Banking on anthropology

Photo: Jon Sullivan

Yom Kim’s appointment to the top job at the World Bank breaks with tradition in a few ways – not least of which is his background in medicine and anthropology. However, perhaps this is not a story of Obama pushing the World Bank to break with tradition so much as it is a story of playing catch up.

Knowledge from the social sciences – beyond economics – is being considered increasingly valuable in the study of financial markets. The most recent economic crash in the United States highlighted contributions that anthropology can make toward understanding the dynamics of the financial sector. For example, check out David Graeber’s Debt: The first 5000 years; Karen Ho’s Liquidated: An ethnography of Wall Street; Joris Luyendijk’s ongoing ethnographic blog about bankers; or Gillian Tett’s discussion of how anthropology helped her see the financial crisis long before it was a reality.

Perhaps Yom Kim’s background in anthropology will bring fresh insights as he assumes the enormous challenge of leading the World Bank.  On the smaller scale of our classrooms, I do not intend to imply that one discipline has more to offer than another, but rather to highlight the importance of working together.  The more opportunities we can create for our students to use knowledge drawn from multiple disciplines to view the same issue, the more prepared they will be to take on the challenges of the world.

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