Money never sleeps

Scott McLemee reads the anthropologist Karen Ho’s ethnography of bankers, traders and analysts, the tribe of elites who shape our world in the image of ‘Wall Street’s bulimic culture of expediency'.

From The National:

ScreenHunter_07 Aug. 29 17.04 Long before talk about globalisation became inescapable, we used to hear prophesies of an emerging “global village.” This, as Marshall McLuhan assured everyone four decades ago, would be brought into being by the mass media, with their power to convey images and sound over long distances. The dominant culture of the previous five centuries had been organised, down to its very cells, by print. People got their information and their sense of the world through reading, silently and separately. Now this order of things had begun to dissolve. Audiovisual immediacy would turn the world into one big open-air marketplace. The existential terror of isolated individuals would soon be replaced by a new pattern of experience, post-literate and neo-tribal… something closer in spirit, perhaps, to lively cosmopolitan folk dancing.

To be sure, the bourgeois western individual is not exactly feeling on top of the world these days, especially when contemplating his or her retirement package; and the world does seem smaller. But its unification has not been quite so utopian as once predicted, and its pace has been set by a medium of communication that McLuhan largely ignored: namely, money.

The public square looks a lot less like Woodstock than it does a scene of generalised fear and trembling, with Detroit capitalists and Chinese peasants sharing in the dread. The pace and direction of economic change is attributed to the market. But the financial world has its own distinctive and powerful social norms, now described and analysed in Karen Ho’s Liquidated: An Ethnography of Wall Street.

More here.