The Culture of Business and the Business of Culture
By Andrew Orta
A generation of aspiring business managers has been taught to see a world of difference as a world of opportunity. In Making Global MBAs, Andrew Orta provocatively examines the culture of contemporary business education, and the ways MBA programs participate in the production of the worldview of global capitalism through the production of the business subjects who will be managing it.
Based upon extensive field research at a set of leading US business schools, this groundbreaking ethnography shows how the culture of MBA training provides a window onto contemporary understandings of capitalism in the context of globalization. Orta details the rituals of MBA life and the ways MBA curricula cultivate at once habits of fast-paced technical competence and “softer” qualities and talents thought to be essential to unlocking the value of international cultural difference, while managing its risks. Making Global MBAs is an essential guide for prospective managers, for practitioners working internationally, and for students of globalization and of the contemporary business and politics of cultural differences.
Andrew Orta offers an important addition to the anthropological study of neoliberalism by doing an ethnography of one of the bellies of the beast, MBA programs. He persuasively shows how business schools teach their students to deal with culture in ways that are both patterned and reductive. Finally anthropologists have a thoughtful and enormously productive lens on how neoliberalism reproduces its logics by distorting a classic anthropological concept – culture.
Orta brilliantly shows how the MBA curriculum produces students proficient in routines and rituals that both presuppose and bring to life the world of global business as a total social fact. In carefully managed study-abroad trips, MBA students sally forth to explore a global world of differences, which they are taught to understand solely in terms of market value, even as they are welcomed home, and onto the corporate job market, as intrepid global explorers.
Orta has found in the globalization of US MBA programs an extraordinary method for analyzing contemporary capitalism. MBA training cultivates risk, “good enough” cultural knowledge, horizons of difference, and the production of global managers not only as features of the global economy but also as touchstones of MBAs’ personal identities. Orta offers a brilliant retelling of classic anthropological concerns in his transit through some of the freshest international venues for engaging the problem of culture, economy, and capital.