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Stories of Capitalism

Inside the Role of Financial Analysts

Publication supported by the Bevington Fund

The financial crisis and the recession that followed caught many people off guard, including experts in the financial sector whose jobs involve predicting market fluctuations. Financial analysis offices in most international banks are supposed to forecast the rise or fall of stock prices, the success or failure of investment products, and even the growth or decline of entire national economies. And yet their predictions are heavily disputed. How do they make their forecasts—and do those forecasts have any actual value?
Building on recent developments in the social studies of finance, Stories of Capitalism provides the first ethnography of financial analysis. Drawing on two years of fieldwork in a Swiss bank, Stefan Leins argues that financial analysts construct stories of possible economic futures, presenting them as coherent and grounded in expert research and analysis. In so doing, they establish a role for themselves—not necessarily by laying bare empirically verifiable trends but rather by presenting the market as something that makes sense and is worth investing in. Stories of Capitalism is a nuanced look at how banks continue to boost investment—even in unstable markets—and a rare insider’s look into the often opaque financial practices that shape the global economy.

An open access version of this book is available.

224 pages | 5 line drawings, 5 tables | 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 | © 2018

Anthropology: Cultural and Social Anthropology

Economics and Business: Economics--Money and Banking


"The fact that the text features an insider’s observations from an anthropological perspective results in it being a very rewarding ethnography. And in this light, Stories of Capitalism should now be considered the definitive book on the anthropology of financial markets. It deserves to be translated into other languages."

Anthropology of Work Review

"This is a terrific short book. In just 160 pages of text, Leins provides readers with a clear understanding of the difference between fundamental analysis and technical analysis, the efficient markets hypothesis, behavioral economics, and new institutional economics. It also gives readers a “behind the curtain look” at the culture of financial analysts. (The book focuses on analysts in Switzerland, but it is certainly applicable for readers who want a general understanding of this culture in the US or Britain.) But the book’s most important (and controversial) contribution stems from its discussion and analysis of the 'need' for investment narratives and for financial analysts. Stories of Capitalism is very well written and worth reading regardless of one’s background. However, it is absolutely essential reading for anyone who is interested in investment banking and financial analysis and who has little knowledge of these areas. Essential."


Stories of Capitalism makes an important contribution to the growing field of the anthropology of finance by looking closely at the narrative economy surrounding financial analysts. It also offers a close ethnographic analysis of how the Swiss banks changed their image from that of secretive gnomes to one of swashbuckling risk-takers in less than a decade. It should be read by all social scientists interested in financial actors and institutions.”

Arjun Appadurai, author of Banking on Words

“Leins opens up a bedeviling puzzle. Why do financial analysts exist? Their job is to create forecasts, but economic theory calls such prognostications voodoo. Leins takes readers inside the Swiss banking world and shows how, despite their failings in theory, financial predictions play a critical role. Their reports mitigate uncertainty and allow the engines of finance to roll forward.”

Caitlin Zaloom, author of Out of the Pits

Table of Contents


1 Meeting the Predictors
2 The Problem with Forecasting in Economic Theory
3 Inside Swiss Banking
4 Among Financial Analysts
5 Intrinsic Value, Market Value, and the Search for Information
6 The Construction of an Investment Narrative
7 The Politics of Circulating Narratives
8 Analysts as Animators
9 Why the Economy Needs Narratives

Methodological Appendix


Choice Magazine: CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title Awards

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