Olivier Godechot: a classic work, in translation

by Taylor Nelms July 20, 2016

Olivier Godechot

In the late 1990s, Olivier Godechot set to work at the trading desk of a financial brokerage firm in Paris, beginning a period of fieldwork that would result in an early contribution to the then-inchoate social studies of finance. The editors of the Journal of Cultural Economy are pleased to publish in translation one piece of that research.

Originally published in 2000 as “Le Bazar de la Rationalité” in Politix (13:52, 17-57), Godechot’s article represents one of the first efforts to think through the rationalities of finance using the sociological lessons of Bourdieu. Godechot’s Forward — composed specifically for this translation — lays out the implications of this work for a contemporary social studies of finance oriented to the sociotechnical systems and performative repertoires through and with which human beings-as-market actors reason. Godechot’s piece underlines the continued importance of understanding intersecting lines of difference and inequality — of class and rank, race and status, gender and sexuality, education and family background — that unite and divide the persons who populate financial markets.

While refusing to “re-embed” finance in some overarching social domain, Godechot’s work nonetheless reminds us of the interrelational dispositions and subject positions of the actors who — alongside and interwoven with technological prostheses, systems for accounting and payment, legal and institutional architectures — make the markets. For a field that still, at times, takes financial calculation for granted, it remains important to remember that the seeming neutrality of the particular knowledges that ground such calculation is itself a product of patterned relations of power and privilege. Indeed, much of what Godechot describes is about a struggle not only to find a way to turn a profit — the pragmatic experimentation with “winning strategies” — but also to validate one’s chosen method in the eyes of others.

This is a classic — dare I say it? — social problem, one that has occupied anthropologists since Malinowski’s observations of the role of prestige in Trobriand Islanders’ battles over kula valuables and political economists since Adam Smith wrung the discipline’s first questions out of a moral philosophy concerned with how others judged — valued and evaluated — one’s actions. Such contests are sites of political struggle between persons who are formed and informed by the histories Godechot is at pains to account for. Perhaps it is time that we return to these foundational questions, now fortified with the lessons of the sociotechnical and the performative.