Oral Presentation Session
Reviewed by: Society for Economic Anthropology
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Teachers of Anthropology in Community Colleges, Students
Primary Theme: Inequality
Secondary Theme: Policy
This panel features current ethnographic research on what Sobel long ago dubbed “securities capitalism” (1972). Nowadays, private-equity firms and fund companies exert enormous influence in the global economy; while typically not owning any productive capital, these entities often assume management-like powers over the businesses in which they hold stakes. Setting “securities capitalism” in motion are banks and other institutions, which develop elaborate financial mechanisms for corporate clients in need of capital. These securities are then bought by institutional investors in search of returns for their funds’ shareholders and beneficiaries.
While our papers focus on different aspects of “securities capitalism,” we collectively interrogate two widely felt social outcomes related to it. First, the emergence of complex financial instruments since the 1980s has taken place among surging worldwide concentrations of wealth and levels of socio-economic inequality. In analyzing these trends, we examine the roles played by politicians, economists, financiers, fund administrators, and officials within state apparatuses. Second, even as its gains skew toward the top percentiles of earners, the logic of “securities capitalism” has achieved a broad cultural relevance, via the perception that benefits accrue to all who partake in it. In this vein, we address the tension between this purportedly “democratic” form of investing and the asymmetries that mark people’s access to financial products.
Additionally, this panel reflects on how ethnographic methods can help us understand “securities capitalism” as a multivalent contemporary reality. As such, we discuss our strategies for studying its development and consequences, as well as the activities of its practitioners – who generally seek to operate without scrutiny, whether from anthropologists, sociologists, or other investigators.