Monday, May 21, 2012

Funny Money Roundup 4: On Wall Street, the Great Recession, and the Occupy Movements, Part 2

Since my last link roundup on the Occupy movements (read Part 1 here), friends of IMTFI and readers of the IMTFI blog have brought many more to my attention. In this version of the Funny Money Roundup, I’ll revisit Occupy before offering some links from our archive on the Great Recession, Wall Street, and finance. As always, this collection is anything but comprehensive or complete; if you’ve come across a link you think we, or our readers, might find interesting, send it to Taylor Nelms at

Occupy, Again.

--> As the snows melted and memories of winter faded, journalists and other interested parties began to question the successes of the autumn occupations, the potential for their re-emergence in the spring, and strategic shifts by Occupy organizers more than six months into the movement. An NPR report from early March suggests that, even if media coverage tends to focus on high-profile events with large numbers of participants, there is much happening locally, indoors, or behind-the-scenes either directly or tangentially related to the Occupy movements that captured international attention in fall 2011. A sympathetic account from ThinkProgress highlights the accomplishments of Occupy over its first six months. An Associated Press article offers a similar report. (Questions about impact are not uncommon, although it is clear that, to a certain degree, the admittedly disparate movements have at least influenced popular discourse, making economic inequality a point of conversation, as the broad-based 99% rhetoric suggests.)

Fault Lines, a television program from Al Jazeera, follows several Occupy Wall Street organizers during the winter months, including anti-eviction and anti-foreclosure campaigns, such as the nationwide Occupy Our Homes. And a fascinating piece (h/t Lana) from Astra Taylor in The Nation examines Occupy’s struggles with media exposure and self-documentation through, for instance, Twitter and live video feeds, outlining the tensions between principled transparency and strategic planning. Similarly, this ethnographic dispatch posted at the SSRC’s Possible Futures project suggests that the winter has offered Occupy organizers time to reflect and examines some of the complications of ethnographically documenting the Occupy movements. This piece (h/t Lana) on a cooperative arcade game called “Keep Me Occupied” developed for Occupy Oakland wonders about the possibility of arcade games to enrich the sociality of Occupy. Also have a look at this intimate, enlightening, and often beautiful photo essay by VC Ferry. 

Some Occupy organizers have turned to more analytical pursuits, thinking collectively about how to reimagine the financial system and addressing specific points of regulation. This recent article from the Washington Post and another report from NPR both document in detail two Occupy working groups, the Alternative Banking Group affiliated with the New York General Assembly (you can also follow them on Twitter) and the Occupy Bank Working Group. The members of such groups often include former employees of Wall Street banks or others who have worked in the financial world; indeed, pointing to the “quiet outrage” of some financial insiders, some ask if in fact Wall Street has already been occupied (h/t Lana). And then there’s Occupy the SEC, the wonky regulatory group of Occupy Wall Street who have been combing through new regulations like the Dodd-Frank reform and who in February submitted an extensive (and extensively researched) line-by-by evaluation of the Volcker Rule. Their comment letter (pdf) received praise from Feliz Salmon and others. Recently their blog has offered up other cutting analysis of the financial crisis. These efforts also connect up with a wider world of monetary and financial innovation and experimentation (which I’ll try to document in future posts), as suggested by this “how-to” essay offering strategies for “bypassing” the mainstream financial system.

May 1 -- May Day or International Workers' Day -- in many ways marked the re-emergence of Occupy. Many news outlets provided coverage as protestors took to the streets amidst calls for a general strike that never materialized. (Bank of America proved to be a popular target, both during the May Day protests and during the company's shareholder meeting several days later.) Perspectives were predictably varied: Questions about Occupy's identity continued. Some emphasized the heavy police presence in New York. I recommend The Guardian's "Occupy May Day -- As It Happened", a collection of photos, videos, news snippets, Tweets, and more, updated throughout the day. Others, like Nick Punto from The Village Voice,  provided real-time Twitter ethnography.

Anthropologists (and other social scientists, as The New York Times reports; the Times also reports on the work of archivists to document and and collect Occupy's paper and material culture) have also continued to provide commentary. See, for instance, the recent issue (gated) of American Ethnologist, which includes articles on the Occupy movement in Slavoj Žižek's hometown in Slovenia (by Maple Razsa and Andrej Kurnik) and on the connections between social media and public space across Occupy movements (by Jeffrey S. Juris), as well as commentary by David Nugent. See, additionally, the twelfth issue of the online anthropologies about “Occupy and Open Access.” In the previous Occupy post, I also highlighted anthropologist David Graeber’s role in theorizing and helping to organize the original occupation. Since that post, Graeber has been interviewed by the Boston Review and his book Debt: The First 5000 Years was the subject of a seminar hosted by the blog Crooked Timber. We recommend you read each of the commentaries, as well as Graeber’s response. Finally, friend of IMTFI and fellow mobile money researcher Erin Taylor points us to three important and captivating posts by David Thompson on the material culture, language, and political contestations of Ocupa Rio, the Occupy movement in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Highly recommended.

Wall Street and Finance

As well as following up on Occupy, I want to take the opportunity to share some of our links on Wall Street and finance generally. The fantastic Bloomberg Echoes blog, for instance, has hosted a series of takes on the history of Wall Street, including pieces on the link between alchemy and the issue of credit-money by the Bank of England; on the history of Wall Street regulation; on the connection between sex and insider-trading scandals and financial panic in the early United States; on the history of women on Wall Street; this recent post on an 18th-century US financial panic and the so-called Bagehot Rule; and this post on a mortgage-backed securities crisis in the 1920s. The Echoes blog also pointed us towards this history of corporate personhood (part 2), a target of Occupy protestors and recently upheld by the US Supreme Court. And a similarly historical post from the Financial Services Club Blog explains why Wall Street is called Wall Street.

Other links include:

This attractive “visual history of financial crises.” And this graphic from Counterparties explaining the complex institutional infrastructure of the bailout.
• What looks to be an interesting documentary in four episodes by Frontline about “the inside story of the global financial crisis.
From Manuel Castells and the "Aftermath Network," a project about the sociocultural consequences of the crisis (h/t Lana).
• Gillian Tett pointsout the degree to which those in finance borrow from the language of physics. Of course, as Philip Mirowski and others have extensively argued, the relationship between physics and economics goes beyond language, as the disciplines have drawn inspiration and theoretical frameworks from one another.
Felix Salmon questions the role of financial innovation in the recent crisis.
• NPR outlines a “Wall Street bestiary,” tracing the animal imagery through the world of finance.
• And Marketplace examines the role of the Blackberry on Wall Street, which includes a short except from anthropologist Caitlin Zaloom’s ethnographic account of the Chicago mercantile exchange Out of the Pits. For another ethnographic exploration of Wall Street, see Karen Ho’s Liquidated.
• New York Magazine has a journalistic take on the effect of the crisis on the hyper-masculine persona of the Wall Street trader documented, for instance, by Zaloom and Ho.
• Similarly, we were delighted last year by “The Brokers with Hands on Their Faces Blog,” which, sadly, appears to have been discontinued.
• But we continue to enjoy the work of Dutch anthropologist and journalist Joris Luyendijk in The Guardian (first post here) as he tracks the culture of the world of banking and finance in the City of London.
• John Lanchester asks about treatments of money and finance in literature in a fascinating report in the Financial Times.
• Ever since the May 6, 2010 stock market “flash crash,” we’ve been interested in the role of automaticity in finance. Here’s a take on the possibility of automatic trading based on computer readings of Federal Reserve statements.
• And finally, we recently came across the SEC’s Virtual Museum and Archive of the History of Financial Regulation, which has an extensive collection of papers, oral histories, photographs, and film, radio, and television programs.

The Great Recession

Finally, alongside our interest in Wall Street, the financial crisis, and the Occupy movements, we have been trying to keep track of interesting work on what’s come to be called “The Great Recession.”

For instance, despite Lanchester’s question about why finance has not played a larger in the history of literature, the recession has already, in fact, inspired, as Chloe Schama’s review at the Daily Beast suggests, a host of literary treatments.
It has also, Felix Salmon shows, inspired art such as William Powhida’s Derivatives show, including the incredible “Griftopia.”
Damon Rich has also taken inspiration from the recession to create his Red Lines project, a large-scale installation visualizing the effect of the crisis on foreclosures in New York City (see also this New York Times review and this overview at ArtForum).
• Speaking of foreclosures, it is interesting to see how homes are being used after foreclosure (e.g., as marijuana grow facilities or as housing for college students). The New York Times provides an interesting look at foreclosure auctions.
• And finally, we highly recommend James Surowiecki’s piece in The New Yorker on the discrepancies between corporate and personal defaults.

In future Funny Money Roundups, I will explore some of the exciting experimentation currently ongoing with money and finance.

1 comment:

  1. Quite informative, thanks for the sharing. Do share more experiments in future. Your work is highly appreciated.