uncertainty

Reading the Tea Leaves: Ethnographic Prediction as Evidence

CLAIRE MAIERS WillowTree, Inc. Those who work in research know that we live in a world that is strongly influenced by what Tricia Wang has called the quantification bias. More so than other forms of information, numbers have incredible formative power. In our culture, numbers are seen as trustworthy representations of reality that are strongly associated with objectivity and untainted by human bias and shortcomings. Recently, data science, big data, algorithms, and machine learning have fueled a new wave of the quantification bias. One of the central fascinations of this wave has been the promise that humans now have the power of prediction at their fingertips. In this paper, I reflect on what it means to make predictions and explore the differences in how predictions are accomplished via quantitative modeling and ethnographic observation. While this is not the first time that ethnographic work has been put in conversation and in contrast with quantified practices, most theorists have framed the role of ethnography as providing context...

Performing Magical Capitalism

by BRIAN MOERAN (University of Hong Kong) and TIMOTHY DE WAAL MALEFYT (Fordham University) Systems of Magic at Work Today Central Bank capitalism, Islamic finance, World Economic Forum meetings, contracts, profit ⎼ these are not the themes that generally come to mind when we think about magic. In industrialized societies we tend to believe that we’ve “outgrown” it; in 1929 anthropologist E.B. Tyler called magic “one of the most pernicious delusions that ever vexed mankind” (11). In fact, it is alive and well in contemporary societies. Magic is at work in all sorts of modern practices from central banking to architecture, by way of economic forums, profit making, legal contracts, and various forms of cultural production such as advertising, architecture, luxury goods, fashion, fashion magazines, and science fiction. These magical practices form a system, or systems, of magic and are performed in various societies and contexts around the globe. As several authors will demonstrate in our special issue of Anthropology Today...

Business, Anthropology, and Magical Systems: The Case of Advertising

BRIAN MOERAN Magic is one of the oldest subjects of discussion and theorizing in anthropology. From time to time, anthropologists, as well as other scholars from other disciplines, have suggested that magic is not specific to “primitive” societies, but is alive and well in contemporary industrialised societies—witness advertising. Such discussions have been more general than specific. This paper applies Mauss’ theory of magic more precisely to particular examples of advertising—in particular, his distinction between magicians, magical rites, and magical representations. It also argues that advertising’s system of magic—encompassing related concepts of alchemy, animism, and enchantmen—is reflected in other business practices, which have developed their own parallel and interlocking systems of magic. Certain forms of capitalism, the—fashion, for example, or finance—may be analysed as a field of magical systems.  ...