ISRF Political Economy Fellow 2017-18
ISRF Political Economy Fellow 2017-18
Keir Martin is Associate Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Oslo. Prior to this he was a lecturer in Social Anthropology at the University of Manchester, and has previously been a research fellow at the University of Aarhus (Denmark), the Australian National University, and the Max Planck Institute for Anthropology (Germany). He has conducted fieldwork in Papua New Guinea’s East New Britain Province since 2002. This research was focussed on the reconstruction and resettlement of the inhabitants of the town of Rabaul and neighbouring villages following the volcanic eruption of 1994. This research has led to a number of publications, most notably his 2013 monograph, The Death of the Big Men and the Rise of the Big Shots: Custom and Conflict in East New Britain, published by Berghahn Books. This monograph was described by American Anthropologist as, ‘A fascinating, plainspoken new ethnography… the start of a new Melanesian sociology’, and by Pacific Affairs as, ‘A groundbreaking ethnography: brilliantly conceived, clearly written and utterly convincing’. This work focuses on the emergence of new forms of social stratification in Papua New Guinea and the rise of contested assertions of individual autonomy and freedom from customary obligation as a key constituent of that emerging stratification.
Martin is author of thirty other peer-review publications and is a former winner of the Royal Anthropological Institute’s Sutasoma Award for research, ‘of outstanding quality and likely to make an important contribution to Social Anthropology’. His recent work has developed the conceptual apparatus used to analyse the rise of contested individualism in the South Pacific to more general analyses of contested incidents of individual personhood. In particular, his work has looked to interrogate the nature of the corporation as a legal person, particularly in the UK and to ask what the changing nature of debt in the 21st century might mean for the kind of ‘person’ that the corporation might be turning into. Martin’s work applying insights from South Pacific ethnography to contemporary capitalism has also appeared in the public arena, with articles using this material to question assumptions of rational markets appearing in The Financial Times and The Guardian. In addition to this work, he also conducts research on the global spread of psychotherapy. He is a qualified psychotherapist and is the editor of a volume on the relationship between psychotherapy and anthropology in the 21st century, Psychotherapy, Anthropology and the Work of Culture.
The recent events at BHS demonstrate how owners use complex firm structures, intercompany debt and limited liability privileges to avoid tax, pay special dividends and limit owner obligations. These financialized practices are now commonplace across much of the corporate sector (see Bowman et al 2015), raising important questions about the contemporary social and economic purpose of the firm. In light of this, our project aims to explore the social, moral and legal foundations of the financialized firm and to develop a new theory of the firm (TOTF) from this analysis. This TOTF aims to challenge mainstream Economic theories that understand the purpose of the firm deductively – in the abstract – from theory, and therefore tend to be ahistoric, tautological and inadequate when explaining contemporary corporate practice.. Our work will:
i) explore how financial extraction for elite advantage has become central to the financialized firmii
ii) locate these financialized practices within a broader history of the changing relations and obligations around the firm, looking at the evolution of the financialized corporation inductively from empirical and archival work, not deductively from theory.iii) show that the purpose of the firm was never singular: it does different things and serves different interests at different points in time.
iii) show that the purpose of the firm was never singular: it does different things and serves different interests at different points in time.
iv) develop a new empirically informed theory of the firm that engages with these specifics, to better understand the financialized corporation in context.Our conceptual approach is necessarily interdisciplinary and draws on the anthropological and critical accounting methods employed in Leaver and Martin (2016). We aim to publish our ideas as a co-authored book, making a critical contribution to knowledge in the field by re-evaluating the moral foundations of our financialized economy. In so doing we hope to promote the ISRF’s goals of developing interdisciplinary research that improves understanding of social entities and processes.