Arjun Appadurai, "Banking on Words: The Failure of Language in the Age of Derivative Finance"

By rhyzom | rhyzom | 5 Apr 2020


Recently picked up this book of Appadurai's and have nearly finished it. Appadurai (who is an anthropologist recognized as a major theorist in globalization studies) is one of the few people out there whose work is focused on investigating the financial derivative (the epitome of today's financial capitalism, a regime which began some time in the 1970's with the Black-Scholes model for pricing options) in its numerous implications and multiplicity of consequences. (Others whose work is similarly dedicated to this subject matter are Elie Ayache, Benjamin Lee and a few others.)

There's quite a few quote-worthy parts in there, but this one I found particularly insightful (regarding the nature of the stock market):

Or consider stocks and the stock market. We have largely forgotten what a strange and abstract form of collective valuation is congealed and mystified in our current stock market. Stocks in companies are a peculiar form of wealth, whose value is measured by such unreliable indicators as price-to-earnings ratios. In reality stock prices are largely self-fulfilling phenomena of the stock market itself. The stock market is not a market for items that actually have their value in some other sphere but is in fact the source of the value of stocks, itself constantly volatile due to the actions of stock buyers, sellers, traders, brokers, and others, based on criteria that are themselves intrinsically opaque.


From a Durkheimian perspective, the stock market could be seen as a vast array of totemic groupings, arranged in different sets, classifications, and series such as growth stocks, tech stocks, emerging market stocks, and the like, each of which is allied to different beliefs and cults associated with their strengths and weaknesses. This argument about stocks can also be extended to other instruments such as bonds, though the relative limited access of ordinary investors to the sale and of purchase of bonds makes them of more specialized interest.

Here's also one really good talk/lecture of Appadurai, "Humans, Materiality and the Future of Shared Agency":

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Verum ipsum factum. Chaotic neutral.


Ad hoc heuristics for approaching complex systems and the "unknown unknowns". Techne & episteme. Verum ipsum factum. In the words of Archimedes: "Give me a lever and a place to rest it... or I shall kill a hostage every hour." Rants, share-worthy pieces and occasional insights and revelations.

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