Stock markets as «simulacra»
Observation that participates
This article argues that popular and scientific conceptions of financial markets are structured by a moral ontology that opposes a «real» to a «false» economy. This opposition recapitulates the opposition between «real» and «false» representation, as articulated by Plato. «Investment» plays the ideal-typical role of the «real» copy, as the investor demonstrates her willingness to orient her representations of future pro fits around the original, the «real» economy of needs and goods. «Speculation» plays the role of the «false» copy or simulacrum, self-referentially mimicking the form of the «real» economy though circumventing its essence. While the distinction between «investment» and «speculation » breaks down in practice, it is maintained in discourse through the materialist ideologies of production and consumption. In order to jettison this discourse entirely, we must examine what is properly social in the «real» economy, what is properly material in the speculative economy, and how these two logics interrelate. In this enterprise, Bruno Latour's notion of the «quasi-object» as applied to financial instruments gives us a conceptual tool with which to unhinge the phantasmagoric logic of the simulacrum that underwrites representation in and of the stock market.
Ellen Hertz works as a maître assistante at the Institut d'anthropologie et de sociologie, University of Lausanne. She has published a book on the construction of the Shanghai stock market (The Trading Crowd, 1998, Cambridge University Press), and is interested more generally in economic, legal and political anthropology and China.