Society for Cultural Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
The Great Spanish Recession was an official label given to seemingly related financial phenomena, including a never-ending 'crisis' in banking, massive mortgage foreclosures, regional public debt defaults, widening unemployment, and extractive austerity policies occurring between 2008 and 2014 in Spain. In contrast to this totalizing narrative, my ethnography shows how these same predatory capitalist projects generated playful engagements with financial speculation. For instance, everyday citizens became small-time speculators through friendly social media interactions with sales’ traders. This empirical material illuminates the multiple aspects of speculative finance where citizens do not always fit the uninformed investor portrayed by ‘crisis narratives’ behind Spain’s economic downturn. Without trivializing the real negative and damaging effects of the economic recession on large portions of the population, my work aims to unveil a less explored aspect of the ‘crisis’. Specifically, I develop the notion of 'derivative crowds' to argue against common ideas about online trading that tend to represent it as an unsociable human-machine encounter. In doing so, I highlight different ways in which play mediates online exchanges between brokers and customers that make financial markets more intelligible and accessible to the general public. Focusing on social media dynamics of cooperation and competition that help newcomers ‘milk the market’ on a daily basis, I theorize derivative crowds as online networks operating within an economy of mass affect, where rapport is paramount to surviving market swings without the protections of professionalized trading. I am particularly interested in a ‘financial frontier’ where derivative markets meet social media.