Return of the Son of The Provoked Economy

PERFORMABUSINESS, the scientific nutrient from which The Provoked Economy sprang, is announcing the forthcoming birth of an awaited offspring: Elements for a Social Inquiry into Capitalization (working title) is currently under review with a very reputable academic publisher!


Capitalizing on Madrid

Readers attentive to the twitter account of The Provoked Economy know already that the author has been active on the customer service front these past months. Special mention to two events next week in Madrid, to be handled in (rusty) Spanish. It’s Wednesday, 29 April 2015. At 12.00am, a conference on “Capitalizar, capitalizar, capitalizar: por una antropología de las finanzas” (“Capitalizing, capitalizing, capitalizing: for an anthropology of finance”) at the Facultad de Ciencias Políticas y Sociología, Universidad Complutense de Madrid. Then at 7.00pm, a chat at Medialab-Prado on “La economía provocada” (yes, that would be “The Provoked Economy”).

The Word of Critique

Another slip of the pen! This paragraph from The Provoked Economy is explicitly about the grammar of critique:

“If being critical means saying that things are bad (which is one way critique is predominantly understood in the social sciences today), then it looks like there is plenty of choice in our dubious economic world (depending of course on the ‘we’ who talks). If it means considering truth from all possible angles (in the often forgotten philosophical sense of the world), it is also clear that there is still a plethora of things to be studied about the connections and contradictions that govern our thought (also with a caveat on ‘our’). If it means setting κρίσις (krísis) in motion (instituting a distinction, drawing a separation or, more prosaically, just changing things), then we surely need to acknowledge the countless interventions that purposefully aim at marking our economic reality (and our political deictics too).” (p. 130)

Why then taking the “word” for the “world”?

Foregrounding References: Another One

The Provoked Economy is controlled, implicitly and explicitly (as its author Fabian Muniesa is), by the debt owed to Javier Izquierdo (also known as A. Javier Izquierdo Martín in plain national Castilian, or as J. Izquierdo Antonio, an absurd nom de plume he claimed was his official credit card name). His old personal website is still on-line at the UNED (the Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia, in Madrid), with tons of papers on statistical reflexivity, financial forgery, metaphysical pranks, space tourism, cargo cult, football pragmatics and video theology. Here is a clarification from “Javier Izquierdo and the Methodology of Reality”, a short piece in which the humble disciple remembers the teachings of the master, after is death in 2010:

“In 1995, Javier Izquierdo (Colmenar Viejo, 12 June 1970 – Colmenar Viejo, 2 July 2010), then a doctoral student in sociology, initiated a liberal seminar for undergraduate students at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid […]. One of the seminar’s purposes was to have people with whom to discuss the readings he was gathering for his own research. The seminar was titled ‘La gramática de los precios’ (‘The Grammar of Prices’) and consisted of an illuminating exploration of scholarly work that was not, at that time, part of the canons of sociological education. […] The thread running through the seminar concerned the potential foundations for a moral sociology of pricing and forecasting that would take into account the technicality, artificiality and reflexivity of social reality. As the social-scientific observation of social reality in part constitutes what social reality is, so methods of measurement, valuation and accounting were to be treated as the very stuff the sociologist ought to scrutinize.” (p. 109)

It’s impressive how many references used in The Provoked Economy actually come from that foundational seminar. As it all was there already! Without surprise, it must be said, the most prominent topics that gave shape to the promising field of the “social studies of finance” in the early 2000s were already prefigured in the doctoral work that Javier Izquierdo concluded in 1999: the moral ambiguity of financial devices, the dangers of technocratic escalation, the meanders of techno-scientific reflexivity, the pragmatics of financial forgery, the politics of government through money, including the premonition of financial catastrophe. Delitos, faltas y premios Nóbel: ingeniería financiera y el sentido común de la justicia en las sociedades tecnológicas avanzadas (Crimes, Misdemeanours and Nobel Prizes: Financial Engineering and the Common Sense of Justice in Advanced Industrial Societies) is the title of the book manuscript (sadly unpublished) that came out of that work. His lucid obsession with hidden camera pranks (see here and here) translated in a most unusual argument on Las Meninas (literally considered as the “making of” documentary of a hidden camera prank). More obscure is his last manuscript, published posthumously as Marcianos, melanesios, millonarios, mochileros y murcianos: De la perdición económica o el turista espacial (Martians, Melanesians, Millionaires, Backpackers and Guys from Murcia: From Economic Perdition to Spatial Tourism, see also this):

“The book is a unique attempt at developing the potentials of a surrealist viewpoint in sociological work. It tackles the topic of Spain, especially the expression and self-observation of ‘Spanishness’ throughout the so-called Spanish touristic miracle of the 1960s onwards. The persona of the foreign tourist is presented as the candid victim of an anthropological prank (the production and display of the cultural singularity of Spain), but also as the vehicle of a very peculiar economic cargo cult (Spain’s access to economic modernity through the reception of the proverbial foreign tourist).” (p. 111)

Interested in the genealogy of The Provoked Economy? Well, it starts here.


Felicitous Review

Another beautiful review of The Provoked Economy! This time proposed by Hervé Dumez and available from Le Libellio. It’s here, pages 61 to 66 (in French). It contains a most careful reading, and a number of most relevant challenges. From the conclusion:

“In the first page of Fabian Muniesa’s book, we can read the word “felicitous”. The word comes back a few times. But the book does not seem to consider the problem of performative failure. Curiously enough, the image of the bridge is offered: “For reality is indeed constructed, but it is so as the bridge stands firmly over the water, that is, insofar as it undergoes a laborious process of material assemblage” (p. 11). But, precisely: bridges fall down from time to time, even in the context of modern technology” (p. 65)

Point well taken! Thanks, Hervé.

Elementary Review

Barbara Czarniawska, the Arthur Conan Doyle of organizational science, authored a review of The Provoked Economy that is better than the book. A quick excerpt:

“The title of the second part is ‘Elementary case studies’, but they are about as elementary as Sherlock Holmes’ cases. Indeed, Muniesa is Sherlock, and the readers are Watsons, but the explanations are engaging and convincing.”

The review is available from the Scandinavian Journal of Management. Thank you Barbara!


Recap and Critique

Putting here a summary of chapters from The Provoked Economy (see 1a, 1b, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6a, 6b and 7) is, in part, a modest contribution to the publicity of a book that nobody is really meant to actually buy, at least not directly (it costs a fortune, although perhaps an invisible friend might have wanted to do something about that). It is also a way to compensate from the lack of summary thereof in what is offered in the book’s very short “tentative conclusion” (p. 127-130). These four pages go straight to the question of the “critical edge”. It naturally sides with proposals that see in “the performative” (whatever this means) not an impediment against critique (scholarly, political or otherwise) but rather the condition of critique proper. And there are numerous such proposals: see for example recent discussions on critical performativity (a topic that is alive and well, judging from this interesting call), on the limits of performativity, or on the political performative.

Here the point is just to see how the book’s favorite notions (description, simulacrum, provocation, explicitness) do translate into a critical repertoire. They do, of course. And in order to sum up the idea, the conclusion talks about something like “experimental critique”. How this differs from standard views of what critique means (whether understood in the mundane sense of telling that something is bad or good, or in the more philosophical sense of considering signification from all possible angles), is for the reader to judge — and for the author too, certainly elsewhere:

“The point of the idea of experimental critique is to add to this but a nuance: that, in all cases, the performative condition of the critical undertaking should not be taken as some sort of demoralizing deterrence, but rather as part of its deliberate methodology. And the how and the where remains also an open question — definitely not something these pages could settle.” (p. 130)