Liquidated: An Ethnography of Wall Street

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Duke University Press, Jul 13, 2009 - Social Science - 389 pages
Financial collapses—whether of the junk bond market, the Internet bubble, or the highly leveraged housing market—are often explained as the inevitable result of market cycles: What goes up must come down. In Liquidated, Karen Ho punctures the aura of the abstract, all-powerful market to show how financial markets, and particularly booms and busts, are constructed. Through an in-depth investigation into the everyday experiences and ideologies of Wall Street investment bankers, Ho describes how a financially dominant but highly unstable market system is understood, justified, and produced through the restructuring of corporations and the larger economy.

Ho, who worked at an investment bank herself, argues that bankers’ approaches to financial markets and corporate America are inseparable from the structures and strategies of their workplaces. Her ethnographic analysis of those workplaces is filled with the voices of stressed first-year associates, overworked and alienated analysts, undergraduates eager to be hired, and seasoned managing directors. Recruited from elite universities as “the best and the brightest,” investment bankers are socialized into a world of high risk and high reward. They are paid handsomely, with the understanding that they may be let go at any time. Their workplace culture and networks of privilege create the perception that job insecurity builds character, and employee liquidity results in smart, efficient business. Based on this culture of liquidity and compensation practices tied to profligate deal-making, Wall Street investment bankers reshape corporate America in their own image. Their mission is the creation of shareholder value, but Ho demonstrates that their practices and assumptions often produce crises instead. By connecting the values and actions of investment bankers to the construction of markets and the restructuring of U.S. corporations, Liquidated reveals the particular culture of Wall Street often obscured by triumphalist readings of capitalist globalization.


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User Review  - dmarsh451 - LibraryThing

Best best best! explication of subprime crisis and Wall Street culture. The ethnographic approach works. The history in this book was fascinating. It describes, in part, the metamorphosis of the ... Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - rivkat - LibraryThing

This is a great book; my review won’t do it justice. Ho, an anthropologist, worked as an analyst on Wall Street and starts by exploring in depth the ideology of “merit” that firms use, which turns out ... Read full review


Anthropology Goes to Wall Street
The Culture of Smartness and the Recruitment and Construction of Investment Bankers
Exploitation Empowerment and the Politics of Hard Work
3 Wall Street Historiographies and the Shareholder Value Revolution
4 The Neoclassical Roots and Origin Narratives of Shareholder Value
Job Insecurity and Investment Banking Corporate Culture
6 Liquid Lives Compensation Schemes and the Making of Unsustainable Financial Markets
7 Leveraging Dominance and Crises through the Global

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About the author (2009)

Karen Ho is Associate Professor of Anthropology, University of Minnesota.

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