STUDYING UP (from Capital At Work: Methodology in THE MARKET*)

January 20, 2015 § Leave a comment


Envelope & Paperclip, December 2011 (Letter from Irish Ambassador to Germany requesting support and project access from Deutsche Börse AG) from THE MARKET, a project by Mark Curran

In the context of a study of power and finance regarding a globalised hegemony, a central methodological reference for THE MARKET (2010-) has been the proposal by the anthropologist, Laura Naderfor studying up. In her article published in 1972, Nader appealed for a critical repatriated anthropology, through:

What if, in reinventing anthropology, anthropologists were to study the colonizers rather than the colonized, the culture of power rather than the culture of the powerless, the culture of affluence rather than the culture of poverty?

Principally studying the most powerful strata of urban society…and instead of asking why some people are poor, we would ask why other people are so affluent (1972: 289).

Nader argued that by not ‘studying up’ would limit the ability to form ‘adequate theory and description’ (ibid.: 290) and while she further framed her argument in terms of citizenship and democracy, her appeal has methodological implications, namely, concerning access:

the powerful are out of reach on a number of different planes: they don’t want to be studied; it is dangerous to study the powerful; they are busy people; they are not all in one place, and so on (ibid.: 302).


Void Visitors Pass, Deutsche Börse AG March 2012, Eschborn (Frankfurt), Germany from THE MARKET, a project by Mark Curran

In such a potentially limiting context, the possibility for long-term engagement in the form of, for example, participant observation can be severely hampered. However, Nader argued that such limitations should not define the subject of research and advocated a more multivariant approach, including the use of personal documents, memoirs, chance encounters, discussion, interviews and public relations documents amongst others. In the context of power, I would assert such limitations regarding access embody significant critical meaning regarding the focus of study. Over 20 years later, the anthropologist, Hugh Gusterson, revisited Nader’s appeal, elaborating for what he defined as a polymorphous engagement (1997: 116):

The ethnography of the powerful needs to consist of interacting with informants across a number of dispersed sites, not just local communities, and sometimes in virtual form; and it means collecting data eclectically from a disparate array of sources in many different ways such as… formal interviews…extensive reading of newspapers and official documents…careful attention to popular culture, as well as informal social events outside of the actual corporate office or laboratory. (ibid.: 116).


from THE MARKET, Gallery of Photography, Dublin (installation image by Jamin Keogh)

Drawing on Gusterson, the cultural anthropologist, Karen Ho, incorporated such a methodological approach in her excellent study, Liquidated: An Ethnography of Wall Street**, published in 2009. Elaborating on her previous career in investment banking, Ho drew on her personal professional network and included encounters at business events, conferences, college reunions, interviews to simple ‘rich, informal anecdotes gained from chatting’ (2009: 21). Such a methodological engagement regarding an ethnography of the powerful, I would argue, could further critically benefit from representational strategies assembled according to the principle of montage or multivocality as asserted by the visual ethnographer, Sarah Pink – ‘representations that incorporate the multilinearity of research and everyday lives’ (2001: 117). Pink continues regarding such fragmented experience:

reality is, in fact, continuous and subjectively experienced, at best, one can only reconstruct fragments of a subjective experience of reality, representations of knowledge are never complete (ibid.: 167).


from THE MARKET, Gallery of Photography, Dublin (installation image by Jamin Keogh)

Therefore, to formulate representations of research which are open- ended and to paraphrase Michael Taussig, which is not necessarily about reality but whose effects may be real.

*Extract from Curran, M. (2013) Capital At Work: Methodology in THE MARKET in Kirwan, G. (ed.)(2013) An Anthology of IADT Research, IADT, Dublin, 28 – 37. Available HERE

** Ho’s central argument is that Wall Street investment bankers reshape corporate America in their own image, and through the construction of the market, result in the manufacture of crises while simultaneously, ‘assuring its rescue’ (2009: 323). In this, as she defines, economy of appearances, Ho outlines operating structures, the significance regarding ‘pedigree’, citizen complicity and the critical role of fear in this culture of liquidity (ibid.).


October 3, 2012 § 3 Comments

‘Brian Griffin has had a profound effect on photography in the last 30 years… he creates works of art that leave the viewer mesmerised’. (British journal of Photography)

Power: British Management in Focus (cover) (Publisher: Travelling Light, London 1981)

Born in Birmingham, England in 1948, the photographer Brian Griffin studied at Manchester Polytechnic’s School of Photography. Primarily working as a commercial photographer, his project work has been widely published and exhibited. Griffin’s influences have emerged from film and painting, including, Surrealism, German Expressionist cinema and Film Noir.

from Power: British Management in Focus

During the 1970s, He photographed a series of portraits for the magazine, Management Today. The brief was to portray some of the most important individuals in the British corporate world but which have been described as, ‘witty and slightly surreal images that subverted the notions of men in grey suits and demystified the corporate world’. In 1981, these images along with those of politicians, manufacturers, entrepreneurs, trade unionists, educators and representatives in the media were published in the book, Power: British Management in Focus

Alongside the portraits, images including interiors and exteriors like this below of the London Stock Exchange are also included.One of the earlier images presented, looking up, the photograph conveys the literal wall of concrete and glass between the viewer and those to be portrayed.

London Stock Exchange from Power: British Management in Focus

The book is further divided into sections, for example, The Directors and The Entrepreneurs, where quotes from those included act as the means of introduction:

On the whole, you can lead men but you can’t drive them: that is the secret of good management (Lord Keith).

I work very hard. It’s a tremendous nervous strain; I’m always keyed-up; I’m a very nervous person. I can’t sit still: we’re fighting a battle every day (Algy Cluff).

In addition, the publication also includes a section titled, The Trade Unionists:

Redistributing work is more interesting and important than redistributing capital. I can’t get excited by redistributing capital. I’d rather deal with the rich by fiscal means (Clive Jenkins)

from Power: British Management in Focus

The significance of the publication, besides the timing, is both its formal approach and the subject matter regarding those portrayed, embodying a visual representation of what the anthropologist, Laura Nader described, in her appeal for a critical repatriated anthropology, as studying up. The powerful are revealed, however, in such an openended regard that Griffin was described at the time as, Margaret Thatcher’s favourite photographer’. Nonetheless, according to Christopher O’Neill, Dean of Birmingham City University:

Griffin was the Tory party’s favourite photographer during the 1980s and his books ‘Work’ and ‘Power’ are the definitive 1980s comment upon the corporate Thatcher years. However, Brian saw this work as ironic…he’s very much a working son of Birmingham.

A short video of the publication can be viewed here, courtesy of the PhotoBookStore.

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