Drop the Script: A Request to SWF Researchers

Ashby Monk

I read many, if not all, of the new SWF research papers published or put online every week; it’s part of my job to keep abreast of what’s out there (and then inform the public here). Since I’m fascinated with SWFs, I think it’s a pretty good gig. But, I have to say, I’ve noticed an annoying trend in many SWF research papers: the first five pages are growing very (!) repetitive. I acknowledge that all papers need a solid introduction, but it seems like SWF papers are increasingly following some form of the same script.

Generally, they kick off with some history (Kuwait 1953). They then move into a discussion of SWFs’ rapid rise (CIC) and the current state of global imbalances (Gieve, Aizenman). This is then followed by a discussion of definitions (Rozanov et al.), which inevitably leads to some talk of assets under management (Jen). Then we move into the international concern and anxiety (Dubai Ports, CIC), which, the paper reminds us, is based on the poor governance and transparency of these funds (Truman, SWF Institute). This is then followed by a discussion of what the international community is doing about it (protectionism, IWG, International Forum). Only after all this, oftentimes five pages into the paper, does the author tell us something new and interesting…

Can’t we spice this up a bit? In 2008 and even 2009, the above script was reasonable; few people knew what these funds were and this basic context was necessary.  In 2010, most people have at least heard the term SWF and, at the very least, there are many, many research papers out there that can be quickly referenced, eliminating the need for this script. In my humble opinion, research papers, as opposed to books, don’t need to recreate the wheel in this manner. As a writer, we all want to get our message out, but, I can tell you, it is very hard to persevere through the “script” to the informative parts of these papers.

Sorry for the rant, I’ll get back to more informative posts on Monday…

5 Responses to “Drop the Script: A Request to SWF Researchers”

  1. 1 Adam Dixon February 19, 2010 at 5:20 pm

    I have to say that I largely agree with this. It actually reveals how difficult conducting research on SWFs is. Research papers have to provide context for discussion, but, as you note, background discussion should not be a substitute for new content and innovative argument, unless one is offering a reinterpretation on that background. Perhaps a reinterpretation is in order? That’s something I’d like to see!

  2. 2 Larry Catá Backer February 22, 2010 at 1:08 am

    A great post, thanks. The script, so well summarized, also suggests to me another sort of scripting, that of the acceptable analytical framework to be advanced in academic work. This acceptable framework is grounded in a tendency to avoid deviation from the “party line”– the the approaches (unquestioned) of the major state/IFI players and the (legitimating) voices of key members of the non-governmental sector. For that reason, I find the script useful–but mostly as legal sociology.

    • 3 Ashby Monk February 22, 2010 at 3:11 pm

      Very interesting points, guys. Thanks for the comments. I agree that we (as academics) are constrained by an “acceptable practice” that, in many regards, drives people towards this type of scripting. In a sense, it has utility; it offers readers a way of quickly assessing what the paper is about to decide whether or not to proceed reading. Nonetheless, the standard framework, in my view, still offers plenty of scope for differentiation and creativity. As an example, both of you, Adam and Larry, have written SWF related papers that don’t use the script, so it is clearly possible!

  3. 4 Michael Maduell February 22, 2010 at 10:35 pm

    I agree, most of these research papers are contrite and rather boring. Real research includes conducting interviews and investigating, not just using the internet. Most of these writers have never worked in the Investment Management industry.

    On the other hand, I applaud people trying to learn more about SWFs. More and more countries are creating funds like these to increase wealth.

    Good site Ashby, keep it up.

  1. 1 SWFs: The Pros with The Cons « Oxford SWF Project Trackback on August 3, 2011 at 12:15 pm

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This website is a project of Professor Gordon L. Clark and Dr. Ashby Monk of the School of Geography and the Environment at the University of Oxford. Their research on sovereign wealth funds is funded by the Leverhulme Trust and The Rotman International Centre for Pension Management.

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