Accepted paper:

'Cutting the Network': Mobilisations of ethnicity/appropriations of power in multinational corporations


Mitchell W Sedgwick (London School of Economics)

Paper short abstract:

In appreciation of the panel theme – honouring Marilyn Strathern’s work with regard to theoretical and ethnographic developments in anthropology and interdisciplinarity – this paper extends Strathern’s implicit critique of actor-network theory into anthropology-driven organizational studies of formal organizations: specifically, communication, authority, and the manipulation of culturally-bounded knowledge among and between Japanese and French engineers at a Japanese corporation in France.

Paper long abstract:

I understand formal organizations as core sites in the reproduction, and the magnification, of the modernity in which we continue to live. I suggest that a social relations-centred approach to analysis of formal organizations may direct us toward extremely subtle understandings of contemporary forms of 'globalization': an (apparently) vast arena that has tended to confound anthropology's conceptually strength in deciphering 'the local'. In this paper - detailing a failed test of a new consumer electronics product at a French subsidiary of a large, Japanese multinational corporation where I conducted research for 18 months - I take up the problem of accounting ethnographically for the globalization of organization. Specifically, I address communication, authority and the manipulation of culturally-bounded knowledge among and between Japanese and French engineers. I suggest that it is through unpacking problems such as these - and, indeed, through ethnographic practice - that core problematics in 'globalization' may in fact be unfolded.

In the paper I contrast the theoretical parameters of my understanding of 'organizing' with more traditional approaches, and extend the vocabulary of actor-network theory to organizational analysis. I argue, however, that neither traditional organizational analysis nor actor-network theory does sufficient work in explaining the social construction of organizations in light of - increasingly common - cross-cultural dynamics. I offer, instead, an extension of Strathern's notion of 'cutting the network' to more fully account for articulations of power and control within the exigencies of globalization, which are extensively expressed within and across organizational settings.

panel P17
Anthropological relationships as appropriations and investments: ASA-sponsored panel in honour of Marilyn Strathern