Organizational Ignorance: An Ethnographic Study of High-frequency Trading

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    Abstract

    This paper provides an analysis of strategic uses of ignorance or not-knowing in one of the most secretive industries within the financial sector. The focus of the paper is on the relation between imitation and ignorance within the organizational structure of high-frequency trading (HFT) firms. In social studies of finance (SSF) literature imitation is considered a strategic act, i.e. imitation is a term applied when traders copy the strategies of other traders. I wish to turn this relation between ignorance and imitation on its head and consider ignorance itself as a strategic unknown and investigate the kinds of imitations that might be produced from structures of not-knowing (i.e. structures intended to divide, obscure and protect knowledge). This point is illustrated through ethnographic studies and interviews within five HFT firms. The data show how a black-box structure of ignorance is replicated within the organizational setting of these firms and re-enacted by the traders. Towards the end of the paper the politics of the relationship between imitation and ignorance is discussed.
    Original languageEnglish
    JournalEconomy and Society
    Volume45
    Issue number2
    Pages (from-to)230-250
    Number of pages21
    ISSN0308-5147
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - 2016

    Keywords

    • Black box
    • High-frequency trading
    • Ignorance
    • Imitation
    • Organizational structure
    • Social studies of finance

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