance Innovation Lab’.
  • July 2014 Association for Heterodox Economics Annual Conference Academic paper presented on ‘Collaboration and Enquiry as a Response to the Triple Crisis’.


Current: Order and Disorder, The Shaping of the 21st Century (Lecturer on a team teaching module and TA); Geographies of Money; Global Development; Truth, Lies and Politics; Previous: Global Political Economy (University of Durham, small group teaching); Climate Change Debate: Science, Politics and Public View.

Qualifications and Achievements

I believe strongly in collaboration as a means to do impactful research and have cultivated a close relationship with organisations in Scotland and the wider UK focusing on the link between banking, finance and social and environmental justice. I successfully applied for ESRC support to undertake a three month research project with Friends of the Earth Scotland and Common Weal. The aim of the project was to put banking back onto the political agenda, focusing on how Scotland could take best practice from banking systems across Europe and apply it to the Scottish context of a devolved administration with financial constraints and where banking policy is reserved. The outcome was a research paper with a recommendation to create a Scottish National Investment Bank. The report was launched at Holyrood and Westminster to cross-party support and was presented to the Council of Economic Advisors.

In September 2017 the Scottish Government announced the creation of a Scottish National Investment Bank following the recommendation of the Council of Economic Advisors. The ESRC commissioned an impact case study on my impact which is available to view here -

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