Managing Uncertainty: An Anthropology of Financialization in post-Mao China

This research project develops a new field of anthropology: the anthropology of financialization, focusing on China and two main institutions of financialization, management consultancies and fund managers.

The recent boom in the anthropology and sociology of finance has provided alternative explanations of economic processes, highly sought after in light of the recent financial crisis. An array of approaches have been pursued which have demonstrated that “the economy” is also a cultural entity. However, the literature has focused almost exclusively on financial entities, i.e., banks, credit rating agencies, and hedge funds, and concomitantly the work of central bankers, investment bankers, traders, and securities analysts. Financialization, that is, the spread of financial principles to non-financial entities, has remained under-researched. Drawing on extensive ethnographic data collected inside the China arm of a global management consultancy, fieldwork of fund management conferences, and interviews with fund managers who invest in China, this project sets about developing a systemic analysis of financialization as it is actually practiced, and propagated, by key intermediaries. Intersecting with the nascent field of emotional finance as well as science studies, such as anthropology, the project addresses the pressing economic issues of the construction of economic agents, decision-making, and information processing under radical uncertainty through an alternative toolkit of narratives, heuristics, financial and corporate practices, and market devices.