Society for Cultural Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
While conducting multi-sited ethnographic fieldwork across three trading hubs of the diamond industry (Antwerp, Tel Aviv, and Mumbai), I encountered a confounding claim by seasoned diamond brokers: they know nothing about diamonds. While entertaining the possibility that this claim may simply be an expression of “strategic ignorance” (Gershon 2000) that shields the broker from legal liability and that operates as a form of power (Matthews 2005), I argue that it reveals the very ideological contradiction at the heart of brokerage.
As an ideal-type, the broker becomes discursively figured as a “stranger” or a “third” actor in otherwise unstable dyadic exchanges (Simmel 1908). Despite this dominant rendering, however, the broker always has vested interests. As revealed through fieldwork, this contradiction operates as a public secret (Taussig 1999), as a necessary, and yet always unstable, form of what I call “agnotological ideology.” And yet, in this current regime of truth, in which “transparency” drives the diamond industry, the contradictions that drive brokerage have become unmasked. Diamond lab grading reports/certificates and a pricing index (the Rapaport List) now mediate and standardize all transactions. These technologies prevent diamond brokers from presenting themselves as know-nothings and from believably cultivating an affective stance of ignorance and dispassionate neutrality.
Totalizing, techno-teleological narratives contend that “platform capitalism” (Srniceck 2016) and e-commerce are simply replacing (or reintermediating) the function of the middleman in global industries & supply-chains. I argue that this protracted “crisis” (Roitman 2013) reveals something far more foundational: the inherent ideological contradictions at the heart of mediation.