Regulating Crisis: A Retrospective Ethnography of the 1982 Latin American Debt Crisis at the New York Federal Reserve Bank
Since the financial crisis of 2008, the term “crisis” has proliferated as a folk concept, and yet remained largely unexamined as an analytic concept. In this essay, I draw on my experience as a research assistant and research analyst at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, during what would come to be called the Latin American debt crisis, to contribute to rethinking of financial crisis. Putting aside the assumption that we know a priori the meaning of crisis, I bring into view the material devices, temporalities and, in the words of Bronislaw Malinowski, the “imponderabilia of daily life” entailed by perceiving and regulating crisis. Rather than high-level officials of the Federal Reserve Bank, the essay focuses on research assistants, junior economists, midlevel officials, and also mainframe computers with their glitches and bugs. The essay shows how local, historically specific processes of generating knowledge in a 1980s office of the Federal Reserve Bank were part of grand projects of social reinvention, in which even the lowliest research assistant helped shape a narrative of crisis.
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