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Making Markets: Opportunism and Restraint on Wall Street

3.5 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0674006881
ISBN-10: 0674006887
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Editorial Reviews


[This is] a great must-read. Abolafia's central thesis is that markets cannot be viewed simply as anonymous fora where nameless economic forces work their mysterious ways to determine equilibrium price-quantity outcomes. Instead, they are better seen as stages on which diverse groups of actors seek to further their own, often conflicting, interests...The view that markets are social constructs has a particularly significant consequence for understanding and reacting to the phenomenon of manipulation. Abolafia's view that manipulation 'arises out of a conflict between buyers and sellers where one side is pressing its advantage', rather than being either a legal definition or an economic phenomenon, is extremely convincing...It is impossibly infuriating that one's assumptions about how the financial world works should be overturned by a mere sociologist. (Ruben Lee London Financial News)

Mitchel Abolafia's fascinating...book...is a great take on the other side of world finance, on life's most bruising sport--making money--and on how to think about markets as interdependent social structures. (Peter Evans Contemporary Sociology)

From the Back Cover

Making Markets, an ethnography of Wall Street culture, offers a more complex picture of how the market and its denizens work. Not merely masses of individuals striving independently, markets appear here as socially constructed institutions in which the behavior of traders is suspended in a web of customs, norms, and structures of control. Within these structures we see the actions that led to the Drexel Burnham and Salomon Brothers debacles not as bizarre aberrations, but as mere exaggerations of behavior accepted on the Street. Mitchel Abolafia looks at three subcultures that co-exist in the world of Wall Street: the stock, bond, futures markets. Through interviews, anecdotes, and the author's skillful analysis, we see how traders and New York Stock Exchange specialists negotiate the perpetual tension between short-term self-interest and long-term self-restraint that marks their respective communities - and how the temptation toward excess spurs market activity. We also see the complex relationships among those market communities - why, for instance, NYSE specialists resent the freedoms permitted over-the-counter bond traders and futures traders. Making Markets shows us that what propels Wall Street is not a fundamental human drive or instinct, but strategies enacted in the context of social relationships, cultural idioms, and institutions - a cycle that moves between phases of unbridled self-interest and collective self-restraint.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (October 30, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674006887
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674006881
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.6 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,009,160 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Michael Wald on February 24, 2006
Format: Paperback
Mitchel Abolafia considers the role that competition and cooperation plays among players, not only at the New York Stock Exchange, but also among other market makers such as in the commodity markets. He finds that, despite the obvious competitive nature of these markets, players in these markets also find cooperation necessary in order to create orderly markets. It is good overview, but I was hoping for a more in-depth discussion of the role that opportunism plays. It needed to draw more upon the theoretical knowledge on economic opportunism. At the same time, while it does contain a number of personal stories, I felt that the book could have given more of a day-to-day sense of how players in these markets interact and view each other. So in one sense it lacks the academic underpinnings that would have made it more appealing to academics, and on the other hand, it lacks the detailed descriptions of the small interactions among players that would appeal to the more general reader.
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Format: Paperback
This book discusses the types of control (aka restraint) the author found in three settings of traders ('market makers'): the futures market, the bond market, and the stock exchange. The studies were conducted at different times, and under different conditions in each market, which makes comparing across the settings somewhat difficult. However, Abolafia does a good job of addressing those issues, and does a commendable job of drawing together three otherwise very different studies into a single rubric. His conclusion--that the social context of each market plays a big role in the opportunities and constraints actors in each market face--will come as no surprise to followers of the new economic sociology (since Granovetter's 1985 embeddedness article). But even other readers will find Abolafia's evidence quite convincing on this point. He uses his ethnographic data, collected over a decade, to demonstrate how market actors are embedded in social context.
When I used this in an undergraduate Sociology of Work class, most students did not catch the distinctions Abolafia made between the various settings. I tried using this with Simpson's work on types of social control in the workplace (direct, hierarchical, bureaucratic, occupational, etc), and while students saw some connections, they did not get the fine distinctions Abolafia made which I had hoped they would, since his comparison across market settings forms a core element of his argument.
Would work well in graduate level courses, or courses specifically on economic sociology. For scholars of the market (economists or sociologists) this is a book not to be missed!
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