Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Reading :: Writing the Economy

Writing the Economy: Activity, Genre And Technology in the World of Banking
By Graham Smart

I'm a little embarrassed to admit that I hadn't gotten to this book until recently. To be honest, I kept thinking I must have read it at some point—partly because I've read other of Smart's publications about this same two-decade ethnography set at the Bank of Canada. But when I picked up the book itself, the sheer scope of the project became clear.

The book is ambitious, covering how policymakers at the Bank developed policy, using texts, software, models, and other strategically deployed information resources. Smart uses activity theory, genre theory, and a number of other related frameworks to examine this work, not just in terms of how these information resources conveyed information or explicitly persuaded people, but also in how they worked together to implicitly persuade stakeholders, how they embedded assumptions and warrants, and how they functioned differently in different contexts.

The book relies heavily on long ethnographic interviews, and block quotes are frequently interspersed with interpretation in the central chapters. Smart also uses close readings and examinations of texts, including representative documents in the appendix. In fact, Smart works hard to make this book a true ethnography, both citing and using the methods of critical ethnography.

Writing the Economy makes several contributions in terms of advancing theory, applying ethnography to the study of work, and examining relationships among texts. It's a solid book, and one that I expect I'll read again.

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