Materiality and the social studies of finance
August 3, 2011
I have just read an interview with Fabian Muniesa in Jose Ossadon’s blog in Spanish, Estudios de la Economia. In the post, Muniesa has an interesting critique of the protagonism that materiality has received in the social studies of finance:
The social studies of finance are not characterized, in my view, by an emphasis on objects. I would define the social studies of finance rather as an eclectic and open space that looks into the financial world as a practical reality, simply (something we are unaccustomed to from mainstream economists). And there’s room for everything: objects, subjects and falling. And I would say the same for economic anthropology: I do not think it is a unified perspective, but rather an academic, more or less established, in which anthropologists may encounter an alert to technical artifacts and material culture, and others that this seems at best secondary. And this applies to classical authors as well. But in both areas there is room to defend a materiality view. Now, the way of theoretical discussion that I find interesting question here is what you call “emphasis on objects.” Just say “hey, what material is important” (and this is heard a lot lately) does not seem very interesting. What is material? What is an object? What are we talking about? About a phenomenology of material things? About an emphasis on technology and its effects? About an understanding of dramaturgical staging? About a materialistic view of capital? About a focus on the work process? About a post-structuralist theory of action? About an interest in bodily affections? About the public good? Such questions are properly philosophical, so I’m afraid the interesting discussion has to go through there. The financial stuff can be a confluence of interests between, for example, anthropological discussions on calculation, the practical philosophy of financial products as a radical form of inscriptions, and why not, critical social theory of financial capitalism.
I found the post interesting because it speaks to a reflection that my coauthor Fabrizio Ferraro and I made in the recent conference of the Critical Management Studies. As the discussion unfolded among the various presenters of the “Performativity” track that we put together (joint with Luigi Moschera), we realized that there is a lack of clarity on the concept of “market device.” Does it have to be material (i.e. can it be a website)? What does it do?