To go with the free information flow

Problems and contradictions in macro‐level neoliberal theories and their translation to micro‐level business innovation strategies

in Social Anthropology/Anthropologie sociale
Author:
Eitan Wilf Hebrew University eitan.wilf@mail.huji.ac.il

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This article draws on fieldwork with innovation consultants in the USA to argue that neoliberal assumptions about how large‐scale markets should be organised to maximise their efficiency now inform assumptions about how small‐scale business firms should be organised to maximise their innovative potential. A key mediating concept between macro‐level neoliberal theories and micro‐level innovation strategies is ‘free information flow’. This concept emerged in the mid‐20th century in the context of military‐industrial and engineering efforts to develop a mathematical theory of communication. Because this concept does not align with the embodied and meaning‐making nature of human employees, attempts to translate macro‐level neoliberal theories to micro‐level business innovation strategies have run into difficulties. These difficulties expose a problem that is intrinsic to neoliberal theories themselves. On the one hand, neoliberal theories emphasise the importance of each economic player’s context‐specific knowledge for an efficient economic order. On the other hand, they rely on a notion of context that is inflected by a pre‐determined goal, i.e. maximising economic efficiency, in relation to which people become epiphenomenal. This notion has very little to do with the lived reality of context as an emergent and indeterminate outcome of people’s everyday activities and interactions.

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