Disciplining Investment Bankers, Disciplining the Economy: Wall Street's Institutional Culture of Crisis and the Downsizing of “Corporate America”



ABSTRACT  Countering the “mystique” of finance as abstract and disembedding, in this article I approach the financial market from the site of investment banking corporate culture to concretize large-scale processes and access its effects in the world. By investigating Wall Street investment banks’ role in two pivotal socioeconomic phenomena—rampant downsizings throughout “corporate America” and the financial bubble and bust of 2001—I explore whether financial crises and corporate downsizing can be better understood via Wall Street's quotidian practices. I draw theoretical inspiration from the figure of the downsized investment banker, who embodies and connects Wall Street's rationales for downsizing as well as “the effects.” Although shareholder value and externalized market justifications are Wall Street's models for understanding downsizing, I move beyond these dominant assumptions, demonstrating that bankers’ own work experiences, market temporalities, and organizational culture serve as an incisive model to explain Wall Street's role in downsizing and financial crisis. [Keywords: Wall Street, corporate downsizing, financial markets, shareholder value, organizational culture]