Saturday, March 28, 2015

Application of "Weak Theories"

I was intrigued by the idea of teaching & applying "weak theories" to the notion of alternative economies. I think that being critical in academia is important, because it is always empowering to challenge hegemonic ideologies in order to get a sense of the root of social issues. However, it is easy to get paranoid about a daunting task to overcome a system that has remained in place for centuries and is perpetuated in everyday life. I find it rather sensical to attack these social issues in a new fashion, in the sense that practicing the new ideals is key to creating space for change. 

That's what is meant by performative practices...creating the spaces and communities in which we wish to live by actually acting in the manner that we find peaceful and beneficial. This conclusion seems almost too simple to work, but then again it is this idea of "weak theory" apply an idealistic aspect in spite of the critique. Without trying to form these ideals in our reality, there becomes no chance to even study the practices in actuality, so we can't even tell how application would produce effects if there is no attempt at change. I think using alternatives rather than simply discussing them & critiquing them is empowering in that society may actually face some sort of revolution under the new attitudes & mannerisms adopted through new ideas in practice.

In addition to this, it is important to step away from the reification of capitalism in society and claiming that capitalism is the basis for which everyone operates. Dismantling capitalist notions is another ground on which to build alternative economies into the social fabric. 

"Our interest in building new worlds involves making credible those diverse practices that satisfy needs, regulate consumption, generate surplus, and maintain and expand the commons, so that community economies in which interdependence between people and environments is ethically negotiated can be recognized now and constructed in the future" (Gibson-Graham).

Alternative Economies

I am very interested in the idea of alternative economies. As a food systems scholar and social ecologist, it has become one of my central research interests. It may have started in the late 1990s, when I was introduced to a gathering that’s been happening every summer for over 40 years in the United States, drawing upwards of 50,000 people. Folks live together (anywhere from one week to a couple of months) creating a small world that includes fresh organic food, music, theatre, art, dance, family/kid events, education/libraries, health-care, religious/spiritual/healing centers, water systems, kitchens, and sanitation infrastructure (including composting and recycling). Unlike large concert venues or alternative events like Burning Man--which cost hundreds of dollars to attend--this event is 100% non-commercial. It is the largest free event of its kind, and it’s also so decentralized as to have no leaders.  This is a type of alternative economy--a solidarity economy (although by no means the only kind of solidarity economy).

Among our readings for this week is Betting on Chance in Columbia, by Ana Marīa Echeverry Villa and Coppelia Herrán Cuartas, which presents an interesting case study describing how through market services, people are creating an alternative to the traditional banking system in Medellin. The study ground-truthed how people are earning money and how they are saving, borrowing, and managing it outside the traditional banking system and within a highly volatile cash economy. This is still a system of capital, a market-based shuffling of social/institutional relationships, however it does present an alternative system that in many ways is emerging from the bottom-up (although this is a point I’ll look forward to talking more about in class!)

Both of these examples provide us with the knowledge that other systems can and do exist. As a country, the United States is quite mired in one-way of thinking about the economy. This can be credited, in large part, to the immensity of power and influence that Wall Street culture (which we dissected last week) has on us all. 

So to that end, understanding that our current global economic system is one that demands material growth that is unsustainable, and is at its roots, unequal, environmentally degrading, exploitive, and non-democratic, it becomes critical for us to examine the alternatives that are emerging from the people and to understand, in the end, we do have the power to make change.

Here's a link to another good resource:

Monday, March 23, 2015

liquidated karen ho chapter1&2

The first two chapter talking about recruitment, investment, banking in the wall street. I'm not accounting, finance, or marketing major, so I'm not pay attention on the job on wall street. One of my friend MBA student working on her master degree in New York, she dreams job is to find an intern on wall street. It is late  if you try to find intern after you graduated, they need working on it in the first summer when they came here, she told me. It's looks like if you working in the wall street's bank, not matter you are operations, account services, trade reconciliation, or technical support, word processing; other people will believe you get a great job. They don't know how hard work you need to do to contain the job. they don't know how difficult to deal with the relationship with your manager. You need to be smartness, need to solve any problem which come for you.
Karen Ho's Liquidated

     "Smartness." What a crock. The word is a wonderfully designed catchphrase that seems to be successfully enticing young and naive minds into unknowingly putting on a dog and pony show for these monstrous investment banks. What is so genius about the catchphrase is it's ability to mask the fact that the recruiters aren't really after an individuals knowledge at all. These companies are solely invested in maintaining their "good ol' boys club." This club just happens to be in control of America's national economy, as well as playing a colossal role in the global economy.
     It was amazing to read about the recruitment processes that take place at these select universities. If I were just ever soooo lucky to be a student at one of these ivy league universities, I think I might have transferred solely because of the amount of harassment that seems to be taking place on the campuses. What is funny to me is that the student body seems to be fully aware of the brainwashing-like tactics, and yet these tactics of the big investment firms continue to work. The extravagant dinners, the lavish trips, and the promise of being able to continue competing at a top level in the real world after college must surely be hard to resist, but if the student body knows this is all a ploy why do the continue to drink the kool-aide. Even if you go to one of these brand name universities and attempt a career on Wall Street, you would have to recognize how miserable the conditions are going to be, and the odds of actually getting a hired position are astronomically stacked against you.
    From the Wall Street perspective I can empathize with wanting to be selective of who joins the firm. However, making selections for hire based on ethnicity and sex is a) illegal b) immoral and c) severely cuts down on the company's ability to find the perfect candidate for the job. There is obviously still much work to be done in America when it comes to tearing down these barriers.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Liquidated Chapter 1 and 2

What was most striking to me in the first two chapters of Liquidated was the emphasis on "smartness" and hard work. The author's narrative and accounts on the working conditions and expectations of Wall Street, as well as, the aggressive recruiting process by these firms, makes it hard not to feel like Wall Street is not exploiting its lower level workers. What was interesting about the idea of smartness is that, while it was claimed by the recruiters to be the number one reason for hiring, in practice being able to do long hours of grunt work for low pay was more important. To me, it seemed as if the firms were using the prestige of their companies, combined with the prestige of the universities they were recruiting from to manipulate the attitudes of prestigious students to believe that a job on Wall Street was the best outcome they could make for themselves. All of this has a lot to do with cultural perceptions of upward mobility, gaining prestige and wealth, and capitalistic attitudes.

The system seems to be based around creating and maintaining a public perception of elitism and prestige. It certainly makes one wonder what the motivations for the recruitment process entail. On the one hand, recruitment from Ivy League Schools, particularly Princeton and Harvard, ensures that new employees will undoubtedly be quality but not qualified. In fact having previous knowledge or skill in finances is largely unimportant to the firms discussed by Ho. This makes one wonder if the companies are really just recruiting for the "name-brand students" in order to legitimize their companies and banking upon the prestige of their organizations to booster students interest in them.


After reading the Chapters 1&3, they talked a lot about the stock market and more so of that of the stock holders relationship to the firm.  Williams says that "america became more concerned with their prices and earnings which led to the market becoming more efficient".  More jobs would be created if the stocks went up and he states that this is a necessary evil.  I believe this because more money equates to more supply, given the demand goes up, this would bring in more capital and the firm would be able to expand.  But, i would debate that this is what actually happens on a consistent basis.

Economic Anthropology, Ch. 8: One-world Capitalism

 In Hann and Hart’s eighth chapter, capitalism is discussed in detail.  The chapter discusses the development of capitalism, some of its elements, and flows into discussing the recession in 2008 in the US’s and other markets.  Hann and Hart discuss the ideas of many academics, but much focus is given to Marx, Mauss, Weber, Locke, and Ho.  Marx, it is argued, “for him, modern capitalism was that form of making money in with money in which free capital was exchanged with free wage labor” (p.145).  Weber, takes Marx a step further and makes the argument that capitalism is more than an economic movement, but rather it was “a massive cultural revolution … [that] must have been necessary to persuade people to place their economic lives in the hands of capitalists whose principle orientation was to uncertain future profits” (p. 146).  I find this very interesting and I think it relates a lot to my medieval history class in which we studied the values within Protestantism, and how they affected other facets of culture.  We weren’t able to focus on it much in the class, but it seems like Hart and Hann discuss this point also, but don’t have time to expand.

I enjoyed the chapter’s focus on the recession of 2008.  It started when I would have been in middle school and though I heard of these events happening (banks failing, General Motors bailout, etc.) my middle school mind was not too interested in understanding these events.  I found the sort of buildup of corporations beginning to gain the rights of people interesting.  I didn’t actually know the specific legal grounds corporations made these claims on until reading this chapter.  Additionally, I enjoyed the distinction the authors made in differentiating the capitalism that exists in different cultures.  Instead of all being uniform, there are variations, even if they follow similar guidelines.

This chapter really ties economic anthropology in with other academic disciplines, which I really appreciated and found interesting.  The authors’ use of multiple examples and time periods in which to show the affects, components, and history of capitalism gave a very clear picture of the practice.  The section on consumption was an element ties well to my paper, and though my project is very specific, I think a lot of the principles Hann and Hart discuss open a good background for me to discuss consumption as it relates to Disney.

Performing Infallibility

I find it so validating to find synergies between readings that are assigned for two different classes.  Karen Ho’s, Liquidated: An Ethnography of Wall Street, is one of our readings for this class that supports important ideas I am discussing in another class. 

My other class is focused on performance ethnography, so lately I’ve been thinking about the performative nature of spaces. What Ho does so well in the introduction and in Chapters 1 and 2 is to unpack Wall Street (she defines it as being the “concentration of financial institutions”), so that we can understand the performance at the center of “believing.” Ho lets us see how the mythos of market capitalism is not only perpetuated by Wall Street, but how Wall Street shapes a larger social reality.

On page 36, Ho introduces Michel Callon and his argument that status quo financial economics are more than abstract models and theories--they are “real” in the sense that economic practice “socially constructs the kinds of conditions and frames which allow economic thought to be actualized.” Homo economicus in action.

The Wall Street narrative is so embedded within our culture that few are able, interested, or dare to see our economic system and practices as being as naked as the Emperor with his “new clothes” on. As an ethnographer, Ho looks at the “infallibility and necessity” story performed by Wall Street. She connects the aggressive recruiting of Harvard and Princeton’s top students as the basis for building a “culture of smartness” (p 40) which she asserts is at the center of understanding how Wall Street creates itself as an unquestionable authority. This is one example of how Wall Street performs trust and respect in a way that influences society. The qualities attributed to the “best and brightest”--beginning with the notion that these qualities are effectively tied to universities that are elitist to begin with--construct a reality that serves to privilege networks (and as such, the interests of) white, economically advantaged men.

Wall Street & Capitalism

     In Karen Ho's first two chapters she talks about "smartness" on Wall Street and the phenomenon of Wall Street hunting down the "best and brightest" from the top ivy league schools. That is an interesting concept, because there had been research that reveals that stock trading and investment brokering doesn't really have any aspect of skill involved in it. Those who say that their rates of success are better than anyone are mostly working with biases that make it seem like they make better investments.
     Those findings paint an interesting picture of Wall Street, making it seem like a profound waste of brain power, in my opinion. I think that this massive convergence of undeniably smart people on Wall Street is a product of the capitalist urge for self-advancement. The need for those who come to Wall Street from a top tier school to "live the lifestyle" just shows how there are so many things that influence success on Wall Street other than smarts. The clothing and strut of Wall Street executives are just accessories, the same as their degrees from prestigious institutions are accessories that are meant to lead them to the capitalistic ideal, a posh Wall Street job.
     The cutthroat nature of the Wall Street positions is another representation of how capitalism has created this flawed ideal of ultimate career success. People are being told to work harder and longer, when it is actually revealed that the work they do is of little consequence. They are meant to give the perception of very hard work, mostly so they can get their big payout. Then these people are so expendable when the economy takes a downturn, further cementing the idea that Wall Street is an extreme waste of brain power.

Liquidated Ch. 1&2

After reading chapters 1 and 2 of Liquidated by Karen Ho, a major theme which stood out to me was that elitism and hierarchy are essential to how investment banks operate and treat their employees. In chapter one, Ho explains how only the most qualified undergraduates are recruited from only the most prestigious universities. This process of recruitment by investment banks makes shows how much they restrict their selection of new employees. Ho provides interesting insight as to how Wall Street is a culture in itself, and the qualifications for belonging to it are very strict.

In chapter two, Ho discusses another necessary quality for success on Wall Street is the ability to be an extremely hard worker. Employees must be willing to dedicate the majority of their time to their job, but hard work does not necessarily create equal opportunity for all. Issues with racism and sexism seem to still be very prevalent in the world of investment banking, and they definitely play a role in the social hierarchy of employees. This concept of hierarchy appears to be very important in this elite world of Wall Street. From the recruitment process to the demanding work schedule, stress and social pressure appear to dominate all aspects of Wall Street’s culture.


Karen Ho. Liquidated: An Ethnography of Wall Street. Edition: 2009. Publisher: Duke University Press. 2009.