Commentary on Andrew Orta’s “Managing the Margins”: The anthropology of transnational capitalism, neoliberalism, and risk

by Karen Ho

Read Article

By Karen HoFull

Ethnographic examinations of neoliberalism are increasingly nuanced and varied, intersecting vertical power relations to enter such sites as MBA curricula and the training and cultivation of business executives. Andrew Orta’s “Managing the Margins” exemplifies such research. In it, he investigates how professionalizing business subjects are socialized to approach “the market” and showcase their business expertise through commensurating techniques such as executive summaries and value-chain analyses. At the same time, the distinctiveness of their education is often forged through singular, seemingly incommensurable study-abroad trips to “emerging markets,” where the experiences and adventure of encountering “risky” margins construct the self as daring and enterprising. Incommensurable experiences at the margins are translated and reabsorbed into the normative production of professional selves. Careful attention is required, in ethnographic projects such as these, not to reinscribe dominant assumptions of what constitutes capitalist motivations and approaches to risk, not to mention, the very context of capitalism itself.