Failure as an Endpoint

Annelise Riles, Cornell Law School
Hirokazu Miyazaki, Cornell University


This essay draws on a total of eighteen months of fieldwork among members of a trading team at a major Japanese securities firm in Tokyo from August to September 1997, from September to November 1998, from August 1999 to July 2000 and from August to September 2001.

An anthropologist working in the Japanese financial markets cannot help but confront wide-spread skepticism about the efficacy of knowledge. In the aftermath of the collapse of certain Asian economies in which the State has played the major role, the subsequent failure of the IMF and World Bank to bring these economies to recovery, and the parallel collapse of many socialist regimes, the failure of economic knowledge to predict, plan and regulate the market seems self-evident to market participants. On the other hand, the triumph of American style thinking about markets also has turned out to be brief. A series of high profile financial failures in the U.S. markets such as the collapse of Long Term Capital Management have led Japanese traders to question the superiority of American traders' "market genius," while accounting scandals such as the Enron Corporation case have led many to query the American free-market ideology. The dominant mode of apprehension of the market, at the moment, then, is one of failure.