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Public anthropology and the financial crisis (Respond to this article at http://www.therai.org.uk/at/debate)

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Abstract

When anthropologists write about finance and the economy, their publications seldom reach audiences as wide as those of economists or journalists. Is there a space for anthropologists in public debates about our era's acute economic dilemmas? The short answer should be yes, partly because anthropologists are trained to probe social silences and make the invisible visible, and because we reject the pitfalls of Econ 101, oversimplifications that pervade public discourse. Academic anthropologists can draw lessons from what we might term ‘public economics’, as well as from the writings of Gillian Tett, an award-winning financial columnist trained in anthropology. Perhaps we can also learn a little from tricksters – or from satirical activists who deploy irony, caricature, and paradox as sharp instruments in this age of austerity and billionaires. As we analyze finance and the economy in the aftermath of a financial meltdown whose causes and policy implications are intensely debated, our challenge still is to satisfy journalists' appetite for sound-bite narratives without sacrificing nuance, historical contingency, and complexity.

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