Gemeinschaft and Ge-Sellout

November 7, 2009
Posted by Jay Livingston

Gemeinschaft is usually translated as community. But, I tell my students, we use community in many ways that would have old Tönnies spinning (spönning?) in his grave. Sometimes it refers to the political boundaries of a town. It sounds better to talk about “the Hohokus community” than merely “people who live in Hohokus.” (Or does it? Maybe there’s nothing you can do with a name like Hohokus.)

We also use community to mean people who share some demographic characteristic. “The African American community.” Forty million people spread over the entire country hardly gets at the kind of Gemeinschaft Tönnies had in mind – a group based on mutual trust, on permanence, intimacy, personal involvement.

But what about this, taken from Friday’s New York Times story about an insider trading scheme? Traders used advance information on mergers and acquisitions to make millions of dollars. Some of the schemers were caught, pled guilty, and in turn sold out their former partners or employers. The arrests and charges are rolling in.
The charges, against 14 money managers, lawyers and other investors, followed the arrest last month of a hedge fund billionaire, Raj Rajaratnam, on charges that he had profited from inside information.
But here’s what caught my attention.
The complaints represent a significant expansion of a case that has gripped the hedge fund community.
What kind of community is this, I wondered, this hedge fund community?

Maybe it really is a Gemeinschaft-like world where everyone knows everyone else, like a family, like “Cheers.” What one person can say to another is determined by the individuals in the immediate situation, not by abstract, bureaucratic rules  – like the rules that prohibit insider tip-offs. Can we blame it on Gemeinschaft? I doubt it, but I haven’t searched the literature.

Are there any ethnographies of Hedgefundland?

1 comment:

andrewska said...

Wonderful observation!