CFP: International conference on Varieties of supervision: The surveillance of banks in a long-term perspective, 19th – early 21st century

International conference, Paris, 26-27 January 2023

Varieties of supervision: The surveillance of banks in a long-term perspective, 19th – early 21st century


Since the global financial crisis of 2008, the history of banking regulation and supervision has experienced a revival of scholarly interest. Regulation, understood as the general framework defining the rules for banking activities, has attracted more attention than the practices of supervision. Nevertheless, supervisory histories continue to multiply. Scholars have widely examined the history of banking supervision in a national perspective and in an international perspective. The field now extends to colonial areas. But this historiography of banking supervision has several shortcomings. First, the literature has devoted more attention to the supervision of banks by government authorities, which could be described as “external” control, than to forms of control exerted by the banking sector, which could be labelled “internal” control, such as inspection and audit services, accounting practices, and proprietary risk models. Further, the literature more often deals with the second half of the 20th century than with the 19th century. The conference will aim to extend the scholarship on banking supervision by examining new actors, new periods, and by scrutinizing the practices more than the rules of control. In doing so, it aims to resituate the history of banking supervision in a broader history and thereby cast new light on the concept of “regulation”.


The conference aims to explore five main research avenues:

- Why supervise banks? What have been the purposes and objectives of banking control over the last two centuries, and what have been the historical factors for its development or evolution? In particular, we can question the role of crises, which were neither necessary (United States) nor sufficient (France) for the establishment of banking supervisory systems; the embeddedness of the various forms of banking control in national political, legal, economic and social structures; the influence exerted by other countries or other economic sectors than the financial sector; the role of wars and of monetary regimes.

- Which institutions have been in charge of banking control? This research avenue raises four questions: first, that of the necessity (or not) of the formalization of control, and the degree of formalization; second, that of the arbitration between hierarchical authority and self-regulation of the banking profession; third, that of the allocation of the supervisory authority to single or multiple institutions and to the central bank; fourth, that of the internal organization of these institutions.

- Control practices. In particular, we are interested in the words, procedures and human dimension of control. For example, the conference will reflect on the organization of information systems within banking institutions and networks (including the role of technology), and on the role of accounting, whose heterogeneity and complexity have made fraud and risk difficult to prevent and assess.

- Actors and stakeholders (individual and collective, private and public). The conference will aim to widen the actors responsible for control beyond the “external” public controllers usually considered – that is to say, the authorities – to also include the actors in charge of the “internal” control (for example, in banks’ own inspection services), as well as accountants, auditing companies, bankers’ associations, and rating agencies. Who were these actors? What was their expertise? What type of control have they exercised over banks? How were they organized? What was their vision of control? Biographical and prosopographical studies, analyses of actors’ networks or discourses shedding light on the social and political conditions for the evolution of the regulatory culture, from laissez-faire to state intervention, will be particularly welcome.

- The effectiveness and efficiency of control. This question refers both to fraud and control failures (from the controllers’ point of view), and to the cost and resources of supervisory systems. This question also invites us to re-examine the objectives of control and its place in the political economy of regulation: is the aim of banking control to preserve the stability or respectability of a bank or a financial centre? To ensure the compliance with a rule? To protect a profession? Or to defend the general interest (or specific interests, like bank shareholders, noteholders, managers, or depositors)? How have these goals evolved over time?

The conference will combine approaches from different disciplines (history, economics, sociology, law, management sciences, political science) and testimonials from actors involved in banking supervision. Innovative papers, particularly those filling the historiographical gaps mentioned above (internal control; 19th and first half of the 20th centuries; biographical andprosopographical studies), will be particularly welcome. The conference will also welcome contributions adopting a comparative perspective (for instance, between countries or between banks), analyses looking at the intersection of discourses and practices, or the circulation of people and techniques. We will be particularly interested in the varieties of scales (local, national, international) and levels of analysis (micro and macro) and in case studies linking “external” and “internal” control.

The conference will be held in French and English.

Paper proposals (approximately 600 words), accompanied by a short CV, should be sent by 31 May, 2022, to:

Participants will be asked to send preliminary papers (or extended abstracts) by November 2022.


Scientific committee:

Edoardo Altamura (Graduate Institute, Geneva)

Alexis Drach (University of Paris 8, IDHES UMR 8533 CNRS)

Thibaud Giddey (University of Oxford)

Michel Margairaz (University Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, IDHES UMR 8533 CNRS)

Jean-Luc Mastin (University Paris 8, IDHES UMR 8533 CNRS)

Olivier Feiertag (University Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, IDHES UMR 8533 CNRS)

Béatrice Touchelay (University of Lille, IRHiS UMR 8529 CNRS)

Sean Vanatta (University of Glasgow)


[Note: Original footnotes have been removed for ease of posting]