Accepted Paper:

The art of forecasting and the temporal politics of markets  


Georgina Born (University of Oxford )

Paper short abstract:

This paper probes the engagement with economic and other kinds of expertise central to the operation of modern markets. It outlines three performative mechanisms, notably forecasting, by which corporations tame uncertainty via knowledge processes that fuel distinctive forms of temporal politics.

Paper long abstract:

This paper probes a set of cultural processes, notably the engagement with a range of economic and other forms of expertise, central to the functioning of modern markets. It does this with reference to fieldwork on international media and IT corporations, which exemplify cutting-edge modalities of contemporary capitalism. In particular it examines three performative or protentive mechanisms by which corporations try to tame chronic uncertainties via knowledge processes that construe distinctive forms of temporal politics:

1) The attempt to fold consumption back into production, thereby appearing to bring full circle the unruly circuit of production-consumption, a process that Callon terms the 'economy of qualities'. Here market research attempts to render knowable dispersed consumption practices; yet rather than increased abstraction, the tendency has been to offer more embedded accounts of consumption, increasingly through the use of ethnography;

2) The use of market forecasting: here, on the basis of analyses of existing North American markets, predictive models are derived, which are translated into the collective calculations and strategies of corporations and regulatory bodies, which in turn powerfully form how markets develop. Economic and technological speculations derived from specific conditions become concretised in strategies and hence practically universalized; forecasting becomes a theatre of purified abstractions in which is conceived 'collective' imaginings of the future;

3) The drive on the part of new media corporations to engage in mass patenting, sometimes through the imposition of patent quotas as a performance measure for researchers. Here the mass production of patents is seen pre-emptively to frame and capture spaces of potential invention and therefore potential markets. This is a more chaotic and open-ended mechanism through which to wage the politics of time, since its protentive and pre-emptive qualities seem more completely speculative; the activity has as much symbolic as economic value. At stake for individual corporations is the potential for anti-invention: for the claiming of spaces and blocking of rivals' potential activities. Theoretically, the paper expands on recent work on performativity in markets by Callon, Barry and Slater and others; in its attention to the temporal politics immanent in these processes and the diversity of mechanisms, more and less virtual, it constitutes a revision of Miller and Carrier's notion of 'Virtualism'.

Panel P2
Markets and cultures: articulations, constellations and new challenges for anthropology