It said all of the sociality that is present to the creation of any social moment, the existence of prior understandings and connections and an assignment of status according to who owns what to whom as established by kinship, clan or hierarchy, or some other social overlay–all of this we can set aside.
For this thing called a market, we need only posit two parties, as unattached atoms, engaged only by their interest, and only for the duration of this exchange of value. That’s all. They will have social connections, they will be something to someone for some purposes, and they will be this over time and space, but in this thing called a market, they are atoms with interest transacting. C’est, as the French say, tout. (Sorry. I was in Montreal all day.)
It was a simplifying idea, and a liberational one. It released the world from cultural constructs and social elites, and it made the world responsive to what people wanted in spite of social assigned standing, status and desire. It enabled a world that was responsive, not to what people were supposed to want, but what, for better or worse, and often worse, they did want. (I will tell you in confidence that I am the only anthropologist on the face of the earth prepared to make this argument. Where I see liberation and transparency, they see alienation and anomie. To which I say, freedom is grueling difficult and only people with tenure think otherwise.)
And as bad as this ever was (this uncontrolled wanting), there was now at least a certain transparency. This world was not a reflection of the interest of elites or the imaginings of culture. It reflected, in an unsentimental, unmediated way, what people were actually willing to pay for. In a marketplace society, the truth will out. Elites and received wisdom, these get the Sicilian salute. (A mental picture of which, please insert here.)
My point and I do have one. I just finished a round of ethnographic interviews in a large and influential corporation. The question was how to bring the corporation into a better alignment with the world out there. (Sorry, I can’t be more specific and honor my oath of confidentiality.) (It went well, I think. I was impressed with how well I did. It turns out I make a very good ferret. If your organization needs to take another look at some aspect of the how the corporation works relative to the world out there, call me.) The thing that impresses me as a result of this research is the possibility that the Scottish idea might be for some corporate purposes ill advised.
Take for instance the churn in the c-suite. [C-suite means the offices occupied by the CEO (chief operating officer), the CIO (chief information officer), the CMO (chief marketing officer), the CSO (chief strategic officer), and so on.] People are now in place on average about 20 months. And this is the reason that more and more CMOs , for instance, come with "their people" attached. They do not meekly accept the agency with which the corporation is dealing. No, they have a standing relationship with an agency of their own, and they bring this with them. After all, they only have 20 months to make a difference. The clock is ticking. Getting to know the incumbent agency will cost them 6 months of their precious allottment.
Ok, so what if we take c-suite churn seriously. I wonder if it says that the real center of gravity has moved from the corporation to the C-suiters as they move from gig to gig. If indeed the corporation responds to change by streaming c-suiters through upper management, what is the unit of analysis, where is the real seat of decision making, what is the real locus of continuity? It isn’t, or might not be, the corporation. This is now streaming with change. It’s a box of bees. It is no longer the Romain outpost of order.
The real locus of governance and continuity is the c-suiter, that itinerant man or woman, traveling from corporation to corporation. And this means that agencies and consultants and all of the rest of the traveling retinue on which the corporation depends, should establish its first loyalty to the CMO and only then to the corporation. I don’t know. It’s a thought only. But my notion and I do have one, is that as the corporation responds to dynamism it is going to change shape and form, and the locus of some things is going to shift.
Just to return to the Scottish idea. It says that corporation will transact episodically and fitfully, as and when it discover the best clients and partners. (This is a fiction of course, but a deeply useful fiction. For most purposes, the corporation is economic corporation to corporation and for some purposes, supra-economic within the corporation.) And these connections between corporate agents will become more and more instantaneous and less and less enduring. Certain continuities will be impossible to sustain. If they are to exist, and its a fair question whether they must exist, they will have to exist outside the corporation. Continuity will have to live in networked relationships between players who are in a sense in constant transit, migratory and in motion, and more actual for some purposes, between engagements than within them.
It may be that the corporation is obliged to decide that to be fully responsive to dynamism, it can’t afford certain continuities and is then obliged to farm these out and make them resident in professional communities that exist in orbit outside itself. Ok, you can see I’m struggling. When people start repeated themselves, they are looking for the thread, and clearly I haven’t found mine. But something is shifting, and the corporation, for so long the great "city states" of capitalism, enduring and magnificent, perhaps they will in respond to the market place by seconding some of their essentials to the world out there.
This would be another way of saying that networks so dominant in personal matters may be poised to transform even the institutional world.
A last point
Just a note on a national difference. I am on the train from Montreal to Toronto as I file this post. (There is something completely thrilling about being able to get a wireless connection on a train. I can’t say why. There just is.) And at 4 hours the trip is roughly like the one from New York City to Boston. But here’s the difference. On the American trip, the wait staff feed you alcohol as if it were a medical responsibility and a matter of some urgency. Triage! (In point of fact, they are softening you up for their tip. So it is not so much as social gesture, as an economic thing. And this is fair…and of course the reason the Acela is perpetually in the read.)
On this trip to Toronto, however, they are much more abstemious, as if there is a good chance that any given passenger might be called upon in an emergency to operate the train and, well, it’s probably better if each of us has a clear head. And this refusal to lead the wine flow with Dionisian (sp?) generosity is a bad thing because I believe there are few things so charming as being intoxicated on a train that is traveling at speed. I can’t say why. This is an enduring truth. It’s there in Aristotle somewhere. You can look it up. So I am as I write this suffer a small degree of alcohol deprivation and I am sure it shows in my prose. But hey, it could change. The stewart might bring more wine. And just as I wrote this last sentence, I swear to God, the steward came by and told me that he would be back with more wine. I am, I guess, jonesing pretty bad and, ok, most visibly.