Business Cultures

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Editor's Introduction

By Esra Ozkan

In response to the increasing encounters between global commodities and local markets, the recent economic crisis that has affected millions globally, the collapse of major financial institutions, and the escalating volatility of the corporate landscape, this Virtual Issue brings together five essays published by Cultural Anthropology which critically examine the theme of “business cultures.” The essays in this issue illustrate the multiplicity, contingency, and complexity of business cultures through their ethnographic approach to specific practices and locales. The authors featured in this issue explain, interpret, and critique business cultures across the globe and thus challenge the overarching notion of omnipotent and hegemonic capitalism. They illustrate how economic and financial practices heavily rely upon social negotiations, power relations, ethical and religious traditions, and cultural meanings and imaginaries.

Karen Ho’s essay, "Situating Global Capitalisms," analyzes the ways in which Wall Street investment banks proclaim and define themselves as global and juxtaposes these triumphalist self-representations with academic critics of global capitalism. By focusing on the everyday practices and worldviews of Wall Street investment bankers as primary actors in the globalization of U.S. capitalism, Ho illustrates that the global strategies of Wall Street do not constitute an all-powerful hegemony. Within a political economy that requires constant change and flexibility, they are context specific, and continually unstable. Situating global capitalisms within specific practices and locales allows us to see that even the most seemingly global and powerful actors within business world generate “contradictions, complexities, and implosions.”

In "Economy of Words," published in the August 2009 issue of Cultural Anthropology, Douglas Holmes focuses on central banks -another powerful actor that shapes global economy- and examines the linguistic and communicative processes they employ to model and influence the economy. Neither a matter of merely informing the market and the public about central bank policies and practices, nor a conventional public relations function of a government bureau, these communications have become the instruments of policy themselves. Holmes argues that these communicative practices have influenced the course and magnitude of economic activity through shaping sensibilities about the future as well as sensibilities in the future. At a time when economy has gone “wild,” these communicative practices have taken a more central role and have become more susceptible to continuous modification and elaboration.

In a 2003 essay, "'Very Bombay': Contending with the Global in an Indian Advertising Agency," Mazzarella explores cultural politics of mass consumerism in a global marketplace and shifts the attention to a site where global brands meet local markets. By telling the story of a major consumer electronics company and its attempts to establish itself in the Indian mobile cell phone market, Mazzarella shows how the creation of a commodity image that is simultaneously Indian and cosmopolitan has presented a central tension. Mediating the complex relationship between local advertising agencies and multinational clients, this tension was also reflective of a larger tension between globalizing markets and Indian cultural specificity.

Bill Maurer also looks at the tension between globalizing discourses and local contingencies by examining practices of due diligence. In the November, 2005 issue of Cultural Anthropology, he draws upon the controversy sparked by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development's (OECD) blacklisting of numerous countries for serving as illegal offshore tax havens. Maurer illustrates that even ostensibly economic practices in fact rely extensively upon judgment and ethics: even though the Caribbean countries were required to adopt bureaucratic procedure in order to be removed from the blacklist, due diligence has operated in an open-ended fashion and has warranted nonquantifiable forms of judgment such as personal regard and ethical scrutiny.

If Maurer highlights the role of ethical modes of inquiry within contemporary capitalisms, Rudnyckyj analyzes the convergence of religion and capitalism to address the challenges of globalization. Focusing on a moderate Islamic spiritual reform movement active in Indonesia’s public and private enterprises and government institutions, Rudnyckyj illustrates how managers, state technocrats, and religious reformers have inculcated an ethic of individual self-policing based in Islamic practice. In enacting a set of neoliberal practices they have also created a new type of subject, “a worshipping worker, for whom labor was a matter of religious duty.” "Spiritual Economies" illustrates that these practices have also served as managerial tools to enhance company productivity, eliminate corruption, prepare employees for privatization of state-owned enterprises and increase Indonesia’s transnational competitiveness.

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ABC News, "Financial Crisis."

Essays and Supplemental Materials

"Economy of Words" by Douglas Holmes in Cultural Anthropology, Aug. 2009, Vol. 24, No. 3: 381-419

"Spiritual Economies: Islam and Neoliberalism in Contemporary Indonesia" by Daromir Rudnyckyj in Cultural Anthropology, Feb. 2009, Vol. 24, No. 1: 104-141

"Due Diligence and "Reasonable Man," Offshore" by Bill Maurer in Cultural Anthropology, Nov. 2005, Vol. 20, No. 4: 474-505

"Situating Global Capitalisms: A View from Wall Street Investment Banks" by Karen Ho in Cultural Anthropology, Nov. 2005, Vol. 20, No. 1: 68-96

"'Very Bombay': Contending with the Global in an Indian Advertising Agency" by William Mazzarella in Cultural Anthropology, Feb 2003, Vol. 18, No. 1: 33-71

Image Credits

100 Best global brands of 2009 at http://images.businessweek.com/ss/09/09/0917_global_brands/image/000_intro.jpg

Financial Crisis at http://a.abcnews.com/images/International/abc_financial_crisis_081009_mn.jpg