Chapter 11: Finance
Bill Maurer Anthropological interest in finance has been growing since the 1980s, when speculative stock markets and the financialisation of the world economy occupied headlines and imaginations. Finance also took on new urgency because of the debt crises, currency devaluations and financial collapses that beset many traditional sites of anthropological fieldwork. While anthropologists were accustomed to documenting the effects of the global financial architecture, from institutions like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank to multinational corporations and extractive industries, finance itself – its mechanics, the entities that make it up, even its very definition – remained somewhat obscure. Few anthropologists had the training or inclination to get into the nuts and bolts of finance, and fewer still had any clear understanding of the field apart from their own personal experience with credit cards, mortgages and retirement accounts. When Arjun Appadurai issued the call to study ‘financescapes’, those ‘complex fiscal and investment flows’ of the ‘global grid of currency speculation and capital transfer’ (1990: 8) that have seemingly transformed older demarcations of region and place, few heeded it. That is beginning to change. The work surveyed in this chapter represents what may constitute a nascent subfield, the anthropology of finance. Drawing inspiration from work in other fields with a longer history of research on the topic, anthropologists are bringing the hallmark method of participantobservation and the theoretical tools of the discipline to bear on such diverse financial phenomena as stock markets, derivative contracts, mortgages and other debt instruments, the mathematical and...
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