Michael Kearney Lecture

The 2013 Michael Kearney Lecture will be delivered by Prof. Carmen Bueno-Castellanos (Universidad Iberoamericana)

Globalization and the challenge for the anthropology of organizations and industrial production

In the last decades, localities everywhere have confronted important transformations as a result of supra-national forces that have deeply altered the social milieu.  Old and new phenomena defy anthropologists to rethink and create alternative theoretical and methodological paths.  As a Mexican ethnographer, I have sought to contribute to these theoretical explanations.  In the late 1970s, I started doing research on industrial production and markets.  Organizational Anthropology has always been far away from the traditional, iconic research topic of Mexican Anthropology: indigenismo. One of my main challenges has been convincing other national colleagues of the importance of doing fieldwork on organizations as well as persuading sociologists and economists that anthropology’s contribution to this field is its in-depth contact to social practices and the socially constructed individual experience of economic actors.  Breaking into this new research field defied me to understand the logic behind transnationalism and to open up new interpretative approaches to multiple interconnections, and rapid technological changes – especially the new virtual forms of organization and the never-ending flows of tangible and intangible resources around the world.  The conditions in which production operates have become highly unstable, blurring the boundaries between the local and the global, and disrupting the rhythms of social and cultural change in the working environment.  This phenomenon has inspired my academic trajectory for the past two decades.  My main focus has been the study of the multiple local expressions of this scale-free type of organizations.  Accordingly, I have sought alternative strategies in fieldwork practices and in teaching students how to pose new, stimulating questions, always with an eye to the complexity of glocal phenomena; questioning hegemonic theories that ignore differences, exclusions and inequalities within this tightly-coupled, supra-national productive system. New analytic borderlands emerge as a consequence of giving voice to those social actors – small entrepreneurs, workers and free-lancers – that participate in, and live everyday constraints from, the periphery of this complex system.  I have grown convinced that an analysis centered on the perspective of the actor-network (actor red) can be a major contribution to the understanding of the different and combined dimensions of the twenty-first century network society. I am not thinking here of the model proposed by Bruno Latour and his colleagues, which they call “ANT,” but rather often a model suggested by Norman Long,  whereby people act and perceive reality through their interaction in networks.  Also through these networks they reproduce and transform their participation in the economy.  I believe that these networks have to be seen in the context of their frames of action and of people’s capacity to mobilize resources creatively.  Only anthropology can help us chart the actor’s course.