Business Schools in the Performative Medium

The major assignment on the performativity of business schools that the project once known as The Provoked Economy had left pending is now concluded. In “Twilight in the Leadership Playground: Subrealism and the Training of the Business Self”, an investigation carried out with Javier Lezaun, the elements of infantilism and decisionism present in the ethos of elevation found in experiential methods of leadership training are examined, and linked to the moral and political limits of Surrealism. “Grappling with the Performative Condition” is a short essay in which the moral tensions of the ideology of business performance are further explored. The anthropological nature of such tensions are studies with reference to an ethnography of the case method in “The Live Act of Business and the Culture of Realization”, an article that explicitly targets the performative ideals of reality that are implied in the repertoire of case-based pedagogy in business training. In “Business Schools, the Anxiety of Finance, and the Order of the ‘Middle-Tier”, an ethnographic study carried out with Horacio Ortiz,  financial imagination is signaled a the prime vehicle for the establishment of the order of business schools. And, finally, in “Setting the Habit of Capitalization: The Pedagogy of Earning Power at the Harvard Business School, 1920-1940”, a historical perspective is given on the origins of experiential financial pedagogy in business schools. Together, these studies provide the key (or at least one key) to the disturbing reality of business school reality.

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Crappy Review

Another review of The Provoked Economy just discovered in the journal Oeconomia, by Nicolas Brisset, who seems to want to join the chorus of reviewers (Bruno Ambroise here and Dan Hirschman here) that decided what to expect from the book before reading it (something about the performativity “of economics”, something on Austin, eventually something à la Callon), did not find it there and then complained. Well, for the “of economics” part Brisset does the job rather brilliantly, since he combines the commentary with a review of Enacting Dismal Science, and excellent volume edited by Ivan Boldyrev and Ekaterina Svetlova in which there is indeed a chapter on “The problem with economics: naturalism, critique and performativity” (the actual title is gone from the review). Brisset basically acknowledges the multiplicity of notions of performativity, but wants to preserve a space in which the concept is used in a rigorous way for the study of the relation between the social sciences and social reality (something The Provoked Economy explicitly does not). But then, the most surreal confusion emerges. After having successfully found in Latourian pasteurization the key to the particular blend of pragmaticism that of The Provoked Economy aims at cultivating, Brisset affirms: “Muniesa traces this idea back to Baudrillard’s concept of hyperreality”. How can Muniesa be such an idiot? Let’s see. Perhaps for the same reason why he claims that representational techniques (performance indicators, valuation formulas, consumer tests, stock prices or financial contracts) “refer to what they provoke”. But, oh my, “it makes no sense to say that a specific technique “refers” to something”! And at the same time it is seems so “trivial to say that a technique has effects”! How silly this Muniesa is. He should just cut the crap and and “re-read” Aristotle instead.

 

Stranded Review

Discovered this week (but actually published in 2015) another review of The Provoked Economy: long, thorough and detailed, authored by Bruno Ambroise, a specialist on Austin, speech acts and the pragmatics of language, but alas controlled by the author’s will to find in these pages an instance of his specialty. He rightly complains about the fact that the book does not care about that. “Who cares about Austin” could indeed have been a fair subtitle for a book that, yes, has the P word in it but that certainly does not abide by Austinian rules and certainly does not use the word as a concept (Ambroise does not want to engage with the concepts that are actually proposed in the book, which are certainly located elsewhere). Ambroise suggests that it is wrong to collapse language into technologies, things into signs, but, as it is clear from page one, that is unfortunately not a conceptual error but the exact purpose of the book. Too bad! But it is therefore quite understandable, as Ambroise signals, that the empirical investigations at the core of the book do just that.

Speculative Review

A follow-up on this: José Ossandón took the test on The Provoked Economy further and dared to compare it with Boltanski’s Mysteries and Conspiracies and Latour’s Reassembling the Social in a piece titled “¿Cómo escribir teoría social después de la performatividad y sus obstrucciones?” (“How to write social theory after performativity’s obstructions?”) as part of a special issue of Cuadernos de Teoría Social on the problem of “writing the social”. The key hypothesis there is that The Provoked Economy is, in fact, exercising a lesson learned from Lars von Trier‘s obstructionist methodology (e.g. The Five Obstructions). Totally. Perhaps.