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Dr. Aaron Pitluck

Professor of Sociology
Sociology and Anthropology
Schroeder Hall - SCH 355
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  • About
  • Education
  • Awards & Honors
  • Research


President of the International Sociological Association's Economy and Society Research Committee (RC02), 2018-2023.

Teaching Interests & Areas

Teaching Interests:
Economic Sociology, Global Development & Economic Change, Introduction to Sociology, Contemporary Social Problems in Global Perspective, Contemporary Social Theory, Cultural Sociology, Sociology of Complex Organizations, Senior Experience (capstone thesis course)

Areas of Specialization:
Economic Sociology. Global Development & Economic Change. Financial Capitalism. Morals, Markets and Business Ethics. Islamic Banking and Finance. Political Economy. Globalization & Financialization. Malaysia. Focused & Ethnographic Interviews.

Research Interests & Areas

I am an economic sociologist who uses political economy and cultural analysis to study financial actors, organizations, markets, and institutions, particularly in the Global South. My publications have explored professional investor behavior in equity and debt markets, and explored how moral and ethical norms, beliefs, and values constitute markets. For the past decade I’ve conducted ethnographic research in Islamic banks in Malaysia.

My current research is a book project with the working title, Making Finance Meaningful. The book is evolving but currently centered on three questions: How are investment bankers and Shariah scholars co-producing an alternative form of finance? What do we learn from their work about how to distinguish empowering from exploitative finance? And how do these work experiences inform us about secular projects to alter the trajectory of finance capitalism?

Critiquing finance presupposes understanding. One cannot accurately critique—much less regulate, reform, or replace—something that one does not understand. This truism is particularly perplexing for moral critics of finance, as well as critical social scientists and autonomous regulatory bodies, because there are wide structural asymmetries of knowledge between these outside observers and financial experts. Given the pervasive and growing influence of finance in society, it is important for the public and public intellectuals to be capable of understanding, critiquing, and potentially controlling the finance industry. Over the past decade, I have conducted research in global Islamic investment banks in Malaysia to understand how investment bankers and religious scholars are attempting to bridge the gap between their worldviews and attempt to alter the trajectory of finance.

Previous research in Malaysia has examined how Islamic banking and finance has been guided and promoted by decades of leadership in government, universities, think tanks, and regulatory bodies such as the Central Bank. These accounts are an important explanation that my research draws on and contributes to. However, in contrast to these “top down” explanations, my methodology examines the prosaic and often contentious “bottom up” production of new forms of finance within Islamic investment banks. Complementing earlier research that I have conducted on professional investor behavior in Malaysia’s conventional financial markets, in 2012, 2013, and 2019, I conducted approximately fifty, focused, ethnographic, tape-recorded interviews with investment bankers and Islamic experts in ten investment banks. The interviews focus on my interviewees’ work constructing “sukuk,” a class of financial instrument developed over the past decade as a moral replacement for sovereign and corporate bonds. These banks form the super majority of the domestic sukuk market and half of the international sukuk market. Sukuk are viewed as a crucial element in building a global, transnational, alternative Islamic financial system. The novelty of this research’s “bottom up” methodology is in examining how these diverse parties communicate with one another to critique finance and contentiously coproduce Islamic finance before the innovations are institutionalized by state actors.

I am on sabbatical from May 2022-July 2023 where I will be collaborating with colleagues at the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study and the Department of Sociology at the University of Illinois-Chicago. During my sabbatical, I am writing a book that contributes to interdisciplinary conversations that seek to distinguish empowering from exploitative finance and to contribute to understanding how to alter the trajectory of finance towards the former. I look forward to returning to ISU in Fall 2023!

Click ‘Research’ above to see select publications in this and other areas.

Ph D Sociology

University of Wisconsin-Madison

M Phil Development Studies

University of Cambridge

Dip Economics

London School of Economics

BA Liberal Arts

New School for Social Research (Eugene Lang College)
New York, NY

Research Fellowship

Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study, an institute of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences

RISE to the COVID Challenge Recognition

Office of the Provost

Impact Award 2020

Office of the Provost and University College

Impact Award 2014

Office of the Provost and University College

Research Fellowship

Central European University Foundation

Book, Chapter

Pitluck, Aaron Z. 2020. “Altering the trajectory of finance: Meaning-making and control in Malaysian Islamic investment banks” in Financialization: Relational Approaches, edited by Chris Hann and Don Kalb (pp.111-135). New York and Oxford: Berghahn.

Pitluck, Aaron Z. 2020. “Intellectual brokerage in economic theology: Methodological and theoretical reflections from Islamic banking and finance” in The Routledge Handbook of Economic Theology, edited by Stefan Schwarzkopf (pp.379-90). London: Routledge.

Pitluck, Aaron Z. and Shikshya Adhikari. 2018. "Islamic Finance in the Global North: Secular Incubators, Elementary Accommodation and Strategic Negligence." Pp. 28 in Handbook of Contemporary Islam and Muslim Lives, edited by M. Woodward and R. Lukens-Bull: Springer Reference.

Pitluck, Aaron Z. 2016. "The Convergence Paradox of Islamic Finance: A Sociological Reinterpretation, with Insights for Proponents of Social Finance." Pp. 364-80 in Routledge Handbook of Social and Sustainable Finance, edited by O. Lehner. Basingstoke: Routledge.

Pitluck, Aaron Z. 2013. “Islamic Banking and Finance: Alternative or Façade?” in Karin Knorr Cetina and Alex Preda, The Oxford Handbook of the Sociology of Finance, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Book, Edited

Special Issue: Financialization. Guest Editors: Aaron Z. Pitluck, Fabio Mattioli, and Daniel Souleles. Economic Anthropology 5(2):157-285.

Journal Article

Pitluck, Aaron Z. 2022. “Beyond debt and equity: Dissecting the red herring and a path forward for normative critiques of finance,” Focaal—Journal of Global and Historical Anthropology 93 (2022): 60-74.

Stoltz, Dustin S. and Aaron Z. Pitluck. 2021. “Resources in Relational Packages: Social Capital as a Byproduct of Relational Work,” Social Currents 8(6):549-565.

Pitluck, Aaron Z., Fabio Mattioli and Daniel Souleles. 2018. "Finance Beyond Function: Three Causal Explanations for Financialization." Economic Anthropology 5(2):157-71.

Pitluck, Aaron Z. 2016. "How to Embrace Performativity While Avoiding the Rabbit Hole." Journal of Cultural Economy 9(3):296-303.

Pitluck, Aaron Z. 2016. "Performing Anonymity: Investors, Brokers, and the Malleability of Material Identity Information in Financial Markets." Research in Economic Anthropology 36:223-51.


Pitluck, Aaron Z. 2009. “Ethnography Meets Econometrics: Exploring Daily Work Practices that Lead to Financial Crises,” Anthropology News, October 2009, pp.7-8.


34th Annual meeting of the Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics (SASE), “Beyond debt and equity: Dissecting the red herring and a path forward for normative critiques of finance,” University of Amsterdam, July 10, 2022.

38th Colloquium of the European Group of Organizational Studies, “What drives financial innovation? A Case Study in an Islamic Bank,” Vienna University of Economics and Business, Austria, July 7, 2022.

Intersections of Finance & Society Conference, “Relational Politics in Financial Innovation: A Case Study of an Islamic Bank,” City, University of London, September 15, 2022.

IV ISA Forum of Sociology, “Collaboration across ontological worlds: Reflections on intellectual brokerage from Islamic banking and finance,” online in Porto Alegre, Brazil, February 24, 2021.

IV ISA Forum of Sociology, “Contesting finance: What development theorists can learn from Malaysian Islamic investment banks,” online in Porto Alegre, Brazil, February 23, 2021.

Universitas Brawijaya, “An Economic Sociology of Islamic Banking and Finance.” Visiting Professor for an Economic Sociology class, online in Malang, Indonesia, November 2, 2021.

“Sometimes it looks fake”: Critique, financial innovation, and pragmatic incrementalism in Islamic banking and finance,” IMPACT HAU Inaugural Workshop. The Hau of Finance: Ethnographic inquiries into impact investing and the moral turn in finance, Online at the University of Bologna, March, 25, 2020.

Department of Sociology Colloquium, University of Illinois-Champaign-Urbana, “Altering the trajectory of finance capitalism? Collaboration, Contestation and Creativity in Islamic Investment Banks,” January 31, 2020.

Illinois State University International Seminar Series, “Altering the trajectory of finance in Islamic investment banks,” March 20, 2019.

7th Annual Sociology of Development Conference, “Contesting finance: Meaning-making and control in Malaysian Islamic investment banks,” University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana, October 20, 2018.

Grants & Contracts

Fellowship. Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study, Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. Other. (2022)
Making finance meaningful. University Research Grant. Illinois State University. (2022)
Contesting Finance. University Research Grant. Illinois State University. (2019)