Economy of Dreams: Hope in Global Capitalism and Its Critiques

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Essay Excerpt

In what follows, I extend Crapanzano’s concern with the specificity of hope in a somewhat different direction: My goal is to examine social theorists’ hope in critiques of capitalism in conjunction with its own context, that is, what they consider to be a new phase of capitalism and the hope that animates it. As I have argued elsewhere, in my own terms, hope lies in the reorientation of knowledge.2 In this article, I pursue this approach by investigating the efforts of a certain Japanese securities trader to reorient his knowledge in the context of Japan’s financial globalization and neoliberal reforms. In my conclusion, I juxtapose this trader’s efforts with those of several social theorists who reorient their critical knowledge through explicit attention to hope so that I might explore more fully what these different expressions of hope do and do not share. Ultimately, I explore the possibility that hope has the potential to stand as a new terrain for the play of commonality and difference across academic and nonacademic forms of knowledge.  (Hirokazu, 149)

About the Author

Hirokazu is a Professor at Cornell University. 

His research interests include: anthropology of knowledge, risk, trust, hope, utopia and anti-utopia, materiality, evidence, economic anthropology, social studies of finance, philosophical anthropology, historical anthropology, anthropology of religion, Christianity, gifts and exchange, Fiji, Japan, U.S.

My recent work has been driven by a very simple question: how do we keep hope alive? I am interested in this question because of ongoing efforts to claim and even instrumentalize the category of hope in a wide spectrum of genres of knowledge from psychotherapy to conservative and progressive political thought. I have investigated the question in two radically different field sites, a peri-urban village in Suva, Fiji and a trading room of a major Japanese securities firm in Tokyo.

My first fieldwork project (1994-1996) focused on Suvavou people, descendants of the original landowners of Suva, Fiji's capital. My first book, The Method of Hope: Anthropology, Philosophy, and Fijian Knowledge (Stanford University Press, 2004), is a study of Suvavou people's long-standing hope to regain their ancestral land. In that book, drawing on extensive archival and field research, I examine how Suvavou people have kept hope alive over the last hundred years. My analysis draws attention to the capacity of Suvavou people to create hopeful moments across different facets of their life ranging from petitions to the government to gift-giving rituals, Christian church services and business activities. The book is also a critical assessment of well-known philosophical texts on hope such as the German Marxist thinker Ernst Bloch's book, The Principle of Hope, and represents my effort to carve out a space for a new kind of anthropological engagement with philosophy.

My second fieldwork project (1998-2010) focused on a team of Japanese derivatives traders at a major Japanese securities firm. The focus of this project was on these traders' career changes in the midst of Japan's economic slump. In my second book entitled Arbitraging Japan: Traders as Critics of Capitalism, I examine these traders' hopeful (and sometimes utopian) visions animating their daily trading and life decisions. In particular, I investigate how these traders have sought to extend economic assumptions such as the efficient market hypothesis, trading strategies such as arbitrage and tools of trade such as the Excel spread sheet program to facets of life beyond the market narrowly defined. The aim of this investigation is to explore the extent to which theories and techniques of finance have served these Japanese traders as an intellectual resource for developing critiques of capitalism and expanded visions of humanity. Underlying this project is a view of traders and other financial market experts as thinking subjects engaged in dialogue with various intellectual traditions. For further discussion, see this article from a talk I gave a Yale University.

In both of these projects, my ultimate goal has been to construct an ethnographically informed theory of hope that is also hopeful. In more concrete terms, I wish to join ongoing divergent efforts to reinvigorate anthropological knowledge and social theory by contributing to an understanding of the place of hope in knowledge formation, academic and otherwise.

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