Anthropology and Finance

11 09 2009

The ASA blog’s attempt to discuss the financial crisis seeks to bring together anthropologists, sociologists, who work on the cultural political economy, anthropology of money, class, labour, industry, economic anthropology, informal economy, wall street as an ethnographic site, micro finance, the nature of capitalism and the modern state so as to comment and examine the current situation. Seemingly an ‘unanthropological’ topic this blog (from mid September 09 to mid December 09).  This discussion would also highlight how ethnographic techniques can be applied to explore such dynamic issues in the modern world.

Gillian Tett, an anthropologist who is the Assistant Editor of Financial Times predicted the credit crisis two years ago when she was largely ignored by the banking world. She felt that her training in social anthropology alerted her to the danger and the need to listen to ‘social noise’ as well as ‘social silences’. To quote Tett from an interview in The Guardian in October 2008: 

“I happen to think anthropology is a brilliant background for looking at finance,” she reasons. “Firstly, you’re trained to look at how societies or cultures operate holistically, so you look at how all the bits move together. And most people in the City don’t do that. They are so specialised, so busy, that they just look at their own little silos. And one of the reasons we got into the mess we are in is because they were all so busy looking at their own little bit that they totally failed to understand how it interacted with the rest of society. But the other thing is, if you come from an anthropology background, you also try and put finance in a cultural context. Bankers like to imagine that money and the profit motive is as universal as gravity. They think it’s basically a given and they think it’s completely apersonal. And it’s not. What they do in finance is all about culture and interaction.”

These and other related issues will be discussed by the following group of bloggers from mid September 09 till mid December 2009:

  • Mid September – end September: Prof. Alexander F. Robertson, Anthropology, Edinburgh University
  • Early October – Mid October: Dr. Gillian Tett, Anthropologist and Assistant Editor, Financial Times
  • Mid October – End October: Prof. Stephen Gudeman, Anthropology, University of Minnesota & Dr. Massimiliano Mollona, Anthropology, Goldsmiths College, London University
  • End October – Mid November: Prof Karen Z. Ho, Anthropology, University of Minnesota
  • Mid November – End November: Prof. Keith Hart, Anthropology, Goldsmiths College, London University
  • Early – mid December: Prof. Bob Jessop, Sociology, Lancaster University



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