Landscape and the Projection of Financial Trust: South Florida as a Scene for Fraud

Authors: Benjamin Smith*, Florida International University
Topics: Economic Geography, Landscape, United States
Keywords: Landscape, Cultural Economy, South Florida, Fraud
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/14/2018
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Gallier A, Sheraton, 4th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In this paper, I argue for a comparatively rare meeting between the concerns of economic geography (the unevenness with which economies are structured/imagined/calculated) and the concerns of those who study landscapes as a tangible, visible scenes that both reflect and produce the practices that unfold through them. In particular, I examine the ways in which landscapes figure in the building of financial trust by examining instances where there is no actual financial effort to trust in– in other words, cases of outright fraud. This presentation, which is a part of a larger project, focuses specifically on two of the most recent, high profile cases of interpersonal investor fraud: those perpetrated by Bernie Madoff and Nevin Shapiro. By utilizing court transcripts, criminal complaints, media reports, and landscape photo documentation, I show how these individuals built trust not just by “cooking books” but by convincing potential investors due to their presence in two wealthy (though tonally distinct) South Florida landscapes: Palm Beach and Miami Beach. In other words, I demonstrate how the trappings and scenes that comprise the landscapes of financial activity are not peripheral to the functioning of economic geographies, but essential to their legitimization (even if the product being offered is itself totally illegitimate).

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