What a spectacle

The subtitle of Alex Preda’s The Spectacle of Expertise is ‘why financial analysts perform in the media.’ I was interested because the everyday perception many people have of economists is shaped by seeing City economists talking about markets up, exchange rates down, inflation either up or down…. whereas of course most economists don’t do financial or macroeconomics. Yet the financial markets and commentary on them define the subject for so many.

Anyway, the book is rather interesting. It’s a sociology or ethnography largely based on fieldwork in Hong Kong, where there are many, many more financial programmes to be filled with expert commentary, and it seems that for many people working in the markets there is pretty much a full time career phase of going around the studios performing. The best known even get hired to advertise other products – a new hair conditioner being a ‘good investment’ for instance.

Prada describes the whole spectacle (yes, Debord, hello), a performance requiring a team – the expert talking head but also their research assistants back on the trading floor, the programme anchor, the producer and their team, the make-up artists and sound technicicans. All in the interest of selling more finance products and growing the sector. In the financial realm of exchanging digitised symbols, the embodied reality of a persuasive talker with good make-up and a Bloomberg screen accessible on their phone is central.