Understanding the Market: An Ethnographic Exploration of the City of London

Saturday, July 19, 2014: 9:30 AM
Room: 424
Oral Presentation
Alex SIMPSON , University of York, York, United Kingdom
Reflecting on the role markets play in shaping the interests and actions of social life, this paper presents the argument for how institutional ethnography furthers our understanding of the discursive creation and enactment of markets as part of daily life. Drawing on data emerging from an ethnographic study of financial institutions within the City of London, this paper asks how markets are created, maintained and ideologically positioned though the everyday actions of economic actors located within key financial institutions.

Informed by Goffman’s (1961; 1963) work on the body as a site of cultural inscription, it is argued that markets are essentially constructed and managed through the production of dominant cultural sensibilities. This blended approach of cultural economics identifies the market as an enacted phenomenon, bounded socially and spatially within institutions of finance. By focusing on the embedded cultures, enacted through the daily practices within the City’s financial institutions, we can explore how the market operates in terms of its agenda, practices and conflicts with the outside world.

Through exploring the lived experiences of those working within the City of London, light is shed on the unfolding effects of a deregulated economic landscape that exalts the principles of the market which legitimises the production of social harm through its own unique set of experiences and ideologies. As a result, this paper explores the way in which managers and traders, in their daily capacity as market actors, seek to utilise existing technologies, architecture and habits to create a more efficient market – one where individuals are better placed to draw profit from their own financial acumen whilst insulated from the broader, social costs of economic action. Reclaiming the study of the market from economists, institutional ethnography serves to ameliorate our understanding of how embedded cultures of finance actively create and manage markets.