An anthropological study of bankers

By | September 15, 2011

Joris Luyendijk, Dutch anthropologist and journalist, is currently blogging an anthropological study of bankers he’s doing in the City of London for Guardian. From the introduction to the blog:

It is quite a change for me, exploring bankers. I used to do anthropological fieldwork among students in the slums of Cairo, then worked as a Middle East correspondent going back and forth between Hamas leaders and Jewish settlers. The latter were people who knew they might die at any moment for their convictions, and had made their peace with that. Meanwhile those students lived off less than a dollar a day.

Compare this to the bankers and I have moved from freestyle boxing to billiards. Then again, readers’ responses may not be that different.

When I wrote about Israel and the Palestinians some readers would judge an article exclusively by whether it was likely to make one camp look good or the other. In particular, pieces that humanised their objects of hate elicited very aggressive letters to the editor – or worse. I expect the same thing with bankers.

The Middle East is a pretty intense place but unless you have family living or serving there, for most readers it is also a pretty far away place. Finance is not. If somebody told you your savings aren’t safe, she’d have your full and immediate attention, wouldn’t she? But if she then said the words “bank reform” many would have to suppress a yawn.

This is paradoxical. Finance directly affects everyone’s interests, but many have a hard time maintaining their interest in it. But as the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the following three years have shown, the financial world is too important to leave to the bankers – in fact in some countries democracy is beginning to look like the system by which electorates decide which politician gets to implement what the markets dictate. The people in this very powerful sector are worth learning more about. And the good news is, when you listen to them in their own words, that can actually be pretty entertaining. And humanising.

The first batch of posts is a series of profiles of different actors who work in the City. You can read the whole thing here.

The closest thing to this on Wall Street is Karen Ho’s book Liquidated, which I wrote about here.

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