Organizational Ignorance: An Ethnographic Study of High-frequency Trading

Ann-Christina Lange

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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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