Nov 15, 2011

An ethnographic perspective of Wall-Street

Karen Ho, a faculty member in anthropology at the University of Minnesota, presents a comprehensive portrait of the participants in investment banking on Wall Street during the 1980s and continuing through the 1990s and well past 2000. In exploring how these financial operators thought of themselves, Ho casts a wide net. By Wall Street, she means “investment banks, pension and mutual funds, stock exchanges, hedge funds and private equity funds” (p. 4). Moreover, she shows how Wall Streeters’ imposition of their favorable self-image on businesses around the globe, under the guise of increasing shareholder value, harmed both individual companies and the global economy. Specific actions of investment bankers, rather than “natural” market developments, she persuasively argues, caused the financial crises.
In the first two chapters, she analyzes the biographies of Wall Street workers, documenting their backgrounds and revealing how they understood their positions. The picture of Wall Streeters that emerges is one of smart men and women, who worked hard for long hours. (Most came from Ivy League schools—40 percent of Princeton’s 2005 and 2006 graduating classes entered financial services!) Well compensated, they accepted job insecurity as the norm, accepting job losses and job-hopping as a matter of course, in good times as well as bad. In making her nuanced argument, Ho carefully differentiates among those in the front office who made the deals and were richly rewarded, those in middle-office positions who directly supported deal-making and generally did well financially, and those in the back office who worked mainly on clerical tasks and were viewed as expendable. These chapters, with their detailed look at how investment banking houses operated, are the most valuable part of Ho’s account. Keep reading . . . 
From a book review of An Ethnography of Wall-Street by Karan Ho published in the "Business History Review." 

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