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).