Can you make a complex subject like the world of finance accessible to outsiders? What about sending an anthropologist into the world of bankers in London’s financial district and let him blog his findings?
That’s the new project of the Guardian. They have engaged Dutch anthropologist Joris Luyendijk who has also a background as a journalist (perfect combination) to start an anthropological banking blog.
It’s a project in the spirit of public anthropology and anthropology 2.0 - at least in theory.
The anthropologist explains in his introductory post:
When I started interviewing financial workers this summer, I knew as little as the average Guardian reader. So I plan to start at the beginning. Every interview will be posted on the web, with comment threads open to let other outsiders to ask questions and, who knows, to let insiders to elaborate on the material. Over time I hope to build an intellectual candy shop full of interesting stuff about the world of finance, stuff that will then help you as a reader make better sense of the news.
It is important for outsiders to learn more about this sector, he stresses:
Finance directly affects everyone’s interests, but many have a hard time maintaining their interest in it. But as the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the following three years have shown, the financial world is too important to leave to the bankers – in fact in some countries democracy is beginning to look like the system by which electorates decide which politician gets to implement what the markets dictate.
The people in this very powerful sector are worth learning more about. And the good news is, when you listen to them in their own words, that can actually be pretty entertaining. And humanising.
But how anthropological are portraits of bankers? And does “humanising” mean depoliticising or even legitimizing their actions? Do we get a better understanding of the political economy of finance?
So far he has posted around ten portraits of financial workers, no analysis so far. The project has just started.
What I find striking: The financial workers don’t reflect about the consequences of their work. They seem to be obsessed with pleasing their clients, in making their clients more successful and richer.
You’ll find critical reflections in the comment sections only - like here
..and to generate wealth you have to generate poverty. Success?
It might sound as if anthropological studies of bankers are something extraordinary. No longer. There has been surprisingly much interest among anthropologists for the world of finance. Karen Ho for example has been on fieldwork in the Wall Street: Anthropologist Explores Wall Street Culture. Another anthropologist, Gillian Tett, who works in the Financial Times, explained three years ago that she used anthropology to predict the financial crisis and that it’s important to understand the tribal nature of banking culture.
See also How anthropologists should react to the financial crisis and – Use Anthropology to Build A Human Economy. Check also David Graeber’s comments on the current Occupy Wall Street Protests
This feature is slightly misleading. The individual the Guardian deploys as an anthropologist is actually not trained in the subject, but simply ‘does anthropology’, whatever that means.