The Disciplines Series

Hoarding: An Interdisciplinary Conversation

Friday, October 23, 2015  4:00pm Common Room

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Heyman Center for Humanities

The phenomenon known as “hoarding” has become quite prominent in two separate disciplines lately. On the one hand, an efflorescence of literature in Psychiatry has sought methods to diagnose and treat individuals who suffer from “hoarding disorder.” On the other hand, economists and other policy experts have been pondering various methods to reduce bank hoarding and thereby revivify the lending that seized up during the 2008 financial crisis. Our panel will finally put these two diverse strains of research into conversation with one another, in order to ensure that insights and findings concerning hoarding are shared across these often segregated fields.

In so doing, we hope to further refine this term, which for centuries has been associated with extreme selfishness and anti-sociality. But given its pervasiveness, perhaps we need to look more carefully at what, precisely, constitutes hoarding. After all, several prominent economic thinkers of the 19th century used the term “hoard” as a simple synonym for “reserve,” thereby suggesting that not all forms of hoarding should be discouraged. Equally, agreements such as Basel III, as well as laws covering reserve minimums, suggest that placing some unused money aside to hedge against future catastrophe seems beyond dispute in our society, at least for collective institutions such as banks. Nevertheless, interesting questions emerge about how both individuals and corporate entities navigate the murky line between an anti-social hoard and a socially beneficial reserve fund. Do we assess collective and individual hoarders with the same criteria, or does a “hierarchy of hoarding” prevail in which individuals are held to a higher standard? How do we know when an individual or an institution is hoarding “mere junk,” even if they deem it a treasured object? By traversing the divide between these two literatures, we will be in a position to evaluate key issues in finance and psychiatry today in a new light.

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