Management Consulting, Performativity and the PowerPoint Syndrome

The fact that an interest on the performative condition in and of business needs to translate into an investigation on management consulting has been part of PERFORMABUSINESS since the start of the project. We are happy to communicate that one key deliverable on that front is now out from Management Communication Quarterly‘s OnlineFirst: in “Building a Rock-Solid Slide: Management Consulting, PowerPoint, and the Craft of Signification”, Alaric Bourgoin and Fabian Muniesa tackle this through a semiotic look at the power of PowerPoint. From the abstract:

The diagrammatic slideshow constitutes a crucial communicational instrument in management consulting. However, its semiotic implications remain poorly understood. How do consultants create slides that they deem significant? How do they recognize a good slide or an effective diagram? What practical criteria do they use? To tackle these questions, we develop a pragmatist approach based on the theory of signs of Charles S. Peirce. Drawing from data collected through ethnographic participant observation, our study analyzes how a team of consultants drafts a single slide intended to represent the problems of a client organization and assesses the evolving strength of the document. We identify three recurrent conditions of robustness—impact, accuracy, and layout—and discuss them in the light of Peirce’s distinction of iconic, indexical, and symbolic capacities in signification.


Project Closure and Publication Plan

This month, December 2015, marks the official closure of what has been a 56-months project. What has been done and what is to be left? PERFORMABUSINESS (“Performativity in Business Education, Management Consulting and Entrepreneurial Finance”) has been productive on the publication front. A few books and more than a dozen articles are listed in the project’s dissemination list. But crucial achievements of the publication plan are still underway, besides the much advertised collective book on the problem of capitalization in the midst of the performative condition. This includes forthcoming work on the pedagogy on finance in contemporary business schools, on the history of business valuation, on the semiotics of management consulting and on the anthropology of economics. This blog will still provide snippets of this work in the months to come.

Book Manuscript: Elements for a Social Inquiry into Capitalization

Readers attentive to the PERFORMABUSINESS focus already know that capitalization is at the center of the agenda. “Elements for a Social Inquiry into Capitalization” is the title of book manuscript, currently submitted for publication, co-authored by an expanded project collective (Fabian Muniesa, Liliana Doganova, Horacio Ortiz, Alvaro Pina-Stranger, Florence Paterson, Alaric Bourgoin, Véra Ehrenstein, Pierre-André Juven, David Pontille, Basak Sarac-Lesavre and Guillaume Yon). The book critically examines the meaning of capitalization. It proposes an inquiry into the traits, necessities and upshots of this particular process of valuation in which things become assets and their value is assessed from the viewpoint of an investor. Grounded on a pragmatist attention to practical process, material culture and situated interpretation, the book takes the form of an ethnographic exploration of a number of relevant scenes and sites: situations in which the meaning of capitalization is progressively captured. Through the description of acts of capitalization and the analysis of the narratives they require and the practices they institute, the book articulates a research sensibility that renders capitalization visible and approachable as an anthropological problem. The inquiry signals the centrality of a problematic scenario in which the objects of valuation are capitalized – they become capital – and transformed accordingly.

More on the fate of this key project deliverable soon!


Tightrope Walkers: An Ethnography of Management Consulting

PERFORMABUSINESS is proud to announce the delivery of a major contribution to the understanding of the performative condition of management consultants — tightrope walkers, acrobats of the permanent performance of value.

Les Équilibristes: Une Ethnographie du Conseil en Management is the title of the ethnography of management consulting, now out from the Presses des Mines (Paris), offered by Alaric Bourgoin. With a foreword by Fabian Muniesa and an preface by Michel Callon, available from the publisher here (in French).


A Talk on the Habit of Capitalization

“Setting the habit of capitalization: the pedagogy of earning power at the Harvard Business School, 1920-1940” is the titled of a PERFORMABUSINESS paper currently prepared by Fabian Muniesa in collaboration with Liliana Doganova. From the abstract:

“The quandaries of business valuation have marked the pedagogy of business administration since early attempts at institutionalizing the managerial discipline. It is however now commonly admitted, at least in legitimate financial and entrepreneurial circles, that the value of a business (that is, the monetary assessment of a functioning enterprise established in a competitive environment) resides primarily in its earning power or, in other words, that what a business is worth equals its capacity to generate a stream of revenues for the investor or investors that provide it with funding. How did this idea take shape and how did it permeate the business mind? An examination of early pedagogical materials at the Harvard Business School (an influential reference for the socialization of the businessperson) and, in particular, of the vagaries of the idea of capitalization and its exercising in the classroom, provides a fine occasion to advance understanding of the meaning of such ideals of business and business value, and of their institutionalization. This empirical study can, in turn, be employed in order to discuss and refine our interpretation of what a convention of economic valuation is and how it operates.”

The research is based in part on an examination of archival materials collected from the Cecil E. Fraser Papers, which are located at the Baker Library, Harvard Business School. An audio file from a presentation on the paper is available here from the Max Planck Institute for the Studies of Societies in Cologne, who kindly invited Fabian Muniesa to give a talk in January 2015 (further files from the conference series are available here).