Frontiers of Capital

Ethnographic Reflections on the New Economy

Frontiers of Capital

Book Pages: 392 Illustrations: 2 tables Published: October 2006

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Globalization and Neoliberalism, Sociology

With the NASDAQ having lost 70 percent of its value, the giddy, optimistic belief in perpetual growth that accompanied the economic boom of the 1990s had fizzled by 2002. Yet the advances in information and communication technology, management and production techniques, and global integration that spurred the “New Economy” of the 1990s had triggered profound and lasting changes. Frontiers of Capital brings together ethnographies exploring how cultural practices and social relations have been altered by the radical economic and technological innovations of the New Economy. The contributors, most of whom are anthropologists, investigate changes in the practices and interactions of futures traders, Chinese entrepreneurs, residents of French housing projects, women working on Wall Street, cable television programmers, and others.

Some contributors highlight how expedited flows of information allow business professionals to develop new knowledge practices. They analyze dynamics ranging from the decision-making processes of the Federal Reserve Board to the legal maneuvering necessary to buttress a nascent Japanese market in over-the-counter derivatives. Others focus on the social consequences of globalization and new modes of communication, evaluating the introduction of new information technologies into African communities and the collaborative practices of open-source computer programmers. Together the essays suggest that social relations, rather than becoming less relevant in the high-tech age, have become more important than ever. This finding dovetails with the thinking of many corporations, which increasingly employ anthropologists to study and explain the “local” cultural practices of their own workers and consumers. Frontiers of Capital signals the wide-ranging role of anthropology in explaining the social and cultural contours of the New Economy.

Contributors. Jean Comaroff, John L. Comaroff, Greg Downey, Melissa S. Fisher, Douglas R. Holmes, George E. Marcus, Siobhán O’Mahony, Aihwa Ong, Annelise Riles, Saskia Sassen, Paul A. Silverstein, AbdouMaliq Simone, Neil Smith, Caitlin Zaloom


“[A]n interesting and provocative set of chapters. . . . [T]he strength of the collection lies in the ways in which the authors weave clear ethnographic discussions with rich theoretical concerns. Combined ethnography and theory allow us to more clearly understand the give and take that exists between the creators and users of new technologies.” — Jeffrey H. Cohen, American Anthropologist

“Reading this valuable collection of essays . . . made clear to this reader that good old participant observation has lost none of its force. True, new challenges are there, concerning field access, the apparent lack of face-to-face settings, and a reversed asymmetry of power between the ethnographer
and the observed subjects, to name but a few. Yet, if we are to cognitively mine out the depths of the technologies which are taken as definitional for the new forms of capital, then, as many essays in this volume show, we cannot easily discard the miner’s old tools.” — Alex Preda, Canadian Journal of Sociology

“This volume is a convincing display of the continuing power of ethnography to explore the embeddedness of contemporary economic relations in the social world. These essays are impressive for their eagerness to make sense of some of the latest changes in a fast-moving economy.” — Mitchel Y. Abolafia, American Journal of Sociology

Frontiers of Capital is a synthetic state-of-the-art account of anthropology’s contribution to thinking about the current economic moment. The essays are—without exception—brilliant ethnographic excursions into the terrain of what the editors call the ‘New Economy.’ Together they enable an understanding of the post–Cold War, neoliberal, information-saturated, finance-capital-dominated world we inhabit.” — Charles Piot, author of Remotely Global: Village Modernity in West Africa

“Capital will go anywhere if there is a profit to be turned or value to be found. That is its nature. This important collection provides a further chapter in this natural history, but one which has a much greater range, not least because it deploys a range of ethnographic techniques which allow it to cover the full spectrum of the ways and wheres in which the global economy works. An important and inspirational book which is willing to tread the delicate dividing line between within and without the system.” — Nigel Thrift, author of Knowing Capitalism


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Melissa S. Fisher is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Georgetown University. Greg Downey is Lecturer in Anthropology at Macquarie University.

Greg Downey is Lecturer in Anthropology at Macquarie University.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments vii

Introduction: The Anthropology of Capital and the Frontiers of Ethnography / Greg Downey and Melissa S. Fisher 1

I. Circuits of Knowledge

Fast Capitalism: Para-Ethnography and the Rise of the Symbolic Analyst / Douglas R. Holmes and George E. Marcus 33

Trading on Numbers / Caitlin Zaloom 58

Real Time: Unwinding Technocratic and Anthropological Knowledge / Annelise Riles 86

The Information Economy in No-Holds-Barred Fighting / Greg Downey 108

Intersecting Geographies? ICTS and Other Virtualities in Urban Africa / AbdouMaliq Simone 133

II. New Subjects, Novel Socialities

Corporate Players, New Cosmopolitans, and Guanxi in Shanghai / Aihwa Ong 163

Gentrification Generalized: From Local Anomaly to Urban “Regeneration” as Global Urban Strategy / Neil Smith 191

Navigating Wall Street Women’s Gendered Networks in the New Economy / Melissa S. Fisher 209

Developing Community Software in a Commodity World / Siobhán O’Mahony 237

Reflections on Youth, from the Past to the Postcolony / Jean Comaroff and John Comaroff 267

Guerilla Capitalism and Ghettocentric Cosmopolitanism on the French Urban Periphery / Paul A. Silverstein 282

Afterword: Knowledge Practices and Subject Making at the Edge / Saskia Sassen 305

Bibliography 317

Contributors 357

Index 361
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3739-3 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3727-0
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